Putting together a quality audio system for $1500 (all prices USD) is easy. It’s also hard. For audiophiles on a budget -- people like me -- these days it’s easy to find high-quality audio components for not much money. But today there are so many high-quality components that it’s hard to narrow down the choices.
In November 2019, I wrote a feature for SoundStage! Access in which I discussed a few recordings I use to evaluate loudspeakers and subwoofers. This month I write about the reference tracks with which I evaluate how well a pair of speakers can reproduce aural images of singers, instruments, and other sound-producing objects, and to create a three-dimensional soundstage on which to accurately position those images.
For the last several years, turntables have been at the center of my audio life. It had something to do with the vinyl revival, and the fact that I was one of the few SoundStage! Network reviewers who never lost the faith -- mostly because I have somewhat esoteric (read: strange) tastes in music, and own a large library of recordings on vinyl that have never been digitized. So I kept ready for action my late-1980s Dual CS-5000 turntable and myriad cartridges -- one ADC, four Grados, two Shures, one Stanton, one Sumiko -- until what goes around came around again: the LP.
Although I’ve been critically listening to speakers for almost 30 years, I’ve listened and measured for only the last two. I take my own measurements in my home listening room, and help out with measuring the speakers we review in the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), here in Ottawa.
Not long ago, our esteemed publisher, Doug Schneider, presented me with a challenge: “I want you to revisit the five best turntables you’ve reviewed for us.”
How much bass do you want your system’s sound to have? A lot? A little? Whatever’s “normal”? But do you actually know how much bass your system reproduces in your room, or how smooth it is -- that is, how devoid of peaks and valleys caused by room modes? What’s the ideal amount of bass? Is there an ideal amount of bass for most listeners? Is the amount of bass affected by the type of music played?
In my February feature, “My System’s Most Important Component -- My Room,” I mentioned how a system’s sound can be altered by the simplest acoustic tweaks, such as throwing a blanket over a high-backed chair used as the primary listening seat. There’s a personal story behind that.
I’ve seen a lot of online explanations of balanced audio circuits -- what they are, how they work, and why they’re desirable. Most of them are pretty accurate, but some are misleading. So let’s start with the ins and outs of balanced connections.
I vividly remember the first time I set up my two-channel system in a dedicated listening room. The year was 2000, I was 25, and I’d just bought my first home. Although I was already eight or nine years along on my audiophile journey, until then my systems had been set up in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment, and before that in my bedroom in my parents’ basement. I was excited to have a 15’L x 12’W room dedicated to my cherished stereo -- even if was still in the basement, it was my very own listening room. In fact, I’d chosen the house partly based on the minimum requirements of a space dedicated to serious listening.
In my December feature on SoundStage! Access, “Setting Up Speakers and Subwoofers Using Anthem’s STR Preamplifier with ARC Genesis,” I discussed my experience of using the sophisticated Anthem Room Correction Genesis software built into the STR Preamplifier. I explained the many benefits of ARC Genesis, outlined a shortcoming of using ARC Genesis in my own system, and wondered, given that the STR Preamplifier has a built-in phono stage, what it might be like to apply ARC Genesis to my record player’s output. Of course, that last would require digitizing my cartridge’s signal -- sacrilege to the analogophile.