The most important thing for me in an audio system is how alive it sounds. If it doesn’t make me feel like the musicians and the vocals are alive, I get board with it. I’m willing to forgive a lack of the deepest bass, the utmost in soundstaging and imaging if it makes me feel like the performance is alive.
I also fall into the small group of audiophile who think PRaT varies not only by the performance, but the equipment it is played on. Truth is if an audiophile system that can’t get the Pace, Rhythm, and Timing of music right just does not sound alive. I feel that the biggest difference in live music and recorded music is found in these three things. I think that is why we can often tell the difference between live and recorded music even when it’s being played through a soundboard, amps, and speakers. To accomplish this requires a system with real dynamics and especially micro-dynamics.
That word feeling leads us to the next thing I’m looking from in an audio system, emotional involvement! If you get your system to sound alive then it should move you emotionally. When I attend a really good live musical event I am moved emotionally. In fact, if it doesn’t move me emotionally I don’t consider it even a good performance, much less a great one.
To be emotionally involving your system has to do more than sound alive. It has to allow the music flow and allow you to hear the layers of musical nuances of the performance . Likewise to be emotionally involving an audio system has to get the reproduction of the timbre, textures, colors, and tones of the music right. When I’m listening to a recording I want it to have a life-like wholeness and connectedness between the performers like I hear at a live event.
It seems popular right now for audiophiles who share most of my listening biases to say things like transparency, soundstage, and imaging aren’t that important. I need to admit right now that I am willing to forgive slight failings in a system’s ability to produce the widest and deepest soundstage or it’s ability to have pinpoint imaging. Truth is pinpoint imaging to an extreme seems unnatural and distracting to me, but I also must confess that I highly value transparency. To me transparency combined with immediacy, and air around and within instruments are some of the key factors to a system sounding alive.
My listening biases lead directly to my equipment biases. I openly admit that my equipment biases fall into a fairly small minority of audiophiles. I have built my system around small amplifiers until recentlythe Wavac EC300B, with Western Electric 300B power tubes, Western Electric 435A front end tubes, and NOS Sylvania 6L6GC driver tubes.
If you have never heard this amp you need to understand that this doesn’t mean I have a bias toward most 300B amps; I don’t. I find most 300B amps to be too warm, too slow in the bass, and limited in the top end. The Wavac EC 300B is like a Ferrari with most other 300Bs I have heard being more like a Bentley. I should point out that the Allnic 300Bs come closest to this sound of any other 300B amps I have heard while the Audio Note and Shindo amps come somewhere between the speed and handling of the Ferrari and the luxurious ride of the Bentley. By the way the amp I have heard that sounds the most like the Wavac EC300B is the First Watt SIT-1 mono blocks. These are transistor amps, but they are also single ended, no feedback designs.
That last statement was true until February 2015 when I heard the most musical amp I have ever heard, the Pass Labs XA30.8. This shocking change of events sort of made me feel better about myself. It seems that my listening biases out ways my equipment biases.
When it comes to sources, I have a huge bias toward vinyl. Until recently I have not had a digital source in my reference system. I freely admit that reel to reel tapes are as good and often a little bit better than vinyl, but there is just not enough music available for me to be interested, especially at what the cost is at this time. I have recently started using the 47 Labs Midnight Blue CD player in my system. It’s not nearly as good as my vinyl but it is good enough to really enjoy music that I do not have on vinyl.
When it comes to speakers, I’ve tried for years to find a speaker that had a midrange like my Quad 57s, but with more dynamics, less beaming, and would play much louder. I have discovered that I like really well executed single driver speakers and a few two way speakers. I also have a bias toward speakers whose cabinets are not overly dead.
Low efficiency, low impedance, multi-driver speakers with dead cabinets just never quite come to life to me. I know all the arguments for them and I have heard them with tons and tons of power. I will admit that the arguments for dead cabinets even seem logical. Still, it seems to me that they have to fight to get music out and only come close to sound alive at really loud volumes.
Let me close by admitting to two other equipment biases I have. They are simple; I do believe that cables make a difference; I also believe that power corrupts. On that last point while I have used and found very helpful active power conditioners, I have come to believe that some of the very best, and admittedly very expensive passive devices are even better.
Well, I hope this helps you understand me better. We all have biases of all types. I have one friend who dearly loves the sound of large panel speakers, and I really enjoy listening with him. I have another friend who has a wonderful system centered around Wilson Audio Speakers. While neither of these systems would be my personal choice, I have no trouble understanding their appeal, no feeling that my bias is more correct, and most of all no trouble describing to you what each of them sound like.