Most new audiophiles look to the Internet for advice about how to build their first system. Unfortunately, they are quickly overwhelmed by the, oftentimes, conflicting opinions and pieces of advice offered by audiophiles. This series of articles offers yet another perspective on how to create a good sound reproduction system. It differs from most others in that it combines elements from the world of Pro Audio with consumer grade components. Our proposed system focuses on technical accuracy instead of subjective perceptions. We aim to provide the beginning audiophile with studio quality sound at an affordable price.
Before proceeding it’s important to understand the reasoning behind this particular system configuration. Most modern music is recorded, mixed, and mastered at a studio designed specifically for this purpose. Other types of recordings include orchestral and live performances. While these are recorded outside of the studio, they are most always remixed, equalized, and mastered at a studio. It then follows that providing the audiophile with the same quality of sound available in the studio will provide excellent results.
There is another perspective that needs to be examined. Many audiophiles, including the famous J. Gordon Holt of Stereophile magazine, argue that the aim of an audiophile system is the life-like reproduction of an original sound. A good example of this would be a piano playing and being recorded in the same room as the reproduction system. If the system were good enough, then the playback through the reproduction system would be indistinguishable from the real piano. While this is indeed an admirable goal, it is unrealistic for many reasons, beginning with the acoustic differences in rooms. A recording made in a concert hall, and then reproduced in an average living room, can never (with existing technologies) be indistinguishable from the original. Perhaps the best means available today for reproducing various acoustic environments lies with DSP systems such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD. This, however, is beyond the scope of the present paper which deals exclusively with two channel audio (Stereo).
Holt’s definition of a good sound reproduction system has led many audiophiles on a never-ending quest for the unobtainable. It also led to the development of many of the most unique and bizarre speaker systems ever made available to consumers. According to Glen Ballou, editor of the Handbook for Sound Engineers: “Since many of the buyers consider loudspeakers the product of a magical art, sometimes hilarious advertising schemes are used to make the products seem desirable. Consumer high-fidelity loudspeakers tend to be lower in power-handling capacity and lower in sensitivity than pro loudspeakers….”
We would argue that the best possible sound reproduction system for home use should, as accurately as possible, reproduce what the engineer heard in the studio during mastering. The process through which every recording arrived in its consumable form should also be taken into consideration. It has undergone mixing, equalization, compression, and perhaps many dozens of other processes before you can purchase it for playback through your system. The recording was mastered in a way where it would sound good on a home stereo, car radio, and portable devices. It was not mastered specifically for audiophile quality playback. Thus, even the best recordings are the results of compromises, this is especially true of vinyl.
- Speakers: JBL 4412 (not the 4412A) Monitors (available used on eBay, Audiogon, etc.)
- DAC: Emotiva XDA-2 Gen 2
- Amplifier: Parasound HCA-1000A (available used on eBay, Audiogon, etc.)
- RCA Interconnects: Blue Jeans Cable LC-1 Low Capacitance Audio Cable
- Speaker Cables: Belden 10-gauge 5T00UP (also available from Blue Jeans Cable)
Music for Testing
- Sade: The Best of Sade: Track 4 – Jezebel
- Diana Krall: The Girl in the Other Room: Track 3 – Temptation
These components have been carefully chosen, not only for their accuracy, but for flexibility. Your first system will not only create beautiful music, it will act as a learning tool for everything to come. The components were also chosen for value. They can either be re-used in another setup, or sold for what you paid for them. When properly setup many will discover that this system is all they will ever need.
You will need speaker stands too, but not yet. Your first job will be to setup and test the system. This will be covered in Pt. 2.