Obsession: an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.
Yeah, we’ve all been there, can’t get something out of our heads, something isn’t right and we can’t rest until we fix it. The new scent from Calvin Klein…Audiophile.
What is it about audio that vexes us so? Why do we spend more money and time on our stereo systems than we do on our homes? Is that rational? Is it healthy? If we feel it’s rational, does the rest of the world have it wrong? I’m sure many of us have had this conversation with our significant other and it doesn’t always end pleasantly. Our obsession with the perfect sound, in turn, creates addiction, another not-so-favorable characterization. Or is it the other way around? What came first?
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve fallen into the upgrade spiral with my system. Too busy with work and moving and renovating houses, I hadn’t made any meaningful changes to my main listening system for several years. Once we settled into the new place in Ashland with all-new listening spaces, I had to confront the reality that what I had simply was insufficient for the space, IMO.
Where do you start? I tried the Merrill Element 116 monoblocs and I was sold. I didn’t seek them out, they found me. They added a level of detail and air that I had to have. Did I A/B them with a bunch of other monoblocs in my system? Not really. I just know what I like.
Then came the speakers. David H and Grant really were at fault for this choice. They had both been obsessing over the MBL 101e’s for years and given my weakness for large speakers with superior bass response, seized upon the opportunity to convince me that I couldn’t live without them. David even went so far as to source a pair for me. When paired with the Merrill amps, it quickly became apparent that now the rest of the system was wanting. To start, my good old Pass Labs XP30 needed a refresh. It had been in the system for a good 5 years and it was time to move on. I tried out the Merrill Christine pre-amp and it raised the bar even more. The MBL’s are so resolving that the more I throw at them, the better they get.
Speaker cables? Certainly, with speakers like this, I needed the best cables. I opted for two new sets of High Fidelity Orchestral Double Helix Signature (3D version) speaker cables. That’s a mouthful. Again, the system kept improving. Every time I would bring a new piece of equipment into the system, Grant would say that he couldn’t believe it could sound better, but it kept getting better. In our test tracks, we kept hearing more and more, the instruments became more real at every step.
You would think that would be enough, but wait there’s more. Rick Schultz had just made a new power conditioner and he said I had to try it out. It too had the 3D tech in it. So yeah, I tried that too and yeah, it was better. The sound really filled out, it almost became fleshy. The band really was in my living room.
So, what about source equipment, you may ask. I upgraded my Acoustic Signature turntable arm to the Acoustic Signature TA 2000 NEO, again thanks to David’s suggestion and Larry and David’s install assistance. I also upgraded my turntable interconnect to a High Fidelity Cables Orchestral Double Helix Signature 3D phono cable. Again, it got better. This is starting to sound like a broken record but rest assured no records were broken during this phase, the only casualty was my poor cantilever that David loves to knock off every chance he gets (inside joke). After another visit to Soundsmith, my cartridge was right as rain and my turntable is back in service.
Next to the DAC and streaming setup. After so many years, I’m still hanging on to my Ayre QB9 after umpteen upgrades it still sounds great but Larry and David are working on getting me to upgrade that as well. I did replace my laptop which was a Roon endpoint with the ifi Zen which proved to be a pretty inexpensive upgrade. I will do some more tweaking to my streaming connectivity but that’s an entirely different article and well worth the discussion. Don’t get me started.
As it sits today, the system sounds and looks spectacular. Would I categorize this 6-month odyssey as an obsession? Absolutely. Do I think it’s a good one that will provide long-term benefits to my health and well-being? Of course, that’s why we do it, right? Could I have purchased a new Porsche for the same money I spent on my system? Yep!