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Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Reviewer's Bio

Rick LaFaver

 

  Having written my first few articles for Enjoy the Music.com I figured I would let our readers into the journey that is my reference system. I do have a "reference" system, but as with most reviewers and hobbyists when you get your ears on enough of the good stuff you will eventually find something better, stronger, faster, and sometimes you can even afford to give it a new home. I do my best to audition, audition, and audition some more; I often peruse the local audio shops, attend the occasional get together, and attend Industry shows (here's lookin' at you RMAF 2013). All of this and there is still hearing a system in your own space which can often be completely different than hearing something in your buddies quasi-anechoic doomsday bunker. To keep myself focused I try to strive after a few simple goals and philosophies.

My System Philosophy:

When evaluating any new component for system integration along with equipment review I generally apply these simple philosophies.

Coherence: Knowing that all audio equipment at all price points will have some level of compromise due to cost, size, aesthetics, engineering, or physics for that matter; are the design goals of this product coherent to the point where they can be integrated into a system that emphasizes its strengths and allows you to compromise for its weaknesses (i.e. adding a subwoofer, more power!, room treatments etc)? This is a simple concept but can sometimes be missed by short sighted design goals.

Low Noise Floor: Are all of the circuits and relevant component wired in such a way and engineered in such a manner where distortion and self-noise do not in any way invade the audible spectrum. Music is as much about the silence between the notes as it is about the tonality of the notes themselves.

Balance: Across the components entire pass band, no frequencies are over emphasized or deemphasized to a point of overly coloring the sound, (obviously all components color the sound to some degree.)

Resolution: There is a difference between forward, detailed, and resolving speakers. A forward speaker pushes the treble and makes the shimmer and shine louder, while a detailed speaker can sometimes have a similar coloration in the treble and upper midrange (overly emphasized string plucks and fret board vibrations sometime point to overly "detailed" speakers.) In my opinion, coloration can often lead to bad things (uneven frequency response, listener fatigue, weaknesses in reproducing certain recordings or the sound of certain instruments etc.) If a speaker is overly bright or forward this can be easily wrung out on recording with alto trumpet or other alto brass instruments where you can hear a ringing or feel the listener fatigue brought on by over emphasized treble.

 Resolution, on the other hand, wrings all the of the information and nuance out a recording, the decay elements and micro detail that really places a recording in its venue and gives life to otherwise sterile sound. Resolution has more to do with speed or the way a speaker or component behaves in the time domain. This type of information is hard to find scientifically measured, but impulse response is a good starting point. Typically it can be differentiated when comparing speaker A/B. If a speaker can start and stop on a dime this adds enhanced dynamics, lower distortion, lower noise floor, and many other things that contribute positively to your listening experience. For my reference system this was one of the key driving factors around my purchase of the Vapor Audio Cirrus, one of the most resolving speakers I have ever heard.  

Is it a different flavor or an improvement? When listening to any component, there is a certain period of digestion that is necessary. This is one of the important reasons for in home trials or at least extensive listening sessions prior to purchase. Often in short listening sessions, "different" can be construed as "better." I try to make it a point to get past that moment of goose bumps and "oohs" and "ahhs" of new components and really digest what I am listening to.

Musicality: Even if a component or speaker ticks all of the above boxes, let's face it we want to listen to music, not components. If it can do everything, but music still doesn't sound good, clearly something isn't right. Often tube based components and more organic sounding DACs can contribute to the overall musicality of a system, but musicality can come from any component and can be ruined by any component just as easily. Musicality is sort of the je ne sais quoi of audio, often called system synergy, or character and this is where a lot of very subjective opinions come in.

My System: At This Point

The Only staples in my system that need to be dethroned are my speakers, the rest of the component were chosen more for their value propositions than their pure all out performance.

Speakers: Vapor Audio Cirrus Rev 2: $3995 This was really the splurge of my system so far. With my system I committed to myself that I would buy the best speaker I could find for less than $10k and this speaker is truly as good as it gets in my opinion. With infinite upgrade and finish options and the ability to pick exactly the crossover configuration you want while using possible the best two-way driver configuration on the market this speaker was customizable to my exacting standard. The cabinet is also something to marvel at, a stacked Baltic birch ply cabinet (ala Magico) with a 3" round over and many other exclusive cabinet construction techniques to make the cabinet into a wooden bomb shelter with no edge diffraction or detectable resonance or acoustic transmission. It is really a wonder, so that is of course where I started.

Amplifier: Arte Forma Elyssa $3500 You can read much more about this amp in my recent full review but the cliff notes version would be a rock solid built amp with a very common set of tubes that are very easy and fun to experiment with. It is a very musical and quiet amp with a very low noise floor, it is a very well made amp with something you won't usually find in this price range which is an optical volume control to really increase the channel separation and holographic imaging.

DAC: Eastern Electric Mini Max DAC $1100 This is a very good entry level DAC, very low noise floor and very musical. This device does not suffer at all from the typical "digititus" that often plagues lower end digital components. The MiniMax also tics all the boxes for versatility, it handles USB, Balanced BNC, AES/EBU inputs and outputs via unbalanced connections. This DAC also supports USB inputs of up to 192kHz/24-bit via USB which is perfect for my computer based digital system. This DAC is really better than it should be allowed to be at this price point but it is really outclassed by components outside of its price range such as the Wyred4Sound DSD SE DAC (See full review) and the Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC. I typically have the tube pre amp off as it seems to add a little bit of undue noise to sound without really enhancing musicality much if at all.

Enjoy What You Have Enjoy the Music!

The rest of my system is a work in progress, even the DAC is really a placeholder until I can find something that really draws out the same sort of body and character from music that a high quality analog rig does. The only DAC I have found that can really do this is the Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC, and although it is certainly on my wish list, other priorities in my life make it cost prohibitive at the moment along with rebuilding my analog rig. The most important thing is that this system gets me far enough to truly appreciate a good recording. I put plenty of hours on this system from critical listening sessions to just laying back with a nice beer and getting lost in a track. So as anything anyone tells you about your system or audio components in general, taking everything into consideration, but buy what you like for whatever reason you like it, and above all Enjoy the Music!

--- Rick LaFaver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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