Yesterday as I looked up I saw this cloud
When one lives on a farm you either embrace nature or you spray and pollute and close the door and ignore it, like some of my neighbors. All farmers are not good stewards of the land, let me tell you. I've always been a nature kid and still am. We cloud watch, star gaze, eclipse watch of various kinds, and are mindful of our flora and fauna.
Yesterday as I looked up I saw this cloud
and it reminded me of an album that has been played here on several demo occasions lately, the big- in -its -day, The Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, A Feather on the breath of God, the old Hyperion chestnut by the Gothic Voices, lead sung by none other than my favorite British country waif, Emma Kirkby. It was huge in its day, sold a zillion. One can still find it on CD, and if you look hard enough, on vinyl, which is what we've been playing here.
Normally in the all ARC rack in the front room (that's Audio Research Corporation in case you were new to this) the ARC REF2 SE phono stage decided to make a visit next door to where the Brinkmann Bardo has been holding court. Now what is it doing in there, with the likes of Leben and Line Magnetic, all wonderful gear to be sure, yet not what one would normally pair together? Making my hair stand on end, for one, and giving goose bumps, for another. Rock solid images, texture like putty, tonal colors like the great St Louis Symphony was what came to mind as I played record after record. Using a system comprised of a Line Magnetic 518 integrated, DeVore 0/93 speakers, WTL Amadeus table/Dynavector XV1t cartridge wired with Auditorium A23 cabling, I swapped out the WTL for the Bardo table and the Leben phono/Auditorium Hommage stepup for the big ARC REF2 SE. Source first, of course! It's awesome. Shows to me why always improving your source will always improve your overall musical output. Period. I need Suze Orman to say those lines to some of you. Pound her fist and make you repeat it. If you're a newbie and reading this then know that I'm not addressing you per se.
But do start off with something decent as a source or you'll forever be in danger of not enjoying your system or music at home like you should. Call me and I'll give you an honest answer, even for products I don't sell yet recommend.
For others that are still quibbling about amps and speakers when your sources quite frankly blow, well, come see me for a demonstration. You'll see the light.
One of my favorite things in audio, besides collecting records, are turntables. Turntables and cartridges, to be exact.
I'm often teased that I've had more tables as a hobbyist than any of my friends would ever dream of. Well, so be it. There's something tactile about a table, about putting a tonearm in your fingers, touching a record. Most tables aren't all that hard to put together, at least the more basic ones I recommend. Naturally one should be entitled to expert setup, from a dealer who can bring the most nuanced, delicious music out of a table. That's what the Haven has to offer, a lifetime of knowledge and experience for a cherished medium.
I make no bones about keeping digital formats limited here. I have two CD players, the Line Magnetic 215 and 515, that I spin those shiny discs with for demo and pleasure with aplomb. They're wonderful, and rival a great many more costly players. I have thousands of cd's, so like many of you, I do keep up with music that isn't on vinyl. I have indeed charted the streaming waters, and have especially enjoyed learning and using the Naim streamers, which are among the best in the world. I still use a Naim UnitiQute when I have the urge to listen to music programs from out of state or across the pond. It's fun, it's convenient, it keeps me in touch with the outside world. When it works it is just as I described. When it doesn't- when the internet is an issue or a computer program fails or your dongle doesn't connect -then it's a hell I'd rather stay out of. And from what I hear from you and other dealers, it is often a very time consuming hell. Ask any audio/video oriented shop, and if they're being honest you'll hear how their nerves are frayed by the weekend from endless phone calls of problems. Don't think for a second that you're not getting cussed at behind your back. You are, I've been in their shoes, it happens, even with the saints of retail. Digital run amuck can be most foul to deal with.
You are welcome, more than welcome, to bring whatever digital streamer or source you use at home and plug it in here. There is wifi, and I do have a DAC or you can bring yours, so laptops are welcome. And if it takes your JRivers program 45 minutes to correct itself that's fine, we can still listen to music while you fix it. (That's happened, you know....several times..from experts..we won't say anything more about it )
Most of you have heard the British expression of source first. I was still a youngster of audio when I first encountered that term, and I was like, hmm. All I cared to think about was my next amplifier or what speakers were the latest rage. Push the calendar year(s) ahead a bit, and now I'm living the source first mantra like a Brit yet without the sexy accent.
I tell my friends and customers to think of it in the following way. Most of us dine with the entree in mind. That's all you hear and think table side when you look at a menu, what are you having? Of course they mean the main course, the reason you are there in the first place. No one says what side are you getting, or excuse me while I study what vegetable or side dish comes with my entree. Everyone rightly assumes the heart of the meal is the entree. Granted, creamed spinach such as at Gibson's can be luscious, yet who goes to Gibson's for spinach? It's the steak, those big juicy aged steaks that have audiophiles and normal folk alike standing in line. Sorry, I'm already thinking ahead to Axpona in Chicago, and Gibson's, and steak- with creamed spinach.
So if you can, think of our dinner scenario as ordering a hifi system. The only trouble is, most of you think the sides are the entrees. Amps and speakers are not sources, they're sides. You're so focused on speaker and amps, speakers and amps, when it should be turntables/cartridges, or dare I say digital. Lobster and steak. You run in horror at the mention of a turntable over a thousand dollars, let alone a cartridge over $300, yet those amps and speakers of thousands of dollars are at the top of your lists. I hate to tell you , but you're a little lopsided in your equation. Now I do respect some of you who have spent good money on digital sources if that's your most important or only source. That's your source and you've chosen wisely. I hope.
I know, I know, you say, hey, YOU show above a Brinkmann turntable and Dynavector 1T cartridge that are worth more than many of our cars. I hear that a lot. From my friends, even. And knowing that as wonderful as that combo is, perhaps for most of us that's more then we'll ever spend on an analog front end, or even the entire stereo system. Yet you do need to hear what a good to great analog system will do to even a modest amp/speaker combo. One won't get the same results inversely. And I'll be happy to prove it to you. Let others buy and trade speakers and amps, always hoping for that elusive final system. Jump off that merry-go-round and start focusing on your sources. If you think source first you'll be way ahead of the game. Remember, a speaker can only do what an amp tells it to, an amp can only deliver what a source gives it.
Once more back into the Brink- mann, the photo above was taken in my second room, where goods are chosen for their value and well, goodness. Line Magnetic and DeVore are in here, usually with a WTL Amadeus table at the helm. Its value, its sheer musicality, is at the heart of this system. Today the Brinkmann came into play, and awesome it was. Time stopped, it was so good. Just so much more of everything. Probably like nothing most of you have ever heard. Bold statement yet true. All from upgrading the source, a source already doing a better job than most.
So my question to you? What are you having?