My expert tips on building a sensible world class audio system.
My pursuit of audio perfection has become an obsession. Perhaps some of you can relate. As a hobby of passion, it's easy to get caught up in all the hype and emotion and I can only wince at the many poor and irrational decisions that I see other audiophiles make. Fortunately, by reading through the forums and speaking with the experts, I believe I have rapidly gained superior knowledge and have put together an audio system that is both world class and sensible. I felt it was time to share the wisdom of my experience so that others may benefit.
Here's my system. My dedicated audio room doubles as my home theater and so I have a 5 channel setup. My L+R channels consist of a pair of Wilson WAMM Master Chronosonics. My center channel is a single Wilson Alexx. My rear surrounds are a pair of Wilson Alexandria XLFs. I thought about doing a Dolby Atmos setup by suspending a pair of Wilson Alexias on the ceiling but that seemed over the top and so I felt it was best to show some restraint.
I need to tell you about my room. Unfortunately, it's kind of small. It measures only 12' x 12' and the ceiling is only 6.5' high. It's a tough fit for all of these speakers but I got such a great deal on all of these Wilsons, only $750,000 with free delivery for all 5 speakers and so I couldn't say no. I had to sell both kidneys and my beloved Ford Fiesta to pay for them but I'm sure any of you rational audiophiles would have done the same thing.
One big problem I had to overcome was that the WAMMs are 7' tall and my ceiling is only 6.5' high. I had to be creative and so I punched holes in my ceiling and I made it work. Yeah, it's not pretty and some of the output from the top driver leaks into the attic but I suspect Wilson anticipated that certain audiophiles would face this problem and so they designed this speaker with lots of drivers. In the end, it's not about how it looks or how your wife may no longer speak to you, it about how it sounds.
As far as I could tell, this system was sounding pretty darn terrific, definitely better than the Bose Acoustimass 10 that were in the room before the Wilsons. But I was also wary that my mind could be playing tricks on me because how on Earth could 5 Wilson speakers sound better than 10 Bose speakers? The math didn't add up and so I went next door and got my neighbor. He owns Sansui separates and so it was obvious that he knows a thing or two about high end audio. After listening to my system for about 10 minutes, I was convinced he was in awe because his eyes were bulging wide open as if in disbelief! I then found out he has a medical condition called Grave's disease that cause his eyes to bulge wide open like that all the time.
Fortunately, he thought my system sounded pretty decent although he told me if I really wanted to have a world class setup, I needed more bass. It would be pretty foolish to bring in an expert and not follow his advice and so I went out and bought a pair of Wilson Thor's Hammer subwoofers. I had to sell my spleen to pay for them and these giant subwoofers are a super tight fit in my small room but it's the best thing I ever did because now I am world class in the eyes of my neighbor and that's what matters!
Unfortunately, with such a small room and with the Wilsons eating up nearly every square inch, I had very little space left for any components and so I knew I needed a good "all in one." This component had to have a powerful amp that could drive all of the speakers. It also had to have a built-in EQ with lots of sliders, CD/DVD, 8-track, VHS, and a beverage cooler. I happened to find exactly what I wanted on Audiogon.
To my surprise, the amp uses the latest super fast gallium cyanide JFET transistors that everyone's talking about. These transistors make the amp so fast that I can now listen to all 10 of Mahler's symphonies in 42 seconds. Incredibly efficient. Of course, musicality is what's most important and to be honest, the amp was sounding initially thin and off-key but after splicing into the output stage a few 300B tubes I had lying around and upgrading to the latest Organic Reference Poodle Wax Ultra Fuse (a fuse infiltrated with wax from the ears of wild poodles raised in the Himalayas), I wasn't prepared for the onslaught of 3D harmonic musicality and realism that would smack me in the face. Barry Manilow wasn't just in the room singing Mandy to me, he was now also sitting on my lap and giving me a massage. Happy ending, indeed.
I hope what I have done inspires you as you build your own system. If the demand is there, I may consider doing a hands-on workshop on system building at the next AXPONA.