Why does mixing quality'n'crap sound so good?
Bit of a strange question, you might ask. What's this British idiot banging on about? Well, I got a slight nagging feeling that over the 38 years I have been buying hi fi I have been lied too. Either that or my brains are not as big as my wallet. Let me explain and 'throw it out there', as our special-relationship-US cousins might say.
Due to this f***ing-s**t-ar** recession business I had to sell the very heart and pride-and-joy of my hi fi system: my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 300 integrated amp and my B&W CDM 1NT speakers. OK, the speakers, £750, are better than average but the amp, well that was a different story. I also had it serviced, re-valved and upgraded to the tune of £2,600 on top if it's already hefty price of £4,000. Anyway suffice to say it has gone now and I have been chasing a semblance of it's powerful, delicate, authoritative, smooth and downright dynamic sound ever since it left my home and my life. Yeah I know, Boo-Hoo! Deal with it, blah, blah.
Anyway, 'this is the thing', as Barksdale would say from the Wire. Due to a moment of quite awesome stupidity, I plugged my 115 volts California Audio Labs CL-10, 5 disc Server (not their 5-disc CD player. In the UK my machine would be called a Transport), into my 240 volts mains block without my step-down transformer. Don't know why I did it really seeing as I bought the player directly as unused, NOS from a dealer in Montreal in 2002 for around £1,500 when you add delivery, VAT, Import Duty and such - last thing they made before they went down the toilet incidentally, ironic really as it's such a great sounding and versatile bit of kit it could well have saved their bacon had it been properly marketed - and I had been happily using it with the transformer for ever since. Senility setting in, my son says. Anyway, I used the transport with my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 21 DAC, fully serviced and with all power supplies upgraded: total cost £1,600. Naturally it don't work anymore. So no quality CD source either. Boo, Hoo, etc, etc.
'Why doesn't this chap shut-up and go away' you might be saying. I say, I find it very difficult to live without my music. I first tried listening to it through my PC; like listening to a swarm of angry bees in a tin-can but with a bit of bass. So no joy there. Ditto with an iPod. My son then very kindly donated his CP player, a budget Technics £110 player but with an electrical digital-out; which is a very pertinent point. He also donated his rather excellent Mordant-Short MSi Pearl speakers, £200 but worth at least 3 times that in sound quality. A rare thing in hi fi: a genuine bargain.
I then bought a Technics SU-V450 Class AA amp (whatever that means, after all it is either Class A or it ain't), damm find sounding amp though, again it's sound worth well over the modest £52 price I paid for it. My electrical digital cable was a QED Odyssey 5 metre length, costing £40, out from the CD player straight to my DAC. Now from my DAC to my Technics amp I have a pair of Chord Company Indigo Plus stereo interconnects, another incredible bargain even though they cost £925. They will knock the boll**ks of any Nordost, self-indulgent mythical nonsense-named cable you care to mention, to name but one brand. Speaker cable is OFC, 4-core bell-wire, used to wire-up small PA systems such as found in a super-store for example; cost around £6 per metre.
Speakers are perched on my 22 inch-high HNE Cableway granite stands, £475 and seriously heavy. You do not want to drop one of these on your toe. Likewise the CD player and DAC also sit on granite slabs; likewise with the toe thing. I have a custom-made 3.8 Kilowatt output, mains filter before the juice travels into my mains block, again custom-made, total cost for both + 2 power cables around £2,000. Hi fi rack is an Alphason New Concept, around £280 and another cracking bargain.
Now, finally we arrive at the whole point of my original question, because once it is all plugged in and warmed-up, the sound I get is, well not put too fine a point on it, sh**-hot! Although I must add, the volume is the key to the startling sound quality. Too-low and it sounds flat and flaccid, to-high and it will loosen your fillings; but get it right and WOW! Deep and wide sound-stage, good bass, excellent detail, dynamics - it's all there. Quite amazing really. Using the modestly priced CD player as a transport-only along with my mix of quality'n'crap has produced a truly jaw-dropping sound, which it has no right too. Or does it?
Aren't we, and what I mean by "we" is anyone who is reading this, constantly bombarded with kit that cost more than the price of a new car, or even a house, as the only way to achieve a 'proper' sound? Yes of course there is the problem of the critical volume level, but is that all we are paying all those thousands for; a means to have a wider 'sweet-spot' volume setting? Even so, as a stop-gap to greater things, I hope, the sound I am getting is seriously good. So are we all getting ripped off? How easy, and cheap, would it be for all those money-guzzling companies out there in hi fi land to knock a nought or two off the price of their wares and still give the customer truly great sound? Are we all, in fact caught-up in an Emperor's New Clothes syndrome? Is it all really just bull-s**t and top-quality sound can be had for a relatively modest out-lay? Why are high-end luxury goods such as hi fi for instance, still reporting robust sales despite the fact that things are tighter than a duck's ar** out there? Why can't it all be "crap", in price terms only of course? Why and this is my last "why", 'I promise', as Mr Obama says quite often according to the BBC News 24 channel, have I bought into the mythos that thousands of £'s equals great sound, because as sure as s**t won't roll up-hill, that ain't necessarily so.