In December 2017 I wrote the most recent installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” in which I established an upper limit of $10,000 for a digital source for my new audio rig. The month before that, I’d pegged the total projected system price at no more than $81,900 retail. This figure stands in stark contrast to the $350,000 retail cost of my last audio system, based on Magico Q7 Mk.II loudspeakers and Soulution 7-series electronics, all housed in my custom Music Vault listening room. The response of readers to my downsizing has been overwhelmingly positive. Laurence, of Canada, wrote in a letter, “The series of articles you’ve written regarding your change in direction with respect to audio has been very insightful and interesting. Far more so than [The World’s Best Audio System] could ever be.” He summarized what many others have expressed: “I’m guilty of letting myself get caught up in the vortex of collecting the most expensive gear I could afford. However, in the past couple of years I’ve been divesting myself of it all. Somehow it feels a bit easier to enjoy the music.” Touché.
It was a simple proposition. Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida, of Tysons Corner, Virginia, wanted to drive down to North Carolina and set up some of his best gear in my new listening room. Sossa is a distributor of nine brands of high-end audio gear: Aqua Acoustic Quality, Innuos, Linnenberg, QLN, Qualiton, Rethm, SGR, Gigawatt, and Swisscables. His plan wasn’t to haul products from all of those brands to my home -- just a few select pieces he’s especially proud of. That sounded like a good plan to me. I’m an audiophile -- of course I like to hear new stuff. Plus, I figured it would give me a great opportunity to hear a second system in my new room, which would surely help me wrap my ears around the sonic signature of my new space.
In May of this year I wrote about “Jeff’s New Temporary Audio System” -- a modest stereo setup in the rental house my family moved into after the sale of our previous home of 14 years. In that article I mentioned that we’d bought a piece of land and planned to build a new house from the ground up, including a new listening room. That plan fell through due to that property’s topography. Long story short: Drainage problems made building the house we wanted too expensive. We broke our purchase contract and the plan was scrapped.
These days there seems to be a lot of activity in the audio industry -- lots of new product launches -- and in the past week I’ve probably read ten press releases from manufacturers. But just as all audiophile products aren’t created equal, neither are the press releases that attempt to attract customers and reviewers to those products. When a company circulates a press release, and I’m deciding if I want to get its subject product in for review, by me or by someone else in the SoundStage! Network, I often see things that bother me. I wonder if they bother you, too.
“Ask yourself the tough questions.” “Challenge your belief systems.” These notions are often bandied about on audio forums. Yet over and over I see audiophiles reinforcing buying decisions they’ve already made, and supporting those audiophiles whose purchases are similar to their own. High-end audio is largely about buying, and it’s natural to think that someone who’s invested in a particular brand of gear would want to defend that brand. Folks like to feel good about what they’ve bought -- when they hear “You made a good choice; maybe I should consider the same,” such validation is comforting to the ego.
By the time you read this, what was the Music Vault will be no more than what you’ve read in the pages of the old Ultra Audio, now SoundStage! Ultra. The new owners of my old house have ripped off its roof and are adding a full second story. The remains of the Music Vault are in some dumpster somewhere.
If those shattered walls could talk . . .
The T+A Elektroakustik PA 3100 HV integrated amplifier was the last audio product to be reviewed in my Music Vault listening room. In fact, as you read this, the new owners of my old home have probably deconstructed the space formerly known as the Music Vault, and begun renovating it to make it theirs.
Last month I discussed how buying used audio gear can be a great option for any audiophile, even reviewers who have access to industry accommodation pricing (usually a discount of about 50%). This month, I put my money where my ears are.
I bought an amp.
In my last “Opinion” article I wrote about some audio lessons I’ve learned over the years, including this one: “newer isn’t always better. In fact, these days, newer might come about only because the product can be made more cheaply or efficiently. I’ve seen that, too. I don’t need the latest and greatest.”
The months I’ve spent thinking about and writing the series of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System” articles have taught me some valuable personal lessons. For one, I don’t seek out trophy hi-fi gear anymore. I’ve had more than a few manufacturers tell me in private that they make some models priced in the six figures simply because some rich guys want to spend that much. The practice is commonplace, but I no longer aspire to be one of those rich guys, or to own or even be loaned for review the kind of gear designed for them. If you do, more power to you -- but it’s not me.
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