Legacy link:
This new site was launched in July 2010. Visit the older site to access previous articles by clicking above.


“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.

This year I break with my annual take on the SoundStage! Products of the Year awards -- Doug Schneider gives you the complete list over on SoundStage! Hi-Fi -- to tackle another subject that’s been on my mind lately: the safety -- or, in some cases, the false sense of security -- that comes with shopping by brand.

Last month I established an upper limit ($10,000 USD) on what I’d spend on a DAC with a built-in volume control. For my present system I can’t justify an analog preamplifier, with its banks of analog inputs of which I’d use precisely one -- though I do miss, on some sentimental level, the very last analog preamp I owned: an Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty. But unless you have multiple analog sources (I don’t), there’s no need for the extra box and interconnects an analog preamp would require. But I do have multiple digital sources, so I need digital switching and, of course, the ability to adjust volume.

Last month I established an upper limit to the retail cost of the loudspeakers I’ll eventually select: $39,900/pair. This month I look at amplification. But first, I want to discuss system configuration.

I don’t have all of this figured out yet, but I know where I’m not going, and that establishes some upper price limits for the components that will eventually comprise my new stereo system. To review where I’ve come from: