Thanksgiving is a weird holiday.
Here in the US, it’s tied up with some Good Samaritan myths around the charity shown the settlers by the natives. Somewhat strangely, given the name of the holiday, it’s also wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow, sporting a tag that says “Black Friday — Save Now!” We Americans are an odd bunch.
So, I wandered around my listening room today. Thinking. Putting off cleaning the house for the guests arriving, if you must know. But I did work in a little mental exercise. About being grateful.
I’m lucky. I mean, not like “born into an inordinately wealth family” kind of lucky, but my life has been colorized with grace and good fortune. It didn’t have to be that way, and I’m aware of that. I’m also keenly aware of my own contributions to that picture — and also aware that those contributions would not have saved me if events had gone the other way. I’m grateful to have made it this far.
I’m also grateful for all the usual stuff. Family. Health. For the work that makes a happy family and good health possible. I’m grateful for all the time I’ve been able to spend here. I’m grateful for all of you, willing to spend some of your time with those of us that contribute here. I’m grateful to the vendors that are making this possible with their sponsorship and with their trust. They keep sending me their babies! It’s humbling that they think what we’re doing is worthy of their investment. That’s neat.
Don’t worry, it’s not the holidays that make me maudlin. I’m always this way. But it is nice to pause. Reflect on what I have. What I still have yet to do. To be grateful for the chance to do it.
In that spirit, I thought I’d poke about a bit. Open the kimono. It’s been a while since I’ve shared that pipeline or done any sort of level-set, so lets do that now.
In no particular order.
On the Bench
Colleen Cardas Imports sent me a pair of monos and a pre from Pureaudio, out of NZ. These hail from the same team that brought us Plinius, a brand that I’m both familiar with and have been a proud owner of. The new gear is a departure — if only in looks. And boy, these sure look different! But as for the sound quality? Pure Class A tone, baby. Just gorgeous.
From Zesto Audio, I have the new amplifier. The Bia 120 is a 60wpc KT88-based ass-kicker with looks rivaling the sound. Happily, it’s getting a bit cooler outside, so this sucker is about to get a whole lot more air time. Slam and tone are fun to find in any amp, and one with some seriously dandied-up dress-clothes is just special. Ha! You are jealous.
Both the Pureaudio gear and the big Zesto amp will be used to make this totem pole from Daedalus Audio sing. It’s probably spoiling things to tell you that this speaker is hilariously fun to listen to — tone, transparency, and jump in an bespoke package? Yeah, this is going to be a very entertaining Fall season here at Part-Time Audiophile.
As for the digital side of the house, things started off pretty innocuously when Gary Dews of BorderPatrol suggested I try out his new NOS-only DAC.
“CD-quality only?” said I, and I’m sure I looked at him funny as I said. “No high-res? Like, at all?”
“Just listen to it,” he said, with an arched eyebrow. Gary’s a big boy. I did as I was told. And damned if that smirk on his face isn’t totally justified.
So, you want a “more analog” sound from your digital playback system? It might not be the lack of high-res files in your personal library, folks. This DAC is the berries.
Filed under “You don’t know what you don’t know” is the little Wyrd from Schiit Audio. Jason Stoddard sent me one of these guys a while back, and I’m almost sorry to say that the USB decrapifyer “does something”.
The fact is, I don’t want it to. It just shines a light on a space I’m not ready to invest heavily in — I really want my little Mac Mini to be better (at least, better than it apparently is), because then, I won’t have to do anything with it. But it turns out that it’s pretty lousy as a computer audio server.
You don’t have to get into the Wire Wars to be suspicious of the USB power coming off your computer, going to power your USB-DAC. With the Wyrd inline between my DAC and my Mini, the system just sounds better. I don’t know why. It just does. It might not be enough to save my Mini from being reassigned, but for now, it has certainly delayed the inevitable. The overall sound is smoother, less edgy, less hard. Really weird adjectives to use for a digital source, but this is all in direct comparison with “straight through”. I’m convinced.
And for $99, this practically screams “Try Me!” So, I am.
On the other end of the digital pricing divide is the PS Audio DirectStream. Okay, that’s a bit much — this $6k DAC isn’t cheap by any measure, but it’s also not anywhere near insane as such things go.
The DAC is interesting and odd — no “converter chip” per se, just a bunch of FPGAs, doing massive up-sampling on any input stream. The result is a very natural, smooth and articulate sound. It’s not going to be the silver bullet that the detail-fixated extremophile is going to be satisfied with, but it is doing a very credible job of sounding … not digital. Take my word for it, that’s harder than it sounds — and in my system, this is DAC is really sounding very sexy. Heh heh. Heh heh.
Steve Holt of The Audio Nerd just sent me a “Play it by Ear” headphone amplifier from Lambert. It’s almost too cute to use. I kinda want to put it on a little stand next to my laptop and just gaze at it. Maybe touch it a little.
I just got this, and have had no time to even turn it on, but I will. Oh yes, I will.
The Calyx M, by contrast, I’ve had for several weeks now. It’s a digital audio player cut from the same cloth as the last iteration of Apple’s iconic iPod. A huge screen, with easy and intuitive software, was really enough to grab my attention. The easy, warm, non-fatiguing sound means that it pairs with a ton of headphones. $999 is not cheap, but if the ultra-mega Astell&Kern DAPs are a stretch for the budget and you want a bit more than what Pono is dishing out, the Calyx M is wonderful.
Another brand-new arrival? The Woo Audio WA22 headphone amplifier, which came with a brand new pair of Fostex TH500 headphones, that’s what. This pair represents a solid entry from headphone audio’s extreme top end, and I am psyched to be
playing with seriously investigating this pair.
I’m planning on an in-depth on the Woo, and since that Fostex is here, maybe a side-by-side with a suite of flagship open-back headphones will be in order!
Not last and not least is the NAD HP50 headphones that Naomi loves (top photo). These headphones are a very compelling closed-back entry into my catalog of such cans, with cheery colors, good fit, and solid sound.
I’ve shown them here with another nifty little doodad from VPI, the Nomad. This “turntable system” is rather unusual in today’s high-end — an all-analog system in a compact footprint. I’m loving this — anything that lets me play my records at all hours (and without having to fire up the Big Rig) is to be celebrated. As a stand-alone, portable, or upscale entry-level system, the Nomad is flipping great. If I were well-heeled, every nephew and niece would have gotten one as they headed off to college. Sound like a plan? Well, I heard a rumor that it just became a limited-run solution, so stocking up might be wise.
A surprise that just showed up today — the Deepblue2 from Peachtree Audio. Bigger than it looks and sounds bigger than it is, this Bluetooth-enabled speaker system is awesome. I had it up and running in approximately 5 minutes and filling the house with sound since. If you’re in the market for a Sonos speaker, you might want to check this out instead. It looks better, sounds better, and works with what you have. I’m giddy. Loving what this box is doing.
On the way
In other news, there’s a whole host of other stuff on the way from the PTA family. Pass Labs’ new XA100.8 mono block amplifiers. AURALiC’s Merak amplifier, Taurus Pre and Aries streamer. Tekton’s Pendragon SEAS loudspeakers. Rogue Audio’s Sphinx hybrid integrated amplifier. Merrill Audio Thor mono block amplifiers. Electrostatic headphones and headphone amplifier King Sound. A DSD DAC from iFi Audio. The Alpha Dog Prime from MrSpeakers. And yes, there’s more.
Oh, and happy holiday for those of you Americans not standing in line at one store or another. And for those of you overseas, may you have a thoughtful, and thankful, week.
I also bought the Wyrd – just out of curiosity. Schiit audio actually doesn’t claim it will make your stereo sound better. They only say it cleans up the USB power and provides extremely accurate clocking to the USB data stream.
But it also made my setup (Mytek 192 DSD DAC) sound better. Not orders of magnitude better, but noticeably better.
I think this is the whole game — incremental improvements. The trick is to not let ’em break the bank.