My journey through recorded sound has been both interesting and varied and I hope that my friends on the JPLAY Forum will indulge me while I share some experiences with you all. I am posting in the Hydepark forum as the purpose of this post is not to share or acquire technical information or to share the detail of my current system configuration. This purpose of this post is quite simply, to entertain and perhaps provoke some thoughts and memories on the part of fellow forum members.
The journey with stereo sound started back in 1966 when my father purchased an HMV Stereomaster for the family's use. One of the first records purchased was on the Decca label 'A Journey Into Stereo Sound'. The first side comprised the usual trickery of early stereo demonstration discs and we would take it in turns to kneel in front of the stereogram to experience steam trains pulling out a station, racing cars at the Goodwood circuit and the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, all in glorious stereo sound. The second side of the album was in effect, a sample of the Decca classical music catalogue and didn't get too many plays, although I have come to appreciate its content much more as the years have gone by. I still have this album and a few years back, I parted with a significant sum of money to purchase an imported XRCD version.
Fast forward to 1980 when, after several system upgrades, some good, some not so good, I purchased my first Linn Sondek LP12 with Basik arm and cartridge. Prior to the LP12, I had owned a Rega Planar 3 for a few months. I was quite happy with it but I figured that if the Planar 3 could bring about such an improvement, what would be the level of improvement if I bought an LP12? I wasn't disappointed. I once told Roy Gandy of Rega that I would never have owned an LP12 had I not owned the Planar 3 as it made my appreciate the significance and importance of the source component.
I was not tempted to purchase a CD player as I was sceptical of the 'perfect sound forever' claims that were made by the manufacturer for the early Phillips CD players. Things changed on 27th January 1986 when EMI released Frank Zappa's 'Does Humor Belong In Music?' on CD only. That release, together with the promise of a multi-disc set of live recordings by Zappa (Which were eventually released as the six volumes of 'You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore') meant that I had to get myself a CD player and a Phillips CD104 was duly added to my system. It was dreadful! The sound was so harsh that wallpaper became detached from the walls of my home and stray dogs from miles around would congregate outside my front door. It did however, enable to access music that was being released on CD only so it served its purpose.
The years went by and my home gradually began to fill up with vinyl albums and CDs. I reached a stage in 2010 when I had no room left to store new purchases and a DAC seemed the way to go. Naim Audio had just released their first DAC so I went to my local dealer, armed with some 24/96 tracks on a USB pen drive. The dealer couldn't get the tracks to play. I should have walked away from the shop at that time but I didn't and so began eight years of hassle with computer audio. I considered buying a Naim Audio HDX hard disc player but at £4K it was more than I could afford. I had a little used laptop at home so I got myself a HiFace from M2Tech, a 2TB external USB drive and a copy of JRiver Media Center and away I went. My then partner said little in the time that we were together that made any sense but one piece of advice that she offered at the time was not to put a Windows based PC anywhere near my hi-fi system. She certainly got that one right!
You see, friends and forum members, Windows PCs are not made for the high quality reproduction of music. They are made to order fluffy toys from Amazon for the very youngest family members, to sign up for a Facebook account in order that one might publicly refer to one's former partner as an old slag and to share photographs of one's genitalia with the current object of one's carnal desires. Although I have never denigrated anyone publicly through social media or made any attempt to share images of my anatomy with others online, I am reliably informed that for the purposes described above, a Windows PC works very well.The quest to achieve high quality sound from a Windows PC (Or PCs) might be likened to the quest for the Holy Grail undertaken by the Knights Templar. As is the case with computer audiophiles, the Knights Templar's quest remained unfulfilled. If Windows PCs worked for high quality audio reproduction, then we wouldn't need expensive hardware options, neither would we need the additional software. The Audio/Control PC/JPLAY/JPLAY Streamer/Minimserver/Audiophile Optimizer/Fidelizer Pro/Process Lasso combinations seems popular (I use it myself) and makes for a good listening experience when it works reliably. It would be so much better if there was something available that combined the qualities of this hardware and software into a single box solution. I've heard good things about Fidelizer's Nimitra but haven't had the opportunity to listen to it.
If computer audiophiles, and it is my regret to my share my affiliation to this group, have a failing, it is that we can never set something up, get it working and then leave it alone! We must always try to wring that last smidgen (A non arbitrary unit of measurement!) of performance from our systems. The usual outcome for me is that any attempt to extract said smidgen of performance is usually greeted by an error message on the screen and total silence from my speakers.
So what might be the pre-requisites of setting up a computer based digital source:
- Don't do it, unless you are willing to spend more time trying to get it to work than you are listening to music
- Ensure that you have acquired a skill set in computing and IT, preferably to doctorate level
- Be prepared to accept the fact that even if you spend a very significant amount of money, your digital front end will probably not sound as good as your turntable and that fifty year old vinyl LP
- An adequate supply of stress relieving medication from a medical practitioner
- An ability to survive on two or three hours sleep every night in order to allocate sufficient time to tinkering with your computer/s
The more positive aspects of computer audio are that I get to listen to a lot more music that I would otherwise be unable to store and access. There is also the fact that through the audio boards, particularly this one, I have met some genuinely nice people who are always willing to share their expertise with those less skilled than themselves.
So you've been through the hassle of setting up a computer based front end component, have spent many sleepless nights trying to bring about improvements that are probably not required and subsequently trying to fix the mess that you subsequently made of your system ... Where do you end up? There are frequent occasions when I wish I had never gone down the computer audio path. The frustrations of owning a computer front end can be to the detriment of the enjoyment of music.
I've always regarded myself as a record collector. I'm not one of those people who buys 180g reissues to keep them in their shrink wrap while I look for a needle drop online. The majority of my vinyl collection dates back to the 1960s and 1970s and I am informed that my collection is both desirable and valuable. I will be downsizing and moving to a new property within the next couple of years and I hope that I will have sufficient space to retain my vinyl collection. My records form the soundtrack of my life and I would hate to be without them. They bring back so many memories, some happy and some not so happy but they have become a part of what I am. I can't envisage that I will ever have a similar affection for material stored on a hard drive.
As digital sound goes, I am reasonably happy with my computer front end. It doesn't sound as good as my Linn Sondek LP12/Naim Audio Armageddon/Naim ARO/Linn Troika setup but perhaps my ears have become conditioned to analogue sound over the years. I've learned to live with the benefits and the frustrations of computer audio and have probably taken my system as far as it can go without significant financial expenditure which, now that I am retired from full-time employment, is no longer an option.
Sometimes I just wish that I had that HMV Stereomaster back in my life!
Here endeth today's reading
With best wishes to you all. Whatever you use to listen and whether it be analogue or digital, vinyl, CD or hard drive ...
Enjoy the music