Perfecting my Desktop System With Headphones, Speakers, and Spatial Audio
I first wrote about this project in October 2021 here on Audiophile Style.
My desktop system is one project that needed to be finished, not just the audio part! I use an M1 MacBook Air with an Apple 5k (LG) display as my main computer. I have an external 2 TB NVME SSD as needed. On the back of the display are three USB-C ports and the Thunderbolt port for the MacBook. I attached a Satechi port expander to give me three USB-A ports and an SD card reader.
Over the last three weeks, I have completed the audio system. I found the ideal solution for me; I discovered JDS labs in Illinois. They make a series of DACs, Pre-amps, and an excellent combo, the Element III DAC + headphone amp/preamp. The Element III has a large digital volume control knob on top of the metal case and a little OLED status display that has all the info I want at a glance. The knob also has a push-down switch; you can control many of the features of the Element III. Things like DAC filters, increments for the rotation of the knob, and what level those increments are. The headphone amp has a 1-watt output and two output levels. There is no level switch; you keep turning up the volume.
As I mentioned above, Element III is also a preamp with one set of RCA outputs which I have connected to the Kali speakers.
I have been using my Kali Audio IN-5 powered monitors as one of my basement systems for almost a year now. At $399 each, they are a good value. The speaker is a three-way with the mid-range, and the tweeter mounted concentrically. The cabinet is front ported, which I have found helps the imaging. I have the speakers set on isoACOUSTIC pucks to decouple the speakers from the desk. The speakers have an internal DSP for placement and LF / HF cutoffs. They also have switchable RCA unbalanced input.
Today I swapped to Gen-1 Apple HomePods on top of the Kali speakers for Apple Music Spatial Audio!
I mirrored the playback software from my ATMOS system, using JRiver for local files and Apple Music for chasing the latest tunes. Like the ATMOS system, I use Hang Loose Convolver but only use the @mitchco headphone correction filter for my HD-6xx headphones.
As you can see above, Mitch has removed some of the high-end peaks and shifted the low-end down a bit. The difference in listening experience is surprising. It is much more comfortable for longer listening, and there is a new richness in the reproduction and a nicely improved strength in the bottom end.
I just received a pair of Meze 109 Pro headphones to add to my small collection; they are very comfortable and sound great.
To top it off, I converted my Ikea corner desk to a sit/stand desk using legs from Autonomous.ai.
This all fell into place on the first of the year.
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