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"Audiophile" - Compliment or Insult


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One part of me is reluctant to even start this conversation, to the point where I asked Chris about it first. It is a subject about which there is great diversity of opinion and I would first ask that everyone, including myself, try not to be dogmatic or lose sight of having respect for the views of others.

 

When I was 17, in 1971, my best friend called me and said his folks were out of town for the weekend and that his older brother was coming into town from college and bring beer - be there!

 

Well, along with beer, older brother also brought this stereo system. I grew up in a household that loved music; there are several musicians in my familiy including my brother, a guitarist who was invited to and played at the Montreux Jazz Festival when he was 20. However, we were of modest means and our stereo was a Wards Airline console AM/FM automatic turntable. When I heard the sound of the brother's system, which was all Macintosh with a Thorens turntable, my life changed. Although they were both life altering experiences, the only thing roughly comparable I can think of was the first time I ever saw a young lady naked with her permission. Among the many differences between the experiences is that I had some vague idea of how to turn the stereo on....

 

It was truly an epiphany. I heard intimacy, delicacy, reality and textures that bordered on being sensual. It was many years before I was able to acquire anything even remotely close to that experience but it was my goal from then on.

 

With this first offering I would just kind of like to get the ball rolling. I own a stereo store that offers products that range from moderate to extremely expensive. I have witnessed the down side of being an audiophile, where you are listening to the gear rather than the music. I have also been trapped in it at times. However, there is a reason that a Guarneri violin is desirable beyond it's price and/or playability. Sound is an essential part of music reproduction. I have no interest in hearing great recordings of bad or poorly played music. However most instruments are designed to sound good and that is part of what the experience is about whether you are discussing the Guaneri violin, a pre war Martin or a 58 strat.

 

My present view of high end audio is that if the higher price allows you to better appreciate the musical intent, a subtle phrase, the beauty of the tonality of the instrument, then it is serving the music. I enjoy good soundstaging and imaging but they are less important to me than something that gets me more involved with the music and the performance. When I close my eyes at a classical performance I don't get that hyper specific sense of imaging I hear on many recordings. Instead I get this wonderful feeling of space and effortlessness.

 

I would rather hear a great system than a mediocre one and I enjoy the music more. I am really not addressing price and I hope we can avoid going off on a tangent about value. That is a valid topic but a different one. The absolute best systems I have been exposed to are very expensive. However I have heard a number that were very good, very musical and moderately priced. In some cases they were far more enjoyable than some ultra high dollar offerings. My point is that truly great sound can actually enhance musical enjoyment and is worth pursuing without falling into the listening to the gear trap.

 

A line I use a lot with customers is that they are going to invest some time in listening to different equipment, hopefully find someone whose guidance they are comfortable with, at some point write a check and, at the end of the day, the goal is to be completely unaware of everything they purchased. The more the system calls attention to itself, the more it is getting in the way. By the same token, you want to have the full experience of the sound of the instruments without the system editing out the beauty of the sound. That is where the design of great gear, at whatever price point, becomes an art form.

Staying up past your bedtime listening is usually a positive sign.

 

I guess my basic position is that truly better reproduction does have the ability to enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of music and is not just the realm of geeks or people looking at high end gear as status symbols.

 

Sorry this was so long.

 

Rick

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Excellent start Rick! I've only got a few minutes right now as I am booked solid until 3:00 this afternoon :-(

 

I will surely be back to add my comments and I hope others do as well. I find this very interesting and enjoyable.

 

Please Note: We do have a good thing going around here. Let's keep this potentially argumentative topic fun!

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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...with some differents developements my life was the same, dear Rick: I "life" for the Music and I am sure that "digital" Music is (can be) another step to the best sound in a domestic space.

Yes, we "lose" some(thing) like a very good turntable or RTR (we must find the space for these supreme devices...) but the future (hires formats, download...) IS this!

 

Ciao, Luca.

 

1stSYS...[iPad with MPaD like remote]Auraliti PK100(HD 1Tb W.D.)=>W4S dac1=>Megahertz audio integrated valve OTL amplifier=>SonyMDR-10(the King)headphone.[br]2ndSYS...iMac w/iTunes=>HRTstreamer II=>Adam A5 powered speakers.

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Early this evening I was listening to lossless files from my iBook>simple digital transport Trends UD-10) containing a 16 bit Burr-Brown DAC>70s vintage Harman Kardon A-402>Sennheiser HD580s.

 

This simple system, mid-fi from your best customers' point of view, eargasmic to the average iPod listener, is probably not resolving enough to draw me into the danger of the audiophile pursuit you pointed to: Listening to the equipment. But it's enough to pull me into a more common danger zone: Listening to the recordings. I always told myself that if I ever found myself passing over poorly-recorded great music to listen to lesser art better captured, that I would purge myself of all my borderline audiophiic tendencies by listening exclusively to cassette tapes on a boom box until I had cleared my mind.

 

But I can't bring myself to do it. The good stuff just sounds too good. It's too much fun to listen to. Even in mid-fi. Which is, of course, why I confess to being and audiophool.

 

But I don't think either of those are the biggest danger of the hobby. The biggest one is shared with many other hobbies. It is starting out in the pursuit of something valuable, noble, even -- beautiful music reproduced beautifully, and falling into the pursuit of stuff. The simple, small urge to upgrade and acquire simply for the sake of having it, for the way the possessing of the stuff makes us feel, can be obsessive and destructive. But the cure is just as simple: Be happy with what you have. Simplify if necessary. Enjoy the music. Or as you tell your customers:

 

"at the end of the day, the goal is to be completely unaware of everything they purchased."

 

Excellent advice, that.

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Alright Rick I finally have some time to get into this one.

 

I've been thinking about your title Audiophile Compliment or Insult. I guess when someone in the industry calls me an audiophile I am cool with it, but when someone who really has no understanding of what a real audiophile is calls me an audiophile I consider it an insult. Audiophile unfortunately can be such a loaded term :-| Just what we need in this sometimes strange industry.

 

You also got me thinking about my path to high performance audio. When I switched from a Toshiba radio to a Technics receiver with $32 Kenwood speakers I thought it couldn't get any better. That was sixth grade and many upgrades ago!

 

Then, several years later, I went into a store called Audio King (now Ultimate Electronics) and heard a pair of Polk Audio LS70 speakers. I really didn't like the sound at that time because they were playing right next to a pair of Klipsch KG5.0 speakers and the Klipsch were right in my face. Whereas the Polks were laid back. I actually asked the salesman who would actually buy the Polks speakers. I remember it very well :-) About six months later I couldn't get the Polk sound out of my head and I purchased the LS70s. That was the height of livin' back in the day.

 

A few years after that I had a rude awakening. I walked into Audio Perfection here in Minneapolis and asked if they carried Polk speakers. The guy told me they carried what he considered to be better than Polk. I chuckled to my buddy when he left the room because I thought the salesman was crazy. Two minutes later I heard my first pair of Vandersteens and I there was no turning back. Since then I've had many different brands and designs of equipment. I do long for the sound of my old Martin Logan ReQuest speakers once in a while. But, in the long run the Logans just weren't my thing.

 

I have to agree that great recordings of bad music really turn me off. I used to walk into a local high end store called HiFi Sound and I would always justify my music selection by saying "So & So records well ... for a popular artist." Now days I don't feel the need or desire to justify any music that I like or any piece of equipment that enhances my listening experience. If it sounds good to me then it sounds good.

 

The whole thing about enjoying music more on a better system is very true. Sure I can get into a Pearl Jam performance on an AM Clock Radio, but listening on a Wilson / Audio Research system puts them band in my listening room. If certain people want to listen to the gear instead of the music I am cool with that. It helps keep manufacturers in business and hopefully keeps prices down for the rest of us.

 

I have a few more chapters of material I could continue with, but I'll keep it chambered for my responses to follow in this thread :-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Hey Tim - I like your statement about, "...and falling into the pursuit of stuff. " I think many people are in this trap instead of the pursuit of great sound. Nothing wrong with that, but not my cup of tea. I think this fact is very evident in the lack of people purchasing room treatments. Room treatments can have such a huge positive effect on the music well beyond what any piece of equipment can do. Yet, not many people spend the money on them.

 

Now, headphone acoustic treatments would be something else ... :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Tim, you are very right and I think that is a valid element of what I am talking about, just a different manifestation. When I visit a customer and look at their music collection I know I have an uphill battle when it is all audiophile selections that were officially blessed as reference recordings by the various magazines with nothing "funky" included.

 

Having said that I wish all music was recorded well, but your point is well taken.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Room treatment, done well and moderately is huge. The vast majority of our customers rooms are terrible and we are not allowed to even do decent speaker placement, much less use something that will interfere with the decor. It's heartbreaking when you install a good system into a room with tile flooring and glass everywhere you look and that has an RT-60 response like a train station.

 

The other extreme is the guy who wants to turn his dedicated room into an anechoic chamber, even when you explain to him that competent speakers are measured in chambers but voiced in well balanced listening rooms.

 

 

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Chris - Pad-changing is nothing. You should see the scenario in which one buys the most expensive Denons, only to take them apart and stuff them full of damping materials. I suppose it's just a different hobby, but personally, I'd just pick different phones.

 

Rick - I think they'd be better off going to the other extreme of a dedicated room, or partial room; not an anechoic chamber, but convert a small, controllable space into a listening room with a nearfield set up. It's so much easier to get the best possible imaging and frequency response under those circumstances. And so much less expensive to do so. Of course there are compromises - in range (subs have never sounded integrated to me) and in dynamics. But it can so easily and inexpensively be so much better than tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear in a hard, untreated room...

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I again agree. Some guys have that latitude. Most have wives. There are times when we consider it a win to not have in wall speakers. In fairness, my wife allowed me to put a 200 lb pair of Thiel 7.2's with Levinson monoblocks in our living room, the best acoustical room in the house. Many are not so blessed.

 

I would rather hear good nearfield that bad farfield but for some reason it never completely satisifies me. I listen to a fair amount of classical and I do like a decent sized soundstage for some stuff. This is one of those very subjective things, obviously.

 

I have had success integrating really good subwoofers well. It takes a lot of time and effort. However if the room nodes are fundamentally bad, it can be impossible and EQ doesn't help on the sub. Most subs are horrible, in my opinion, both in sound quality and how well they are integrated into the system. I like to crossover really low, hopefully letting the main speaker run full range and bringing in the sub below it.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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I have one of those - wives, not sub woofers. But she's not the problem so much as simple space - 3 people, 3 dogs and too much stuff in too little house. And while I could probably talk my way into setting up a pair of large speakers in the living room (and listen to them at the volume I like when it's just me and the dogs!), what I couldn't get away with is room treatments. In a nearfield system (something I'm very painfully without at the moment) I can run is satisfactorily behind a closed door at very acceptable volume levels and room treatment, while not quite a non-issue, is pretty darned close. The compromises, no doubt, are quite real. Less so for me and the kind of music I listen to most, but still real.

 

Subs - One of these days I should try to find a small one of very good quality and get it eq'd and crossed-over right. I have myself believing that I won't miss the deep bass that much. Of course for months now, I've been listening almost exclusively to Senn 580s powered by an old dual-mono HK integrated. The bass is quite palpable. I might miss it desperately.

 

Are there any subs out there small enough to tuck under a big desk with great performance? I don't need the grind of a movie trainwreck or the lowest pedals of a cathedral's organ. But it shure would be nice to feel a kick drum.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I know Velodyne has some new smallish subs, but the price and performance may not be what you're looking for.

 

http://www.velodyne.com/products/product.aspx?ID=26&sid=106o649r

 

I like the sound of subs every now and then, but subs are mostly a novelty for me personally. I've yet to hear a well integrated one like Rick is talking about.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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I've been thinking about this for a few days now. It had me puzzled until just a second ago. The term "Audiophile" is neither an insult, nor a compliment. It is a noun.

 

Seriously. I don't feel anything else about the word or its usage in either writing or conversation. This would explain my puzzlement about the question here. I know that the word may be used with either positive or negative connotations if one wants to do that. But if that were the case at hand, I would have to assume that the negative or positive bent of the comment would actually be directed at me (or the person being commented upon), not the generic 'lover of hearing'. It is merely the sum of its latin and greek root words.

 

I read the original post and the commentary that followed after it, finding myself agreeing with most of it, but just could not put my finger on how I felt about it until checking the dictionary just for the heck of it. I'm neither embarrassed or proud to be called audiophile. I don't even care if anyone else thinks that I am one or not.......

 

I'm just a hi-fi guy .... staying up past his bedtime. Again. - markr

 

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We agree again, Mark. A noun, indeed. And a very relative one at that. To a lot of folks, the fact that I have a hard drive full of lossless files and re-load my iPod Nano all the time because it will only hold a few albums at that rate makes me a bit of a nut. But I don't really consider myself an audiophile and the evidence is in the present company. Now I know a guy, may have mentioned him before. He has a rack of McIntosh, a pair of Legends, a pair of Martin Logans, and only about 50 cds. And he spends all his free time playing Warcraft on the internet in another room.

 

From my perspective, that's a bit of a nut. It's all relative.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Perhaps my use of the word doesn't accurately reflect what I was trying to convey. What I was referring to is the view by some that if you are into the gear, you are listening to the system more than the music. My point is that it can be both and should be both. The use or audiophile as a perjorative is fairly common so I used it to make my point. There are any number of nouns that have connotations associated with them.

 

At any rate there doesn't seem to be much interest in the topic. I was concerned about opening a can of worms and it seems the can was empty.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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I too was hoping there would be a better response, but I think your little clarification just now may open it up a little bit.

 

When I think of spending $5000 on a preamp the main thing I want is sound, but I also want a component that is aesthetically pleasing. I separate these two items from the desire for gear and listening to the gear. I certainly don't have a problem with anyone's likes or dislikes and I won't say there is a right or wrong here. But, I do find it kind of unenjoyable to enter a room at CES only to have the demonstrator playback Joni Mitchell over and over again because her voice hit the crossover perfectly for his speakers. To me that is listening to the gear not the music. If you're into that and enjoy it I'm totally cool with it.

 

On the other hand I love great sound. But I really hesitate to purchase an expensive product that I can't stand looking at. For example I really dislike the look of Harbeth speakers. The sound is great, but I turned down an offer to purchase a pair solely because of the look. I love the look and sound of the B&W 800 series, which is why I purchased a pair of 802 speakers a few years back. I guess what I'm saying is that I must like the looks and the sound and I think that is pretty normal for a very abnormal hobby :-)

 

Maybe I got a little off the desired path of this thread, maybe not. It's a good conversation nonetheless.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Thank you! That addition clarifies your question for me. Let me clarify my position somewhat:I suppose that I've isolated myself from being belittled as an 'audiophile', or witnessing others being belittled, by the nature of my co-interest in sound production taking precedence over the listening aspect of sound alone. This being almost to the exclusion of 'listening for the listening's sake' at one point.

 

That -final- change in my consumption of all things audio occurred probably 20 years ago for me. That was the point that I decided that while I loved the ability to listen to fine sound whenever I wanted, that I was also an aspiring musician and that was more important to me. That might have been a mistake for me, as I have ended up spending more time doing the things necessary to acquire the equipment and knowledge to produce music, and helping to produce others, than fully developing my musical performance capability in those 20 years.

 

I've been hanging around places other than 'hi-fi' shops since that revelation, and instead of reading Stereo Review-type or music review mags - or hanging in the audio enthusiast websites - something that I did 'pre-relelation'- I've been studying sound reinforcement and recording literature while using the web to fill any gaps in that information flow.

 

I stumbled upon Computer Audiophile here via a notice that Chris posted in a pro audio usenet group that I visit in from time to time. The notice Chris posted rang true and clear to me. I don't remember exactly what he posted there, but it was essentially positing that computers and high-level audio go hand in hand, and that he was starting a website to discuss and advance the idea of that fact. My knowing that his assumption (knowledge) was true, led me to believe that I could be of some help with this project. I had after all, known this combination of computers and audio gear to be 'the way to go' - and not just from a cost effectiveness standpoint - for around 10 years. I was only marginally aware that the 'audiophile' world had equipment that interfaced with computers at that point (~ 6 months ago). Kismet really.

 

Now I DO know that some people think I am something of a nut for spending the time and money to have the audio equipment that I have acquired, but it does have the potential to be a money generator. Also many folks do consider me a musician or a recordist or both, so I suppose that I could have been exposed to much more derision than I actually have been otherwise.

 

- I suppose that makes me less of a nut than the traditional audiophile. I don't know. I don't care. I am 'like' the audiophile I was before my change, and like the audiophiles I knew then: I am doing what I love as much as I am able to.

 

There. A worm for your can?

 

markr

 

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I don't know .... I do know that I don't think about spending $5000 on a preamp. I think about finding the functional equivalent of that sound for much less. I think that you have to 'listen to the gear' to listen to the music at its 'apogee' (no pun intended) though. But I do agree that running through expensive equipment like it is water just for the sake of having the 'latest-greatest' is a mistake. Especially if, like Tim's friend who has great equipment, has only 50 CD's and plays World of Warcraft instead of listening to music anyway, you don't really care about the music material in the first place. WOW is aging and beginning to decline now anyway - that guy should be getting into his new 'Age of Conan' persona and splitting up his rack of MacIntosh equipment between Tim and myself instead. Tim, do you suppose he would trade that Mac equipment for a Panasonic receiver and some old mid-eighties playback equipment?

 

I suppose that I am sort of immune to the 'looks of the equipment' factor here as well. Two things:

(1) No wife-factor in my case so far.

(2) There is some, but not a lot, of choice about the look of professional audio equipment. I suppose that there are ways around that however, right Annabella? - But I really don't care about that. I use boulders and tree stumps for furniture anyway *grin*.

 

markr

 

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Mark's on a roll. And I'm dangerously close to uttering that incredibly tedious cliche: "It's all good."

 

But you know what? It's really not. If Chris is into visually stunning $5,000 CDPs and B&W 803s (and yes, they do look mahvelous dahlingk!) and I'm into price/performance maximized black and grey boxes and wouldn't put $5,000 into a CDP if it was chump change for me, well, THAT's all good. Even listening to equipment instead of music (which I know happens, but I've personally never witnessed it happening exclusively) is all good if you've got the goods to do it.

 

It stops being good when it becomes irresponsible materialism. When kids are going to lesser schools than they could, retirement funds are going un-funded, families are getting short-changed because someone has the irrational upgrade lust that never ends, that's not good. We all know those guys are out there. Some of them build hot rods or Harleys. Some of them buy audio. People around them suffer for the lust for stuff that they require too make them feel valid.

 

Not to get too deep, but it's really not good, even if there is no family. If your identity is wrapped up in having what you've talked yourself into believing is the best of some possession instead of in something inside of you, you need to find a better path.

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Going back to one of the roots to the word 'audiophile' itself: beginning with the Greek word 'philos' or 'love of':

 

The grammatical structure of the Greek language is quite specific to different meanings for what is translated to our single word "love". It is broken into additional meanings to philia which is brotherly or kinsman-like love - such as, eros: erotic or sexual love (sometimes defined as "lust"); agape: selfless love; and storge: 'blood is thicker than water' type love.

 

I suppose that we could construct english-styled words such as 'audioerotic', 'audioagape' or 'audiostorgian' to more precisely describe what we really are.

 

I think I pretty well succeed at audiophilia nowadays, but have DEFINITELY been audioerotic in the past! It wouldn't take much of a stretch to describe me as audiostorgian or audioagape either.

 

markr

a 'roll' indeed - nope. just a day off of work!

 

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A good case in point is a customer we had in today. He is doing a theater in a newly finished part of his basement. My guess is that he has the means to do pretty much what he wants in terms of budget, barring the completely nuts stuff. He was willing to spend 35K on a projector. He was going to go "cheap" on the sound part of the system because he "is not an audiophile" and would never hear the difference. We have a pair of speakers that run $3450.00/pair and are as good a value as anything I have ever encountered. They have an almost cult following as great sound for a moderate price. The are either plain looking or butt ugly, depending on your perspective. They are NOT a piece of furniture. He left the store raving about how much he connected with the sound (he does like jazz) and talking about how the theater could be used to enjoy music. To me, this is a classic case of the gear serving the music rather than the other way around and is something I find rewarding. He wasn't describing the sound of the gear to his wife as he talked about his response, he talked about the music he was hearing. It was kind of ironic timing since he used the term audiophile as something he couldn't relate to and yet he totally appreciated good quality reproduction. He is going to do a less expensive projector and a better sound system. The overall budget stays in the same neighborhood, actually less, and I feel that he will get far more out of it, in part because the projector price point was past the "knee" of most products where the price/performance ratio becomes almost vertical.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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