System Building Fundamentals
OK So here is where you can learn the basics about hifi, my aim is to save you the time learning by yourself, because that can take years. First off realize I am a dedicated 2 channel stereo guy, this means I dont talk video or surround sound. While good for movies and sound effects its not how the music is played at the show. Also realize I am a purist and I am picky so the things I do or like will some of the time be more than you need to concern yourself with . So keep that in mind that I go to 11 dont stop at 10 I go one further. Most people are very happy with 5 for the audio system. also, My “entry level” is some peoples reference level. I have decided that this is how I want to enjoy my music, no compromise. I do not spend on cars, boats, watches, sports collectibles, hunting, golf, etc. Hi Fi Is it, so when you think about it that way , its just as nuts as a lot of other hobbies or things men do. You do not need to go to 11 to enjoy high end audio. In fact I will show you how to do this for much less.
Heres a few words of wisdom.
Unless you can have a dedicated listening room, especially if you need to share the room with family and you musnt have speakers in to the room , etc, then realize you can take things only so far. Not as far as with a listening room, so make it good and stop there. no expense on equipment can make up for poor room positioning or acoustics. You can still get much enjoyment, and everyone will understand why you keep it sensible and conservative.
If it sounds good to you thats all that matters. Really. There will be more than once you listen to a highly reviewed piece and it sounds no good, or the one that people dont talk about that you love.. do not be ashamed to be honest with yourself and others as to what you like . There is no right answer other than your environment and how the experience is for you . If everyone hears it but you dont, its OK. So buy for your own listening pleasure and perhaps aesthetic secondarily.
There are 2 general “camps” of sound that people will end up in, and there are many terms for these 2 sound types some more neg than others depending on what side you are on. the first is Accurate or clean, detailed, analytical, etc. This one is harder to nail perfectly because it rides the edge of strident or aggressive. Its also called “unforgiving” because it reveals everything .. good , bad or other.. The reason people like this style is that when you get this one right, it sounds the most real in terms of presence and lucidity. Its like they are there in the room with you for real. If you close your eyes you just as well may be at the show or with that person. Your brain recognizes another human in the room with you if youve really got it dialed. when you hear the words “3D Imaging” it comes from this side. This style takes patience big time. there is such a fine line between killer and not so killer that you must be willing to try small adjustments to get your result. This is a good system for “tweakers” that like something very responsive so small changes yield audible results. This type of rig is very engaging and you interact with it like a race horse jockey or a F1 race car driver. You make a small change then give it a test run. This is not the type of rig for people that want to read a book while listening. The next type is “musical” or organic, relaxing, seductive, dark, mellow, chill, and is also quite enjoyable, but this comes at the expense of the leading edge of the top frequencies. They are softened ever so slightly. Its much easier to get one of these rigs right. They are very forgiving and will smooth over most things that may be a little forward or defined. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two types is a cymbal hit. With Type 1 accurate to life, there will clearly be a “tic” as the stick hits the cymbal before the cymbal shimmer comes and the shimmer will be just like that .. shimmery and mettalic. On a musical rig the tic will be subdued, maybe not even heard and a cymbal hit is like one thing. In the analytical rig a cymbal hit has 3 parts. attack, duration, and trail.
So by knowing what you like you will be better equipped to purchase gear because you for sure want to know which side the piece of gear is tuned to. Another way to say accurate is “transparent” or invisible. It means it shows exactly what it gets no additive features no subtraction from the signal. These pieces of gear or cables are the hardest to build and design
so the earlier you can determine what your home camp is the better.
building a HiFi listening room
This is for dedicated rooms, if you dont have it , its kind of a waste of money to do the things in here. My recommendation for you is to buy a killer integrated amp and some speakers that can be close to a wall with a wide sweet spot.
First thing to do is get a dedicated home run circuit for your rig. This means the audio system gets its own breaker in the electrical panel. If it shares one with appliances its going to be noisy. Noise is the enemy. so get a dedicated circuit 20 A or 2 circuits 20A if its just as easy. If theres 2 , make sure they are on the same leg of the power supply.
Next , buy a couple tube traps or bass traps and a few flat panel acoustic absorbers. go light on heavy absorbers. middle of the road is fine unless you have a bass problem. Make sure they are done correctly as insulation in a pillow case does nothing. If you do not do this step, you will chase your tail with the rig trying to fix things in the room not the system. Trust me on this one, get at least 2 traps and 2 panels.
Get a solid rack for the gear, nothing flimsy or full of vibration
dont skimp on cables, cables determine how much of the gear itself you will use. In other words poor cabling will restrict you to maybe 70% of what your system has to give. Figure this in to the equation
Speakers usually are what you spend the most on unless its Magnepan. Then your amp can cost twice or 3 times what the speaker does. Buy a speaker around 90 to 96 db sensitive. 8 ohm is best. This is my opinion and my rule of thumb. 4 ohm works the amp more than necessary and too sensitive can have its own issues
determine if you like dipole (front and back firing) or front firing only. Dipole reflects off the back wall giving a much larger perceived sound field. The room placement with dipole is more finicky than with box speakers, but the reward is no box coloration. these are resonances and anomalies whereby you can hear the box, if you know what to listen for.
Decide if you want tube amps or solid state amps. Generally solid state is trouble free and more robust a piece and tube takes more care and will have more maintenance involved. I dont mean they break, I just mean you will be changing tubes, measuring bias, etc. The reward is a second order harmonic distortion that is very pleasing to the ear. Air and ambiance and nuance for days, they can be utterly beautiful, and you get to change things up by “tube rolling” or trying different tubes that also work in that circuit, so the amp or preamp is not relegated to just one character, change the tubes and change the character. And yes, its OK to have both, but dterrmine where you want to start, Generally only the best SS can image and be worthy of a real hifi rig, and nearly any tube amp sounds killer.