Mark’s Audiophile Journey

I am not a sound engineer or music producer. I do consider myself am an audiophile because I really care about the sound qualty of the music I listen to, but unlike some audiophiles, the audio equipment is only a means to an end and not part of my audio hobby. As a result, I tend to hunt for audio equipped that delivers the sound quality I desire, and then don’t think about audio equipment for years. Eventually an external event triggers a re-evaluation my equipment such as a move into a new space, a fundamental shift in technology, or equipment dying. For me this means I spent time evalulating equipent in 1978, 1993 (move, CD only), 2006 (computer audio and kids), 2012 (life changes), 2017 (move and life changes). I am willing to spend hours evaluating equipment blind A-B testing, etc to find equipment which made a significant improvement in sound at what I considered a reasonable price.

Reasonable Investment?

In this age of lossy streaming audio, earbuds and bluetooth speakers  spending thousands of dollars on audio equipment would not be considered a “reasonable price” by many. On the other hand, I invested around $6000 in an audio system I used for 19 years which gave me significant joy. That works out to around $0.86 / day, and less than $0.20 / hour. That is less than many people spend each day on coffee. I think it’s been a good investment.

I often tell people that they should only spend money if they hear a difference. I am sure there are experts who can tell the difference between excellent speakers which cost $10K and the ultra high-end $100K speakers, but if you don’t heard a significant different compared to a $300 speaker, there is no reason to spend the extra money.

Current System

My media is mostly CD ripped into Apple Loseless, or loseless streams via TIDAL because I can hear the difference between good quality lossy (AAC 320kbps, VBR LAME) and CD quality lossless. I have not been able to hear a difference between 44/16 encoding and SACD, 96/24, Pogo, and other high resolution encodings, nor classic analog. I use Roon software as a way to control whole house music.  Music is played through:

  • KEF LS50 wireless speakers driven via USB from Mac Mini using Roon
  • Bluesound Flex Pulse wireless speakers driven typically via Roon for whole house audio.
  • Sennheiser HD800 fed via a Chord Mojo DAC/Amp from an iPhone running iTunes, Roon or TIDAL
  • Apple AirPods driven by an iPhone for around town when convenience and situational awareness trumps sound quality
  • Westone ES5 when I want sound isolation (typically when traveling). Typically driven using the headphone jack on my iPhoneor an EarStudio ES100 from other devices via Bluetooth.


Starting Out (1978)

I started on my audiophile journey in the late 1970s. I wanted a good sounding stereo but I didn’t have a lot of money. There was no way I could afford a system like my dad’s: an Apt Holman preamp, driving a GAS AmpZilla into Dahlquist DQ10 speakers which later got upgraded to Conrad-Johnson preamp&amp driving Sonus Faber speakers.

I realized that a using headphones rather than speakers would be significantly less expensive. A friend’s Advent receiver driving Stax earspeakers seems equal in sound quality to my dad’s system at a much lower price point. Alas, this was still too expensive.

My starting system was Technics turntable, Orofon cartidge, NAD 3020 integrated amplifier driving a first generation AKG 240 headphone. Later I added a pair of Boston Acoustic speakers, a Marantz PMD 221 portable cassette deck and a portable CD player and finally got a pair of Stax.

Upgrade After Move (1993)

In 1992 I moved to the San Francisco bay area. I had a bit more money, and the cones on the BA speakers needed to be replaced. After much consideration I settled on a pair of Martin-Logan Aeius hybrid electro-static speakers which lead to a Classe 70 power amplifiers paired with a Classe 4 pre-amp. During the move I decided to switch exclusively to using CDs. My cassette deck and turntable were dropped and my CD player was ultimately upgraded to a Marantz 67SE CD player. 

Computer Audio & Kid (2006)

I purchased an iPod to replace my portable CD player. I used a pair of Etymotic EP4 on the train, and a Stax SR-001 in the office for “portable” music. I was enjoying play lists and not having to swap CDs. I decided it was time to fully embrace computer based audio. I picked up a Squeezebox and starting RIPPING my CDs to FLAC which I later converted to Apple Lossless.

At the same time I built a second audio systems so when the kids were listening to music in the family room, the adults could enjoy our music in the living room, The family room system was also integrated with a TV and a Mac Mini.  During this time I tried a wide variety of component including some DIY designs. I was pretty active on gear trader, managed to borrow some friends gear , to try to keep costs down while getting a systems with a sound quality that was close to what I was used to.  Eventually we settled on a Bryston integrated amplifier with NHT speakers, and a DVD/CD player.

Death and Solitude (2012)

In 2011 my wife died, and the same day my Classe 70 started to malfunction. In a time of sorrow, music was critical to me. In the past I had liked Chord’s power amplifier. I stumbled on a good deal, so I replaced the failing Classe without a lot of testing.

Over the following months I found that I was listening to music late at night. I didn’t want to bother others so I was using headphones. Alas, I had sold my Stax years earlier and I didn’t like using my in-the-ear monitoring for extended periods of time. I stopped by an audio store planning to purchase a pair of Stax, only to walk out with a pair of Sennheiser HD800 which sounded better to my ears than the mid-range Stax.

Over the next couple of years I tried a variety of headphone, headphone amplifiers, and DACs which I was able to borrow from friends, purchase, or traded. Most of the equipment I had for more than a couple of months is listed on my head-fi profile.

Ultimately I found three headphone I wanted to keep. I couldn’t justify the cost of the Stax SR-009 + BH amplifier. I found that while different, I liked  the Stax SR-007mk1 driven by a KGSSHV amplifier and a Sennheiser HD800 driven by a Headamp GS-X mk2 equality. I decided to keep the Sennheiser HD800 system and sell the Stax for two reasons. First, I could get more money for the Stax. Second, I could drive the Sennheiser HD800 using portable electronic while the Stax required me to be tethered to a wall outlet and large amplifier.

Marriage and Simplicity (2017)

In 2015 I got married and started using speakers for most of my listening so my wife and I could share the listening experince.

I decided that sound quality from the Chord Mojo feed the HD800 was sufficiently good that I sold the rest of my headphone gear, a head-fi heresy no doubt. 

We then moved and the Aerius no longer really fit. After a fair bit of soul searching I decided that I was willing to compromise a bit of sound quality for marriage harmony. I also was actively looking to simplify life.

The KEF LS50 wireless was exactly what I was looking for. The size and look appealed to my wife. Better yet, there wasn’t really any additional equipment needed near by, keeping the area clean and simple. The sound quality for general use was good, and excellent if I moved a chair so I could use them in a near field configuration. My trusty Aerius and assorted other gear was sold to a co-worker who appreciated it’s sound quality.

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