Thursday, August 2, 2012

Audiophilia Nervosa

"Audiophilia Nervosa" is a terminology used on audiophiles who constantly upgrade their gears and it would indeed be a sin if our relentless pursuit is in hifi gears rather than music!

I set up my first serious hifi system in 1992 that has seen countless upgrades since (prior to that, I only had stereo receiver and self-assembled loudspeakers). Twenty years down the road, my system should have matured and I should also have mustered enough experiences to mock audiophilia nervosa friends with the "... been there, done that" phrase but fact is I am equally guilty of committing the very same sin myself - an aspect that I am not proud of. As audiophiles, we tend to justify our actions; this blog posting is on some recent updates to my system and my justifications in performing them.

After owning a Linn LP12 turntable, I sought to own a Naim amplifier next and voice my system closer to a 'flat-earth' system with greater emphasis on timing. I fulfilled this aspiration by acquiring a Nait XS - an integrated amp instead of pre/power models as I favour minimal box count, lesser cables and I have modest means. The danger of owning Naim amps is the ensuing addition of matching source components and/or external power supplies to adhere to Naim's design philosophy. Then there are upgrades to higher-up models. I shall strive hard to steer clear of such path but I digress.

Nait XS has many 'round-earth' sonic properties, is greener with its lower power consumption (biased to class B) and has better electrical properties to drive my rather 'lazy sounding' Sonus Faber Concerto Home loudspeakers better than Simaudio Moon i-3 although the latter amp is more powerful, sounds sweeter and fuller, throws a deeper yet more holographic soundstage. Simaudio Moon i-3 is a better amp overall and makes an ideal partner to 'brighter sounding' loudspeakers such as ProAc and B&W, IMO. What Nait XS excels in are it is slightly more revealing, leaner, has better dynamics, more rhythmic thrusts to music and a better boogie factor - not exactly neutral per se but certainly more exciting to listen to. Listening to 16 bits/44.1 kHz Redbook CDs with my Roksan Caspian m1 CD player is excellent that simple Beethoven piano sonatas from the Romantic era sound captivating and alluring. It made me listened to the entire Naxos CD even in an off-axis position slumped on my couch after a tiring day at work. A CD that stands out is 苏芮's HQCD especially track 14 (一样的月光), a live rendition at A-Mei's concert that some folks may find annoyingly noisy. Her singing and backing instruments are furiously fast-paced and full of energy. Cranking up the volume knob on my Nait XS gave me the thrill as though I was right at her life performance myself. Awesome!

How about music of an entirely different genre? Listening to my 中国古筝十大名曲CD, a Marco Polo label under Naxos, had me fooled - as though I was listening to a 'transparent sounding' single-ended tube amp - completely devoid of electronic glare and mechanical edginess. It was that convincing that I was in the mood to brew some 龙井茶 green tea to complete the whole listening experience. I love Nait XS for how it sounds in my system; it is also much more versatile and more coherent sounding than its pre/power siblings and has rather unconventional vdH Integration interconnects and short length of Kimber 4TC speaker cables for company right now.

I listened more to CDs while vinyl playback in my system took a back seat pending arrival of the new fluted walnut plinth with ebony mounting blocks from Woodsong Audio. The plinth is superbly crafted (with build quality surpassing those of new Linn plinths) and has strong wood characters. The corner brace below the tonearm pivot has been specially milled for my RB700 tonearm, done beautifully. I love hard wood furniture, hence a beautiful vintage plinth for my LP12 is quite a must apart from the sonic improvements it imparts.

There are a plethora of aftermarket parts out there, all claiming to improve sonic performances of LP12 but the only item that I am keen in acquiring is a better designed subchassis. The stock steel subchassis with 'lossy-fitting' to Linn armboard is quite a compromise and masks details / bass of LP12 (my former Rega P5 fitted with a Groovetracer subplatter was ahead in such areas). I settled for Audio Innovation Sole V subchassis 'tightly-bolted' to Linn armboard by "Stealth Method" over the numerous alternatives in Linn Keel, GS Audio Klone, AudioFlat Rubikon, Vivid acrylic unit and Funk Firm Charm. My decision was based on John R's sonic preferences which I could identify with and its relatively more affordable price over all others.

Sole V is gorgeous and a real eye candy to behold! My search for new black PoziDriv wood screws at the local fastener shops was futile, hence I re-used the 30 years' old screws but not before giving them a thorough wash and scrub in the rebuilding of my ultimate LP12. I spent many hours at it, paying attention to details and having to run over to CM's place to seek his help to carefully drill-out 3 stubborn Allen screws from my pre-Cirkus bearing flange and completed the rebuild late Sunday evening.

The first record that I spun after the rebuild is Stan Getz's Anniversary LP. I perceived a huge soundstage with greater depth. Instruments sound organic and very vivid that Stan Getz's saxaphone literally jumped out from the Sonus Fabers right into my living room. Dynamics, both macro and micro, are more pronounced whereas tone, timbre and resolve improved significantly. Bass gained weight and details. I would summarise that the stock steel subchassis practically held back all areas of performance whereas Sole subchassis allows more music through without imposing sonic characters of its own. My LP12 now has soul and I love it.
I am justifying that the recent updates to my system are essential for me to enjoy my music. Individually, my hifi gears may not be the most accurate sounding but as a system, it plays music beautifully and evokes emotion in me. On the other hand, I do feel guilty when I went ahead with the purchases each time, a telling sign that my hard-earned money could be put to better use elsewhere. Perhaps I should have done that and remain contented listening to my small Rotel system in the bedroom!