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Letters to the editor – Week #5, 2021

  • Apologies for the lack of email replies from me this week but behind the scenes, the Darko.Audio web guy (Rene) and I have been testing the stability of a forthcoming website update — a process that unearthed a rather serious database security issue. Much sweating and swearing preceded its resolution. And if that wasn’t enough extra shit to shovel, I spent three full days teaching myself the basics of Final Cut Pro, the first fruits of which appeared in the Q Acoustics Q Active 200 video that finally went live late on Friday evening. Therefore, this week’s selection of emails from the ‘Feedback’ inbox comes from readers who wanted nothing more than to advance the conversation.

    Peter C. writes…

    Thank you John for rekindling my enjoyment of music. For years I’ve just been listening to the radio but since stumbling across your YouTube videos, which are thoroughly entertaining, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing! It was while watching your Wharfdale Diamond 12.1 tale that it dawned on me that the first speakers I bought were a pair of Wharfdale Diamonds, which I seem to recall produced a remarkable sound for such tiny speakers, at least to my young ears. This was when the Nakamichi Dragon was the coolest thing since sliced bread! Anyway I just wanted to say thank you
    .
    I am of course totally confused about how to start a new hifi system. I was thinking Kef LS50wireless as a perfect launch back in, as you advocated in your LSX film, but I hesitated and watched with keen interest your LS50W II & Meta films and what is interesting to you has me reaching for the flour!

    Cheaper separates can be as enjoyable as the actives; so should I hit the forums, because all the shops are closed, or just leap in with the LS50W II and enjoy the music? [Rhetorical]

    An amp I would be delighted to hear your opinion on, if you are so inclined to make a video about, is the Lyngdorf TDAi 1120. You did a news article on it when it was released and as it contains the Holy Trinity, if not the Fab Four as Tidal Connect is in there as well, I thought it might appeal? It also has a version of room correction called Room Perfect, which people seem to be very enthusiastic about as it does things differently to the others. It may even be able to help you with your 35Hz? They go as far as including a proper mic + stand in the box, to take the measurements, as well as an XLR cable to connect it to the amp. Sadly it sits just out of reach for me which makes me think Meta + separates is more flexible for the future…and the merry-go-round starts again!

    Markus writes…

    Hi John

    I want to thank you for your content, it’s great stuff but my god it’s making my wallet moan!

    So a couple or so years back I decided to ‘get back into” hifi after 20 years (let’s call it a hiatus).

    Let’s start with a bang for buck toe in the water, trawl reviews galore and there you were talking my language, listen to products and decide what I like, not what reviewers like!

    A&K KANN with Momentum 2.0, Tidal account and I’m away!

    Skip forward a year and a house move gives me a room…… evenings researching, weekends listening and your wisdom ringing in my ears.

    NADM10 and Russell K150’s being the eventual winners, but wanted more so 12 months later “invested” (don’t you just love that word) in an ATC P2 power amp so the NAD is being used as a pre-amp.

    So where next, experimenting with IEM’S (JH Billie Jeans came the other day for use with the KANN).

    Swap our the NAD for the new Brooklyn Bridge II? add vinyl to the equation? It’s exhausting/exhilarating and always about the music!

    So thank you! I hate you! Thank you, and keep it up.

    Brian B. writes…

    Dear John,

    Just wanted to reach out to let you know how much I enjoy your YT videos. I caught up on a bunch this weekend (I generally watch YT while on the stationary bike and let the algorithm guide my viewing). It is a pleasure to see audiophile guidance that checks so many boxes for my “demographic” — you will examine mid-fi as much as the untouchably expensive stuff, you consider the music and where/how a person is listening, and you’re not afraid of electronic music. For my own part, all my kit (which I love) is decidedly mid-fi and I predominantly listen to electronic music, with a special emphasis on ambient. It is a breath of fresh air to hear practical advice on these matters, with a focus on music I suspect the weirdo-audiophile crowd might find beneath notice. I don’t hang out with people like that.

    Anyhow, I thought the electronic segment was especially entertaining. I can only imagine the daunting task for the new listener, just starting with SAW II and Substrata, with the sheer variety ahead available if you like that sort of thing. I myself bought Otherness and SAW II around the same time in 1995 — I always gravitated to this side of the spectrum, above the bleepier ambient techno of the era (thinking Higher Intelligence Agency, FSOL, et al). We had a good house scene in NYC around this time, but ambient listening was definitely relegated to the home, as I cannot recall the presence of a Chill Room anywhere I might have gone back then (I am now 44 and likely too old for Berghain).

    I am sure a dozen trainspotters have pointed this out, but if you would like Stone in Focus on CD, here in the states, we had an ambient compilation series called Excursions in Ambience, and you can find its CD appearance on the 3rd volume of that. I feel that series has held up a lot better than the typical Chill Out fare of the period for me, as it includes Spectrum and Flying Saucer Attack etc., amid all the bleepier Space-Time Continuum type tracks. To be had for around $15 on Discogs. I pity the people who insist on only vinyl, to be honest.

    Lastly, just a few electronic music for audiophile suggestions I wonder if you have heard yourself yet.

    DJ Sprinkles (aka Terre Thaemlitz): Midtown 120 Blues, remarkably lush ambient house. This has a swing that reminds me of clubbing in the NYC area during the 90s:

    Barker – Debiasing on Ostgut Ton. You lucky man, I bet you can just stroll over to their record shop and pick this up in person. This sounds amazing on everything I play it on, including the native speakers of my Google Pixel 5.

    M Sage – Catch a Blessing
    I worry this might be a bit abstract, but I suspect there is a lot about your tastes we may not know from YT.

    And because I saw you had a Morphology album in your collection, here’s one for the B12 fan in all of us.
    Have a wonderful day, please continue to post YT videos for those of us who are trapped indoors instead of being able to enjoy coffee and records with others in the cities we love.

    Jim Z. writes…

    This site is valuable for me since I’m always looking to upgrade the sound. I’m a 63-year-old recently retired in Northern California and the pandemic means more time to discover new treats for the ears. I can’t believe how good everything sounds in here for the amount of money spent. I’m probably the least financially successful person who has ever written to you. Still, I’m astounded at the quality of sound we can get with intelligent research. Here’s the basic system: Mac mini and Klipsch R15PM powered speakers and Emotiva Bas X12 sub. Using Tidal and very cheap FX Audio DAC; AudioQuest Jitterbug, Furutech NCF Clear Line, Blue Jeans cable between speakers, WAudio Power Cable for sub. Also use Hudson HiFi isolation pads under the speakers, sub, Mac mini and the DAC that’s on top. Next comes upgraded ethernet cables. The retail price for all of that is about $1100.00 USD. Because my friend is one of the best growers of legal cannabis in the world, I get an unlimited supply and often trade it for audio gear on Craigslist. I traded for the Klipsch powered speakers, which are REALLY solid and don’t get the love they deserve. But mated to the Emotiva subwoofer, wow! I’ve been an audiophile since 1973 and I could never have dreamed of sound this good. Besides, back then we were limited dramatically by finances. We happily bought LP after LP, but there was no guarantee we would even like the music. Now, on Tidal for the price of 3 LPs per month, we get virtually any recording instantly available at the highest quality. I’ve discovered countless little known musical acts that have added even more to my musical knowledge. A few observations: Artists that don’t get enough love for their long term greatness:

    Fritz Reiner: Check out his Tidal page for some astounding classical recordings. Amazing.

    Lyle Mays: Half of America’s best songwriting duo ever? Also my favorite musician of all time who sadly passed on last year. Blessed to see 11 Pat Metheny shows and 7 of them were with the Pat Metheny Group with Lyle Mays stealing the show every time with his incredible piano and synthesizer work. There are too many PMG albums to rave about but start with the live, “The Road to You.” Also features my favorite drummer, Paul Wertico who is master of the cymbal.

    Roland Orzabal: The more dominant face of the most underrated pop band in music history, Tears for Fears. Outstanding songwriter, guitarist and arranger, Orzabal is responsible for a lot of intelligent ear candy. The recordings and performances are uniformly excellent.

    Underworld: Pretty impressive long career that I’m only beginning to discover.

    CFCF: Little known Canadian artist who has created some gems.

    Janus Rasmussen: Hugely talented producer from Iceland and half of the outstanding electronic duo Kiasmos. His solo album “Vin,” is one of the finest electronica albums EVER. Also in an excellent group with a killer Radiohead influenced band called “Bloodgroup” that sadly doesn’t have its latest album on Tidal yet titled, “Tracing Echoes.” Couple more observations:

    Electronic music most consistently exercises my subwoofer the way I want to hear it. I can replicate the sound of “the xx” that I heard live a couple of years ago. (Tycho was the excellent opening act). That is a wall of sound I can FEEL that vibrates everything in the house and I can’t believe I can get sound this good for this little money. It sounds like a very well mixed concert in here. The Emotiva sub is an incredible value for $400 but I got it on Craigslist for $200 and it’s the best $200 I ever spent in my life. By far the best sub I’ve ever owned and despite the super low price, sounds fantastic. What more can I want? Plus I can blast without disturbing the neighbors. I’m very blessed in that respect since so many live in apartments where playing music loud is a cruel thing to do.

    Anyway, I hope I didn’t waste my time and yours writing this. Just a note to show my appreciation and share some opinions. Thanks for the content! It’s useful for me…

    Jon A. writes…

    Laughed when I read your comments about Krall, Lofgren, Jones et al. “bring your own music or we’ll….”. Always thought audio people played those more as test records anyway, not because they necessarily like those artists. Smooth jazz, same thing. Ugh.

    Though I am a Canadian and she’s married to Elvis Costello I never caught on to her schtick. Most of what I play these days are train sounds records as well as the pop, rock and disco of my adolescent years – I’m 57 – oh and New Order/Depeche-Mode (“Hurry up Style?”)-era electronic dance music.

    Learning a lot about DAC and streaming from your vids. Still stuck at “what’s a tape loop for” ha ha though.

    Dan J. writes…

    Hi John

    Still very much enjoying all the doof-doof and lovely electronica you’ve been recommending.

    I recently bought an Audioquest Ethernet cable to replace the supplied cable, largely inspired by your experiences. My ears tell me it brought a big improvement in sound quality. So I went a step further and bought a Chord 8Switch. My ears tell me it brought further big improvements in sound quality.

    Together they’ve fixed my frustrations with my Bluesound Node2. Music is bolder, bouncier, more intricate and more fun to listen to.

    I wonder if equipment like this will one day be as important to streaming audiophiles as phono stages are to vinyl audiophiles.

    Cheers
    Dan

    Curt V. writes…

    LOVE YOUR CHANNEL, Sir! I read a lot of the FAQs, not every word, but what I’d like to understand is if I’m going to invest in a system I’d like to configure based on certain things on your channel, how do I not fuck it up?

    When I say “rookie” I mean I never heard of the word “audiophile” until 2 months ago.

    Between your channel & Audiophile Daily talking about the KEF LS50 Meta, I want a pair. (as an example)

    But, how do I not do something really stupid?

    What I “think” I need is a great speaker (LS50 Meta), a decent DAC ($350 range?) and a solid-state amplifier ($500 range?) for a system?…music source would be digital-only, no CDs or turn table (for now).

    Example1- impedance matching amp to speaker, got it, I have an electrical engineering degree…but do not understand how a tube amp vs a digital amp might auto-correct to impedance match? I know antennas can be made to be active & tunable…no clue if that applies to amps. (Stupid = mismatch, affecting amplifier gain due to reflections & mismatch pitfalls)

    Example2- External DAC vs an amp with an integrated DAC, my hunch is the stand-alone DAC will always be better because that company has a focus? (Stupid = am I throwing money away?)

    Example3- $3k ($US) is what I am guessing I need to budget for to do a digital media source only system using the KEF LS50 Meta speakers? (I am fascinated by the reviews & the simplicity of the passive meta) or is there an elephant in the room, and I’m dreaming?? I do recall in a video you called out the order for which to buy things, but that doesn’t guide me quite enough. The range of amplifiers suggested is broad.

    Example4- Tube vs Digital…Tubes are more of a no brainer with a turntable because we can skip analog to digital back to digital conversion, yeah?

    Example5- What parts in a system could be broken by mistake most easily? and how? For example, if I had a shitty amp and needed more watts to do what a good amp would do.

    Example6- If you were to build a system on paper, what specs should we pay the most attention to by budget tier? So let’s say a $1k budget, do you just pick anything? $2k or $3k budget a closer look at ___ specifications? I am not asking for an actual spec, I’m asking for which specs tend to matter most?

    Thank you again, even if none of these are answered on a future video I’m cool because I got to communicate some of my thoughts which feels great to do by itself.

    Nathan O. writes…

    Hi John and team

    Just wanted to say thanks for the ongoing quality content, be it your YouTube videos or the podcast. I’ve been watching (and of course listening) for a while now. Your videos about streaming via raspberry pi encouraged me to give it a go this year. I now stream music from our NAS and Spotify via a Pi 4 with a Hifiberry DAC2 pro hat running HifiberryOS connected to a Monoprice Monolith Liquid Spark headphone amp and Sennheiser HD 599s. Modest budget but I’m happy with what I have!

    I’m really looking forward to the next installment of the electronica for audiophiles video, you had some really good recommendations! Do you have a timescale for the next one?

    Anyway, keep up the good work and stay safe everyone.


    Tony T. writes…

    Just a note of support, I started watching your YouTube channel last Summer. I love your modus operandi and the unpretentiousness of it. My 66-year-old ears have been around the world as I am retired Air Force. I ordered my first major set up through the Exchange catalog while I was in the Philippines in 1974. I love electronic music and I have been turned on to most of the music you play in the background. When you played Fluke and Photek the other day I was like Wow! I haven’t listed to them in years. I know your busy but I just wanted to say thanks for your work and that it is enjoyed. Cheers, thanks and stay safe. Tony Pittsburgh Pa.

    Paul S. writes…

    First off, found your channel while searching for info on the KEF LSX, and other “all-in-one” active speakers that support streaming. Awesome content there. Just a thought to pass on, that may or may not fit your interest.

    Long story short, COVID-times suck. I’m thinking of going minimal lifestyle and selling most of my stuff. Been in storage for a year, so… why not. That includes goodbye to some B&W floor standers and a big Pioneer amp with DAC built-in. Where I live in Bangkok, most condos are furnished… so… not a lot of room for big kit, anyway. And, yeah… debts to pay.

    I’m looking for stuff to tide me over till I can afford things in the LSX or maybe those new Q actives category you just posted about. BUT, until then… there are some small “portable” class speakers you can stereo pair, such as the Dynaudio Music 1 or 3’s… Beoplay M3’s, Sonos One, and dare I say, the Apple Homepods…. kinda all hitting around a $6 to $800 USD price point. But, there’s really hardly much out there covering these, and especially as stereo pairs, which I think hits the “audiophile” on a budget (or, digital nomad) need. Not yet found anywhere I can A/B/C etc such setups myself yet, either. BUT… maybe an interesting curiosity to cover more as a review or comparison? (Found the news write-ups, btw).

    I’m sure you have a huge list of things to try, but this category is I’d say underserved by coverage of such caliber as you do. But, then again, maybe they just don’t fit your viewership or interests, either. Just a thought! No need to reply, as I’m sure you have better things to do. Just wanted to say awesome work, and drop the seed of the idea above. Happy listening!

    Steve W. writes…

    Hi John,

    Really like your work! I know you like Campfire Audio stuff, have you tried their only over-ear headphone ‘Cascade’?

    I’ve just bought some and after many years of searching, I’ve found my perfect headphone. I like a full-range sound and the low end on these is like nothing else. They are very very good for the money.

    If you get a chance, give them a go. I think you’ll like them as we seem to be into similar music & sound.

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    The McIntosh MHA 200 will be my next headphone amplifier

    Podcast: hifi world vs. studio world with Jules Standen