Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How I Became an Audiophile

Despite of being introduced to very good sounding audio equipment and the tunes to go with it at the tender age of nine, for good or bad, it’s a journey that won’t end within a foreseeable future.

By: Vanessa Uy

Of all the “lunatic fringe” hobbies available to the relatively- peaceful-industrial-suburb-dweller since the end of World War II, high-end audio is probably one of the most misunderstood. This hobby has always been plagued by an image problem of being a very expensive and elitist pursuit, populated by music snobs who are easily offended by the opinions of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their views. Here in the Philippines, most people can’t buy at whim audio equipment whose price tags is the same as an effective military junta. Plus the supposedly “great” music scene that’s not to our tastes, pirated software of dubious quality of those musicians not to our tastes is a very good reason to go into do-it-yourself hi-fi. So the odds are stacked against us.

The good news is luck is on my side. I have a good, make that great, “audiophile mentor.” I learned from my “audiophile mentor” how to “MacGyver” my sound system from leftover components of the “U.S. Military-Industrial-Complex stationed here and they say “e-wastes” are bad. There is also the “garage sale” route in acquiring equipment and tweaking which my mentor attributes to the hours of watching “MacGyver” during the 1980’s.

Sometimes my mentor and I are fortunate enough to be able to visit “hi-fi” shows staged in neighboring Singapore or Hong Kong. This shows always bought us a sense of validation when we found out the hi-fi systems we assembled ourselves have a sound quality comparable to C.D. player, amplifier, speaker set-up worth U.S.$5,000 to U.S.$10,000. This just shows how skill and artistry can reward you. Since hi-fi is an evolving technological hobby despite “old technology” workhorses like vacuum tube amps and vinyl L.P.s which still manage to sound more organic than C.D.s, it’s best to be updated by really good hi-fi publications like Stereophile and Hi- Fi World. Looks like I’m hooked into this “noble pursuit” for life.

Sad to say that this isn’t currently possible with the mass- market audio in heavy commercial rotation on TV and the papers. Specialty Hi-Fi shops are a good bet. If your in- the- know of audio equipment, garage sales are a good source of bargains.
In my actual use a good audio system provides a deeper insight on what the musician is trying to convey. Your CDs doesn’t have to be of “audiophile persuasion”. Even contemporary rock and pop releases like Avril Lavigne or My Chemical Romance played on a good audio system can provide the illusion that they’re just a few paces in front of you. So if you have the extra cash with the skills in case of, go take the audiophile plunge. It’s a lot cheaper and way more rewarding than you think.


Adolf said...

Since I became a fanatical hi-fi enthusiast, every tweak I've done (with consideration to safety and the realities of the laws of physics of course) worked. CD player tweaks, especially from the on-line independent hi-fi press is like the badly needed "lasik surgery" for the front-end optics of my CD / DVD player. Please do more articles on hi-fi tweaks , especially ones that cost next-to-nothing. Viva intependente hoy!

Lilith Fair said...

One of the hi-fi companies that posted ads on this blog is Acoustic Sounds. I've recently visited their site at which is primarily an on-line purchasing site for audiophile grade CD's and LP's, and also high resolution digital formats like SACD. Two years ago I personally auditioned Cayin Integrated amp in New Era Audio, a hi-fi store located in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Cayin was promoted by Acoustic Sounds on their Stereophile ads as an "airplane manufacturer from China". One of the staff at New Era was confident enough to compare the Cayin amp in a side by side audition with a Cary amp of similar design. In short the results were close, but the Cary model has a bit more "musicality" compared to the Cayin amp.The bad news is the Cary costs 3 times more than the Cayin. This incident cast a "worm of doubt" on my purchasing deciscions. Can you help me on this?

Vanessa said...

In my experience, a majority of Chinese-made tube based amplifiers circa 1990 to 1999 that had been sent to me for repairs and/or upgrades usually has the following design related problems/shortcomings:
1.) Sub optimal component choice i.e. lack of audio grade components like Black Gate capacitors.This might be one of your problems.
2.) The output transformer used is too small for "good" bass output. This could one be of your problems too.
3.) Sub optimal choice of grid stopper resistors. This is the primary cause of "exotic" problems like parasitic oscillation.
4.) Use of substandard coupling capacitors i.e. leaky ones that causes the grid of the output tube to become positively biased. Then the grid glows cherry red thus destroying the tube.
5.) Increasing the bias current of the output tubes above the recomended design value just to increase the high frequency output. This drastically shortens the tube's operational life.
6.) Badly designed output transformer like too much inherent parasitic capacitance in the windings thus causing the power amp to "drive" the output transformer instead of the connected loudspeaker.
A few months ago, I auditioned our neighbors Cayin integrated amp and I can say that this amp is well engineered. To upgrade this amp with "boutique" parts will only result in slight improvement plus the money and the labor involved. If you can afford it, your better of buying a better sounding albeit more expensive amp. Tube amp firms are not "mere corporate charlatans" you know. The extra cost does mean something like better sound quality.