In the world of audiophile audio, to my mind it doesn’t matter whether you are an advocate of tube amplifier technology, vintage audio or even an all in one home audio system. What matters is the fact that you can appreciate high end audio as the means to enjoy the music you love. Or is it?
About 6 years ago I got back into home audio and bought a one brand system and I loved it. It had a good quality CD player, an integrated amplifier that I believed punched way above its weight, a pair of floor standing loudspeakers and a turntable. The whole lot cost me 300€, though to this day I consider it something of a bargain amongst stereo systems – it gave me an introduction to the hifi sound that had been so lacking in my life for around 10 years and it gave me a glimpse at what could be achieved with an audiophile audio system.
Of course the audiophile audio bug bit and I was feverish with the need to upgrade. To the integrated amplifier I added a matching power amplifier and a new pair of loudspeakers…I also played with audiophile interconnects, high-end speaker cables and all manner of DIY hifi tweaks. I read about hi fi online and learned all I could about putting together hi fi systems that really worked at getting the very best out of the recorded material and I was loving it.
A lot of the online hi fi forum members were taking about this being a hobby, but I’ve never thought of hi fi systems being a hobby as such – a hi fi, a stereo, a home audio system (call it what you will) is surely a means to an end… to get the very best from home audio at a price that suits your pocket. Perhaps I was wrong…I was certainly becoming a little obsessed with audiophile audio and perhaps pastimes are just obsessions after all.
OK, I admit it…I was hooked. The power amplifier was now connected to the mains with expensive mains cables, the wires between the integrated amplifier and the power amplifier were changed for audiophile cables and of course the CD player was linked to the integrated amplifier by identical cables of as short a length as possible. Phew… my wife was becoming worried! The turntable was sold to fund a new purchase… (In hindsight I should have remembered audiophile audio rule number one – never sell your turntable!!)
Online hi fi and high end audio meeting places on the web fuelled the obsession and I became interested in vintage audio and ( cue dramatic music)…valves, tubes, glowing bottles – call them what you will. Now my skills with a soldering iron are pretty much non-existent and so true vintage audio equipment would be out of the question for my home audio system – I didn’t want my hard earned cash to end up in some kind of audiophile audio scrap heap. What I needed was a tube amplifier that would be reliable and would gel with my existing home audio set up. Now, finding a hi fi shop isn’t easy in these parts – I live in rural France where getting to the nearest hi fi shop is a bit of a quest – and so most of my shopping was done online and I bought blind. Finally, I made a short list! Only thing it wasn’t really that short: Should I go for a power amplifier or an integrated amplifier? If I bought a power amplifier I’d need to buy a pre amp and that would be more expense and would complicate things! If I bought a separate power amplifier and pre amp rather than an integrated amplifier then I’d have more boxes…and I like boxes. It’s not easy this you know!! Finally fate was on my side and after searching for hi fi online for what seemed like forever, I came across a integrated tube amplifier that was in my price range and would work in my hi fi system. I still own it 3 years down the line which suggests I did my research well!
Since getting back into “high end audio” six years ago I’ve had 6 different turntables, a couple of solid state integrated amplifiers, the tube amplifier, a solid state power amplifier…oh hang on I’ve had 4, 3 pairs of floor standing loudspeakers, 3 pairs of stand mount loudspeakers, countless high end audio cables, high end audio racks and hi fi supports…I’ve obsessed about the tiniest details and of course I’ve invited friends around to bring their home audio kit round so we can compare and contrast.
I admit it. I have a problem! There needs to be a support group. Alcoholics have AA and even gamblers have a network. We need Audiophile Audio Anonymous where we can stand with other people suffering a similar fate. We need to be able to stand up and say in front of our peers “My name is Stuart and I’m an audiophile audio addict”. It wouldn’t work though would it! I know that pretty soon any Audiophile Audio Anonymous meeting would degenerate into hectic discussions of which tube amplifier would work best in a particular home audio system and whether an integrated amplifier would offer the same performance as a separate power amplifier and pre amp or would a solid state amplifier trounce a tube amplifier…. Wherever there is mention of a tube amplifier it won’t be long and the conversation will soon turn to horn loudspeakers and again vintage hi fi would raise its ugly head. We’d all be comparing our hi fi systems and without pausing for breath the well meaning Audiophile Audio Anonymous meeting would become little more than breeding ground for our addiction. It would start innocently enough – “I’ll swap my solid state power amplifier for your tube amplifier for a week” or “Come round to mine I’ve got a new pair of speakers”. In no time the well intentioned Audiophile Audio Anonymous meetings would become shooting galleries for high end audio junkies hungry to get their next fix of their drug of choice.
Me, I’m going to retreat back into denial, walk over to the mains, switch it on, move to the power conditioner and flick the switch, warm the valves up on the tube amplifier, insert a CD into the tray (or place a record on the turntable), sit in my listening chair and let the music wash over me and carry me far from this world and into audiophile audio nirvana.
Oh hang on, there’s this new cartridge I have my eye on….
Author – Stuart… Audiophile Audio Addict