Nautilus arrives!

One of the speaker systems I have wanted to test was the B&W Nautilus 804. I was very fortunate to acquire a pair and they have stayed in the system ever since.

I can dream about things like B&W 804 D1 or D2 or even to the Aerial Acoustics 7T’s or 6T’s The N804 are a sort of Goldilocks speaker for me. They surprise me very regularly and any changes or improvements I make to the rest of the system are heard loud and clear.

Down the road something else may come along but these are keepers.

—RJF

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Audio Side Trip

Every now and then we take little side journeys and one of mine was this lovely little amplifier from the 1990’s the Pass ALEPH 3. What an interesting full Class A amplifier. I puts out around 20 watts per channel and sounds so great. But it draws about 240 watts all the time and needs an hour or more to get up to sound quality speed. It was a fun few days to listen to but it did not fit into a “family” stereo set design.

Dorthy and the Tornado

Welcome to the Whirlwinds of Change phase! Let me tell you Dorthy’s house spinning on the top of the tornado is not too far away from the feeling I have today. Thankfully there are no flying monkeys or “dream flowers” in my story.

I brought the system home with an older Monster Cable power system as protection and filtering. One of the early tests was to put a loaner Transparent Powerbank P2 on the system at the wall with the Monster Cable still in the system. There is was more bass and the imaging started to improve. Now we were cooking with gas! So to improve the power quality and thus the sound I ordered a Transparent Powerbank P6.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Fast forward to a Sunday evening when I was working at my computer in my basement office and my son was playing a game on his computer when we heard this rather pronounced 60 cycle buzzing sound. That is NOT good! The circuit breaker for the furnace was buzzing madly when the furnace kicked into high fan. You could feel as well as hear the breaker buzzing, ouch! So rocking the breaker a bit the buzzing diminished. But it took a trained person to actually fix the problem. Over time the wiring in the circuit panel had loosened some of the connections. Seventeen breakers needed tightening and five neutral lines needed the same treatment including two that were physically loose.

The next day I went to listen to the system to start evaluating a possible cable change… The world had flipped, the sound was better on the “before” test, I had changed nothing and the system sound changed, WAIT I did change something; one of the loose wires was on the living room circuit where the stereo is. JAW DROP TIME! Everything matters, Everything!

The whirlwind continued with power cables. The Rotel gear has IEC connections so I am able to work there to improve sound. The P6 Power conditioner is first and there upgraded Transparent cables on the Power Amp and on the Pre-amp. Note that this testing was so obvious I never had to complete the ABAB loop. “A” was good “B” was better than “A” by a noticeable amount. So in the long run there will be money spent on power cables!

During the discussion around electrical power and the issues with the panel in my home I also implemented another small change in the system. I changed the electrical wall outlet that the system is plugged into, replacing it with a Hubbell hospital grade duplex outlet. One of the best $18 I have ever spent! YES it does sound better. The contacts are broader the copper is better and the spring system is stronger for better contact. It works! I am still holding off on one more electrical change that I will talk about next time.

Those are some of the basics. We can talk about High Frequency (HF) interference, time/phase distortion and a lot more.

The system is pretty stable now. I can play music from LP, CD and digital files. I have the ability to purchase and play Tidal Streaming. It is now a “performance listening” music system. Is this audio nirvana? No! But wow it sounds pretty good.

— RJF

My: ”New Headphones” turned into a stereo,…

In the fall of 2016 year I started thinking more about music I wanted to upgrade my headphones. But what I really needed was to bring the family back to listening! With a little help and a PUSH from a good friend I started re-discovering my passion for music listening out loud. So this is the start of the story.

I brought home a pair of used B&W Matrix 805 speakers and the beginnings of a replacement home listening system.

The first order of business was to assemble the B&W speaker stands which requires filling them with sand. So with flurries in the air, off to the grandkids sandbox for some spare sand. Yes I replaced it in the spring for the grand kids.

Then a little blue-tack on the stands to keep the speakers safely stuck to the stands so the people and the cats do not knock them off!

Next there is the matter of the jumpers on the back of the speakers. B&W ships them with these metal straps that do not sound as good as stranded copper wire jumpers. So a quick change to remove the straps…

While looking for a specific preamp and power amp to put on my system we started listening to a borrowed Bluesound Powernode 2. There is a lot of flexibility of music sources with the Powernode 2 but it really did not take the sound to where I wanted it to be. The family did have our first taste of real listening in several years.

Audio Consultants found a used Rotel RC-1070 Pre-amp and RB-1582 power amp for me. I installed them in the system and then things started to get real interesting.

I also setup a MacMini as a music player/server in the system and used my Chord MOJO as the DAC. With ROON software and an iPad as a controller we had digital music. The Phillips GA-212 urntable got a little tune-up and we have Analog! The family can now sit down and listen to streaming music and more!

Taking stock; MacMini was using our wireless network and my Chord MOJO was in the system using a generic USB cable.…. I had the digital music source working. Now what can I do to improve it?

— RJF

An Accelerated Audiophile Journey

I have been re-inventing my home stereo system with one simple goal: “Performance Listening” — re-introducing sit down listening our my home!

This is a journey of accelerated discovery and observations of the physics of everything in the playback chain of music in my living room. This is a systems design problem with computers, networks, music formats, turntables, DACs, amplifiers, speakers, cables and more. This is a “passion” or “obsession”; getting it right-where-I-want-it. In the end we have a system that feel very enjoyable to listen to and “is easy to operate”. We have LP’s, CD’s and a digital front end to enhance and expand our listening world.

Just for fun — a little history

This journey actually started in the 1960’s when I really started listening to music. The time of reel to reel tape recording, 8 track tapes, and WLS AM radio. There are many memories; From lugging my 4 track reel to reel tape deck with my Koss Pro-4AA headphones on vacation to installing an 8 track tape player in the family car. I can fast forward to my first classical music concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic. Then on to a simple listening system with a Phillips GA212 turntable, Sony integrated amplifier and B&O speakers. Listening to Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon, wow..

Fast forward to the 1980s and my first serious performance listening music system. A set of Thiel CS3 speakers, a Bryston 3B power amplifier, an Apt Holman pre-amp, and a Tanberg 3015 CD player with MIT Music Hose speaker cables and Interlink Reference A interconnects.

On to the 1990’s working in a semi-open office system of corporate America, headphones and music are a survival skill. Over time my hobby listening migrated to mostly on headphones and that both isolated me at work but from the rest of the family at home.

In 2014 I sold the “old” music listening system and installed SONOS around the house for more casual listening. SONOS is wonderful as a provider of music all around the house. But being a hobbyist at heart I need to play with the system. I learned that you should never beta test software on your home primary music system unless you live alone! I learned that even SONOS is too complex for casual listening because in 2016 the SONOS was system was totally displaced by the Amazon Echo for simple casual music in a couple of rooms. Just ask Alexa and you have music, the weather or a kitchen timer..

As good as SONOS is, it is not is a performance listening system. With casual background music being played on the Amazon Echo the SONOS was not being used…..

And that is where the story begins.

—RJF