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audiophile equipment
stereo equipment

Toys of the Treehouse: Audio Stuff

jeff Rowland Model 2 Amplifier

At last count, I had nine stereos set up here. There have been times when I've had more than that, but it depends on how I've got the different rooms set up and what I'm using them for at any given time.

Collecting high-end "audiophile" audio gear may seem like a strange hobby to some, but you can think of it as being something between collecting art and Legos: the design of audiophile equipment is both a matter of aesthetics and functionality, you can put the pieces together in all sorts of different ways, and you should almost certainly dust it more often than I do.

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I don't think there's a single piece of stereo equipment that I currently own that I'd bought new retail, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons that I don't have the newest, latest, and greatest of anything. That's okay; I'm perfectly willing to let other people enjoy having the latest and greatest stuff around and I'll buy their old hand-me-downs after they've gotten tired of them.

I figure I'm still using the same old ears, and my tastes in musical reporoduction don't change that fast.

Apogee Diva Speakers

I'm a big fan of Apogee speakers, the Divas in particular, though I've never really cared that much for their hybrid models. Over the years, I've owned the Apogee Scintilla, Caliper, Stage, Centaur, Duetta, and Diva speakers, of which the latter two pairs I still have.

Years ago, I'd been listening the top-end systems that were set up at the time in Listen Up, Denver's biggest high-end stereo store. At the time, they had a pair of the Wilson Watt/Puppy combos, B&W 801s, B&W 800s, and Apogee Divas in one room. Personally, I liked the Apogees the best, followed by the Watt/Puppies, then the 801s, and then the 800s, despite being the biggest and newest of the lot, sounded the worst to my ears. I'm not sure why the 800s sounded as bad as they did; I'm pretty sure that there must have been something else wrong with the system for them to have been that way.

Eventually, I did end up buying a pair of used Apogee Divas...and, looking carefully, one of them just happened to have the same tiny ding on it in exactly the same place as the Listen Up store demos did. Must be fate or something. We'd hit it off way back then and, though it took a few years, eventually they made their way here to stay.

Jeff rowland consummate preamp oracle delphi theta

The "main" stereo system is in the listening room. It includes:

Speakers:Apogee Diva
Preamp:Jeff Rowland Consummate
(three boxes: power supply, control unit, phono stage)
Amplifier:Jeff Rowland Model 2
CD Transport:Theta Data Pearl
DAC:Theta DSPro Generation III
Turntable:SOTA Comet Oracle Delphi
Cartridge:Sumiko Blue Point
Tape Deck:Nakamichi Dragon
Tuner:Carver TX11a
FM Antenna:Magnum Dynalab ST-2
Interconnects:TARA Labs PRIME (transport to DAC)
Wireworld Gold Eclipse (DAC to pre)
Straightwire Maestro (2 pairs - to and from tape deck
Spectral MI-500 (tuner to pre)
XLO Signature Balanced (phono stage to preamp)
Wireworld Eclipse Balanced (preamp to amp)
Speaker Cables:Wireworld Eclipse (biwire)

One little update--the SOTA Comet got replaced with an Oracle Delphi (with custom Acrylic cover made by JMK Displays of New York) which shortly thereafter was featured in the film Serpent Rising. (You can see I'm here with Jon Firestone on the left wielding our Red One camera.)

RED One camera Oracle Delphi

Coincidentally, at the same time, I was playing a character _named_ "The Oracle" in a different film, Gathering of Heroes, so, appropriately enough, we had stereo Oracles.

I'll have to leave it up to audiences to decide who is the better actor. :)

audio alchemy preamp and California Audio Labs Delta HD-CD transport

Smaller stereos are scattered around where they fit the usage and the decor. I think having a nice, unobtrusive-yet-sophisticated stereo in the kitchen and dining area is important. This one here has the distinction of being made up of all slightly odd-shaped pieces.

Speakers:Artistic Audio Möbius
Preamp:Audio Alchemy Digital Line Controller
Amplifier:Sumo Polaris
CD Transport:California Audio Labs Delta HD-CD Transport
DAC:Musical Fidelity X-Act
Interconnects:Straightwire Silverlink (transport to DAC)
Straightwire Maestro (preamp to amp)
Speaker Cables: Kimber Kable 4tc
Artistic Audio Mobius Speakers
Acoustic Energy AE-1 speakers

Previously, I'd had my pair of Acoustic Energy AE-1 speakers paired with one of the sets of White Audio B-80 monoblocks in this particular spot. I like the AE-1s a lot and they're more intense than the Artistic Audio Möbius speakers, but you don't necessarily want the speakers in a dining area to be the most aggressive at grabbing your attention.

So the AE-1s have moved to the library (which is better suited for me to spend time alone with them) and the more gregarious Möbius speakers have taken over the dining area.

Just to be perverse, I used a couple of jumpers made from gauge 00 welding wire to hook up the AE-1s. I'm sure some purists would maintain that welding wire of any gauge isn't a true audiophile speaker cable but, still, you have to admit it does have a certain style.

These Acoustic Energy AE-1 speakers are another pair that had a few adventures before winding up here. My brother Isak--from whom I've bought a lot of stereo hand-me-downs over the years--bought them new, complete with these unusual white column stands that were shipped, complete with lead filling, straight from England. They were a good pair of small speakers, but eventually he ended up selling them through an ad in the paper.

Years later, for no particular reason, I was doing a bit of redecorating and I just happened to think of how nice Isak's old pair of Rosewood AE-1s would look right there with their while columns. I took a look in the classified ads and, lo and behold, there was a pair of AE1's being offered for sale. As fate (there's that word again) would have it, they did happen to be the same pair my brother had owned years ago.

Acoustic Energy AE1 back

analog research preamp

Down at one end of the basement, there's this unfinished area that may not have walls (yet), but it *does* have a stereo. I've also got my Korg keyboard hooked into this setup, but it's not visible in this picture.

Speakers:QLN Model One
Preamp:Analog Research Terzetto Line Stage
Amplifier:White Audio Labs B-80 Monoblocks (pair)
CD Transport:Audio Alchemy Digital Drive Transport/Controller
DAC:Theta DSPro Basic
Turntable:Bang & Olufsen TX
Subwoofer:JBL 380
Subwoofer Amp:Meitner Museatex MTR-101
Interconnects:Audio Magic Illusion Digital (transport to DAC)
Wireworld Oasis (DAC to pre)
Audio Magic Excalibur (preamp to amp)
Speaker Cables:Audio Magic Excalibur II

This stereo has the distinction of having the only two-box CD transport I've ever had; three boxes if you count the external power supply. Since it's only a transport, you still need at least an outboard DAC, so that's a minimum of three separate boxes before you even get to a preamp.

Sony CDP-x5000 CD player

As a side-note, of the three top-loading CD players/transports I have (Audio Alchemy, REGA Planet, and Sony CDP-X5000), the Sony takes the most abberant design approach:

Both the Audio Alchemy and the Sony use manual CD clamps that are just like record clamps, only smaller (the AA clamps onto the spindle, the Sony uses this beautifully machined and quite substantial brass weight), but the unique feature of the Sony CDP-X5000 is that the laser pickup mechanism always remains fixed in place, it's the CD (along with the spindle and motor assembly) that shuttles back and forth as you listen to different tracks on the disk.

I can't say whether this design approach yields a purer bitstream than the usual approach of moving the laser assembly to and fro, but it is certainly interesting to watch (and Sony has cleverly made a lovely transparent top cover to provide an optimal CD-waggling viewing experience.)

Sony CDP-x5000 transport

Outlaw Audio 990 preamp

I wanted to set up a surround system in the bedroom, though it's intended mainly for music rather than movies. I'll probably hook up a TV or projector eventually, but at the moment, the only display is a portable Sony DVD player that I have hooked up to the video output of the Outlaw 990 just to show the on-screen menus and data screens.

Along with the Anthony Gallo Reference 3 front speakers, I have a pair of Gallo A'Diva speakers for the side surrounds and a duet of Gallo Dues for the left and right rear positions. I wanted a system that was smooth and enveloping, something you could go to sleep listening to. The subwoofer is a Carver SW150P (because it's one of the very few subwoofers that'll fit under the bed, so the earth can move for you even while you're by yourself.

Speakers (front):Anthony Gallo Nucleus Reference 3.0
Speakers (side surround):Anthony Gallo A'Diva ( x 2 )
Speakers (rear surround):Anthony Gallo Due ( x 2 )
Subwoofer (under the bed):Carver SW-150p
Preamp:Krell Showcase 7.1
Amplifier (front):Aragon 2007
SACD/DVD player:Sony DVP-S9000es
Turntable:Ariston RD-40
Speaker Cables: Audioquest Midnight
Interconnect (digital): Illuminati D-60
Anthony Gallo Nucleus Reference 3
Krell Showcase and Aragon 2007

Changed things out again; I swapped out the Outlaw 990 with a Krell Showcase processor driving an Aragon 2007 7-channel surround amp.

apogee duetta speakers

The Apogee Duettas live in the conference room, along with the Monarchy Audio integrated digital-to-analog converter and preamp. Underneath that is the Nakamichi RX-303 tape deck, which you probably recognize as the one that pops the tape out the front and flips it around when it gets to the end. I figured I had to have one just for that reason.

The amplifier is the While Audio Labs A-250. As you can see, it's bigger than all of the B-80 amplifiers I have around the house put together. I also have a White Audio Labs preamp in a closet, and I've heard that very few of those were ever made. It's never been out of the box, though, so I haven't actually tried it out.

monarchy audio dac and preamp, micromega stage 2
Speakers:Apogee Duetta
Preamp/DAC:Monarchy Audio Model 33
Amplifier:White Audio Labs A250
CD Transport:Micromega Stage 2
Turntable:Transcriptor Skeleton
Tape deck:Nakamichi RX-303
Interconnects:XLO Signature (transport to DAC/preamp)
Straightwire Encore (tape deck to preamp)
XLO Reference Balanced (preamp to amp)
Speaker Cables:XLO Pro 1200 (biwire)

Transcriptor Skeleton Turntable

Down in the weight room, you obviously want something bigger and heavier, and that's where the Snell Type A speakers lurk. In between them is the rock-solid stereo "rack" that I made from solid rock: slabs of shale supported by sandstone blocks.

Snell Type A speakers

On the left, you'll note the Magnum Dynalab FT-11 tuner for when I feel like listening to the radio when lifting, a touchscreen Silicon Graphics SGI 1600SW monitor for controlling the audio server, and Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, but he's not actually hooked up at the moment.

The CD, by the way, is Indestructable by Disturbed. I'd heard the title song on the radio while I was gearing up to play a demon (in a wardrobe that consisted of a few latex appliances and a lot of deep red body paint) and it just struck me as particularly appropriate, and so I went in search of the album...and the cover art was even *more* appropriate, so I played that a lot while training and then ran the song through my head between takes to help keep me in the mood during filming.

The transport is a REGA Planet 2000, but since the picture above was taken, I've changed out a few of the other components, as you can see below:

Krell Home Theater Standard

The Rega transport feeds into a Krell Home Theater Standard preamp/processor and a Krell KAV-150a amplifier. On the bottom is a Pioneer Elite DV-59avi DVD/DVD-Audio/SACD player, for just those occasions when you need one, a Monster Cable PowerCenter HTS 3500, and a 7" LCD TV that's mainly just for displaying the Krell's setup and options menus because nobody can design a receiver or processor any more that can be configured from the front panel or using only the unit's own built-in display.

The weight room is a fairly long T-shaped affair, so I ran a long pair of interconnects over to a pair of Meridian M2 active loudspeakers at the far end. Even though the Meridians certainly don't match the Snell's sonic character, they did really fill out the sound at that end of the gym. Besides, they say you should include a little variety in your workouts anyway.

Speakers:Snell Type A
Speakers (secondary):  Meridian M2 Active Loudspeakers
CD Transport:REGA Planet 2000
SACD/DVD-A Transport:  Pioneer Elite DV-59avi
Preamp/DAC:Krell Home Theater Standard
Amplifier:Krell KAV-150a
Tuner:Magnum Dynalab FT-11
Interconnects:  Apature Accusound Stage BL-4 Silver
65-foot interconnects:  Belden foil-shield twisted pair

Even if a home gym really isn't a home theater, the Krell is still very good sonically as a music preamp and comes with some nice modes for creating a surround effect from a stereo CD source, which is what I was looking for in the gym.

video editing setup

The IRS Beta panels are set up at the moment in "Edit Room A" upstairs, which has the computers I use for graphics, video editing, and DVD authoring and duplication.

Speakers:Infinity IRS Beta
Preamp/DAC:Denon DAP-2500A
Amplifier:Muse Model 150 (pair)
CD/DVD Transport:Sony DVP-S7000
CD/LD Transport:Philips CDV-488
Tape Deck:Philips DCC-900
Subwoofer:Genesis Servo 12

Speaking of the Infinity IRS Betas, here's how they look down in the theater.

The Beta subs are powered by a Bryston 4B amp; the rest of the speakers down here are Genesis (Arnie Nudell's company after Infinity) 8300s, powered by a couple of Aragon 4004mkII amps.

home theater screen

home theater equipment
Speakers:Genesis 8300 ( x5 )
Projector:JVC DLA-G11u (DILA, 1365 x 1024 native resolution)
Preamp:Fostgate Audionics FAP-T1+
Scaler:Focus Quadscan
Amplifiers (main,center):Aragon 4004mkII
Amplifiers (rear):Bryston 4B
CD/DVD/LD Transport:Pioneer DVL-909
Subwoofer:Infinity IRS Beta
Speaker cables:Audioquest Midnight

Since the picture above was taken, I've switched preamp/processors (again); this month it's now a Fosgate Audionics FAP-T1+ The built-in display is a nifty feature, but unfortunately it displays standard definition video only, so I have to split off the video from high-def sources and downsample it to SD to feed back into the Fosgate.

Oh, yeah; that's me on the right in a scene from The Shadow Walkers. You can see I got cast in that film (again) based on my good looks.

Fosgate FAP-t1+
Jagular - Home Theater PC

Oh, and Jagular, the home theater PC, was replaced a while back, too...and the way these things go, it's already due for another upgrade.

Jagular currently has an LG GGC-H20L combo Blu-Ray / HD-DVD reader and is powered by a socket-939 AMD Athlon x2 3800, an AMD/ATI HD2600xt, and a Western Digital Raptor X drive just because, if you're going to go to the trouble of building a machine inside a transparent case, you might as well go for the one commercially available hard drive that includes a window.

As soon as I get around to it, I'll put together a newer HTPC system--I have all the necessary parts sitting around--but even in its current incarnation, Jagular does the job, so it's really just a matter of whether I have the urge to do the job or not. Maybe when I get around to upgrading to a 1080P projector--or, better yet, a native 4K system so I can watch our RED One footage the way it's meant to be seen. :)

Bang and Olufsen stereo

This little Bang and Olufsen system may be little, but it takes the prize for "largest remote control" with a remote that's nearly as big as one of the components. While it's very nice and high-tech looking, it's not intended for hand-held use so much as something you could put on a lap desk.

Proceed PAV Preamp

The Proceed PAV and Philips CDV-488 Laserdisk player are both trying to catch up, with remotes the size of a small hardcover book. On the lighter side, Enlightened Audio Designs gets the prize for the classiest remote for their Theatermaster preamp. This remote feels like it's been carved and polished from a solid metal ingot. Jeff Rowland and Audio Alchemy have both eschewed plastic remotes for their Consummate and Digital Line Controller preamps; theirs are made from machined steel plates screwed together for an industrial flavor.

Enlightened Audio Designs Theatermaster remote
Philips Laserdisk remote Jeff Rowland Consummate Remote Audio Alchemy Remote
Stereo interconnect cables

No stereo system would be complete without interconnects and speaker cables, so I have an assortment of them. Unfortunately, much like computre cables, it's tough to keep them neat and tidy looking, but I try. None of the stereos are entirely consistent as far as brand, model, or color, which I'm sure would horrify plenty of people. You can see here that the big stereo has a mixture of Straightwire Maestro, XLO balanced cables, MIT "Music Hose" cable, and cables from Wireworld and Audio Magic. I even have Cardas "audiophile" power cords. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to estimate how much difference it makes to put a meter of "audiophile" power cord in series with a few hundred feet of Romex cable, an assortment of junctions made with wire nuts, and the local power company's distribution wiring.

But I have them anyway, just 'cause. Call it art.

Some accessories are just *too* glamorous to put behind a couple of pieces of stereo equipment, like this pair of Kimber Kable "KCAG" Pure silver balanced interconnect. But it's too big to wear and, even though the colors would certainly be right to wear with a black tux, regretfully, I think it would still look too silly to do so.

Kimber Kable KCAG balanced silver interconnect cables

JBL 380 subwoofer
picture albums
the base of the tree