System Check

Warning: GEEKY TECH STUFF AHEAD.

Hey there music fans! Having been through 10+ One Hit Wonder reviews now, I thought it might be fun to go over my listening equipment. I’m a gear geek, and I love talking about this stuff – I’m sure there are others out there like me.

Is my current setup what I aspire to? No, it’s not even close. But it is the best I’ve been able to put together with a pretty tight budget. There is at least one upgrade happening in the near term, and hopefully others as time goes on. Right now I’ve got three main sources, and two primary listening paths.


Sources:

  1. Stream – Spotify via my Galaxy Note 9 – Very High quality using the LDAC codec.

I know, I know. A music person should probably have Tidal or Qobuz or one of the “audiophile” streaming services. I’m just so in love with Spotify for music discovery that I don’t know if I would ever consider changing.

  1. CD / SACD – Pioneer DV-578A player, circa 2004.

Sure, it’s an old DVD player, but it also lets me play my Super Audio CDs (The Downward Spiral says hi!) and DVD-Audio discs. I may not have an amp with the multichannel inputs anymore, but even the stereo tracks sound great. It’s just a transport for CDs (DAC info further down) now, and it gets the job done. 

  1. Vinyl – Technics SL-D2 turntable, circa 1980 w/ Grado MT+ cartridge. 

My audiophile friend sold me this for a song to get me into records. He wanted company in his hobby, and it worked. I hadn’t bought records in decades but I’m wholeheartedly back in now. There is a lot to be said for the experience – the whole physical presence, the process of setting it up, turning it over, etc. It almost forces you to listen to whole albums, and to set aside time to do so, and this is a good thing.


Amplification / DAC:

  1. Integrated Amplifier – Yamaha AX-497 

The power for the speakers. It was affordable and is quite transparent. Three inputs – Stereo RCA from the DAC, Stereo RCA from the CD Player (since the DAC can’t handle SACDs), and Stereo RCA from the turntable into the built in phono stage. This is probably the next upgrade – I’ve been eyeing something from either Rotel or Cambridge Audio. We shall see.

  1. DAC – iFi NEO iDSD

This shiny little block of aluminum does all the decoding for the system, receiving an optical input (S/PDIF) from the CD player and the LDAC stream from Spotify. I love having a dedicated DAC, and this piece fills the spot wonderfully. Outputs – Stereo RCA to the integrated amplifier and Balanced XLR to the headphone amplifier.

  1. Headphone Amplifier – SMSL SP200

Despite being canted to the right (seriously, go look at the picture and tell me if you could cope with that) I love this most recent addition to my system. The THX chip that it uses is truly remarkable – the noise floor is effectively so low as to not exist. It has to be (not) heard to be believed. 


Speakers / Headphones

  1. Speakers – Paradigm 3seMk3

These are the oldest pieces left of my pre-married life stereo system. They are a competent bookshelf speaker, which I’ve never felt the need to upgrade. Once the amplifier is upgraded, I’ll probably look for a new speaker pairing as well. I’ve always loved that these are Canadian speakers and I hope to stay Canadian on my next pair – either Paradigm or Axiom. It remains to be seen if my budget will be able to support my patriotism. 

  1. Headphones – Fostex T50RP MK3

Apparently I have a thing for MK3. These are pretty heavily modified from stock (see my good friend Trav’s thorough guide to modding these) and I love them. I wasn’t 100% sold on the planar magnetic technology until I added in the dedicated headphone amp. With power to spare, they really came to life. LCD Soundsystem has never sounded better to me.

My beloved Fostex T50 headphones.

And that, dear reader, is my system as it currently stands. I’d love to hear thoughts on possible upgrades or recommendations. Let me know what you’re running!

I may have collected Prince CDs obsessively for a while.

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