System Check 2.0


Welcome back, music fans! The last three months have seen some serious changes to most of my listening equipment. After some discussions with the house budget subcommittee, I pulled the proverbial trigger on a few key pieces. I was genuinely concerned that if I didn’t grab them soon, the current supply chain troubles faced by the world might mean that I’d have to wait a very, very long time for another chance.

I won’t go so far as to say my system is at its end-state, but it’s probably stable for quite some time – years most likely. Significant upgrades at this point are going to require long-term budgeting. I’ve still got three main sources (two of which are completely new!), and two primary listening paths (one of which has been updated completely).


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

No change. 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 – Cambridge Audio AXC35 CD Player

Update! I’m once again using a proper CD player to play CDs. My better half makes fun of me for buying a CD player in this day and age. I get it, but I also a) still really like the format and b) have far too many CDs to think about replacing with vinyl at this stage of the game. I’ve abandoned my ability to play my Super Audio CDs and DVD Audio discs for an overall better player.

Interesting side note, the DAC in the iFi does an objectively better job of decoding CD’s than the internal DAC in the player. I wasn’t sure if I’d still need it for CDs, but I definitely still do.

  1. Vinyl – Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO w/ Ortofon 2M Red cartridge 

Update! Well, my audiophile friend was wildly successful when he sold me my previous turntable, in an attempt 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.

I love this new turntable. For a modern piece, it looks simple and classy. And, perhaps more importantly, it sounds great. At some point I’ll likely upgrade the Ortofon Red to a Blue, and maybe upgrade a few of the pieces of the EVO (Pro-Ject encourages this and offers a lot of options – it’s a hobbyist’s dream).

Amplification / DAC:

  1. Receiver – Cambridge Audio AXR85

Update! The new power for the speakers. I was really leaning towards the A11 Tribute from Rotel, but it proved a bit outside of my budget.  The Cambridge Audio receiver gives me a reasonable amount of power (85 wpc) and a nice clean presentation. Two inputs – Stereo RCA from the DAC and Stereo RCA from the turntable into the built in phono stage. It’s a no-nonsense two-channel receiver that gives me clean sound and is (relatively) affordable.

  1. DAC – iFi NEO iDSD

No change. This shiny little block of aluminum does all the decoding for the system, receiving a coaxial digital input 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

No change. 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 – Axiom M22 Ti

Update! In my first System Check, I said that I hoped to stay Canadian for my next pair of speakers – either Paradigm or Axiom. And I did! New Axioms are out of my budget (for now), but I managed to find a used pair locally. Their imaging is a delight, and their high end is divine. I’m kind of in love with these speakers. Their only downfall is a lack of bass. To that end, I added in… 

  1. Subwoofer – Infinity BU-1 Powered Subwoofer

Update! I had a pair of these modest subs in my stereo once upon a time. When I pulled them out of storage recently, I was dismayed to find that the foam surrounds had completely disintegrated – dismayed, but not surprised. Foam isn’t meant to last 20 years. And so, with much trepidation, I ordered a pair of refoam kits from the good folks at Midwestern Speaker Repair. Quite a few hours of careful, painstaking work later, both subs were refoamed and ready to go. Twist! One of them clearly has bad capacitors and hums all the time, even without a source connected. That one has since been reintroduced to its coffin box. Just the one working sub fills in the lower Hz nicely, and lets the Axioms sing.

  1. Headphones – Fostex T50RP MK3

No change. 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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