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When Moving Requires That You Scale Down, At Least Temporarily: A Personal Story

09-15-2014 | By Andy Schaub | Issue 75

"Say it ain't so,
I will not go,
Turn the lights off,
Carry me home"

—"All the Small Things", Blink 182

So this all started with a big argument that my girlfriend and I had, the resolution of which was to move in together up in San Francisco, where she already lived. The problem was that in order to work or to relax she needs total silence and I do best with music playing, so trying to find a house or a large apartment that could accommodate us both was an expensive proposition, particularly since she had been living in the same rent-controlled apartment for around 20 years, meaning that her rent was very low. The compromise we struck was that, at least for a year, I would find a place within walking of hers so that we could see each other every day but that we could also go do our own thing when necessary, and she wouldn't have to lose her rent-controlled apartment.

I wound up finding a lovely place within walking distance of hers in a beautiful building (also rent-controlled) with a view of Golden Gate Park and lots of amenities, including a new kitchen and bathroom. The only imitation is that it was a studio, and not a large one at that; so there was really no way to bring my big Audio Note system along, meaning that it had to go into storage. What I was able to do was to bring my home office system along complete with desk, 27" iMac, and four-shelf Quadraspire stand topped with a Rega P3-24 using a Rega TT-PSU and an Audio Note IQ3 moving magnet cartridge that sounds really remarkable largely because of synergy but also because of the excellent stylus on the IQ3.

Sadly, one thing that I'm not going to get to keep at all is my Audio Note DAC 4.1x Balanced Signature. The inheritance that I was expecting to pay for it just hasn't come through and although it will eventually happen, I have no faith in the executrix and the interest on the bridge loan that I took out, though at a very small percentage, has reached the limit at which I promised myself I would sell the DAC rather than continuing to accrue interest. So if you're interested in a really remarkable all-tube DAC that goes all the way to 24/96 and sounds better there than all 24/192 or DSD DAC's that I have heard, look on the PF Exchange or on Audiogon. It would be my pleasure to sell the DAC to a reader and I'm willing to ship anywhere in the world with the DAC set for the power of your choice.

The two things I was able to cannibalize from the big system and bring along with me were (a) my Magnum Dynalab Internet tuner, which sounds great but required that I setup an Apple Airport Express to boost my Airport Extreme network just to maintain a solid Internet connection, and (b) the front end of my digital music server, meaning the part going from computer (now my 27" iMac as opposed to a dedicated Mac mini) to the S/PDIF input of my Rega DAC, specifically my three-meter AudioQuest Diamond USB cable, my Sonicweld Diverter HR (thanks to Josh Heiner for designing and making the darned thing), and my Stealth Varidig Sextet S/PDIF cable. When you put that much technology, including the Mac application Audirvana Plus (which seems to play better in a mixed software environment than Pure Music, although I still use the latter for preprocessing or use Pure Vinyl along with my Apogee Duet to rip records), you can make the Rega DAC sound really good.

I still have a PS Audio Power Plant 10, fed by a 20-foot DH Labs Power Plus power cable that I bought from the Cable Company, with some things plugged directly into the Power Plant 10 (sitting on the bottom shelf of the Quadraspire stand), and others plugged into a sleek-looking black Equi=Tech connected to the Power Plant 10 via a Stealth Swift power cable. In fact, I use Stealth Swift power cables throughout the little system, meaning that I have a loom power supply, which does improve the sound (although I had to use an adapter I bought from Amazon to get the IEC end of the power cable to fit into the receptacle of the Rega DAC, but based on my comparisons, it did improve the sound significantly nonetheless).

With one exception, I use Audio Note AN-Vx interconnects throughout the system; the one exception is that I have the Magnum Dynalab Internet tuner and the Rega DAC sitting on the Quadraspire stand, both plugged into a Manley Skipjack and that Skipjack is connected to my Triode Audio Corporation (or simply Tri) KT-88-based push-pull integrated amplifier via a long Audio Note Lexus copper cable going into "Line 3". The Tri amp doesn't have a phono stage, but I use an Audiomat Phono 1.5 with one small modification: what used to be an AC plug is now a box with an IEC receptacle in it so that I can plug my Stealth Swift power cable into it, which does improve the sound. The only other thing sitting on the Quadraspire stand is my no longer made Tri headphone amplifier, which drives my small collection of four single-ended headphones very well:

  • Fostex TH-900, stock
  • Audez'e LCD-2, Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3

  • HiFiMan HE-5LE, Moon Audio Silver Dragon V3

  • AKG-K701, Audio Note AN-SPx (speaker cable) 

The Tri KT-88-based amplifier sits on a modified (basically shortened) Ikea LACK table under my desk, to the left, along with the Rega TT-PSU, and a very lovely Tri tube CD player that sounds better than any CD player I can think of for under $2K (or maybe more).

The speakers are slightly modified Micropure minimonitors connected to the amplifier with Audio Note Lexus copper speaker cable and supplemented by an Essex (British) 12" subwoofer sitting under my desk to the right. The subwoofer has been fairly carefully calibrated so that it all sings together very well; and the minimonitors flank the 27" iMac at a distance not so much to avoid acoustic reflection but to avoid electromagnetic interference from the iMac. I had been playing a 24/192 download of Mozart'sRequiem (Recreation of the original performance) from Linn and it seemed a little harsh. So, after consulting with my favorite audio advisor, I rearranged the desktop so I could move the speakers farther away from the iMac per his suggestion and, indeed, the treble suddenly got very smooth and extended. I needed no more convincing.

I have a Herman Miller Aeron chair at my desk, but I also have a small footrest that I bought from Design With Reach that normally sits in a corner with a thin white blanket folded on top of it. When I want to do critical listening, I push the chair way back, put the footrest with the blanket on top of it under the desk, and roughly center myself between the speakers. It's actually quite comfortable and I can hear everything quite clearly. I can use headphones at night, even far away from the stereo, with a 15' extension cable that I have or, for the Silver Dragon V3 headphones that I have, a special Silver Dragon V3 extender I had made. Now none of this sounds as good as my big Audio Note system, which I greatly miss while it sits all boxed up in storage; and even some of my LP's and CD's didn't make it into the studio apartment. However, I have five Per Madsen Rack-It® stands, each with three LP modules and one CD-180 CD storage module on top, not to mention the spillover CD's that sit on a bookshelf along with a collection of Stanley Kubrick DVD's to play in my Theta Compli Blu, which is an article of its own (and, yes, I do have a Netflix Blu-ray subscription).

In a way, it's nice to live in a smaller space; it's less expensive than my old apartment, even in the city, I have rent control, and I get to see Lori every day. Not to mention the fact that there's just more to do in the city, particularly living near Golden Gate Park. I just wish I could learn to sleep standing up so I could get rid of my queen-sized bed and put the Audio Note system in its place; but if wishes were horses …

Kindest regards,