The Man Cave

Well, hello again! It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to post something. 2017 just seemed to get away from me. Plenty of travel for work, plus a couple of weeks spent back in ‘The 204’ to visit family, and a few all-too-brief mini-vacations. All that travel and stress has left me a little road-weary and happy to spend Christmas week safely ensconced at home sweet home. Santa has left what appears to be some new music under my tree – we’ll find out for sure tomorrow morning. I made some cool upgrades to my ‘LCD soundsystem’ this year, so chances are good that any new LPs will be spinning at ludicrous volume somewhere between brunch waffles and turkey dinner tomorrow.

So, about that sound system. A long time ago, krispykirk76 was nice enough to ask about my audio rig. I promised to write a blog about it so… why not tonight? Here’s a quick synopsis, as I sit between the speakers, rocking out to the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s immortal Charlie Brown Christmas. On festive green vinyl, of course!

music_rig_1

The backbones of my man cave rig are the PSB speakers. The mains are Imagine T2 floor-standers, with an Imagine Centre speaker parked under the Sony 3D-compatible, edge-lit LCD HDTV. There are two more Imagine Minis at the back of my listening area, on top of my vinyl storage shelf, and a Monitor Audio Bronze subwoofer is tucked behind a loveseat to complete my 5.1 layout.

This year’s big acquisition was a new A/V receiver. I felt it was finally time to replace my trusty Yamaha amp. It served me well for years, but the Yamaha coloured the sound too much (i.e. way too bright) in any of its goofy “sound enhancing” modes and just didn’t have the power required to make my PSBs sing. After doing my research, and test driving some new equipment at local hi-fi shops, I settled on a brand new receiver from NAD, the T777 v3. This model is so new, I actually got one of the first 40 units shipped in Canada. I’ve wanted to buy an NAD amp for so long – they are legendary for putting musical performance first, instead of loading up on superfluous bells & whistles.

As you might have guessed from the model number, my T777 is a seven-channel receiver, pumping out 80 continuous ass-kicking watts per channel at full volume, into all seven channels simultaneously, all with minimal distortion. What really makes this rig work with my PSBs is the ability to reassign two of the rear surround channels to the front. I was able to do this because I’m running a 5.1 system, not a 7.1 system. Effectively, I now have the T2s bi-amped with 160 watts each – 80 to the woofers and 80 to the midrange coils and tweeters. The improvement made by upgrading to NAD has been remarkable. Everything now sounds far more realistic and less distorted and just plain LOUDER. I can only imagine how the neighbours feel about hearing AC/DC at 90 decibels 🙂

Look carefully and you’ll see a few media sources tied into the T777 v3. I’ve got Telus fiberoptic service to the house, so TV comes in via a Telus HD set-top box. I’m still toying with the idea of upgrading it to their 4k model – maybe next year, when more 4k content is available. I’ve also added a new Sony blu-ray player, the UBP-X800. Not only is it a sweet 3D-compatible blu-ray player, but it can play pretty much any audio format you can throw at it. Listening to music in high-resolution 5.1 channel sound has been a lot of fun. The new 5.1 mix of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People is stunning. It even plays the DVD-A and SACD discs I collected years ago. The Sony UBP-X800 has a USB slot on the front where I’ve parked a 64 GB stick, placing my growing collection of high-res audio files at my fingertips. The USB stick is a stop-gap measure until I figure out a good way of streaming music wirelessly in my home; the NAD receiver has a built-in BluOS app that I plan to exploit some day. For now, my Apple TV is a decent enough way of streaming mp3s to the receiver, though you pay for the convenience with a small hit to sound quality.

And last but not least, my turntable. It’s made by Pro-Ject, and it’s the 1Xpression Carbon Classic model from about five or six years ago. It has a carbon-fibre tonearm and came from the factory in Czech Republic with olive veneer and a nifty Ortofon 2M ‘Red’ cartridge pre-installed.

music_rig_2

Naturally, I’ve made some tweaks over the years in the never-ending search for sonic perfection. First, I added a Pro-Ject Phono Box S pre-amplifier, so that I didn’t have to rely on the mediocre phono pre-amp in my Yamaha receiver. This has worked out well, since the NAD doesn’t even have a phono pre-amp! Next I added a Pro-Ject Speed Box S for more accurate speed control. What started out as a fun anachronism with the stock turntable became a royal pain in the ass, after pulling up the aluminum platter and carefully moving the drive belt from sheave to sheave about twenty times too many. Now I can switch speeds from 33 and a third to 45 with the simple push of a button. Luxury!

Underneath the deck I’ve added some sorbothane feet for better isolation from the pine table I custom built in my garage. Meanwhile, to reduce the amount of static my rig picks up in winter – no thanks to the 20% relative humidity here in the tundra – I replaced the stock cork mat with a deer leather one I bought online. It helped – a little. As did replacing the stock audio-out cables with nice Audioquest shielded cables and a dedicated grounding wire. But what’s made the biggest difference was replacing the Ortofon 2M ‘Red’ stylus with a 2M ‘Blue’. Ortofon makes it so easy to swap out the stylus, and this sub-$200 upgrade paid me back immediately with much clearer sound and noticeably less hiss & pops.

What’s left to tweak? Someday I’d like to re-upgrade the stylus and cartridge to a Ortofon 2M ‘Bronze’ model, which apparently sounds divine, but I’m very content with the ‘Blue’ for now. My Souther Clever Clamp does yeoman’s work of holding down records, but I’d love to see if something with more mass would be better able to flatten some of those warped 180g pressings that Amazon occasionally ships my way. A true record-cleaning vacuum system would be nice, instead of using my Audioquest carbon-fibre brush to knock dust and debris off my records. I’m told that Herbie’s turntable mats are the best for isolating static electricity, so that’s worth checking out. And I’m keeping an eye on 65″ OLED televisions – once the very similar LG and Sony OLED screens drop another $500 or so, I will give them serious consideration.

But those ideas certainly aren’t pressing. This Christmas, I’m more than content to sit between my speakers and listen to the glorious sounds made by my current rig. And as I mentioned off the top, I can’t wait to tear the wrapping paper off my gifts and find out if Santa brought me any new vinyl, blu-rays, or high-res audio files 🙂

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