My earliest recollection of ‘hi-fi’ is kneeling in front of my father’s stereo as a three year old in 1989. I would perch beside his Goodmans Magnum SL loudspeakers for hours, utterly spellbound by the sounds issueing forth. Music was a mainstay in our house and played a key role in my youth by providing a comforting form of escapism that I struggled to obtain from other activities.
I often turned to dad’s stereo to unwind after a chaotic day at school, on which I would master the art of the ‘mix-tape’. As a child with cerebral palsy, handling vinyl was a challenge, so mix-tapes were the perfect way to liberate content whilst preserving the condition of the family’s LP collection. It was also a brilliant education and proved pivotal in nurturing what would become a lifelong obsession with audio. Determined to perfect the procedure, I started taking more care in cleaning the vinyl before playback, convinced my dad to spend money on a higher quality pickup, and identified the optimal recording levels and biases for the tape formulations I was using. These were upgraded over time too; I soon shunned basic ferrics in favour of chromes, which in turn suffered the same fate once I discovered metals – all textbook symptoms of the fledgling audiophile!
Old enough to be trusted with a system of my own, a brief and ill-educated flirt with the lower- end of contemporary hi-fi in the late 90’s left me disappointed and uninspired. Nothing captivated me in the way my father’s system did. This ignited what grew to be an unhealthy infatuation with vintage gear; a romance that would endure for the next fifteen years, thanks to the timely proliferation of online marketplaces which allowed me to trade my way up the audiophile ladder.
Those marketplaces provided me with a fantastic platform to go back in time and sample delights from what many consider to be the ‘golden age’ of hi-fi. Quality pieces could be had at bargain prices used, and I certainly made the most of this opportunity. Regretfully I largely bypassed the British audio movement of the 60’s. I was instead seduced by the lavish Japanese statement builds of the 70’s, and in particular the silver-faced receivers clad in oiled walnut with their softly glowing panoramic tuner dials.
I often dreamed about having the poster-boy of the ‘monster receiver’ era, the Pioneer SX-1250, as the focal point of my system. I recall the warm feeling of achievement and contentment when I finally bagged one, a feeling that endured for many months to come. With an awe-inspiring appearance, build quality and a rich and commanding sound to boot, hi-fi became spellbinding again. Through my subsequent discoveries of Yamaha’s CR-1000, CR-2020 and CA-1000 I realised that I could in fact have my cake and eat it: beautifully lavish aesthetics coupled with a sublimely natural sound; I’ve been Yam-addicted ever since.
I suspect I was one of the earliest home adopters of computer audio when I ripped my most frequently played CDs to iTunes on my then G4 Mac in 2001. Despite the obvious limitations of MP3 and the noisy onboard DAC, I saw the huge potential to ergonomically transform my listening experience. When I upgraded to a G5 Mac with larger hard drive and Toslink digital audio output, I ripped my entire CD collection in lossless format and got an exciting glimpse into how close computer audio could get to standalone CD playback and at a fraction of the outlay. This was a game changer and from that moment onwards I did not look back.
My music library currently resides on an external FireWire drive that is played through Audirvana Plus on a Mac Mini and output to a Schiit Yggdrasil multibit DAC, which lets me access and experience all of my content more easily and in greater sonic detail than ever. As I continue to embrace the advantages of ergonomic living, my present system is an unashamed mix of classic and modern; a combination I feel has fantastic synergy, and I am at peace with my hi-fi now more than ever before.
As you will see from my setup below, I still have a soft spot for all things big and silver, but my priority has shifted further towards transparency and neutrality. I find that my Schiit and Yamaha hardware do all of the above with understated aplomb. I’d also like to think that I have gone some way to addressing my previous neglect of British audio. I take pride in the knowledge that all of my loudspeakers are British-designed and made!
My passion remains the pursuit of audio fidelity, and my present philosophy is to choose upstream components that are highly resolving and tonally neutral, and rely on the transducers to add whatever character I desire. The biggest drawback of a transparent system is of course its ability to reveal shortcomings in recording quality, which is why I go to great lengths to source the best mastering of any given album. This often means an early issue or an ‘audiophile-friendly’ reissue that is free from destructive modern mastering techniques such as dynamic range limiting – the bane of many popular releases of the last twenty years.
When I listen to music, I want to be completely immersed in the experience and – for those few moments – have my belief suspended just like when I was a child. I am fortunate to now have access to content and a system that facilitates this, and for me there is no greater reward.