Truth Is Believing
In an age of fake news, fake opinions, and malicious manipulation, only experience exists, and truth does not. Political party, religion, gender choice, whom you love or hate, all these experiences make the sum total of a uniquely personal truth. As a consequence, each of us is living in a distinctly separable parallel universe. It makes you believe you are radically different, superior even, from the person sitting at the harsh end of your bombastic twitter feed.
Where does a high-end audio reviewer fit in this multiverse scheme of things? If a reviewer says, trust what I say, why should you? My reply, feeble though you may deem it, is that I have been reviewing high-end audio for quite a while and taken a lot of a hits for the team. So maybe I am worthy of at least of modicum of your 140-character attention span.
I've come to learn that the more expensive the audio system the more difficult it is to gain an appreciable improvement. And who’s happier in this pay for play scheme, anyway, the guy buzzing along in his clapped-out Corolla bouncing to Notorious B.I.G. (OK, Jay Z), or you, just having dropped ten thousand large for a new audio component, and now sitting all hunched over, straining to hear a difference.
Your expectations are always driven by the price you pay for something. What you expect to hear from a $500 piece of audio gear is radically different from one that just cost you $10,000. But maybe you don’t care, only that you bought Facebook bragging rights.
OK, so hang a scarlet letter on me, when I tell you I have a pair of MBL 101 speakers that cost the same as a new BMW 5 series with all the ticked options.
The MBL’s are fussy bastards and crap turd notes all over on the floor when fed junk electrons. In addition, I use Nordost Valhalla speaker cables, which back in the day still cost the same as a second-rate politician in reasonably good condition.
For a goodly number of years, I used a Carver tube preamplifier hooked into a pair of Sanders Magtech monoblock amps that fed the always famished MBL’s. The Carver preamp is long since out of production, but bad boy Bob knew what he was doing when he designed this unit.
It had been a while since I had rolled its tubes. As I was looking around for nice NOS glass, it struck me, why not try removing the Carver, and instead use the Oppo BDPP-105D Blu-ray player as a stereo preamp? The 105D has numerous audio processing capabilities, plus two RCA analog direct outputs, as well as XLR balanced outputs. I had been using the 105D as a stereo-only music player to stream my NAS audio files, as well as listen to Tidal.
I rummaged up a pair of muy caro Nordost Valhalla RCA interconnects and coupled the 105D directly into the Sanders mono blocks. I honestly believed the MBL’s would just make an enormous fart of bad musical air. Not! What I heard was astonishing in its clarity, without harshness or glare, and projected with a depth and breadth that easily exceeded the Carver tube preamp.
And then I saw this tidbit, “Dedicated Stereo Output with XLR Balanced Connectors - The BDP-105 features a dedicated 2-channel analog output with specially optimized ES9018 DAC and output driving stages. The stereo output offers both XLR balanced and RCA single-ended connectors. The balanced output features a true differential signal path all the way from the DAC to the 3-pin XLR connector. By transmitting a pair of differential signals, the balanced output provides better common-mode noise rejection and improves signal quality.”
The balanced XLR outputs on the 105D back panel just beckoned for salacious hookup. First thought was to use next generation Nordost Valhalla 2 interconnects with XLR termination, which cost a self-indulgent $7,600 for a 1m pair.
As I mulled it over, it occurred to me to try something at a more temperate price. I sent an email to John McDonald at Audience. I had previously had great success with his company’s USB cables. The Audience Au 24 SX XLR interconnects cost $2,400 for a 1m pair, not cheap, but far away from $7,600.
Out came the RCA Valhalla’s and in went the newly arrived Au 24 SX wires. Sweet Jesus. They brought the system to a whole new level.
Spaces between things are more important than the no-space bits. Think of water, and what makes it a light spring rain or an impenetrable flood; distinct droplets caressing flowers, or your SUV and with you in it all washed away. Space versus no space defines much, if not most of music.
Space between notes is how the bow is bent across a cello, or the measured puff of air streaming from a trumpet, or a piano pedal pressured down. Off-sound/on-sound makes music and its players distinctive. Notes on a page are the same for everyone. But an artist autographs the page by how he uniquely separates the notes while playing. It is how he stamps his signature on the score.
The Audience XLR wire’s drove home the autobiographical point. You could prance between notes and their players. It was a consistent spatial phenomenon. It is what some reviewers call “air” around an instrument, how notes emerge and swirl up, over, and around instrument and player.
There was the shock of musical discovery, and the sudden jolt of newly understanding a performer you thought you knew well. Neural circuits firing off billions of connections, wired up from childhood through adulthood, through love affairs, sunsets, sunrises, disappointments and glories, and all manifesting as music uniquely her own.
If your music sources are all-digital, the Oppo 105D in direct stereo mode can take the place of much more expensive preamps, especially when the configuration includes Au 24 XLR wires. The combination of Au 24 SX and 105D will set you back about $3,700. You are going to have to spend way more money than that on a stereo preamp to get similar sound quality—at least $3,000 more, and that’s before buying interconnects.
And if you are considering upgrading your RCA Valhalla series 1 RCA wires to Valhalla 2 XLR, put on the brakes, big boy. Even if you are a baller, dropping $5,200 more in coin is still sobering stuff. That kind of glitter could be put towards a serious speaker upgrade.
So back to the truth of a thing. If truth is only just personal experience, then the experience of the Oppo 105D and Au 24 SX wires is seriously hacker proof. No Foreign Agent with malice in mind is ever going to pervert the genuineness of the music spread out before you.
Music is the experience and the experience is your truth, and no, no bumptious buffoon can ever rob you of it, nor make the spaces between us so vast and ruin the rhythm of life.
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com