A bit of history...
I'm not one to beat around the bush so let's get right to it. I've been involved in this craziness for about 17 years. Although I built my first 'system' -- a Heathkit Close'n'play -- back when I was around 10 and spent more than a little time shopping for that first wall-banging, supreme-budget college system, both were decidedly mid-fi or worse. My first pseudo-entry into the high-end was in 1987.
After looking around at the choices available then for several months, I brought home a pair of Acoustat Model Ones. After determining that my Harman Kardon receiver wasn't exactly the right partner for this demanding load of an electrostatic speaker, I melted the credit card on a nice B&K EX-442 amplifier. The budget was shot but I had just enough meltdown room left to buy an inexpensive NAD preamp and a Magnavox CDB-650 CD player. A long-in-the-tooth Dual 1218 turntable hosted the vinyl, fitted with a high-output Denon MC cartridge. I spent many an hour listening with pure enjoyment to this hodge podge of a system. I knew there was better to be had but finances dictated that this system would have to do.
From there, I got my first taste of what vacuum tubes could do for a more realistic portrayal of the sound. I borrowed a Counterpoint SA-3.1 preamp from a nearby dealer and after hearing the first violin notes, I knew the credit card was about to return to its molten state. Finally - a violin that sounded like a violin. Full of body and tone, I had many a listening session filled with standard-issue goose bumps. I was even running the stock Chinese tubes blissfully unaware that some choice NOS tubes could have elevated it into another realm.
Not too long after this purchase, I relocated to North Carolina where I was introduced to a fledgling young company called Cary Audio. Through the good graces of a great dealer there, I spent the next several years carting different tube amps, preamps and CD players home, usually unable to return them after only a few hours of listening. On a positive note, the relocation and new job brought a little more fat to the wallet so the nuclear credit card ritual had become a thing of the past.
Fast forward to now and I have a system that gives me hours upon hours of listening enjoyment. Yes, I still know there's better to be had and that keeps me going on the listening/trial trail. What fun would there be if I was done?
I've spent the last several years writing about audio toys with the Soundstage! Group, and have not only cut my reviewing teeth there but made a lot of good friends, many of whom you see here at 6moons now.
My reviewing particulars...
The way I approach the review process is fairly simple. My primary duty is to you, the reader. My goal is to describe the 'sound' of any particular component to the best of my ability. I have no interest in proclaiming a numerical or letter grade to any component or set of components or to put it more bluntly, I make no effort to tell the reader what to buy. That's for you to decide. My job is to give you an idea, in the context of my system, to describe what you might expect to hear should you audition the piece in your own system.
In some ways, our hobby is like religion: If there was one 'right' religion, wouldn't we all follow it? With audio, if there was one 'right' component, wouldn't we all own it? The fact is that the huge variety exists for us to choose from as we all have different tastes, different rooms and different priorities when it comes to the resultant sound we achieve - or hope to achieve. No review, no recommendation, no description by a reviewer or individual on an Internet forum can make that choice for you. You must make that choice yourself and I cannot state that strongly enough. The review process exists for several reasons but primarily, it exists to give you some indication whether particular sonic characteristics of a component could be of interest. If so, then you should audition it in your own home with your own equipment. That is the only way to achieve the result you're looking for. If or until there is a 'right' component or system, that is the only way it can be. And truly, if approached correctly, the journey should be as much fun as reaching the destination.
Listening Room: Dedicated, 27'6" L x 17'6 "W x 8' H (flat ceiling)
Analog Source: EuroLab Premiere turntable with 80mm platter, Graham 2.0 tonearm with 2.2 bearing upgrade
Phono Stages: Art Audio Vinyl One with Telefunken 12AX7s; Cary Audio PH-302 with Tung-Sol 6SL7s; Audio Electronics PH-1
Cartridges: Koetsu Black; Zyx Fuji; Benz-Micro Lo2; Benz-Micro SCHEU; Grado XTZ
Digital: Cary Audio 306/200 CD player; Sony DVP-NS500V SACD player
Amplifiers: Cary Audio 211M Anniversary monoblocks; Audio Electronics Six-Pac monoblocks; Audio Electronics Super Amp (stereo)
Preamp: Cary Audio SLP-2002 with Amperex 7316s and Telefunken 6DJ8s
Speakers: Coincident Speaker Technology Total Eclipse
Power Delivery: 2 x Shunyata Hydras with Anaconda Vx mains cables
Power Cables: Shunyata Anaconda VX (CD, preamp, phono stage); Shunyata King Cobra (amplifiers)
Interconnects: Shunyata Aries (balanced and RCA)
Speaker Cables: Shunyata Andromeda
Misc: All components rest on the awesome Neuance shelves; Walker Audio Valid Points and Ultimate High Definition Links; VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine modified; ASC Super Traps; Michael Green Designs Pressure Zone Controllers; full complement of Wally tools for analog setup; Hickok 539C tube tester and Transcendent Tube Analyzer; closet full of choice NOS tubes
You tell me. Am I a lost case?