Reader David Shay calls it realsizing. It's a clever new term that lives somewhere between realizing and downsizing and thereby, sanity. Of course, uncle Albert's theory of relativity still applies. What constitutes downsizing for one person equates to silly excess for another. But -- relatively speaking -- if one could shave off 50-75% in audio expense to retain similar objective performance and identical subjective enjoyment? I'd call that realsizing no matter where you started and subsequently ended up.
I always get a kick out of people criticizing others for their priorities, say buying -- buying into? -- expensive audio. If you can afford it; if it's important to you; if you enjoy it - go for it. If you can't afford it and begrudge those who can? Well, what can I say. That's a pretty low-level form of consciousness at work. But say you weren't begrudging those whom you consider more fortunate. Say you simply aspired to what you assume they're enjoying and would like a goodly dose for yourself, at rates you can afford.
Whose recommendation would you trust more - the guy who has owned some of the statement gear or the grouchy fella who simply claims how certain affordable goodies kill all that expensive shit which has no justification for existing other than serve as trophy HiFi for moronic richies and whacked-out reviewers? Now, there are scenarios in which someone's personal journey has taken them into the financial stratosphere only to notice that listening enjoyment has somehow taken a back seat in the process. However, my present experiments utterly lack that particular motivation. In the Audiopax/Avantgarde system, I've found something that pushes all my hot buttons. Personal perfection, period. So why change it?
Two reasons. One, I'm curious. That's killed more than one cat. Two, having played in those leagues, I feel sufficiently groomed to now investigate how much money could be saved without destroying a musical enjoyment that's been informed by the expensive stuff for years. I also imagine it'll serve a function for our readers. But please don't insinuate that I finally "came to my senses" as though I was somehow disenchanted with my old system. That's the farthest thing from the truth. I could retire from this gig tomorrow and never look back thinking I'd need to tweak or fix my system. I'd simply explore some other hobby or interest and continue to indulge audio by building out my software library.
For now though, I still derive far too much pleasure from writing about audio and music to quit. To introduce a new element or focus, I've decided on the realsizing quest. My first actions on that front? Replacing the $5,500 Audiopax Model 5 solid-state preamp with the $2,200 ModWright SWL 9.0SE. Hey, that's a 60% savings. Not a bad start. Does that mean both preamps are identical? Certainly not. However - whatever the more affordable unit may leave on the table operates in the upper strata of those diminishing returns which you can only identify in what I call hairsplitting sessions of tortured A/B comparisons. The unique TimbreLock facility is certainly extremely useful if you keep changing equipment. However, if you settle down and find something else that naturally locks with what you have?
When it comes to musical persuasiveness, nothing with the ModWright piece is missing. What are essentials for me -- low noise, transparency, harmonic envelope, control and articulation, dynamics and speed -- are all accounted for. Mission accomplished. Project #2 suggested itself now that the Zu Cable Druids have fully broken in. Who in their right mind would believe that at $2,800/pr, they could equal the mighty $20,000 Avantgarde Duos? Does my acquiring them say anything to that effect? Here's what I am saying. Minus the bottom octave, they mimic the Duos in the areas of immediacy, dynamics, fullness and in-the-room projection of musical excitement to a scary extent. The horns couple to the air differently, the Druids are more coherent. The horns are more detailed above the upper midrange, the Druids are perhaps endowed with even more body in the same area. But where it matters -- hanging out in the zone -- it's a wash (minus the infrasonics). I have already experimented with a single Duo sub set to 60Hz (the lowest filter value possible). I got a potent whiff for what to expect when the Zu Cable Method subwoofer shows up next month.
|I'm thus completely convinced that augmenting the Druids with just a bit of sub 40Hz reinforcement and the air-moving capabilities of dual 15-inchers will, for my applications and in my room, truly equalize things. I won't miss the Duos as withholding something from the mix that's vital. Does that mean somebody favoring the Duos and willing to pay their price is a lost soul in need of salvation? Certainly not. Again, it comes back to personal priorities, room size, playback levels as well as aural intangibles such as pride of ownership and aesthetics.
At $5,300 for the Druid/Method combo, I'd be looking at a 75% realsizing bonus. Wowie. This is great fun. What next? Do the same for taxes? Fat chance. How about amplifiers? I just ordered a $1,200 Audio Sector Patek 45-watt sand amp from Peter Daniels. Having heard the 47Labs Shigaraki and Audio Zone AMP-1, I fondly remember both as being among my favorite transistor units ever. Their reliance on op-amps gives them both dynamic speed and tube-reminiscent image density. Absence of tube rush and monstrous transformers means excellent S/N ratio. Will this amp beat the $10,000/pr Audiopax monos? Not. For one, it won't have the TimbreLock which truly works as advertised. It likely won't perform the three-dimensional layering in the soundstage that tubes are famous for. Conversely, it'll have better low-bass articulation, leading-edge definition and probably LF weight. At the end of the day, I foresee an equitable trade -- a modest give-and-take -- while the core character of what I value most will remain intact (or else I wouldn't do it, simple as that).
The math on this under-construction element of change would work out to a whopping 88% savings. Bloody hell. Time to move into a bigger house? Part of the success for the overall recipe here lies in the 101dB sensitivity of the Druids. They simply don't require power. Less is more. Part of the extreme price discrepancy for the amplifier equation is Audio Sector's consumer-direct model. Plus, we're talking stereo amp rather than monos and circuit miniaturization by way of a sophisticated chip. But the real secret is separating primary from secondary and tertiary qualities. Once you have identified what constitutes the core aspects that make listening to music pleasurable and convincing -- for you and screw the Joneses -- trim the fat on the lesser attributes to see how far you can scale back without crossing the line into the inner sanctum which you don't want to steal from.
Complementary components and overall system synergy of course remain important. It's here where reviewers enjoy an unfair advantage. They simply can listen to more combinations than the average customer, especially when the latter lives in audiophile wasteland, the nearest credible audio salon two states over. That's why this whole concept of realsizing (coming after a period of consistent upsizing) is so appealing for someone in my position. Will I apply a similar enthusiasm to attacking my source components? Not sure yet. Whatever isn't resolved at the beginning can never be recovered. If you have the scratch, investing into the very best front end you can afford seems like a good place to splurge. Seeing that the present overhaul of my system has already netted $26,800 in lunch monies, I may simply slow down for a while. Eventually finding more affordable replacements for the phenomenal Stealth Indras is on the docket. In fact, I've already identified something that should come in for considerably less once it goes to market. Don't ask though - I'm not at liberty to tell yet. Whoa Nellie, buckle up - it's gonna be one wild ride.