HiFi History

Scotland The rest of the World Me again

Background and some opinions

This page describes the eviolution of my HiFi system from the earliest days in the 1970's through to its current state. It includes some comments on the changes, the why's and the outcomes. The dates may not be exactly right (my memory isn't what it was!) but they are within a year either side.

My approach to HiFi is something of a paradox since as a trained engineer I feel I should be striving for the purest, most distortion free sound possible. However as a music fan I know that often it is not the most technically perfect HiFi that sounds most like real music. This is because music is an emotional experience as much as a purely audio one. And the emotional content of music is conveyed in aspects of the sound that don't always fit neatly with the measurements that engineers use to test audio equipment.

That having been said, I don't follow the mantra that valves are always better than transistors or that vinyl is intrinsically better than CD. They are all different and they each bring their own characteristics to the sound. I certainly don't subscribe to many of the more esoteric ideas in HiFi, such as the huge amounts of money paid out for cables, especially mains cables and "conditioners". Basic mains filtering is important, and any decent bit of HiFi should have that built in. If a mains socket improves your sound significantly sue your HiFi manufacturer (or maybe your electricity supplier - or both!)!

My HiFi is much more expensive than most people's, yet is still a long way short of the sums spent on the real state of the art systems. My guiding principle is that the money spent on kit should not exceed the money spent on software(ie recordings). I have around 600 albums at an average cost of around $10 each, so to me, a HiFi costing less than $6000 is a reasonable investment to get the most out of my music collection. When friends ask how much they should spend my first response is always - how many albums do you own? Every dollar spent on HiFi is a dollar less spent on music...

The History

Year Turntable/Arm/Cartridge Cassette Deck/Computer Tuner CD Player Amplifier Loudspeakers Headphones Notes...
2013 Denon DAB tuner The Cambridge DAB display finally got too frustrating and it couldn't do FM so I swapped it for a lower price and quality, but more convenient and user friendly, Denon from a component system. The quality is good enough for occasional use and the display is better, although I'm still not completely happy. There may yet be more changes here.
2011 Additioonal 250GB external firewire disk drive Cambridge Audio DAB tuner Musical Fidelity A308 CD Player The CD player was upgraded briefly to an A3.2 which was excellent but then the opportunity came up to grab the A308 at a bargain price. Unfortunately it broke down after 3 months and had to be repaired by MF. Since then it has been faultless and a great match for the amp.
The tuner was swapped for a DAB model but to be honest I don't use it much. The sound quality is good but the display is tiny.
A hard drive was bought to expand the iBook and I've transferred my entire CD collection to it using lossless encoding. The sound quality is much improved limited mainly by the sound card in the laptop. This is now my most commonly used digital source for everything except serious critical listening. The laptop is no longer used for anything except hosting iTunes.
2010 Townshend Rock 7/Rega RB250/Denon DL101 Wilson-Benesch Orator(with Tactic cone upgrade) The Wilson-Benesch speakers were an extravagance not really justified in my system, but they were so cheap on eBay I couldn't resist, and they do sound fabulous! The Denon was a long time favourite that I couldn't resist trying in the new 'table. I've also had a couple of old cart's professionally cleaned and have been playing around with them too. But the Denon is king, for now at least.
2009 Townshend Rock 7/Rega RB250/Grado Gold The Rock was an eBay extravagence but it was getting rave reviews so when a second hand one came up for half price I jumped. It had all the good qualities of the original rock but with a lighter more delicate touch. I had a custom built perspex case made for it to keep the dust out of the trough. I think it looks as cool as a Gyrodec now! :-)
2008 Musical Fidelity A308 >The A308 was the culmination of a series of eBay experiments including most of the XA series amplifiers including the pre/power varieties! But the A308 just has a clarity and finesse that I found lacking in most of the others. This experimentation also opened my eyes to just how different amplifiers can sound even if identical on paper, and even from the same maker.
2007 Townshend Rock Mk2/Rega RB250/Grado Gold Rotel RT850AL/Musical Fidelity X-Plora Musical Fidelity X150 The Musical Fidelity amp and tuner were bought close together following the success of the X-Ray. The tuner is a let down with poor sensitivity even from a loft antenna, which is why I kept the Rotel even if its sound is ultimately inferior - but there isn't that much in it. The amp is excellent but ultimately just made me want even more of the same!
2006 Townshend Rock Mk2/Rega RB250/Ortofon MC10 Musical Fidelity X-Ray(original) The Rock has been a long term ambition, I've heard many Rocks over the years and they are simply the best turntables I know of, each version just gets better and better. The X-Ray CD player likewise has been lusted over for years. The key to this audio extravagance is that I finally succumbed to the lure of eBay.
2001 Apple iBook Rotel RB870C pre/2 x Rotel RB850 power
(in 4 x 50W bi-amp configuration)
Sennheiser HD414 (Anniversary edition) The second Rotel power amp was inspired by a demo at Kerr's HiFi in Glasgow. I hunted for ages to find a second amp. The extra control that the bi-amp set up gives is amazing. (I tried bridging to get two big (150W) monoblocks but I preferred the extra control of 4x50W setup. The headphones were a reprise on my very first pair of 'phones, which I loved until they eventually broke...
I added a laptop for background listening and syncing with my new iPod. The MP3 quality is not really good enough for serious listening although about equivalent to my old cassette deck. Also because I can record on the computer too it seemed fitting to reuse the cassette column for this.
1999 STD 305M/Rega RB250/Ortofon MC10 Rotel RT850AL TDL Studio 0.5 (transmission line) Sennheiser HD480 The Rotel tuner was bought to match the amps. It sounds better too, but I confess it was a wife inspired purchase since I don't actually use the tuner much. The speakers were the big buy, they have a fantastic quality of bass response for such small floorstanders and work well in our small living room with no trace of boom.
1996 Rotel RB870C pre/Rotel RB850 power The Rotel power amp replaced my old Nyquist. More power and detail but at the expense of some warmth and of course the cute Nyquist styling.
1994 Rotel RB870C pre/Nyquist 225(as power amp only) The Rotel preamp provided more inputs for the faithful old Nyquist. The preamp route was chosen after hearing an Audiolab preamp through my Nyquist which confirmed that the preamp was the weaker half - a power amp will inevitably follow!
1991 STD 305M/Rega RB250/A&R P77 None Marantz CD65 MkII (the original 18 bit version) I got married and left the cassette deck with my parents. The Marantz CD player is a huge step up from the old 14 bit Phillips portable.
1988 Musical Fidelity Reference Metal tweeters had arrived and I loved 'em. I couldn't affort the Celestion SL600 and the MF Reference was the closest I could find.
1986 STD 305M/RB250/Denon 101 Phillips ??? (a portable 14 bit player) Sennheiser HD480 Welcome to the world of CD! I was working away from home and wanted something good to listen to. That also worked as excuse for some new headphones.
1984 STD 305M/AudioTechnica 1120/Nagaoka MP11 Nytech 252 amp The STD turntable was the start of the move up from budget to mid range HiFi. A radical increase in spend and sound. It was auditioned against the Michel Focus, SystemDek II and Ariston RD80 but won out because of its huge amount of detail and imaging depth. (Sadly the detail was at the expense of control) The Nytech was a beautifully compact design looking vaguely like a calculator in shape. It sounded so much smoother than the Sansui.
1981 Dual 504/Nagaoka MP11 Akai ??? Sansui RX80 Receiver Sansui RX 80 Receiver Sennheiser HD400 The Dual was almost a right of passage at the time but in reality was not a huge step up from my Sony. The Sanui brought real power (80WPC) for the first time and a jump in FM quality too. The Akai was a waste of money, the Dolby C noise reduction never worked properly and the sound was no better than the JVC. The Sennheisers broke and had to be replaced, but budget sadly constrained the choice.
1979 Sony PS1450/Nagaoka MP11 JVC ??? (Skislope model) Maurdant Short Carnival 3 The JVC cassette ceck was a big improvement on the Sony, and the best I ever owned. The Carnivals were more dynamic than the leaks and much smaller - the first compromise for domestic reasons - I was "maturing"
1976 Sony PS1450/Ortofon VMS25 Sony ??? Amstrad ??? Rotel RA810 (2x10W) Leak 2030 Sandwich Full time work (even on apprentices wages) allows serious HiFi buying to start. The Rotel was a big improvement of the soft sounding Metrosound and the Leak's were a revelation after the homemade EMI boxes. The Sony turntable was much quieter than the BSR and had a fairly good arm so worked well with the Ortofon. The Amstrad tuner was cheap n nasty to handle but actually sounded pretty good. The Sony tape deck was second hand and built like a tank, it sounded OK but had a slight channel imbalance on record which required one level control to be set near maximum while the other was at, say, 7. Around now I started attending hiFi shows and came to realise just how good HiFi could really be!
1974 BSR MP60/Shure M75J Metrosound ??? (10W output) Sennheiser HD414 (original blue foam, 2000 ohm). A part time job allowed some modest changes. The amp had tone controls, which seemed like a good idea at the time, and critically, additional inputs! It could also support a magnetic cartridge which paved the way for the Shure (which was a big improvement). The headphones were startlingly good! I also built a dedicated headphone amplifier using the ECC83s out of the old amp. It was sonically quite good but suffered from bad hum problems - no doubt due to my poor construction technique.
1971 BSR MP60/Sonotone HT100C (ceramic) None None None Homemade 3.5W valve amp
EMI 11x8 elliptical with 2 inch concentric/passive tweeter in home-made cabinets. Cheaper than cheap, uncomfortable, plastic over-ear things. The first thing even vaguely resembling HiFi in my life. The BSR was idler driven so had lots of rumble but it was much better than our old "stereogram" and the amp was built by a friend who is a brilliant audio engineer (now retired but still building HiFi). The speakers were remarkably good for the time albeit short of top end, but any kind of tweeter was a step up. Since it was actually my dad's money that bought it (although I had a lot of influence!) I couldn't change anything until I started working 4 years later!