UPDATED 2015-10-11

Thoughts on hifi

I have decided to collect all my rambling thoughts on hifi and music reproduction here. There's quite a lot of material, so I will do it a bit at a time. Please check back occasionally. You can see when the page has been updated top right.

Hifi Equipment Reviews - Written by me.
Hifi Links - The philosophical side of hifi.
2006-12-10 Suomenkielinen tiivistelmä Balansoitu VS Single Ended.
2006-12-08 Balanced VS Single Ended - A test report.
Where to Put Your Money - How to spend your € where they count.
Source first, or...? (Where to Put Your Money, part II)
Old vs New - To buy old or to buy new gear, that's the question.
Order of acquisitions - The implications of when you get a component.
Burn in - All components require a long burn in.
Upsampling - Experiences and a quote.

Hifi Equipment Reviews

2006-10-24 Meridian G06 review
2006-10-02 Primare CD31 review
2006-09-19 Naim CD5i arvostelu (in Finnish)
2006-09-07 Bladelius Freja review
2006-09-05 Arcam DiVA CD192 arvostelu (in Finnish)
2005-10-03 Isotek MiniSub GII Review

Hifi Links

Densen's philosophy (cached) about what music is.
Audio Note's philosophy (cached) about what hifi should do.
Jules Colemanin filosofia (cached) musiikin olennaisista ominaisuuksista.
Sounds Like? An Audio Glossary by J. Gordon Holt (Stereophile)
Bits is Bits? A in-depth Stereophile article the digital domain.

Where to Put Your Money

If you are upgrading an existing balanced system, I think you will get the biggest quality upgrade if you upgrade the source first, then the amplification and last the speakers. Upgrading in the reverse order will render the biggest sonical differences.

If you're upgrading an un-balanced system, upgrade the weakest component first, and try to upgrade a bit beyond the rest of the rig. Determining which is the weakest component can be tricky. If possible, test different upgrades to determine which one brings about the biggest sonic improvement.

If you do not have a mains filtering device and decent cables, I think you should invest in such things before upgrading the rig itself. You have yet to hear how good your existing rig sounds!

If you don't have decent cables - wake up, dude!

If you're starting from scratch, your budget will dictate your priorities. If you're on a very limited budget, buy used stuff, basic power filtering, decent cables and put a bit more money on the speakers.

Old vs New

If your main priority is to get the most bang for your buck, buy second-hand gear a few years old.

If the hifi itself is your hobby and you like variation, stick to second-hand gear. That way you won't lose too much money swapping components all the time.

If you're actually in it for the music, shelling out for new gear might be prudent, since you'll probably have it for a long time.

I expect speakers to have the longest servicable life span, in excess of 20 years. Amplifiers should be good up to 20 years. CD-players age the fastest, mainly because the're computer-based, but also because of the limited life of the laser and read mechanism. Oh, and vinyl players never die, they just get serviced.

Order of Acquisition

The last component in your hifi system you acquire will be the most difficult one to find. That's because all previous components bring their own signature to the sound, each with their own demands on synergy, thus narrowing the window of possible matches.

The first component will be the easiest to find, since it doesn't have to match with any other components.

The first component will have the most influence on the rest of your acquisitions. I therefore think it prudent to start with the source, i.e. the CD or vinyl player.

Burn in

Every single component requires burn in. Period.

Some components sound ok fresh out of the box and just get better with time. Some may sound less than thrilling at first but may develop nicely in time.

I think a component should not sound horrible, even when raw.

In my experience, all components improve with burn in. They never sound worse for it.

In my experience, the burn in time is very long. A few hours smooths down some initial roughness, but a couple of days may be required to get even a basic idea of a component's capabilities. After a month the sound generally starts to finally settle.


Audio Note says:

Musically relevant information is what we strive to convert from digital to analogue, not some misunderstood notion of "technical perfection" that produces its own sound through adding its own information, such as upsampling, which is really only just another way of "correcting" the data stream, as if we actually knew what was wrong with it in the first place, or in other words just another coarse method of cheating the test equipment (and a few less knowledgeable consumers and reviewers more concerned with test data than music?). The multiplication of the information in the data stream inherent in the oversampling and upsampling methods multiply the flaws in the signal to an even greater extent, low level information is lost, dynamic headroom reduced and a shallow anemic sound results.

Philosophically this seems reasonable. Empirically I have had in-depth experience of the following CD-players: Teac VRDS 10, Marantz SA-15S1, Arcam DiVA CD192, Bladelius Freja, Naim CD5i and Primare CD31. Of these the most musically coherent were Teac, Naim and Primare. Just guess if they used upsampling... That's right, they didn't.