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Old 08-21-2008   #106
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Caribbean
Posts: 5
Default Re: High end pre/pro's. Are they worth it???

Originally Posted by fitzcaraldo215 View Post
I see now how you intend to do the hook up to your amp. I'm not sure if it's going to work. Almost all amps with balanced/unbalanced inputs have a little switch to toggle between them. If that's true, it'll be a pain to flip the switch on the back of the amps. You might as well just change the connections, doing balanced on both sources, which is optimal. I love XLR connectors anyway.

I once had an old Krell that did not have the switch, but there might be some issues with an amp of this type being disturbed, maybe only subtly, by seeing a load on both the balanced and unbalanced connections. It might do so even if one of the units is off or in standby. I am not at all sure about this, of course. You would have to try it and see.

Yes, I have learned it's a new ball game. Home theater, which we all used to sneer at and look down on sonically, has made huge gains so rapidly that high end audio appears to be standing still. I have begun to question the whole paradigm of the analog-centric high end. With a few exceptions, we do not seem to have made much sonic progress one expensive new phono cartridge clad in exotic metals or woods at a time. Or, one exotic power cord at a time. Or, one behemouth, power eating, Class A amplifier at a time. It's been about guilding the lily. It's been focused too much on voicing equipment euphonically, and not cutting through the basic barriers of the recorded media that have been limiting us from getting closer to the sound of live music. That, and high end prices have simply been in an uncontrolled upward spiral with generally only subtle listening gains, if they were true gains at all. Maybe they were just mostly euphonic voicing differences.

Advanced new DSP-based EQ, like Audyssey, tends to wipe a lot of those differences out anyway. With digital sources, it EQ's for everything after the DSP chips in the pre/pro. This includes the room, the speakers, the amps, the cables and the pre/pro DACís and output stages. That's because the calibration mike hears the net result of all of these. Small differences between expensive components like speakers, amplifiers or cables that high-end reviewers would wax rhapsodic about for page after page now tend to be simply replaced by the Audyssey target curve in both the frequency and time domains.

Home theater has really begun to put new digital technology to work, especially the Asian mid-fi guys. And, I think this is only the beginning. High end home theater will get there eventually, but at a very high price. Perhaps, the high end home theater makers can teach the Asians a thing or two about analog stages, which is where the high enders hearts and minds really are. But, what else might the Asians be cooking up in the mean time? Whatever it is, I hope it might include really good ADC stages, so that analog sources can enjoy the benefits of DSP, including Audyssey EQ. This then opens the gateway for all source material Ė digital or analog Ė to be distributed digitally, possibly wirelessly, to the speakers. Meridian has already done this with wires, but if the Asians want to, they could do it really well much less expensively. While analog technology moves ahead very slowly and at increasing cost, digital technology moves fast and gets cheaper every day.

If I have not put you to sleep yet, here is a slice of history. There once was a time when all cameras were analog and made by many companies in Europe or the US. Along came Japan, Inc., first making lower quality cameras but at much lower prices. Their quality steadily improved, rivaling and sometimes exceeding traditional standards, but always at a more favorable price. They also offered enhanced features, which non-Japanese makers could not keep up with. Many American and European makers disappeared. Then came digital photography, an American invention, which Japan Inc. embraced and started producing a wide array of cameras using this technology. For awhile, they were not considered nearly as good as analog cameras. But, they continued to improve year after year. The switch to digital completely killed almost all remaining traditional non-Japanese makers. Today, digital photography totally dominates main-stream photography and achieves quality rivaling the best analog, and at low prices. By itís nature, it is tremendously more convenient than analog photography. It needs no chemical developing. Images can be easily resized and retouched. Images can easily be stored digitally and emailed. Etc., etc. A really small group of high-brows still think nothing is better than analog photography, which exists as a really tiny, very expensive niche. There is also still some low quality, cheap analog, but not in major markets. A miniscule fraction of the original makers still exist. They make only specialty cameras for very narrow markets or else they survive by making lenses for the now totally dominant Japanese companies. Do we see any parallels here?
Well put analogy. Photography has been a (another) hobby of mine for 35 years and you are right on the money. I was an early adopter of digital photography (an early Kodak somewhere around '96) but I was driven mainly by the "Wow, I can shoot 100 pictures and chuck 98" in the beginning and did not ditch my film gear for several years afterwards. However, from that first digital point-and-shoot I could see that the writing was on the wall and digital would eventually replace film as mainstream. So it's an apt postulate when applied to audio.

Likewise, my journey through audio was littered with upgrades and wheeling-and-dealing to get the latest flavour-of-the-month. Then, in 1996, I took a step back and assessed my position. I realised I wanted a high-end audio system but also spent a lot of time in front of the TV and wanted to rationalise the two. So I bought a Casablanca and a pair of small Wilson Audio speakers and settled down for the next 10 or so years to enjoy the music and movies. Which I did, very happy with the sound and vision of my slowly aging system.

But, being in the building automation trade, I was able to keep track of the emergence of digital as a really interesting possibility. Having to do it professionally kept me in touch with the latest trends (we represent Crestron, AMX and Kaleidescape) and a few years ago I got hooked on having all my music readily available via iTunes. Cut a long story short I decided to simplify my (musical) life and, having been lucky enough to convert ALL my music to lossless files over the last few years, I opted for a Network-Attached Storage drive (a 500Gb RAID) feeding a Sonos system. The digital out of the Sonos feeds the Casablanca's DAC. Some might call it heresy but I, for one, was hard put to hear the difference between the NAS-fed Sonos and the CD it had been ripped from. That was step 1.

Then, like you, I got introduced to lossless multichannel sound. Very impressive. As 99% of my DVD collection is musical concerts I figured Step 2 had to accomodate those music DVDs as well as lossless multichannel. And the Casablanca did not cut it - simply can't do the decoding. And will take too long to get there (for me, at least). So I decided to wait out the 'format war' and it now appears that the dust is settling sufficiently to allow manufacturers to offer a pre/pro that is somewhat 'future proof'. So, as stated before, I figure I'll opt for the most comprehensive of the affordable units (probably the DTC 9.9) and see how things develop while starting a BluRay music disc collection. I do agree that the Asian bloc has a bit to learn about analog but I do believe, like the cameras, they will get there - or change our perception of where 'there' is. Hopefully (and this is the fun part) the 'high-end' will respond. Affordably. I suspect that the 'gap' will be far harder to hear, given the state of the art, but it will be there. I hope this will cause the 'high-end price' to be more realistic than in the halcyon years of The High End.

I'm curious to see how a 'modern' DAC stacks up against the Casablanca and even curiouser about how I react to Audyssey. The little exposure I've had to it has been inconclusive. But I am certainly a believer in the potential of lossless multichannel audio. As I was a believer in 1996 that digital photography was undoubtedly going to replace film.
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