Audiophile GAS - Needing A Bit Of Wisdom

Joined
Jan 12, 2018
Messages
998
Location
Puget Sound
Real Name
Ken
I knew better than to embark down this rabbit hole, but as I was at home on the living room couch recovering from surgery in early September, I have spent many a day looking at my main (two-channel) stereo that has not been used of much the past couple of years and wondering what I could do to change that situation. I did solve one issue, which was how to get lossless files into my system from a subscription service. I am not sure if I could fully tell the difference between a lossless file and a gently compressed lossy file (256k or 320k), but I did partially solve this issue and it is nice to have a large library of lossless files available for listening. I'll take this one as a win.

The rabbit hole, however, deepened when I considered "fixing" the current arrangement between my tube pre-amplifier and my solid state amp that I initially set up back in 2006. Without getting into too much detail, they have a gain mismatch (which I understand is not that uncommon of a problem). The solution was to buy a pair of high quality attenuators and place them between the amp and pre-amp. It worked, but I never thought it to be an ideal solution (although I guess that depends on how you view attenuators). Long story shot, I picked up an affordable (and made in the USA) tube pre-amp that uses a12AX7 tube - the same tube that my old amp uses (in addition to a pair of 12B4A's and a single 12BH7A). I was hoping to be able to use this new pre-amp without the attenuators, but that was not really possible as it also had too much gain.

I know that I should probably just return the new pre-amp and keep using my existing one (and perhaps do a bit of tube rolling since I have a decent stash of nice NOS 12AX7's and 5751 tubes). But, the two amps present slightly differently, and I like the sound from both of them, something that I did not expect. So, I borrowed my beloved, who has golden ears, and asked if she heard any differences (since it sometimes takes me days/weeks to eventually hear what she can hear in a sitting). My main criteria was to avoid listening fatigue, especially at the top end. This was the initial reason that I stuck with tubes when I updated my system 15 years ago. The Rega integrated I was using at that time was just too cold and sharp for any extended listening, so I bought a custom tube pre-amplifier to directly feed the Rega's amp section ( a unique feature of the Rega Mira 3 allowing the pre- amp and amp to be fully de-coupled). Not perfect, but it worked well enough and I got off the audiophile band wagon. Well, my beloved listens to a few songs on both and without any cueing form me, says that the new unit is brighter and the older one is easier to listen to, although both sound nice. Her advice is usually on the mark, but I do not know why I have not yet packed up the new amp. I suspect that it is because what I really want is something like a Decware Zen amp at about 4x the price (and with a 10-month waiting list), but am not sure if that will fully scratch my audiophile itch either.

I do not dislike listening to the old pre-amp, and it was custom-built for me, but I listen to the new amp and like how it sounds. But, I am then having to wonder if my wife is right, and will the new pre-amp eventually become fatiguing to listen to during extended listening periods. I have noticed a bit of fatigue on and off these past few weeks, but it has not been attributed to either amp as much as I suspect not having listened to my system for some time. I wish I could just leave well enough along and make my wallet happy by returning the new unit, but I seem to be enjoying both units. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, especially from any bottleheads. The "quest" kept me busy while recovering on the couch from surgery, but it is time to get out of this rabbit hole if I can.

Thanks,

--Ken
 
Joined
Nov 14, 2005
Messages
3,104
Location
Winter Haven, florida
I love tubes, but have not rolled tubes for years. My "guru" for tubes died several years ago, so I have not changed anything since.
I would really listen- if it is to bright and edgy I would find it a deal breaker.
If I am ever not sure- I take a track I know very well and I listen to it loud 10 times. If I find I want to get up and do something else while this is playing- I know the system is not for me.
Good luck with your journey.
gary
 
Joined
Jan 12, 2018
Messages
998
Location
Puget Sound
Real Name
Ken
Thanks for the reply, Gary. I really never tube rolled much myself, despite all of the tubes I bought when I got the pre-amp. Most of the sellers were guys in their 70's and 80's and they seemed happy to sell a few NOS tubes to a newbie like myself who was interested in learning a bit more. My local repair guy, who also had a collection of tubes that ventured into the five figures, died a number of years ago. He was a real character, but he fixed my pre-amp (and saved me from having to ship it back to the manufacturer in Canada), gave me quite a "lesson" on audio equipment, and most importantly, turned me on to Melody Gardot. Many said he was anti-social, but I found him to be a brilliant person who needed to get out of his house a bit more often. We talked at length when I visited while he repaired the pre-amp, and I am not sure who enjoyed the conversations more. He always seemed grumpy, but he never asked me to leave, and he continued on in conversation, so I guess it worked for him. But I digress.

Like using a new or different camera, listening to new gear takes me some time to form an opinion. Heck, I need to process at least 50-100 raw files from a camera before I can say much about the sensor and working with the files. I kind of feel that way with the amp. It has been 15 years since I made any major purchases or changes (barring a few portable DAC's and some affordable headphones/IEMs) and I was happy to get off of the merry go round. I hate to wait until the end of the return period, but it may take me a few more days to come to terms with keeping or sending this pre-amp back.

I also looked at some other equipment as possible alternatives, but quickly learned that the dubious advice that one used to get from hard copy audio magazines and later online magazines has now fully made its way to YouTube. There seem to be a lot of "reviewers" who are not very forthright about how/if they are compensated for their reviews with complementary copies of the gear that they can keep. It left me as disgusted as I was 15 years ago when I stopped being active in audio forums.

I long for the days of local stores (and no COVID) where you could could audition or bring home floor models for a day or two. We still have a few local stores, but most are carrying very high end gear.

Focusing on something this trivial kept me sane when I was recovering and could not move after surgery, but it now needs to be resolved for my own sanity.

Thanks,

--Ken
 
Joined
Nov 14, 2005
Messages
3,104
Location
Winter Haven, florida
Small, small world.
I also miss talking to the old artists and repair guys. Yes, they were often crotchety, until they got to know you. Then the stories they could share were marvelous.
I started streaming with Qobuz about 6months ago, and really liked the playlists it would choose for me. Well, that introduced me to Melody Gardot. I have listened to all her tunes for the last couple of months- wow.
I was looking for a new set of headphones. All the local and not so local brick and morter shops have closed. I couldn't listen to multiple setups, I didn't have my old artists to guide me. It was hard.
I ended up with a pair of Stax, boy oh boy does Gardot sound terrific.
I have a pretty good main system. Pass electronics, Herron phono preamp, Oracle table with Benz cartridge driving Dunlavy sciv a speakers. I haven't changed anything in that chain for 20years. Now, I just listen to the music. On the digital side, changed dacs a couple of times, now running a mydek. Back when I was auditioning and changing equipment, I found when a piece actually changed the sound I almost always liked it at first- it was different, it had to be better (especially as all the equipment was highly rated)- it had to be good. But after a few weeks it would grow old and sound unnatural. Good luck with your search.

By the way, I never actually looked anything up about Gardot, I just streamed her music. I just googled her- did you know she was in a bad accident and learned music to help her recover? I think we can hear that in her tunes.
gary
 
Joined
Jan 12, 2018
Messages
998
Location
Puget Sound
Real Name
Ken
Small, small world.
I also miss talking to the old artists and repair guys. Yes, they were often crotchety, until they got to know you. Then the stories they could share were marvelous.
I started streaming with Qobuz about 6months ago, and really liked the playlists it would choose for me. Well, that introduced me to Melody Gardot. I have listened to all her tunes for the last couple of months- wow.
I was looking for a new set of headphones. All the local and not so local brick and morter shops have closed. I couldn't listen to multiple setups, I didn't have my old artists to guide me. It was hard.
I ended up with a pair of Stax, boy oh boy does Gardot sound terrific.
I have a pretty good main system. Pass electronics, Herron phono preamp, Oracle table with Benz cartridge driving Dunlavy sciv a speakers. I haven't changed anything in that chain for 20years. Now, I just listen to the music. On the digital side, changed dacs a couple of times, now running a mydek. Back when I was auditioning and changing equipment, I found when a piece actually changed the sound I almost always liked it at first- it was different, it had to be better (especially as all the equipment was highly rated)- it had to be good. But after a few weeks it would grow old and sound unnatural. Good luck with your search.

By the way, I never actually looked anything up about Gardot, I just streamed her music. I just googled her- did you know she was in a bad accident and learned music to help her recover? I think we can hear that in her tunes.
gary
Sounds like a nice system. The Stax must sound wonderful. I was tempted this summer to buy another set of headphones, possibly electrostatic, but decided that my Senn HD 600's didn't get enough use for me to run out and buy something else. I would love to possibly build a whole new system, but the budget for that, and my wife's patience for more boxes in the house, are not unlimited. Besides, I lost a bit of hearing ( mostly on the high end) from chemotherapy about a decade ago, so extracting every last ounce out of a system seems a bit of overkill. I have a few more days left and I should try to focus on really listening as best I can.

Regarding other services, I was initially not that interested, but saw a good comparison video that got me interested in Quobuz. So I may have a look when things settle down. Apple gave me a free three-month trial, so I am good until December with them. That will also hopefully give Spotify some time to finally release their hifi service.

I did not know about Meoldy Gardot. Roger, the repair technician, just put on an album of hers and said I should sit and listen. I really liked what I heard, but never looked into her biography. I have also been listening, and re-listening, to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald these days. I know and like the Gershwin Songbook pretty well so I sometimes use those songs as test material. So much music, so little time.

Thanks again,

--Ken
 
Joined
Jan 12, 2018
Messages
998
Location
Puget Sound
Real Name
Ken
If I am ever not sure- I take a track I know very well and I listen to it loud 10 times. If I find I want to get up and do something else while this is playing- I know the system is not for me.
Good luck with your journey.
gary
Well, I took your advice, although I did not listen to any song for 10 times in a row, but I did do some critical listening yesterday while my beloved was out of the house. And I also did a bit of quick tube rolling as well, and therein lay the answer. Long story short, the sound from the new amp that I found so different was actually its tube, not the amp. When I swapped tubes, I could hear the difference in both pre-amps. I didn't think that a tube could make such a difference, but it did. And the best news is that I can get a similar tube with different branding for about $10 ( I believe it is a Shugang 3- mica 12AX7 that was rebranded as a Ruby tube). So, I will be sending the new pre-amp back for now as it did not solve the gain mismatch issue.

--Ken
 

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