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The only sound system is a sound system

I spend oh, maybe 90% of my waking life listening to music. I spend a lot of my sleeping life doing so too.

I don’t own a sub woofer for fear of really upsetting the neighbours. Bedsit life dictates that one must carry an amount of respect for others. But I do have a nice sound system.

My current setup – one that I’ve been slowly accumulating for the last five years – is rather nice I must say. I have a love for analogue amps and paper speakers. I don’t like having a wire trailing out of my primary control device, my phone. This means a requirement of either Bluetooth or some other AirPlay system. That’s what I’m rocking right now:

  1. I’m in a trial membership of TIDAL HiFi, which not only gives you CD quality sound without having to first download your songs; but also goes to higher realms of fidelity with its Masters feature, which streams original studio quality audio. The difference is noticeable.
  2. The iPhone on which this membership is logged in, streams the audio signal via Bluetooth to an iFi iOne Nano. It’s an unassuming little piece of kit that boasts near perfect audio reproduction over Bluetooth. Ever heard audio via Bluetooth on a cheap system? It loses its liveliness and fidelity and sounds crap. The iOne does a few tricks to preserve the audio quality of Bluetooth streams and that, again, is noticeable. The TIDAL HiFi streaming sounds fuller and more alive than the relatively muffled sounds of your average YouTube stream. This judgement is made while listening through the iOne. The quality preservation is accurate enough to tell the difference.
  3. A thick RCA stereo cable plugged into the back of the iOne pushes an analogue signal to my analogue amp, a Technics SU-V550 from the early ‘90s. I inherited this from my father, and grew up with it as the main family stereo. I’ve tried this amp with a few different speakers. It currently feeds into my favourites.
  4. The ‘80s Castle Durham speakers, despite their reputed harshness at high volumes, are actually very smooth at low to moderate levels of sound. They’re 2-way but you’d be forgiven to think they had a dedicated mid range cone behind the grill. The bass is honest. It’s driven by small but well housed woofers made of paper. You have to turn up the volume or push the Loudness button on the amp, to really feel the bass. Without volume nor Loudness, however, the bass is still present and entertaining; and a bit more conforming to bedsit life.

The TV goes through the iOne too, except third time via optical cable rather than Bluetooth. To switch between the two I just flip a lever on the iOne. Both feed into the amplifier through the same RCA cable. The amp is too old to take optical.

I’m really pleased with this setup for its beautiful sound and handy convenience. I can demand pretty much any song I like at CD quality through TIDAL; right from the comfort of my chosen slouching place.

I had to google just one thing when setting up the TV: To avoid terrible screeching from the system when using the TV, a Sony Bravia, as the source, I had to open the main app, go to Settings, Sound then choose PCM for the Digital Audio Out setting, rather than Auto.

I’ve tried the Technics amp with two other sets of speakers. The Mission MX1s were great until I tried the Durhams. The MX1s sound closed and boxy in comparison. The Technics speakers, which originally came with the amplifier, sound wooden and thin in comparison. Those hearings were both before gaining the iOne. I’m curious to try them again with this new setup.

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