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Story Telling: 35 Year Audiophile Journey

pablolie

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I joined this forum not too long ago. I did take a break from audiophile philosophy discussions a few years back, tired of the flamewars that are characteristic. But when I accidentally found this site when looking for measurements on some gear, I liked the vibe of the exchanges here. Not that there isn't disagreement, but it doesn't seem to degrade into what we have probably all witnessed elsewhere.

One key thing about audiophile discussions is that they are often triggered between people that just bought gear they are willing to go to war for, and others that prefer to defend why their gear is better. And that's never going to work. I think a personal journey is worth a story.

About myself: I am now in my mid-50s. Grew up and went to University in Europe, moved to the US in the late 1990s. My Dad was a music and music gear enthusiast. I grew into it. My memories start in my early teens. I recall my Dad's system had a good Dual turntable, a Tandberg cassette player, and a number of amplifiers over time... and Spendor speakers. The latter were a constant. He also taught me to have total respect for the equipment, and he genuinely enjoyed the fact I used and enjoyed it and had equal passion for it. He also liked the fact he could use me as a remote control, of course "Son, play XYZ next" while he was chilling with a beer after work. He had a huge Vinyl library, and an eclectic musical taste that over time allowed me to establish my own (which kept evolving over time, but my preference for jazz, classical, R&B and some Latin was established early). My older sister also brought other influences into the house, starting with the Beatles but also Eagles, America and many others. I was lucky - great equipment and many musical influences. I should mention my Dad also had some unfortunate preferences like James Last, Boney M, Abba and some Chipmunk stuff (but the latter may have been for the benefit of my younger sister :-D). I also distinctly recall the first album I bought with my own money was George Benson's "Give me the Night", and I appreciated my Dad's equipment to accurately resolve the totally underrated background vocals in that album right away (they are layered awesomely, especially in "Love x Love").

Anyhow, like many of us, I moved away to go to university, and absolutely needed some music shrine of my own in my humble student dwellings. I moved with a Walkman as my reference system - it represented a big investment for my limited capital those days, but good heavens - for some of us, it was a sweet sounding thing!

Once I got settled on my own, my personal audio journey started. My first summer visiting my Dad back at home, I "borrowed" his Sansui integrated amp. With the money I made that summer with a job on the side, I bought some Lansing used speakers, got a Pioneer cassette player/recorder, and also a Dual vinyl player. That system served me very well for quite a few years, and my friends begged me to record tapes for them because they sounded so well. Lots of fun was spent listening and dancing to that system. Ah, we were young. Memories.

I will cut this short some - but want to emphasize my purchases were always well considered and I was never a compulsive gear swapper. I was busier compiling a music library. Vinyl... then CDs. I got a Sony CD player, and was hooked to the nature of digital right away. I think it was 1989 when I stopped buying vinyl, mostly, with a clear preference for CDs. Not sure when it was exactly, may have been around 1991 or so, when I started doing well as a young engineer. I upgraded. I got an entry level Luxman integrated amp, the Denon 1290 CD player (highly regarded to this day) and TEAC 8030S cassette player. I also upgraded speakers to small German towers that sounded sublime. That system served me well and sounded absolutely awesome to me and anyone that listened to it. I should mention I still own the small German 3-way towers, and swap them in from time to time just as a reference to compare with current gear. They still sound entirely satisfying, if understandably not 100% to my current standard. But again - that law of diminishing returns is brutal. I could still live with them if circumstances required, really.

Then I moved to the US. The company that brought me over did well. I got married here. We bought a big house - typical story. As we moved into the house, my condition was that I'd build my dream system in the big living room with cathedral ceilings (there was a separate family/TV room). I *splurged". My search concluded at the time with an Accuphase integrated amp (E-306v if memory serves) and an Accuphase CD player (D-65v I think). And bigger $15k tower speakers (won't mention brand). I adored this system. I enjoyed countless hours. It also powered many special moments and parties. So often I'd connect with close friends just listening to it, great music playing and appreciating the experience. The streaming era arrived, and the Accuphase CD player started to act more and more as a DAC. By 2008 or so, I don't think I played CDs anymore. I had ripped my entire collection (it took me over 2 years, starting in 2005 when I got a Slimdevices Squeezebox).

In 2013, my life changed. Divorce. We sold the big house, this being California she got most the $. I moved to a small townhouse. The big equipment didn't seem to work there.

A new discovery journey started, powered both by new tech and the fact I started to reconsider some of my long held -and somewhat snobbish- audio beliefs. More about that in a followup post....
 
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pablolie

pablolie

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Part 2

So the year was 2013, and my life (as previously written) took a new direction.

Listening to music is a form of motivation and healing for me. Whenever I have moved in my life, finding myself a good music listening environment has always been a priority. This certainly was not going to change.

As I moved into my smaller new place, I started to reconsider things. With just a third of real estate at my disposal, I knew that (a) my big, custom-built audio rack would be a non-starter, and (b) given the fact I had stopped listening to CDs and Vinyl altogether, having a DAC the size of the Accuphase CD-player didn’t seem to make sense, and that most certainly I would not be moving thousands of CDs and Vinyls into my new place. They were banned to a storage unit.

Another big change was the fact that I no longer would have a separate TV and music listening room. On the other hand, after divorce I had complete control over the room setup that would now provide both. But minimalism was important to me.

I’ll tell you one thing – if the KEF LS50 Wireless 2 had existed back then, and if they integrated Dirac room optimization, that would be the way to go. Set that up with one or two good subs in your listening environment – endgame. Done. That is what I am still waiting for, by the way. I know there are ways to get darn close to it right now, but not yet.

But it was a fun time for me to play with a lot of equipment.

Digital streaming: This is the only part that stayed a constant. I bought into the Slimdevices Squeezebox system in the mid-2000s and it has stayed my platform, whether it is for my local ripped music files or online music services. It then became Logitech and now is no longer a living product line, but through the wonders of community software development it remains my favorite way to get music to my DAC front end.

DAC: The best I had was the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. That it sounds great is indisputable. It can also provide preamp functionality with a remote that’s carved out of metal. It provides any interface you want, both digital and also analog. I just discovered I had zero need for analog inputs anymore. I just need two digital connections: one to the TV, and one to the music streamer (in my case a Logitech Squeezebox Touch). I have other DACs, but none as versatile as the DAC2 HGC. The downside to the DAC2 HGC (as well as the current DAC3 by the way) is its lack of built in Dirac and also the fact it lacks the capability to set a crossover frequency to feed a sub and loudspeakers separately.

Power amplifiers: With the Benchmark DAC2 firmly entrenched as a DAC and preamp of choice, several power amplifiers came and went. The finalists came down to the NAD M22 and the Benchmark AHB. Unlike this website, I made the choice against the AHB and kept the NAD M22 for several years. I just thought the M22 sounded just a tad bit more entertaining and alive. By such a small margin it may have been imagination, but it probably was there because I would have loved the visual integration of just staying with a single brand.

Speakers: I never questioned my towers, they had served me very well for over 15 years. Very good 3-way designs, they were upgraded at the factory to improved crossovers and tweeters. But… while they were not huge towers, when I moved to my smaller dwellings I was somehow not as happy with them as I used to be. That was probably because (a) I was sitting much closer to them, and (b) the room was of course smaller, with the back walls much closer to the speakers. I never got to measure things out thoroughly, but it is now my conviction towers with a wider range are much harder to integrate into a room than bookshelf speakers with the help of a separate subwoofer are. So when the raves about the KEF LS50 started (was it 2013?) I was a very early buyer. I paired them with a Velodyne subwoofer hooked to the pre-out of the Benchmark DAC, and wow, right away I went “yeah, this is the way to go”. Then followed the subwoofer optimization (dialed to 80Hz, but the KEF were driven full range) and I was very happy. But there were other tempting bookshelf speakers out there, several rolled in and out while I kept the KEF LS50 as a comparison. The ones I kept the longest were the Totem Element Fire, and I can whole-heartedly recommend them for sheer fun and entertainment. There were also some very expensive ones that truly when I compared them to the KEF or Totems I truly just went like “Nope, not worth paying 10k plus, plus they don’t even look that much better”. Won’t mention brands.

Then I had a problem. The stupid touch power button on the NAD M22 stopped working. Time to send it in for repair. Disappointing. Luckily I had a NAD D7050. Note: I had gifted it to my girlfriend (selfishly, so that I could listen to good music at her place), but she interestingly also found the touch power button too fussy so she gave it back to me when we broke up. So off goes the NAD M22 to a repair center (NAD doesn’t accept equipment back after warranty, be warned, you have to work with their third party repair shops and it’ll cost you), and I set up my system with the D7050. On top of that, a friend of mine loved my Totem Element Fire, Totem changed the design on them and my friend offered me too much money to refuse, s off went the Totems and back in were the LS50, which in the meantime I had traded for the Racing Red special edition LS50s (which are impossible to get anywhere now it seems, they’re beautiful).

As I hooked up the LS50 and Velodyne sub with the NAD D7050, I also had the fortune that another friend wanted to play around with his newly acquired Dirac calibration system. We spent an hour setting stuff up, and then a very enjoyable afternoon (and 2 bottles of Testarossa JRS Pinot Noir) listening to music. How much fun.

When I received back the NAD M22, I quickly patched the older system together… but then thought, nah, I am too happy listening to music just like this. I now have the Benchmark DAC2 HGC and the NAD M22 shelved, and thoroughly enjoy music through the roughly $1k (compared with the cumulative $5k of the DAC2 and M22) D7050.

It fulfills some key qualities I now treasure: it is simple, minimalist and compact.

But I am also honest in saying this is not the end of the road – I’ll either get an integrated amplifier that combines stuff like Hypex or Purifi with built-in Dirac (and that has become available in 2021) or shall wait for next gen active speakers that integrate all of the above.

In the meantime, I have equipment to rotate and keep me entertained, but I am superhappy, and I honestly think my current humble setup sounds better than he $30k+ setup I had in the big house before all this.

And now I'd like to invite others to share their journey too. It's a very personal one too - our preferences change as do our cirucumstances, and new technology options arise. For instance, I'd love to try the Kii speaker system, but it's impossible to et and represents a big commitment (and I have to admit that the older I get, the cheaper I get, too, because showing off is not a priority at all). :-D
 
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kongwee

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My most expensive system was ML Ascent with YBA integrated amp. Now I change to a pair of studio monitor as I dealing with DAW. I have another spare studio monitor just in case something happen.
 

Habu

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Hi pablolie !
Thank you for your story.

I don’t really understand why you choose the NAD D 7050, was it before you joined ASR ?
Regarding the review here, it’s a very expensive product regarding its poor performances

 
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Sgt. Ear Ache

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Your story is remarkably similar to my own. I was really into audio and gear in the 80s...owned an endless stream of different portable machines (Walkmen) and boomboxes and eventually put together a pretty nice Hifi setup consisting of NAD components and Paradigm speakers (when Paradigm was a new company). Then in the 90s got married, had a couple kids and yadda yadda...audio took a back seat and eventually the gear got sold. My music listening became centered largely on listening to songs (usually just via the laptop speakers!) in order to learn the guitar parts (I play guitar) rather than just for the enjoyment of the music. Around 2013, divorce. I spent a couple years back living with my parents while the legal process played out and then got settled in a decent 2 bedroom apartment. During that time of "reconstitution" I started getting back into just listening to music for pleasure and also got interested in having something decent to listen with. A big system wasn't really viable at the time, so headphones became my focus and I found my way over to Head-fi. I got into cheap ear buds, lol...which I actually still enjoy. Some sound surprisingly good and it was (inexpensive) fun buying them and trying them out...but when it came time to move into my own apartment I decided to treat myself to a "good" headphone rig. I settled on Hifiman HE-400i cans which at the time were still almost $400cdn. I still use them (with an E30 dac and a Schiit Heresy amp) and afaic they're my endgame. They aren't "the best" headphones you can find, but I no longer believe in magic and I doubt there's much I'd actually hear in terms of sound improvement from anything else.

Gradually, during my time at Head-fi I found myself more and more suspicious of some of the common wisdom ("these $8 ear buds require 100 hours of burn-in to attain their full majesty") and I gravitated down the forum list there to the "Objectivist Ghetto", lol. From there, I found reference to this place called Audio Science Review and here we are. I had always, even as far back as the 80s, sort of vacillated back and forth between audiophile goofiness and more grounded skepticism (aka "objectivity") regarding audio gear. I bought the expensive speaker cables, but I always sort of doubted they were really making any difference so I was already receptive to much of what I found here. I've now - thanks largely to information found here - put together a nice, clean, and surprisingly inexpensive hifi system that I find really completely satisfying. I don't have any feeling that I need to change anything. My urge for new toys is now satisfied by buying the occasional silly bluetooth speaker, lol...although as "fun" as they are I find it frustrating because It's so easy to very-specifically hear their shortcomings in the bass region.
 
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pablolie

pablolie

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Hi pablolie !
Thank you for your story.

I don’t really understand why you choose the NAD D 7050, was it before you joined ASR ?
Regarding the review here, it’s a very expensive product regarding its poor performances

View attachment 183299
Respectfully, I strongly disagree with the conclusion in the review. The amp itself is highly competent (check the SINAD ranking for it - attached, where it ranks high in the very good/good group)) and I never drive it into clipping anyhow. :) I think the D7050 is supremely clean sounding- not the biggest stage, totally unusable if you need any analog connectivity and definitely not great build-quality and -ugh- that horrible power button - but the sound is amazing (which is also borne out in other reviews incl measurements).
 

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pablolie

pablolie

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... put together a nice, clean, and surprisingly inexpensive hifi system that I find really completely satisfying. I don't have any feeling that I need to change anything. My urge for new toys is now satisfied by buying the occasional silly bluetooth speaker, lol...although as "fun" as they are I find it frustrating because It's so easy to very-specifically hear their shortcomings in the bass region.
Absolutely, it is a fantastic time to put together an awesome sounding system with very reasonable budgets, compared to the past.

Another thing I have observed - my home workstation was always set up for good audio: external DAC and very fine -albeit not esoteric- headphones (Shure SRH1540, Grado 325 and Shure SE535). You'll notice - all of them wired and without noise canceling, which I was always wary of. Now I see myself far more accepting of bluetooth and noise canceling, which is a journey I have just embarked on - a bit late to the party, I am sure. :-D Whether it is because they have grown better (I had tried some early NC and the hiss was unacceptable at the time) or whether I have become lazier and the convenience of not having to mess around with cables has won me finally over... we'll see. :)
 
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Habu

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Respectfully, I strongly disagree with the conclusion in the review. The amp itself is highly competent (check the SINAD ranking for it) and I never drive it into clipping anyhow. :) I think the D7050 is supremely clean sounding- not the biggest stage, totally unusable if you need any analog connectivity and definitely not great build-quality and -ugh- that horrible power button - but the sound is amazing (which is also borne out in other reviews incl measurements).
Hi pablolie,
I have a new reading of the review regarding the Dac output on the NAD 7050:
Amir wrote regarding the outputs »My thinking is that this is a split off output from the power amplifier as opposed to a traditional DAC output » that could explain the Bad Sinad on this output, and isn’t representative of the Dac performance.
 
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pablolie

pablolie

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Hi pablolie,
I have a new reading of the review regarding the Dac output on the NAD 7050:
Amir wrote regarding the outputs »My thinking is that this is a split off output from the power amplifier as opposed to a traditional DAC output » that could explain the Bad Sinad on this output.
Indeed, I don't think anyone would ever use the D7050 as a DAC. The entire value proposition is about direct amplification, never made sense to me that he slammed it as a DAC but never uploaded the SINAD ranking as an amplifier in his review... :) The only sensible application for the output is to drive a sub.
 
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pablolie

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Just wanted to say: my current journey isn't over with my equipment, but I am very happy where I am at and can await the inevitable developments and advancements. We discuss these things in other topics, but if the D7050 and the C298 had a love child with something like Dirac DSP thrown in, hey. It is inevitable, something like that will come. The KEF LS50 actives are also a very good step, but again, no Dirac there... Also I am a tad over the power number game, I doubt I'll ever need more than a clean 50-75W if I can attach and control a sub effectively. I think we're still in an interim period of transition that is very interesting to observe, with some obsolete notions gradually being gnawed at by new realities.

Oh a tidbit I forgot to mention: My cat (Boli, a 2 year old British shorthair) will seldom fail to plonk down between speakers when I play music, especially classical adagios. He seems an audiophile, with probably superior hearing (his head perks up when I play a 19kHz test tone I can't hear at all, mine kicks in at 16kHz these days). It's funny. Anyone else have an audiophile pet? :-D
 
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pablolie

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It confirms what I think. Never get married with an American woman or don't divorce there. It's detrimental to your audiophile system.
If there's something that we understand as music lovers - it is occasionally succumbing to irrational passion. :-D Otherwise we wouldn't dedicate so much passion to build our audiophile shrines (or passionately disagree with each other, which is not my style but I have observed often in other audio forums)... marriage was worth the experiment :-D I certainly don't recommend going through it twice though :)
 

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….In the meantime, I have equipment to rotate and keep me entertained, but I am superhappy, and I honestly think my current humble setup sounds better than he $30k+ setup I had in the big house before ….
Yep spending tons of cash doesn’t guarantee good sound!
 

DWPress

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I certainly don't recommend going through it twice though :)

Having done so (twice in the US) I most whole heartedly agree.

Great bit of history by the way. Lots of parallels because were probably about the same age and that was what we had to work with back then. I was also always partial to NAD gear as well, had a beautiful 1300 pre amp with the best tone controls in the world mated up to three 2200PEs bridged for mains and a sub. I adopted digital early and ripped thousands of CDs and records to the hard drive. Sadly the ADC and software (let alone computing power) in the late 80's early 90's on Mac OS9 shows its limitations for all the work I put into back then.

Seems I was just as happy back then but probably listen more critically now.
 
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pablolie

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...I adopted digital early and ripped thousands of CDs and records to the hard drive. Sadly the ADC and software (let alone computing power) in the late 80's early 90's on Mac OS9 shows its limitations for all the work I put into back then.
Seems I was just as happy back then but probably listen more critically now.

Oh yes. I completed the ripping and digitization of all my 3000+ CDs and 200+ vinyl back in 2006 or so. What back then seemed the "end game"... I ripped to 320k MP3 for popular music (it was ,much faster) and FLAC for everything I felt could benefit from it... but I did buy some stuff on iTunes (ugh) and Amazon for convenience... and hence still at times I run across 128kbit/s file (it's what they sold stuff digital downloads as at the time, other than Deutsche Grammophon, who only did 320k even back then)) ... the funny thing is that at times I am pretty sure I have listened to the stuff and it didn't bother me until I noticed accidentally :-D

PS: And these days I am a heavy Spotify user because their library is awesome. And honestly, the vast majority of the time I think their 320k sounds awesome enough. Feel free to revoke my audiophile club card :-D
 

rwortman

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Oh yes. I completed the ripping and digitization of all my 3000+ CDs and 200+ vinyl back in 2006 or so. What back then seemed the "end game"... I ripped to 320k MP3 for popular music (it was ,much faster) and FLAC for everything I felt could benefit from it...
I am curious. How was ripping to Mp3 faster? I did all mine to FLAC. Does the Mp3 encoder run faster. I wouldn’t think so.
 
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pablolie

pablolie

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I am curious. How was ripping to Mp3 faster? I did all mine to FLAC. Does the Mp3 encoder run faster. I wouldn’t think so.
you don't do it in 2004 then... plus back then storage space was also a consideration. I remember spending a pretty penny
 

caught gesture

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My audio journey started with a Sony cassette/radio/speaker bought at university in California in 1985. I then “upgraded“ to a Kenwood stack system with a CD player in 1988 on my return to the UK. I remember my first CDs being by Simple Minds and Sting. I then went travelling and returned to tape with a Walkman. My next medium was MiniDisc with another Sony, once again travelling. The minidisc stayed with me for a few years eventually being replaced by my first separate system. Yamaha natural sound amplifier, NAD CD player and Eltax Monitor III speakers, all from Richer Sounds. My next change was to B&W 685 speakers followed by an integrated amp change to my current Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta. A North Star 192 Mk II DAC and computer based source was quickly followed by an upgrade to B&W 805S speakers and then the addition of BK Electronics Monolith Plus subwoofers completes my journey. At various points in the last fifteen years I have been sucked down into the audiophile gutter and found myself spending money on cables, putting weights on components, etc. I’ve never bought an expensive USB cable. I’m proud of that! I did spend a lot of time building a dedicated listening room with diy acoustic treatment. Massively thick corner bass traps, ceiling cloud, absorbers everywhere I could see the speakers with a mirror from the listening position, skyline diffusers, etc. The room sounded glorious. Now I’m married and I use Dirac and lots of bookshelves and soft furnishings. I now enjoy more finding new music on bandcamp than chasing the unicorn of perfect sound. The itch to upgrade is constantly present. My satisfaction with what I have overcomes it.
 

Marc v E

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@pablolie : beautiful story, very well writen. You've got a talent.

My own story started with my fathers speakers, pied pipers, which were quite famous in the 80s and 90s in The Netherlands. We had a Thorens turntable, a beautiful machine, that produced quite a nice sound, although we quickly moved to cd playback when the more affordable players came available. I believe it was a yamaha and the amp a cyrus one. Nice sounding system, a bit homey and lush, probably not as accurate to today's standards.

My first system comprised of a marantz cd player, the cd 43 iirc, a nad amp and kef speakers. A nice sounding system that to my surprise caused a bit of envy among my friends (although I mostly paid for it myself).

When college arrived I decided to buy myself some good headphones. Mainly because I loved music so much and also because it was the cheapest way to get a good sound. I decided to buy the sennheiser hd650, a musical fidelity headphone amp and used my old marantz cd player.

Jumping to 2010 I had my first good job and decided to treat myself a good hifi system. I listened to hifi speakers, pro speakers but nothing really suited me as I wanted a blend between the two. Then I came across B&O, listened to their Beolab9 and knew within 15 minutes: this is what I'm searching for!
What I also truely liked about B&O is that they had a streamer/preamp that they thought good enough for any of their speakers, while just costing a few hundred euros.

Fast forward to 2022 and I've still got the Beolabs; I listen to them for at least an hour a day on average and still love them. I traded the b&o streamer/dac for a nad dac/pre with multiple inputs. I tried a raspberry pi and loved it. It took some time though, and 2nd hand genelec speakers to truely appreciate it. I also got a topping dx7pro dac pre and thought it cleaner and more dynamic than the nad. That's when I was converted to ASR.
 
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