Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Digital v Analogue Speakers: the Dream and Reality

So I am a huge fan of Meridian kit for digital reproduction (well Sonos excepted), key leaders in lossless processing. Pretty much the most impressive thing I ever heard whilst working in Hifi were 6 x DSP6000s run through a 568.2mm processor at a Hifi show (might have been an early 800 mule to be honest, but it were the DSP6000s that left the impression).  Despite being in probably the most dreadful possible arena for sound reproduction - massively noisy, fake walls - they sounded stupendous.  Only heard DSP6000s a couple of times afterwards and as long as you have the room always sounded epic; One of my future should-I-win-the-lottery purchases (much prefer the monolith look to DSP8000s).  The 568.2mm is a great box, and I was delighted as they came within purchase range recently, it handles all my movies and digital side.

You don't need to go as far as that as DSP5000s work in a huge variety of rooms, and with a decent digital source, and meridian processor you have to go a long way to find something sounding better.  My brother's all time favourite, and we sold a lot of them over the years.  That combination of moving the digital to the speaker, allowing a digital crossover, control of the whole package, two 24/96 (in the two later versions) DACs and 3x75W individual amplification for each drive unit, just put such power and control together in a actually quite compact, and with the DSP, very tolerant box.   It also gets rid of all the piles of power amps that you quickly end up with otherwise.  You get a neat and beautifully designed (if a little boxy for some in shape) system.   You can get them now for £1800 and when you look at what you get, that looks like a bargain to me.

So why don't I have a pair?  Well I would apart from one thing, you can't turn the digital off.  It just seems wrong to me to spend so much money on getting your turntable to sound wonderful, then digitize it on the fly.  I can understand if people want to record their vinyl to high resolution digital 24/96+ for the portability and get access to those original recordings and improved dynamic range and then playing it back digitally when they want to listen (and protecting that precious disk).  But if I am going to be getting up, opening a beautiful gatefold, cleaning a record, carefully placing the needle, I really don't want to know that it's being digitized on the fly, even if into brilliant 24/96 DSP.  I ran my turntable for a while into the 568mm which is digital only. To be honest it sounded absolutely fine, however it didn't feel right at all, and ADC change the volume digitally and then DAC as I only really listen to music on the 568mm in Direct (DSP off), seemed a huge waste.

So I'd like to be able to say that I have one dream system, unfortunately in that virtual living room - and to be fair, it would need to be a very large one, or preferably two large rooms - there needs to be two: One digital and one analogue.   As I slowly build up what I'm listening to at home, I've quickly come to the same challenge, and who has the room or the budget to maintain two?  At some point you need to compromise and pick the junction point in the system for doing that, and which (no matter how balanced you can be), gets final priority digital or analogue.  Two main positions on this one.

Digital wins: use DSP speakers, and a very high quality digital pre-amp with DAC built in of the sort I was looking at like the Mytek 192 and accept the digitization of the phono signal as high up the chain as possible then digital to as close to the speaker as possible.

Analogue wins: use conventional speakers and shorten the path directly through from the phono through a analogue preamp, then feed in the digital as low down the chain as possible with a separate digital preamp/processor, typically into the preamp, but if possible directly into the power amps and speakers.

I'm going with the latter, and next post is on trying to cut out having two pre-amps to do it.

But if space and money wasn't a constraint, and those systems could be kept separate, what would they be for me?  Well a lot of my choices are for the attachment I have to things, as well as the outright sound quality but both of these would sound awesome.

Digital
Massive room
Meridian DSP6000 x 6, custom 4x 15" cult of the infinitely baffled  style front facing subs
Second massive room for the subs to vent into behind the screen.
Meridian 800 series processing and decoding

Analogue
Massive room
Martin Logan Statement E2
Krell 700 Power Amps
Some sort of Krell PreAmp
A Linn LP12 with a Woodsong plinth, probably a Peter Swain Signature

So starting to work towards those, seems like a massive room is a pre-requisite... not to mention a lottery win, ah well back to looking at how to get my Analogue and Digital to play nicely together.

Not actually Statement E2 but rather Martin Logon CLSii, from the Martin Logon site but I rather like this picture and it's using a creative commons licence allowing reuse.







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