I have an obsession with music playback systems dating back to the 1960s. 8-track tapes, Akai 4 track reel-to-reel tape, and Koss Pro-4aa headphones!
It was not until 1985 that I started to understand what clean-sounding systems were: Thiel CS 3.5 speakers, Bryston 3B power amplifier, APT Holman Preamp. Set up in the basement because it was too big and "ugly" to be a part of the family life. I started learning about room reflections from the paneling on the walls and the low ceiling.
Fast forward to the '90s and the system was allowed in the living room because we had more space in the new to us house. We upped-the-ante a little bit with a better CD player and a Threshold FET-9 Pre-amp! The family could play CDs and records. Then the CD player gave up, and I said, Hey let's rip the CDs and play them from the computer! Instantly the system was too complex to use. iTunes was not friendly like a CD. The machine had to be on, and you had to log in! I do not think that this was or is progress.
Then there was this side trip to Sonos speakers in the living room that nobody listened to because they could not run them! NOTE TO SELF: Never run beta software on something that others have to use!
The last five years have been a classic case of "Audiophilia Nervosa." There has been a constant stream of speakers, amps, pre-amps, cables, DACs, and the like. I settled down on Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, and Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated with B&W 804S speakers using Transparent Cable throughout.
Then there is the computer side of things. Laptops, MacMini, Sonic Transporter, custom-built server, custom build D-to-D. Four different operating systems! Oh, and do not forget the networking issues! And maybe a small light at the end of the tunnel.
Digital Audio playback software is starting to get a lot better and presenting a user interface that almost anyone can use. As an example, Roon Labs software gives you a friendly interface to your local music, Tidal, and Qobuz along with a limited interface to internet radio. Jriver Media Center is continuously improving. Audirvana is expanding to new platforms. What a great time to be able to listen to almost any of the music the world has to offer!
There are a lot of rough spots, and it can be hard to access content such as Bandcamp or YouTube on your stereo system. There are still issues around the complexity of managing a local music library.
Today you can tell "the lady in the can" to play some music, and the "super" computers at Google, Apple, or Amazon will typically present you with what you asked to hear.
Taking all of this knowledge, services, systems, and individual requirements into consideration I have built a set of audio playback systems that will work in virtually any home, can be operated by almost anyone, and provide not only sit down performance listening but add in the virtual assistant integration and casual around the home background information delivery and music.
Enough gazing fondly into the past. Next time I will write more about what is going on right now with a complete redesign of the audio system. We will eliminate a lot of the complexity and take the sound quality to another level!