Open the timer that you have on your smartphone. Set it to 5 minutes counting down and go to head-fi.org. Open your mind and senses and just pick a random review, thread or blog entry. Within seconds, if you're anything like me and like most of us always on the lookout for new gear, you're lost. When that alarm goes off, it feels like it's only been a few seconds. I love head-fi as it allows me to just disappear and indulge in headphone paradise.
I only have one problem. It distracts me from my Hifi-pathway, lures me down alleys where I don't want to go, uses its seductive and beautiful eyes to make me fill my online shopping basket with new equipment, unheard, unseen. Is that a problem?
For me it is, and I’ll explain why. Maybe you’ll learn something too…
About 12-13 years ago I was visiting my local Linn dealer. It was one of very few hifi-stores available in my town. I can’t remember the reason for visiting them the first time, but I guess I was intrigued by the fact that high-end audio equipment had prices that seemed impossible for anyone to pay. The guys running the store knew that I would never have the money to buy anything, but nevertheless, they were always helpful and always allowed me to go into their listening room. I went at least 10 times in the next 6 months, but I will never forget the first time.
The store manager gave me the full pitch; starting with a cheaper Linn CD (something like Linn Genki, I think), moving up to Linn Ikemi and finally arriving to Linn Unidisk 1.1 (no Dynamik power supply). Playing the same 2-3 songs, leaving me alone in the room in the comfy lounge chair, remote in hand and mouth opening more and more by the minute. Nothing I have ever listened to years after that moment sounded good and that store manager knew that, of course. He gave me a summit-fi experience that would forever change my life.
He also explained the hifi-pathway to me. He said; “you need to start somewhere. We all want the CD12 (legendary silver disc player) but of course not having it doesn't mean that you can't have good sound from your equipment. However, if you get to know the ideal sound that suits your taste, you can start at a lower level - enjoy as much as you can, slowly saving up money, upgrading here and there - and while doing that, the equipment will change and improve.
You will slowly climb for the top, but enjoy every step of the climb. Every upgrade you do will feel like nice presents. Don't rush it - and most importantly: don't forget about the music. Spend money on your equipment, but make sure you buy some music too! As your collection builds up, you will revisit it with every upgrade.”
He spoke about ‘source first’, the Linn philosophy saying that you’ll always get the most improvement from upgrading your source (CDP, TT). I’m not going to argue about that – there’s no right and wrong in my opinion. I only had one question for him: where do I start?
He said, we have a ‘used audio’ section in the store, go have a look. I said; “but buying a used, cheap CD is going to leave me disappointed until I can afford the Unidisk”. He looked back at me and said; “no it won’t. Find your own hifi-pathway but always use your ears. Make sure your equipment is set up properly, spend money on CD’s and then come back when you’ve saved up some cash and I’ll help you with the next step”. That’s what I did.
I bought a used CDP, an integrated amp and a set of small speakers, but the equipment I bought is not the take-home message here. I wrote a wish list and a timeline for my first hifi-pathway and that list has been with me ever since. It’s very simple and contains my timeline for getting equipment over the next 6-8 years. On top is my summit-fi system where I would like to end up within 8-12 years. It’s been revised and pushed forward a couple of times of course but the thoughts behind it stay the same.
On my Ambassador Page you can find the framework surrounding my hifi-pathway (Basic path to sonic bliss). It was created a couple of years ago when I decided to abandon floor-standing speakers and dedicate my music listening to headphones. My hifi-pathway needed something else to support my vision so I try to align my hifi-pathway with this framework now and then, just to see whether I’m on the right track.
Whenever I’m being led astray by intelligent reviews and endless threads on head-fi, I first go back and look at my hifi-pathway, and against my basic path to sonic bliss. Does it fit? Yes/No? Can I check the boxes, and what’s already in the hifi-pathway? Well, I can tell you, most of the times I empty the shopping basket, sit down with a good cup of coffee and just enjoy the system I have today. Then I save up money for the next purchase, re-visiting my music collection and just like that it continues.
A couple of weeks ago a decided to take a step towards a second headphone system. In the few days I spend in my office and not traveling; I, of course, listen to music.
I found a used Linn Unidisk 1.1 with Dynamik power supply which replaced my Linn Unidisk 2.1 without Dynamik, and I decided to get the Sennheiser HDVA600 and go fully balanced, changing the termination of my Black Dragon headphone cable, and adding a ‘tail’ to connect it to the Hugo when I am at home.
My office system was suddenly completed to summit-fi levels. It was like taking a shortcut in the hifi-pathway and I guess I can allow myself to do that without losing to much sleep. I couldn’t really check it against the basic path to sonic bliss, but hey I’m not perfect.
My Sennheiser HD800 sings like never before – and in my office I’m revisiting my CD-collection. It’s fantastic! So, now I can keep my focus on my system at home, and next up is a source upgrade.
My basic path to sonic bliss, supporting my Hifi-pathway:
- Trust your ears, not the price tag.
- Accept the passion.