Thursday, October 30, 2008

In Memory of the Snell A series

Today I found a person on Audiogon selling his Snell A2's near me for only $500. I hope he doesn't mind if I steal his picture, if I help him sell these wonderful loudspeakers. I really really wish I could buy them but I have absolutely no place in my house to put them (and my gf tells me she'd kill me).

At $500 with new woofers these speakers are a total steal, even if for only one reason. What the Snell A series speakers have done better than ANY speaker I've ever listened to is that their bass response sounds equally amazing no matter the room you put them in. This particular ability, to perform equally well in a small room or large I've just never heard replicated.

The Snell A's had bass that was awesome, limitless, and not fussy. Any room you put them in, the bass was just, breathtaking. I don't mean that they were scary, or goosebump raising, which they could be, but instead what I mean is that listening to them you felt as if the room, the speakers, the air in your lungs were all somehow coupled together and that the Snells could suck the air right out of your lungs if they tried. And in addition to all that, they felt utterly and completely balanced and real without ever feeling heavy, or offensive, as many large speakers can sound. You can get more bass from something like the large Wilsons, and several of the current super-subsoofers out there today but you can't put most of them into an average sized living room without sounding bad.

If you imagine the best midrange from an electrostatic you ever heard, and then put that quality into a bass driver, these speakers had it, only with ten times the dynamic range. The one negative thing is they were VERY sensitive to amps. Forget driving the bass with tubes or pathetic zero feedback amps. I mean it. You'll need an amp with a high damping factor with at least some local feedback but when you do, wow.

Damn we miss you Peter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Best PC DAC/Preamp, it's not a Benchmark

There are have been a lot of new companies and names in the audio business over the last 10 years but none of those has succeeded in crossing over from the professional market to the high-end audio market better than Benchmark Media, makers of the much talked about Benchmark DAC and Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

All you have to do is count the number of reviews in consumer mags over the past year and notice how many reviewed products come from professional sound companies. Besides the Grace Designs m902 Headphone Amplifier I can't think of a single other example.

Honestly, I haven't heard either of these products, but I have to explain that based on features alone, neither of these works as well for me as the E-MU 1616m. The reason is simple, I need to multi-task my audio. In other words, I need to mix it, not just listen to 1 thing at a time. I know the high-end is all about listening to 1 thing at a time, but honestly, most people today listen to music from their computer, or while sitting at their computer. When we do, we need to hear multiple things at once. We need the alerts and digital audio from the PC, but we may want to hear an external CD player, or FM radio, and the PC sounds. In other words, we need to be able to listen to multiple things, and if we have taste and can afford it, we want it all to be high quality.

Let me explain further. In my home office, which also happens to be my bedroom, I have my AKG 240 headphones, and a pair of Monitor Audio S6 desktop speakers. The speakers face the bed for watching online movies, or DVD's, but I spend most of my time in here at my desk, with the headphones on listening to a class. Sometimes I want the classical music from the radio on the speakers, and the online class and any computer beeps all coming through the headphones, all at the same time, but not always.

The E-MU 1616m with it's multiple analog and digital inputs, as well as multiple digital and analog outputs does this all for me. It also happens to have multiple very good DACs and a headphone amplifier. There's also interesting features which I have no use for, such as two microphone preamps, with phantom power. If you don't know what that is, then you don't do much live recording. :)

The fact is this is an overkill product for me. If you have a small club, or a large house with multiple zones, this product can work as a very capable multi-zone preamp, letting you set up multiple sources, multiple destinations, and run it all from one place with very high quality, low noise, low distortion results.

Lastly, if I really really wanted to, I could use the 1616m as a very high quality, low jitter PC to S/pdif converter, for about the same price as the USB option on the Benchmark DAC, then run it to any DAC in the world. Plus, with it's digital processing features, I can do serious EQ in the pure digital domain. Also, because the E-MU 1616m uses a proprietary interface, a lot of the ground loop and interface problems inherent in the USB interface just disappear.

There is one downside. The learning curve for the mixer software is steep if you've never used a mixer or digital production software before. There are more buttons, bells and whistles involved. Fortunately once you know how to use the Solo and Mute buttons, as well as the Output assignments, the rest is all gravy.

So, my advice if you are willing to step up to using professional grade tools, and you need the flexibility that I do you simply MUST listen to the E-MU 1616m.