The Gearhead: An Afternoon of Cheers & Listening

About 30 of us gathered last Thursday at The Music Room headquarters for the first time in more than 2 years to attend our monthly company meeting – *gasp* – IN PERSON. It was a bit surreal to all be back together like that, but an extremely welcome return after so many meetings conducted on Zoom.

To celebrate the occasion, and given the fact that The Music Room staff continues to grow and that some newbies are uninitiated to the audiophile hobby and industry, we decided to put together a couple of really stellar systems and host a listening event for the post-meeting hangout. We wanted to remind our own why we do what we do. Most employees at TMR are musicians, and everyone here loves music, but we wanted to show the payoff of the audiophile hobby, where layers are peeled back and the music becomes more mentally engaging than ever before.

Downstairs, in our recently-completed and absolutely massive new service & repair center, service technician Jason Masters put together the above system. Obviously, it’s hard to get past the 500lbs-per-side, gloriously wood laden and exquisitely-finished, legendary vintage TAD TSM-1 speakers. They cast a rich and very cohesive presentation even at relatively close listening range (8 or 9 feet) and had an airy treble and a lack of horn coloration that defied the view.

Now these vintage beauties are 98dB sensitive, which means just about any amp in existence could power them. Why not go for a pair of Shindo Laboratory 300B monoblocks? Their single-ended, musclebound 3 watts per channel gave the TSM-1s all the current needed to rock the repair center with a bit of GoGo Penguin Live, recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

Feeding the amplifiers was another gem, the Allnic L-7000 tube preamplifier. A few of us who’ve had the chance to listen to this amazing preamp consider it one of our favorites, thanks to its incredible transparency and resolution. Sending the analog signal to the Allnic was a Chord DAVE DAC – why not – and also a two-chassis Modwright PH150 Reference phono stage (yowza) which amplified a Rega Planar 10 turntable with an Apheta 3 cartridge.

What a killer system. I was in charge of the listening setup in the Listening Lab upstairs, so I had to bring in a giant box of my own home system “tweaks” to help my measly $60K upstairs system compete with this roughly $120K tube and high efficiency dream system downstairs. I brought audiophile switches, linear power supplies, expensive cables and Shakti stones and other voodoo.

But I already had a leg up in our large, well-treated main listening room. With either diffusion or absorption covering all large areas of walls and ceilings, and bass traps from floor to ceiling in three out of four corners, this room is as much a part of the system as any tweak I would install.

The sound in here was flat out amazing, and at first glance you see a couple of very different floorstanding speakers: the DALI Epicon 6 and the Canton Reference 5K. The two speakers are about $6K apart in price (Cantons are roughly $10K while the DALI are $16K), so I gave the Cantons the slightly better outside location in the listening circle.

If you’ve seen our most recent Synergistic Setups video, you’ll recognize the rest of this system, but I’ll detail it here for those who haven’t. An amplifier I am incredibly impressed with, the Chord Ultima 5, does wonders for the Cantons and DALIs, and is fed via balanced ICs from the Weiss DAC502. The DAC gets its signal via USB from the amazing Aurender N200, and that connects to the network via a Nordost QNet switch and its QSource linear power supply. It’s a pure streaming system at the moment, and sounds incredible. Clean power is provided by Audience's AR6 conditioner.

During our demo upstairs, we went through classic tracks like Leo Kottke’s “Corrina, Corrina” and checked out the difference between the speakers regarding center image size and clarity, soundstage width and subwoofer integration.

Speaking of which, I had been struggling a little recently to perfect the sub bass response at the listening position in the new Listening Lab. The bass had gotten pretty good, but I was still missing a couple things here and there -- mostly the extreme bottom-end extension. In a closed room like this, the subwoofer placement is intensely critical, as is the composition of the walls and how well they reflect omnidirectional sub bass waves. The overall size of the room also comes into play, and defines how many room modes exist, and how they are distributed in the room. 

Our Listening Lab Room 1 is 18 feet by 25 feet by 9.5 feet. It’s nearly perfect dimensions for great sound, and I knew that constant tweaking of the subs would lead me to the ideal locations. However, when I recently added two more REL Carbon Special subwoofers to the mix, stacking them on top of the other two, I obtained something of a revelation. The second set of subwoofers, raised off the ground and not directly coupled to the floor, instantly fixed half of my issues with the room modes.

Where before I was struggling to keep 30Hz and below waves inside the room, now I was getting articulate bass down to the low 20s.

So of course, you know I’m thinking about adding a third pair. REL says it’s the best method, and all I can say is that while yes it’s kind of absurd to have that many subwoofers in one room, I can’t deny the results I’ve had with just the second pair in terms of evening out room modes and sub bass response. 

We all had a great time listening to both systems, doing gear swaps, talking shop and answering and asking questions. Everybody loved both systems, and I eventually remembered that it wasn't a competition. The event reminded us all of what’s so great about the audiophile hobby, and energized us for each of our roles here at The Music Room. Good times, with great music. What more could we ask for?