I’ve owned approximately 439 pairs of headphones over the course of my audiophile life — models from AKG, Etymotic, Focal, Grado, Nakamichi, Oppo, Sennheiser, Shure, Signet, Sony, SoundMAGIC, Stax, Superphon and Yamaha. The variations have included in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, open-back, closed-back, dynamic, electrostatic and planar magnetic. A good pair of headphones can sound like an outrageous pair of loudspeakers in a perfect room. And for certain living situations and types of music — say, if you live in an apartment and dig deep-pedal organ works — headphones are a must.
I can’t take it anymore, so I’m writing about stereo equipment.
Yesterday, I had plenty to do (clean bathroom, clean kitchen, laundry, vacuum), but I didn’t want to do it, so I threw together a Special Ops Reconnaissance Mission (no credit cards) to Best Buy to check out subwoofers, after which I planned to walk over to Patel Brothers Market to pick up a couple of packages of those Turkish black olives like I like, and then visit my favorite Mexican place.
I’ve owned three subwoofers over the course of my audio fixation (whole life), and each has been unsatisfying in its own special way. The Sequerra Pyramid (remember them?) needed way too much power. The JBL was hard to adjust and wouldn’t turn itself on until things got too loud for polite listening. And the B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) was massive, expensive and slow.
These are trying and distracting times, and they’re likely to get worse before they get better. One thing that’s helped me “deal” has been reducing my TV time. I dropped CATV last year, and the recovery of mindshare has been notable. There’s been a lot less “white noise,” and a significant increase in clearer thinking.
I always have found comfort and solace in music — singing it, playing it and listening to it. My formative music was jazz. My parents owned a small club when I was a toddler, and I guess it’s now safe to let Child Services know that I was often put to bed behind the bar in that smoke-filled space. A bit later, when I was about six, my mother took me to hear Andres Segovia in concert, and I fell in love with the classical guitar — which I studied (unsuccessfully) for about 14 years.
Anyway, I’ve been powering down over the holidays with music, and thought I’d share (in no particular order) some of the albums that stuck with me this year. I don’t know that any of these was recorded in 2016, but I listened to them in 2016, which is what counts.
I recently replaced my 16-year-old ATC SCM12 studio monitors with a really interesting pair of new speakers based on classic hi-fi design principles — the Omega Compact ALNICO Monitors (CAMs). The Omega CAMs harken to the classic days of hi-fi (the 1950s and 1960s) when high-efficiency (lots of volume per watt of amplifier power), single-driver and horn-loaded speakers ruled the market. Think of the enormous classics from Klipsch, Altec Lansing and Electro-Voice. But unlike those monsters — any of which I would have if I had the space and the cash — the Omega CAMS are “bookshelf” sized and utilize a combination of old and new technologies.
The heart of any Omega speaker is it’s proprietary driver — a design that covers the entire audible frequency range without the need of a crossover network that typically would connect a separate woofer (for the bass) and tweeter (for the treble). Omitting the crossover circuit eliminates all kinds of problems, including distortion during the “transition” from the woofer to the tweeter, and the inherent “power sucking” characteristics of passive crossover designs. Crossover circuits require amplifier power to activate them, and unless you use a complex (and expensive) design that incorporates multiple active (externally amplified) crossovers, you lose a lot of performance. I’ve heard speakers from Linn and Naim that pulled off the active crossover trick with aplomb, but none has been anywhere close to being financially within reach.
Reviews of the Naim HeadLine headphone amplifier are hard to come by. And it’s a rare Naim dealer that stocks a $600 headphone amp that requires a $500 external power supply (minimum) to sound its best. There’s just not that much demand. But as a Naim devotee and serious headphone listener, I could not complete my search for a superior headphone amp without seeking out the HeadLine. It took a couple of months to get one on test, but it was worth it.
NAPSC Power Supply
Like all Naim equipment, the HeadLine and NAPSC are built to military spec. There’s nothing flimsy about their aluminum chassis or the quality of their parts. The resulting performance is my new reference.