After a decade+ of intense audiophilia, my friend Dan is finally exiting our racket. As a 6moons reader, I first met him in Cyprus. He'd invited me and Ivette to vacation on the isle and experience his installation over the New Year. He had a 6-way custom hornspeaker system with two very long straight bass horns. On stilts, those protruded deeply into his garden, pipes tightly wrapped in moisture seals and terminated in dual woofers each at the far end. In the room, their rectangular horn mouths were large enough to walk in for a bit. Some light pipes all the way to their ends made for moody ambiance at night. Both side walls of his room were entirely covered in LPs floor to ceiling. He had a vast selection of truly rare NOS tubes. Further rooms sported assorted Avantgarde Acoustic hornspeaker systems. His wine cellar contained an enviable selection of exotic valve amps from Kondo, Supratek, Yamamoto, Wavelength, Wyetech Labs and many more whose names I forgot.


Suffice to say that since we both relocated to Switzerland, Dan continued to investigate high-efficiency speakers from Ocellia, Rethm and Voxativ; explored uncommon triode flavours with custom commissions from Audio Consulting, Thomas Meyer and Trafomatic Audio; and went through advanced digital from Alex Peychev including DVD-A, SACD, PCM as DSD, high-resolution streaming and SD card playback. Hearing his setup through many of its evolutions and experiments gave me access to how one may play this game at its outer edge well beyond where I dabble; to appreciate what a lot more money and exclusivity can buy; or not.


Today is about the not. It's directly tied to why Dan has recognized that he's arrived; why his final main system is far simpler than the above; and why his powerful curiosity about hifi is once again squarely focused on just the music and no longer the multitudinous means of its playback. His final system now consists of just two components and one pair of speakers. The source is a custom APL Hifi SD card reader with digital inputs for streaming anything from YouTube and Spotify to Qobuz and Tidal plus locally hosted files; and Russian 1578 triodes. The amplifier with integral volume control is either a modified Berning Siegfried running Elrog 300B; or a custom push/pull DHT Berning that can run in switchable class A or class AB. Speakers are the Voxativ 9.87 system. It's an ultra-performance very tidy system that sounds as terrific at very low volumes as it does at full-throttle room fill. Despite 104dB efficiency, there is zero noise. Adding even a very expensive dual-mono triode preamp with mercury vapor rectifiers brings no sonic benefits, just source switching. Ditto for replacing the one-box Berning with sophisticated DHT monos with their own outboard power supplies. None of it improves the sound. None of it enhances the pleasure. At best it's about a slightly different flavour. No more ion super tweeters. No more JL Audio subwoofers. When done strategically and with the forethought of hindsight, a far simpler setup of far lower maintenance and for relative pennies on the dollar can be superior. Arriving at the same place with a lot more complexity is far more difficult. Perhaps it can be done. But if you've done it plenty of times already only to realize that it's unnecessary - where's the appeal?


Enter three basics. 1/ no cable can possibly be better than no cable, period. From that follows that the fewer cables your system needs, the less loss they can cause. You'll still need proper cables, just fewer of them. 2/ if source and amp are properly matched, a preamp can't improve the sound. At best it'll add functionality. 3/ the most important interface is that between the amp and speakers. It's here where the load becomes reactive. The amp doesn't see a nicely fixed input impedance like a source sees with a preamp or amp. The amp sees a wildly fluctuating speaker impedance plus back electromotive force. What's more, at the speaker the signal departs the electrical domain of circuit crawling. It gets transformed into sound pressure via mechanical appliances. Their output interacts with three-dimensional space in unpredictable ways. The often best solution will be an active speaker with some DSP adjustments. Here choices are still more limited to have many prefer the traditional passive speaker options. A practical middle ground can be a full-bandwidth monitor with active adaptive bass for the bottom octave.


What about the source? Anything lost there can't ever be recovered downstream, can it? Quite. But consider how the average room, in the middle of the night, exhibits a noise floor of about 30dB. Most people consider 85dB peaks in the seat plenty loud. How much of a middling signal-to-noise ratio does that net us versus the 145dB record-breaking figures hit by the very latest converters from Metrum, Mola-Mola, Nagra, TotalDAC & Co.? Glancing over Dan's shoulder over these many years, I was privileged to listen to his various system permutations by routinely bringing personal components for insertion and my own tunes. Today, we both conclude that from source to amps, current technology often eclipses what actually matters already. Until we get better recordings, more sound-optimized rooms and speakers of distortion levels that are as low as the electronics which front them, much of the typical discussions and concerns are nothing but spec wanking. There is no inherent advantage to complexity. Spending excessively does not magically net better results. Enjoyable sound comes in a variety of flavours. In the end you pick one and get on with preferably a system that's low maintenance, tidy and which integrates nicely into your d├ęcor to get out of the way not just sonically.


In preparation for an interview Dawid Grzyb is assembling for his new HifiKnights venture, he asked me that if I had limitless resources but could pick only one system, what would it be? As a reviewer, I'd never have just one setup. I don't believe that'd be the right way to do a proper job. But as a consumer, I'd get a hi-tech integrated solution of Devialet-type functionality driving a top-quality sub/sat system where the sub only handles <40Hz. If I wanted tubes, I'd copy Dan's solution but would insist on remote volume. Simple and elegant trumps complex and ostentatious every day. Migrating this sentiment to next month's feature on life style, "I'd rather be comfortable in a less affluent country than stressed out in a really wealthy one". Call it pragmatism as gained at the end of a long journey through various excesses and colourful experiments. Perhaps one of a hundred hifi obsessives can learn from Dan's example whose own journey was far broader and more intense than most of us could justify or would even dare attempt. The differences 'up there' become marginal at best. They completely lose touch with involved expense and complexity. Whilst their lure is very real, so is the eventual realization that a fully satisfying place to settle down in will be far simpler and far less involved. If you can spare yourself such a lengthy and costly detour, arrive now and stop reading us except for pure entertainment. Seriously!