Downsizing. Scaling back. Whatever you want to call it, people are doing it left and right, from wherever they happen to find themselves at - system wise that is. Here are more reports for our 4th installment, the first from Bangkok/Thailand. Asks August T., "what about downscaling on budget systems? To opt for downscaling happened to me for two reasons. First, the equipment I had broke down one day. Having doubts about its synergy in the first place, I decided to hand the pieces over to a used-equipment dealer who would repair them and then resell. These were the Audio Analogue Puccini integrated amplifier ($1200) and the California Audio Labs CL-15 CD player ($1500). Not high-scale items but more expensive than what I listen to today. The second reason for downsizing was the limited space I have: heavily furnished where there are no walls but cabinets.

The best speakers I have had were the Sonus Faber Concertinos on SF steel stands ($1400) combined with a REL Strata 3 subwoofer ($1100). Somehow this setup never worked to my liking and thus this speaker system was sold, replaced with the tiny Totem Arro speakers ($1100). The only item that has remained throughout is the PS Audio Power Plant 300 ($1600 with upgrades) from which the CD player receives its current. In the present setup, the PowerPlant is the most expensive, followed by the Arros. The NAD 320bee integrated amplifier ($300) and NAD 542 CD player ($250) make up half of the price of the speakers.

Using footers like Soundcare spikes under the equipment and Black Diamond Racing cones under the speakers, I discovered that eliminating the Target rack and placing the audio equipment on top of the heavy wooden cabinet that sits behind the speakers makes the sound a little better. The shelves of the Target rack were covered in black vinyl and I concluded that this kind of plastic caused a hardness in the sound. So away with them - only special footers in use now.

Well, downsizing in my case did not really mean saving money since the eliminated equipment was sold for much less than the original costs. However, with the new equipment I did not need to spend much in order to gain similar -- or just as enjoyable -- sound reproduction. I am also discovering that the non-detachable power cords of the NAD equipment do not stand in the way of a bold sound, although I am from the school of 'everything affects everything' and that includes cables and footers. Affordable speaker cables and interconnects I had were from Nordost, Cardas and Transparent. I finally replaced them all with XLO Pro, another affordable cable but with better clarity and timbre.

So with this modest setup -- 1/3rd the cost of the former one -- I have learned that good sound from a less expensive system can be as enjoyable as that from a more expensive setup. It also downsized my ego a bit when you realize that much in the audio world is also about attractive yet costly design. I still remain an audiophile for the conscious effort I make to bring out the optimum
sound from any given equipment I have. I think the money wasted on previous equipment can be viewed as an expensive education in home sound reproduction which helps me now to discern what sounds good and real. This is not to say that expensive and better designed equipment would not be better. But now it's simply a matter of choice and no longer synonymous with automatically better sound - or a requirement to get good sound." August T.

"You want to know about downsizing?" asked Happy Shopper to get right to the point. "I'll keep this fairly short, leaving out some of the more mundane details. I'll leave out the speakers since the downsizing occurred with my electronics. At one point, I owned a Mark Levinson CDP ($6,000), a prototype Emotive preamp (ca. $3,000 if I remember correctly) and Wavelength Cardinals with WE 300Bs ($7,500), all plugged into a $2,000 Tice PB3. I still have them all and I felt no need to sell them since they did what they were supposed to do. What did they do? They threw a deep soundstage with rock- solid pinpoint imaging and enough detail to hear notes bounce off the wall of the recording studio. This was the ultimate in transparency. I ended up watching the music, not listening to it. It did all the audiophile silliness but it wasn't any fun. After much experimenting with amps and CDPs, I finally settled on the Antique Sound Labs integrated Leyla (the old version at $2,500) and a Resolution Audio Opus 21 ($3,500). What does the new system do? it plays music. The new components do everything the other system did and almost as well but they are more organic and musical sounding. They get the harmonics right. This now connects to me in a way most high-end equipment does not. I rarely read the mags now, 6moons on occasion but few others. I think the industry has the wrong priorities."

John B.'s $120,000 original system consisted of
  • SME 10A/Benz Ruby H
  • Levinson 31.5 transport
  • Levinson 30.6 D/A converter
  • Levinson 32 preamp w/phono
  • Classe Omega mono amplifiers
  • Wilson Watt/Puppy 7s
  • TARA Labs cables

"I lived with this system for about 2 years and enjoyed it immensely - incredible dynamics and upper frequency extension listened to on a daily basis. 3 years ago, my wife and I had our first child and I stopped listening to my system. I decided to downgrade to bank some of the money and also to make a change towards a simpler setup. My current $50,000 system is:

  • Meridian 808 CD Player
  • Manley Neo Classic 250 mono amplifiers
  • ProAc Response D80s
  • Kimber Select cables

The Meridian has a variable output and also allows control of balance and phase (both of which I use a lot). I decided to not

incorporate a turntable in this system and instead, bought a limited edition Technics SL-1200 Gold for my bedroom system. I don't play records nearly as much as CDs so this change worked for me.

My current system is very musical and allows for long listening sessions. It doesn't have the same authority on the bass nor the upper frequency extension of my old system, yet I find it quite satisfying. All in all, a $70K downgrade with about 85% of the performance of my old system." John B.

Kuma's system used to be a Nagra MPA/PLL pre/power duo into Watt 6s. The new all-Brit system practices the source-first philosophy by using a Linn LP12 into a Naim Nait 3R/HC combo driving small Linn Kan speaker, all sited on Mana stands. Kuma's terse comments? "Nagra has been idling almost for a year and I haven't missed it."

Awe-d-o-file meanwhile concentrated his downsizing on cables. "I downgraded dollarwise but upgraded performance in a recent cable purchase. Out went Kimber KCTG, Hero 4/8TC, AudioQuest Jaguar; YBA Diamond (all my interconnects and speaker wire). They were all replaced with Speltz Anti-cables. He has both speaker wire and now interconnects. So I got rid of over $2,000 in cables, spent under $500 instead and they smoke what I had. I sold them all used on AudiogoN and have money in the bank to boot - an over $500 surplus! Their strength and largest improvement was in imaging/ soundstaging. High-frequency response
and detail were much better too. Midrange detail was better. Bass was similar. Try these things, they are really good and simple! The biggest difference was in the interconnects. Although they are unshielded wires, I now enjoy a lower noise floor on my phonostage too. None of these differences were subtle, either! Even a novice would hear these improvements. "

MauiMusicMan had a specific speaker in mind: "Srajan, I think lots of folks could easily downgrade whatever speakers they are listening to and get a pair of Green Mountain Audio Europas and still be pretty darn happy. I went from the top of the line A/D/S to the Europa and a friend went from the Infinity IRS to the Europas. The only thing that suffered was the extreme low end. Everything else improved. I know you are familiar with the line and the designer and will probably agree with me. Hard to go wrong with a decent CDP, an integrated and a pair of Europas." [Left the Europas gussied-up version called the Callisto from Paul Candy's review.]

There you have it. For various reasons, many audiophiles have downscaled only to find that their enjoyment of music didn't find itself compromised. In fact, most have used their hard-won experience to manage the opposite - spend less, enjoy more. Sounds like a winning recipe to me.