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The Lifestylophile

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Sonnet Pasithea, Soundaware D30Ref SD card transport & USB bridge; Preamp: icOn 4Pro S w. hi/lo-pass filter; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 mono, Enleum AMP-23R; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Aurai Audio Lieutenant w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport clock-slaved to Denafrips Terminator +; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl SD-9 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Powered speakers: Fram Midi 150
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Simon Audio; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Upstairs in Kilrush – a 6m CAT8a cable handles I²S-over-RJ45 transmission between SD card transport next to chair and DAC in the rack, two 75Ω clock cables slave transport to DAC.

Live it up not down. Does the notion of a well-groomed listening space strike you as a low-fi lifestyle concern? Then today's article isn't for you. It's for those who found my industry features Ambiance and Ambience 2 useful and wondered how they translate to my newer sound rooms in County Clare. I find the process of populating a new space quite organic. From the total collection of furnishings one carries over from the previous digs, one recreates personal comfort and beauty in familiar ways—most the same stuff factors—but different because layouts and how various items combine diverge from before. The bare-bones stuff happens quickly. Given utility and size, certain items can only go in very specific spots. Those anchor and inform the remainder of a room. Listening rooms rely on strict symmetry for the speaker/seat array. Specific distances and orientation are subject to experimentation until the sound locks in. To go beyond looking like a generic retail room then wants more. Living with any bare-boned 'just moved in' setup soon suggests how to tweak the space around the hifi. One sees how sunlight changes across the days. Which areas need artificial lighting? At what brightness or hue? One feels into the room's energy flow to spot areas of conflict, tension or absence. Are all materials well balanced? Is there too much wood, glass or metal? Does the overall color scheme work? Are the plants happy? Can the room convert to uses other than listening? Does it feel inviting to just sit there doing nothing? Are we cozy because a well-lit carefully curated space matches our personality and stimulates the desired mood?

Bedside mini system with active speakers and Raal-Requisite SR1a ribbon headphones.

I'm fond of saying that listening and writing are the work product of my spaces. If I want to produce quality content and enjoy the process of making it, the spaces in which it happens have a direct impact. One ill-fitting shoe already screws up our whole gait and posture. Poorly chosen chair height relative to our desktop's keyboard and screen also misaligns our posture and can even cause tendinitis of the wrist. An uncomfortable listening chair shortens sessions and at the wrong height skews tonal balance. These are basic physical parameters. Others are psychological but no less real or influential. As we inquire into all of 'em with our feeling attention, we peel away layers to make finer and finer adjustments. We get closer to the state where a room's work product—in my case listening and publishing—is optimally served; where space and ambience are fully conducive to what occurs within. "You made your bed. Now you must sleep in it." That hoary advice never gets old.

6moons publishing HQ in 2022.

Over a number of months after moving into the present Kilrush house, the downstairs listening room turned blue. This was no planned strategy but a slow unfolding. It started with a new bigger carpet that set up the central zone which the hifi surrounds. Decorative items like the blue koi vase nestled in naturally. Soon the red listening chairs dating all the way back to our first Swiss residence clashed. Some specialist German leather paint turned one of them royal blue, the other a deep violet.

The blue one stayed as guest chair, the violet one moved into Ivette's studio. She'd picked its color. The main listening chair became one of our Ikea rockers re-upholstered in a blue/white floral fabric by a local craftsman when we first moved to the Emerald Isle. A large dark-blue sheepskin from a UK supplier now tones down that fabric while a smaller lighter one drapes the leather chair. A blue Moroccan leather pouf with white contrast stitching from a Dutch boutique became my new footrest. A framed stag in a suit spotted in a trendy Killarney shop in County Kerry across the Shannon river found a home. So did Randolph, his brother from another mother in a purple coat. A funky memento place in downtown Kilrush above an optometrist netted this made-in-China resin sculpture of an epauleted stag. Some of my wife's paintings and photo montages went on the walls.

Phoning it in Kilrush style.

Felted furniture glides under a white Kroma Audio stand slide the music iMac on its lazy Susan from the corner next to the listening chair for easy viewing; or turn it for headphone listening which taps an Enleum AMP-23 or Kinki Studio amp with 3-meter cable. For Pilates floor workouts, I pull the main listening chair into the hallway and move in an inflatable exercise mat. If Ivette and I have lunch here to enjoy the river view without any cold wind, the two chairs turn south and the remote control and keyboard side tables become plate holders. That covers all usage scenarios without any fuss. It's basic space-centered multi tasking.

Doing speaker listening instead.

Personal style ranges from the monastic to the baroque, from ultra-modern to vintage, neat to messy. Whatever spells home in capital letters is the winning ticket. I'd just say that when it comes to work, clean and orderly beat dirty and messy with a knockout punch. I'd also say that if we want orderly soundstaging with impeccable imaging, looking at a cluttered mess is contradictory sensory input. Staring at a hospital's sterility wouldn't have me stay long, either. Photographing my places of work in poor state wouldn't show any respect to the makers who entrust their fine gear to me. It's all one giant circle jerk. Unlike hifi alas, any negative feedback in this loop won't lower distortion. It increases it. Becoming sensitive to that is the first step toward becoming a lifestylophile. Please don't suggest that listening to music at home isn't a lifestyle. That's wearing blinders like a draft horse in bad traffic.

The hallway door remains open to depressurize the room and make it behave bigger than it is particularly in the bass.

What's another matter is just how much style we can or wish to apply to this area of our life. In my book ambience, mood and experience intersect very directly. Attend to one and the others can't fail to follow. It's just a matter of honing our sensitivity.

A plethora of blues became the primary color quite on its own accord; but not exclusively so or it'd feel too 'planned' and 'done'.

As happened with this room, that can take time. Some things are obvious right off. Others take longer to register or find just the right solution for. Playing curator of our listening space/s can be great fun. And it's no matter of deep wallets. TK Maxx, Ikea, local furniture shops with Chinese Tiffany-lamp reproductions and some across-the-border online sources were our suppliers. Some people allocate free funds to vacations, dining out or a snazzy wardrobe. Given just how much time we spend in them, we enjoy applying ours to our immediate surroundings.

Does that make us lifestylophiles? You bet; and proudly so!