I've enjoyed music as far back as I can remember. I recall sitting in the back of my parents' car when I was 5, hearing "Honky Tonk Women" on the radio for the first time. I didn't know what the song was about - probably a good thing. But I sure liked those cow bells and that opening guitar riff. Come to think of it, I've come to know one or two honky tonk women in my day. Hmm, best not to tell the wife that. Neither of my parents are musicians but we always had music in the house and car, everything from The Beatles to Berlioz.

When I was in my teens, I became increasingly frustrated by not being able to make out the lyrics to songs on my dad's hifi. So I started going to audio stores, asking stupid questions and reading mags like Stereo Review and Stereophile. I began buying my own equipment, and then swapped components every few months to keep up with the current rave reviews. After a few years, I realized something. I was paying more attention to equipment than the music I loved so much. Suspicions aroused, I inspected my music collection. Lo and behold, my choices had been dictated by the equipment I owned: Recordings based on sound rather than musical quality. I was collecting those so-called audiophile discs. You know the ones - where Scandinavian gents in sweaters play very bad Jazz which generally leaves me cold.

(Of course just as I'm writing off jazzability in Scandinavian musicians, wouldn't you know it, comes a truly excellent Jazz recording called Changing Places by the Tord Gustavsen Trio [ECM 1834], an awesome outing in the tradition of the Bill Evans Trio.) I was on the threshold of spending big bucks on separate pre-amp, power amp, DAC, transport - the whole works. At some point, I stopped - but not sure when. I had a one-on-one sitdown with yours truly and confessed to myself that I simply wasn't enjoying the music as I used to.

So I started to assemble a system that focused on allowing me to kick back and enjoy whatever tunes I wished to hear. The system would have to be affordable because I was married now, with children on the way. My most fundamental belief is that the equipment should serve the music, not the other way around. So I sold the Maggies and assorted other crap I had accumulated, ignored the Recommended Components lists and listened with my ears rather than my eyes. Well, the rest is history, I guess. I have always tried to keep a healthy skepticism when reading the latest rave, or claims made by some manufacturers. I try to keep things in perspective. Will this $1500 power conditioner allow me to enjoy the music more? Will it make me a better man? Will it allow me to perform better in the sack? Or will it give me a slight improvement in playback and empty my wallet at the same time?

However, I do try to keep an open mind, leave preconceptions at the door, experiment with things. I recall my initial negative reaction to cable claims. Now? Let's just say that if anyone tried to take my JPS Labs stuff, they'd get hurt badly! I have to thank the sales guy of the long defunct CD Bar in Toronto. He loaned me a pair of $35 QED interconnects many years ago. That changed my audio life, started me on the slippery slope to The Bad Place. It's all your fault!

What do I look for in audio equipment? Emotional engagement, to the music it's reproducing. I want a system that will allow me to "fall into the music" for lack of a better term. I'm not that
concerned about deep tight bass, crystal clear highs, pin-point imaging or any other of that audiophile crap.

I look for emotional engagement - not just what a musician is playing, but how and why. I also want a piano to sound like a piano, a cello to come off like a cello. You get the idea. My current setup reflects these priorities. I find that living in the Toronto area gives me great exposure to a plethora of interesting products and dealers (not to mention a particularly nasty recent strain of bacteria). One of the things I'd like to report on is the audio scene up here in The Great White North, especially some of the really cool shops we have in Toronto. Even if you don't live here, I hope to give you a sense of what to look for in a dealer in your own town.

I'm tapping this out on my laptop while sitting in a cottage next to a lovely lake near Bridgton, Maine*, listening to Wilco's Being There [Reprise CDW 46236] on a Rat Shack rack system replete with 5-band equalizer, dual cassette decks and speakers apparently made from ¼" fibre board.

You know the ones I'm talking about - the vinyl veneer is starting to peel away around the edges. How did it sound? In audiophile terms, like hammered shit. But for my purposes, it did what I wanted it to do.

It played tunes (at least until I had to go outside and stop my ten year-old son from trying to use his five year-old brother for fish bait). I was able to ignore sonic limitations and groove to my tunes. If that offends audio geek sensibilities, there's always The Absolute Sound. You probably won't like what I have to say or for that matter, what anyone else here has to say, either. As for audio mags, I've read pretty much all of them. I used to love Stereophile and TAS. Now I don't find much in either of interest. Maybe they've changed, maybe it's me. Listener was the only mag I read consistently and now greatly miss. HiFi+ is kinda cool. As for web 'zines, I enjoy 6moons and Positive Feedback. I also give a peek or two to the various Soundstage! sites and Enjoy The Music.

I believe my evolving setup reflects my priorities in music playback. For the money, it's the best combination I've come across. That's not to say that there may not be other similarly priced components/systems that might impress too. I will generally focus on covering products in the $3000 range and I suspect that a good percentage of 6moons readers share that interest. As I find components that blow wind up my kilt and surpass my current pieces, you can expect to see them added to my setup - as long as I can afford them of course!

The sources -- digital technology in particular -- seem to advance at warp speed. My system does what I want it to. It gives me an insight into the recording and is musically engaging without driving me nuts worrying about audio minutiae. In a nutshell, it delivers the most musical bang for my dollar.

In conclusion, I am passionate about music (I get the shakes if I can't get in at least two hours of music a day) and hope to share that passion. I am not a musician (my wife and eldest son are the musicians around here) nor do I have a musical education. I don't know a B-flat from a D, but I do love music and I do know what I like and why. I hope to review some recordings for you along with the equipment. I won't claim to know everything. Instead, I'll try to keep an open mind and listen to just about anything. However, I also balance my interest by realizing that at the end of the day, this is only audio - nothing to get all worked up over. After all, we're not talking about putting a man on Mars, just trying to maximize the grooveability of recorded music playback.

I look upon this gig as a journey of sorts and hope you'll accompany me for the ride. See you soon. *By the way, Maine is an absolutely beautiful State. I highly recommend checking out Maine if you are the outdoors type. Even a diehard Ontarian like me, spoiled by the riches of northern Ontario, found much to enjoy. Must go back.

Audio systems tend to be in a perpetual state of transition, and that is doubly true for reviewers! As my system evolves (or devolves, depending on your opinion) I shall update this list.

Digital Source: Rotel RCD-971 CDP as transport, PS Audio DL III DAC w/Cullen Circuits Stage 3 Mod, Shanling PCD3000A CDP, Audio Zone DAC-1.
Analog Source: Pro-Ject 1 RPM 5 turntable, Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage, Pro-Ject Speed Box.
Amplifier: Audiomat Opéra Référence integrated, Audio Zone AMP-1.
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callistos on 24" sand filled Skylan stands, (2) REL Q108 Mk II subwoofers, AV123 Strata Mini, Horn Shoppe Horns.
Cables: Audience Maestro interconnects & speaker cables, DH Labs interconnects & speaker cables, JPS Labs interconnects & speaker cables, Auditorium 23 speaker cables, SilverFi interconnects, Belkin Synapse & Stereovox XV2 digital, Audience, DH Labs, GutWire & Harmonic Technology power cables.
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier.
Powerline conditioning: Audience aR1p, BPT Pure Power Center with Wattgate, Bybee Quantum Purifier and ERS cloth options, GutWire MaxCon.
Sundry accessories: Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Acoustic Revive RR-77, Isoclean fuses, Caig Pro Gold, Audience Auric Illuminator, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat II, Skylan damping boards, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments.