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What if? Today that perennial curiosity unfurls into "what would you buy if you had to do it all over?" Asking a reviewer can be interesting. It's not because he or she has better hearing than you. It's because our kind changes something in their system on a weekly or often daily basis month after month. Opportunity for regret when something plainly better or as good but far cheaper and/or smaller or more practical passes through is a lot higher.

Let's start with my source, a 27" quad-core fully maxed-out iMac with 2TB hard drive, 256GB SSD and 16GB of RAM. I've got my library on the spinning drive, the OS and PureMusic and Audirvana software players on the solid-state drive. For backup I use two hyper-fast Lightning-connected Buffalo Tech drives the size of a stack of cards each. About this setup I wouldn't change a thing. I've stayed clear of iTunes 11 to happily run on 10. Things have been super stable, reliable and noise free. The only very occasional glitch is refusal to recognize a connected USB DAC or bridge as a selectable device. Doing a hard reset—power down including unplugging the iMac's power cord—then takes care of that.

What I ain't got because of my anti-wifi leanings (the radiation bothers my brain) is an iPad remote. I've tried it to know just how slick it is. Very indeed! But until someone comes up with a way to hardwire a tablet via USB, Firewire or Ethernet, I make do with Apple's small IR aluminium wand. Compiling a session playlist (or using shuffle mode through one's favorite tracks) is so easy in iTunes that I've not really missed the whole tablet remote convenience. In short I'd go Apple all over again. I've not heard or read about a so-called audiophile streamer I'd rather own. I've never worked on an Apple computer before by the way. To this day I do all my work on Windows (XP Pro since 7 sucks by comparison). I only went the Mac-for-music route because of its superior hardware, full iTunes integration and the ability to stream high-rez USB without firmware drivers. Though it was a personal risk—would I get on with OSX—I haven't regretted it one byte. And yes, if you want to do something Apple doesn't want you to, it takes IT smarts beyond my own to bypass doctrine. It's a good thing then that for my purposes I really don't want to do anything other/more than what iTunes as the library access/sorting program allows.

What I wouldn't do again? Save to AIFF. I did because it doesn't require on-the-fly unzipping like ALAC. But with memory play where an entire playlist gets dumped to RAM buffer this no longer matters. With ALAC syncing to my three iPods or drag 'n' dropping files into Astell & Kern's AK-100 goes quicker (half the file size) and stores twice the music. Despite Astell & Kern's claims to the contrary, their software still isn't fully AIFF-compatible. Whilst it can play such files, it won't import an AIFF album as album. It drops the cover art, track names and album folder. It instead imports everything as 'unknown track 1' etc. until you've got hundreds of such multiples to ruin all navigation. ALAC avoids this misery. All new music I download or rip now goes to ALAC. Whatever AIFF files are on the hard drive—1000s of them—get converted manually if I want to export them to my AK-100.

Tubes. I used to own and love valve amps. By now I've completely divested myself of them all. No regrets either. I don't miss anything about 'em. I do however still use line-level valves in my Nagra Jazz preamp. Having evaluated eight different upscale tube preamps before settling on the Jazz, this was a very well-considered acquisition I'm enjoying on a daily basis. It's a costly machine but of such high aural pedigree, functionality and reliability that to me it's worth every penny.

Amps. Here I've gravitated towards lower-power often very simple 2-stage transistor circuits of wide to very bandwidth which often also eliminate signal-path capacitors. To me they sound better. Brands I've explored and really like are Bakoon, Crayon, FirstWatt and Goldmund/Job. For high power—200wpc or more—I'd now only consider class D as I think it's grown mature and for such needs is the far smarter solution. Here top choices I've heard include Ncore and International Rectifier.

Speakers. I've owned a number of big heavy full-range speakers like Avantgarde Acoustics Duos and Acoustic System Intl Tango R. I'd not do those again. You might say I've gone soft. I no longer want to schlep and heave them around. True enough. And they're eye sores too if I'm honest. But the bigger reasons are sonics. Big speakers cover up portions of the soundstage your ears tell you are occupied by performers whilst your eyes say no. Big speakers attempting to do 25Hz are far more likely to create room issues particularly when ported. I'd never again do bass-reflex loading for my main speakers. They all ring to various degrees. This creates muddy loose bass textures and interactions which sound like activated room modes. Big full-range speakers are also far more expensive, harder to drive and create potential resonance issues in an enclosure that's shared with midrange and tweeter. Lastly their sheer size minimizes placement options. To my way of thinking none of it makes for an appealing domestic proposition.

I get far better results with a centrally placed big infrasonic subwoofer. The smaller main speakers can be farther out into the room without dominating visually whilst soundstaging more freely. There's zero bass boom, no port-induced mud. The amps needn't be as powerful. The main speakers can be simple two-ways. This eliminates a high-pass on the all-important midband and majors in coherence. This scheme is visually and financially more attractive. In the type space I have to work with it also performs far better. I still own one last big three-way ported speaker. It's a perfect stand-in for that very common breed to serve my professional reviewing duties. But I'd not go there again and certainly not for pleasure. Been there, done that and worn out the T-shirt. I've also owned smaller three-ways like Gallo's Reference 3 and the Aries Cerat Gladius. I still think I get better results with a good-to-55Hz two-way tower + sub. I've already made the necessary adjustments to my inventory to walk this talk. My only regret is not having latched onto this sooner. Some of us are late bloomers.

Finally there's the reviewing aspect. If I were a consumer not making a living from reviewing, I'd favor an integrated amp, not separates. As a reviewer I need to be able to insert anywhere in the signal chain or I'd eliminate certain component categories from my option menu altogether. As a consumer I'd keep my current computer-audio front end of iMac+DAC, then settle down with something like Bakoon's AMP-12R into the soundkaos Wave 40 speakers + Zu Audio Submission sub; or Crayon Audio's CFA-1.2 into the Albedo Audio Aptica or German Physiks HRS-120; or FirstWatt's SIT1 into the Tune Audio Prime or soundkaos Wave 40 preceded by SOtM's DAC with analog volume. Considering that I already own some of this kit, you can rightly conclude that I've strategically addressed my regrets whilst keeping the other eye on my daily task as a reviewer. As a consumer I'd settle on one final system (actually two since we also keep a small 2-channel video system upstairs) and I'd shrink down my current multiple-choice inventory to have absolutely nothing on the sidelines. Because there's regret in seeing quality gear gather dust instead of being enjoyed by someone. As a reviewer I can and do justify rotating hardware and park what isn't currently active in two separate closets beneath the stairs. Where you're concerned of course, this ends our what if feature on a so what note but hopefully you still got something out of it...