The Paradox of being a Data-Driven Audiophile

I’ll say up front that this isn’t a full equipment review. This is merely me talking about my two sides when it comes to choosing audio equipment.

My full-time job is as a software engineer. More specifically, I manage the mobile applications. This includes (but usually isn’t limited to), planning what we’re working on, working with students to debug issues, making roadmaps for the next 6-18 months, and so on.

That last one is important. In order to come up with these road-maps, I often look at our analytics that we use to see what features are getting most used, where our students (as we call them) are spending the most time in the app, and so on. This can also include looking at the specific performance of individual screens within the app. It’s pretty easy for me to say that data drives a lot of decisions for what is being worked.

Quantification

It’s those data-points that give qualification to decisions and provide assurance in the direction. As such, why can’t the same logic be applied to shopping for a stereo system at home?

This is a question I’ve asked myself multiple times. And every single time, I come up with the same answer – “It can, sorta”. I’ll explain by talking about two different systems…

System A will be entirely based on objective data, measurements. System B will be 100% subjective. The two systems will be composed of components I’ve owned previously and I’m going to try and keep final prices similar

  • System A
    • DAC – RME ADI-2 – $1100
    • Amplifier – Nord One MP NC252 – $750
    • Speakers -KEF LS50 – $900
  • System B
    • DAC – Topping D50s – $250
    • Amplifier – Rega Brio – $1000
    • Speakers – Quad S-2 – $1000

To be honest, both of these are fine systems to listen to. I know what you’re thinking though. How can you judge a system that uses two different speakers? Well, that’s fine, you can swap the speakers between the two systems as much as you want, and the result (for me) will always be the same.

The comparison?

Let’s start with the DAC. The engineering side of me is going to come out here. I do subscribe to the “all dacs sound the same”. Usually, at least. I will touch on this in another post. Either way, the two dacs chosen are well known, measured, and reviewed.

In the first system, the RME is doing double duty by acting as a pre-amp. For that, it is quite comfortable. In the second system, the Topping is popular for its price. The measurements are nigh unbeatable for the asking price.

The amplifiers are where the systems really go their separate ways. With the first system, we’ve chosen a well known hypex based amplifier that has performance beyond reproach. It is guaranteed to be ‘transparent’. The Rega Brio couldn’t be any more different. While its measured performance isn’t bad, the manufacturer is will known for imparting what some would call their ‘house sound’. ‘

So what’s the difference?

I’ll come out ahead and say that my preference is, by a wide margin, for the 2nd system. The difference for me really lies with the amplifiers. I know that Hypex amps are supposed to be the bleeding edge, but I’m still not 100% convinced. It didn’t matter what type of music I played, the Rega was more emotionally engaging. It consistently got my foot tapping.

I think there’s a lot to be said for a system that is as transparent as possible. In a sense, it allows you to peer into the true nature of the music, as it was recorded and mastered.

But if that was the be-all end-all of audio, why doesn’t everyone everyone buy System A and call it a day? Well, this is where the “audiophile” side of me comes out. Even going into component comparisons with an open mind, I’ve heard differences that could not be explained by measurements. It’s maddening.

I think the right time to look at measurements is when you know what you like. For example, I have a good sense of the type of sound I like and what measurements correspond to that. I can look at measurements for other speakers and get a good idea if I’ll like it or not.

In Conclusion

This is why the hobby is wonderful. The choices available to us in this hobby are nigh-infinite. There are so many different choices out that and the right way to go about choosing the perfect system is to simply sit and listen. Listen to what your ears tell you is the best. For me from above, it was system B. Even if I swapped speakers, I still preferred the ‘house sound’ of Rega.

If you read this far, thank you for reading my rant. Until next time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.