The biggest mistake enthusiasts make is….

Admittedly … this is a bit of a clickbait title. But there is some truth to what we are going to cover in this opinion article. You see, we get a lot of questions in our e-mail box. And we notice a pretty clear thread. No … correction: we see two obvious threads…!

Recently, your author purchased a pair of new speakers… privately. There had been a desire to move to an active system for some time. And after hearing the ATC SCM40A a few times in the livestreams, I started saving some money. In terms of price, the ATCs are still just attainable for your author…. the Grimm LS1be is still a bit too crazy for now…. who knows… someday.

ATC SCM40A

Why am I bringing up the ATC SCM40A? Well… it’s a pair of speakers that at first sounds not at all impressive … everything sounds very … ‘normal’. And that is exactly the power of this black beauty! Presenting your music collection as if it were the easiest thing in the world is a strength that a balanced – high end? – system has. Pulling everything apart and bringing it with (too) much contrast and saturation is a trick to win you over…. and that often results in misery…

Too impressive!

So where many users go wrong is in choosing a system that sounds very “impressive”. Splashing highs, ultra high detail and stomach-churning bass…. And yes: that is impressive. But also deadly tiring in the long run. Moreover, such a system often works well with certain genres or recordings, but it goes completely awry with a lot of other work. And do you desire that? No… Of course not!

All-round

The ATC in combination with the Metrum Acoustics Adagio really proved to be a very versatile system. We could hear that very well during the two-week trial period. It doesn’t splash, it doesn’t overwhelm, it doesn’t blow you right off the couch…. Well… Jaap! That sounds boring!

No! On the contrary: I can listen very long and attentively without it becoming tiresome. Each album comes to me as – I think – the musicians and mastering engineers intended. It is very nicely layered. Music lines fall together like a beautiful puzzle, creating a lot of calmness. Tranquility… so don’t confuse that with boring! Because this system is definitely not boring!

How to avoid it?

Well… nice that your author is so happy … but that’s of no use to you. How can you prevent yourself from falling into this trap? Quite simply… if something sounds instantly impressive and you think: wow…. that’s cool! Then take a step back.

  • Is what I’m hearing accurate?
    • Balance (Are there any frequency areas overtly turned on?)
    • Imaging (Is there balance and realism?)
    • Detailing (is it not magnified?)
  • What about the rhythm?
    • Is it tight?
    • Too slow?
  • How does this sound after two hours of listening?
  • Does it still sound good when the volume is low?
  • How does this sound with other genres and recordings?

When in doubt … something is usually wrong. By now, your author is pretty sensitive to balance in a system. And in many cases, the bumps and valleys do get recognized immediately. That’s professional deformation, but I’m guessing that, as a reader of Alpha Audio and therefore enthusiast, you too have developed some sort of anomaly in that area.

Meanwhile, a particularly strong preference for sauceless audio has developed. The sauce should be in the recording…. not in the system. That may be different for you. That’s taste and is entirely up to you. But beware of too much gravy … it’s really going to backfire, in my experience.

Don’t listen to others

You are having a nice evening with friends listening to music. Super! You have some stuff on demo and want to share it with your (audio) friends. That’s fine, but there’s also a danger here…. everyone has different tastes. And in the end, you have to listen to the system. So above all, trust your own ears. And not necessarily those of your friends / girlfriends!

Have fun listening!

4 Comments

  1. Your article matches my experience. I just bought a new amp and a new pair of speakers and I took my time in choosing what I finally bought.

    My first step was loading a USB thumbdrive with a bunch of flac files witrh tracks that I ripped from my CDs. The tracks represent the music that I love to hear, some qualify as audiophile tracks to test a system, most are just tracks from artists and albums I love. Since I am not in the business to choose a perfect system – if that is achievable at all – I chose music that I expected to listen to at home a lot with my new system.

    I took the thumbdrive to four different HiFi dealers in my city and had extensive listening sessions, sometime more than 2,5 hours, and had the chance to listen to the same tracks on different equipment.

    The music i chose for the listening session was a quite eclectic selection, ranging from classical orchestral symhoinies, some acoustic and exeperimental jazz to pop, (mainly Indie) rock and electronic dance music. That gave me the opportunity to evaluate different characterstics. To judge dynamics and imaging I used the classical and jazz tracks and some acoustic pop music. For evaluating the overall balance and rhythm, jazz and rock played a major role and electro, when really deep bass was tested.

    Quite early in this journey, which took over 2,5 months time, I fell in love with a pair of loudspeakers that initially I considered out of my range. Mostly because of rule-of-thumb calculating like “speakers should cost about double the price of the amp and around 1/3rd of the overall budget”. My previous setup consisted of a pre-/poweamp comb and I expected to buy separates again and also a streamer/music server.

    But during my listening sessions I always compared speakers to the one I fell in love with, I circled back to them a few time – like listening to a pair of speakers at one dealer and on the next day, coming back to the dealer who had my ‘loved ones’. 😉

    I did that three or four times, I heard quite a lot of very good speaker/amps combos but in the end, nothing made me grin as wide as the speakers I fell in love with. To me (and that is just my subjective impression, YMMV) they sounded the most complete. When listening to them, the sound detaches itself from the speakers and a virtual stage rises in the room. They are very, very dynamic with extremely good microdynamics, attacks, sustains and decays are reproduced exceptionally to my ears.

    In the end, you already guessed is, I decided to buy the quite costly speakers I fell in love with and a very good integrated, that is around 1/6th of the price of the loudspeakers. And I just bought speakers, amp a power conditioner and cables. Luckily I already have quite good CD transport and the new amp has a very good DAC and streaming support.

    So, what did I buy? Well, my old system consisted of a vintage Rotel pre-/power amp from the early 1990s, regularly checked and serviced. They drove a pair of Canton CT100 4way floorstanders from the same time. As sources, I used a RME ADI-2 pro DAC, a Nuprime CDT-8 and a Raspberry Pi with Allo Hat for streaming.

    Only the Nuprime CD transport is still in use. It connects to a Hegel H390 which drives a pair of Blumenhofer Corona 2×220.

    Systems I heard consisted of Acapella speaker, Audio Physics Codex, Raidho TD1.2. and TD 2.3, KEF Blade 2, Scansonic, Dynaudio, B&W speakers and amps from Copland, Devialet, Rike Audio, Linn, Ayre.

  2. Hello Jaap!

    I think you have chosen a very good active speaker!
    Unfortunately, I only heard in the video what you made, but this is one of my favorites!
    It costs a lot, but I hope one day I can listen to it live in my own room!

    I love this full-bodied, dynamic and smooth sound.
    I also really liked the ATC SCM100A, but it’s too expensive for me.

    Thanks for the many quality videos and reviews, great job!

    Have a nice day.
    Sandor

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