Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Audio Toys and Some Workouts

Over the last five or six years, I've been trying to slowly and affordably upgrade my audio system. I have an e-mail friend who is a speaker designer who has even helped me to build one pair of my own speakers. You can see some of his work here. The funny looking speakers made out of PVC on that page are what I built at home, and for $60 in parts, and they sound pretty good.

Anyway, my speaker friend, Ray, is one of those "enabler" types, always happy to help me spend money. When I was looking to buy some really nice speakers, I found that we both liked a lot of the same brands. When I decided that I truly wanted Bowers and Wilkins speakers, he had a great quote for me, that I'll paraphrase here. He basically said that if he was buying speakers for himself with someone else's money, B&W would be at the top of his list. He had me look at planar speakers from Magnepan as well, but they didn't really fit my listening space. So, I eventually got some B&W 703 speakers. They weren't my first choice from B&W, but I could afford them and I couldn't afford the higher level speakers.

Then, I needed to upgrade my CD player. I ended up with a very nice NAD player. My wife was skeptical about this purchase and my desire to add upgraded cables with the player. I told her that I'd play any disc of her choosing, and if she couldn't hear a clear difference, I'd send the player and cables back. When she listened, she was amazed at the difference. I think that having a 20 year old CD player with a very old digital to audio converter (DAC) was the reason for the huge difference.

Then, I was looking into amplifiers. Before I could spend any money though, my brother upgraded his amplifier and gave me his old amp. My old Yamaha amp had served me well, but the new (used) Denon amplifier from my brother made a huge difference in sound. It's not a pure audio amplifier, but since I also use my amp for DVDs, it was nice to have an amplifier that could handle modern movie soundtrack formats as well as produce nice sound with music.

So, I'm done, right? Well, not really. I also own a lot of vinyl and I still listen to vinyl on a regular basis. I still buy vinyl - both new and used. My turntable is one of those "college dorm room" Technics direct drive models that I've had for 25 years. So, for the last year or so, I've been looking into turntable options. Because a lot of my vinyl is old, the vinyl itself is a limiting factor, even with a high end turntable. So, I decided to focus on an entry level audiophile turntable.

In this case, since Ray isn't a turntable guy, I needed another enabler. Luckily, my brother has a co-worker who is seriously into vinyl. I remember clearly in my first message to him saying that I only wanted a decent turntable and cartridge and didn't want a phono pre-amp. I was quickly educated on the "necessity" of a standalone pre-amp. And, I got some brand names of turntables to look at and listen to - Rega, Pro-Ject Audio, Music Hall, etc. It turned out that Rega was introducing a new entry-level turntable, the RP1, and I quickly settled on that. But, things don't always work out the way you plan.

Going back to my other enabler, Ray, I mentioned what I was thinking of getting. I had decided on a tube-based pre-amp from a company called Bellari (if you're going old school into vinyl, I figured tubes would be cool too). Suddenly, it seemed, a friend of Ray's had a Bellari tube pre-amp he wanted to sell used. I snapped it up at about half of the retail price, and he even included an upgraded tube in the deal. I was amazed at how much better it made my old turntable sound.

I suddenly realized that I'd forgotten the basics of how I'd assembled the rest of my system at an affordable price - I don't buy new gear. My speakers were purchased used from eBay. My CD player was a factory refurbished model. My receiver was a hand-me-down. OK, I paid retail for my cables, but I haven't gone crazy with cables like some people do.

So, I suddenly found myself on one of my favorite audio sites, Audiogon is a great place to buy used equipment, demo equipment, and sometimes, new equipment at decent prices. As I started to browse Audiogon, which I did for weeks, I suddenly realized that I had more options. Music Hall was suddenly a possibility. Within the Rega line, the RP1 was there, but the P3 was an option. Linn was still out of my range, but maybe someday.

One day, an ad for a brand I didn't know caught my eye. It was an open box sale, of an Edwards Audio turntable. This was a brand new model - the first turntable from the company. But, for the most part, it was the Rega P2 with some modifications. Many companies buy Rega parts, especially tone arms, to build their turntables. The price was 2/3 of the new price and the reviews promised good sound at a price point better than a new Rega RP1. So, I bought it. And then, just before shipping it, the dealer discovered a previously missed flaw in the table. So, he sent me a brand new table instead. How's that for honesty? His primary business is audio cables, and his honesty in this transaction means that I will buy any future cables I need from him.

The model is the Edwards Audio TT-1. I got a Music Hall "Tracker"cartridge with the table. The table arrived at my house yesterday, but I'm nowhere close to home - staying close to my office this week.

To celebrate the new table, I ordered some new vinyl as well - old school vinyl though. I got a box set of Bob Dylan's first ten studio albums, with the first 8 all recorded in Mono. And, I got a box set of the Grateful Dead's first 5 albums - the five they recorded for Warner Brothers.

So, when I get home for the weekend, I'm guessing I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to music. And, I'll probably wonder what I should upgrade next? The next thing might have to be my surround speakers for watching movies. My rear speakers, in particular, are giving me some problems. My love of audio equipment and electronics in general will probably be mentioned in divorce papers someday. (I'm kidding, I think)

Oh yeah, workouts. I biked 6.6 miles to the office yesterday. Biked to CrossFit after work. Here is the workout from yesterday:

6 minutes - as many reps as possible (AMRAP):
10 Slam Ball Slams - 30#
10 box jumps - 18"

That was level 2 and I did 98 total reps - two jumps short of five rounds.

Then, we did another AMRAP segment, for 8 minutes
5 push presses
10 deadlifts

We were supposed to use the same weight for these. For me, the push presses would be the limiting factor. The prescribed weight was 135#. I was afraid I'd injure my shoulder more at that weight, so I opted for level 1 and 95#. For me, the deadlifts were easy, but the push presses just kept getting harder and harder. I did the first set in 34 seconds - way too fast. But, that caught up with me, and I ended up doing 8 sets plus 5 extra push presses, for a total of 223 reps across the two workouts.

From CrossFit, I biked home, ate, talked to my wife for a while, slept, woke up, showered, and rode my bike back to the office very early today. The bicycle round trip is just over 14 miles, mostly at an easy pace.

I'm feeling a bit tired right now. I think I'd like to be sitting on my couch right now, listening to vinyl.

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