Pursuing the Ultimate Music Experiences

Audio Federation High-Fidelity Audio Blog

From the ridiculous to the sublime…

Seems like life these days is highlighting tremendous gulf between the ridiculous (human folly run rampant in all its horrific sociopathic glory) and the sublime (human art, oh how plentiful and accessible, and oh, how beautiful!).

Just taking a moment to listen to some of the art…. to REALLY listen… [ Neli is playing an opera, the first half of which was featured last night on Tuesday Night at the Opera on KSFR Santa Fe hosted by one of us audiophile types… (Hi Darryl!) ]

Audio Note UK Gaku-On amplifiers, M9 Phono preamplifier, DAC 5 Signature, and S9 Step-up transformer and EMM NS1 streamer, all on a HRS VXR equipment rack.

Acapella Apollon speakers, Triangle Art Master Reference turntable.


And the music … listening again today, to the 24/96 recording from Qobuz (also on Tidal):


A funny thing happened on the way to Pluto

.. to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new emotional experiences and new states of mind. To boldly go where no music has taken us before.

Teeter-tottering on the line between Heart Sound and Mind Sound [see sidebar] …. there is a place. It is easy to feel helpless in this place.

The heart has what it wants, fully occupied and defenseless against emotional content that plucks the heartstrings and exercises our hormonal responses to sonic stimuli.

The mind has what it wants, fully occupied with sufficient resolution and veracity and verisimilitude as it exerts itself examining the fractal landscape of finer and finer audiophile attributes… seeking out flaws and entertainment [does the mind really do anything else?], so much so that our ‘CPU is maxed out’.

In this place – to an observer we appear catatonic. We look not that much different from just someone really, really focused on listening to the music. But there will be tell-tale differences.

Like not moving for extended periods of time. Not even a little bit. [I see people come out of this by irritably scratching and rearranging their position as they come back from this kind of out-of-body experience. Yep, sometimes this just means the sound sucks. But this is not what we are talking about here].

This is not ‘listening to the music’ like a musician or lay-person. This is not ‘listening to the sound’ like an audiophile. This is using music as a kind of propellant [or drug 🙂 see sidebar] to go ‘places’.

End of part I.


End of the world getting you down?

Then it’s time for …. a ….




There are a number of ways to go about this.

This is really a lot harder than one might think and we do *not* want to get into something like the Netflix-homepage-looking-for-something-that-doesn’t suck infinite loop.

Here are some ideas….

A. There is the infinite YouTube-like ‘play something then pick something from the recommended list and play that’ approach. Roon is good for this. You can also just let it run on auto-play, if you the live-life-on-the-edge type and want to risk it [goes for YouTube too, though our recent ‘Fluffy’ binge is working out well].

B. There is the ‘pick an artist and play their catalog backwards in time’, most recent album to first album. Skipping duds *is* permitted. Playing is backwards because, as much as we  love, love, *love* their first albums, we have heard them so many times that playing THEM again may have us wishing that the End of The World hurry the frack on up.

C. There is the ‘pick monolithic multi-album release’ for a deep dive into a concert or recording session. This is nice because because we just have to press play once and we know for certain it is an artist we like.

D. There is the tried and true ‘let’s argue and fight about what to play next until – tired, worn out, not getting divorced ONLY because we are on lock-down – we find something we both like’

Is it working? No. End of the World is still coming every time we look …. But to help us to stop looking, here is what we have done so far:

We do not do A. Every so often Roon tries to play a high-res or DSD album on our 24×96-only killer Audio Note DAC we have on the main system.

B. ? I’ve done this for Eno and Frisell recently. It is awesome.

C. ? We played Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats Sessions” (6 discs) and Grateful Dead “Complete Road Trips” (17 discs). This is what life is all about – 24×7 live (almost) music.

D. ? We tried the new James Taylor. I don’t know…

So, there you have it. The End of The World doesn’t have to be ALL bad… :-/


The Holy Grail of High-end Audio

From my point of view the Holy Grail of High-end Audio is

  • not about technology
  • not about sound and resolution and dynamics [though they are so much fun!]
  • not even really about the music [though I have my preferences]
  • It is about the experience: how it makes me feel and the ‘places’ it takes me.

Haven’t been posting a lot lately. A lot of this is because we have kind of been stuck travelling around the solar system and out among the stars.

See, it just so happened that we got the big Acapella Apollon loudspeakers, the Audio Note flagship Gaku-on amplifiers and the flagship Harmonic Resolution Systems equipment rack AND Roon all at more or less the same time.

Didn’t plan it this way. Would have tried to avoid it if we could do it over again. But here we are.

The OVERWHELMING improvement in the quality and depth of the experience, over what was already one of if not THE best in the Bay Area [my apologies to those who are burnt out on the all the lying superlatives tinged with righteous indignation that the poor internet in drowning in these days – but how else am I to describe this experience?], has been so significant that my ability to focus and report on what we are hearing is extremely difficult.

Let’s come back to Earth and talk about Roon.

Our audacious goal had been to make Roon sound as good as or better than other most other systems when they play vinyl or CD.

We lucked out in that the Audio Note level 5 DACs are a great match for streaming music. Their design has always been great for making average redbook CDs sound like they are supposed to [as opposed to the majority of other DACs that emphasize the flaws and only sound good on ‘audiophile-grade recordings’]. And this has translated perfectly to making streaming music sound like it is supposed to.

When the industry went from vinyl to CD, all we got was a little more convenience. Going from CD to streaming, we got literally 1000s of times more music. For old timers like me this is like Christmas over and over and over again.

I thought I had all of Frisell’s albums. Nope. And Jarre’s and Floyd’s and Neil’s. Nope. So many [new to me] albums of my favorite artists to be played. And more or less for free. [ And I can find them when I want to 🙂 ]

And they sound GREAT.

I mean, what can I say? [I can say the EMM Labs NS1 is a big step up over the old Auralic streamer. More detail, flatter response, less grunge. There you do, standard audiophile stuff]

This whole thing has been almost a religious experience [and I wonder about that ‘almost’]. The experience is ongoing …and I will write more about the Experience until I am better able to write about the nitty gritty audiophile details.

The cover photo is from the 10 hour long video [it gets boring after like a minute, IMO, but cool idea]:


Added a 3rd stereo system here at Audio Federation

In addition to our large system, which you may be familiar with,


with the Acapella Apollon loudspeakers and Audio Note Gaku-On power amplifiers… [we just added the little EMM Labs NS1 streamer there on the top right shelf of the HRS VXR rack]


… and in addition to our interestingly popular small Audio Note system (with large 82 inch flatscreen)….


We added another, medium Goldilocks system with the Acapella Cellini High loudspeakers and LaMusika power amplifier, EMM Labs DV2 DAC/PRE and Audio Note CDT-5 transport.

Other gear in photo: Audio Note DAC 5 Signature, Audio Note Empress 2A3 amplifiers, Triangle Art turntable and newer Pranawire speaker cables.

Yep, having to make use of all available space, this system is in the dining room. It sound really quite good, if a little bit live-sounding. Thinking of putting a piece of carpet down or something. Yeah, a tube jiggled loose in the Acapella ION (Plasma) tweeter over there on the counter while in transit from the previous owner’s system on the other side of the country. These things happen…

The last piece in the picture is the small, cute Audio Note Zero integrated on the middle shelf of the Rix Rax rack. Neli knows more about this [about everything here] than I do [ which is good… SOMEBODY has to know what’s going on around here 🙂 ].

EMM Labs NS1 Streamer – digital music network streaming device

We got this in a little while ago. Quite reasonably priced in this market. Breaking it in on the small Audio Note system running Roon through it to the not-so-small Audio Note DAC 5 Signature into the OTTO integrated. Sounds amazing [I know, cheating a little bit with the 20X DAC 🙂 but everything else is in the $5K-ish range]

Next is to swap it in for the Auralic on the big system. THAT should be something (it is already something! We are not worthy!) [seriously, not posting much because the Gaku-On on the Apollon speakers still takes our breath away, literally. This probably sounds lame … not sure how to describe this experience on the blog… but working on figuring out something…].



HRS SXR Equipment Rack Solid Brace Inserts

Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR equipment racks have an add-on option which are called solid brace inserts. [A geeky post. I know. But it sometimes takes geeky to get the best sound… so there!]

They are often added to the top of the rack to allow support for those heavier turntables that need perhaps a 6-foot HRS isolation platform instead of the usual four-footer. In that sense I think of them often as turntable support or turntable braces.

If you get the solid brace inserts for every shelf of your SXR rack then you have an SXR Signature equipment rack.

The SXR Solid Brace Inserts triples the number of cross braces, pretensions the frame, and adds 4 friction dampers and 2 compression dampers at each component location (Isolation Base location). The added mass, stiffness, control and energy absorption capability provided by the addition of the SXR Solid Brace Inserts pushes the performance of the SXR frame towards that of the very ambitious reference level HRS Audio Stands

These heavy, indestructible pieces of metal come in the most well-packed crate ever 🙂


A HRS SXR 3-shelf high side-by-side equipment rack with sold brace inserts on the top right shelf.

HRS solid brace inserts from below. If you look closely you will see some of the special vibration-control polymers (not traditionally part of the older MXR or new VXR solid brace inserts)



A HRS SXR 3-shelf high side-by-side equipment rack with sold brace inserts on the top right shelf. Audio Note U.K. AN/E SPe high-efficiency speakers. And our embryonic attempt to give YouTube music videos a high-fidelity venue.



Mike and Neli get smart…

… or maybe we’re just getting a bit too old for some of this heavy lifting… after putting up and tearing down Campaniles 3 times in the last year or so, we wondered if there could be a better way 🙂

We decided to get this Dayton platform lift with a 880 lb capacity and used it to take down the top 170 lb cabinet of the Acapella Campanile…

.. and put up the 200 lb or so top cabinet of the Acapella Apollon.

[it’s not that these are so darn heavy, it is that they are tall cabinets which makes them a little unwieldy. No. Really. ;-)]

This platform lift, which doubles as a poor man and woman’s palette jack, is just the kind of thing that is so nice to have around the house.

We still do setup the speakers manually ourselves at distant customer’s homes and at shows (sometimes with help from Rusty, the show freight shipper, and friends)


The top cabinet of the Campanile coming down

The other Campanile cabinet already down and boxed.

The Apollon getting its upper cabinet into place.