Home Amps/DACS The Lie That’s Destroying Audio

The Lie That’s Destroying Audio

by Stuart Charles Black

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Rarely do I watch other YouTubers, but shoutout to DMS for his video (and the inspiration to write/make this one) on the Topping D50, one in which he sort of in-directly laments the current state of the Amp/DAC problem, i.e. the disease slowly killing off the enjoyment of recorded music.

Greetings mate, Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…

Video Discussion

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My message to you has always been quite simple: Enjoy the music, not the gear.

The more we discuss products and not songs, the more we’re contributing to the downfall of audio, which is now currently on life support.

The reason I’m so passionate about this and have been for the last few years on this blog and channel is that music to me has always been something I truly loved from the start.

Seeing what it’s turned into now has only made me long for simpler times in my life, which will serve as the backbone of why I’m making this video.

There was truly nothing like growing up in the 90s.

We had it all: Nickelodeon in its prime, Atlanta Braves baseball, and some of the most memorable video games ever made.

Donkey Kong Country – SNES, 1994

Music during this time period in my life was somewhat of an afterthought – as in, I didn’t have the capacity to fully appreciate it yet. For instance, it wasn’t until years later when I became an adult could I comprehend the brilliance of David Wises’ contributions to Rare’s Donkey Kong Franchise in the early to mid-90s.

The late 90s saw a departure from Boom Bap and the somewhat more conscious styles of the 80s, devolving initially into Gangster Rap and the subsequent first real shades of modern R&B, which is actually a nice way of saying that outside of a few artists, it was mostly a trash heap.

My first experiences, unfortunately, involved listening to mainstream hits, but I truly enjoyed it despite my growing ignorance of the genre and what made traditional hip-hop so memorable.

I had a Sony Discman, a pair of crappy headphones that came with it, and life was good.

I remember a guy named Eric Pinkston used to make mixes for me on occasion, and I cringe now at the thought of his likely internal reaction back then when I told him what I wanted on the CD.

“Ja Rule? Who the hell is that? Does this kid even know what good music is?”

Eric was the type of snob I’d later turn into, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.

To be fair, some of these songs are widely regarded as classics now, but a lot of what passed as Hip-Hop back then was completely embarrassing. Horrific, even.

Looking back, it actually wasn’t a good time for commercial music, as the transition from that to what we have now has only devolved even further into the cesspool of oblivion.

Still, it was about the music and how it made me feel, a theme that continued into one of my prouder eras of listening, around 2005-2007.

When I was in high school, music always took center stage.

It felt like an accomplishment to actually find a good album that you could share with your friends.

These years saw my discovery of underground Hip-Hop, Indie, and the Classic rock of the 60s and 70s. These were some of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had listening to music and ones that I will never forget.

My love for instrumentals, and the inspiration that resulted in me making beats of my own starting in December 2007, also came out of this passion for good sound.

I remember one of my best friends, Anthony, would always joke about it: “Hey guys, check out this new album that I discovered.”

It was kind of a running gag we had in our circle of friends. We were kind of like hipsters before hipsters became a thing.

You wanted people to know that you had good taste in music, that YOU were the one who told someone about an artist, band, or song.

It seems kind of silly in retrospect, but priorities were different back then and our hearts were in the right place even though we were fairly snobby about it.

only audiophiles were snobby about the right things!

Nowadays, everything is right at our fingertips via streaming apps and I think that saps some of the charm out of what it felt like to go out and search for music and the ensuing satisfaction it resulted in – whether that be at a record store, a big box store like Best Buy, or even one like Circuit City.

Leave a like and comment down below if you remember the now-defunct Circuit City.

Making a mix for someone was something special as well. I remember a girl I knew back in 2005 making lots of CDs for me and it felt really cool that someone would go to all the trouble of 1) thinking about me that much, but 2) also actually sitting down to make the mix (which was a much more involved process back then!)

It’s almost like making pancakes from scratch or something. It’s a labor of love and doesn’t happen nearly as often anymore, if at all. The last mix a girl made for me was all the way back in 2007. Since then, the way we listen has changed quite dramatically, and I would argue not necessarily for the better.

The main concern back then was always, THE MUSIC. Not the CD player, not the headphones (which were cheap pieces of garbage basically).

Seriously, imagine being obsessed with a CD Player in 2003. People would probably point and laugh at you.

But now it’s cool to develop a hard-on for aluminum chassis’.

It’s actually become quite normal to talk about things and not ideas, and that’s what I’m attempting to get at here.

I still have a Panasonic CD player from 2003 that my dad got me, it still works, and it still sounds great. I didn’t care about what it was that played the music. I cared about the music. I still care about it.

Our discussions and friendship revolved around music, which in turn morphed into some philosophy.

In the case of my friend Amanda, we could talk for hours about it, or not talk at all and just listen. Her intellect was what was important to me. There’s nothing like being silent with someone you care about and knowing both your hearts and souls are on exactly the same wavelength.

“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special. When you can just shut the f**k up for a minute and comfortably share silence.” -Mia Wallace, Pulp Fiction (1994)

I will never forget one sunny spring day in particular. A and I were driving on some back roads in Cary, NC, and weaving in and out of neighborhoods, just listening to music. Grateful Dead’s Serengetti came on one of the CDs I had (or she had) at the time and we both just got completely lost in it. It almost felt like we were in another dimension.

When the song ended, we both just kind of looked at each other in disbelief and she was like “Oh my God that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.”

I felt the same way. It was like you could hear everything in such great detail that I have a hard time putting it into words. Something about the xylophone at the end felt majestic; spiritual almost. The most beautiful melody I could ever conjure up in my head. It was as if the Grateful Dead explained to us the meaning of life in 2 minutes without having to utter a single word.

It was like being on cloud 9 with her. We forged a deep connection and bond that day, something I really haven’t felt (in its entirety anyway) since.

We were on exactly the same page internally.

We didn’t really even have to speak.

I knew and she knew.

I felt connected to her soul in a way that I cannot explain.

That kind of thing is hard to come by with another individual and happens very rarely in this life.

This experience actually speaks to exactly the dilemma that I think is pervasive in the audio (and specifically the headphone/dac) industry.

People can’t concentrate anymore.

Say what you want, but EVERYONE is vying for your click in what some call “The Attention Economy.”

Even when I wrote this, listening to John Coltrane’s “Summertime”, one of my all-time favorite Jazz pieces, I can’t actually concentrate on the subtleties of the music while typing at the same time. I can’t fully appreciate how incredible the musicianship is because my mind is filled with thousands of other thoughts.

Surely this is a testament to getting older and having way more priorities (and also not remembering jack sh**). LOL. I can listen to and enjoy the song, but I can’t REALLY analyze it like I want to or get lost in it unless I’m completely present; something I’ve been working on in all facets of my life.

There are simply too many distractions abound, and I think simplifying is of the utmost importance; especially in this day and age.

In the story I shared from 2005, A and I were completely immersed in the track, to the point where all that existed was me, her, and the music.

That’s what people should be getting back to. I don’t really even remember where we were driving. There was no destination. The car to me didn’t really even exist. It was just a vessel.

The focus was solely on what we were hearing, and how amazing it was. It’s one of those vivid moments you never forget.

What people must understand is that I’m not a reviewer, YouTuber, or any of that. I’m an artist.

Reviewing Amps and DACS is not important to me, what’s important is the music. The art that goes into making a song. The way it makes you feel inside and how you want to share that with another person.

In reality, there are very few select products that you should concern yourself with if just getting started in the hobby.

The Zen, K5 Pro, G6, and ATOM represent 99% of that. Throw in a Bluetooth DAC or something else portable like the DragonFly Red, and you’re all of the ways there.

That’s it. While there are standout products that I discuss in this video, those are the rare exceptions and could have just been a placebo anyway – i.e. my overactive imagination and newness to the hobby (especially in the case of the BHA-1 which I demoed for the first time in 2017).

The truth is that Amps & DACS are a lie, and they’re ruining the hobby.

The Best Audiophile Headphones Under $500

DragonFly Red pictured here with the Cobalt.

The differences between them, while they do exist in many instances, are incredibly subtle and minute. So subtle in fact that it literally doesn’t matter which one you choose.

Decide which features you need, determine if you want warm or neutral, and then just pick one. I’d even argue just close your eyes and pick one.

Me? I’d rather blindfold myself and destroy all of them like a kid smashing a pinata.

It’s really that insignificant to me at this point. I’ve demoed over 50 of them now. The way a song ultimately sounds has mostly to do with how it was recorded, mixed, and mastered, a lost concept on audiophiles but one that will never change.

If you’re an engineer or producer you intuitively understand this. If you’re an audiophile, you won’t. You’re willfully ignorant.

If you still don’t understand what I’m saying, consider this. There’s a point at which the so-called “improvement” of the Amp/DAC no longer contributes to the music sounding good, no matter what they told you, and no matter how you feel about it.

This is called diminishing returns and something I’ve harped on quite a bit over the last few years. The scary part is that diminishing returns in the case of Amps & DACS set in incredibly fast, and way faster than headphones – I’d argue around $100-300 for most products.

What I want you to do is stop right now and think about the thousands and thousands of dac/amps on the market, and then ask yourself what the function of a DAC is. Then ask yourself what the function of an amp is. After you do that, ask yourself, “Is this getting excessive?” Then answer the question honestly.

This brings me to my final point.

I will be cutting back HEAVILY on the number of amps and dacs that I review from this point forward. This channel will be moving towards what it was originally intended to be – a discussion about the Home Studio and everything that entails – products included but not limited to dacs and headphones.

Reviewing DACS or amps now, after knowing what I know, literally makes me want to put a gun to my head – especially when you consider the growing amounts of shills in training here on YouTube.

“It’s the DEAL OF THE CENTURY!”

I will likely maintain my relationship with iFi for a few reasons:

  1. I respect iFi for still sending me products after I literally tell people NOT to buy them (mostly due to them being overpriced and unnecessary),
  2. Because I have a good relationship with the rep and I respect him.
  3. Because their products (the ones I like and recommend) are really well made and sound good.
  4. Because I feel like it.

I haven’t had a single issue with any of them over the last few years, and to me, that’s worth something.

I’ve turned down a few companies here lately because I just don’t care about DACS anymore. I don’t want anything to do with them for the most part, but if I do decide to review something, you can be sure that I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel about it. That will never change.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion on the lie that’s destroying audio, and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

What do you think about Amps & DACS? What are your thoughts on the hobby as a whole? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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