Dipping My Toe Into HI-FI Audio

Audiophiles exist in the world. You might have had a conversation with one of them. You can easily recognize an audiophile when they tell you how good music sounds on vinyl. I am not saying that I am an audiophile per se, but I see how someone gets there. This is my story.

Audiophile T-Shirt

With the stay-at-home order, I found myself looking for things to do around the house. I am doing my own yard work, starting a garden, and arranging things. I did notice stacks of CDs from my 90’s college days. Filter. Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails. Tool. Christina Aguilera. For the past decade, I have been listening to music via MP3s or streaming services. Music has become background music in my life. Except for the Trolls soundtrack. I have heard the Trolls soundtrack on Amazon Echo for both movies probably 100 times. My son loves Daft Punk. We play the song One More Time, one more time frequently.

I wanted to listen to the CDs and I discovered that I have 3 devices in the house that play CDs: a CD drive in my PC, a disconnected Blu-ray player, and a Trolls themed CD player/radio. I got the “hug, sing, dance” player at the thrift store for my son which included the Frozen soundtrack disc in the player for $2.99.

The first CD that I listened to was Filter – Title of Record from 1999. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded coming out of my computer speakers. My ears have been listening to compressed, streaming audio for over 10 years. I started digging around the closet for a nice pair of headphones and tried my earbuds and a pair of AKG K240 Studio Monitors that I got as a gift. The earbuds were OK. The AKG headphones were worse. I expected a lot out of them, but they didn’t sound great. I turned to Google and search around for an hour and discovered that the AKG headphones have a high impedance of around 55 ohms and my computer doesn’t really support that. This finding led me to a number of high-fidelity audio forums. I learned about headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DAC).

I decided to experiment and ease my boredom a bit. I bought a the SUCA Audio tube headphone amplifier that was recommended to me on one of the forums. I waited a couple of weeks to get it and built up the anticipation of plugging in my AKG headphones.

Wow. Wowzer. I could believe how good the music sounded. I enjoyed the warmth and overall tone. The SUCA Audio amp is arguably a low entry point into headphone amps. My research over a few days showed me how deep this rabbit hole goes. There is an endless supply of gadgets to elevate your audio experience.

Going next level. I kept reading mentions of other vacuum tubes to try. I learned about the RCA 6AK5 tubes to get even better sound. I found a pair of “new” tubes on eBay and tried those. eBay tip. “NOS” means New Old Stock. They don’t make vacuum tubes anymore so you have to find new, old tubes. You also want to find a matched pair. And, yes, I can hear a difference. Or, I am not admitting that I can’t hear a difference – that’s part of the audiophile’s code.

This is my first toe into the deep waters of HI-FI audio and the water feels great. I have been enjoying some old tunes and hearing things that I never heard before. Maybe one day, I will be the guy at the party telling you about my audio gear.