Hi-Fi Rediscovered

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on Ribbie’s weblog – a couple of years I think. And it’s been a long time since I’ve obsessed over stereo equipment. Back in the late 70’s, my dad purchased a hi-fi system for the house. As I recall, it was a JVC receiver with an 10-band equalizer and a turntable with a pair of Polk Audio speakers – I think they were the Monitor 10’s we bought from Kirk out at Project One Stereo in Little Rock. Wonder if that place is still around? Those speakers sounded heavenly playing the music of Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Genesis, Jimi Hendrix, The Pretenders, The Rolling Stones, Yes, King Crimson, and the B-52s. My dear dad gifted me the speakers as a high school graduation present, so to speak knowing how attached I had become to them. At some point, probably around the second semester to my freshman year, a buddy of mine from high school who was one of my college roommates for a semester made some speaker stands for the celestial Polks which helped to dial them in by getting the tweeter closer to ear level in a near field listening situation, and they never sounded better. By that time, I had been bitten by the hi-fi bug.

After college, those speakers moved with me to Boston, but I eventually parted with them and my entire album collection. That’s another story. When my wife and I bought our house, one of the first things we purchased was another pair of Polks that I got for about $50 bucks, and we added a Polk subwoofer, a Sony receiver and CD/DVD player. The receiver bit the dust after a few years unexpectedly (an ill-advised, non-returnable open box deal) and we replaced it with a Harmon Kardon 3385 stereo receiver. Later, I ditched the subwoofer because it took up too much space, and I’m not a boomy bass guy, nor is my cat. I next acquired a bluetooth Technics turntable and began buying thrift shop records to re-experience the joys of pure analogue sound. We had this set up for a good decade, and when streaming music became more popular and accessible, I added a bluetooth adapter to the HK and began listening to Spotify and my digital music but wasn’t quite satisfied with the quality of the sound and then…

…I began listening to the cheapaudioman over on YouTube. The host, Randy, does reviews of and recommendations for affordable hi-fi equipment and it got me thinking that I should upgrade our system a little bit. While I don’t consider myself cheap, I do believe in bargain shopping. The first thing I purchased to enhance the listening experience was another pair of speakers, the Neumi BS5 for about 100 bucks. They sound terrific – not appreciably different than the Polk R150’s that I already had, but with a slightly better soundstage and good bass response after plugging up the front ports with socks and pushing them back against a wall. For a time, I had them both hooked up to the HK 3385 but didn’t think they sounded good together due in part, I’m guessing to the fact that they have different OHM and sensitivity ratings. Not satisfied with the old HK Bluetooth adapter, I bought a Dento BLT-HD receiver that with the latest BT codecs and a good digital analogue converter (DAC). It can deliver high resolution streams from Spotify Premium. Next, I purchased a bluetooth class D Amp – the Fosi BT10A. My idea was to relocate the Neumi’s to my home office and power them with the little but powerful mini-amp and stream music to them from my iPad. So impressed by these little amps, I bought another for the basement family room and purchased another pair of speakers, the mighty and affordable Micca PB42X. They have a small footprint but big clean sound. However, after a few months, and further research, I discovered that WiFi streams are better sounding than Bluetooth in that the files are less compressed – lossless vs. lossy. Committed to the highest quality stream given my budget constraints, I bought a WiiM mini streamer with a built-in DAC. I plugged this into the Fosi BTA10A, bypassing the bluetooth signal and hooked up the old Polks to began streaming Spotify to get that hi-fi sound I’d always wanted. But wait.

Backing up a bit. Before I began listening to streams on the stereo, I had upgraded my old Sony CD/DVD player to a Denon 600NE. By that time, I had retired the Polks and the Sony CD/DVD player and just had the Neumi’s hooked up to the HK 3385 to play CDs only. It wasn’t until I bought another Class D mini-amp, the Fosi TB10D with 300W per channel capability, for $60 US, that I decided to switch things up.

I bought another pair of speakers. I know, it sounds like overkill, but the deal was one I could not ignore. I got a pair of Polk Audio TSi100 speakers for 100 bucks. 100 bucks! They were once selling for $250 or so. They are old new stock speakers. I think these came out around 2009. And they are killer. I bought a stand for them but had to velcro them in place because one of the speakers upon initial setup slid off the stand and crashed to the floor breaking one of the mounts for the speaker cover. The speaker was not otherwise damaged in any way, thankfully. I attached these speakers with banana plugs to the powerful Fosi TB10D. It doesn’t have bluetooth but has RCA inputs for the CD player. Now, I have this setup as my dedicated system for playing CDs, (see first photo) and have the WiiM hooked up to the Fosi BT10A for streaming, powering the resurrected Polk R150’s that sit inside the bookshelves (not shown) that flank the TSi100s. I relocated the HK integrated receiver to my office and brought up the Neumi’s, the old Sony CD/DVD player, and the technics turntable and plugged in the Blue Dento Bluetooth receiver for Spotify streams from my iPad. In this small space, the Neumi‚Äôs fill the room with warm sound. See photo below:

Bottom line: I upgraded my stereo system to accommodate digital streaming and in the process built three systems for the house – one for my office, one for the living room, and another for the family room, all for under US $1,200, $400 per system. I want to buy another pair of speakers, the ELAC BS41 but will wait for them to go on sale. They retail for about $150, but they can go for as low as $68 a pair. No, I don’t need them, but I’ve got the hi-fi bug and my fever has not yet lifted.