I wrote extensively about putting together a stereo system and the ups and downs I went through to finally settle on something worthwhile, for a large room. But I had an itch to have some good sound in my den, which is where I do most of my work these days at home, and spend quite a bit of time with Cecelia. It’s where the fireplace is and books are as well as her “office” which is a desk with a lamp and actually a pretty nice setup. She seriously considers it her work office, and that wouldn’t be a misnomer. She gets some good work done there. She drafted the manuscript for her first autobiography there as well as some peace accords.
I cut TV out of my life years ago, and haven’t missed it one bit. I’ll watch videos on YouTube, movies, and shows periodically on Netflix, or a DVD, but cable and a subscription is history. After having satellite with hundreds of channels to choose from, and still having trouble finding anything worth my time, I realized it was a futile and wasteful endeavor. The hardest part is finding places to watch college football games each Fall, but other than that, it’s bliss.
What I find myself doing instead is reading, working or tinkering around on a laptop while listening to music. I have music playing around me almost all day. I have a stereo in my office I listen to Spotify and random Dead shows on during the day, and then always have music on at home. There are a lot of speakers around here.
What I like as much as listening to music is finding gear to listen to it with. Matching items up sonically isn’t too difficult if you know what you’re doing. Make sure 8 Ohm speakers are driven by an amplifier that works best with 8 Ohm speakers, and reading the specs tells you the story of the speakers, or amp, preamp, or whatever. I love researching, and searching for, the perfect sound setups. I don’t have an insane budget, but I have some nice stuff, and not all of it costs an arm and a leg. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the performance and design of some lesser-known manufacturers who are cheaper than more recognizable names. A lot of times the reason the names are so recognizable is that they have and spend a ton on marketing, which they pay for by charging premium prices for sub-premium products. Think Bose and Beats.
What I got for the den is a set of Wharfedale Denton speakers, which are simply incredible. Red mahogany cabinets. They look amazing and sound even better. Shipped from Britain with a pair of white gloves, of course, to keep them tidy. (British components seem to be winning the day; I have a Cambridge Audio CAX-60 amp as well, made in Britain.) I’m breaking them in now, and their sound is unrivaled in their competitive arena. They could charge 3 times what they do for these speakers and justify it. They are incredible. My Klipsch Heresy’s sound good too of course but they’re LOUD and BIG and I use them in the large living area when Cecelia or I need to rock out. These are warm, rich and full sounding. The speakers are special edition 80th anniversary Dentons so they have a Tungsten grille cover. The speaker cabinets are beautiful mahogany, and go with the sub I’m going to match them with, which is a Polk HTS 10, a retro-looking downward-firing 10-inch sub that should do the trick nicely. The Wharfedales have plenty of bass themselves, but can’t pull off what a good subwoofer can do. I’m eager to hook that sub up. For a sub-$1000 system, it doesn’t get any better. No way.
The integrated amp is a Sabaj A4. A What you ask? A very versatile, affordable, sturdy, appropriately powerful amp no one’s heard of. And it’s not going to win any design awards. But it works beautifully. And has an output for a sub, 5 inputs, including optical and headphones. It has a Bluetooth receiver and you can control the bass, treble, brightness of the display, and more. Usually, it’s just going to be a little black metal box that has a blue glowing line below a very understated display. It’s as unobtrusive as they come. It also comes with a remote and some poor instructions in small print, unfortunately for my aging eyes.
As usual Mediabridge 14 gauge cables. The speakers allow for bi-wiring, so I might rig it up so that a short piece of cable is going through the open posts. I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a noticeable difference. As the speakers wear in there should be a little more warmth to them.
What I’ve done, instead of bi-wiring them which I see as unnecessary for my use case, is to replace/supplement the metal jumpers on the posts with heavy gauge speaker wire. That reduces any perceived graininess, for sure. I also am using my BO6 with the Sabaj amp, because the Bluetooth pairing with the Sabaj was giving me fits. I could sometimes get it to pair, but the BO6 signal is so strong it overrides everything else in the house. And with a lot running on Bluetooth around here, it gets annoying. But if you get some Wharfedale Dentons, I’d recommend jumping the high/low pass posts with good speaker wire instead of what’s supplied.
I have the Polk Subwoofer hooked up and I have to say, this is a great system. I’m finding myself listening to it more than the Klipshes and Cambridge setup. It sounds richer and doesn’t fatigue your ears as quickly. The room each system is in is different of course, which makes an acoustical difference. But Radiohead never sounded better. I hear details that I never heard before, even with some nice Sennheiser headphones and my Heresy speakers. Bluegrass sounds great as well, which is usually recorded in a different arrangement. (The musicians are circled around a single mic, or they approach microphones as they take turns.) The Polk sub handles the deep, plunky standup bass notes well and the Wharfedales handle the jangly banjo trebles great. And they image a soundstage really well. Very high and broad for the size speakers. I have them on 32″ wooden stands. The sub has a cool retro look to it, which I like. I might try hooking the Cambridge amp up to the Wharfedales and Polk sub and see what happens. Just to see the difference between the relatively inexpensive Sabaj and the pricey Cambridge.
EDIT: November 20, 2019: I ended up changing something around for the better. The Klipsch 12 in Reference sub bit the dust. That’ll make you wonder. It’s still sitting in some shop across town, in fact. High-end stuff that croaks is frustrating. SO I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Maybe use it as an expensive coffin.
So to replace it, I got an SVS PB-2000 to match up with the Klipsch Heresies and Cambridge DAC/Amp. SVS makes crazy-good subs, with prices to match, but it’s hard to downscale once you’ve begun going up. That’s true for many things in life, but with audio equipment especially. I’ve spent enough of my life listening to awful-sounding music. It’s like eating McDonald’s every day and saying it’s good enough when there’s a James Beard-winning restaurant around the corner you could eat at every day instead.
Some people might even question the need for a sub. The Heresies do sound good, but I could tell the sub went out when it did. The low end wasn’t James Earle Jones or Barry White low. Baritones were fine, but the bass was missing. Problem solved, and then some.
I didn’t realize how BIG this sub was. I knew it was going to be heavy, at 65 lbs. But the Klipsch was 50 lbs and the Polk is 45 lbs. So they aren’t small. But this thing is massive. The grill cover could be used as a fireplace screen. I began setting it with some drums and nice bass licks, and the sub moves some serious air. That’s the reason I got the ported box instead of the sealed. In a word, it’s thunderous. If you have the means, I highly suggest picking one up.
Also published on Medium.