I have an all PS Audio rig: P15 power plant, DirectStream DAC, BHK Preamp and 250 amp powering a pair of Focal 1038be speakers. It is all connected with an Audioquest mill.
After months replacing my old gear and fine-tuning speaker placement, and limited by the mandate of no room treatments except for moving what is already part of the room, I came to realize that as good as my system sounds, it will never reach Nirvana status.
The problem was I wanted to marry Nirvana but speakers can be placed as ideally as possible following home restrictions and never reach the SQ of fine headphones. Or so is my opinion.
Years ago I had Stax electrostatics and blissed for hours until I wore them into the scrapheap. They were followed by iconic Sennheiser HD650s, very good cans but not exceptional. It did not matter for years because by then I was serially dating speakers and headphones were relegated to the midnight owl.
Three months ago, I started dating a pair of Audeze LCD-Xs. At first, I thought “What cans require equalization to sound their best?” Retailers will tell you they don’t but reviewers and many users will vehemently disagree. I use them with the jack on the BHK Pre, which I understand is how the PS Audio gang voiced the headphone amp of the unit. It makes for a fine coupling.
But for my love of learning I would have never bought them. However, I’ve always wanted to learn how to equalize and good tools are so readily available. The challenge was finding a good quality equalizer that worked systemwide on my PC. Roon did not fit the bill, nor did it sync up outside of Tidal and Qobuz, which increases the ongoing cost of musical enjoyment and, regardless of the millions of tracks claimed, limits my particular choice of music.
Fortunately, I had a copy of JRiver 24, which can install its WDM driver as the audio system default. All computer devices can send their output to it. From there it goes back to JRiver and you can use the program’s equalizers or my favorite equalizer plug-ins, the Voxengo GlissEQ and CurveEQ, to perform whatever corrections are necessary. JRiver then sends the output to the desired driver.
To say I’ve been having a blast is an understatement. To say that learning how to equalize has brought me closer to Nirvana than any activity previously undertaken is understanding how good it feels to learn, feel accomplished and know that I don’t have to travel 3 hours in heavy traffic to L.A. to get a realistic feel of a live symphonic performance.
The icing on the cake is that, as in Roon, although not quite as seamlessly, I can stream through my favorite streamer, Amazon Music HD, and switch easily to JRiver to play my own ripped music collection, equalizing tracks as needed.
Knowing how to equalize feels like being an orchestra conductor. Bring up the violins, tone down the basses, blast away on the brass. On a rig like PS Audio’s, which sports great instrument separation, the power is in the fingertips and mouse. I could use a baton when no one is looking but that would feel too much like eating Chinese food.
The journey of discovery never ends. The engagement and monogamous marriage with one particular headphone did not happen in Vegas, but Palm Springs is a suitable location. I’m sure the joy of discovery is what drives most of us audiophiles to lengths our spouses often think obsessive. My response: “It’s my hobby. Who would want to be with someone who is not obsessive (I prefer to call it passionate) about one’s hobby? Indeed, who would want to marry someone without a passion?