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Audio Slumming

DoctorSpuds

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While I will sometimes jump to spend too much money on something I don’t really need, I’m generally a ‘cheap bastard’. I won’t usually spend a lot of money on something as long as it’s good enough. Nowhere is my cheapness more evident than in my audio setup. Let me just say this, I am not an audiophile, I think the lengths some people will go to and the amounts they pay for the smallest jump in audio quality is utterly strange, especially when they’re not in the situation to make such investments.

Now, my current setup is a ramshackle mix of equipment from all over the place. Let’s start with the heart of it all. My stereo is a 1984 JVC R-K200 Digital Synthesizer and Stereo Receiver, whilst it can put out some serious volume it’s also crusty as hell. It runs too hot in the summer, the power supply buzzes, and the radio is weak. The headphone jack is too noisy to use and half the time if you press any of the buttons the right channel will cut out and you have to gently finger the buttons to make it reappear again, but it works, and for 25 bucks that’s good enough.

 

For those interested in the stats:

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For audio playback I have an autoreverse ‘twin’ cassette deck. It’s an Onkyo R1 TA-RW303 and I believe it was found in a garage. It had leaves in the cassette mechanism and was full of spiders but the belts are excellent and it has no noticeable wow or flutter, in fact this piece of junk is better than my previous three decks which all had speed issues. The big problem with this guy is that the ‘B’ deck is unusable. The mechs work great but as the motor heats up it begins to splice in static that makes it impossible to listen to. It also records this static onto tapes so I can’t make anymore mixtapes, how sad. But deck ‘A’ plays and it plays good and for 20 bucks that all I can really ask for.

 

Speakers, now these aren’t the sorts of things you cheap out on. You can have the best stereo on the planet but if you use it with bunk speakers it’s greatness is a moot point. Bad speakers make bad sounds. Of course I cheaped out on my speakers! I found these lads for a grand total of 10 bucks for the pair, and this is where I got luckiest, forget the amazing garage deck these things make that look like crap.

 

I got two Klipsch’s for five bucks each. To be specific they’re satellite speakers for Klipsch’s most recent Quintet Speaker system. The reason these guys flew under the radar is because they are some of the saddest looking speakers Klipsch has ever made. They’re small they’re unassuming and if it wasn’t for that tiny Klipsch badge on the easily destroyed speaker grille you’d have no idea what they were. I suspect that most stores would treat these little guys similarly to the store I got my pair from. Either they’re glanced over because they’re small and look kinda crappy, like a bunch of those budget surround systems from the early 2000’s, or they’re priced down because even though they’re Klipsch’s they’re not their fancy/higher end speakers or it’s not a complete set. But the sound, what do they sound like? I’ve been kinda trashing how they look so can they make up for that in the sound?

 

Well… Yes, oh my shit yes! Just the two I have provide a better surround experience than the Bose system my parents dumped on me. The separation of the audio levels is unbelievable, even on muddier EDM or hair metal tracks with a lot of mids and bass the two don’t blend and homogenize. The treble is incredibly crisp, vocals are incredible, and with some EQ tweaking, mainly further boosting the treble and mid-level bass, they sound just heavenly.

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Some sounds just seems to roll over you whilst others feel like they’re sitting directly in front of you, the sounds of crowds and even echoes in tracks just feel enormous. The only weak point for these guys is the sub bass, it’s weak. Now looking at my EQ you’ll see that I basically killed the already limited sub bass, but that’s for a reason. I live in an apartment, and as with most apartments the things separating me from my neighbors are particle board and balsa wood so I can’t have really heavy bass on all the time. Lowering the 32k zone still leaves enough so that I’m not missing anything in the music, kick drums and lower basslines are still represented wonderfully but not so much that my neighbors can participate in my listening. So before I rattle on about bass I’ll just say this. Klipsch Quintet 5 Satellite speakers: Incredible, good noise separation, crisp, great soundscape, with some basic EQ tweaking they are unbeatable for any genre of music. Alright, time for bass.

 

The last thing an apartment dweller like myself needs is a big stinky subwoofer, which is why I’m always confused when I see people move in and they have a big stinky subwoofer in tow. The Bose system that’s in the living room has a woofer and I have it turned all the way down because the last thing my neighbors need is to listen to my music along with me. Whenever I see a subwoofer I immediately think ‘noise complaint’ because that’s all its gonna net you. Now, I do actually own a subwoofer, but I had to be considerate in what I purchased. It couldn’t be something I put on the floor; it would rattle my downstairs neighbor’s ceiling with some of the tracks I listen to. I need something small, with an unconventional form factor to allow easy when not in use. Folks I found something that fits those criteria perfectly, and it’s from 1995. Those old enough to really be into Sega back in the day may remember seeing the Aura Interactor on clearance in stores, well they made a general use version that can hook up to computers and TV’s.

 

Yes, a novelty subwoofer from 1995 is my solution. The bass is pumped directly into my back not letting it dissipate through the building and I can lower the levels so that I can comfortably hear/feel it without annoying anyone. I usually have it turned off but for a few select songs I’ll switch it on, otherwise I just use it like a conventional back cushion for my computer chair. It can still pump out some massive bass though and you can get some serious volume from it without distortion. Due to them being a novelty you can find them on Ebay for relatively cheap and I’d say their performance rivals that of name-brand woofers that go for double or triple the money.

 

So in total I paid 135 dollars for my entire setup: 25 for the stereo, 20 for the cassette deck, 10 for the speakers and 80 for the subwoofer. Now, you probably won’t find comparable prices for those online, especially the speakers, that was just plain luck. Interact cushions have actually dropped in price if you don’t mind a preowned one; I’m seeing a few on Ebay for 50 to 60 bucks. The Cassette Deck is entirely subjective, I know most folks would rather have a turntable and it looks like the model of deck I have is slightly desirable but in its current condition I think the price was fair. And besides, there are so many decks out there that going after a specific model is rather futile. The stereo is hovering around the 50 dollar range online and shipping probably won’t be very fun. As for the speakers I think the value for money is incredible, even at Ebay prices, each speaker is easily worth 100 dollars loose, which is awesome since the whole system can still be found for around 550 dollars from some retailers.

 

So, I’m curious, now that I’ve talked for way too long about my setup, what’s yours look like? Do you even have one?  Is it vintage? Modern? Are you a headphone user? Whaddaya rockin’?

 

I need to know

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My first home stereo system was a Denon amp & Jamo speakers.  About eight years ago I replaced them with a Pioneer S-HSAJ2 5+1 speaker system (although I've never hooked up the center speaker) and Yamaha AV Amp.

 

When I was shopping around I spent some time doing some listening tests at a HiFi store making the sales person swap cables while I listened to the same 30 second clip.  My conclusion was the difference between amplifiers at the price point I was buying was minimal.  Speakers made a bigger difference, although I bought based on reviews & specs rather than listening tests.  The one variable I couldn't change and would make a big difference is the room.

 

 

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Whoo, for a price like that those speakers better make the room shake. I can't even imagine a reality where I'd be able to both afford and have a place to put a setup that massive.

49 minutes ago, EricBall said:

The one variable I couldn't change and would make a big difference is the room.

Acoustics are really tricky. My setup is in my bedroom, hooked up to my PC with the two speakers pointed directly down my dirty disgusting ears, so I have the luxury of all my crap soaking up the noise and a really directed stream of sound. If you're in a big echoing family room or just a room with really bad acoustics I can see how much of that research can go down the toilet when everything gets hooked up (If bad acoustics are your problem that is).

 

I know they're making sound absorbing/proof stuff a bit less ugly these days so that's always an option. Or you can go my route, which is to get as much clutter as possible into your space so that any form of echo is impossible. 

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The living room is approx 10 feet by 15 feet with the TV & speakers at one short end.  The problem is one long wall is windows with a sofa in front while the opposite opens onto the rest of the house & the stairway.

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Hmmm, the acoustic void. Indeed, there isn't much you can do with that. Unless of course you lack both taste and an aversion to curtains.

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That's some wild EQ settings you've got there, but if it works well, and nothing is jumping out or being lost, then I guess it's all good.

 

Definitely, speakers need to be #1, and its sounds like you're in good shape there, from what you're saying. With a cassette deck (as opposed to a CD player), obviously you need something at least half-decent and in good working condition, and just looking at your brands JVC and Onkyo, you've got some half-decent middle of the road stuff that should be totally fine for most applications.

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43 minutes ago, 5-11under said:

That's some wild EQ settings you've got there, but if it works well, and nothing is jumping out or being lost, then I guess it's all good.

It's mainly to boost what I feel is a bit weak from the speakers, a few songs will distort but they're mainly lower bitrate files and oddly enough a few songs from Gotye's Making Mirrors. My JVC also has the 4KHZ and 16KHZ sliders all the way up with the rest sitting in the middle. I boost the crap out of the treble because I like my music to sound crispy and sparkly, slowly distancing myself from overwhelming bass that tends to eat up the high end stuff.

46 minutes ago, 5-11under said:

With a cassette deck (as opposed to a CD player), obviously you need something at least half-decent and in good working condition.

I own more cassettes than CD's funnily enough, I enjoy the process of dropping them in the player more than clicking in a CD. And you're right, the deck literally is only 'half decent'. I'm still amazed that a deck that's clearly been in a garage for a decade sounds better than well maintained/cared for units.

 

If you want to see a crazy EQ take a good look at this guy.

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No it does not sound good, I only use it as a weapon to make audiophiles cringe until their teeth shatter.

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I have no source for my comment, but a vague recollection that "they" (the people that do these sorts of studies) tested a bunch of self-proclaimed audiophiles by letting them listen to music sent through different qualities of speaker wire and rating them. (I know this is different from speakers) The highest ranking speaker wire with the "best sound" turned out to be from wire coat hangers. I don't know if the story is true and I don't want my illusions crushed so I'm not googling it, but I thought it was an interesting anecdote.

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