The Benefits of Separation

I learned a lot of hard lessons very quickly with dating.  One of the main ones was to leave enough room, enough flexibility and enough time to be by yourself, on your own terms, in your own environment.  Being possessive and, dare I say it, a jealous person achieved the opposite of what I was looking for in dating - rather than bringing me closer to a partner, it drove them away.  There wasn't enough of a filter between us to hide (what I now see is) just how utterly controlling I can be.  It is an often-said but under-appreciated idiom that all things should be in moderation and that is certainly true of invading someone's coveted personal space.


"Personal Space" is an odd thing to consider in the world of HiFi, but it's an essential ingredient, just like in life.  All too often, without realising it, we've overcommitted on one link in our chain and it's now in full command of the entire system with us slavishly serving its needs and adjusting to it, rather than it to us.  While this can be some peoples' preference, letting them learn something once and then hoping it doesn't have to change, it can be a hassle once the use-by date comes around.  We see it all too often; people lost in a world of choices which all change too much, too suddenly.  It can be... difficult.


One of the easiest solutions is to break a system down into its most basic components and add or replace as you go.  When I say easy, it genuinely means you can keep a minimal control interface, either on a receiver or standard amplifier or pre-amp, and have everything around that connected and controlled as simply as if it were still one big circuit.  Best of all, by keeping many functions out of the same box, you have dedicated power supplies and less noise and crosstalk, the nemesis of audio engineers.


A good example of a standard system people are looking to update nowadays:

DVD -> AV Receiver -> TV & Speakers

So the TV has changed, it's now connecting via HDMI.  Your DVD player and amplifier don't have HDMI, so what do you do?  The sound is great, the amp and speakers are a great match and they all still work perfectly, you just need a way to interface.  Here you have a couple of options:

Analogue Decoding Universal Player -> AV Receiver -> TV & Speakers

The universal player sends the video to the TV via HDMI and the sound to the amplifier via the 5.1 or 7.1 analogue connections, with the receiver now handling just the audio switching and the tv handling the video switching.  Clunky and no good if you have multiple sources which you want displayed on the TV.  So, another solution:

DVD Player -> AV Pre-Processor -> Power Amplifier -> TV & Speakers

Now we're cooking with gas.  This is an ideal solution that removes a big point of weakness in the system.  While it may involve a little more monetary outlay, the end result is super-flexible.  The speakers and power amplifier combination can stay put for as long as you like, with the sound matched just as you like.  Further, the pre-pro can have support for both legacy connections (composite, component, phono etc.) and HDMI if you like.  If you're going wholly HDMI, the price for a pre-pro and power amplifier combination can be as little as a normal, boring AVR.

Come time to upgrade, the idea should be to have to do as little as possible and disrupt the parts of the system you really like as little as possible.  If we're only having to swap out a simple pre-processor every eight years and not also throw out perfectly good amplifiers, we're not only saving good money, but also keeping our speaker performance consistent.


On the analogue front, the kind of specificity is amazing.  Here's a very standard system layout which has barely changed since the 70s:

Turntable -> Integrated Amplifier -> Speakers

We can change this into a tidy and simple selection of gear, all of which allow immense control of the end sonic result and can keep the door open for lots of lovely audiophile tinkering.  Even better, you can upgrade targeted pieces slowly and, ideally, cheaply.  So, the aforementioned system becomes:

Turntable -> Phono Stage -> Preamplifier -> Power Amplifier -> Speakers

If you're a CD user instead of the turntable, it looks more like:

CD Transport -> DAC -> Preamplifier -> Power Amplifier -> Speakers


The end result?  More pretty things, more control, more cost effective upgrades and more longevity.  Give each part of the system its own bit of personal space and you'll find a world of sonic improvement.  No more cramming all of the components into a single box!  Be free!  It makes the moments when they all come together that much more special.

 Power Amplifier Power Amplifier
30 January, 2014 by Angus Perry
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