For a complete list of JJ’s products, see below.
All photos by JJ.
“I found you on the Internet” California-resident JJ said to me during our Zoom chat. “I did a Google search for (the company) Anthem, and one of your ‘No, I have the best system…’ articles popped up because it had Anthem products in it. That’s how I discovered you.” Thank you, Google algorithm. “And that’s why I emailed you.”
The content of that email included both JJ asking if he could take part in this series and photos of some tasty gear, including by Anthem, Auralic, Aurum Cantus, and Network Acoustics.
At the start of our chat, I told JJ one of the first things I noticed in his photos was no vinyl setup. Why not?
“I had a vinyl setup but never used it, so I sold it to a friend. I was just more digital-oriented. Tidal, Qubuz, that sort of thing. It had nothing to do with the sound. I wasn’t a ‘one format’s better than the other’ kind of person.”
So, convenience, then?
“That was the hard part for me with analogue. There were so many variables to getting a good vinyl record. Who cut it? Who mastered it? Where was it mastered from? Which edition sounds better? There are just less things to worry about with digital.”
Just how happy was he with the sound of his setup?
“Very happy. The speakers do such a great job with everything. It’s a smooth sound, and it’s probably the best I can do in my small room. I’ve got a really good soundstage, very good frequency extension. It just sounds inviting.”
How important was the soundstage to him?
“It’s not the main thing, but it’s important. I want that suspension of disbelief—to close my eyes and be with the artist. Being in a small room, I have a harder time getting a super wide, deep soundstage, but I managed to get a soundstage that images really well. I can see the performers and feel close to them.”
I asked how audio found him.
“My great aunt was big into orchestral opera and chamber music. She had a pair of Polk 10s and a Denon integrated, and she used to play her music stupid loud, and it left an impression on me. For a while, I did the car audio thing, and in 2008 I started working at an audio and video store. I’ve been into audio ever since.”
What was the component that made the biggest difference in the sound in his system—that elicited the biggest personal “wow”?
“Two things: the Anthem electronics equipped with their Anthem Room Correction (ARC®), which was important because I have big speakers and a small room and I needed to be able to tailor my sound. The other piece was the Network Acoustics Muon’s Ethernet filter and streaming cable. I put it in front of my Auralic Aries streamer and that was an instantaneous, very obvious change for the better.”
Having never heard of it, I asked if it was a digital switch.
“No, it’s an inline filter for the Ethernet cord,” he said. “It’s a passive device. I bought it on a whim. I’m not a super nerdy, tweaky guy. I thought I’d give it a shot and if it sucked I’d send it back. And it made a drastic difference. The sound just exploded.”
I asked about his room treatment.
“I use products from GIK Acoustics. They had me do some testing in my room using REW (Room EQ Wizard) software, then they put a plan in action for what I could do. I ended up installing 12 acoustic panels, which made a big difference, mainly in taming the boominess of the bass. Taking all that reverb out was a game changer.”
When I mentioned how acoustic treatment had never really been a thing among audiophiles until recently, JJ replied: “I think part of the problem at the beginning was that acoustic panels looked like 50-gallon trash cans! The bass traps were hideous. People nowadays have a lot more options that are effective and attractive.”
Thoughts on cabling?
“I’m a big fan. I’ve had my whole system wired with Transparent Audio cabling since 2008. I haven’t looked back.”
I asked what he liked most about our hobby.
“It’s when I listen to a piece of music and become transported away. That’s why I’m in it. What’s also nice is once in a while my wife will hear a song on SiriusXM and she’ll come in the listening room and ask me to stream it on my system.
“Then she’ll just sit there, mellow completely out, and she’s not even an audiophile! She doesn’t know anything about it. But she can just sit in my room and zone out.
“I also played the system for friends and they all instantaneously looked at me and said ‘wow, this is amazing!’ And I told them, this is what music is supposed to sound like, not like what you hear through AirPods or in your car.”
I told him it sounded like he took the acoustics out of the room—that the room ‘s limitations had been removed from the equation. “That was my main focus early on,” he said. “Because I knew my room would be an issue. But it’s not just my room. I think when it comes to most homes, the listening room is playback’s biggest foe.”
Favourite tweak or two?
“The Network Acoustics Muon streaming system. That made such a drastic difference. I put it through A/B tests with some of my buddies and my wife, and they were all flabbergasted by what it did. That, and the Anthem Room Correction. Being able to tweak and dial in the sound was so helpful.
I also tried a USB re-clocker but I hardly heard a difference, so I returned it.”
Any potential upgrades on the horizon?
“Electronics-wise, I’m content,” he said. “I may clean up my network path a little but I’m not sure where I can go. I think my speakers are very underrated, so I’d have to make a big jump money-wise to surpass them. As I mentioned before, the room is so important, so I think I’m maxed out in some respects.”
Had his approach to the hobby changed since he started?
“Definitely. And it goes back to the beginning when I was fairly… I don’t want to say naïve, but I wasn’t big on some things that I consider critical now. Like the proper positioning of speakers. I had the opportunity to learn the WASP speaker-positioning technique developed by Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio. It was amazing. It showed me that how we position our speakers has a much greater impact on sound quality than does the cost of the speakers. It was one of the biggest lessons I learned about the hobby.”
One of the biggest? I asked for another. “Learning how to use the REW software to do room sweeps to see where I was at,” he said. “That was huge.”
If he had advice to give, what would it be?
“Don’t take audio reviews as the bible. If you’re interested in a product, try to listen to it. Preferably in your own home, but at least at a dealer’s. See what your ears think, let them be the deciding factor.”
For my final question, I asked if he had any audio-related regrets.
“Oh yeah. And guilt. I had an Audio Research LS2 preamp, VTL ST85 amp, and a set of Magnepan MG3s. The system was in a bigger room than I have now, so the Maggies could really breathe and take over the room. My girlfriend at the time liked it, so did our friends, who liked it so much they invited their friends over to listen to it. That system was probably one of my favourites.
“Then I sold it to buy a pair of Magnepan 3.7s, but life intervened and that never happened, so I was without a system for a while. I really regretted selling that system.” (laughs)
Well, JJ, seems with your current system, you’ve come full circle. Welcome back, brother.
JJ’s system and room specs (all prices in $US):
Room size 11.5’ x 14’ x 8’
Speakers on the short wall, gear on the long wall
- Preamplifier: Anthem STR – $4300
- Amplifier: Anthem STR Pro – $6500
- Streamer: Auralic Aries G1 – $3200
- CD / Blu-ray player: OPPO BDP105D – $1300*
- Speakers: Aurum Cantus V7F Rosewood – $4650
- Subwoofer (x2): SVS 3000 micro in Gloss Black – $1700 (for the pair)
- Power conditioner: Furman Elite 15PFi – $1000 (For the Pre and sources)
- Power conditioner: RGPC 400 Pro – $800 (STR Amp plugged into this)
- Cables (speaker): Transparent Audio Ultra MM2 – $3500*
- Interconnects: Transparent Audio Ultra MM2 XLR – $3500* (Pre to Amp 15ft)
- Power cord (x3): Transparent Audio Premium – $600* (Pre, Amp and Furman)
- USB cable: Transparent Audio – $310
- Ethernet filter / digital cable: Network Acoustics Muon Streaming System – $1836 (connected to Auralic)
- Acoustic panels (x12): GIK Acoustics 242 – $55ea.
- Component stand: Salamander Designs Archetype Stand A5 – $450
- Amp stand: Salamander Designs Archetype AMP/B – $250
- Power: Dedicated 20Amp Circuit
(*) Indicates approximate pricing.
If you have a system you’d like to talk about in our “No, I have the best system in the world!” series, let us know by dropping us a line here.