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12/24/2003 Entry: "Mike's Hi-Fi"

I haven't spoken much about hi-fi on these here pages in a long time. That's mostly because the hi-fi hobby gets expensive (when you're talking gear), and I just haven't had any real desire to upgrade anything badly. (Although I do need a new VCR and DVD player. Have you noticed you can't find a decent VCR anymore? Perhaps that's another post.)

I did get to do something pretty fun recently, though. Buy hifi gear for someone else with their money! My boss, Mike, and his wife decided to invest in a home theater system for their kids. (Of course, they'll enjoy it too!) They gave me a budget, and said "Here, get us something nice." They already had good source components, so what we needed were speakers and a receiver.

With the budget I had, the receiver was the easy part of the game. There are so many good mid-fi receivers out there, I knew I could find one easily. The Denon AVR-1604 was in the lead. I own a Denon HDCD player, two single CD players for my DJ rig, and a tape deck; and buddy Jim owns a receiver. Denon makes excellent stuff for the money. But while shopping for speakers, I found a refurbished Harman Kardon AVR-125. I've owned 3 H/K receivers, and have liked them all. This one got the nod because the refurb price really helped the budget, and gave me more to spend on...

Speakers. In my opinion, dollar for dollar, the most significant upgrades in sound come from upgrading speakers. And I wanted Mike to have something nice from the get go--not just something passable he could upgrade in the future. I asked if he would forgo the subwoofer for now. That way, I could buy decent speakers, and he could add the sub later. He was cool with that. It took a lot of digging on my part. I hunted and hunted for something decent that would bring us in under budget. I got an email from Audio Advisor. It was their weekly clearance list. In it, they had a pair of Warfdale 8.2s, and a pair of the 8.1s. Great, I thought. I'll put the 8.2s in the front, and the 8.1s in the rear. I'll add a center, and be done, and under budget. Mike wasn't in the office, so I called for his credit card number. "Can't this wait an hour?" Knowing this clearance stuff is limited quantity, I told him no, it couldn't wait. Card number written down, I went to the site. I put both speakers in the basket, and headed for checkout. "Some items are no longer available. Your cart has been updated." The bigger Warfdales had already sold! Bummer.

The hunt continued. Over at Sound City, I found a pair of Klipsh SB-2s. This model has been discontinued, but they had one open box pair. I called them.

"Do you have 2 pairs of the SB-2s in open box?" I asked.
"Let me look," he said. "Anything else you need?"
"Yes. I'm also looking at the open box SC-1 center speaker too."
"Ok. I have one open box SB-2. But, I'll sell you 2 pairs at the open box price. The open box center is gone too, but I have a new one I'll sell at open box price."

Awesome! All speakers at open box price, but 3 out of 5 speakers were brand new!

When everything arrived, I went over one evening to help Mike set it all up. The sound is pretty good. I didn't have any regular test material with me, so I used their Fleetwood Mac CD, of which I also own a copy. I fired up "You Make Loving Fun," at sat down to listen. Initial thoughts? The treble was very present. There was a tambourine stereo left I'd never noticed before. I went home and listened on my rig, and the tambourine was way in the back of the mix, barely audible. The treble on Mike's rig wasn't bright, necessarily. It wasn't sizzley and harsh sounding; there was just a lot of it. And, like most good bookshelf speakers, they had great imaging. Sounds just floated in the air, the speakers disappearing. I love that about small speakers.

He's had the system about a week and a half. The receiver goes into "safety mode" every now and again. Not sure what's up with that. We're trying a few things. And it's all under warranty. So I think he's got a real good start on a good system. Add a sub, and the place will rock.

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