Jaw Dropping Quality on a Budget ~ Digital Music System



  • Uncompromised Bit-Perfect Audio Playback
  • Hi Quality Audio Output powered by ESS SABRE 9028QM DAC
  • USB Audio Output up to PCM 32 bit 768 kHz and DSD512
  • SPDIF Audio Output up to 24 bit 192 kHZ
  • Supported Formats: DSD, WAV, FLAC, Alac, Aac, Vorbis, Cue, Mp3 and more
  • Playback control and configuration via Web-app from anything with a browser
  • Powered by ASUS Tinkerboard S
  • HDMI Video Output
  • UPNP \ DLNA Renderer with Open Home support
  • Integrated WebRadio directories
  • CIFS\SMB and NFS Network Attached Storage compatibility
  • Multilanguage
  • Alarm and sleep function
  • Wireless and Wired Network Connectivity

NuForce STA 200 Power Amplifier $499.00 ~ MSRP: $1,200.00        NUSTA200_3NUSTA200_2

“The frequency response was wide-band and provided a great neutrality.” Germany’s ModernHifi.de. 

“Jointly developed with world renowned, Swiss audio specialist Goldmund” MonoAndStereo.com 

Topping DX3 Pro DAC/Headphone Amp ~ $219.00dx3-4

  • Conclusions
    “As usual, Topping shows that it uses proper measurements and engineering talent to design its products. As with their other products, it is next to impossible to find many flaws in anything I measure. Yes, it is not state-of-the-art in all measures and falls just shy. But it makes up for it with its superb headphone stage with very low distortion levels, perfect channel matching, and lots of power coming from such a small package and power supply to feed it. All in all, the DX3Pro does not obsolete every DAC and headphone amplifier out there. But it comes darn close and nails the functionality and performance needed in a moderately low cost unit. Add to that the attractive industrial design and it easily becomes one of my favorite desktop products. As such, I recommend the Topping DX3Pro wholeheartedly.”                                           ——————————————————————————————————————————-

    Jamo Studio S 809 floor-standing speakers (White – w/grey tweed = pure class) 

 $549.00 pair 

Dolby Atmos® expandable… 

Jamo S 809

 90 db sens. ~ 8 Ohm imp. ~ Freq. res: 37Hz – 26kHz ± 3db 

Accessories & Tweaks: Taking gear to the next level…

AC Optimization:

Mapleshade Ultra Minimalist Duplex AC Outlet ~ $69.00

DIY Power Cables – The “POWER HELIX” ~ $. ??

The Decware Zen Line Conditioner model ZLC ~ $895.00

Less Loss Plug-and-play Firewall 64X : $654.00


USB Isolation: of data from corrupting power  ~ USB Disruptor ~ $150.00                       

Optimizing Signal Transmission:                                                                                     

DIY Interconnect Cables – The “Helix Mark VI” ~ $. ??

Speaker Cables : Duelund Coherent Audio DCA16GA 

Speaker Isolation: IsoAcoustics GAIA III Speaker Isolation Feet ~ $398.00 (8)

“GAIA Isolators provide a high degree of speaker isolation, while resisting lateral movement and oscillations, to maintain alignment with the listening position. Internal reflections from the hard supporting surface are attenuated resulting in greater sound clarity and openness.”  Award Winning ~ Confirmed by buyers + 60-day money-back guarantee 

Isoacoustics Explained…                                                                                      



A Budget Near Field System

When I was growing up, frequently playing in our home was either a record on the “record player” (Magnavox!) or a local radio station. Three years ago, I moved back in with my very aged parents to care for them. It’s not an obligation, it’s a privilege.

They were still using an old Sharp SD-EX101 ~ a 2.8MHz 1-bit amplifier Music system that I’d gifted them perhaps 20 years ago. Good for its time, that is for the less demanding but a bit too much of what some call ‘digititis’, it plays CDs and has an FM/AM radio. Local radio stations are typical commercial ad factories. 


Then the one local station that played a “greatest generation format” changed to a baby boomer, rock  format… adios FM… So I tried out a Grace Digital Wireless Internet Radio and listened for a while to Pandora. That provided access to the kind of music they like but still output to the Sharp unit. We lived with that for perhaps a year or so but I knew I could now do much better and I wanted to give them just a taste of how good audio can be.

So piece by piece, I’ve gradually assembled another modest system of much higher fidelity. Circumstance dictates that it be a nearfield system with decidedly less than optimum listening positions but soundstage is not a concern for my non-audiophile parents. 

The first source is a BlueSound Node 2 Music Streamer.  NODE2_WHT_Front-1620x1080audiostream-greatest-bits

Besides its NAS and 24/192 file capability, built in hardware decodes and renders Tidal’s MQA streams, which IMO brings streaming much closer to audiophile territory. While also eliminating the need for them to invest in an expensive private library of hi-res files. The Android app works well.

Note: trying to access Tidal streams through a computer was semi-successful. Too many dropouts and incessant buffering, especially with MQA software rendering through a Meridian Explorer2 unit. YMMV. The BlueSound unit has totally eliminated that problem.

The other source is a Sony UHPH1 DVD/CD/SACD Player.  A What HiFi? 2016 ~ 5 Star Award Winner – At a modest cost, Sony prioritized sound fidelity. 

Sony UHPH1 Premium Audio and Video Player

Both units feed into a Rega Brio Integrated Amplifier that is all about tonality


What HiFi? 2017 ~ 5 Star Award WinnerHiFi Editor’s Choiceear: best buy 

Stereophile: The Rega Brio didn’t wow me, but it charmed and made musical love to me, album after album. A brilliant music maker with big tone, big beat, and big ambitions. It lets me… simply be one with my music. 

The Rega Brio then sends the signal out to a pair of… 

Wharfedale 80th Anniversary Denton Bookshelf Speakers  – FR of 44Hz – 24kHz (±3dB 


These are immensely likable. Their relaxed yet engaging sound has a lot of appeal.” 

Private review:For the price, they are indeed an absolute steal. I just came from a session at a friend’s house and we compared them against a pair of Spendor S3/5 monitors and Harbeth Monitor 30s and they held their own and then some. Midrange was very close in quality and refinement to the Monitor 30s.

Compared to the Dentons, the Spendors had a little more finesse in the tweeter section and slightly better bass definition, though not the bass extension or weight of the Wharfedales. The Dentons put out a shocking amount of bass for their size. The Spendors had subtle grain and a plastic quality to the midrange whereas the Wharfedales were rich, alluring, full, and buttery smooth by comparison. For a pair of speakers known for their midrange such as the Spendor S3/5 to be clearly bettered in that department by a $500* pair of Wharfedales is some high praise for the Dentons. The Harbeths added just a bit more refinement, smoothness and control, had fuller bass, and generally sounded bigger and more sophisticated, which you would expect at six times the price. But none of these differences were dramatic. All three pairs of speakers sounded more similar than they did different. In terms of tonal and high frequency balance, all 3 speakers were remarkably similar and none were brighter or more top heavy than the other. All are very tastefully voiced and a joy to listen to… I think the title “poor man’s Harbeths” is most appropriate for the Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers.” *Original MSRP $799.00


The bottom octaves are handled by a Quad LF-66 subwoofer. DUAL side-firing 6.5 inch Tri-Laminate cones, Sealed Enclosure, 200W RMS / 400W Peak, 110db peak. Quad LF-66

There’s a solidity and control to bass notes that makes transient effects sound tight, nimble and realistic.” 

Here, I’m not looking for subterranean bass. Rather, I wanted to get in-room response down into the low 30s. Satisfactorily reproducing low bass notes from an acoustic Double Bass String Instrument was the goal. The Quad gives me the “solidity and control to bass notes that makes transient effects sound tight, nimble and realistic.”


I didn’t stop there however as IMO, to get the best out of equipment requires accessories that match up well with the quality of the gear being used.

I’m using two RCA interconnects: the Node 2 connects to the Brio with a Decware Silver Reference Interconnect Cable; “A Pure UN-insulated SILVER Ribbon with an organic beeswax core protected inside a polyefelin air jacket and terminated with top quality silver connectors.”

The Sony SACD player is connected to the Rega Brio Amp with a Wireworld Solstice 7 RCA Interconnect Cable.

I’ve then connected the Brio to the Denton bookshelves with Duelund Wire 16awg (DCA16GA) Tin Plated Hook-up Wire

Dueland clearly recognizes exceptional fidelity, as they are widely acknowledged to make the very best capacitors.  “DCA16GA – A wire originally born of the desire to improve upon legendary vintage cabling. Tinned copper multi-strand wire in a cotton and oil dielectricum – among enthusiasts recognized as the go to wire for “REAL” sound.”  This post prompted me to try them as speaker wire. (note: I’m very happy with them)

Note: My parents are in their 90s and today’s ruthless neutrality just doesn’t fit their perception of how music ‘should’ sound. So I went for a little bit of “vintage sound” here, i.e. modern clarity with just a bit of romantic coloration. 

But wait! There’s more…  it has to look appealing to non-audiophiles, with every part contributing to the fidelity by eliminating sound muddying vibrations.

Here’s a ‘drawing’ of the system and the custom equipment rack and speaker supports I’ve created placed upon their Credenza. 


The equipment rack’s configuration:

First; fishing rod handle cork ‘sandwiches’ ($11.40 for 12) 

Reverse Stacked Burl Cork Rings

The Rega integrated amp gets the first set of rings, adding a bit more height for air flow and vibratory isolation from the credenza.

Over the amp is placed a metal stand, which supports the SACD player and Streamer. Heat rising from the amp exits through the stand’s holes preventing the amp from overheating. 

metal stand
Sturdy, Stable Black Metal

On top of the metal rack, at each corner is placed one of H.A.L.’s Soft Fat Dots


with a ½” thick solid bamboo platform resting atop the Fat Dots. The ‘Fat Dots’ raise the bamboo board off the metal platform allowing the amp’s heat to continue to dissipate, while also keeping the heat off of the SACD player. They also fulfill their intended use; absorbing micro-vibrations transmitted through the bamboo platform. The Sony SACD player is supported on top of the bamboo platform with more of H.A.L.’s Soft Fat Dots, which absorb micro-vibrations from the Sony player. Finally, more H.A.L.’s Soft Fat Dots support another bamboo platform on top of the SACD player. On that platform are set H.A.L.’s ‘Baby Bootie’ feet upon which rests the Bluesound Streamer. Again, the purpose is to absorb any micro-vibrations from the gear.

This arrangement results in a superbly isolated, supported arrangement that absorbs micro-vibrations from the equipment and, does so in a cost-effective manner. Since either the Sony or the Bluesound is turned off when the other is being used and they are isolated from each other with the platforms and absorbent dots/feet… no additional supports are needed to isolate them from each other. That completes the arrangement of equipment on the rack. Simple, clean, inexpensive and most of all, effective.

The Denton Bookshelf Speaker ‘stands’ are next… as the speakers needed to be raised to ear level and isolated from the credenza.

Order of arrangement: Speaker -> three solid brass points -> Mapleshade 2” thick air-dried Maple platform (cut in half & finished) -> sits on four Reverse Stacked Burl Cork Rings (per spkr) which in turn rest upon four H.A.L. Big Fat Dots per speaker. 

So… attached to the bottom of the speakers are three solid brass points using Scotch Removable Poster Tape. The brass feet drain vibrations from the speakers down into the Mapleshade 2” thick platforms, that sit upon four Reverse Stacked Burl Cork Rings, which in turn rest upon four of HAL.’s Big Fat Dots. The Fat Dots absorb vibrations drained into the maple board. The dots “firm yet loosely cross-linked material is formulated specifically for blocking mechanical soundwave energies. Their wide footprint gets a good grip and provides excellent lateral stability. Each Fat Dot supports and isolates from five to more than 200 pounds* (90kg).” *dependent upon thickness & size…

Of course this system is far more expensive than the Sharp it replaced but as audiophile systems go… it was IMO, a fairly modest outlay for this level of fidelity. Especially as I got most of the (all new) gear at significantly reduced prices from authorized dealers 😉 Demonstrating that those of us on a limited budget can build up a fine system that provides more than acceptable fidelity.

This arrangement gives me a modernized “vintage” sound. It has superb tonality and fine low-level resolution with a ‘rounded palpability’ to the sound. It provides clean reproduction of micro and macro dynamics. Again, the soundstage is admittedly constrained by the nearfield setup and listening positions. But as I previously mentioned that’s not a concern for my non-audiophile parents, who otherwise are thrilled with the fidelity. When all is said and done, that’s really all that matters. 


Equipment: MSRP: $3,400.00 – actual cost: $2,400.00

Accessories: approx. $500.00 


The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

         Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Fishing Yampa River State Park.CO

Bucket List of Rivers to Fish:

Umpqua River, OR 
Umpqua falls
Umpqua Falls, OR
Williamson River, OR1
Williamson River, OR
Williamson River, OR
Williamson River, OR
wood river - or
Wood River, OR
Fly fishing on the Fall River. Oregon
Fly Fishing on the Fall River, OR – √
Fall River, OR – √

deschutes_river_at_sunriverDeschutes River, Oregon  – √ 

metolius-river-wizard-falls-bridge-5-9-2011-25-copyMetolius River, Oregon – √ 

King's River_CAKing’s River, King’s Canyon, California – √  

Duke's Creek_GADuke’s Creek, Georgia – √ 

armstrong spring creek, MTArmstrong Spring Creek. MT  

Green River_Utah  Green River, Utah 

Henry's fork, IDHenry’s Fork, ID

San Juan River, NMSan Juan River, NM 

Bucket List of Lakes to Fish: 

Hosmer lake-mt-bachelor_newHosmer Lake, Oregon ~ Brook Trout and Landlocked Atlantic Salmon! 

Craine Prairie_ORCrane Prairie Lake/Reservoir, Oregon

Lake_Istokpoga_FLLake Istokpoga, Florida ~ Big Bass & Good-eating Crappie