I have to imagine that, as an elder Millennial, I’m on the young end of the audiophile spectrum. So my system is more a “work in progress” than an “endgame.” It wasn’t until late 2021, when I moved with my pregnant wife and our dog to the Philadelphia suburbs, that I even had a dedicated listening room to call my own. Such is life. And anyway, hi-fi should complement our lives, not the other way around. While my system gives up a fair bit on the aesthetic front compared to what I could own, it works exactly the way I want it to and scores highly in the transparency and neutrality columns. These aspects are what matter most to me, and frankly, I’m pretty pleased with my setup—even if it’s not as “Ultra” as those of some of my SoundStage! colleagues. Click the links below to read about each component in my system to find out why I selected it.
Loudspeakers: KEF Reference 3.
Integrated amplifier-DAC: Hegel Music Systems H590.
Music server: Intel NUC5i5RYK.
Loudspeaker cables: Siltech Classic Legend 680L.
USB link: Siltech Classic Legend 380D.
Power cord: Siltech Classic Legend 680P.
Equipment rack: What We Make Stoic Wood Media Console.
Room treatments: Vicoustic Vixagon VMT Mini Acoustic Panels.
My system’s sound
One thing I cherish about my system is that it’s never dull to listen to. Some folks enjoy warm tonality; others like a rolled-off top end. Not this guy. When I sit down in front of my rig, I want to hear vocals that pop, dynamics by the bucketful, and as much transparency applied to the source material as humanly possible. And fortunately, I get just that on my current system. On Rammstein’s “Engel,” the second track on the legendary German band’s breakout second album, guest vocalist Christiane Hebold’s chorus is gorgeously clear and concise, yet never etched. The flagship Hegel integrated amp’s generous power—301Wpc into 8 ohms!—allows me to positively crank my KEF Reference 3s without fear of reprisal and revel in the late-’90s synths, raucous guitar work, and lead singer Till Lindemann’s guttural vocals. Dynamics? Check.
All that brawn would be for naught if my system couldn’t handle the delicate stuff, and to showcase that, I turn to Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi—The Four Seasons. “Winter 1” is a mildly dissonant reimagining of one of Antonio Vivaldi’s most popular pieces, and André de Ridder’s violin is positively delicious through my KEF Reference 3s. On a macro level, gobs of spatial information are evident and the KEFs cast a soundstage that is very wide, and very, very deep. Lean into the performance and you can focus on more micro matters, such as the texture of de Ridder’s bow and the quivering sweetness he’s able to wring from his instrument. There’s no artifice or tonal coloration on display, just a clear, organic perspective with a dash of forward push and alacrity to keep proceedings on the spicy side of neutral.
Bass? You bet. I listen to a lot of electronic music, so I value bass control as much as I do bass extension, and both are prerequisites for properly enjoying the type of Eurotrash that gets my blood pumping. The opening 20 seconds of “Pro Victoria,” from German industrial group VNV Nation’s Of Faith, Power, and Glory, features a couple of thunderous drum volleys that beg to be played loud. It’s a test of both outright power—something the KEFs handle effortlessly, even at high volume—and grip, which my Hegel H590 ensures is ever-present.
My system isn’t state of the art. None of it is built to a heroic standard from billet aluminum or some exotic wood veneer. Nor does it feature the design flourishes one would expect of five-figure components. For me, the pleasure is in the listening, and I am secure in knowing that while there may be objectively better gear out there, this system with all its synergies and peccadilloes entertains me every time I sit down to listen to it. A great many audiophiles never reach that destination, so for that, I count myself fortunate.
. . . Hans Wetzel