Portable audio quality since the 80s.

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Photo By Binarysequence (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Gear centered audiophiles rave about portable audio players all the time, most follow reviews sites in the quest for the audio quality grail. Often young enthusiasts search for audio quality like its some illusive thing that only the newest most expensive players will deliver, but sound quality is not a new thing.
In-fact brands marketed portable audio quality since the start of the 80s.

Sony was the first one with the TPS-L2 Walkman at the beginning of the 80s, the now iconic blue and silver metal cased Walkman was the first of many in the successful line of cassette players the Japanese brand would ship around the world.
I never had the chance to hear the TPS-L2 player but would own a WM-FX421 (1998)  and have access to a WM-EX622 (1995) a friend had.
Both cassette players had good quality if my memory serves me right.
Later I would have a Discman D-171 (1995?) and a MZ-R35 MiniDisc Walkman (1998) in both cases the audio quality was on par with the digital audio players sold at stores these days.
In 2001 I would have access to a friends Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox also known in Europe as the Creative Digital Audio Player an amazing MP3 player at the time and also during that year I would hear a Apple Ipod for the first time.
Many other portable players I had the chance to hear are not listed, mostly because I don’t remember the models or because they are rather new like the Sony Playstation Portable Slim, Philips Opus 16Gb and Creative Zen Stone I own.

Sure I can’t confirm objectively my claims but all of these players had the sound quality you can find almost 15 years later in a typical off the shelf DAP or cellphone.
Quality did improve in the high-end gear that is now capable of driving very high impedance headphones at ease. Also High-resolution music is now the new trend because sound quality sells even if sometimes you might not actually hear it without very good headphones or a little help from an old musician.
The main difference to the gear of the old days is in the size of the tech, my MZ-R35 played a physical medium making it a fairly complex mechanical DAP.
Today’s tech in comparison is cheaper, thinner and physical medium free.
With solid state cards reaching hundreds of GBs in size, audiophiles are now free to take their full collections on the go without the need for carrying CD cases but with all the bits and bytes intact.

More than 3 decades ago Sony gave the masses Hi-Fi sound in a way the world never seen before, later Apple would revolutionize the way people interacted with their players and music collections and now the omnipresent smartphones are the new DAPs of the masses, the standalone DAP is now a niche product made for the ones who are still on the quest for the holly grail of portable audio.
Quality is now the rule not the exception.

Audio Enthusiasts – Rob Leroy – RF engineer.

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Rob Leroy
is a engineer by trade, this means he has a professional insight about audio that only professionals have and its something that shows in his own writings.
I really respect his words so this interview was a true joy to make.
Btw Rob your Pioneer gear is a beauty, they don’t make them like that anymore.

1. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure.  I grew up in New England and lived there until about ten years ago. I now live here in Ohio with my wife, Ann. I’m a dad and granddad. My day job is in RF engineering. My kids think I should retire to devote full time to writing and photography which I enjoy. But my first passion has always been audio.

2. What music do you enjoy and why?
I listen to classical and jazz primarily because it is the music I grew up with. These recordings tend to be done with more care to detail and are less often overproduced. I love rock and folk, too, but that is a different experience for me. There is nothing wrong with cranking it up to 11 and losing yourself in the fury.

3. Why are you enthusiastic about audio?
It’s all my dad’s fault. I grew up surrounded by my dad’s hi-fi gear back in the 1950’s. His day job was to produce musical programs for figure skaters and way back then, he had to pretty much build his audio system from scratch. As a young lad, I was fascinated by the music and the sound and the science. Ever since then, listening to well-recorded and reproduced music has been a transcendent experience for me.

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of new audio technologies and products. Some of these are truly revolutionary. But others are nothing less than fraudulent. It offends me to see these purveyors of audio snake oil preying on the (many) inexperienced newcomers to the hobby. Stop talking about sound as if it were wine.

4. What audio gear do you use?
Back in New England I used to have my own home studio devoted to recording and producing for local talent before it became so simple for artists to do all that for themselves. But frankly I did not listen to music for the sheer joy that I do now. I have always been partial to vintage gear because manufacturers used to put their value into performance instead of cosmetics. My listening room presently consists of vintage Pioneer gear (top to bottom) SX-1280 receiver / RT-707 open reel deck / PL-518 turntable with an Audio-Technica AT120E cartridge / CT-F 1000 cassette deck.

For speakers (not shown),a double pair of “New” advents.

OK. OK. I also do have a Sony CD player. Ugh.

5. What would be your perfect audio gear setup?
It’s not so much about the setup. Linearity and dynamic range electronics are abundant nowadays and can be measured objectively. The real issues are source material, transducers, and acoustics in the listening environment. Even if cost were no object I would not waste good money on “warm tube sound” or goofy 10K$ turntables or speakers that look like a brass band. The laws of acoustics (and psychoacoustics) are what they are. Get used to it.

Give me two high quality front channels, and a  simple “A minus B” ambience recovery channel above and to the sides. Done. The whole system (turntable / cartridge / amplification / speakers / ) should not set you back more than $2500. The listening room acoustics are another matter.

6. What is your favorite format for audio and why?
This is a trick question Raphael! There is a place and time for them all. I have a ton of (mediocre) MP3 files that I love to listen to around the house when I am cooking a fabulous dish for my lovely wife. I also have a ton of lossless digital files that I enjoy usually with headphones late in the evening. But when I really want the whole enchilada I put on vinyl and let the Advents sing. Goosebumps.

7. Would you like to share some photos of your audio gear?
FYI / if you would like more sage audio abuse advice like the above interview, feel free to visit my tumblr audio blog.

Interview conducted 21/06/2014

The concept behind Audio Enthusiasts was inspired from the amazing My Linux Rig. If you want to get interviewed drop me a line on my Tumblr, or via Twitter.