The first thing I do when narrowing down what high end audio gear warrants an “audition” is look at “nude pics”. By nude I mean with the case off so all the internal circuitry can be seen. High end analog audio gear is by it’s very nature, comprised of very few but very high end discreet components. Low end audio gear is typically just the opposite, with overcrowded circuit boards crammed full of tone-sucking, cheap integrated circuits (ICs), undersized transformers, and other cost saving measures.
Of course, “you get what you pay for” is a saying that comes to mind, but with modern high end audio gear it can be a confusing mix. Although there is (thankfully) a trend back to the “simpler is better” design precepts of vintage gear from the “golden age”, some companies still can’t resist adding a little “flash” and a lot of convenience by adding remote controls, which are perilous additions to any purely analog signal path (Why audiophiles don’t get to have a remote control…). So an easy way to shop for audio gear when it’s impractical or even impossible to give it a proper listen is to look at nude pics. Such was the case when I was looking to upgrade my DAC and stumbled upon the Marantz DSD DAC, which I couldn’t be happier with.
Even with digital sources, such as a high-def music server, you will want to maintain the integrity of the analog signal path once the best DAC chosen for the job has made the conversion from digital to analog, and nude pics can go a long way in telling the story prior to listening tests. One look inside the vintage and collectable Threshold FET-9 pictured above illustrates this point perfectly. Nothing but the best components very carefully and comfortable laid out in order to implement the circuit topology of the original design objectives. Threshold even went so far as to put the power supply in a separate chassis in order to further isolate the potential interference from the power transformer.