Almost two years ago now I was pining (or whining) over what to do about my old Onkyo audio setup now that it had been functionally replaced by my iOS devices and a set of headphones. As predicted in that post, I’ve spent much of my time since then simply listening to music in my headphones and letting the receiver sit, collecting dust.
That is, until recently. A month or so ago there was a convergence of factors that led to my reapproaching this issue.
The first was the death of my Apple Thunderbolt Monitor. This is a 27” monitor that was connected to a Mac Mini that is used for work. I went to fire up that device one day and it just did... nothing. Which is to say that while the Mac Mini was running fine, the thunderbolt monitor resolutely refused to respond.
I have backup systems for this - I can (and usually do) work on the Mini thru my iPad using Screens. This works a treat, and means that I’m not chained to a desk while doing the work. But the death of that monitor changed the landscape - somewhat literally - in my office.
It’s large, if elegant device, that monitor, and it occupied a lot of the acreage on the credenza upon which it sat. After I verified that it wasn’t going to mystically rise from the dead I took it off the credenza. And after a little while I realized that this provided open space.
Open space that could be occupied by something else. Like perhaps speakers...
I dug them out of the spare room and brought them in to the office. My immediate first impression was primarily centered around their size. These are Advent Baby II’s, and they are - or were - considered bookshelf speakers. This, I suppose, in contrast with the taller floor speakers that used to be a common part of sound systems (I have a pair Yamahas that meet this description stored away in a closet). But bookshelf or no, they seem big.
They are much larger than the types of speakers we commonly see nowadays. Whether attached to a computer, or surround sound system, or the common varieties of Bluetooth units out there, the general presentation of speakers is now typically much smaller. Part of this, I suppose, is a conceptual difference about how one will relate to these items. Back in the day, your stereo system - and particularly the speakers - were a part of the decor, a thing to be proudly displayed. While there are exceptions, the rule for the current era seems to be that a speaker is there to be heard but not seen.
To make this work I dragged an Apple Airport Express back into service. For those who are unfamiliar, the Apple Airport Express is from the era when Apple made WiFi routers. The Airport name reflected the full-size home routers, while the Express was conceived more or less as a WiFi network extender. The other feature that differentiated it from the larger model is that it has an analogue audio output that allowed you to hook up to audio systems like my Onkyo receiver. An additional bonus is that the Express connects to devices over WiFi, so you don’t have the issues that can come with Bluetooth.
I had considered using an older Apple TV (the original hockey-puck size design), but that model only has digital audio out, which requires an adapter to interface with the analogue inputs on the Onkyo. I _do_ actually have an adapter for this purpose - occasionally I’ll find myself ordering aspirational devices like that on Amazon - but the adapter requires its own power source (taking an outlet space up and so on). Given all of that, I opted for the simpler approach of the Airport Express - and besides, it was otherwise unused, just occupying space in my drawer-o-technology.
My Airport Express is a post-2012 model, which looks for all the world like a white Apple TV. It’s a small, low-profile device that sits quite nicely and unobtrusively on top of the receiver.
Once the speakers were plugged in and the Airport Express hooked up to the network and jacked into the back of the Onkyo (I connected it to the CD inputs - odds are against my ever having a free-standing CD player needing that spot in the future) it was just a matter of connecting my iPad to the Airport Express to get the music playing.
And this revealed the problem.
No - not any problem with how it hooked up. The equipment all works perfectly. Despite the fact that all three components - Airport Express, Onkyo receiver, and the Baby Advents - are old, and respectively more so as you move down that list - it all just works as designed. I first got the Advents when I was an undergrad, buying them used from another student who was looking for some cash. I was, I think, a sophomore when that purchased occurred, making them somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 years old. I’ll admit that I did have them refurbished several years ago by the folks at Sounds Classic in Rockford, but that was also, you know, several years ago.
The problem, such as it is, is that they sound great.
I mean really good. Rich, deep bass, a warm, pleasant midrange, and yet able to play distinct highs without being shrill. This setup, frankly, puts all of the modern audio equipment I own to shame.
Back when I first wrote about the idea of putting this back into service I mostly figured that all of the effort would be pointless because it really was better to use my headphones:
And yet, here I am, myself, listening to my music on a set of Bluedio Hurricane headphones that I purchased for less than $30 on Amazon, when I should be setting up that audio system and listening to it that way.
I had not considered, either then or now, the possibility that it would make my other audio equipment feel, well, less adequate (I’ll stop shy of saying inadequate here).
This doesn’t change the fact that most of the time when I am listening to music I am not sitting in my office. But it does mean that now, occasionally, when I’m working I can have very high quality - one might even say high fidelity - musical accompaniment. And while it’s low on convenience, listening to music on this system is akin to having an occasional glass of a fine, dry red wine. It’s something that you should treat yourself on occasion if you can.