Why it “Feels so Good” to play along with a dynamic HiFi sound system.
At devAAudio, I help people find their audio nirvana by fitting them with a system that caters to their listening environment, style, budget, and aesthetic preferences. To that end, I’m fortunate to have on-hand, turn-key sound systems that range anywhere from $6,000 to over $310,000. We recognize that not everyone’s nirvana looks the same and truly believe that happiness can be found at any one of those price points.
Some people have unique needs, and I happen to be one of them. I’m with devAAudio by day, but am with my large Kansas City show band, Four Chickens and a Coke, by night. We play R & B, Funk, Swing, Blues, Power Horn Classic Rock, and yes, of COURSE, Johnny Cash…. a real train-wreck of a band. Together, my band and I have fowled up the Kansas City music scene for 24 years. Performing live as a trumpeter has its challenges-- there are two electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, five horn players, and a drummer all competing for “air space” on the same stage. A 12 piece band… That’s quite a lot of noise!
I have a conundrum: As a trumpeter, I must practice, buuut I really don’t like practicing. Allen Iverson and I have the same view on practice (Here’s a link for the reference… watch for a good laugh). Practice for me is more like weightlifting: I must push myself to the same INTENSITY as I do on-stage in order to “maintain” my chops. It’s hard to do that whilst sitting on the couch with a dog snuggled next to me.
While an audiophile may describe the way I play trumpet as “dynamic,” I would describe it as “LOUD.” Intensity and “gig like” conditions are directly proportional in my mind-- As the decibel level increases, the “gig like” feel increases with it. I did a little test with a decibel meter the other day. When I am “hitting it hard” on my trumpet, the meter hits around 109 decibels, which is about as loud as a chain saw or an angle-grinder on steel for reference. Some may consider this “Highly Hazardous,” yet our live band stage-volume soars higher than that at times. When I practice, I need to feel compelled to play at that level (sometimes). Refer back to the weight lifting analogy: reps, increase the intensity, repeat. There are 109 decibels blaring 1-foot away from my eardrums, and yet I must “push” to surpass the stage noise. While I don’t exactly know what Johnny Cash was singing about, when I force my lips to vibrate 1,000 times per second, I can tell you that my face feels like a “Ring of Fire.”
Equipment used in this essay, and accompanying video demonstration:
A B.A.C. “New York” Model. Manufactured by B.A.C. Instruments, “Best American Craftsman”, right here in Kansas City. Designed and manufactured by Michael T. Corrigan. Trumpet on loan from the Evan West collection.
Brian West, Trumpeter.
devAAudio’s Reference sound system (See details below).
At this point in the essay, you may be asking yourself how my story relates to sound systems. At home, I have a decent system, but I’m going to protect the names of the innocent manufacturers who made the stuff I bought years ago. My concern with my system is not that it doesn’t get loud enough, rather, it gets exhausting to listen to. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife! I practice in part to exhaust my diaphragm and trumpet playing parts but NOT to exhaust my ears. This ear fatigue plays a major role in my reluctance to practice.
When I practice my trumpet through a sound system at devAAudio, however, my ears thank me. I WILL say the names of the manufacturers in this case, since it actively solves a problem unique to me and helps me reach my Audio Nirvana.
devAAudio’s Reference Sound System
Aurender N30 SA Server Streamer (8 terabyte)
Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3
Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB (optional)
Dan D’agostino Momentum HD Preamp
Dan D’agostino Momentum M400 Amps
Wilson Audio AlexxV Speakers
Shunyata Everest Power Distributor
Shunyata Sigma & Omega Cables
Do I listen to the Alexx V twins screaming at me at 109 decibels when I practice? No, and for two reasons: 1) The manager of our neighboring business and I have established that 92 decibels or greater shakes their ceiling tiles. 2) I don’t NEED to, because the Alexx Vs are able to execute a “full sized” sound image, even at a volume more akin to the average person’s decibel preference. Additionally, the Alexx Vs allow me to hear the bass line, which helps me when I’m improvising. When I can feel that bass, my horn naturally plays the tones that resonate best in my hands. Bob Ross calls this phenomenon “Happy Accidents,” but with the Alexx Vs, my music doesn’t sound better by accident.
I can listen to our reference system at devAAudio at moderate levels ALL DAY and not be fatigued. I can listen at higher volumes and not be fatigued. I can listen at levels that by definition cause hearing damage (109 db) and NOT be ear fatigued (I don’t know how happy my neighbors would be about that, though).
It feels so good to practice with the system that we have. Here is a bit of audio evidence of what a 1.5 minutes of a trumpet “workout” session with Chuck Mangione is like (see link below). It only took me 7 tries to get it in 1 take! While the inbound recorded music is played at a moderate 90 decibels, it compels me to DRIVE my horn and to keep up with the best.
Vid link: https://youtu.be/bIiCPW5MmrY
DISCLAIMER: if you click the link to this short session, you will hear some “splatted” and missed notes, along with some intonation problems around high C and D. It’s not the B.A.C. Horn I’m playing, and it’s not the sound system….I’m pretty sure Chuck Mangione was making all the mistakes. That’s why they call it practice!
P.S. Warning to any Horn Players. Don’t try to get into a “phrase and note holding” contest with Mr. Chuck Mangione. His music isn’t particularly fast, crazy high, or virtuosic. But….I double-dog dare you to play along and breathe only when he does. You’ll know why I about just about pass out when playing these phrases….(and face away from the camera). I’m sure I look like a raspberry ready to pop.