Audio Gear Setup

According to Spotify, I listened to a fairly sizeable amount of music last year. To me, just under 80,000 hours seemed like a reasonable length of time over the course of a year, but apparently it’s well above the average, at least within my friends.

Taste in music is of course an entirely different matter, as is diversity of genres, but I won’t go into that here [1]. What I will talk about is how I listen to music, and with what.

M-Audio BX5 D2 speakers

I almost always have some kind of music playing while I’m at my computer, so I deemed it a reasonable investment to buy some nice quality speakers. Well technically, they’re studio monitors, but only proper audiophiles call them that, so I will therefore continue to refer to them as speakers.

M-Audio BX5 D2 speakers

These things are capable of spitting out audio at very high volumes, and without distortion. I previously lived in student accommodation, where it was acceptable to be playing music at a volume suited to a metal gig. I now live in a building where real people live, so the volume dial rarely reaches past 9 o’clock. Still, it is nice to know I have the ability to play music that loudly.

Each speaker is totally independent of the other. This does mean that they both need their own power supply, but it also removes the need to have any wires trailing between the two, like you might get in traditional desktop speakers – very pleasing when it comes to cable management.

Another nice feature of these speakers is that they accept balanced input. I’ll come onto this again in a moment.

I originally bought the pair brand new, I think probably in 2014, for £120. You can now buy (the replacement of) their replacement for £200 from Amazon. It may also be worth a look on eBay.

Lexicon Alpha audio interface

This box of tricks plugs into a computer via USB and handles all the digital-to-analog conversion. But why is there any need for this if my laptop already has a 3.5mm jack output?

If you’ve ever tried plugging your laptop or phone into some speakers and turning the volume up really high, you might have noticed that the speakers start hissing a bit. This is the result of electromagnetic interference, or noise.

Lexicon Alpha audio interface

What this audio interface enables is the ability to connect the analog part of the output (the part susceptible to noise) with balanced cables. Now I’m no audio engineer, nor a physicist, so I won’t pretend to know how it actually works, but by sending two signals, interference is greatly reduced [Wikipedia]. This means, when I turn up my speakers really loud, there is no hiss!

I’m also a guitar player, and with this audio interface I can use my laptop and speakers as an amp and effects rig. Additionally, I can record my playing if I so wish. I’ll let you know when the album comes out.

You can pick up the Lexicon Alpha on Amazon for £44.

Sony MDR-1000X headphones

Out in the countryside it’s very pleasant just listening to the sounds of nature – birds singing and trees rustling. But I live in Birmingham right now, and we don’t have any nature. It’s just cars and construction work, not quite so nice.

Therefore, I much prefer to listen to more music when I’m out and about. These headphones are the most recent acquisition on this list, having been purchased less than a month ago. I was previously using the Urbanears Plattan ADV Wireless headphones, and wow what an upgrade the Sony’s are!

Sony MDR-1000X headphones

The noise cancelling feature is quite simply fantastic – these are the first headphones I’ve owned which offer noise cancelling, and it does a really incredible job at blocking out the world. Bizarrely, the audio quality seems to drop off quite considerably when noise cancelling is turned off, so I’ve been keeping it on almost always. It does sometimes feel a little bit dangerous, especially when crossing busy roads.

With my previous headphones, I would play music loudly in order to drown out the sound of the city. This was probably not good for my hearing. I already acknowledge that going to many live music shows has possibly damaged my ears, and that I really should use earplugs from now on. What noise cancelling headphones offer here is that I can actually play my music fairly quietly – no doubt this is kinder to my eardrums.

Brand new, they’re £220 on Amazon, but I nabbed my pair for significantly cheaper from a friend, whom I can only assume stole them off the back of a truck. Sony have since released a new model which appears to be identical in every way, apart from the fact that they now cost over £300 and you can now control them with an app. Wonderful.

1. Here’s my top 100 songs from last year if you are interested.


Thank you so much for reading! As you may have noticed, this blog is totally bare, save for this post. I’m hoping do some more writing and keep it up for at least a while, so please check back soon – you can expect more gear reviews, technical posts, tutorials, and rants. I’ll likely put a link on Twitter when I publish more content.

I don’t have any way of knowing if anybody is reading this nonsense apart from through people telling me, so if you enjoyed it please let me know. Thanks again.