Maybe, some time ago, I would have cared what others thought about my system, but after hearing a lot of other stereo systems, including some big dollar ones, those days are long gone. As long as I’ve lived in Asheville, I’ve only heard one single criticism of the sound of my stereo and my opinion of this is its born more more out personal feelings, than sound quality. As long as I want to listen, which I do every day, I’m happy!
Listening to critics
We’re all a bit worried about being criticized.
What if those we respect don’t agree with us or have differing opinions?
What would happen if you played for someone your favorite track on your perfect setup and they were unimpressed? Or worse, pointed out problems?
We all love it when our friends and family swoon over what’s important to us.
And we all know and tell ourselves that at the end of the day it is us that we’re working to please. That the opinions of others don’t really have an impact on our decisions.
But we know that’s not true. Not really.
It’s kind of lonely being the only person that agrees with you.
Perhaps another way to think about the critics is to flip the whole idea on its head. That it is indeed we that we’re working to please first and, if we’re happy with the results, maybe our critics are focused on something different than we are. For example, I might be focused on the ecstasy of the high frequencies while another hones in on a small problem in the bass. They aren’t focused on what you are.
The latest craze in the art of having fun turns out to be called augmented reality. A contraption is placed over one’s head that covers the eyes and (sometimes) the ears in an effort to immerse the person in another place and time.
Gamers love the system.
When I think about it, our stereo systems are an audio version of augmented reality.
We work hard in both recording and playback to help us travel to a different place in time and space to experience what seems like a live musical event.
At the press of the play button, we can find ourselves immersed in the moment.
Sharing emotions with musicians.
The better our systems the greater the illusion.
Matching components together
One of the constant challenges we audiophiles face is the matching of stereo components.
Pairing together two products to make musical magic.
We can rely upon a previous matching effort like that of the manufacturer. (An all PS system, for example, is a known quantity)
We can also rely upon the equipment matching suggestions of reviewers and their systems.
Or, we can boldly go forward and trust ourselves to make great matches.
However we get to the point of pairing together products to make the final output our stereo systems are capable of, the goal is always the same.
Turn the lights low, press play, close your eyes, and connect yourself with the music.
I really dislike labels as they apply to people. I have spent much of my adult life working hard at removing them from my lexicon.
Labels encourage us to place complex people in simplistic organized little boxes.
That hardly allows for diversity or nuance.
Yet, today’s crowd seems ever more eager to assign labels to people in the same way we might catalog sweaters or golf clubs.
One consistent label thrown at our community is that of the HiFi snob. A person who believes that their tastes in music and its reproduction in the home are vastly superior to those of other people.
What is troubling about that definition narrows down to a single word. Taste.
Taste infers superiority.
How would you or anyone else feel if another claimed superiority?
What we can safely say without issue is that our stereo system’s performance vastly outperforms that of the average person’s home audio setup.
It’s why anyone can walk into the room of a highly resolving high-end audio setup and immediately hear that which they are unable to experience in their own home.
It’s why the label golden-eared audiophile is disingenuous.
Our carefully crafted systems are the star performers.
We’re just along for the ride.
Theory vs. execution
It’s nice to build stereo systems and equipment with hand-wave theories of the perfect this and that but turning that hand wave into something of value is where reality sets in.
Take for example loudspeakers. I constantly get notes about why there should be no such thing as the need to voice a loudspeaker because they should all be perfectly flat. A fine hand-wave theory that’s not technically possible.
Or, another example is a Power Plant. In theory, one could just buy an off-the-shelf double conversion UPS and power their system with that. It’s a LOT cheaper than a power plant and, in theory, it’s the same process of AC power regeneration.
But then comes the execution of that theory. An off-the-shelf UPS uses a class D amplifier at its output. It has a tiny power supply. It has a low-resolution sinewave generator. Its designers did everything they could to cut every unnecessary penny out of the design.
And, if you try it on your equipment you’ll quickly discover you would be better off without it. That straight-out-of-the-wall power is better sounding.
That same theory of power regeneration executed properly with a class AB power amplifier, low impedance output, lowest distortion sinewave, and biggest power supply possible have exactly the opposite results. It can turn your system into a miracle of sound.
The first example of execution was built with a goal of minimal performance at the lowest cost, while the latter was designed for the highest performance at whatever it takes to get there. Same theory, different execution.
Hand wave design vs. the hard work of building something of value.
The golden ear myth
I wonder about the origin of the audiophile myth of golden ears.
In my experience, the differences we hear, the quality of the music played on our stereo systems are immediately obvious to any and all newcomers. I have never had anyone tell me they couldn’t hear “the difference” we bring to the table.
So why are we labeled golden eared? What is it that makes us appear to have special powers of audio observation?
Indeed, I have been with people I would consider as having golden ears. Listeners so astute at their craft they can pinpoint problems and point to probable causes.
But do most audiophiles have greater sonic acuity than your average consumer of audio?
I think not. I believe what the difference is that audiophiles have been exposed to better sound and know the difference between the drek foisted off on consumers vs. what good sound can offer.
We have been exposed to what music can sound like when properly reproduced.
That’s a golden experience.
Dealing with the ordinary
Newspapers and media don’t report what’s ordinary and every day. That’s not news!
And neither do the audio reviewers. They want to bring you the latest, greatest, and whatever it is that will attract your attention.
Ordinary does not attract our attention.
Yet, it is the ordinary that makes up the majority of our lives. The ordinary everyday music, friendship, smiles, and great sound on our stereo systems.
Sometimes I sit in Music Room Two and just smile. It works.
Music sounds great.
Life is good.
I have my health.
I have you.
The ordinary can be pretty newsworthy when you think about it.
When do we make the decision to compromise? To choose convenience over quality of experience.
It is far more convenient to stream music than play it from a CD disc. And yet, discs of the exact same music still outperform by a noticeable degree music streamed by even the best stereo systems.
Being basically lazy I tend to lean hard in the direction of streaming. Certainly, I can hear and very much appreciate the differences between the physical copy and the streamed version. But that said, the convenience of streaming is so enticing…
It’s a tough choice knowing where to draw the line.
Where is that line for you?
There are ghosts in our stereo systems. Phantoms of sound that do not physically exist in the real world.
We call them the center channel.
Think of how much time and effort we put into getting this phantom center channel to sound real.
For most people, the center channel is number one in importance. We typically get it to pop and sound real, then work on the rest of the soundstage until the center begins to degrade and that’s where we stop and call it good.
You can easily tell if you’ve gotten the center channel right. Play a mono recording and if things are properly set up, the music from that monaural recording should be disconnected from the speakers and form a believable image.
And the good news?
Unlike home theater folk with their hardware center channels, ours are but an illusion we never need upgrade.
Where have all the experts gone?
As our audio industry morphs from its heyday of local experts to a more globally connected version, we see a shift that affects us all.
I remember well the differing areas of influence exerted over localities. Big, influential high-end audio dealers in one area would have their favorite go-to stereo systems peppered throughout their spheres of influence. Thus, audiophiles in New York might have systems very different than their west coast brethren.
Now that we are increasingly connected together by the internet, there’s a homogenization of systems around the world.
I think this is a good thing because it allows us to share together information and ideas we might never have had access to.
There are no fewer HiFi experts than there were before.
You just have to look for them online.