How to Find Your Aural Happiness
I can’t tell you. I don’t know. Audio magazines haven’t a clue. Dealers are out to lunch. And forget about the audiophile forums. The insiders don’t know which end is up. But I discovered some tantalizing hints in a forum thread not completely dominated by the typical a’philes. There were some opinions from younger, fresher blood, more interested in listening to music than playing with boxes and wires. Here’s the scoop—
“Well, cost. There, I said it.”
The number one most recurrent comment. Most music fans are under 50 and have an income less than $75k. They’re not going to spend half their take-home on a stereo. Let’s get real. The market seems to be polarized between the daffy price-no-object, baffle-science, high-end on one side, and the earbud-low-res, who-cares, not even registering on the scale, low-end on the other. Where’s the high-value, high-return, middle ground?
“The number one reason that I can think of right off the top of my head would be one visit to an audio store and encountering a snobby, anal retentive salesman that doesn’t want you touching anything unless you carry yourself like the Crown Prince of Monaco.“
Another frequent complaint and a humongous turn-off. I went into a shop in Manhattan once for the sole purpose of listening, clearly with no pretense of buying. The owner reluctantly turned on a system to accommodate me. On the first cut I played I heard a problem with one of the woofers. When I alerted him to it, he didn’t offer another setup or to switch out the speakers. Oh no. He made a lame excuse, then scooted me out the door. Think he’s ever going to get a dollar out of my pocket?
“Your hearing is only as good as the best system you ever heard.”
Simply not being familiar with how good your music library can sound and how better sound can make your music evermore rewarding is a frequent stumbling block.
“I would also say the complexity of the setup can be daunting. You have your source(s), a phono preamp, a preamp, amps, integrated amps, tube amps, solid state, cables, etc., etc., etc. For those not accustomed to “rigs” of any kind, this can be confusing and scary. As I’ve been setting up my system, I have fond that there’s not a whole lot of information out there answering “basics” — so I can see where people that don’t know a thing about components can be reticent to join the hi-fi club.”
Lack of knowledge, where to find it, and the dizzying array of complex and conflicting information. You know what? It doesn’t have to be like that. You don’t have to jump through flaming hoops to make your ears happy. Just turn on your brain.
“Things I wish the experts had told me…
1) The “source” of a system is indeed the most important link in the chain, but this refers to the recording itself (including the mastering process and the format) NOT the amount of money you spend on the [playback] device. So don’t use this old chestnut to justify a $10K turntable.
2) The single most influential component in the chain is the listening environment…..this is why that expensive system doesn’t sound the same at your place.
3) Loudspeakers are very personal choices and (all things being equal) contribute more to the character of the system than amplifiers or disc-spinners. If you’re starting from scratch, buy the speaker before the amplifier, then decide what you need to drive it.
Looks like I need to write a good, concise page of basics. (I’ve already started working on it.)
“One of my son’s friends thought the best possible sound was an iPod playing MP3’s through the 10 cent ear buds that come with it. Then he listens to my stereo–which isn’t anything special–and was amazed at the difference.”
Another example of not having experienced the possibilities. Start listening. With lots and lots of listening you’ll find your ears learning quickly, very quickly. Once you know what to listen for, the process becomes easier, lots and lots easier.
I really don’t believe high fidelity is dying. People under 50 still love music as much as ever and they listen to music more than ever. They still have ears to appreciate better sound and they’re willing to put a few bucks into a system of superior quality. If you can avoid the twisted marketing and veer around the myriad of other distractions vying for your attention, then you can find audio happiness. High-end audio has been hyped-up and priced-out in a silly attempt to save itself from fading away. But those tactics are killing it. Boomers are not going to keep audio alive. The only thing that will save it is to bring it down to earth.
I’ve sifted through piles of data to make the process more accessible for you. It still takes a little effort on your part. Anything that’s really worthwhile always does, but the following link will give you a little head start. My goal is to be one small voice of sanity for opening the pleasures of high quality audio to your ears. (. . .and a little visual pleasure for your eyes.)