Why HiFi pt 2

By: Gary Alan Barker
March 30th, 2020

When I decided to continue these little periodic chats as a glimpse into the mind of an audiophile, I thought why not continue on the same subject: “Why HiFi?” After all, that is really what it all is about, why the obsession, why the expense, why continue looking for that perfect formula. I say periodic since I don’t really know the regularity of this column, as it is really about inspiration and of course available time (writing for and editing two magazines does take its toll). At least one audio professional took exception to an offhand statement in my last entry when talking about room treatment. It is certainly not my intention to offend anyone or threaten anyone’s livelihood, on the other hand, if you can’t bring in new blood to the passion, and frighten off would-be budding audiophiles by saying the only way you can have good sound is to spend $1,000,000, they there won’t be a livelihood, because the art will die. In addition to room treatment, there is also the question of room EQ, but this is a subject for a future article, right now I want to talk about music.

It’s all about the music. Don’t get me wrong, I helped build my first TV when I was four (mostly separating components and stuffing circuit boards, I don’t remember if they let me handle the soldering iron, but I could identify diodes, resistors, transistors, and capacitors as well as color code before I could read), and I enjoy tech as much as anybody, but without the music what is the point?

Ok, what differentiates an audiophile from a run of the mill music fan is the dedication and demand for quality of sound, but what makes that important, and what in truth stands as the metric for that quality is the music.

For our sister publication Headphone.Guru I have produced a couple of record reviews of music that I have used in my evaluations of audio equipment over the years, and consequently in my reviews. Specifically, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite” and Genesis’ “Foxtrot”, and in those articles, I get a little bit into my philosophy when it comes to why I use those particular pieces. Essentially, as an audio purist, I want the performance to sound “real”, not just good. That means the timbre and tonality as well as the spatial representation of individual instruments be the same as if you were in the room where the recording was being made. This requires reference, and the only reasonably reproducible reference is acoustical instruments, IE: an orchestra and unamplified vocal (yes, in reality, all vocals are amplified when passed through a sound system, but direct microphone, as opposed to secondary microphone recordings, are very different). I don’t get to attend classical concerts as much as I would like, but I still have a point of reference that I would not have with electronic and electronically amplified and modified music. As a musician, I also have the piano as a daily reference point, which is why piano plays a critical role in my evaluations, along with the fact that the piano is the hardest instrument to reproduce.

Which all brings up the elephant, no two instruments or performers sound identical, and the recording environment and process also change the sound, so even reference is just an approximation, but it is better than no reference. That being said, emotion is also a large piece of  music, and a large piece of what makes for pleasant sound, and this is where your electronic and amplified music come in, as well as bandwidth, while a pipe organ can give you 18 Hz notes, for the most part you have to rely on electronic music for subsonic performance, and frankly if the music you listen to most does not sound good on a system, what’s the point? You are not listening to the equipment, you are listening to the music, at least, you should be.

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