Why do we need high end stereo equipment?
For most people, stereo equipment is simply a tool for listening to a favorite artist, or a video, or an internet radio station. In other words, it is the means by which we connect with music. Whether at a concert, or at home on a Sunday afternoon, we listen to music to relax, to enjoy — to be released from care, boredom and worry. Music is the answer to our problems. We make it. We feel to it. We connect with it.
Nowadays, music is everywhere. More than ever, people listen on the go. In the car, on the subway, at the office, at the gym. And everywhere we go, we find more music. A restaurant or retail store without it isn’t much fun be in. The digital age has made it easy to make music available anywhere and everywhere, on demand, without much effort or thought. It has also made it a lot easier to produce without big recording budgets. The sheer amount of music available today is mind-blowing.
Convenience, portability and a diversity of choices are paramount today. Many people no longer buy an album and listen to the whole thing from start to finish. In fact, it is common to jump around from song to song and from playlist to playlist without hearing every track in its entirety. Combined with the ubiquitous phones and portable music players, the reality is, we listen differently today.
Does this mean the end of high end stereo equipment?
Not at all. In fact, just the opposite is true. But to understand this, we need to look back in time. In the 1950s and 1960s, analog recording equipment improved dramatically, and by the 1980s, analog recordings were incredible. Vinyl and tape sounded truly amazing. To hear these recordings properly, you needed really a really good “Hi-Fi,” as it was known then. Everyone had a Hi-Fi, and it was something young people dreamed of owning. Hi-Fi was cool, and if you didn’t have one, you were weren’t with it.
Then came the digital age, beginning with the Compact Disc. Albums were quickly remastered to digital and re-released on CD. The CD was praised for its lower noise floor, its lack of hiss, and of course, its convenience. But those early recordings sounded thin and lifeless compared to vinyl and tape, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that engineers figured out how to make CDs sound good. By that time, however, recorded music was already metamorphosing into portable digital files like MP3s. And as the need for portability increased, dynamic range compression further reduced quality.
But it’s not all bad news. Many studios continued to record in high definition formats, and they preserved the ability to remix and remaster music from those early days of digital. The early days of scratchy, thin-sounding MP3s have given way to higher bandwidth formats. Digital files are being released in better-than-CD formats now, such as high resolution PCM (pulse code modulation) and DSD (direct stream digital). Although these formats are still a minority of commercially downloadable formats, more and more studios are recording to these formats. Over time, we expect them to gain widespread popularity. As file storage becomes cheaper and cheaper, and as bandwidth for downloading and streaming increases, it will be possible to offer high definition formats with the same ease as compressed formats. The pendulum is swinging clearly towards high fidelity sound again, and to enjoy it, high end stereo equipment again will become a necessity.
What is high end stereo equipment?
A good stereo system consists of well-designed components, working together synergistically to reproduce music with fidelity, nuance, dynamic range, tangible detail and resolution. A pair of ear buds on a noisy subway can’t achieve this. A high end stereo system requires loudspeakers like the TAD Reference One loudspeakers, featured at the New York Audio Show earlier this month. Superb amplification and digital-to-analog conversion from manufacturers like Ayre Acoustics, Berkeley Audio Design, Bricasti, EMM Labs, Viola Audio Labs and Weiss Engineering are critically important. High quality cables from providers like Kimber Kable, Shunyata Research, ZenSati and others are necessary. And last, but certainly not least, a properly designed electrical system and a well-treated room can make all the difference in the world. High end stereo equipment is better than what you find in mass-market stores, and like high performance cars, the engineering is first-class.
Not all high end stereo equipment is created equal
High end stereo equipment is the domain of a few hundred companies, most of which are small operations run by the engineers that design the equipment they make and sell. Some are famous and celebrated names in high-end audio, whereas others are lesser known. Higher prices usually mean better quality, but that relationship has started to break down in recent years as the industry has struggled. Many companies have raised their prices in an effort to stay profitable, while others have adopted a more value-oriented pricing strategy to capture more people. And not all companies are efficiently run or sufficiently capitalized to ensure good quality control and sustainable after-market support. It is a mine field out there, and a lot of due diligence is required to avoid costly mistakes.
Engage a qualified engineering firm
Many audiophiles enjoy the hobby of buying components and system tweaks. They try new things, explore different options and try to get results on their own. But this is an expensive and time-consuming, trial-and-error method that rarely achieves best-in-class performance. Nowadays, the variety of components is daunting, and in the digital and computer audio area in particular, complexities
are significant. It takes time to design and assemble a sound system to ensure exquisite performance for the intended listening environment. Intimate knowledge of actual (as opposed to published) specifications, an understanding of the interactions of components and attention to detail are critically important to achieving a system that delivers more than the sum of its parts. To get amazing results, it is best to engage a firm with true engineering capabilities. An audio dealer can sell you high end stereo equipment. But few, if any, have the engineers in-house to properly design a system to achieve greatness.
High end stereo equipment will grow in popularity
The fact is that as the fidelity of recordings improves, more and more people will look for better ways to listen to them. The Beats headphones are an example of a popular and fashionable item that provides better sound quality than the cheap ear buds that come with most phones and portable players. This is just the beginning. Like high definition television, or HDTV (and now 4k), high definition digital audio will drive adoption of high end stereo equipment. And with it, more people will need qualified, credible advice and support.
—Sanjay Patel, Founder and CEO
Contact Ciamara today to learn more
If you’d like to learn more about high end stereo equipment, or if you’d like to know how to get the best out of your existing audio system, contact us today. Ciamara’s expertise is unparalleled. We’ll enable you to enjoy your music collection like never before.