We all know that things move in cycles, and home entertainment is no different. I remember the first time my older brother played Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for me on his hi-fi; that’s what we called our music systems back then. His latest version implemented full stereo sound, a big upgrade from our dad’s mono system. To see those big 10” reel-to-reels turn round while you heard a sound like a band was right in front of you, what an experience it was!
Somewhere along the way, we started a trend to give up some performance for convenience with the compact cassette and the Sony Walkman. Still, nothing compared to the departure our kids took with the mp3 and the digitization of music. Of course, our generation didn’t have cell phones or the internet; heck, we barely got three TV channels, and many of us got that in black and white. On the other hand, our kids could load their whole music collection and three of their friend’s libraries on an iPod and sort their music by genre or recall a playlist.
What a convenience that was. But there was a massive trade-off in performance, and those who loved high fidelity knew it. I thought the world of great sound had disappeared forever, especially when SACD and DVD Audio failed to rejuvenate the industry. I was sure the mainstream world would never again experience high-performance audio. Then one day, my eldest son, twenty-four at the time, asked me for a turntable for Christmas. I didn’t think he knew what a record was. When I asked him why he said, “well, vinyl just sounds better.” So the kid who years before told me that an iPod and earbuds would be all he ever needed for listening to music had done a complete about-face.
Okay, so does that mean you can’t have great sound and convenience too? Not at all! Like high-definition TV, great sound is all about the resolution of the process. It’s taken a while, but the digitization of sound, which left a lot to be desired when the CD first came out, has matured immensely over the last thirty years. The speed of the processors and the advanced technology utilized in compressing and decompressing the data has made all the difference.
Of course, there is still a hierarchy to the process if you want to achieve the ultimate in sound from the digital realm. Streaming music from the outside world will sound good compared to a few years back, but the best performance is obtained by downloading high-resolution files. As one would expect, how those files are played before is crucial to the process. So using your laptop or your phone via Bluetooth to play music through your stereo won’t be the best choice. A quality music server is a much better way to go.
Like forty years ago, the quality of the hi-fi componentry is just as important today, if not more so. High-resolution digital music playback can require more attention to detail than ever before. Especially if you want to experience the ultimate in music reproduction. But at our fingertips, we have better performance than ever. It has come back around and is better than ever. Go out and get a demonstration; you won’t believe your ears!
The high-fidelity resurgence is a welcomed return to an era of excellent audio quality and craftsmanship. What was once thought to be a dying industry has been given new life by innovative companies looking to capture the spirit of days gone by while providing modern convenience. While the cost of high-end audio may still be prohibitive for many, mid-range offerings are becoming more affordable and accessible for everyone.