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Issue 159    May 2018
Putting Together An Audio System
Editorial By Alan Sircom

 

Hi-Fi+ Issue 159 May 2018

 

  Audio components are rarely, if ever, heard in isolation. Rather, they are auditioned, evaluated, and enjoyed in the context of a system. While some argue that putting together a system involves nothing more complicated than buying the relevant components and putting them together in combination, and others place it among the arcane and dark arts of audiophilia, reality lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Putting a system together relies on a basic understanding of the properties of each component, how they might relate to associated components, and either a lot of luck or an awful lot of listening. Most likely, both. There are supposed short-cuts, such as using the products from one company (or the components most often demonstrated in combination with the products of that company), but there are no outright guarantees, and occasional, but rarely glaring, mis-matches to be had.

 

Hi-Fi+ Issue 159 May 2018

 

This invites a difficult question for reviews: if the review is made in isolation, what is its actual worth? In fact, there are traits and characteristics within components that lend themselves to broad system design concepts, and this is necessary because we often build up a Ship of Theseus-style system (or 'grandfather's axe', 'Jeannot's knife', or 'Trigger's Broom' depending on where you live). You bought your system 40 years ago and changed the amplifier 30 years ago, the speakers 20 years ago, and the source 10 years ago, but it's still your system. To discuss the system in context of contemporary products, instead of sound quality 'flavours' does these older products a disservice, I feel.

In a very real way, apps are beginning to dominate the whole system-building concept. Systems are increasingly reliant on apps to navigate and control them, and much of the selection process in the future might fall to the brand with the best app and most seamless integration between tablet and audio system. As of right now, good audio trails the mainstream but we're catching up, fast. Whether this means we will be talking to our audio equipment through devices like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's HomePod, or Google's Home remains to be seen (it's possible today, just in a slightly clunky manner).

Of course, the traditional separates market will continue to survive and evolve... and so will the audiophiles. Some will change their systems piecemeal, others will just start again every few years. Both lines of reasoning are equally valid today. Personally, I like to keep my options open.

 


Alan Sircom, Editor Hi-Fi+

 

 

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