Change In Tech And Traditional Enthusiasts
The changing face of audio was brought home to me recently. I met with a friend who got into audio in the 1980s and then stopped. His system – still very well maintained and working correctly – reminded me of my first 'real' audio system in the late 1980s; a Linn LP12, a small 'chrome bumper' Naim preamplifier / power amplifier, and a pair of Linn Kan loudspeakers. While such systems still sound good, what's interesting is how far we've gone in other directions since.
Such a system is increasingly looking out of place in today's world. The intervening 30+ years of developments in electronics engineering, circuit design, materials science, test and measurement equipment, and the ever-increasingly 'tech-savvy' nature of audio enthusiasts and the public at large has meant this sort of pared-back, 'one-source-fits-all' system is no longer as viable as it once was. Audio is a broad church, and there is room for almost everything as a result, but 'ultra-minimalist' systems are seemingly inevitably becoming the exception rather than the norm.
This change in technology can meet with some inertia from traditional enthusiasts. The owner of the system mentioned above viewed the rise of streaming, reliance on more net-connected amplifiers and loudspeakers, and the rise of digital audio to be an encroachment on good sound. He's taken this to somewhat odd extremes; if he can't get a piece of music on LP, he'll download the file on his computer, then output it through a DAC into a reel-to-reel recorder. He then disconnects computer and DAC from the system, so they don't pollute the sound. In fairness, many an MP3 file sounds great this way!
This kind of stance is admirable but 'somewhat' unworkable in the real world. However, the same applies to a 1980s minimalist's approach to hi-fi for many people today, too. The notion of the Internet of Things was late coming to the audio system (it was more about one or two networked components on the periphery of a system, rather than the core of the system itself), that's changing fast whether that's the move from 'active speaker' to 'network-connected loudspeaker' or the move from 'amplifier' to 'streaming nerve centre', what was once little more than a footnote in good audio is increasingly commonplace.
The joy of good audio, however, is that while you can go down this route, you don't have to. There are still many devices that have not materially changed their place in the audio world. However, even here, we have seen significant changes take place recently. Whichever path you choose to take down the hi-fi road, it now does the job brilliantly!