Choice' has become a totem of our times, a powerful symbol that is invariably regarded as a worthwhile
‘good' in itself and rarely questioned. I can understand how this has happened, as
there was very little ‘consumer choice' back when I was a child. Quite honestly,
it's all to easy to forget what Britain's post-WWII austerity was like. Back around 1950, as I recall, my parents had to put their name down
in a queue to be allowed to purchase a fridge, and actually ended up with a gaspowered
one! (Based on the expansion principle, this did have the advantage of simplicity, with no moving parts to go wrong.)
As is so often the case with humanity, we now seem to be undergoing a
period of over-reaction, leaving us perplexed and puzzled by an ever increasing
glut of often spurious and unnecessary choice. Pop into the local supermarket for, say, a can of beans, and one is confronted by half a dozen rival brands. Do
you know the difference between them? More significantly, do you actually care?
By the same token, buying a train ticket today seems to resemble participating
in the National Lottery.
Much the same can be said of the broadcast media. A decade ago, I would
watch The Last Night of the Proms on the telly while putting the sound from my
FM tuner through the hi-fi system, all in perfect synchronisation. Today I can
get my radio from FM, DAB, the internet, Freeview, Freesat and Sky, and my TV feed from all but the first two. Trouble is, only the FM radio is
‘live'; all the rest are time-delayed for one reason or another, so it's no longer possible for me
to synchronise my ‘best sound quality' source (a Magnum Dynalab MD106T FM tuner) with any of the available TV pictures.
It must therefore be something of a moot point whether this proliferation of
TV and radio platforms is really progress. In fact I think the BBC itself may be
finding the complications difficult, as at one point I searched several platforms
for two of the four ‘park' options, without finding them at all.
(In fact I have found one advantage of the multi-platform situation, though
it has no bearing on hi-fi and is only really relevant to cricket fans working from
home. Using a split-screen TV I can listen to Test Match Special on Freeview, while
Sky's satellite-delivered pictures are delayed by a couple of seconds, meaning I can
work while keeping one ear on TMS, then look up and catch the action when anything interesting happens. I also helps avoid
Sky's irritating ad breaks.)
The argument about too much choice could equally well apply to high
end hi-fi, where the number of brands is expanding far more rapidly than the availability of distributors. As one who makes a living reviewing new hifi
components, I shouldn't complain, and by and large I welcome the extra diversity that seems to result, especially when this involves mining the forgotten
lessons from the past.
My own hi-fi education really started in the 1970s, by which time valves had
been virtually forgotten. The fact that this issue features valve-equipped DACs,
pre-amps and phono stages is a testament to the virtues of diversity.
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