Like the music
we play on it, hi-fi is a broad church. My taste in music is not the same as
yours, or Joe Bloggs' for that matter, so why should I presume I like the
same things about music reproduction? I try not to make such assumptions, but
am not sure it's possible to avoid doing so. We're well aware that music
has considerable effects on the human psyche, but don't really know either
how or why. All manner of open questions remain about the way we interact with
music, and by implication our hi-fi systems. I first got into hi-fi, simply
because I'd become obsessed with the music of the time, and wanted to get as
much out of it as possible. I'd already figured out that I had no natural
ability playing musical instruments, but could play the record player (and the
open-reel tape recorder too for that matter), and that didn't seem a bad
Many years on I still love my music, and
also the fact that hi-fi system improvements continue to get me closer to it
as time goes by. But the changes that particularly turn me on aren't
necessarily going to be the same as those that will appeal to another
individual, any more than we're likely to have similar record collections.
Some kindred spirits will doubtless share my tastes, but I only have to wander
around any hi-fi show (taking care to keep lip well bitten) to appreciate that
they're relatively few and far between.
One intriguing and usually overlooked factor concerns
the age (as well as the tastes) of an individual. For example, I was very
sceptical when CD first came on the scene, and realise with hindsight that
sound quality issues were only partly to blame. Other factors included the
fact that I'd already collected a lot of vinyl over 20 years and didn't
see much need for change; I wasn't into classical music so didn't
appreciate the lack of background noise; and didn't like the fact that those
early CDs were much more costly than vinyl equivalents (plus ca change!).
Those born after 1980 may well have missed out on the
vinyl era entirely, and have little knowledge of analogue audio. CD was their
adolescent format, and today they're probably well into computer-based
don't much like computers, as the sector seems obsessed with change. (My
current MacBook Pro won't even
open files I created a mere 17 years ago, whereas I've 60 year old vinyl
treasures.) But I'll happily concede that they're exceptionally convenient
(just like the cassette was, 20 or 30 years ago!). I'll therefore continue
to spin my vinyl and play my FM radio and CD player, but in our digital age it
seems that we all need a decent DAC – my own system currently uses three.
Which is why we're busy trying to keep up with this rapidly changing field,
devoting 13 pages of this issue to reviewing seven of the latest examples.
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