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September 2018
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
High-End Audio Dinosaurs Unite!
Roger Skoff likes doing it the 'old fashioned' way and tells us why.

Article By Roger Skoff

 

High-End Audio Dinosaurs Unite! Roger Skoff likes doing it the 'old fashioned' way and tells us why.

 

  Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a dinosaur: Instead of a smartphone, I still have and use a Motorola "flip-phone". It's a little embarrassing at times, when I haul it out in public and get strange looks from the people around me, but the fact is that I use it so seldom usually only when I'm on the road and going to be late for an appointment that such things really don't matter to me. If it rings while I'm at home, I simply don't answer it, and, because I'm usually sitting right at my computer during the daytime and much of the evening, none of a smartphone's computer functions has any value to me at all.

I also have and use only "solid" media LPs and CDs as my music sources; no streaming or downloads for me! Other than FM radio which, if I could get even tolerable reception where I live, I would have going almost constantly, I like to own and be able to touch and look at my music, and to be able to play it on equipment not just my computer specifically designed to excel at that sole purpose.

Frankly, my understanding is that high-end audio is mostly an industry of refinement rather than of basic technological innovation. Other companies, here and abroad, often giants of the consumer mass market or the military/aerospace complex, tend to be the ones to develop things anything from complete new product categories (CDs or DVDs, for example, and the equipment to record and play them), all the way down to the basic chips, ICs, software, and operating systems for creating them. Then it's the specialty companies like our own high-end Audio industry that either improves them or, in the case of component parts (new chips and such), use them in new ways to create new or better other products.

 

High-End Audio Dinosaurs Unite! Roger Skoff likes doing it the 'old fashioned' way and tells us why.

 

What the big companies make is certainly good enough to serve its purpose, and may sometimes even be excellent always keeping budgetary and other considerations in mind, but it's the specialist audio companies that develop it towards perfection or use it to its full advantage.

The big companies have the staff and the budget to engage in basic research, plus then have the time and other resources. This includes even in the face of various difficulties that anything truly new usually involves, to then bring what they discover or create to market. They bring us products that are fully-tested, serviceable, reliable, and may even, for a while, be the best things of their kind available. Yet it's seldom, if ever, that what they make can be said, even given the limits of physics and current human knowledge, to be the best things possible. Those "other considerations" I mentioned earlier seem always to come into play to limit them to just being "good enough" for their market instead of ever being (or even approaching) perfect.

For major companies, all those old sayings about "the good being the enemy of the best" seem to hold true: What they make is good enough for their customers to buy and be satisfied with, but because their goal is never -- except in the rarest of cases (and perhaps not even then) perfection, but success in the mass- or military market, their products have never, to my knowledge, been the very best possible.

That's where high-end audio (and performance video, too) come in. Manufacturers in those fields are seeking perfection at least to the degree that it's possible within a much broader set of limitations, and their customers are audiophiles, music-lovers, or "fans", who want the very best performance they can afford and are willing to afford a very much larger portion of their disposable income than the ordinary consumer will spend to get it.

 

 

The very best possible performance at whatever price point, or within whatever other parameters may apply, seems always to be the goal of high-end audio manufacturers. And the way they go about achieving it very often involves the use of better parts (premium resistors, capacitors, chips, printed circuit boards, connectors, etc.) and more expensive or labor-intensive manufacturing techniques than any mass-market manufacturer could ever afford or be willing to use. They also tend to use more and/or better output devices (whether tubes or solid-state), to spend much more for, and pay much more attention to, power supply and transformer design and construction, and to go about such things as reducing distortion the right way (no "global" feedback, for example) rather than just the way that might produce better numbers (Remember the 0.00001% THD figures so often claimed by mid-fi components of the 1980s?) but not necessarily result in any better sound.

Computers, on the other hand, even the very best ones I've ever heard of, seem to regard performance in a completely different way: For them, better performance seems not to have anything to do with greater accuracy to the signal they're passing or retrieving, but only to greater speed, more memory, or more features. Perhaps that's because of a belief that the digital system is somehow inherently perfect (Remember "Perfect sound forever"?) and that digital information can only be stored, transmitted, or retrieved perfectly or not at all. Perhaps such a belief is why computers and computer-based products seem to be buildable by just assembling an appropriate selection of mostly-interchangeable component parts (CPUs, motherboards, power supplies, etc.) and why I've never heard of anything like a "High-End" computer. Whatever the reason, though, computers are the basis for all of the new streaming or down-loadable audio and video formats, and I can't ever recall seeing at least for the computer elements of any of the equipment for playing, retrieving, or storing them any published frequency response or distortion figures at all.

 

 

Maybe that's because the new formats and the new equipment really are very much better than the actual audio components that preceded them, but I doubt it. I've heard (but never personally experienced) that better USB cables and better power cords can produce better computer sound, and that other "tweaks" or modifications can, too. If that's so, then why shouldn't computer audio be just as dependent on build quality, component selection, and other performance-affecting criteria as previous systems were? And if that's the case, why shouldn't High-End audio components be easily able to outperform an ordinary computer?

 

 

And even if they can't, and even if using my own CD player or my turntable to play it on is really despite (at least for analog) my ears' evidence to the contrary no better at all than a computer-based storage/playback system, there's still the satisfaction of owning and physically being able to touch and play one's own music library, and to see it as a row or a wall or a roomful of recordings all of which are available to admire, play, read the notes of, or simply feel good about at any time.

Dinosaurs unite! Despite all the latest trends (which may be just as ephemeral as solid-state replacing tubes or CDs replacing vinyl), let's keep our physical media and, as we have so often done before, put on a disc, sit back, close our eyes, and...

 

Enjoy the music!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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