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Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

May / June 2024


Editor's Lead In
Defining The 'Right' Hi-Fi Sound
Taking advantage of DAC filters, tone controls, EQ tools, and more.
Editorial By Becky Roberts


Australian Hi-Fi Magazine May / June 2024


  There are very few absolutes in hi-fi today, and what certainly isn't one of them (and never will be) is what defines the 'right' hi-fi sound. Ask a room of music and hi-fi enthusiasts for their thoughts on the matter and things would all too soon erupt into the kind of pandemonium that would derange a digital-cable convention. (Just probably not as quickly.)

The die-hard rockers might throw out words such as "powerful", "atmospheric" and "bassy"; those who instinctively request Norah Jones at hi-fi shows may advocate the one that delivers the lushest vocals (midrange); the greatest lovers of life the bon vivants could say anything that makes music fun to listen to. Those deliberating quietly in the corner, including myself, would champion the most transparent-sounding system the one that communicates the music as close to the recording as possible, stamping little of itself on it. We would all be right, and all be wrong... depending on the ears of the beholder.



Now, is there really a 'right' hi-fi sound for certain genres? Perhaps, so what music you like could reasonably sway your buying decisions. If you were asked to conjure a system through which to enjoy Muse's Live at Rome Olympic Stadium album to the fullest, you may very reasonably pick a powerful-sounding system with momentous scale and mighty low-end. It's probably more likely to be headed by Q Acoustics' 5040 floorstanders than the PMC prodigy 1 standmounts, which don't have the Q Acoustics' scale or bass power to rip through the album's cacophony of bass and drums as well and communicate the expanse of the live recording as effectively. Conversely, suppose you are the biggest contributor to Tidal's monthly streams of Sergei Rachmaninoff. In that case, you might well snap up those PMCs quicker than you could say "piano concerto" for their greater dynamic expression and precise (to the point of analytical) nature.

"It's all a matter of tools for the job," said a former colleague, before offering the parallel that just as a classical guitar is wonderful in a hushed concert hall it won't do much when it comes to filling a stadium. Indeed, the kind of system that sounds lush, mellow and well-detailed with orchestral works probably won't also be the ideal sort to vibrate the walls with Charlie XCX's latest foot stomper.


Australian Hi-Fi Magazine May / June 2024


So if you exclusively, or even mostly, consume a sonic diet of one music genre, whether that is classical or blues, dub-step or hip-hop, a certain sound of system may well work best for you and that's fine. Many hi-fi manufacturers imprint a 'sound' on music, whether that's to emphasize bass, honey vocals or mellow it all out, because it sells. A lot of people worship single-ended tube amps for tending to sound congenially warm (due to their even/second-order harmonic distortion); others don't. Psychoacoustics is a funny thing, isn't it?

Don't let anyone put you off acquiring a sound that excels in one or two particular areas just because it might not be the most unadulterated, 'purest' sound. (Though do be aware that when a component favors or emphasizes one element, it will likely have a weakness in another, so you'll want to accept that as wholly as you do its strength(s).)



Such varying disposition is primarily why I wouldn't necessarily disregard a product that gets a less-than-perfect review score. The reviewer might've settled on it due to a sonic trait they didn't think was faithful or universally appealing; but it might suit your tastes.

So what if your taste is varied, your algorithm-led Tidal playlist suggesting GoGo Penguin next to Fontaines D.C.? Is the best system the safe, neutral, balanced all-rounder? I personally think so. The more transparent it is, the more of the recording and artist's intention you are hearing; and isn't that the most enjoyable and, therefore, The Best?



One can always take advantage of DAC filters, tone controls or custom EQ tools when they want a bit more of something for a particular track or album even if such features have varying degrees of effectiveness and tend to muck something else up! Ultimately, the 'right' sound is the one you like!



Becky Roberts





Australian Hi-Fi Magazine

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