This is a question that has been asked many, many times. It seems there is no truly correct answer. Perhaps one way to approach the question is with another question: What is high-end audio equipment supposed to do?
One school of thought is that of the original goal of Hi-Fi; to reproduce
with high fidelity the original event. In other words, it is the realistic
reproduction of a recording in the home so as to give the illusion that
the musicians and their instruments are right there in the room with you.
A lofty goal without doubt, but the laws of physics keep this possibility
grounded somewhat. Consider the size of the instruments being played in
an acoustic environment and it becomes clear that the radiating area of
most loudspeakers is merely a fraction of that of a full orchestra. As
mechanics and subwoofer builders say, theres no replacement
for displacement.. One would need an awful lot of speakers to try
to approximate the size of an orchestra, and for most people this is just
not practical. Still, one can come fairly close to the illusion of having
the musicians play in the home. This is one of the challenges of assembling
a great system.
Another belief is that high-end audio should reproduce the recorded signal
with the highest fidelity. This is slightly different than trying to reproduce
reality. Most modern recordings are multi-track, multi-mic recordings.
Trying to get a realistic sound, particularly from Rock and R&B recordings,
can be an exercise in futility. Just the fact that a singers voice
is not naturally louder than a drum kit indicates that this sort of performance
cannot truly be realistic. With this in mind, the high-end system aims
to retrieve as much information from the recorded media the sound
as heard at the recording studio or mastering house.
Yet another definition of high-end would be that an audio system should
be musical and should be able to convey the essence, the soul of music.
These systems and components seemingly place musicality over accuracy
and realism. Since even good audio equipment can, and usually will add
colorations to the reproduction of recorded sound, then it makes sense
to go for a sound that the listener likes. Systems with this type of focus
can be really addictive but dont always tell the truth. Often both
good and bad recordings will be enjoyable on such a system but the system
always insinuates its sound on the music. Systems like this are
sometimes considered a music lovers system.
For most, a high-end system will be a combination of the three. The experienced audiophile might look for those particular qualities that allow him or her to become closer to the music. Sound is ultimately a personal preference and there is no true right or wrong though there is the fundamental common goal of great sound reproduction.
Another question to the answer is: what differentiates high-end audio from consumer electronics? Well, there are many, many distinctions, but for the most part, high-end is about quality; quality of design, quality of construction & quality of sound. To make a sweeping genaralization, high-end audio equipment prioritizes sound over features. Lets face it mass-market audio equipment is easy to find (both physicaly and sonically) - just walk into your local electronics emporium, close your eyes, and follow the horribly bloated, loud, distorted bass sound there it is! Mass market audio equipment is usually made of plastic, has all manner of blinking lights and will include many of the following: Cassette/dual cassette, CD player, AM/FM receiver, graphic equalizer (often with the sliders set in the shape of a smile), spectrum analyzer, LCD/LED/FL display, bass knob, treble knob, bass boost button, stereo expander and a bunch of other features like a 6 subwoofer that goes down to 20Hz (yeah, right) all of this for $199US!!! This equipment (with familiar names like JVC, Onkyo, Sony, Sanyo, Denon, etc.)* is designed to razzle-dazzle the less knowledgeable customer in the showroom/warehouse/supermarket its designed to be sold more than listened to.
Consumers of mass market audio who might be familiar with quality gear may feel that high-end is nothing more than expensive audio gear for the wealthy, but like all well-made things, quality & attention to detail costs time and money; this is what makes a Rolls Royce special and is also why relatively few people own them. Ultimately audio, like cars, wine, and fine food, are worth only as much as connisours are willing to pay.
So, what is high-end audio?
Well, um .youll know it when you hear it :)
Page created by James L Woodley © 2002 Page last updated 21 August 2005