What's The Big Deal About High End Audio?

A neighbor came by my house the other day and asked a simple question: "So what's the big deal about this high end audio stuff?" I was momentarily confused -- "you've heard my system before" I told her. "What don't you understand?" "Well, yes," She said, "it sounds really great, but I don't understand what all the fuss is about. Its just music."

AR-Whats - The - Big - Deal.jpgAnd there you have it. With the mainstream press stating that Pono is no better than an i-whatever, and Consumer Reports  claiming that high resolution is not "justifiable" compared to Mp3, the general public non audiophile types hardly have a glimmer of hope in understanding what is "the big deal" because the mainstream press doesn't get it.

I've told people on more than one occasion that high-end audio is a hobby dedicated to the highest quality of musical reproduction from the source -- be it CD, download or LP. I've also told people that if their interest in a music playback system didn't extend beyond something as background music while friends were visiting, then don't bother. Let's face it, if you are grilling hamburgers in the backyard, and all you want out of music is something soft playing while friends are going in and out of the house, then the investment in a better than mid fi system is a waste of money.

I also found a Consumer Reports article on a related subject quite interesting. This article, titled "Is High Res Digital Audio Worth The Money?", basically concluded that high res was not worth the cost for the average consumer - but for audiophiles, maybe so. Okay, I suppose I can buy that conclusion, largely based on playback methods. CR also reported that the audio engineers had to really concentrate to hear any real differences, and those differences ranged from minimal to dramatic. This conclusion read as if that was a bad thing - Is serious and critical listening of music not precisely a common practice in our hobby? It sure looks like most people outside the high performance audio industry don't really understand what all the commotion is about.

AR-Hamburgers.jpgI say with presumed certainty that most audiophiles listen to music, at least at some point, with a critical and dedicated ear. Regardless of our listening skills, there are times when the main focus is the music and only the music. We are listening to hear the "shimmer" and "decay "of the cymbals, or if the bass is "tight" and not "boomy." We listen to all aspects of the music in frequency ranges from the lowest to highest. Critical listening and the audiophile hobby go exactly hand in hand. So what about all of that is it that the mainstream press, Consumer Reports, and obviously my neighbor fail to grasp? If mid fi makes music sound decent, should it not therefore follow that better sounding music makes the whole experience more engaging? Why then do non-audiophiles not jump on the bandwagon?

All audiophiles should probably learn to accept that the world at large just doesn't understand "what's the big deal." Whether a neighbor who stops in one day to say hello, and winds up in a listening session, to a publication like Consumer Reports, understanding our hobby often times winds up a forest for the trees thing. Despite what those of us who seek better quality sonics think, and despite whatever our efforts to inform the unformed might be, the ones who understand the best are us - audiophiles. We're the ones who "get it." And if the rest of the music listening world doesn't "get it" then that is an acceptable compromise. We all have our own likes and dislikes. Ours just comes with the added benefit of a more enriched musical experience.

Maybe that's how it should be.

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