For more years than I care to remember, and sometimes painfully admit, I have been an avid audiophile. All of my adult life for certain. And if memory serves me factually, half of my teenaged years as well. High performance audio is the stew I continue to stir in an attempt to have the taste exactly as I like. Sometimes, I might try a new seasoning to see if that possibly tastes better.
We have, right now, a paradigm shift regarding how music is played and how we listen. In the early 1980’s we added digital music to the age-old vinyl format. In so doing, we consequently ushered in a divisive debate that continues today. Yet we debate analog and digital with no winner or loser. I seriously doubt we will see the type of outcome that befell Betamax when JVC’s VHS format finally won out.
In spite of this, formats have been evolving into something different yet again. Yes, streaming. Just like the vinyl / digital debate, there has also for the past few years existed a discussion on how best to deliver a song. We have the arguments both for and against lossy formats with the resultant loss of sonic integrity. We have those who champion a streamed signal with a minimum of CD quality. Taking the bar up even higher, there are also a faction of enthusiasts who do not really care to listen to any recording that is not High Resolution or its counterpart, MQA. We all, myself included, have our own methodologies in how we prefer things. It would seem we are not alone.
I have never held much interest in a top line, feature laden, world class Home Theater (HT) system. I do not need to hear the airplane fly around the room. That, of course, is my own personal preference. I do have a Samsung 4K UHD television in my great room. I also have a Marantz multi-channel HT processor hooked up to everything. And with two small bookshelf speakers, I have stereo sound. I did not add rear speakers despite my room being wired for them. I do not have a center channel speaker, subwoofer or some type of sound bar. Those contrivances do not really interest me in the least. But here again, those are my choices. They obviously do not reflect a lot of consumers who happen to love home theater. And I completely understand. Call it a good for the goose, good for the gander type of thing.
I frequently read our sister web site, Home Theater Review (HTR). I like to read about what is happening in the HT world despite not having an active interest in its developments. I find that many of the reviews and articles are interesting even to a two-channel devotee. When I read a recent article from HTR contributor Andrew Robinson, I realized our worlds were surprisingly not all that far apart.
His article, “Performance vs Lifestyle: From a Reviewer’s Perspective,” was about the issues Robinson encountered when doing reviews. He discussed the disparaging differences of opinion regarding the better, and even preferred video format – physical media or streamed. He noted in several recent comparisons, he could not tell a notable difference in video quality of physical media compared to a movie streamed over the Internet. He talked about the foibles of obtaining the “Nth degree” of everything to reach “AV heaven.”
He also commented on the fact that most HT enthusiasts do not have a dedicated AV room and having a system in the great room along with everything else is more the norm than the exception. He also discussed how it was not an absolute requirement to spend a small fortune on a HT system in order to enjoy the content. Lastly, Robinson’s article described his belief in how he favored reviewing a system based on its own merits and not on something it is not. All in all, an excellent article.
Wow. Substitute the HT terminology with two channel audio terms and this article could have been about the audiophile hobby.
I have to admit not everyone interested in the audiophile hobby has a half million-dollar system ensconced in a custom designed, purpose-built room with a full complement of acoustical treatments. I realize there are those who actually prefer streaming for any number of attributes – cost, convenience, musical variety and at long last, sonic quality. I have not, however, disregarded the fact there are those, like myself, who actually prefer physical media (in my case CD’s copied to a server) and whadda-ya know, there are those who even prefer vinyl. I also realize there are audio systems at both ends of the price spectrum and everywhere in between.
We can disagree with how any song is mastered, recorded, delivered to consumers and what type of playback format is considered best. All of this is perfectly natural to audiophiles and to my great surprise, in its own context, it would seem to HT enthusiasts as well. Our worlds are, as I have often described them, “two different sides of the same coin.” Because of my basic lack of interest in home theater, and not doing an exorbitant amount of reading and research on the subject – because after all, my TV set up is fine – I never realized how close our worlds actually are.
We can disagree until rapture on the state of the high performance landscape. We can invoke theories and engineering analyses forever on which format is better. We can easily spend a little or a lot on a stereo system. We can put them in purpose designed rooms or where the family gathers. We can do all of these things. Unabated and ad nauseum. To my great surprise it would appear we are not alone. Those who love Home Theater, it would seem, suffer the same fate. Go figure.