Pick a hobby, any hobby. Sports car enthusiasts have any number of makes and models from which to choose. Watches and wine, two hobbies frequently allied with audiophilia, have many different brands, features, benefits, tastes, regions, price levels, exclusivity – you name it, they both have it. As does audio – well, not taste…
In high performance audio, there exists old and new technologies – design and performance of those devices vary, as does implementation and preferences differ widely in their construct.
I am sometimes intrigued by the opinions and inclinations exhibited by contributors to any of the various high performance forums. Ask a simple question about an amp or a speaker and whoa, do opinions come flooding in. They are also widely dissimilar. Some like things one way, others prefer something completely different.
It seems like ages ago when I actually attended an audio show. In fact, it was in 2019, and I ventured into a room with an imposing set of horn speakers. Horn speakers have both attributes and detriments. Such could be said about any component, any speaker or any cable in the audio landscape.
What I found really interesting was the opinions of a couple of the people in the room that day. Now let’s be honest, if anyone is not particularly given to a particular sound, it will be mostly difficult to appreciate hearing that technology at an audio show.
I entered the room secure in the knowledge I was not especially enamored with the unique sound of horn speakers. My first and initial opinion was they sounded pretty good. First appearances are often misleading and as I listened, I discerned the sonic characteristics I find unappealing about horn speakers.
I was about ready to leave when someone behind me said to his friend these speakers were “one of the best he had ever heard.” I immediately smiled because I realized my judgment was perhaps misplaced. Just because I did not find them especially engaging does not for a minute mean everyone will feel the same. Clearly the guy behind me thought they sounded wonderful.
Rather than leave the room, I decided to stay and try to determine why he was so thoroughly captivated by these giant speakers and I was not. Setting aside any thoughts of where I needed to be next, dinner plans or anything else, I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on what I was hearing and nothing more.
Okay, I would love to report I fell in love with horn speakers but alas, I did not. I simply do not find them especially suitable to my own individual tastes. But I did manage to develop a respect for what horn speakers do well – that is, they are easy to drive, play very loudly, produce large scale dynamics and provide what is commonly known as “jump factor.”
They also have the potential to “color” sonics because of how a horn works.
Bottom line, just because I am not a fan of horn-based systems does not mean everyone is. There are sonic flavors for everyone.
I have been to any number of homes and audio shows and have heard a wide variety of systems. In each instance, the owners or hosts of show audio rooms are happy with their system’s sonics. Most individuals are even captivated by what they hear when music is played through their speakers.
I’ve had people tell me they simply “could not stop listening to music last night” because they were so mesmerized by what they heard. If the stereo was a budget system, and not necessarily very expensive, how can the owner be so completely enthused? Would that same listener not be absolutely overwhelmed by a truly world class, best of the best, cost no object system? Or would the stratospheric cost temper their praise? Cost is not always indicative of how well liked an audio system is perceived.
Dissatisfaction sometimes happens to us all. At a listening session of the Carolina Audio Society, pre Covid that is, I later found out several members did not completely like what they heard. Really? Here’s the unfortunate news – just because one person likes the sound of a system does not mean everyone will. And that’s fine. Not everyone likes Brussels Sprouts.
Fortunately, we audiophiles have available for our listening pleasure a wide variety of technologies and playback methodologies. Given the incredible variety in designs and different manufactures within each of those designs, it’s hard to imagine there not being something for everyone.
It is probably an unwise practice to disavow something because said dissatisfaction was an historical standard. Times change. And as it applies to an audio system our hearing and acceptance of technologies likewise change. I have never been especially given to tubed components. Yet two years ago, I replaced a perfectly fine solid state phonostage with a tubed variety.
Why did I do this? I have no idea. One day, for no particular reason, I just up and decided that tubes and vinyl go together like cake and ice cream. I wanted a tube phonostage and that was it. Now of course, I did my due diligence, did my research and auditioned several different components before making a decision. Once made, I plowed forward and have never looked back.
But I have never given any thought about abandoning my solid state amp and preamp. Some things are resolute.
We audiophiles should champion the variety our hobby offers. We have the wonderful condition of choices. We can choose budget or world class, analog or digital, tubes or solid state, and the choices in speaker technology is incredible.
We have these, what, call them gifts, making our hobby more enjoyable. I’ll admit, it can also make it more confusing and probably even expensive. Roll all that up in a ball and what you come up with is all these choices makes audio far more interesting. Ours is a hobby that tries to appease almost everyone.
For me, that is a wonderful way to enjoy a pastime.