Written by 7:00 am Audiophile News, Audiophile

When Does Performance Clash with Convenience?

If there is one immutable truth in high performance audio it is the desired goal for sonic excellence by manufacturers. It doesn’t stop there, however. Consumers, better known as audiophiles, also seek nirvana in the sound their systems produce.

We employ a wide variety of technologies to find that particular sound, the one speaking to our own personal interpretation of the heart and soul of music. We demo various components. We replace the ones no longer pulling their weight. We are in a constant state of inquiry, perpetually on the lookout for the next and newest innovation. We want to be impressed by sound and the summary methods in its creation. 

I sometimes find myself deciding, completely on a whim, that I want to listen to music. Doing so is remarkably simple – sit down in the listening chair, pick up the iPad, choose a song on Roon and press play. From start to finish, maybe, what, ten, twenty seconds? If I simply choose random and let the software pick what I will hear, the required time is virtually instantaneous. 

If I want to listen to an album the process is a little more complicated and time consuming. First, pick out an album. This is problematic because my albums, all nicely stored in racks, must be looked at individually to see the artist’s name and album title. This requires reading glasses, which certainly due to vanity, does not make me happy at all. 

Next comes cleaning in the ultra sonic record cleaner. This takes about five minutes in total. Usually, I will also clean the stylus, and further clean the LP as it spins with an AudioQuest Anti-Static Brush. Only then, at long last, can I actually listen to music. Vinyl lovers everywhere are saying, so what? It’s an LP, right? You do that for the sound!

My friend, the late Bret D’Agostino, son of Dan D’Agostino, once told me he had heard thousands of systems but the ones that always spoke to him were always driven by full Class A, tube amplification. “Spoke to him” – is that not the very thing we all seek?

To what degree Class A tube amps actually impress anyone is a matter of personal preference. However, Class A is generally known for magnificent sonic excellence, possessing the presumed ability to get one step closer to an approximation of live sound. 

Using Class A is also more involved. Amps of this design need to be warmed up to perform at their peak.  For most amps, about an hour is the norm. They consume, unless there is some type of bias circuit to step down from full Class A operation, a lot of electricity. I get visions of the power meter spinning off into orbit. Then there is the heat they put off. Class A amps produce a lot of heat so making the room, and the surrounding equipment hot is a concern. But oh, the sound, proponents collectively mutter under their breath. 

Unlike my Class AB, solid state amp, which at its worst is marginally warm to the touch, can be used immediately. To be completely fair, I never turn it off, so it stays in a constant state of readiness. It is always eagerly waiting for me to plop down in the chair, select random and in ten seconds be enveloped by glorious music. 

I’ll ask the question posed in the title – is technology clashing with convenience? 

Where and when do we draw the line between what needs to happen for our systems to compel us into “just one more song” because we are so engaged with what we hear? How much should we reasonably endure for sonic excellence? 

When we look at tubed components, for instance, we realize there is a time frame required for them to fully warm up before use. My phonostage, for instance, uses tubes. Consequently, before listening to an album, I will turn it on and wait about two hours before I spin an LP. That lies in stark contrast to the few seconds required to play digital music files. 

Then there is the physicality of competing technologies and musical formats. Tubes may make music sound warmer, but they do the same thing to the room itself. External heat sinks can cause nasty cuts, and each month is the surprise in the power bill. Yet, tube aficionados love the sound and are willing to put up with any conditions they must endure. LP’s require a veritable ritual to enable them to sound their best and vinyl lovers could care less. 

On the other hand, as digital continues to evolve, it seems to get easier to use. Right now, many digital software programs will pick out music at random based on a few songs already played. I mean, the listener almost doesn’t have to even think anymore. Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps manufactures want to make things easier as a selling point. No surprise there. 

Factor in the trend towards fewer total components – a more one box solution approach – systems doing more with less, and the convenience factor becomes more enticing. Are we sacrificing sonic greatness all in the name of convenience? Or conversely, has convenience and performance concomitantly risen to the point where they are not detrimental to sound quality? 

Maybe the ultimate system is one that costs almost nothing, occupies little to no space in the home, knows what you want to hear even before you know yourself and sounds like a world class audio system. That would likely end the dizzying confusion and disagreements we audiophiles seem to endure all in the name of listening to a song. 

If anyone finds such a system, how about letting me know. I’m all in. 

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