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Are New Trends Replacing Sonics With Convenience?

Paul Wilson considers the fate of sonic excellence in future audio design.

Audiophiles. Gotta love ‘em, right? We commonly agree to disagree on any number of subjects, theories, sources, sonic presentations, you name it. Why we do so is plainly obvious – ours is an individual pastime. We all enjoy doing things our own way, forging our own path and to a certain extent, at least from our own perspective and viewpoints, differences from our own are simply wrong. Well, for the most part. 

While many of us prefer digital, there are also that dedicated enclave who prefer vinyl. Some feel tubes sound more magical than solid state while others still feel quite the opposite. We all like what we like, be it equipment, musical genres, shoot, even how and where a system is housed. 

While these are debates with a lot of mileage, there is one with a newer focus. One perhaps best termed a new arrival. One, who not surprisingly, has roots in the longstanding analog / digital fuss. The question being, is audiophilia replacing sonics with convenience?

Ask me which I prefer, vinyl or digital and my answer is simple, I like them both and from a sonic standpoint, equally. Both have their own merit. I have scores of spectacular sounding LPs. I’ve bought several Mobile Fidelity UltraDisc One Step LPs which sound much better than any other LP in my library.

Conversely, I have an original 1974 release of Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Center of the Earth, an album for whatever reason I’ve always enjoyed. I played it recently, after a year or more absence, and was shocked at how utterly remarkable it sounded. Unbelievable soundstage. I also have the CD copied to my server and when the inclination struck to hear Rick and his keyboard pageantry, I typically went digital. As such, I have not heard the LP in a while. Playing that 47-year-old record left me in wide-eyed disbelief at what I have been missing by disregarding vinyl.

I see the salient question being why I have consistently chosen the digital version of this artist’s work, or any music where I have both digital and vinyl, as opposed to an analog version? The answer is not really all that surprising – convenience. 

For me to play an LP, and agree or not this is my process, I first clean the LP in an ultra-sonic record cleaner. That takes a total of five minutes, clean and dry. Then I place the LP on the platter and install the record clamp and outer periphery ring. I then use an AudioQuest Super Conductive Anti-Static Brush, then clean the stylus. Only then do I lower the tonearm. Frustratingly enough, I am only comfortably seated in the listening chair for about 20 minutes before getting up to change sides. Or a different LP, which means going through this whole process again. 

To be honest, when I really look forward to playing an LP, none of this matters all that much. Of course, my listening sessions are typically shorter for vinyl than digital. And what of digital? How does it compare? Well, selections take only a few short seconds – pick up iPad, open Roon, choose music, press play. Short of having to get up for some personal reason, I can, if I so choose, easily remain comfortably seated in the listening chair all day – just as happy as a clam. 

Think I’m the only one who feels similarly? Not by a long shot. Manufacturers recognize the ease and convenience of digital and are going to almost epic lengths to raise the bar for digital convenience. My question is, are we, as audiophiles, ceding way to convenience for convenience’s sake and moving towards foregoing our sonic principals, or are we remaining dedicated to sonics?  

Looking at the totality of high performance audio it becomes clear a huge emphasis is being placed on more budget friendly systems with purported better sonics. Call it the all things to all audiophiles principal. Half million-dollar systems are not necessarily required because this $5K system sounds good enough. Some may buy into that position; others will think it absurd. For those who do not question such a notion, how do you roll? Are you giving way to convenience and foregoing sonics? It depends on your level of acceptance of good enough

Another important question would be is this really a condition at all? Are manufacturers placing sonics in second place behind feature laden components which also champion affordability? Does this condition even exist, to any extent? 

I have always been humorously curious why, or so it sometimes seems to me, as the price of components goes up, features go down. How many audiophiles have looked at $30K, $50K or more preamps whose features extend little beyond changing sources and volume? At the same time, a $2K preamp does almost everything except wash the dinner dishes. 

Here’s another question – which one would you think has the more likely chance of producing better sonics? If your answer is “well, the $2K preamp is good enough”— are you then part of some presumed wave of those placing sonics behind pretty much everything else? 

Is it also possible the more expensive preamp is designed for those who can afford and demand sonic superiority above all else and the lesser expensive option not? Are the lower cost version’s attributes principally designed for something other than sonics – like maybe convenience? 

In the real world, hyper expensive equipment is not going away. Probably ever. Likewise, manufacturers are not anytime soon going to stop searching for better features combined with lower cost. I have always pretty much figured that sales of budget equipment helped fund research and development of high-rise priced luxury equipment. One is an expedient means to the other. 

My question is this – in the future, if you want superior sonics, will you be forced to open wide the checkbook? If you instead want numerous features and low cost, and are not especially concerned about how magnificent something sounds, will foregoing sonics in favor of abundant options be an acceptable fallback position? In short, are we replacing sonics with convenience? 

I view the answer as one simple thing – sonic acceptance. 

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