I have an iPod. I’m not especially sure how long I’ve owned it but I do know I have transferred it to three different automobiles. I exclusively use it in the car as a different source than radio. I also know it has been untold years since I’ve updated or changed any of its music. That pretty much sums up my allegiance to the device that arguably made Apple famous. Or more famous, whichever.
I have always wanted a really wonderful sounding audio system. My earliest systems were, by any measurable account, very basic and very entry level. In the beginning, I even commandeered my Mom’s AM / FM / 8-Track / Record Changer while I feverishly cut grass and raked leaves while saving for my first system. With so many years passing between then and now, I do not really remember how my first little audio system sounded. What I am quite sure of is that it did not sound like my system today. Not in the least. Does that mean I enjoy music more now than then?
Anytime I venture into a Best Buy or similar store, I tell myself to just get what I came for and get out. Don’t veer over to that “other” side of the store where the audio systems are sold. And absolutely don’t venture into the Magnolia section if there is one available. I know what will happen. I’ll stand there and hopelessly think to myself, “how could anyone ever listen to something like this?” Of course I am also immediately reminded that the number of music lovers who find this level of system enjoyable far and away dwarfs the number of people who have a system like mine – or one even half as nice or half as expensive. That they find no issue at all with how their musical presentation sounds should dissuade my Mid Fi condemnations – although that probably isn’t very likely.
It does raise an interesting question, however. Does a higher quality system, and okay, let’s be honest, a more expensive system, mean music will be better appreciated? Is it absolutely necessary to spend “X” number of thousands of dollars to listen to a song? Likewise, is a $699.00 Mid Fi receiver incapable of providing musical enjoyment? And how would we set about measuring the level of enjoyment any one system is capable of providing?
Well, to be sure, the salient differences between those various systems and their slated function comes into play. I suspect that most people purchasing that ubiquitous receiver from Best Buy won’t house it in a dedicated room and sit by the hour in a chair, eyes closed, head tilted back and absorbed in musicality. Na, I doubt that happens at all. Save that for audiophiles. My guess is those Mid Fi systems are used for just about any purpose where listening to music is not the main function, but rather an ancillary accompaniment to whatever else is occurring at the time. Doesn’t the mere fact the system was even played at all count for something? And is it not quite likely that someone might stop on their way from one room to the next and say, “I love that song!” Personally, I find that quite likely. So then, does listening to a less than hyper expensive, world class audio system mean music cannot be enjoyed?
I have a friend who has two wine cellars in his house. One is for everyday use, a nice burgundy for a grilled burger. The second cellar is for the really good stuff- most of which is rarely consumed. Those wines are most often bought and sold. Because to my friend, wine is a consumable product, an investment and most of all, a hobby. He researches various growers, the best year for a particular wine, talks with and even buys directly from vineyards all in the hope of securing a great bottle. Ask him to drink some $4.99 thing from the grocery store and he would probably laugh at you. But someone does by those grocery store wines, right? Probably a whole lot more people doing that than buying a case of $1000.00 per bottle wine directly from a vineyard, right? Well, of course that’s right. Does that sound in any way familiar? Can you say “audiophile?”
I do not think it unreasonable to scoff at a lesser quality system as long as it is in the proper context. I find listening to music, and I’m talking here about serious listening, more enjoyable on a system capable of revealing detail, accuracy, big scale dynamics, and providing an emotional connection to the music being played. If an audio system can do that, regardless of its cost, I’ll be musically satisfied and enriched. For myself, said satisfaction and enrichment will seldom, if ever, happen with a big box receiver that will purportedly do everything in the A/V universe. Does that make me a snob? Well, maybe so. I’ve been chasing a sound for over forty years and it took the system I have right now, today, to deliver that sound. Regardless of the cost, regardless of any and all features, regardless of all that. This is the one that makes me musically happy.
Most importantly, music is a very personal thing. What moves and captivates me is not the same for someone else. This is not a right or wrong scenario. Being captivated by a song is not a byproduct of an audio system. Not, at least, a direct byproduct. It could be also argued it is more about the song than the system that portrays the song. So in answer to the original question – no, it probably does not. Or maybe, perhaps, yes, it absolutely does. Because in the final analysis, it’s listener’s choice.