As card-carrying audiophiles we’re always searching for sonic improvements in our systems. We may, currently, be marginally satisfied. But even while “being satisfied” would certainly love to hear perceptively better sound. Our hobby’s core principals and beliefs engage us to seek and find better sonics.
Sometimes such discoveries are the result of a simple move of our speakers. Maybe, a new piece of equipment will be an eyebrow raising experience. Maybe, the addition of acoustical panels will tame some of the sonic nasties living, hiding even, in all our audio rooms, regardless of where that room may be located.
Yes, we are a group of hobbyists bent on improvement. It really doesn’t matter how, or even to some degree when improvements occur, only that they happen.
It can be something small, like better bass response on one note, one song, in our entire music library. It can also be an improvement on a global scale such as new speakers or a new, much better component. In all honesty, it really doesn’t even matter if improvements are real or imaginary – only that we, ourselves, believe they exist and are induced, after changing something, experience notably better sonics. We are all disposed of the unique ability to convince ourselves we hear improvements whether they exist or not.
How many of us, I wonder, have ever found the “WOW” factor?
I see the WOW factor as a cataclysmic change of epic proportions. Change so remarkable we are left speechless and find someone telling us to close our mouth. How these changes occur may be widespread. Perhaps a result of a change from a mediocre component to a world class one. Because, yes, world class products are called world class because they sound like world class, not budget. Maybe the WOW comes from moving the audio system from the great room into a sole function audio room with proper room treatments and all the bells and whistles. While such seismic change comes in many ways it is up to each of us to separate an opinion of “oh, okay, that’s a little better to “WOW!” We all will know that moment when it arrives.
Stopping us from finding the WOW factor is a two headed beast living inside each of us – complacency and budget. It is distinctly simple to achieve some level of sonic improvement and think to ourselves “now, that’s what I’ve been looking for.” I know, I’ve said this very thing to myself before. It then becomes quite simple to become complacent and not especially disposed to make any other changes. Until, that is, when some little voice inside our head tells us we need to make continued, more substantive changes.
Budget is something with which we all must contend. Few of us are disposed of wealth to the point that it just really doesn’t matter what it is, how big it is, how much it weighs, how much it costs or anything else. No, the overwhelming majority of audiophiles play within a certain framework of disposable fiscal resources. We have only so much to spend on the new whatever and beyond that, we can’t play in that particular sandbox. Such is the reason used gear is so popular – it is an opportunity to get the something better, usually a little older something better, for a discounted price. Regardless, however, of new or used, pretty much every one of us battles the cost monster.
One way to obtain the WOW factor is through a change in technology. How many audiophiles, when first subscribing to a CD quality level streaming service didn’t say WOW to themselves at the ease, convenience, availability and cost of playing music? Maybe the technological change may even be going backwards, like adding a reel to reel into your system. Is it not interesting how a technology that essentially ended decades ago is now returning and basically making just about everything else sound, well, not as good? I would say that would be a WOW moment for sure.
Recording quality can be a WOW factor. Maybe that new LP or CD sounds so much better than you expected. Reissues have been lighting that path for some time now. If you have heard the LP remix of the Beatles classic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and compared it to the original 1967 mono version, you’ll know what I mean.
I would posit that searching for the WOW factor is one reason why so many of us have multiple copies of any one work – we are searching for something epically better.
If I may use a golf metaphor, finding a WOW factor in audiophilia is like holing out a 120-yard pitch shot. When it happens, we jump for joy, high five our playing partners and enjoy the trip to the green to retrieve our ball in the cup – and the satisfaction we feel while the other three read the green and finish putting out the hole. And while that joyous moment is wonderfully rewarding, we soon realize the next hole is the number 1 handicap, incredibly difficult, six hundred plus yard par 5 that is almost impossible to shoot even.
Metaphors aside, finding the WOW factor in our audio systems may be simple yet expensive, inexpensive yet imperceptible or just plain elusive. Still, we search for that one defining moment when we can lean back in our listening chair and think to ourselves “WOW, THAT SOUNDS UNBELIEVABLE!”
My hope is everyone finds their own personal WOW moment in their audio pursuits.