Written by 9:01 am News

Are Audiophiles Turning into Old Farts?

Steven Stone looks at the reasons behind audiophiles’ love/hate relationship with new technologies…

I recently bought a new computer for my wife’s business. That part was easy. But from the moment it arrived I felt a dread bubbling up from inside me. I procrastinated as long as I could from switching over from old to new. After consulting with two different Mac experts I took a deep breath, and Apple’s Migration Assistant worked flawlessly. Well, there was that 45 minutes I’ll never get back from the fine folks at Adobe, who would only point me to third-party websites with forums that might have a migration solution for CS4 Creative Suite to run on a new iMac with the latest High Sierra OS. But I digress… 

AR-fart1a.jpgBefore, during, and after, this new computer experience I kept thinking, “Everything was working OK before. Couldn’t we have just stopped right THERE…” And then I wondered, “Am I turning into an old fart?” 

When it comes to automobiles, I’m sure I’m a borderline luddite. I don’ want or like added stuff to distract me from driving. Maybe I’m merely not very skilled when it comes to vehicles, but driving takes my full attention (just like listening to music.) I don’t want to talk on the phone (hands free, of course) or query Siri. I just want to drive my damn car. And I want it to handle well enough and go fast enough to get me out of trouble and maybe occasionally just enjoy the act of controlling a responsive machine. The only automobile tech I lust for is a back-up camera. 

Even though I’m big into streaming music I have a similar attitude with audio. Every time there is a “new paradigm” in audio reproduction, my skin crawls. My first reaction is “Go away! Vamoose! Do not come along and screw things up (again.)” But then my life’s work as a professional early-adopter kicks in and I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and heave to. But I still don’t have to like it, at least at first… 

AR-fart3a.pngI suspect many audiophiles of a certain age might go through a similar action/reaction to “the next great thing,” whatever that may be. High Rez downloads. MQA. LPs. USB DACs. There are so many ways for technology to pass us by while thumbing its nose at our backwardness. 

Some of this negativity probably stems from the quality of our introductions to new technology. So many times, after a software update or “upgrade” we are faced with new, poorly designated control surfaces with little in the way of good instructions as to how this new version should work. I’m sorry, but perfunctory “Read Me” files are not the answer. How many of us stumble into new features by accident rather than through intention. 

MQA is a classic example of a “new paradigm” introduced in a manner that was sufficiently confusing that many audiophiles reacted to it with negativity. For MQA, the issue was that it is a combination of complementary technologies, not a single clearly patentable one, so licensing was the only way to maintain control. Also, MQA’s reluctance to reveal everything to everybody caused a backlash among some manufacturers and industry journalists. 

AR-fart5a.jpgPlayback software is another product category that as often as not, includes periodic updates. Sometimes the update is precipitated by an operating system update that has rendered the older versions of the playback software non-functional. And sometimes the users know about this before they do the OS update, so they can decide to wait awhile before going “forward.” Other times they find out after the update that a particular piece of software is bricked until the update arrives. If that particular piece of software was critical for music playback, it’s now time for plan B, whatever that may be. If this happens with any regularity it could drive someone back to cassette tapes. 

A good part of my job is keeping up with, discovering, and understanding newer, more effective ways of achieving high-quality sound. And like many older audiophiles my reaction to new sonic technologies is often bordering on schizophrenic – on one hand the promise of “better” is always enticing, but the threat of each new technological advancement eclipsing older methodologies is very real, and not without some discomfort. 

But when I look back at the sound quality of systems when I was a young audiophile compared with current options I can only conclude that, yes, the pleasures of today’s higher quality audio are worth the discomforts inherent with a new technology’s learning curves and continuous reinventions. 

Evolve or… 

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