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Barriers to Hi-Fi


GUTB
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I’ve noticed a few trends with online discussions in regards to hi-fi:

 

1. The large majority of commentators don’t seem to care about better sound. The prevailing belief is that they’ve "arrived" because they have a set of Audioengines, JBLs, Rokits, etc, sitting on thier desk.

 

2. New people asking questions have already decided what thier budgets are (usually less than $500).

 

3. A complete lack of interest in the high-end.

 

The key factor seems to be that this is a male lifestyle. As men we tend to tie up our egos with purchasing decisions. As the great majority of online commentary is from men defending thier low-quality purchasing decisions there is no pressure to move newbies into a better starting point. The odd time good advice is given, it’s easy to dismiss it and defend egos. Call it willful ignorance. A dangerous, toxic subset of the ego-driven lo-fi commentator are the militant objectivist cult members; I don’t mean the average objectivist who doesn’t believe in cables or expensive amps, I’m talking about people who think high resolution audio is pure snakeoil. People who say that you can EQ a HD6XX into a Utopia. 

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57 minutes ago, firedog said:

Kenwood amp, and Pioneer turntable I had in high-school and college

 

Ah you're making me nostalgic Firedog! My system when I was in college featured a Kenwood AVR - a 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound receiver, selected for its reported 'musicality' for around £100 at Richer Sounds.

Richer Sounds for the non-UK based was an at the time innovative hifi retailer that specialised in stack em high, sell em low. Man I freaking loved Richer Sounds! 

I loved that system too. The Kenwood was paired with a highly regarded but cheapass Technics CD player. Entry level Mission speakers. And later a Technics Minidisc player :/

 

No vinyl. I sold my 1210s and my vinyl when I was 18 and never returned. So I guess looking back I was a digital audiophile even before the prospect of putting the music on a computer really arose. 

 

Anyway the point of this rambling reply is that I am routinely in the minority. My mates and colleagues without exception think I am somewhere between quirky and outright mental to spend my time and money on HiFi. And I never mention or even allude to how much I have spent as that would invite even further derision. 

 

My good mates thought I was crazy for spending money on a power conditioner for "clean electricity". I still get the occasional jibe about that! 

My colleagues thought I was stupid when I mentioned having my music on a server! The prevailing opinion was why bother when your phone can do that. 

 

And you know what, they are not wrong. Well not entirely. 

 

We are in the minority. Convenience, ubiquity and lifestyle rules. MP3, the Ipod and IPhone have effectively ruined audio quality for the mass market and that damage has yet to be undone. 

 

Firedog - I thought your post was very thoughtful and raises an excellent point about headphones and people apparently spending more and more on decent cans. Look at the Beats deal making Dr Dre a billionaire. 

 

Dr Dre the saviour of audio quality. I didn't foresee that when I was whiling away hour after hour in Richer Sounds back in the day! x-D

 

Cheers, 

Alan 

Synergistic Research Powercell UEF SE > Sonore OpticalModule (LPS-1.2 & DXP-1A5DSC) > EtherRegen (SR4T & DXP-1A5DSC) > PinkFaun modded Buffalo BS-GS2016P (Farad Super3 & LPS-1.2) > (Sablon 2020 LAN) Innuos Zenith SE server > (Sablon 2020 USB) Innuos Phoenix > (Sablon 2020 USB) PS Audio Directstream DAC > PS Audio M1200 monoblocks > Salk Sound Supercharged Songtowers 

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31 minutes ago, BigAlMc said:

Look at the Beats deal making Dr Dre a billionaire

Well Beats used to suck SQ wise; but apparently even they felt the market demand and have a couple of models that are good sounding. Maybe not as good as some "audiophile" models, but perfectly good and nothing to deride.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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8 minutes ago, firedog said:

Well Beats used to suck SQ wise; but apparently even they felt the market demand and have a couple of models that are good sounding. Maybe not as good as some "audiophile" models, but perfectly good and nothing to deride.

 

Yeah Beats is an interesting case. My girlfriend who has all her music in MP3 on her IPhone and uses ITunes (3 cardinal sins in my book!!) insisted on Beats headphones despite my offering to recommend better sounding cans for the same price. So there is definitely a fashion / trendy element to the success of Beats. But nonetheless it's an encouraging trend as it gets people thinking about sound quality. 

Synergistic Research Powercell UEF SE > Sonore OpticalModule (LPS-1.2 & DXP-1A5DSC) > EtherRegen (SR4T & DXP-1A5DSC) > PinkFaun modded Buffalo BS-GS2016P (Farad Super3 & LPS-1.2) > (Sablon 2020 LAN) Innuos Zenith SE server > (Sablon 2020 USB) Innuos Phoenix > (Sablon 2020 USB) PS Audio Directstream DAC > PS Audio M1200 monoblocks > Salk Sound Supercharged Songtowers 

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Agreed. For $1 or $2K you can get something with very high quality sound-most of the basic high end attributes other than very deep bass and the ability to play loudly/fill a large-ish space. The diminishing returns curve is very steep after that and you have to go to increments of $5k, $10K, and so on for small improvements. Once you reach even $10-$15k the very small additional improvements start costing astronomical amounts of money.

 

I have nothing against people who want to spend those amounts. But let's keep some perspective and admit that a well chosen but modest system in the audiophile world is still giving you fantastic sound, especially in a relative sense to lesser setups and historical setups.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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8 hours ago, GUTB said:

... People who say that you can EQ a HD6XX into a Utopia. 

This is not new. Its a particular mindset, usually associated with owning a bad headphone amplifier choice. There are a lot of bad headphone amplifiers out there at price points below $500

I despaired of headphones sounding good until I went past that amplifier price point.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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27 minutes ago, firedog said:

Agreed. For $1 or $2K you can get something with very high quality sound-most of the basic high end attributes other than very deep bass and the ability to play loudly/fill a large-ish space. The diminishing returns curve is very steep after that and you have to go to increments of $5k, $10K, and so on for small improvements. Once you reach even $10-$15k the very small additional improvements start costing astronomical amounts of money.

 

I have nothing against people who want to spend those amounts. But let's keep some perspective and admit that a well chosen but modest system in the audiophile world is still giving you fantastic sound, especially in a relative sense to lesser setups and historical setups.

It would be interesting if as CA members we could all agree on a budget system that gets a beginner  started with a bang.

An initial thought

 

KEF LS50 wireless with Aries mini, a complete system in 3 boxes for $2700; speaker stands, SSD drive adds another $500

 

 

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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4 hours ago, esldude said:

Firstly, I don't know of anywhere that online discussions are the way you describe them.  Not on any audio forum. 

 

Secondly, you are doing what seems your ingrained idea to do, and making it all about the money spent.  

 

In defense of the low cost, but high performing end of things I offer the following.  I'll use something I am familiar with.  The JBL LSR305 or 308 speakers are ridiculously good for what they cost.  Get those and a $500 DAC fed from a computer and you have a good system...

Looks like folks on Headfi agree with you for under $500. Half the trick with hobbyist audio is getting gear that lets one realize there is more than you thought there was to a recording. Hard to go backwards once that occurs

 

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/review-of-jbl-lsr305.779350/

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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Money spent does not ensure quality or lack thereof,  at either end of the spectrum. I have heard very modest systems that sound great, I have heard systems costing several hundred thousand dollars that were, shall I say, underwhelming. Not every home or apartment can support a big system. I am fortunate to have a dedicated room  away from our home’s more public space for 2 channel. Neither my wife nor I want to have big speakers and a bunch of boxes and wires dominate a living room or family room. Our choice, it is ok if you do. Most people just aren’t obsessive about Audio. Never have been. You can be a music lover and not obsess over audio. As long as what you are using to play music conveys the power of music, all is good. That can be an iPhone with earbuds, a computer feeding a pair of Vanatoos or a monster rig. People spend what they can afford or what they feel is reasonable. As much as I have enjoyed high end audio over these many years, I have limits on what I will spend. I would rather spend money on music, live shows, great food and world travel, than a $250,000 system. But that is just me.

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2 hours ago, mav52 said:

You have any links to your above topic numbers. .  "" large majority of commentators ", whom would that be

 

Just go to /r/audiophile on Reddit. Also Vinyl Engine, Steve Hoffman. CA is on the higher end of the audio spectrum being mostly older men. Head-Fi is a mix of serious audiophiles and hardcore objectivist have-nothings.

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6 hours ago, esldude said:

Firstly, I don't know of anywhere that online discussions are the way you describe them.  Not on any audio forum. 

 

Secondly, you are doing what seems your ingrained idea to do, and making it all about the money spent.  

 

In defense of the low cost, but high performing end of things I offer the following.  I'll use something I am familiar with.  The JBL LSR305 or 308 speakers are ridiculously good for what they cost.  Get those and a $500 DAC fed from a computer and you have a good system.  Not top of the line, but good.  I've heard plenty of systems in the past for 4x the money that aren't as good.  And some current ones costing that much more as well.  It isn't top of the line good, but surprisingly good.  Most digital gear has advanced even as prices dropped to be a minor bottleneck to sound quality.  Now that some well designed active speakers are available things are really looking up.  That is a good thing.  Money will always be something of a barrier, but people can spend effectively less than ever and get a heavy dose of sound quality audiophiles care about.  Add a sub to these low cost systems and you'll get well up the curve of increased quality.  

 

On the other end $10k won't get you state of the art quality though I think inflation adjusted the quality is better than ever.  Ditto for $20k systems.  I do have the experience of those to know.  There was a time when a $1k rig versus $5k was two different worlds of quality.  Not the case anymore.  The $5k rig will be better if well chosen, but on the same continuum of quality is the well chosen $1k rig.  Not in two different worlds.  

 

I don't know where money fails to render better quality though I know it is north of $100k.  A $5k rig now gets you such high quality many many people will be willing to get off the train at that point.  That is not a bad thing.  Those two ends of the continuum do not threaten each other.  The improvement of lower cost gear isn't a barrier to hifi. 

 

I see the entire premise of you initial post as very misguided.  

 

$300 active monitors sitting on your computer desk will not result in a high quality stereo sound experience. Your valuations in sound quality are extremely suspect, BUT in order to remove my ego from the equation I decided to try out these well-regarded-and-cheap components (Crown amp is coming in from Amazon today). My biases and expectations may be wrong. But I understand that as a man it’s hard to get around one’s ego — maybe my experiment will help other men get around their own and move in the direction of better sound.

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Methinks GUTB is the new audio Moses....leading us "men" out of the audio wasteland to a new land of milk and gold plated tuning knobs.

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake ~ Sayre's Law

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No offense GUTB, but why do you keep banging on the same nail? You seem obsessed with the existence of what you call "commercial" (not good according to you) audio gear, and hi end audio gear (that is the only gear people should have according to you).

 

In just about every market of goods, there are lower priced options for the masses; and higher priced better items for those able and willing to spend on them. This is the case for cars, clothes, wine, etc. 

 

How is your quality of life affected, if someone rocks out to a $400 Yamaha receiver with $300 Polk Audio speakers?

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18 minutes ago, KingRex said:

I believe the expansion of high quality audio suffers 2 obstacle. Of course money is an issue.  That's the 1st issue.  Let me tie that into the second issue, space.  I live in Seattle.  A city with little discretionary money and even less SPACE.   I have bid electrical for hundreds of project ranging from small 5 over 2 structures to tall towers.  600 feet is a nice sized condo/apt.  San Francisco and NY are no better.  They cost around $2400 to $3200 a month the to rent.  Take your 100k job, pull out the 33% tax, grocery, cable, phone, entertainment, insurance etc and you have no money while living in a Hamster cage.   The spaces are designed for nothing more than a flatscreen.

 

Get married, move to the suburbs and a house will set you back $700k.  That's a scramble bid for a 1200sqft piece of land with a structure you can live in.   If I could get that house for $550 I would tear it down, build new and sell fort 1.4M or better.    Or you loose .75 to 1.25 hours per trip of driving to and from work.  At that commute your still out $500k.  Kids?  That's a third issue.  Little hands, thrown toys.  When their older abuse during use, especially if a party is thrown.  

 

Society is build around staring at screens.  I guess this is a 4th issue. I grew up with Martha Quinn on MTV.  Music was partly important because we watched TV with it. 

 

I heard a clients high school kids cranking Bruno Mars with friends over.  They were enjoying music.  The father is into audio.  He is excited about his Pioneer multi channel amp that is old, and a cheep techniques TT.  To him, he has high audio.  Could he purchase better.  Lets see, $600k remodel on top of $500k house, divorced, 2 kids, Med ins. etc.  You tell me where his priorities are.  

 

Space and Money.  The middle class has huge bils.  Maybe a nice paycheck but big bills.  Housing is build dangerously close to inhumane space constrained cells.  We are full of apts with a shared kitchen /bath and a 125 foot bed space.  

Those who make it big.  They are few, hence a shift to $500k systems that marginally meet audiophile standards.

 

That's why I think high end audio has barrier to hifi.  

Your situation is unique to you and many like you, but clearly these typical scenarios haven't affected the "niche" market of hifi in the past .

I think the market is still relatively healthy, (compared to 1980s-2000s) possibly even more so because of "DIGITAL".

 

If there is any barrier, it will be because large improvements in SQ are rare and the the law of diminishing returns ratio is escalating, where speakers excluded, a relatively modest system is easily 90% of the best available at any cost, and the market is being saturated with available options with only subjective improvements, none clearly a victor over the other.

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A couple of examples of "inexpensive" systems relative to what one reads in TAS & Stereophile that I currently own and to my ears still sound wonderful.

 

 

OFFICE:            Laptop (SSD, Tidal) > Benchmark DAC1 HDR PRE/DAC > ADAM A7 Active Speakers > Acoustic Research Sub

                          New   US$3,500         Used  US$2,200 

                          System is now 7 years old and has not missed a beat. If you are looking for excellent engineering, without the Bling, then you need look no further than Benchmark for your front end. JA once described the measurements of the original DAC1 as "perfect" or words to the effect. There have now been 3 upgrades, which makes the DAC 3 "more perfect" :).

 

 

 

LOUNGE:         Auralic Mini (SB Booster PS, SSD, Tidal, Spotify) > Devialet 220 (PRE, DAC, Active Crossover, 175W) > ATC SCM 19 Speakers > 2 x SVS SB2000 Subs

                         New  US$13,000         Used  US$10,000

                         System is now 4 years old

 

The Devialet looks sensational and has a huge WAF acceptance, plus an excellent internal DAC, active crossover, 175W, flexible inputs and upgradable firmware. You can pick one up for US$4K second hand.

 

 

 

BEACH HOUSE:        Auralic Mini (SSD & Tidal & Spotify > Marantz PM 6005 (DAC, Integrated) > Wharfdale Diamond 220 Speakers > 2 x Sonance 8 Subs 

                                    Mix of New & Used   US$1600 ... also drives a second pair of wall mounted all weather speakers purchased second hand for $US100

                                    System is now 2 years old

                              

 

The Auralic Mini's Lighting DS software allows me to control everything from my iPhone. It currently has Spotify Connect in Beta form and once this is introduce it will provide everything our family will need (wife and son prefer Spotify) for a high quality multi room system. I do not use the Mini's internal DAC, except when travelling, and only being the size of an Apple TV, and with 500G of my music plus Tidal and Spotify downloads, it is a wonderful device to take on holidays and connect into a hotel's mini system or an Air B&B's HiFi.

 

What these systems all have in common is their ease of use, excellent build quality, and low cost relative to performance. I will be able amortise each of them over a 10 year life span and get back about 30% of the original cost. i.e my premium lounge system will cost less than US$I000 per annum including Tidal and Spotify (plus my ripped CDs on the SSD). I currently see no need to upgrade  ..... maybe tinker a bit :P.


 

I'm with Denis in that there has never been a better time to purchase great sounding HiFi at "reasonable" prices you just need the knowledge of what represents good value without the bling.

 

 

 

LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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I'm going to guess that part of the reason is that a lot of popular music these days is poorly recorded and engineered (loud, clipped, compressed, etc.).  The targeted audience are people listening through earpods on an iPhone.   There's little motivation to go up the audiophile ladder if your music sounds equally bad on a $500 system as on a $5,000 system.  The few who are interested go the head fi route first because of monetary and space constraints.

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