This page is about the pursuit of high fidelity audio reproduction, or “Hi-Fi”. High fidelity in the literal sense of the word means as close to the original as possible. In the realm of audio reproduction this translates to equipment and room acoustics that combine for an experience that is as close to live music as possible. The ultimate compliment I hear from satisfied customers is, “It sounds like the performers are in the room with us”
What is Analog and why all the fuss?…
Your ears are analog, as are your eyes. All our senses operate in the analog domain. When sound travels through air it does so in analog.
Most high fidelity recordings originate as analog signals. The pluck of a guitar string, the excitation of human vocal chords. These are analog sources. In a purely analog signal path the objective is to reproduce these analog sources as faithfully as possible. Great measures are taken to convert the recorded source to electrical signals (typically left and right channels in a conventional “stereo” system) and then amplify them to electrical signals that drive loudspeakers capable of producing sound of a similar quality and nature as if the original sources were in the room where it is being reproduced.
There are three transducers (a device that converts energy from one form to another) in this system – the phono cartridge which converts the movement of the needle in the groove to very small electrical signals, the loudspeakers at the other end which convert a much larger electrical signal into the movement of air which we perceive as sound, and the third transducer of the human ear, which takes the movement of air and converts it back to electrical signals that are delivered to our brain.
As such, the quality of the purchased transducers are paramount, and it is critical that they are well matched to each other. The job of the the electronics (often a rack full) is to faithfully reproduce the small signal from the phono cartridge to the large signal to drive the loudspeakers. Simple as that. No more, no less. This is why you seldom see tone controls or manipulations to the signal path on high end analog audio gear.
A Few Words on Digital:
Digital is a worthy cause. Unfortunately the advent of digital audio was premature, at a time when the compact disc held only 650 MB of data. The music industry knew they would have to deliver a full album on a CD so they chose a digital sampling rate of 44.1 KHz and a resolution of 16 bits, which is finally recognized as being inadequate for hi fidelity sound.
What followed was what I call the “dark ages” of high end audio. This was a period from the mid 80s until just a few years ago when digitally formatted music nearly destroyed sound quality altogether in favor of convenience. And perhaps the saddest part of all… much of the music of that era was mixed digitally at this inadequate resolution (the music industry used to promote it as if digital mixing was superior) and as such lost forever to the world of true high fidelity.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, along came MP3s. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I can carry a few thousand songs in an iPod less the the size of a matchbook and listen to music everywhere I go and with everything I do, but my “sit down and listen to music” days looked doomed.
But then something magical happened. I think it was because sound quality had become so glaringly bad that vinyl records came back. “Sit down and listen to music” folks such as myself started buying turntables and collecting vinyl again. Viola, a vinyl renaissance is now in full swing with new turntables and new vinyl records rapidly becoming the fastest growing sector in the music industry.
About the same time, something else magical happened. Digital got better. A LOT better. DSD digital has been around for a long time but only recently has computer technology advanced where we can enjoy all that digital initially promised 30 years ago. Quality, convenience, and no analog artifacts in the form of surface noise, clicks and pops that vinyl is so known for. Only in the past few years can our music servers measure their storage space in Terabytes (TB) and internet bandwidth allows for albums measured in Gigabytes (GB) to be downloaded.
If the 70’s were the golden age of vinyl, now is most certainly the golden age of digital, and it’s exciting!