Building a bridge to the man in the street


The man in the street (TMITS); the poor fella must be feeling punch drunk right about now. In the early noughties he was told by the music industry that MP3s were transparent to the original CD; and so he bought/ripped/torrented them by the truckload.

Ten years down the line, those same industry marketing bods – including some from the hi-fi industry – are now telling him that MP3s are garbage and that he should be listening to hi-resolution audio (HRA) or – at the very least – lossless audio.

There’s a fresh round of MP3 kicking going on. It’s yesterday’s format (apparently). With this new message aligning with the long held sentiments of the audiophile community there’s a healthy dose of “I told you so” being played out in the more pious quarters.

If we genuinely wish to engage TMITS with the promise of good sound it won’t help to pity or pillory his choice of archive format, soundbar or headphones.

I don’t know about you but most of my non-audiophile pals listen to music via laptop speakers. At best they’ve opted for Beats ‘phones (or similar – House Of Marley anyone?) running from their smartphone. Since hooking into the likes of Spotify and rDio not one of them purchases music from download stores.

The odd friend has a decrepit 90s mini system that’s all but falling apart but yesteryear’s traditional two-channel setup of CD player, amplifier and loudspeakers has slowly evaporated from TMITS’ consciousness.


No surprise then that the conversation about the benefits of HRA is lost on TMITS. He complains of reading conflicting reports on whether or not HRA’s benefits would be audible to him. One thing’s for sure, an HDTracks download is wasted on laptop speakers or a soundbar. The iPhone won’t decode the damn thing properly and a dedicated portable audio player is, at this stage in the game, one pocketable device too many.

The horse currently sits behind the cart.

Shouldn’t we be talking hardware before we talk software?

For the TMITS to hear the benefits of HRA first hand he first needs better audio gear. Gear that will resolve the differences between MP3/Ogg and FLAC/ALAC. Once that’s in the bag, only then can we switch the conversation up to the merits of 24bit/96kHz PCM, 24bit/192kHz PCM and DSD.

The week before last I attended a Sennheiser Australia demo event. Down under, they don’t just distribute headphone gear — Sennheiser Australia also handles Arcam, Dynaudio and Bryston.

Being shown off in the Pier One Hotel’s main room was one heck of a system. Allow me to detail its contents:

Dynaudio Confidence Platinum C4 loudspeakers (AU$31999)
2 x Bryston 28BSST² monoblocks (AU$24998)
Bryston BP26 pre-amplifier (AU$3499)
Bryston MPS2 Power Supply for pre-amplifier (AU$2249)
Bryston BDP-2 Digital Player (AU$3999)
Bryston BDA-2 DAC (AU$3199)
+ assorted MIT cable for all digital and analogue devices AU($48000)

Total system cost? ~AU$117 000. Wowsers.


Hearing Stravinksy’s Rite Of Spring on this rig was something else. It triggered not only cerebral gratification but physical too – you could feel the music in your stomach and on your skin as much as you could hear it in your head.

This is a system aimed at the seasoned audiophile. With manufacturing cost considerations at the high end being less acute than at the entry-level, manufacturers like Dynaudio and Bryston can properly wield their R&D prowess.

But no matter how astonishing the end result the price tag reminds us that a starter system it is not.

Whilst I (obviously) don’t know everyone on the planet I’d contend with some confidence that very few enter the audiophile world by dropping this length of green. Going from laptop speakers to an $117k system isn’t the behaviour of the man in the street. His first steps are tentative; he’s full of questions and more-often-than-not doesn’t want to spend big.

And who can blame him when the music industry’s preferred format seems to shift every ten years or so. With $10/month for a streaming service subscription the TMITS sidesteps the format issue altogether. He can play it at home. He can listen to it on his smartphone. Streaming services are a risk free anchor to the world of music.


Anyone working in the PR or the sales side of the hi-fi industry will likely be on their feet at this point, ready to point out on how much TMITS is missing out.

Prior to firing up this monstrously impressive system, Sennheiser Australia’s Dan Woodall gave a presentation that ran with a Findus frozen meal analogy to illustrate how TMITS’ music consumption is a triumph of convenience over quality. An attempt to bolster this argument led to the detailing of how bitrate numbers between MP3 and CD differ by a large margin. Whilst this reasoning is more emotive than it is scientific, it is not without its merits.

The point is: we return once again to considering hardware that can audibly resolve these differences.

So – what gives? Building a bridge to TMITS doesn’t have to mean cheap and ‘cheerful’. With seriously good gear being more affordable than ever you don’t have to break the bank to get a taste of the high end.

$500 would get you into the great sound game with an AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2 and Sennheiser Momentum headphones – a sublime combination that not only spruces up laptop listening but also the Samsung Galaxy S5 for on-the-go glory.

Stir in an additional $200 and you’re into the meatier, punchier presentation of Resonessence Labs Herus + MrSpeakers Mad Dogs; fully functional with both iPhone and laptop.

Much noise has been made about the Astell&Kern and Pono players– and with good reason too – but neither match up to the Sony NWZ-ZX1’s combination of sound quality AND features. The Sony has the better screen and the better (Android) interface. With full access to the Google Play store listening options takes in lossy streams from Pandora, Spotify and Qobuz all the way up to 24bit/192kHz downloads.

Pricing and availability varies between territories with the Australian price being the lowest in the world (AU$699) at press time. Sony shuttered the doors of most of its Australian retails spaces last year so purchase is an online-only affair; TMITS can’t audition a demo unit prior to handing over his credit card digits. In Japan, in-store demos are available to customers of Yodobashi Camera and North Americans shouldn’t have to wait too much longer for the NWZ-ZX1 to crop up at local electronics outlets. have begun offering the Sony DAP for US$699.


Don’t dig headphones? In two-channel land your first consideration could be given to the Vanatoo Transparent One actives. DAC + Class D amplifier + loudspeakers + cabling for US$499. Everything in one box – no more to pay. How did I stumble upon Vanatoo? At 2013’s T.H.E. Newport Beach Show is how – their demo room solely dedicated to a $500 system-in-a-box digitally fed over toslink by an Airport Express. The Vanatoos also handle Bluetooth streams but I’ve yet to be convinced of its aural satisfaction. Airplay sounds more fundamentally nourishing to these ears, even with lossy audio.

Got more moulah ready to drop? Allow me to introduce you to the KEF X300A. These are quite a bit better than the Vanatoo – there’s better bass control for a start. Whilst the X300A are definitely not an active LS50 they do get you most of the way there for considerably less financial outlay because, like the Vanatoo, they’re actives with a built-in DAC. Better still, there’s a pair of Class A/B amplifiers inside each speaker – one for the woofer, one for the tweeter. My listening tests revealed superior top-to-bottom layering than with any of the three amplifiers I applied to the LS50. Shop around and you can score a pair of X300A for AU$900 down under, US$799 in the land of the free.


Next month, I’ll be reviewing the newer Wireless version that adds DLNA and Airplay streaming to the specifications sheet. Stateside this new version sells for a flat US$1k. Down under, AU$1300. Hats off to KEF America for demo-ing these at shows, giving almost as much airtime to the X300A Wireless as their high-end loudspeakers. If only someone could convince KEF to make the final leap and give these wonderful entry-level active loudspeakers demo room exclusivity. Imagine that: a show room with a pair of loudspeakers the only physical manifestation of playback hardware and where the music is streamed direct from an iPad’s Spotify app.

During the aforementioned Sennheiser Austraila press event an upstairs demo space showed off Dynaudio’s XEO 4 active standmounts (AU$2699) – the only obvious pieces of hifi in the room. This second generation model promises “better DSP performance, upgraded amplifiers and advanced sound tuning”.

Not only do these Danes make their cabinets and drivers in-house, they now also handle the custom amplifiers that sit inside each (active) speaker box. A separate wireless transmitter is USB-connected to a host computer. The new DSP can accommodate XEO 4 speaker positioning close to the rear wall and/or room corners. Minimalism for the modern home rides again. The man in the street and his significant other would no doubt approve.


I’ve been jovially leaning on the Australian KEF distributor to conduct a similar type of demo at October’s Australian Audio and AV Show in Melbourne. With the new Reference Series launch on the cards, such a radical idea is sure to be squeezed off the agenda.

And that’s OK – but it’s active loudspeakers – or budget integrated amplifiers and standmounts speakers – that’ll bring TMITS to the yard. How about a room that showcases the LS50’s talents? KEF LS50 + Rogue Audio Sphinx + Rega RP1 spinning the black stuff – now that’d be a demo for our man in the street to remember?

At last weekend’s California Audio Show Wyred4Sound came the closest I’ve seen to date of this uber-simple setup: their mINT Class D integrated driving a pair of Martin Logan Motion 15 standmounts. Wallet damage for this pairing squeaks in under US$1600. No, that is not a misprint – a whole system for fewer dollars than the MS1 music server (US$1999) that streamed tunes to the mINT all weekend long.


If you’re reading this in Australia, lamenting that the Wyred4Sound / Martin Logan offer is only available Stateside, then consider this (hint of the century): you’ll need the mINT’s power to properly drive a pair of Magnepan MMG. These unconventional looking loudspeakers do things that no comparatively priced box loudspeaker can. Their large surface area means you get exceptional micro dynamics, clean and tidy bass reproduction married to a HUGE wall of sound. The MMG are hands down the single biggest bargain in entry-level hi-fi right now. US price = US$599 w/ 30-day home trial. Oz price = AU$1099. Best of all they come flat-packed so you can easily stash the empty box under the bed.

Can’t afford a solo Wyred4Sound mINT at US$1499? Fair enough. Panic not. I’ve been getting terrific results with the REDGUM Black Series RGi35 and the AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2 USB DAC.

Yet to be convinced that hardware choices such as those detailed above need to be made prior to HRA acquaintance? Ask yourself this: would you rather listen to a FLAC file through laptop speakers or the same music encoded as MP3 delivered by an entry-level head-fi / two channel rig? Yup, I thought so.

The conversation about getting better hi-fi gear into the man in the street’s life needs to be louder than the MP3 trash-talk.

Further information: Sennheiser AustraliaKEF America | Advance Audio Australia | Wyred4Sound |  Magnepan Inc.

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


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  1. The entry level is where the excitement is, in my opinion. It’s exciting because it gets appreciably better all the time for less and less money.

    A couple of weeks ago just for fun, I moved my new JBL LSR305 studio monitors from my desk to a conventional setup in my living room driven by a usb dac and a laptop. I was surprised by the coherence and rightness of the sound–not just for the price, but also in absolute terms. Speakers disappeared. Walls disappeared. Everything was to scale and came across as an organic whole. I finally went to bed at 2:00 am after spinning CDs on the laptop for six hours and marveling the whole time. The street price with cables and without laptop was US$534–right in Vanatoo territory–but I had found some great sales and got the whole thing for US$370. No, it wasn’t as transparent or loud or extended on the bottom as my serious stereo in its own dedicated room, but in its own way it was more impressive, more musical. So, that’s the price of entry to hifi sound these days as far as I’m concerned.

    Here’s the question. Does TMITS care? TMITS is more likely to bite on something flashy, bright, and boomy, or a soundbar, rather than small, quality monitors and a usb dac. It still takes experience to appreciate high fidelity, and even more to recognize it, and yet another level of commitment to want it. The barriers to entry have fallen down, but even if TMITS knows that, does he care? Only a small percentage will, I’m convinced.

    • Some salient points there BradleyP. Does TMITS care? I don’t think he’s a stupid as we’re led to believe. However, convenience has a HUGE influence on his behaviour. Flipping it around, new gear mustn’t *inconvenience* TMITS neither financially nor functionally. The benefits must of a budget rig must be simple to digest and easy to hear. Sure, it’s a learning curve to recognise good sound but you gotta start somewhere, right? Gotta get the hook in right first time.

      As you pointed out with your JBL studio monitor experience, active loudspeakers make for a terrific starting point because everything is in one box. It’s not complicated and the conversation about cables can wait. It’s no coincidence that most of the speakers I mentioned in the article are actives.

  2. The last time I said something about this you related it to audio snobishness, but I think that side steps an obvious point. I live in a typically busy USA metro-city and I’m irritated by it every day: Many TMITS don’t need more than lossy formats and mediocre hardware to listen to much of the simple contemporary rot that’s made for the mass consumption of people who need no better. I appreciate what you do to propel the audiophile industry and help people who want to grow and understand the differences, but there are many common people in this world who have no need for much of what you say about anything better. They will buy the lowest hanging popular consumer hardware required to satisfy their interests and much of the time it will be chosen from what’s right in front of them. They will stumble into audiophile quality only when it becomes commonplace in popular consumer hardware. And they still won’t need that quality because the music they enjoy is not audiophile quality music.

    • “Many TMITS don’t need more than lossy formats and mediocre hardware to listen to much of the simple contemporary rot that’s made for the mass consumption of people who need no better.” <--- How is this not snobbishness writ large? Yes, source quality is of paramount importance. And I'm not talking about encoding formats, I'm talking about mastering/recording quality. Still, even poorly mastered/recorded stuff can be made to sound much better with a few hundred bucks. And if it sounds better, won't that make the user wanna listen to more music? And isn't that what owning hi-fi gear is all about: enjoying (more) music?

      • Source quality is very important for those who seek better quality. That’s a given but in some circumstances, for some types of music a better quality simply does not matter. There are people who don’t need truly good or better quality equipment to enjoy the music they like. I expect a vast majority of those people usually have no interest, understanding, or appreciation for the skill, technique and quality of the equipment involved anywhere in the process. I expect most of those people are only concerned with what they hear and if it’s satisfactory to serve their need. And I expect for the majority of those people the bar is set low compared to what you, I, and the vast majority of the your readers desire and appreciate in everything related to music.

        “— How is this not snobbishness writ large?” —

        I expect it’s different in metropolitan Australia as it is in many parts of the industrialized world, but I know you’ve been to the states more than once for trade shows. How often are you forcefully exposed to invasive, abrasive, and disturbing music? Do you brush it off or does it grind on you? How much exposure do you need to be irritated? Here’s a good one: What kinds of music irritates you? What do you think and feel when you’re forced to be exposed to prolonged irritating music?

        You’re right that my statement can be easily interpreted as snobbishness, but as someone with some understanding and appreciation for real, developed talent in melodic and harmonic music and is daily inundated with obnoxious, loud, simple beat driven, bass heavy for the sake of excessive unnatural bass, and distorted “music” filled with filthy, violent lyrics, almost always pouring from from low fidelity sources… It has been very easy to become biased against it. It’s made very clear on nearly a daily basis that a large number of these folks playing this kind of music will very probably never need or seek audiophile quality anything unless they stumble into it and probably have no choice but to buy into it as it evolves and becomes commonplace over time. It is not difficult to be “snobbish” about the music I appreciate for the talent involved to create and produce it when there is cheap, obviously low talent music audible around me every day. Music that clearly exhibits the level of talent in uneducated, unrefined people who have to use some form of the F word twice in every sentence that comes from their mouths. — Those people will very likely never want or need audiophile quality anything as long as they can pick a piece of reasonably priced hardware from a simple selection that’s laid out in front of them. Those people will very likely never need information from Six Moons, DAR, Stereophile, TAS, or similar. It is what it is.

        Perhaps you should come spend some significant living time in an urban environment in the good ol’ United States. We are the root of many of the common contemporary evils that infect cultures all over the planet. You’ll discover it for yourself if you stay long enough. 😉

        • I’d love to spend more time in the USA.

          This article isn’t necessarily about source quality, it’s about getting newcomers to a hardware base camp for acclimatisation before pushing to higher altitudes…and you’re clearly already at the summit. 😉

        • Er…right.
          It’s stuff like the above that maintains my dislike and suspicion for the so-called ‘audiophile’; patronising…? Anyone…?
          I love music. I listen to a LOT of music. I frequently work with one of Australia’s leading opera companies and have the extraordinary privilege of hearing stunning live music whilst ‘working’.
          At home, well-recorded and mastered 256kbps VBR AAC, 320kbps MP3 and ALAC files form the bulk of my digital library and, yes, I love it.
          I’ve had a good listen to ‘high-res’ on a NW-ZX1 but I won’t be rushing out to buy any time soon; there simply isn’t a big enough difference to the SQ straight from my iDevices.
          Oh, and just to confirm my total ignorance and lack of sophistication, I have a Sonos system (with Playbar) which I am continually adding to and I love that too.
          Sorry, I’ll get my coat…

          • Agreed. I want the audiophile world to extend a welcoming hand to anyone interested in better sound quality, no matter what their taste in music or choice of encoding format.

            Not impressed (enough) by the Sony player, even with Redbook?

  3. Great stuff JD! You could be onto something here. This is exactly the kind of information a lot of people (or at least me) are looking for. Most everybody has a budget and learning what kind of quality system can be obtained within your budget is truely useful. In addition to specific gear reviews I would love to see some hifi sites (hint, hint) with Complete Systems listed by $$. They could be further grouped/categorized by e.g. digital listening, vinyl listening, headphone etc. This may not be as useful for the seasoned audiophile, as most know what they want and like but for people who want to get into this hobby and potentially move up the hifi food chain this kind of information could be a great starting point. I live in a city with a population of over 700k but there are 3 stores I would classify as hifi stores and limited gear is availaible in these stores to listen to. Most everything is available on-line now but you run the risk of buying good gear that doesn’t play well together. If trusted revewiers, like yourself, presented full systems I think some people might feel more comfortable about buying on-line and in the end save readers some $$ while maxizing their listening pleasure. Thanks.

    • I agree – complete systems are easier for the newcomer to digest. If I’m to write from my own direct experience then time availability restricts this kind of coverage to one article per year. I’ve done a couple of pieces in the past two years detailing $2k systems. Maybe it’s time to have another look at it?

  4. Spot on, JD. Spot on!!

    Good sound should not cost an entire Porsche’s worth. Seriously, give the average MITS that much money and most of them would rather get the Porsche anyway. High-end $100K+ loudspeaker systems, as good as they are, won’t hold a candle to a similar priced car when it comes to bringing the ladies home from a nightclub.

    There’s this article I read somewhere detailing a conversation between BBC execs and their engineers during the creation of the LS3/5A design/spec. In it, one of the execs was telling a youngster about great engineers being able to come up with great solutions, but the greatest of engineers always came up with great solutions at lowest possible cost. This piece of yours made me recall that.

    It’s kinda like cooking, isn’t it? You don’t need every darn contraption they sell on gourmet cable channels to make good food. Just have a set of decent knives, fresh ingredients and spend some time learning to control the heat on your stove.

  5. Well, I also live in an American metro/suburb area and I couldn’t agree more with NEWK. The overwhelming majority of average music consumers do not feel any need for better audio quality. Not only that, they DO NOT WANT better quality. The whole idea of using over exaggerated bass and a dumb rhythm is to show the world that they are not interested in audiophile-like sound, because they perceive it as a sign of belonging to the “old generation” and to an exclusive “audio establishment” that they hate.

    In the world where schools cut their music programs first – to save more for football teams, there will be no such thing as bringing young people in-mass to the audiophile world. The low quality music and low quality equipment will always be cheaper and that is what young people (as well as many older people) will choose.

    Let’s start with acquainting young people with what really matters – the music – and then guide them towards better sound quality. And those who really care about music will eventually find their way to higher-end audio on their own…

    • The majority of consumers might not want better sound quality but that doesn’t mean we should slam the door on those that do by deriding their musical tastes. Derision gets us nowhere. Anyone with even a passing curiosity in getting better sound in their lives should be afforded opportunities to exercise that curiosity.

      After all, like any hobby, different people have different levels of interest. Some want to take it as far as they are able (or can afford), others find themselves satisfied by a more humble setup. It’s a sliding scale and not boolean.

      And it isn’t just about the music. Some of the biggest music obsessives I know happily listen via Spotify and white ear buds. They don’t see a need for better sound because they’ve not yet been exposed to it. To reel ’em, that exposure has to coincide with a demo that features music they know/love…which might not be the best recordings in the known universe – and that’s fine. We wish them an enhanced aural experience, no?

      I derive pleasure from better audio gear because it a) enhances the experience and b) makes me want to listen to more music.

        • Yes, spot on. Music of every single genre has examples of excellent recording and artistic quality. Obviously some genres have more than others, but play the good stuff of whatever genre appeals to someone on a decent system, explain and demonstrate that some recordings are better sonically than others and that better recordings sound MUCH better on a serious system, and you will entice those who can be enticed. Some will care. Most won’t. Of those who do care, far more will be men than women. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

  6. “Not impressed (enough) by the Sony player, even with Redbook?”
    Darko, it nags at the back of my mind… as does Denon’s new DA 10… as does much of the exotica you feature here. Perhaps I’m trying to justify my choices.

  7. Personally, I’d throw my lot in with ROBD and NEWK. Bravo! -:)

    It’s true that the hifi press often leans toward bashing young people’s taste in music. That’s just poor form and attitude so I applaud John for staying clear of it like the plague.

    That said, there still is a world of difference between music. Music that’s been ‘cooked to death’ to sound loud, phat and attractive over bandwidth-limited speakers, car radios and MP3 players is actually poor demo material for more high-endy systems. Hence it’s rarely played at shows and if it is… many such systems suddenly sound like shit.

    Music that is primarily about bass beats and very little sophistication of harmonic progressions or melodic development; or is plainly about ugly noise, gross distortion, shriekinbg singers that can barely stay on pitch and such… let’s call a spade a spade and admit that it is of a different order. To compare death metal to Mozart’s Requiem is bridging things that aren’t on the level.

    It’s no coincidence that the high-end movement’s start in the US coincided with the popularity of Jazz and Classical as two music styles which are arguably from quite to very sophisticated. If that’s the music you grew with to appreciate, there was something to dig into for a hifi system when you got interested in playback.

    If you grow up with gangsta Rap, HipHop and Techno and your sonic reference is dynamically compressed bass-heavy music, one might argue that hearing its sonic shortcomings on a higher-resolving system isn’t on your agenda. Nor should it be.

    Saying that looks racist in a way. Still, there’s some truth in the general observation. Music appreciation is a required foundation to progress from stylistically basic music to more complicated advanced forms which often require exposure and learning to understand and appreciate. With that type of greater involvement in the art form, it’s far more likely that one also develops an appreciation for sound quality and higher resolution to hear more.

    As long as we claim that all music is the same; hence it doesn’t matter what you listen to… we won’t focus on the mechanism which instills a desire for superior SQ. Is that really a racist remark? I happen to think not. Music appreciation is a key part to restocking the audiophile ranks.

    Flame away -:)

    • Music isn’t ALL the same – agreed – but until you can demo that first hand to a newcomer, all they’re left with is what appears to be audiophile snobbery. Added to that, HipHop/Techno and Jazz/Classical might sit at opposite ends of the qualitative spectrum but there’s a whole heap of stuff going on in between. Some modern music sounds like garbage (go listen to any album by The National) and yet some of it sounds very good indeed (AtomTM’s HD, Low’s Trust).

      This is perhaps why my interest in the SUPER-high end tends to waver. $100k speakers and $50k monoblocks (I’m simplifying) will no doubt lay bare the dynamic compression of Bowie’s The Next Day or the one dimensional tonality of Plastikman’s EX and it’s why I hold DAR coverage to that of lower price points. Heck, even some of the budget gear pulls back the curtain on source material shortcomings. Hence, I’m aware of (most/some?) of the limitations of some of the music I have here. Does that mean I avoid spinning it for pleasure? Absolutely not.

      I’m not saying the pursuit of the ultimate in sound reproduction doesn’t have its place – it absolutely does for NEWK and ROBD and many, many others (and I can see that as plain as day) – but that doesn’t mean that significant improvements to modern music (even the dynamically compressed stuff) can’t be made with entry level hardware. Clearly it can…which was the pivotal point of the original post.

      What troubles me that some of those who are *deep* into the pursuit of excellence with musical reproduction tend to dismiss newcomers, their music choices and their compression formats. Often they dismiss it as if it were all the same offensive (to them) ‘garbage’. Some is and some isn’t. And it’s possibly a duty of those with more experience to lend a helping hand to those fresh to the scene? Possibly. I’ve yet to work that one out.

      (Y’know, this discussion reminds me of 2 weeks I spent with a pair of Harbeth C7ES3. They made everything sound enjoyable, even the thin-as-piss masters and lo-fi recordings. That in and of itself is an achievement worth noting.)

    • I’m pretty darn certain that if Mozart had access to a Roland 808/909 or DSI Tempest back then, he would’ve used it like a boss!! Might’ve even done a back-to-back set with Dettmann at Berghain if he could.

      • Gan – talking of Dettmann. Have you heard his new Fabric mix? It’s rather good and (to my ears) preferable to his releases as an artist.

        • JD – I’ve had it since last week (Fabric First member), and yes, it’s quite decent. But really, you need to hear Ryan Elliot’s Panorama Bar 06. Ostgut Ton have stopped releasing their Berghain and Panorama Bar mixes in CD format. Now available for free, with artwork and in WAV;

  8. Here one might also add that the type of music one favours predetermines what kind of system will work best.

    If we’re back to ‘popular’ music younger folks might fancy (which is usually highly produced, often dynamically compressed, mostly of the amplified sort, with often powerful mid/upper bass and little venue data), you’d want a system that can reproduce amplified/electric and synthesized bass; and go loud without distortion; and reproduce the meaty thick bass-heavy sound of a club.

    That’s a very different set of parameters than what’s needed to reproduce large-scale orchestral; or purely acoustic chamber music for just two obvious examples.

    We’re back at the inescapable notion that you are what you eat and your system reflects the music you listen to the most. If reviewers don’t predominantly listen to music the younger generation favours, it stands to reason that they also pursue a different sound aesthetic and with it gravitate toward gear which won’t be ideal for the new audience of younger listeners.

    I’m for example entirely the wrong guy to reach out to it. My musical tastes are too far off the median. I’m not the right age. I don’t, at all, relate to ugly noisy industrial music of any sort. In fact e-guitars in deep overdrive distortion go massively on my nerves. To me it’s ugly noise. That doesn’t mean I think there’s anything wrong if someone else loves it. There’s just not enough common ground between us to have meaningful discussions about sonic ideals -:)

    Then the focus becomes talking about and of things I relate to and which I know something about from experience; trust that the right kind of audience will connect… and admit and remain mindful that those who cannot connect will find another outlet that more speaks their language.

    In the end enthusiasm is far more effective and infectious than sermonizing -:)

    • “Here one might also add that the type of music one favours predetermines what kind of system will work best.”

      Bang on. 🙂

      I must realise that my tastes in music might set a lower glass ceiling in terms of system choice. At the entry level the gains outweigh the losses: better dynamics, more detail, superior tonality, greater physicality of music etc…..but push deep enough into the high end and those gains lose their lustre to overriding losses – distortion and dynamic compression is exposed. Of course, this doesn’t mean the more expensive systems aren’t worth the effort. You just have to find one that works best with your own preferred music. For those living on a diet of predominantly compressed masters I’d imagine there’d be fewer and fewer suitable options the higher you travel.

      With every kind of music, one must find the sweet spot in the journey and have presence of mind to know when the destination system has been reached.For those exposed to considerable music training education or those who play in orchestras or sing with the opera, the glass ceiling will perhaps be a great deal higher; assuming the quality of their source material lines up with their training.

      • Something tells me this discussion will go full-circle and we’ll all end up at BBC-inspired speakers once again. 😀

  9. True, the kind of music you listen to determines the kind of equipment that is best for you. That is exactly why I am of an opinion that most young people do not want their equipment to be any better – precisely because they fully realize that their music is trash and the trash equipment is totally adequate to reproduce that kind of music.

    That is why I was pointing out that the process of integrating young people into audiophile circles should start with teaching them all about music first and leaving the path to better sounding equipment for later. When they will start to appreciate music as an art (instead of a noisy background to their lives), they will realize that to fully enjoy music they will need a better sounding equipment. Of course, this alone will not bring them to the audiophile world. The prices of a decent sounding devices must go down, as well (which is already starting to happen, fortunately), otherwise, they won’t be able to afford better equipment anyway…

    • Isn’t that like saying you can’t introduce people to fine/r dining without first teaching them about how food is grown and prepared? Sure, pointing out what to look for with taste and texture is important but I suspect even the most die hard fast food muncher would appreciate a trip to a fancier restaurant. He might not initially understand WHY things are better but in time, with a combination of education AND exposure run in tandem, he will.

      • I am not so sure. I know plenty of people who are intimidated by the thought of a fine restaurant, fine wine, etc. Many do not feel confident in their senses, mainly due to lack of exposure or education or due to a perceived class difference. The vast majority of folk CAN hear and taste differences readily when given the opportunity, but most don’t care. A few do. I’ll quit being a stuck record, now.

  10. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the exposure and all that. I am just saying that most people do not care or do not want a better sounding equipment, because:
    1. It is way too expensive;
    2. The kind of music they listen to does not warrant making a substantial investment in better gear;
    3. There is a lot of hype and/or snake-oil pushing going on in audiophile circles and the uninitiated people do not like to be duped.

    • Rob you might be right. I don’t know because I’m not acquainted with ‘most people’. However, I don’t think you’d disagree that measures need to be taken to widen the opportunity window for TMITS to enter the audiophile world. Newcomers might not travel far but at least they’ll get a taste for better sound. For me, there’s no denying an entry level system’s abilities to please, even with shitty source material. And even if they don’t spend real cash on their own lives at least they get the message that sound quality matters.

  11. John, I don’t deny that. What you suggest will certainly help. I am just not sure, actually I simply don’t believe, that exposure alone is going to bring a lot of people to an audiophile grade of sound. It’s not that simple…

    • Agreed – it isn’t simple. But propagating the message that good sound is AFFORDABLE breaks down some barriers to entry.

  12. There were a few years when I worked in hifi retail. Like all sales guys, I’d demo something that matched the client’s budget, then also play something quite beyond it ‘just in case’. Invariably people would be able to hear that the costlier system was better (and here it actually was). But just about as about invariably they would say “this is good enough for me” where ‘this’ pointed at what they could afford.

    This good-enough response was quite prevalent. It showed that outside the ranks of rampant hifi addiction where nothing ever is good enough to make for the golden-egg customer who keeps buying new stuff over and over again, there was a far larger cadre of normal folks who treated hifi like appliances.

    If a man buys a washing machine, he compares price and features and makes sure the size fits the intended space. Then he buys on price and brand for reliability and likely forgoes all the fancy menu option models with the redundant flash. With appliances, the #1 priority is reliability. You want the bloody thing to do its job and not have to replace it a year from now. Same with fans and heaters and blenders and toasters and the lot.

    And in my experience, that’s *exactly* how normal folks shop for hifis as well. And to be honest, I can’t blame them one bit. If the main use of a hifi is as ‘noise fill’ i.e. not for immersive don’t-do-anything-else-while-you’re-at-it listening but just for room coverage or whilst you’re triple-teaming with texting and playing a computer game… then hifi really is just an appliance.

    Then there’s nothing a sales guy as the exposure opportunity provider can do. An appliance shopper’s mentality isn’t easily changed if at all into an art collector and art appreciator’s mentality. That only happens over time. After all, collecting art takes money. In most normal people’s lives, extra money only shows up later in life once the kids have left. That’s when people start ‘collecting’. Some get into wine, others into shoes or clothes. Some do books, others porcelain or Buddha statues. Some do paintings. Some do LPs, CDs or music files…

    I don’t think that’s anywhere near the whole picture. But it’s part of it -:)

    • Your story probably typifies 95% of people who don’t own a hifi. As you say, it’s not the whole story. Could we suggest that the other 5% (perhaps less?) who walk into a store and have their eyes/ears opened….and from there a journey begins? Or perhaps it begins with a casual internet search. The trick is to make that first step affordable and of significant sound quality to seed a taste for more the few for whom the spark fires within.

      Or perhaps my suggested optimism is naively misplaced?

    • We hi-fi Illuminati feel the need to hi-fi evangelize the Philistines, and regard each rare convert as a badge of honor and a service to the greater community. What other hobbies have such an obsession with spreading the message as ours? We’re a bunch of geeks, aren’t we?

      BTW, my main rig has 21-year old electronics and 16-year old speakers, of which I am the original owner, and they kick a$$ today no less than they did when new. I indulge my inner neurotic via my desktop rig–the one I listen to 99% of the time–because it presents a fairly inexpensive upgrade path. Truth is, I like the little rig more but can’t part with my first love. Diagnose that!

  13. Thought provoking words from both Srajan and Mr. Darko. The one thing I like to emphasize to customers in addition to the “goosebump factor” from good audio is the therapeutic benefit of listening to music. To me, this is something where higher quality equates to better “therapy”.

  14. Spot on, Tweek Geek. The rejuvenating aspect of music listening isn’t talked of often enough. I’d be curious what you think on the subject as it relates to hifi vs. music; and then also the type and quality of the music.

    To be better therapy, a hifi shouldn’t have any annoying qualities. It shouldn’t be effortful. It shouldn’t require high levels to do its thing. It should allow us to forget about the hardware.

    To be effective receptors for therapy does rather require something of us, doesn’t it? Actual therapy relies on brutal honesty and vulnerability or nothing much happens. ‘Musical therapy’ relies on similar vulnerability to be touched. But that’s not anything hardware does. It’s something the listener must bring to the encounter. If one knows that trick, the hardware becomes pretty irrelevant.

    And I’d also propose that not all music is equally conducive to this form of ‘therapy’. Not only that, what will have the desired therapeutic effect on us that particular day should much depend on our own sensitivity and smart to select the appropriate music. Just because ‘x’ did the trick yesterday doesn’t mean it will today.

    What’s your take on these points?

    • I know the question wasnt directed at me but i’d like to add a couple of thoughts here (if that’s not too inconsiderate).

      When playing DJ for one’s soul, doesn’t recording quality imbue each piece of music with its own aesthetic, which in turn has a bearing on its therapeutic effects? If something raw is required one day, then it isn’t just the song that counts but the sonic aesthetic too. Would early Dylan sound so other worldly now if it had enjoyed more spit and polish when recorded/mastered way back when? That other worldliness might be something we seek on days when the contemporary life seems too banal or stressful. It takes us somewhere else in our minds if we allow it.

      Other days we might look for something that sounds clean, polished. Again, the recording and mastering contribute to the nature of the therapy.

      I always listen to Steely Dan when in LA becuase it’s a terrific fit for the glossy artifice that in someway obscures grittier internals. It allows me to the feel the city through a slightly more tailored filter. And that filter might have the very therapeutic effect that i seek. If, two songs in, I find it”s not having the desired effect, i might switch to something else.

      Then we get to the gear that makes the music happen, itself another filter. What we seek out in hifi gear will largely depend on what we think we need to nourish our inner selves. Colour, low freq physicality, treble incision are just three examples of the qualities we might find attractive or meaningful. Some listeners might require a rig that plays with rose tinted optimism. For others, only the brutally honest truth will suffice.

      Thus we might conclude that the vast majority of music ‘fans’ don’t (yet) perceive the value of music as therapy, instead relegating it to soundtracking more valued activities.

      • People treating music as “sonic wallpaper” isn’t entirely a new concept. A lot people treat music as an OST/BGM for their live-action film lives. The concept might flabbergast people like you and I, but that’s reality. I know some people that would rather listen to those motivational speakers (a bunch on con-artists, if you ask me) on their car stereo instead of music. They claim music to be pointless.

        • Isn’t the concept of music as wallpaper that which fashioned Brian Eno’s 70s ambient releases. Music For Airports was written such that it could be as engaging as it is ignorable.

          • Well, I think all of us “relegate” music to wallpaper status during a certain part of our day. It’s inevitable. I, for one, am almost always doing something while listening to music – driving, cycling, working on the computer, typing this comment, etc. Does that mean I’m less devoted to the hobby than someone who sits on his couch listening to music without distractions? Maybe so. I’d like to think that a part of my brain is always tuned into the music regardless of what I’m doing though. The degree of “sync” obviously varies with the task at hand.

            I guess those people who don’t quite want to upgrade their audio rig past a certain level (contentment is a good thing, btw) are simply the types who are less in tune to the music while conducting other tasks.

  15. The therapeutical value of music is universally acknowledged and accepted. It is one of the main reasons that we like to listen to music in the first place. Again, don’t get me wrong, but this fact alone, even when combined with an exposure, will not convince everybody that they need a better sounding gear.

    Today, I received emails from both Qobuz and NativeDSD. Qobuz informed me that their service becomes available in the USA, while NativeDSD offered the first ever newsletter and a 50% off for just this weekend. Both emails brought great news. Both help with increasing the exposure to great sounding music files. No doubt about it.

    So, I went to the NativeDSD web site to take advantage of their gracious offer of 50% off price. I selected the 64x 2-channel stereo version (the low-end) of an album to check the price. And here’s the unpleasant surprise: $27.69. Do you think that many non-audiophiles will be attracted to better sound by a price that is substantially higher than CD (which are already overpriced), not to mention way, way higher than MP-3? I do not see it happening at all…

    • RobD – I’m 100% with you on this. The pricing of downloadable material looks absurd when placed next to a $10/month Spotify Premium subscription. This was my complaint with Neil Young proclaiming that Pono was “going after the mainstream.

      However, those with streaming services accounts can enjoy better sound without switching source material provision. Stream Spotify through a pair of KEF X300A and most laptop listeners wouldn’t know themselves – BAM! a big improvement is made to TMITS’ *existing* music collection. The question then presents: will mainstreamers want to drop up to $1k on those very same KEFs?

  16. I appreciate everyone’s comments in this thread. Thank you. It hammered on details very well.

    The day after this article posted Paul McGowan touched on the subject.

    John, I have a huge appreciation for DAR. Anyone who frequents DAR knows you want to bring reasonably priced hifi to the masses. For those who deserve your wisdom and effort I sincerely hope you are completely successful. You have certainly had an influence on what I know about hifi and related emerging technologies.

    • Thanks Newk. Very kind of you to say so. Thing is, DAR isn’t so much focussed on hifi that has mass appeal, more that the hi-fi industry doesn’t disappear up its own sinkhole, swirling toward self-inflicted demise.

      As I’ve written previously, each audiophile’s level of interest or commitment sits on a continuum and at the entry level the industry needs to remain relevant by maintaining some form of connection with the man in the street. The entry level needs to keep pace with tech changes far more readily than the high end. And that takes effort and, yes, a bit of vigilance. DAR exists to cover that vigilance (among other things).