Hi Tech is cool but is it Hi Fi?

If you ask a true audiophile – the ever-dwindling minority lost among the babel of hypes and sales pitch – the answer would be a resounding NO. With the advent of the internet age, when  the buzzword  is ‘digital’ and the musical yardsticks are bandwidth or download speed, it’s easy to lose touch with reality, and confuse ease and convenience with quality and fidelity to the original. This is especially true of musical experience and the evolving tradition of music reproduction.

But what is reality, or the so-called original? Even in a modern live concert there are parameters like microphone configurations and acoustics that dictate use of speakers and other tweaks. It’s nothing at all like the ‘natural’ sound of the outdoors, an impromptu folk song, or even the open air sounds and the street singers in any modern city. For music recording though some compromise is unavoidable,  so that even in a small intimate nightclub setting you’ll find  close miking, amplifiers and speakers. Yet for centuries, western and orthodox  musical tradition of a capella music, for example, relied successfully on the ambient acoustics of the venue to enhance sound dispersion and musical fidelity.

High fidelity or Hi Fi has a fanatic following of audiophiles, music lovers. enthusiasts and high end audio engineers who go to extremes in pursuit of this mecca of ideal musical recreation. From all the rumblings in the mass market media in this ‘digital’ world you would think that the old long playing record player is dead, let alone the older mono or even the 78 rpm players. Nothing could be farther than the truth.  In fact, I know of some true devotees of these old vinyls for whom the surface imperfections are a small price to pay in order to preserve  the irreplaceable music in its original recording format, and these are not old sentimental folks, but young, intelligent, and computer-savvy over-achievers who just happen to care more about the music than the medium!

Don’t get me wrong. Digital gadgets are cool, easy to use and quite often look gorgeous and impressive. Digital recording and reproduction can and indeed do   eliminate some noise and superficial distortions and even coloration. Yet the earlier claims of fantastic dynamic range and perfect frequency response have proved  to be plainly fallacious. What’s more, after the hoop-la has subsided  more and more music lovers are finding the sound cold and unmusical. Some has even wondered : isn’t this like drinking distilled water when you’re thirsty?
Wait, now some hi tech gurus have now countered this by introducing artificial  reverberations,  echos and coloration in order to recreate the ambience. Does  this not bring to mind  the processed foods in the supermarket aisles  all claiming to be ‘100% natural’?

Music, indeed any sound, cannot exist in vacuum but being longitudinal waves needs a continuous compressible medium, in our world the atmospheric air, to propagate i.e. be heard. To be  clearly heard though  the sound waves need space or air  proportional to the wave length, which for a low note on bass or piano could be about 7 ft or longer. How can that be experienced from the output of an iPod or mp3 player, even when tethered to a so-called compact amplifier-speaker combo?

That is the whole point of fidelity in music reproduction. You don’t even have to delve into high end audio to be within sight of this hi-fi mecca. This is a  complex subject. The topic  of hi-fi turntables, amplifiers and speakers belongs to a rather exclusive niche, and really deserves a separate future post to expound. Stay connected.

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