Where Are Your Ears?

. . , to really hear all the subtleties in the music, to appreciate the delicate variation of each artist's unique tone, to feel the impact of a great symphony orchestra, to follow the inner lines, to discern the rich textures of individual instruments, to tune into carefully nuanced interpretation; in other words, to get the whole picture, not just the silhouetted outline of the melody and a hodgepodge of harmonic accompaniment, to 'see' the fine details, just as if you were there at the performance, you need, at least, a better than average system. After making a sizable investment in program material, you'd think there would have to be some concern for the playback quality.

We all know that 'photorealistic' sound reproduction isn't really necessary to appreciate music. Some of us may remember watching a slightly fuzzy, ghosted broadcast of the Wizard of Oz on a, by today's standards, small black & white TV, thoroughly engrossed and totally terrified of the flying monkeys. In the same way, we can revel in the groove of our favorite artists whether in a car, or on the beach with a baby boombox, or even on a portable mp3 devise with cheap earbuds. But let's face it, there's no comparison to seeing those fearsome monkeys in full color, big as life on a super sharp, widescreen high definition monitor. Likewise, there's no comparison to hearing that groove played back with every note from the lowest bass to the ear tingling treble clearly presented in big as life, full bodied sound.

My friend has spent tens of thousands of dollars on music, many state-of-the-art recordings, performed by many of the greatest musicians and he listens to them through @^&# speakers. (A company whose products are so horrendously overhyped, overpriced and underperforming that I refuse to give them free publicity by mentioning the name.) For a fraction of what he has invested in CDs and DVDs, and the biggest LCD widescreen HD rear projection TV in production, he could have acquired a really fine audio system to really hear and enjoy all the exemplary recordings he owns. (Actually, for about the same amount as that mongo monitor, he could put together a remarkable audio system.) But, he's happy as a clam with his system despite the wimpy lower midrange/upper bass (the 'powerband' where most of the musical information is), the non existent top octave, and the foo-foo-wumble bass that can't render the difference between a cello and a tuba, or timpani and bass drum. Despite the low quality, he enjoys listening to music on a daily basis. The poor guy is oblivious to the fact that he's sorely cheating himself. Cheated from the pleasure of getting all the music out of his collection because so much of its beauty is lost in the fudged playback.

Wanna know what's even more amazing? Today's technology has made high fidelity very affordable, convenient and easy. With a little effort, a very good system can be put together for under $3k, and an astonishing system about double that. Contrast the cost/quality ratio possible today with a mere generation ago. You can achieve higher fidelity now with fewer dollars. Adjust those dollars for inflation and it's even more amazing. Don't settle for marketing hype. A smidgeon extra time invested in some research and auditioning will reap you big returns. In the long run you'll get more out of your dollars and your music—better performance, more enjoyment, and greater satisfaction.

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