Cross product of maturity of audiophile and hi-fi system design
I was thinking about all the different stereo systems at RMAF. Thinking about how each system seems to attract at least some people. Thinking about how bizarre this seemed to us, being that some of the systems were really quite poor sounding. Thinking about how Best Buy also does manage to sell some of their hi-fi systems from time to time. And thinking about how to sell things to those mystical members of the often talked about but rarely seen… General Public.
There seems to be a discrete set of stages, or levels, a person goes through when discovering just how some systems really don’t suck.
These stages of discovery are more or less these:
0. This sucker goes LOUD!
1. Whoa! big bass!
2. Hmmm… big bass and it can do soft delicate sound too
3. Oh my, resolution. I can hear things that I never heard before
4. Weird, I can ‘see’ the instruments and musicians! Imaging!
5. Coolness, some instruments and musicians appear to be close, and some way, way back beyond the front wall; soundstaging
6. Why do some systems make be want to tap my toe or dance? PRAT
7. Wow! Why doesn’t the (harmonica, brass, violins, etc.) on this system hurt my ears like all those other systems?
8. Discovery of ones own personal preference
9. *swoon* … engagement, soulfulness
10. Discovery of other’s personal preferences
11. Naturalness, organic sound, basic levels of believably, how some hi-fis do not have to sound like a hi-fi
13. Inner detail, texture, micro-dynamics. Cocaine.
14. Realistic resolution and resolution linearity. Deeper kinds of believably.
15. Reproduced note envelopes can really be like real notes? Wow.
16. Harmonic / timbrel linearity. Deeper, ever deeper believably.
17. Separation. No more mashed potatoes. Hear every instrument using your mental spyglasses.
18. Dynamic integrity / linearity. Deep, so deep believably
19. Inner harmonic detail. 12+14+16+18 = heroin.
20. Real-life harmonics. Recognizing the almost universal lack of such.
21. Real-life dynamics. Recognizing the almost universal lack of such.
1000. Forget it all, where’s the bliss?
Probably forgot a few. I keep swapping 8, 9, 10 and 11, and as far as the rest of the ordering goes, YMMV.
OK. Here are some weird observations.
The Wilson demo at RMAF was designed for people between level 1 and 2 [you can watch the video of the presentation on YouTube]. The demo was largely successful among the people who type things on blogs, forums and online magazines. But not so successful among people who call us looking for expensive speakers.
Our rooms at RMAF had been designed for people around stages 15 and 16. This was fairly successful among the people who call us looking for expensive speakers. This received quite a bit less public fanfare, however, than the Wilson room. Lamm rooms typically seem designed for people around stages 9 and 10 (same Wilson speakers, more or less, as above).
Audio Note tries to convince people they should just skip to level 1000. They have some success with the general public with this idea. They also have some success with people all along the way at the other levels because of their basic approach, innate quality and the ability of some of us to create hybrid systems with the gear.
Wilson also has some success with people all along the way at the other levels because of their basic approach, innate quality and the ability of some of us to create hybrid systems with the gear.
At shows, you can find systems targeting audiophiles at all stages of maturity, just like you can find audiophiles at all stages of maturity.
Here on the blog, we like rooms where the stage of the system, as a function of the price, makes it either a good deal [like Acoustic Zen speaker-based systems, or, lately it seems, like the Magico S1 speaker-based systems] or where the stage of the system is very high, unfortunately often commensurate with its very high price.
I like all the in-between stages, not just level 1000, because I think they are really fun and entertaining in ways that just plain great music is just… not.
And I would be willing to argue that from just experiencing some of these stages one learns how to reach deeper and deeper into reality and discovers several secrets about what it means to be alive and how to better enjoy existence. Certainly more so than the vast majority of things that people do for fun in their spare time.
Anyway, the choices exhibitors make when it comes to what stage of audiophiles to design their systems for is interesting and has many consequences, many of which are not at all clear.