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Real Hi-Fi – How’s It Different?

A nice hi-fi system at Steve Bennett Hi-Fi Geelong

Real Hi-Fi

Listen to music on a real hi-fi system. You’ll feel an emotional response; one that’s right up there with the best times you’ve had listening to music. Real hi-fi evokes memories of a concert you once enjoyed, or an instrument you play, or a great night with friends. Real hi-fi transports you, via imagination, to a jazz-club, concert-hall or a stadium.

So, how’s it different? Every time we hear music played on real hi-fi, we fondly nod to those memories. We subconsciously seek clues from our speakers that trigger an emotional response. That’s the same feeling we get listening to live music.

Without an emotional response, music might as well be playing on a kitchen radio. Real hi-fi doesn’t sound like kitchen radio, or a Bluetooth speaker, a 3-in-1 system or car sound. If we enjoy music, predicated on how many ‘details’ our sound system gets ‘right’, Real hi-fi delivers enough clues that our mind can construct a lifelike performance. The best hi-fi systems seem to leave little to the imagination. Sometimes real hi-fi sounds completely, well, real.

Apples Is Apples

Here’s an analogy that I think explains how the effect works. Imagine, for a moment, that you’re looking at a painting. Let’s say it’s a painting of an apple. With enough ‘appley’ details captured on the canvas – realistic colors, texture of apple skin, shape and shadows – in our mind’s eye, the painting looks realistic. It feels as if we could reach in and touch the apple. The shape could be distorted and the color perfect, and we can still recognize a realistic apple. We recollect a pleasant morning at home with sun steaming into the kitchen. It triggers an emotional response. Just a few really plausible, accurate details, and a suggestion of the rest, is all we need for to conjure a response in our mind. If enough details are represented accurately, then those blobs of apple-colored paint uncannily remind us of reality. In our mind’s eye, we see a photo-realistic apple that we could reach in and touch. Enjoying music on a real high fidelity system is something like that.

From The Studio to Hi-Fi

In the recording process, sound waves from each instrument are captured individually in the studio. They are converted into an electrical signal, mixed together into music, stored, amplified and then split into oddly disparate sounds radiating from woofers, mid-range speakers and tweeters – none of them sound anything like the actual sound wave that emanated from the singer’s mouth or piano’s soundboard. Yet our brain – amazing device that it is – stitches the incongruent chorus of sounds together and we recognize it, “yeah, that sounds exactly like a human voice,” or “that piano sounds completely real.”

At its most basic level, hi-fi systems must render just a few elements perfectly to its listener. It might be volume or the clarity of a kick-drum’s bass; or ambiance that was captured in the studio that gives you, the listener, all the clues you need to imagine exactly how and what a favourite musician is playing.

A Performance In Hi-Fi

As hi-fi systems improve in ability. and cost, more-and-more instruments sound credible as, in our minds eye (ear?), we hear exactly what they are playing along with all the clues about their location in the sound-scape which, despite coming from just two speaker boxes, sounds three-dimensional; deep, wide and high. And the system performs beautifully on a wider variety of music. Instead of sounding exciting only when playing acoustic sets, like to jazz, or folk or chamber music, a better system might, as well as improving within those genres, also present rock and orchestral music with more palpable realism.

Real Hi-Fi For You

A system that plays loud when it needs to, and softly when it doesn’t, with each recorded instrument clearly defined in tone entertains our imagination exactly like a live performance does. We’re not ‘listening to a song’ anymore, and we’re listening to a collection of musicians – a band – an ensemble – a performance – and we’re entertained in the same way as when we hear live music. As you invest more – more money and more living room space – the effect is more palpable. It really sounds like performers are playing to you.

Real Hi-Fi – How’s It Different? This what real hi-fi does.

It transforms your records and digital tracks into to a live performance.


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