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Perhaps there is no other technical field or hobby where we can encounter so many misconceptions and where irrational thinking have such a cult. However, the love of music and rational thinking are not mutually exclusive. This is just a made-up ideology created by audiophile magazines and some high end audio companies.

One of the greatest misconceptions among audiophiles is that an audio system has to be extremely expensive. Hi-fi used to be an expensive hobby a few decades ago: first CD players and CDs were really expensive, turntables and tapes were noisy and source of constant mechanical problems, no matter how much money is spent on them. Nowadays we can listen to music on YouTube with a basic laptop or tablet in exceptional quality. (YouTube doesn't change the fidelity of the uploaded files. If a video has a bad quality audio track - sounds like 128 kbps MP3 - , then it was uploaded in poor quality.)

Not only audio reproduction, but also audio production has changed a lot. Computers and DAWs (digital audio workstations) gradually replaced expensive and large mixers and reel-to-reel tape recorders in the 1990s. Computer technology also changed the way acoustical measurements are made. PC based measurement began in the 80s, but for a long time it required special hardware and was inaccessible to the average person. Nowadays, any PC or laptop can be used for acoustical measurement. If we don't spend money on totally unnecessary components than 'hi-fi' isn't an expensive hobby.

Another widespread misconception is that sound quality is subjective. The core principle of sound and video reproduction is that the system used for sound and video reproduction has to be neutral. In sound reproduction neutral means the complete absence of audible signal degradation. If we look at the world through a window and our goal is to see what is closest to the real thing, then we need a window that is neutral (transparent) and not a colored or distorting mosaic glass. The purpose of displaying an image perfectly on a screen is to ensure that the screen has no visible distortion. However, the creation of the image is different: the image can be realistic ('neutral') or it may use effects ('colored'), but the display can't distort or 'color' the image. If the image intentionally has only two colors than it is an effect, if the display has only two colors than it is a distortion. Sound reproduction is similar. And as the fidelity of a display can be measured, the fidelity of speakers, amplifiers and sources can be measured as well.

Csaba H.
March 17, 2021

Introduction to audio measurements, debunking audio myths »

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