Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Sound of Music, The Sound of Sound

Audiophiles are regularly accused these days of being overly obsessed with the gear, and less interested in the music. I like to think I stay mostly focused on the music, but I do love cool looking boxes. I do worry sometimes that the idea of just sitting and listening to music, and not doing anything else, is foreign to most people these days. But then I'm never alone when I visit the orchestra and hear live music for almost two hours, and we mostly sit still.

There has long been an argument among those as interested in arguing as they are in music, about what a music playback system is supposed to do in your home. One raison d'etre of a home music system is to bring the experience of live music into the home (this may well be the unachievable goal). Another is to be faithful to the sound of the original recording (wherever that may have happened). Another is to duplicate the movie theater experience. And yes, for some, it's to provide pleasant background music.

Art Dudley, whose writing I like at least as much as Carl Hiaasen's or Kurt Vonnegut's, wrote another great Listening column in Stereophile in February, and while it gets pretty seriously technical, it also gets to the core of the tube/solid state debate in a clearly biased (it's not always a bad thing), yet still scientific way. Dudley discusses the various types of distortion present in music systems, and how the ones made by simple tube amplifiers are, to him, the least objectionable, and in some ways, may even enhance the listening experience. And Dudley answers the question of what a stereo should do, with elegance and élan. I don't care so much for all the technicalities, but the end result that tube electronics sound better than solid state certainly resonates with me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing anyone's solid state electronics. Taste is taste. I also believe that when you get to the very expensive stuff, the tubes vs. solid state debate becomes moot, and there are remarkable products that anyone could enjoy in both categories. But in the lower- and mid-level products, there are very real differences, and more watts is not always the answer.

Of course it all has a lot to do with what you want from you music delivery system, and all the other priorities in your life as well. My answer to what your stereo should do is whatever you want it to, and make you happy. It is, after all, a product. As Paul Butterfield once sang, "Take your pleasure where you find it."

OK I'm done.

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