Digital Audio Review is one year old this week. DAR also set a new daily visitor record (1200!) a couple of days ago and we’re now consistently exceeding more than 30 000 unique visitors per month. Not bad for one year online.
What have I learnt from those first 12 months covering hifi in Australia?
- Beyond the differences brought by the geographical isolation of this country – namely price differentials – there isn’t really such thing as an Australian perspective. If there is, I’ve not found it. There are a few local manufacturers doing wonderful things but each must sell in a global space. The hifi scene is Australia is relatively small and, in a few dark corners, riddled with unpleasant (petty) politics. A shame. I guess this is no different to any other niche hobby. However, the majority of Australian audiophiles are just wonderful, always happy to help each other, lend out gear to each other and instigate social gatherings.
- Star ratings aren’t as helpful as I thought they might be. They’re too crude and detract from the message. Therefore, star ratings been removed from all reviews. Only the DAR-KO award remains as the sole summary badge. Otherwise, it’s all in the words.
- Most hifi products are great. Or at least pretty darn good. I mean that. Once you move beyond Harvey Norman, Dick Smith and JB- Hifi, there ain’t too much crap out there in Australian hifi land. People will tell you there is truck loads of it, but they’re probably also the same folk who’ll try to tell you that policeman are getting younger and that the golden age is behind us.
- People who say “It’s all about the music” don’t actually mean that. If it were all about the music, we’d still be happily listening to 78rpm shellacs or cassette tapes. Sound quality matters, but once glass-half-full tips over into glass-half-empty, you’ve probably gone too far down the equipment path. The trick is not to put the cart (hifi system) before the horse (music). In my world, the latter should drive the former. Easier said than done, right? Right.
- I’m not overly interested in the high end. It’s nothing personal. I find it a bit boring (and a bit too easy). High-end products might sound amazing, but their price alone prohibits them from entering all but the most luxurious of lounge rooms.Music is essential but hifi is a luxury – that’s the way I see it. What an odd dichotomy. I’m most interested in hifi products that have the potential to bring the greatest gain to the greatest number of people. Socialist hifi? Hmmm, not quite. I’ve still not quite found the perfect few words needed to head up my manifesto (under which I wish to continue to write about audio equipment): Everyman hifi? Blue collar hifi? Real world hifi? Each phrase get close, but none quite nail it.How about some examples then? The Peachtree iNova/iDecco gets closest to encapsulating the ‘Everyman Hifi’ mandate. Ditto Zu loudspeakers and Red Wine Audio integrated(s). The Trends T-amp is a gateway drug to Virtue Audio, who’ve have taken the Tripath technology a stage further to bring ridiculously good back-for-buck andstyle together in one tidy package. Emotiva are also putting up a serious challenge to the hitherto conventional wisdom that BIG amplifier power is only for those with big wallets. Despite a blisteringly fast marketplace, Metrum have produced the finest sub-$1000 DAC of the past 12 months. What else? The Audiophilleo would be my pick of the single most essential product for anyone looking to get the best from a computer as a transport. I’d even go so far as to recommend spending less on a DAC in order to factor this USB-S/PDIF convertor into the front end budget.As always, making an audiophiles out of the man in the street is relatively easy once the man in the street knows where to look for that killer budget sound. It’s a matter of advertising and exposure. If only music lovers knew what superb sound quality they could achieve for the same money as they would spend on some horror show package from Gerry Harvey. You can get an amazing sound for AU$3k if you know where to look. Yes, it’s much easier to get a glorious sounding rig for $20k – but where’s the fun in that? It just feels a bit too easy. The real skill and joy comes from getting 80-90% of that high-end sound for a quarter of the financial outlay.
- Because of 4., I want to call on people to spend less on hifi. Yes, that’s right: less. Not that you’ll listen to me, but I’m going to try all the same. AU$5k is a LOT of money. Heck, even AU$1K is a lot of money. It’s money that could be spent on an overseas trip or a medical bill. Or paying down the mortgage or a few weekends away. Hifi is only one small slice of your life. Spend only as much as you need and/or can afford and be happy with what you have. If you’re not happy with what you have, go for a walk, phone a friend or have a glass of your favourite tipple. Better still, invite some non-audiophile friends over for a listen. Dollars to doughnuts they’ll say your hifi sounds amazing. That’s probably because it does! You can get an amazing sound by researching well and listening hard (before you put your cash on the counter). Maintain perspective, spend once, spend well, spend less.
- At the budget end of the hifi market there is much joy to be found. It’s also where the majority of younger audiophiles can be found lurking, unsure and nervous; they need cultivating and encouraging…but not to the point of seeing their system with glass-half-empty eyes. A simple DAC, an integrated amplifier and a pair of standmounts – that’s a good place to start. It’s also a good place to stay.
There will be some minor, more luxurious detours along the way I’m sure, but the ideas outlined above will provide a jumping point for DAR’s second year on the internet. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.