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On pragmatism and positivity

  • Ten thousand dollars. In the nineties, it would have bought us 500 new release CDs. Twenty years down the line, that same $10K would buy us 1000 CDs or 500 new release LPs. That’s generously assuming a $20 unit price for new release vinyl and $10 for silver discs. Used vinyl LPs are cheaper – yes – but only if your thirst for new music came to a halt during the decade that brought us Peter Gabriel’s So (1985), Joan Armatrading’s The Key (1983) or Billy Joel’s Storm Front (1989).

    Paying full sticker is all but unavoidable for the modern-day music lover wanting an album on wax within the first year of its release.

    In 2018, US$10,000 would buy us forty years of lossless CD-quality streaming, assuming US$20/month, to effectively bring the CD store home for close to a lifetime of listening. And with each streaming service giving us millions of songs to choose from, the per-stream cost approaches zero. Accept Spotify’s lossy compression at US$10/month – Hobson’s choice for music not available on Tidal and Qobuz – and that per-stream cost nudges even closer to zero. Allow Spotify’s ad serving and each stream arrives free of charge.

    Rightly or wrongly, music supplied digitally is effectively free but, for this music fan, even at US$100/month it would still rank as modern-day magic. A technology not without its flaws but one that, from a music fan’s perspective, should be celebrated.

    For streaming Tidal and Qobuz at home, I use a variety of hardware streamers – from the Google Chromecast Audio to the vastly superior Innuos Zenith MKII SE. The streamer pulls the ones and zeroes from the cloud to deliver them to the D/A converter.

    Out in the street, I opt for Tidal, Qobuz and Spotify again but utilising each smartphone app’s offline content option to preserve my mobile plan’s considerably lower data allowance.

    Regular readers will know that I no longer DAP my way around town. With their V30 smartphone, LG has brought audiophile thinking to a smartphone by specifying an ESS Sabre DAC chip and Android bit-perfect data handling, as demanded by MQA. Hello, high-end IEMs.

    The AudioQuest DragonFly Red and Black take care of less fortunate smartphones with the dongle remaining less of an inconvenience than a second device dedicated to music playback.

    Cooler weather brings full-size headphones into view. But street life isn’t the same as being at home. Here I defer to Bluetooth, not because of an allergy to wires but because wireless transmission between smartphone and headphone, per Sony’s 1000X series and B&W’s PX, gives me noise-cancellation on passing cars or train/plane cabin noise. Any quality loss wrought by aptX HD or LDAC encoding is dwarfed by the Sony and B&W’s background noise erasure.

    The high-end audio world isn’t an elite members club where only high-end servers, expensive DAPs and deluxe headphones get us beyond the velvet rope. It’s a continuum with something for every listener, irrespective of budget, music taste or streaming service preference.

    And it was this pragmatic approach to streaming that I took to RMAF 2018 to co-host a seminar with friend and colleague Michael Lavorgna entitled, “Better Streaming Experiences at Home (and Away)”. Lavorgna is the former editor of AudioStream and now runs Twittering Machines.

    Aware of a tendency toward what we might call “axe-grinding behaviour” among a small percentage of the audiophile community, three ground rules were established before getting our Hi-Fi Q&A underway:

    1. Good vibes only
    2. Stay on topic
    3. Declare any hi-fi industry affiliations

    The discussion that followed – between Lavorgna, myself and the audience – surpassed both mine and Lavorgna’s expectations for positivity. With considerable collective enthusiasm on display, the negativity that often repels newcomers has no room to breathe.

    Watch for yourself here:

    The seminar’s absence of contrarian or snobbish attitudes is no trite observation. From Bluetooth to noise-cancellation to home-based music streaming, the glass is (more than) half full for the modern day audiophile. Engaging negativity only serves to give would-be whingers energy and purpose.

    If you feel the same way, please join Michael Lavorgna and me at HifiQA.com — a hi-fi Q&A website established as an extension of our RMAF 2018 seminar.

    All threads should start with a question e.g. “What turntable should I buy for $1000?” with the same three house rules applying to all answers:

    1. Good vibes only
    2. Stay on topic
    3. Declare any hi-fi industry affiliations

    Ask. Answer. Or both. Positivity and pragmatism are most welcome.

    Further information: HiFiQA.com

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter

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