the jazz authority; random dubiously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.: The Value Of Audio Quality

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Value Of Audio Quality

Let's say that I have a quality recording of some music. This music is on a Compact Disc, and the recording in studio to disc is very good. My disc player is connected to my amplifier with average/good RCA audio cables, and my amp is of decent quality. Again, the speaker wire is of good quality (thick - a proper guage of wire for home audio) and the wire leads us to the speakers. They are great speakers - three way, used but in great shape, solid punchy bass & crisp clear highs. Sadly, my speakers are in crappy places because my house is small, and I have to constantly fiddle with the EQ just to get a decent sound (that is unless I sit exactly between the speakers on the coffee table, 'cuase then it's like I have giant headphones on and stereo surround sound is all that exisist in the world - fun, but I don't like to sit on the coffee table for long).

I had everything right all the way up untill I reached the subject of speaker placement. This why I don't have a fancy high quality stereo. Most people screw up somewhere along the chain - crappy RCA cables, lousy CD audio to start with (becoming more of a problem with compressed audio files that are shared and downloaded to be uncompressed from 128 bps onto a CD), thin speaker cables or cables that are way too long, crappy amp, etc. With any of these steps existing at a subpar level your audio will never be what it should.

For my money (which isn't much), I go with decent quality gear and focus on a standard all across the board. This way I don't blow 2000 dollars on a tube amp just to have my music sound basically the same. Sure, if I could grab those 3000 dollar speakers to go with the amp maybe I'd do it, but like said already, I' m not gonna blow that kind of cash on a stereo when I do most of my listening on my bicycle through mediocre headphones. At least my discman has 'bassboost'... I use it to drown out loud engines around me.

This brings me to a final reflection for this post. More of a question actually...

"Where, when, how, and why do you listen to music?"

The answer to this question will help one figure out what one needs for their audio equipment, and hopefully help one to be more at peace with the gear one has.



Michael J. West said...

Maybe this is an opposite position, but I'm usually more interested in buying the music itself than I am in expensive audio equipment. Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy with the stereos I've got--but I always figure, what's the use of putting all your money into a great system, then having no money left to buy something to listen to on it?

Carl Abernathy said...

I agree with Michael. I think you need a nice stereo, but after awhile you reach a point of diminishing marginal returns.

The key is to find the happy medium between good quality and expense.

Cameron W said...

You got it. As musicians we are better equipped to find the really good deals in stereo equipment, as we can easily hear the difference between a fancy 'bells-&-wistles' system and a plain one that has guts.

Michael J. West said...

Well, I'm not a musician, but I like to think that 17 years of intense study of recordings has given me a musicians' ear. Anyway, you guys are correct that you can tell the difference if you listen carefully...I especially think that looking for "graphic equalizers" is frequently a waste of money.

David said...

I personally don't mind spending the 3k on the amp even though I have less in the speaker category. Because later, when I have more money, I'll upgrade the speakers. And then the CD player. Same with my computer, I don't mind spending a little extra on a "too much" upgrade, when I know that in a year, I can upgrade the next weakest link, and then have my system be constantly improved. Basically just a process of constantly getting rid of the limiting factor.

That said, I totally agree with the idea of not getting useless stuff that isn't worth the increase in the cost-quality ratio.

But at the same time, music is much more enjoyable and rich through my $400 Sennheiser headphones than my little $30 CD Boombox. :)

Cameron W said...

Ah, the old 'stereo sucks so I'll just get killer headphones' ploy. Worked for me for many years. I had a great set of Sony portable ear-cup style phone that cost me about 100.00. They were noise cancelling too, so I could tour around town and not have to listen to Trane, McCoy, Elvin, & Billy The Bonehead laying on his horn in the car next to me.

$400 Sennheisers would sweeten the day man.


Cameron W said...

Michael, I also put more focus on the music collection and less on the system. Most recordings of classic jazz are not mind blowing anyway...

Also, Graphic EQ's are fun, and with cassettes they really helped 'fix' the highs, mids & lows, but overall with good systems I've found that they actually create more noise and just mess up the way it should sound.