The definitive guide to HiFi, no shit.

You actually hear HiFi buffs speaking about "the Holy Grail" when referring to HiFi components. This slip should not be overlooked.

What you don't so much hear is that your Holy Grail and mine might be completely different things. And yours might even be *gasp*: something cheap. The implication that you are a lesser being because of this is erm, implicit.

It's like some top chef dismissing a commoner's palette. But remove the bottle of hooch and a pack of smokes-per-day and most anyone's palette could be that. But yours isn't, is the implication. I 100% understand this snobbery and to some extent concur.

But you likely aren't abusing your ears, are you? SO now this subjective shit exposes itself as exactly that. Not shit, but subjective. We all hear different. HiFi reviews don't come with this caveat. Why is that?

I totally get that for you; Mr. Reviewer; spending £2000 on a set of interconnecting cables DID IT for you. Possibility noted. But I am far more excited by the possibility that Eine Klein Nachtmusik on a £99 amp did it for someone else. Because that could mean a lot more someone else's getting their music on for way less bucks. Or even £30. Let me tell you a story..

When the first true digital amps were released, sample units hit all the main HiFi magazines. The first and arguably most important (at the time) reviewer, simply didn't believe what he was listening to. So, scared of being ostracized, not trusting his senses, he put the device on the shelf and let it fall through the cracks.

A couple of months later, when a rival magazine published a glowing review of this 30-buck giant-killer amp, our past-his-shelf-life reviewer published his own review, basically echoing the sentiments of the first; that some crazy cheap Chinese plastic amp could go toe-to-toe with amps costing fifty times the price. And win.

This is like Star Trek replicators for £99.99 at Argos; the entire economic equation changes overnight. Along with Argos dumping 99% of the rest of their catalogue. Oh wait..

So while that isn't happening ("Bar of gold please, replicator"), other tech is. And some of it knocks old tech for shit. Get comfy with gestalt shifts or die. Especially as a reviewer, ffs.

It's easy to romanticize about the experiences you younger generations never will. But regardless of the snobbery, I applaud the HiFi "industry" for fostering the idea that there is "something better", if only you search (and spend) for it.

I'm here to tell you that while all that is true, the Holy Grail may be something much more humble. Another story..

One night drunk I penned a preset with Equalizer APO (an equalizer app for Windows), in an attempt to compensate for my old Maplin powered speakers deficiencies in their current corner position (I aim to replace them as soon as I find something superior with all the features I need to justify an upgrade). The trick is to play tracks that you KNOW. If those tracks also happen to be classic HiFi test tracks, even better.

I came across this preset a couple days later and clicked it. FUCK YEAH! I had Stevie Wonder on at the time, "Superstition" (I'd been teaching my youngest about funk and the possibilities of the Clavinet, after he discovered it on our family keyboard).

The track was bouncing. My body was jumping around. All my favourite parts were right there. It was clicking. It was singing. It was funky as fuck. No more than some FINELY TUNED EQ HDMI-out to a set of Maplin powered speakers. My living room HiFi would struggle to produce this much raw musical enchantment, and for way more bucks (yes, I have a "HiFi"). The moral..


Our musical tastes, as well as our sonic preferences, are formed in our youth. If you first tasted strawberries, first saw a naked breast, opened your first letter, whatever while listening to some old sonorous radio furniture, or maybe some tinny cheap clock radio, or awesome HiFi THAT will colour your preference for audio.

No HiFi reviewer can rewrite your childhood; he (it's always a he, women have better things to do) can only advise on the facts as he sees them; which is to say, coloured. Considering all the aforementioned factors and many more, basically; no one hears music quite like you.

So you are back to "trying shit out" and "how much money do you have?". Damn.

Okay, I can maybe offer you one soupçon of advice..


Buying a complete HiFi someone else designed is an instant fail. Speakers are all different. Amps are all different. Sources are all different. No way can some all-in-one system ever completely satisfy; you will always be left wanting. If this is a state you enjoy; fair enough. But for the rest of us there is fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately) these days a vast array of choices.

If only HiFi shops let us take equipment home to test it out, the whole HiFi buying experience could be fairly painless. My advice: aim for "transparent" and "faithful reproduction". Then you can simply use use EQ to sort out any recording issues!

If you start young you might even find your holy grail.

Good luck!


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