Headlines – Autumn 2017

From the desk of Len Wallis

ne of the most perplexing things about any industry is trying to remain true to what our goals should be – and in the case of Hi-Fi it is the reproduction of music. It is easy to get caught up in the technologies employed, the specifications and even the aesthetics. And yes, all of these things have a place, but they should not be allowed to cloud one’s judgement.

Firstly let’s be clear that nothing in the audio chain can or will improve the sound of the piece of music you are listening to. Bill Low of AudioQuest cables correctly points out that the best cables in the world are those that have the least impact on the sound, not the ones that impose their own sonic signature. The same applies to every link in your audio chain. It is not what any component adds to the music but how little it takes away that is important. Unfortunately every piece of equipment that lies between the initial performance and your ears will have its own sonic signature, and this is where it gets interesting. There are many instances where a technology can imprint its own character on what is being played – valve amplification is a classic example. Despite the fact that valve amplification has a signature sound, it is a sound that is immensely pleasing to many people, and many valve devotees would not consider settling for anything else.

Then there is the question of knowing what you are listening for. There is little value in trying to find that elusive system that sounds just like the real thing if you don’t know what the real thing actually sounds like. There is no better way of knowing what a system should sound like than attending live music events. I am surprised at the number of people who are Hi-Fi hobbyists who rarely attend a live performance. I am even more surprised by the number of people employed within the industry who never go to a concert! The very best system in the world will never recreate the power, the majesty and the emotional impact of a live concert – but the closer we get, the better the system.

Finally a word of advice – treat specifications with the disdain they deserve. There was a time when product specifications meant something, and I knew most of them off by heart. Today I would not know the specification of a single piece of equipment in the store – these days specifications can at best be used only as a guide. A client recently rightly chastised me for quoting the peak power rating of the Devialet Gold – a specification type I have been very critical of in the past. Unfortunately it is the only published figure I can find.

Trust your ears.