Headlines – Summer 2019

From the desk of Len Wallis

At what price convenience?

How many of you have recently had the opportunity (necessity) to shop for a new lounge suite? I lately did just this, and the one thing that struck me was the amount of furniture that is driven by design and not by what its main purpose should be, in this case comfort. My wife and I found that a surprising number of the suites we sat in looked fabulous but were about as comfortable as sitting on a sack of coal.

The same can be said of our industry. On so many occasions we sacrifice quality for design, convenience or quantity. For example we find an increasing number of components coming onto the market where local terrestrial radio broadcast sources have been removed.

Why offer FM when you have all the radio stations in the world at your fingertips through Internet Radio? One good reason would be because FM sounds infinitely better than Internet Radio.This is a classic example of quantity over quality.

FM is a very underrated source. Many people use it as background noise while they are getting on with life, but via a high-quality tuner FM radio can deliver a surprising level of performance.

In a recent issue of Sound and Image Stephen Dawson reported that despite being a relatively new format Blu-Ray disc sales peaked some years ago, being hammered by the various streaming services. This is despite the fact that the best a streaming service offers is 3 – 4Mbps compared to 15 – 35Mbps on the Blu-Ray disc. Even more curious is the fact that almost without exception the screens that we sell are large (55” and above) and 4K resolution – which will easily highlight the differences between the two formats.

This industry has a history of going backwards in terms of performance. Superseding plasma screens with LCD, the move from vinyl to cassette and the universal acceptance of MP3 files are all notable examples.

There are times when convenience, or to be more precise ease of use, makes sense. This is particularly true of the plethora of multi-room wireless streaming products currently on the market. Sonos is a great example. This product has been a runaway success, but not because it is the best sounding product out there, even they don’t claim that. But it is stable, and it is easy to use, and that counts for a lot. I don’t care how good a product is, particularly in this genre, if it is difficult to use or navigate.

At the same time we do sell ourselves short unnecessarily. There are numerous examples of taking the easy way out when better quality options are available – options where the differences are easily discernible when we listen for them.

Or maybe we have just stopped listening!!