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As hifi experts, we are often asked what our dream system looks like. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of putting together a hifi system is the speakers but the most important aspect for us is the listening space, and no we’re not referring to the aesthetics. So before you run out to buy that cool Bob Marley poster or go through your storage for that bean bag that brings you back to fond college memories, consult with us to get the room acoustics right and then continue to design around that. The listening space is an important variable that will affect major decisions around the selection of your hifi equipment. Unfortunately, most homes are not constructed with audiophile acoustics in mind. You will almost never find a critical listening studio constructed with 90-degree corners or parallel surfaces like those you would typically see in a house, this is because those corners would allow low frequencies to sustain longer than other sounds building up and colouring the sound. Parallel surfaces cause higher frequencies to reflect back and forth, and while that is good in some situation, i.e. singing in the bathroom, it does not work well when listening to music. So the best advice that we can give is first address acoustic issues before moving onto the next step.
The second consideration in building the best hifi system is the source. The capabilities and limitations of any system are dependent on the quality of the initial signal. Think of a hifi system as a chain and each link plays its part. The source is the first link in the chain, and as the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” The audio quality will suffer greatly even if you have the greatest speakers hooked up to your cousin’s old discman. This is why it is crucial to start out with a good source. Whether it’s a quality cd player, digital player or our personal favorite, a turntable.
The importance of this audio component is often overlooked because its duties seem so mundane, but because the signal it passes is so small, any distortions it introduces are then amplified again by the power amplifier which drives the speakers. These distortions are then incorrectly blamed on the power amp, the speakers, or the room. A higher quality pre-amp will allow its partnered power amp and speakers to perform much closer to their capabilities. So, before investing in the biggest speaker in the store, consider getting a good preamp. This will result in a better overall performance. The system will sound clean, it will have better imaging, the bass will be full and all the harmonics will be more truly rendered revealing more intricacies in the performance than you knew existed.
The next link in the chain is the power amplifier. This is the heart that pumps life to the speakers that fill the room with music. The power amp is important as it carefully powers the motion of the speakers without (hopefully) adding any noise or distortion to the signal from the preamp. All frequencies in the bandwidth must be amplified completely, without bias to any particular frequency. That way the music is represented as it was meant to be heard, and if the volume is where we like to leave it….it is also felt.
If you are like most audiophiles, you view speakers like an art collector views fine art. The aim is to get speakers that are capable of replicating sound as close to live sound as possible. Audio engineers along with artists go to great lengths to ensure music is mixed and mastered to simulate a live performance, with each element in a different position in the stereo field and each having its own unique characteristics. These subtleties are expected to be accurately translated by the speakers. If you pair those speakers with the right source, preamp, power amp and great room acoustics, expect to be immersed in a sound experience that words cannot describe.