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What Is The Difference Between Hi-Fi And Stereo?
The world of sound systems can be tricky to understand, especially if you are just starting out. Some of the factors to consider when looking to set up a sound system are discussed below.
What is Hi-Fi?
Hi-Fi stands for high fidelity and refers to a higher-quality reproduction of sound. It is an extremely common term that was first used as far back as the 1950s. Hi-Fi reproduces sounds with minimal distortion and background noise and represents an accurate frequency response.
Prior to Hi-Fi, sound recordings were often poor in quality, with distorted and unpredictable sound - and certainly less of a true representation of the original.
What is "Stereo"?
Stereo (or stereophonic) is a way of reproducing sound using two or more channels. Each channel plays a distinct portion of the original sound, offset from the others, and when taken together, this more accurately reflects the original sound at the time of recording. This multi-channel aspect reflects the recording process of using several microphones. Each channel can be played through different speakers. Indeed, it is usually the case that one is played from the right and one from the left.
What is an integrated sound system?
An integrated sound system is an all-in-one solution. Its main selling points are convenience and cost. These initially existed in the form of music centers that had a tape player, radio, CD player, and record player all in one machine. Nowadays, rather than being about the different sources, it is more about the different elements within the sound system - such as the amplifier, speakers, and receivers. The all-in-one systems are usually cheaper and may be more user-friendly, but the quality of each element within an integrated system is often lower than a standalone (separate) element.
What are separates?
As the name suggests, these are elements of a sound system that are separate and independent of other elements. They can be connected with other separates but are not restricted in any way like they might be in an integrated system.
What are the benefits of separates?
A system made up of separates is more likely to offer better performance, better sound quality, better setup options, and better reliability when compared to a one-box/integrated system. Additional benefits include:
- Flexibility: A system using separates is also more flexible in terms of being able to future-proof and update its software and features as you can do this one by one rather than having to replace the entire system periodically.
- Connectivity: Audio separates will give more connection options for more equipment (old and new). You should be able to easily add extra amplification or extra input devices because most separates will have more (and better-quality) connection ports and jacks than all-in-one options.
- Reliability: With all-in-one options, when one thing goes wrong, the whole thing will need to go in for repair (and the entire circuit board may need replaced). With separates, however, if there is a problem with one element (for example, the tuner), you’d still be able to listen via other sources.
- Component quality: Separates are often the premium offering from a specific manufacturer. Subsequently, the internal components used are chosen for their quality/performance rather than efficiency or cost. This translates into better performance, reliability, and lifespan.
Are there any downsides to separates?
The only real negatives to opting for a system made up of separates is that it is likely to cost more, and there may be more wires and plugs needed. The extra cost, however, is usually evidenced by the higher quality.
All-in-one is a nice concept that works well on devices such as mobile phones, but for a high-quality sound system that performs reliably, the best option is to go for separate specialist components and link them together yourself.
What about "home theater" systems?
A home theater system consists of various speakers that are placed around a TV or projector to give the impression that the viewer is in a movie theater. These setups can be as basic or as complex as you like, and the cost varies accordingly. They aim to recreate the cinema experience in terms of dialog and sound effects, so they are less focused on the quality of music than a Hi-Fi system would be.
A typical Hi-Fi sound system consists of two loudspeakers, an amplifier, and various input sources, whereas a high-spec home theater system will usually include A/V receiver, front left and front right speakers, a central speaker, rear left and right speakers, and a subwoofer.