Famous customer phrase #2 – “Oh, I don’t think we want to spend too much on audio stuff. We can’t really hear the difference anyway.” (#1 is, “No thanks. I’m just looking.”)
Blasphemy! Boy, have I heard this a bunch of times in the last 40 some odd years. Actually, most people can certainly hear the difference between mediocre audio reproduction and high fidelity (high fidelity = highly faithful to the original). I’m currently sitting here in my office with XM radio playing. It’s being reproduced over a high quality pair of speakers through decent, but not particularly expensive, electronics. Even using my antique ears it sounds pretty good. Yes, the XM signal is compressed like an MP3 file, but I can hear individual instruments, there’s decent bass response, and voices are reasonably natural sounding.
Does this enhance my enjoyment of the music? Without a doubt. In fact, because no one’s here right now it’s playing way above background level too. That makes it even more enjoyable because human hearing is such that the lower the volume, the less we can hear the highs and lows (not to mention that we miss lots of acoustic details). If you take a few moments to listen to a decent audio system you’ll easily hear the difference. The real question is: does the difference matter to you? That’s one you’ll have to answer but I’d like to offer a couple of observations:
- Music is a universal language. Almost everyone can, and does, enjoy listening to it. For most of us listening to music has a strong emotional component. There are songs that make us laugh or cry, songs that make us happy or melancholy, songs that make us nostalgic and more. A life without music is diminished in so many ways.
- Yes, many of us use music as ”acoustic wallpaper”, playing in the background while we perform other tasks. But given half a chance, well reproduced music will always enhance what you’re doing.
- The ubiquitous MP3 players expose more people to music listening but sacrifice quality for quantity. A better pair of earbuds or headphones and higher bit-rate MP3 files can make a huge difference in the pleasure you’ll get from your music.
The bottom line? Better audio reproduction will always enhance the enjoyment you get from listening to music. And you don’t have to be an audiophile, a rocket scientist, (a Gramophone Intern), or wealthy to get it and enjoy it.
Note from the team at Gramophone: We'd love to let you test out what Joel has to say about everyone being able to hear the difference. We enjoy letting you listen to a variety of music on a variety of speakers to see what you love. Just like you can see the difference on the eye chart at the eye doctor, we're confident you can hear the difference!