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Why audio gear matters. Apostolis Geroukos write.

If you haven’t checked my previous blog entry already, feel free to do so. While not
a definite prerequisite, it serves as a foundation for the following discussion.

… Supposing that you actually followed my advice, sat down and thoroughly
listened to a recording in your precious free time, it’s entirely possible that all these
flamboyant adjectives or descriptive expressions I employed last time to describe the
listening process seem like a gimmick to you. And to your surprise, they may surely
be just that. You may not have perceived any differences in your listening
experience. But hear me out, because there’s much more to this procedure than meets
the ear (well, it’s “more than meets the eye”, but I couldn’t resist).

When listening to music, the audio gear plays a vital role in the final outcome our
hearing perceives. By “audio gear” I mean the device(s) used to play the recording.
These vary from -you guessed that right- mobile phones and mp3 players to
dedicated DACs and amplifiers*; from free earbuds included in your phone
accessories to serious in-ear monitors; from tiny laptop speakers to full-range studio
monitors, and so on. Suffice it to say, the result you get from each playback device is
without a doubt vastly different.

Let’s face the truth, if you have high expectations from your phone to carry out the
task, it won’t cut it. Can it play audio files? Surely. Can it faithfully reproduce the
audio signal or offer an experience comparable to other, dedicated solutions? Not
even close. I’m not bashing this valuable device you paid for with your hard-earned
money, I’m merely claiming it’s not enough. Allow me to showcase an analogy. In
terms of audio playback, the difference gap between a mobile phone and -let’s say- a
dedicated portable audio player is comparable to the difference gap between a phone
camera and a dedicated DSLR or mirrorless one: No matter how hard the former
tries, it will never manage to capture photos of the same quality as the latter.

Similarly, it goes without saying that a laptop can never trade blows with an external
solution such as a dedicated DAC. Yes, the laptop will get the job done, but it can’t –
even remotely- do the recording justice. Let’s turn our attention to TV’s for an
instance: Just as a 1080p display cannot match a 4K screen in terms of sheer
resolution, a laptop’s sound card cannot match or surpass an external audio source
when it comes to audio fidelity. I hope you get the point: audio gear innately
designed to excel at one thing (playing music) is far superior to any device designed
to play music but simultaneously do hundreds of other tasks. It comes as no surprise,
especially when taking into account the R&D costs and how these are allocated in
each case.

Ultimately, in what ways can the audio gear improve our listening experience?

Such a question deserves another analogy! Yep, you heard that right. You see, “analogy”
is my middle name. Alas, I digress. To the matter at hand: Imagine yourself staring
outside your window through a dirty glass. Although your eyes are definitely able to
label what they see, something is lacking. Everything appears to be blurry and hazy,
and even if your eyesight is doing its best, you will find it hard to focus or make out
more than what’s barely visible. Fast forward to the next morning, when the last
night’s rainfall has made the window crystal clear. Finally, the image has become
sharper than ever! You can easily distinguish each and every aspect of it and
appreciate the scenery in all its glory.

Everything now seems much more pleasant.

One would argue that, in a broader sense, audio improvements come in a similar
fashion. The better the audio gear, the more transparent the “window” into music
becomes; it’s like lifting a veil that previously hindered the audio reproduction and
made everything sound muddy in comparison. Dedicated audio devices provide a
clearer picture and a deeper insight into the recording. Of course, the more you
invest in said gear, the more you feel that you aren’t actually using any medium to
listen, but it’s as if you are transported right into the very studio where the recording
is made, as if your favorite artist is singing exclusively for you in a private
performance you don’t want to miss; an illusion, but a mighty compelling one.

At this point, I hope such analogies helped you understand why audio gear matters
and what somebody can expect out of it. Understanding that our listening experience
benefits from a dedicated solution is crucial, provided that we aim to take our first

step into the audio world or simply upgrade our setup. Should you crave top-of-
the line solutions, that will surely cost you an arm and a leg. After all, every pleasure

has its price. However, audio gear has come a long way and you can achieve quite
stellar sound quality without breaking the bank these days.

Given the ostensibly infinite options when it comes to buying audio components, it’s
totally natural to feel overwhelmed in case we can’t decide what gear to purchase.
There is yet one method to eliminate some of our options; there is one way to -more
often than not- end up with a decision that will ultimately satisfy our needs; and
that solution is what I will henceforth name…

Objective subjectivity.

Oh yes, a notion of paramount importance.

Curious to find out more? Don’t miss next week’s entry in the series.


* A digital-to-analog converter or simply DAC is a device in the
form of a chipset that receives digital signals and changes them into analog
format so that we can hear them. An amplifier is a device that increases the
the amplitude of electronic signals, thus affecting the sound volume that we
perceive.

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