I have a lot of FB friends that post images of high-end audio equipment on their own pages or on the pages of audiophile centric pages. These posts almost exclusively contain images of high-end equipment. Recently, I’ve seen expensive turntables, audiophile accessories, preamplifiers, cables, and exotic speakers. But I don’t remember seeing an album cover or picture of an artist. Which leads me to the following question: Are audiophiles more enthralled by hardware…the equipment that they purchase…or the content that they play through their systems? (Shades of the Alan Parsons quote I wrote about a few days ago.)
I read an article recently that concluded that the industrial design of a speaker (and I would assume the other components that we have in our systems) influences the sound that we perceive coming from the speaker. And the more exotic and the more expensive the better. Take the new Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 speakers. For a mere $80,000, you will soon be able to purchase a pair of these visually stunning, 50″ tall units for yourself (I don’t think they sell them in sets of 5 for my surround system).
As you can see from the picture, each one sports 18 individual drivers…seven tweeters, seven midrange drivers, and four subwoofers powered by fourteen ICE power amps and four additional Class D amps. Add all of this power up and you get a combined output of 8200 watts per channel! I get the feeling from the information I read that these are hybrids units of a sort. The directional capabilities of the BeoLab 90s can be digitally controlled through a Smartphone App. Called “Beam Width Control”, listeners can dial in their own personal preference between tight narrow dispersion and a 360-degree soundfield. Amazing!
Figure 1 – The new Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 speakers.
I can’t help but think of the “atmospheric modulators” that I read about in the paper provided by Instrument Quality at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest…sound generation devices that activate sound in all dimensions…X, Y, and Z! Forget about the traditional drivers lined up in an array and pointed at you. The future of “speakers” is to excite air molecules the same way the acoustic instruments do.
Even as sophisticated as speakers are and recent developments in amplifier technology like the Benchmark AHB2, I can’t help but feel that the pursuit of better and better equipment is a fool’s mission because the same quest for high-end sound doesn’t drive artists, engineers, producers, and labels. Why bother perfecting the rest of the signal path until the source material…the albums and tracks…measure up to the capabilities of the hardware and audio formats we already have? This would argue against high-resolution audio and music…perhaps CDs are good enough.
Writers attend events like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and write page after page of usually glowing reviews of a particular room or product. But I don’t remember reading about the source material driving each system. I noticed a major reviewer awarded Ray Kimber’s RMAF 2015 room with a “Best of Show” certificate for the room that he assembled in Denver with partners Martin Logan and EMM Labs. Was that for the sound of the system or the fidelity of the recordings that Ray produces using his unique “IsoMike” technology? I visited the room a couple of times and can’t honestly say that I was impressed by the sound of either…and I’m a fan of surround recording and playback.
The music industry needs to be an equal partner in the quest for high fidelity regardless of format. In my opinion, they’re failing miserably by over processing, over mastering, over auto tuning, and over hyping everything that I find attractive in music. We need to put more pressure on the individuals and organizations making the recordings.
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