What really is the ‘point’ about high end hifi? wonders Howard Popeck

No, I'm not going to!

I'm not going to be discussing Hifi as a male ego trip here. Thus there will be no snide comments about my woofer being bigger than yours, or I've got more thousands of watts to play with than you – nor all the other irrelevant nonsense which makes some audiophiles look like a laughing stock to outsiders.

The point of decent hifi is most certainly, for those that take music seriously, not to impress through being impressive. By this I mean the intelligent objective is to impress with the naturalness of the reproduction. Notice that I didn't use the word 'accuracy'. This is because the term is ill-defined in the context of music reproduction.

Any even half-way decent hifi will enable you to recognise that the sound you are listening to is saxophone rather than a piano, to make a crass but illustrative example. That really isn't the point thought.

The point then is, err … what?

The point is to try and make that reproduction of the piano as close to the original recording as possible. Note that I haven't said the original performance. This is because, sadly and most people don't realise this, the recording process itself adds a degree of colouration or unnaturalness to the original performance and many performers do feel this to be the case – irrespective of the audio system on which their music is going to be played.

The playback in the studio shortly after they had made their performance is in many cases noticeably different to the original performance.

Sometimes better, sometimes worse and always different.

Sometimes the differences are small. In some cases insignificant. There is very little that can be done about this in a practical sense, although some sterling attempts have been made in the past and many vintage recordings still stand up today. However, this is the exception rather than the rule.


There are numerous litmus tests, or acid tests if you prefer, that people have used over the years to try and determine what a 'good' system is. This is all very well but the term 'good' has yet to be properly defined. Experienced and practical people tend to take the view that one of the hallmarks of a very good system (not necessarily a very expensive system) is that when a recording comes to the end, you want to immediately play another one, and another one, and so on.

Some systems are capable of robbing people of sleep because quite simply all they want to do is to play more and more music.

I have heard this effect even in car systems which are normally sneered at by audiophiles.


There is a factor at work which I coined as “accidental magic” where a series of components can come together and be greater in performance than the sum of their individual parts. Unfortunately it’s also true that this works in reverse in that people who buy the very best reviewed products in say the amplifier and speakers, and turntable arenas and put them together, find that unfortunately the resulting sound is far less than the sum of these expensive individual parts.

In short; reverse synergy is the opposite - audio components working independently to produce something they couldn't produce together.

There is not true way of predicting this. People that say they can, very probably lie about other things too.

So … ?

The intelligent approach is to work with a dealer who is prepared to supply equipment on sale or return basis or on sale/credit. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that the sound performance in the demonstration room is rarely the same as it’s in the living room. The acoustics are different and there are numerous other aspects which impact on your perception of the quality of the sound.

Having said all this, despite the rise of MP3 players and downloads and other distractions such as these, there are still a hard core of dedicated enthusiasts who feel that spending as much as they can afford on the sort of state-of-the-art audio equipment which in combination gives them the musical enjoyment they crave.