Expensive sound: The effects of a good stereo
By Spencer Yu, Photo Editor
Music is one of the most commonly enjoyed pasttimes ever. It allows listeners to get an inside look into the emotions that an artist conveys and escape reality for a little while. However, while almost everyone listens to music, almost everyone listens to it in a different way. Whether it be through the various types of headphones available or on a home stereo, no two listening experiences are truly the same. But what difference does it make? Does having an incredibly high-end stereo really make a difference in your listening experience? To find out, I enlisted the help of my good friend Justin Chan. Chan has been interested in sound systems since junior high when his father introduced him to the vast world of stereos.
“We have always had any sort of sound system whether it be two channels or home theatre, we have always had it in our house,” said Chan.
Firstly to understand what makes music sound good, we must identify what the term “hi-fi” means. It is a term that is often thrown around when describing expensive sound systems. However, Chan believes that the term is very misunderstood.
“It’s going to depend on your previous experience with stereos because you can get into it at any budget. If you are someone that only ever listens to music on Airpods and you spend $300 on speakers it’s going to sound incredible to you,” said Chan.
One common misconception with stereos is that the more expensive something is, the better it will sound. That is true to a certain extent, however, there is much more to making a stereo sound good than just the price.
“If you don’t know anything about stereos and you don’t know how to position a speaker, how much power you should be throwing out, or how your room responds to sound then spending a lot of money is not going to make a difference,” said Chan.
The stereo I decided to do my listening on was set up properly and contained some legitimate high-end equipment. The speakers are a pair of Paradigm Tribute’s which are $8,000 a set and are powered by a McIntosh MA8900 integrated amplifier which costs around $10,000 and played music through a Moon 260d CD player which costs $3,500, running through cables which cost around $3,000. For all intents and purposes, this is the Lamborghini of home stereo setups.
In order to simulate the most average listening experience possible, I played some music off Spotify straight into the stereo of my 2007 Toyota Corolla. To put it kindly, it has a fairly unremarkable sound system.
The two songs I chose to test the stereo were The Beatles: “Here Comes The Sun” and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “The Nearness Of You.” Firstly I listened to these songs in my 2007 Toyota Corolla which has an “adequate” sound system to put it kindly. It didn’t sound terrible but it lacked depth. Imagine if the stage the band was playing on was cramped and all the instruments blended together and sounded flat. The detail that comes from a good studio recording is lost. The vocals were also serviceable but much like the instruments, the vocals lacked fine detail which on a track like “The Nearness Of You” is very noticeable.
Finer details were revealed when I listened to the same songs on the home stereo setup.
Obviously, the stereo had a higher definition but it goes far beyond just that. The dynamics were so good that I could point in the direction that each instrument and singer was performing from. When I was listening to “Here Comes The Sun” I felt that I was in the studio with The Beatles as that song was being recorded and while listening to “The Nearness Of You” I felt like I was front row in a jazz bar watching the duo perform. You hear the finer details that you wouldn’t otherwise hear, the sound of a finger strumming a guitar string, the echo of a singer’s voice, the sharp snap of a finely tuned snare, these are details that are otherwise lost on a conventional stereo system.
The thing about music is that it is an emotional expression from the artists on what they are feeling at the precise moment that they are making that song. Having a high-end stereo gets you closer to that emotion. All the fine details though they might seem insignificant add up to a more authentic experience that is closer to the artist’s vision.
The important takeaway from this is that though you can listen to music on just about every device nowadays, doing whatever you can to improve the listening experience will make it just that much more pure and authentic.
“I think that there’s almost no better way to wind down. Whether you are getting into it at a high or low budget, get yourself a decent pair of speakers and just enjoy the music,” said Chan.