What’s with HiFi these days? Nothing much, except it’s a new generation of people who are discovering it… It started in NYC in the early 50’s and kind of died out in the 90’s because of computers, home theater, downloads and earbuds.
Now days, people are rediscovering HiFi, the adventure and delight it brings. Unlike trying to listen while awash in a cacophony of distracting sights and sounds, typical to the home theater and earbud crowd, the audiophiles of today are finding again the nearly lost experience and pleasures of hearing pure sound. And the audio dealers of today find themselves remodeling once again, converting one of their home theater showrooms back into a high performance HiFi listening room.
HiFi originally was about recreating great sounding music. Over the years, around the mid 80’s Hi Fi evolved into something much more, much bigger, almost unbelievable. Until someone actually hears the state of the art in HiFi, it’s pretty hard to talk to them about it. HiFi today is not about hearing quality music, high DSP music on earbuds. ….it’s much more. In addition to the replication of music, today’s HiFi delivers a sonic Sound Stage.
And just like a visual stage, there is a sound stage, we hear it but at the same time we actually see it. This idea of sonic vision comes from the leakage between our seeing nervous system and our hearing nervous system. Some people have more sonic vision, leakage, than others. It’s called Synethesia and it has been around forever. It actually includes the leakage of stimulus between all of the senses.
In HiFi, we quiet all our other senses, including and most importantly our visual sensory input. We stare, trancelike. Once our visual distractions disappear we begin to see sound. HiFi is usually mic’d to record sounds that are coming from somewhere, going by, heading elsewhere. In a good HiFi setup, and when we are free from visual simulations, we not only hear but we begin to see a sonic version of the original sound stage.
The sonic sound stage includes a stage set, some sort of fairly static backdrop, the sonic backdrop, which is often, the sonic stage is of an orchestra. In HiFi, we can’t really see the players and the stage, and we don’t want to see it, visually speaking. We can see this same stage with our sonic vision. With Stereo and our sonic vision, we can see where each sound comes from. We can also see how clear the sound is, and how separate it is from other sounds. We can see if it moves, left, right, up or down. We can see if it is large and fuzzy or “dime-sized” small and bright.
And so we actually see sound. We see how bright it is, how focused or blurred it is, what color (tone) it is and where it is located. We see sound being close to us or being far away. Stereo is such a powerful for of stimulating our hearing system that we can even see and hear sounds coming from beside, above and behind us, all by means of just two ears and two speakers.
Most of us however never experience this kind of sonic theatrics….because most of us have low quality speakers and low quality listening rooms. What happens in a room in which sound is being made, is that we first hear the “direct” sound and then we keep on hearing, over and over again, reflections. Our hearing system adds all those “early reflections” to the direct signal and the only thing we actually hear is the sum of all that. This sum is usually between 5 and 10 dB louder than the direct signal. In normal rooms this is good, but in HiFi rooms, these early reflections blur our imaging capability, reducing it to just about zero.
And so HiFi listening rooms as well as recording studio control rooms are specially built with minimal random early reflections. But trying to enjoy or work with music in a dead room is exhausting and just isn’t done. And so, audio playback rooms are designed and built as if they were literally sonic sculptures. They quiet most early reflections but allow some to help create a sense or feeling of spaciousness. Late reflections are cultivated to create a sense of ambience, which surrounds the listener with a very low level sense of sparkle, something like snow globes. And then we have sonic chaos, reverberation to deal with, some amount is good, but not too much.
As you can see, HiFi is much more than powerful amps, cables and speakers, it includes the control of all of the sound emitted out into the room as well. The end result of all of this micro attention to detail is the audiophile listening room or the recording studio control room…places where sound can be heard like no where else in the world. Once you hear it, you can never forget it.
Some of us are satisfied to fondly remember it. And some of us can’t rest until we hear it again. We find the energy, take the steps and begin to build up a good system. We find we are in pursuit of the “holy grail” that glorious sound we know can exist. We have become the new audiophile because there is nothing like the audiophile kind of sound.
Art Noxon, President