Cover Image: Is Hi-Fi For You?

Is Hi-Fi For You?

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Member Reviews

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

I have mixed feelings on this one. The most helpful comment i can make is if you choose to start reading it, make sure you finish it. Some not real accurate (in my opinion) information in the first half is clarified to being more accurate in the 2nd half.

This was a bit of a frustrating read for me. Collecting the best sounding version of an album I loved has always been the main focus of my music collection, & I'd say I began my expensive audiophile journey in around 1992 (on a very low budget). I have numerous differing opinions from the author.

On the bright side, part of his goal seems to be to get kids off of mp3's on phone's through ear buds, & that is indeed an admirable goal. He also states (I'm paraphrasing here) that a $200 USB turntable is a total waste of money, which I also agree with. 

I could go on & on with the things i disagreed with:

1. He calls a 500 pound (around $663 USD) equipment rack a non-negotiable MUST even in his "budget system." If one is looking for total anti vibration, you might approach that point (& he finally mentions that near the end of the book while really plugging 1 specific manufacturer), but I've always been more concerned with sound quality than attractive furniture. I personally own 4 $25 each Panasonic racks. Yes, anti vibration add ons would likely improve the sound.

2. He raves about an old Garrard turntable with an old Shure cartridge. It may be different in the UK, but in the USA Garrard was always considered low-fi mass market junk & Shure cartridges were mid-fi at best I owned both in my childhood.

3. He claims that 44/16 cd is as good as digital gets. With a decent playback system, well mastered 24 bit digital blows 16 bit away (Note: WELL MASTERED).

4. Until the end of the book, where he changes his tune a bit, he states that one should buy the cheapest audio cables you can find. There are huge sonic differences between cables. I have heard it over & over again with my own ears.

5. He states that the speakers are much more important than the source & amplification equipment. While I agree that speaker quality is essential to a good sounding system, the playback source & amplification are equally important in my experience. Garbage in, garbage out.  

He seems to take a similar attitude as the reviled American 70's Magazine, Stereo Review: If it's transistor (or in this case digital) any correctly functioning electronics will sound exactly the same. That has been proven wrong over & over again........

I could go on & on, but my basic thoughts are if one is warned & ignores the majority of specific recommendations, this book serves the purpose of potentially helping a few more people hear how magical music can sound when well mastered & played back on quality gear. And god knows, if we want quality gear to remain available, the audiophile community has got to become more than a wealthy old boy's club.
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This book had me answer the question, yes Hi-Fi is for me.  A quick guidebook that just leads you to understand why you may be interested in Hi-Fi and how to go about it.  How to situate your equipment for the best scenario, what investments should be made, and if you need to make them at all.  John O'Reilly almost lost me with the early chapter on vinyl, but in the back of my mind, I thought, maybe he wants people to stop finding vinyl records so he could get them all.  But I continued on the interesting propositions of Hi-Fi and then O'Reilly eased the tension with his partially different take on vinyl, which made it all okay in my book.  But yes, Hi-Fi is for me, and midway through the book, I was already looking for DACs.
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I am an enthusiast for the best possible audio reproduction and have no doubt that many people would get a lot of enjoyment at modest cost by investing a little more in the equipment they use. It is a tricky area though and one fraught with misinformation. This book caught my attention therefore, and I read it the hope of an up-to-date, common-sense guide to the listener in search of higher quality audio.

Unfortunately this book is not one I can recommend. On the plus side, it is warm, chatty and good humoured. Against that though, it is lacking in solid technical information, old-fashioned in many respects, and omitting key things that listeners need to know to get best value and sound.

A chart, for example, illustrates diminishing returns by charting cost vs "musical nirvana". The truth though is that in the strange world of domestic audio there is only a loose relationship between cost and audio quality. It is easy to waste money. A Raspberry Pi with a DAC/Amplifier add-in can sound amazing for a tiny cost.

We begin with an anecdote. A young woman is listening to music on her laptop through headphones. The author lends her a USB dongle with a DAC and amplifier, and the music suddenly sounds much better. Well,  that is possible. It's also possible that the USB device would make little difference. Even cheap DACs like those built into laptops have amazing specs. The amplifier can make a big difference though, depending on the efficiency of the headphones. However, how likely is the scenario? I'd expect most young people to be listening from a smartphone rather than a laptop and often with wireless earbuds where the USB DAC and amplifier will be useless. 

I also found myself confused about what the author recommends. "Forget vinyl" he says in one chapter. Then in another, "I had a revelation. Turning to my host, I simply said that the vinyl sounds best." Well, which is it? Are we arguing that at is best, though expensive, vinyl sounds better than digital? It seems so but that is a remarkable conclusion bearing in mind the added distortion and speed variation that inevitably comes along with it. What a beginner to hi-fi, the intended readership, would make of this I have no idea.

All too often, we asked to take on trust that what the author says is right without explanation. 

There is also a section that reads like an advertisement for a particular company, Ringmat. Conscious of this, the author says that "I have no financial interest in any audio company mentioned in the text." Fair enough: but why is so much space given over to one company that makes turntable mats and some weird plastic thing for CDs that may well make no measurable difference (and CDs are in decline anyway)?

The best to be hoped for is that someone who reads the book will have their curiosity stimulated enough to investigate high  quality audio and make their own discoveries.
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Written by a lifelong hi girl enthusiast this book will explain a great deal. Not too techy so easy to follow the learning, if that’s what you want? If you want validation your choices are correct then you should also learn something about cost v quality.  If you love listening to music in any format then you will love this little book. Thank you #NetGalley for the copy to review.
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