Have you ever heard of this term being thrown around in the consumer audio market? When you go out there, looking for the ideal stereo system that fits your budget, I’m sure you’ll come across similar labels. Whether you are an aspiring audio engineer or just an enthusiast, the real question that you should ask is – What is High Fidelity?
In today’s article, we will be discussing what this commonly used audio term really means to consumers and professionals alike. You’ll be able to learn about the different aspects of high fidelity audio, and how each of them contribute to this concept’s creation. Are you ready to arm yourself with more audio knowledge? Then, lets begin!
Introduction – Does it matter?
Also widely known as simply “Hi-Fi”, high fidelity is a term used by consumers, audiophiles and home stereo enthusiasts to define high-quality sound reproduction and discern it from the low-quality sound produced by cheaper audio systems, or the poor sound quality that can be heard in audio recordings made until the late 1940s.
In an ideal audio world, components in a high-fidelity sound system would have minimal amounts of noise and distortion. They are also expected to have an accurate frequency response. In the 70s and 80s, audiophiles preferred to buy each component separately. This allowed them to choose from various models with the specifications that they needed.
Here are the various aspects of high fidelity that we will be discussing:
- Listening tests
- Realistic experience
- Integrated systems
- Modern equipment
Hi-fi manufacturers and audio engineering researchers use listening tests to determine whether certain audio components (such as expensive cables or amplifiers) have any subjectively perceivable effect on sound quality. If a listener is able to see the audio components that are being used for the test, then the listener’s judgement of sound quality could be affected by pre-existing biases towards or against certain audio components or brands.
In response to this issue, researchers started using blind tests, where the researchers can see the audio components used, but not the listeners who are judging the sound quality. However, in a double-blind experiment, both the listeners and researchers do not know who belongs to the control group and the experimental group, or which type of audio component is being used for which listening sample.
It is important to take note that not all “audiophile” magazines rely on these blind tests in their evaluations of Hi-Fi equipment. For example, John Atkinson (current editor of Stereophile), stated (in a 2005 July editorial named Blind Tests & Bus Stops) that he once purchased the “Quad 405” solid state amplifier in 1978 after seeing the results from blind tests, but after some months he noticed that “the magic was gone” until he replaced it with a tube amp.
That being said, there are also magazines that fully accepts blind tests. Doug Schneider, editor of the online Soundstage network, stated: “Blind tests are at the core of the decades’ worth of research into loudspeaker design…researchers knew that for their result to be credible within the scientific community and to have the most meaningful results, they had to eliminate bias, and blind testing was the only way to do so.”.
In order to create a more realistic listening experience (as if being in a live music performance), stereophonic sound was used to provide some semblance of realism by creating a “phantom middle channel” when the listener sits exactly in the middle of two loudspeakers. However, as the listener moves slightly to the side, this phantom channel will slowly be reduced.
Do take note that multi-channel playback systems are now more affordable, and many consumers are willing to accommodate the six to eight channels required in home theatres. Today, audio signal processors are able to synthesize an approximation of a good concert hall, which ultimately provides a more realistic impression of listening in a concert hall.
Compact discs (CD) are also able to provide a dynamic range of about 90dB, which is well beyond the 80dB dynamic range of music (typically perceived in concert venues). Audio equipment need to also be capable of reproducing all the frequencies within the human hearing range (20Hz – 20kHz), in order to achieve a more realistic listening experience.
Speaking of frequency range, compact discs (CD) are designed to reproduce frequencies as low as 10Hz and as high as 22.05kHz, which makes them suitable for reproducing all the frequencies that are audible by humans. There should also be no noticeable distortion of the signal or emphasis or de-emphasis of any frequency (by the sound system) within the human hearing range.
In the market, there are lifestyle or integrated systems available, that consists of one or more audio sources such as a CD player and a tuner (for radio), together with a pre-amplifier and a power amplifier in a single compartment. These systems are generally unpopular among audiophiles, as they prefer to buy separate, specialised components from different manufacturers.
This allows audiophiles the most flexibility for piece-by-piece upgrades and repairs, as compared to having a single integrated system. Despite this, integrated systems are still appealing to many consumers, as they don’t take up too much space. Do take note that a repair of an integrated system means not being able to use the whole system.
In contrast, Hi-Fi systems that are build by using separate components may sometimes allow partial use of the rest of the system, if one component breaks down. You can also choose to spend money on only a few core components in the beginning and then later add additional components to the system. However, this may incur more expenses in the long run.
Modern Hi-Fi equipment are engineered to be compatible with digital audio. Signal sources such as digital audio tape (DAT), digital audio broadcasting (DAB) or HD Radio tuners can now be integrated. Some modern Hi-Fi components can be digitally connected via fibre optic TOSLINK cables, universal serial bus (USB) ports (including one to play digital audio files), or Wi-Fi support.
Another modern audio technology is the music server, which consists of one or more computer hard drives that stores music in the form of computer files. When the music is stored in a “lossless” audio file format such as FLAC, Monkey’s Audio or WMA Lossless, the computer playback of these audio files can serve as a high-quality source for a hi-fi system.
That’s it folks, a general overview of high fidelity audio systems. I hope that the information here would help you to make an informed decision when looking for your next home stereo!
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