Audiophiles are on a quest; we're always lusting after the perfect fill-in-the-blank (speaker, amplifier, turntable, CD player, etc).
Catch is, perfect gear wouldn't automatically make every recording sound life-like. At that point the gear wouldn't have a sound per-se; the recordings' sound would be laid bare.
I wrote "How high do you want your fi?" for the April 2009 issue of Stereophile magazine, and I'm still getting a wide range of feedback about that piece from readers and friends.
I'm defining a "perfect" hi-fi as one that's indistinguishable from the sound of live instruments. No hi-fi has ever fully recreated the sound of a symphony orchestra, jazz group, or rock 'n' roll band. Solo instruments fare better, i.e. guitars, flutes, and vocals; you can almost get a glimpse of their sounds over the best high-end systems. But a drum kit? Piano? No way!
Audio components are far from perfect, so it's no surprise their sounds aren't 100 percent convincing. As imperfect as the gear is, the recordings themselves are even further away from documenting the sound of vocals and instruments.
The age-old analog/digital divide is the least of it. The musicians do their thing, and then the microphones, their positions relative to the instruments, the skill and imagination of the engineer/producer/mastering team's use of equalization, compression, processing, etc., create the sound we hear.
Pop or rock music is rarely played by the complete band, with vocals, live in the studio. Out-of-tune singers and players are pitch-corrected, drummers' off-kilter rhythms are tweaked, there's not a lot of there there to reproduce. Most recordings are so heavily processed they could never sound real.… Read more