SonicFlare Answers

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by Josh Ray on February 03 '06

  Issue23 Images Ipodweed-1

Letter time.

Dear Josh:

My name is Yoshi Segoshi. I'm the North American distributor of 47 Lab gears. I enjoy SonicFlare and read your "Sex, Drugs and Hi-End Audio" with great interest.
I became somewhat familiar with Alternative Rock, Rap, since my daughter (17) enjoys them through, of course, iPod.
Although I love some of her music, I have a hard time enjoying them through hi-end systems.
Most of the music iPod generation enjoy are recorded with heavy compression and equalization, while most of the hi-end systems are tuned with less compressed/equalized recordings in general.
For the hi-end to embrace the iPod generation or the iPod generation to embrace the hi-end, I think something has to be done either on the recording end or on the reproducing end.
I'd like to see your take on the above issue in your future writings.

Best regards,

ps. My daughter's music includes, System Of A down, Perfect Circle, Tool, Linkinpark, Limpbiskit, Audioslave, Jimmy Eats The World, Green Day, Deftones, Kanye West, Ludacris, Black Eye Peas, Eminem, etc.

Keep reading for my response...

You're absolutely right, compression and equalization are nasty issues. I'm not as much of a crusader for this cause as, say, Danny Kaey, but it is a big problem that, really, the audio community can do practically nothing about.

That said, what I think may be the problem in traditional hi-fi's convergence with the new generation of listeners is NOT the music or how it's mastered, but with this prevailing quest for the last 5% of performance. High-end audio right now is consumed with squeezing the last 5% out of the reproduction, not embracing consumers to put down Bose and move beyond the first 5%. The general perception is almost that if a person can't aspire to the last 5%, then why even bother in the first place?

Meaning, I don't believe something has to change on the recording or reproducing end to get he iPod gen involved in hi-fi. Because, really, what is all this killer gear about in the first place? Massive sound stage, macro and micro dynamics, higher highs, lower lows, presence and all that other fluffery from Pearson's stable.

Regardless of whether you're listening to vinyl or 128kbps mp3s, you're still getting all the high-end goods. Sure, it's not "audiophile-approved" but, to grow this industry, it's a non issue. Will a Jay-Z mp3 sound better on a high-end system? Heck yeah and that's really all that matters.

As for an industry-wide change in recording practices, well, I believe it has to come from the consumer. So if people start getting great hi-fi systems and saying "mmm, this recording sucks" then the labels will realize there's money to be made advertising quality. But we have to get the systems into the hands of the fresh blood in the first place and, to do that, they can't be told they have to give up their popular music and listen to audiophile-approved material. The music must not be a barrier to entry.


Well, both of you are right, in a way. I can side with Mr. Segoshi's claim. Not only the vast majority of "Billboard's Hot 100" music is crap (for my taste, anyways), but on top of that, they just make it even more so by means of shitty mastering and all-too-evident compression (go here for the full story on that). And as the old saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. You can't get out what isn't there in the first place. Please tell me where are the micro dynamics and soundstage on a Jay-Z tune - all I hear from such hip hop fare is boom-boom-tizz, boom-boom-tizz bass bloat. After all, these songs are rather meant for a "ghetto blaster" car system, not kilobuck tubed monoblock amps. So yes, if the audiophile world keeps revolving around the same snobbish musical choices, we're not gonna get any new converts... but the recording and mastering people must do their part too. If casual listeners cannot hear what's the big, different deal between their "big box" system and the components we know and love, they won't "get it" and won't be hooked on it either. Trouble is, today's sound engineers motto seem to be throwing all cares to the wind since everyone is just using iPods and boomboxes these days anyway... I just wonder what they will do when they start offering "remastered" versions of Linkin Park and Eminem Albums 30 years from now... (end of rant)
If you want a good example of high quality ipod generation music, have a listen to Maroon 5's album Songs of Jane. Excellent mastering and soundstaging, if a bit forward however, but still much better than most pop. So there's still hope! But other recordings of my generation's music are holding me back from buying a more expensive system because I know the gains won't be felt with what I listen to.
My name is Chris West and I have been with NaimUSA since we opened here in 1986 ( I started working with Naim in England when I was twenty, and given that I have always loved music (and Naim was started 30 years ago because people love music) I have some comments to make on this subject: Whether I like a music genre or not, I can appreciate most kinds of music ... so long as I am in the right frame of mind. I consider my teenage daughters music choices as entertaining although sometimes dislikable. I also find there is more gain than pain in her playlists, given that since my youth I have never had a closed mind to new kinds of music or the inventive resurrection of old songs. When listening to reproduced music though ... if I allow myself to become Hi-Fi analytical and critical whilst supposedly listening to the music (i.e. it's musical message) then in most situations it's meaningless beyond sound effects on any system. Although those sound effects are more accurate on a good system! However, the thing that makes music enjoyable is not the bandwidth highs and lows or other jargon laden baggage that generally comes with participation in the Hi-Fi pursuit for perfection, but the expression of the art in whatever form it takes ... and by whichever means it's delivered. A really good music reproduction system does not confuse the musical message ... it presents it clearly without embellishment. The point I'm making is that you can't measure and quantify musical messages (tunes godarnit!) with electronic test apparatus. It's important that the best electronic performance is coaxed out of every new design, but at Naim we have always stated that a system should be finally judged and compared by its ability to carry a tune. A less good system or recording teases and taxes the listener no matter how good the artists are ... just like a music instrument that's out of tune. Putting it simply that's very boring and far too often expensively so! The "high-end" is still a hidden jungle that new-comers and accidental discoverers avoid, partly through the price of admission and also because there is no consistent and universal goal. One mans meat is another mans poison and so on. If our industry were to focus energy on music reproduction rather than sound reproduction, I am confident that almost anybody of any age who enjoys music could understand that aim without feeling alienated. My younger kids can ... amongst the youths, adults and all ages who I have done Naim system demos for without using a single word of Hi-Fi jargon. Our industry has become rather dyed in the wool, but it's never too late to turn towards inclusivity rather than turning off potential (read young) new adherents. That's why we championed the iPod as a stereo source and provided a way (the regulated low noise Naim i-Supply) to make it sound better. The iPod is just another horse for a course though, and neither replaces nor betters music reproduction machines that have preceded it. First and foremost I regard audio equipment as a means to an end, although it should be user friendly and not out of place as a household or mobile item. In the end though it's the music that matters to most, and the Hi-Fi industry best not forget it! (end of ramble)
hello well ,i honestly think that the problem with hiend today not reaching the young generation and the non audiophile humans is purely "PRICE" £250 gets you ,a neat device ,good interfacing ,huge music storage ,portability ,a cool LCD screen ,street creds ,a decent pair of headphones ,the ability to shut off from the hustle and bustle of the city and to jog amongst a huge orchestra ,massive gift value and lets say it all in unison whilst remembering a 1st gen philips walkman "very good sound quality for the masses" alternatively for £600 ,you could by a set of carbon fiber cones that will improve the sub bass reproduction your pick
Hi again, I agree that the iPod floats many a boat. I get a kick out of my iPod video and I use iTunes and Apple computer systems as much as I can... However, escapism takes many forms. A good album, a great playlist, shuffling around the music library ... not to mention a good movie. Sooner or later though, the thrill of an unfettered session with some good songs on a high performance system ... so as to feel really engaged with a musical performance ... beckons to the desire for a more visceral experience. For example the punch of a snare drum begs to be felt in the chest as well as heard. Truely, those expensive cones won't magically make it happen ... but the same amount of money can buy a seriously good and affordable integrated amplifier that gets you on the right track to some serious enjoyment... even if an iPod is the only music source. The desire to own a realistic Hi-Fi system is still there for many even if the finances are not (yet)... and where there's a will there's a way. Regards Chris
Yes, the cones are ridiculous. What are we talking about here, the last 2% of performance? 1% with products like carbon fiber cones, cable elevators and whatnot? Chris, you're absolutely right. You can spend a reasonable amount of money and get a killer system. This premise that it's either all or nothing is, really, what kills the industry in its perception, as Andre pointed out. It is a perception that I see all over the internet in regards to the audiophile world -- audiophiles are nuts.
Amen! Josh wrote, "Audiophiles are nuts." I completely agree :-) We certainly are alien to 99% of the world. Is you one? I hate to admit I am sometimes, but I am, although I try not to be... Oh, I'm so confused. I'm a music lover first, musician second, who discovered this crazy hobby through those loves and am now trying to make sense of it. I really value Chris' comments about music mattering most, user friendliness, style being a means to increase gear adoption, and let's not forget about price not being a barrier. I for one am going to try much harder to use less and less audiophile buzzwords in my reviews and describe why the experience of listening to great music through great gear is worth the effort... and at the same time to try and review more and more accessible and technology-convergent gear. Give me a little time though as I have some gear in now that doesn't necessarily fit that bill ;-)
iPods are not all that bad....I'm listening to one now instead of my DIY battery-powered TDA1541-417A DAC, mostly because the darn DAC is too fussy and I end up spending half my time fixing the thing. Of course, to make an iPod sound good you have to use Apple Lossless compression (at least!) or WAV uncompressed files. I would like to see manufacturers get into an "iPod mood," which is to say, make something that makes pop music sound good in a casual setting, for less than $5000 for speakers and amps. I'm thinking of something like the Cary 6-pack amps plus the Gallo Reference speakers. Midsize full rangers seem to work really well in this regard, as they have lots of life and boogie although they drive purists nuts with their erratic frequency response. STILL nobody has an equivalent of the Fostex FX200 in a box, which they could market for $500. So there's my "dream iPod system": FX200 in a box ($400 DIY), with the NoRH SE 9 ($450), for less than $1000.
Hi Josh: One of these days, Im going to have some stuff for you! I saw the post by Chris West and agree with him. My daughter and niece are always running music past me that I think is cool, even though Im pushing 50! I hope that we can get more people off the fence to just get a decent 2-5000 dollar hifi. My wife says if I got killed in a plane crash, she would sell all my expensive goodies and keep the modest Naim system we have in the living room! It's not terribly expensive stuff, but is built WAY better than anything you will ever see at Best Buy and sounds fantastic! look forward to working with you soon, Jeff dorgay Publisher TONE-Audio