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Volume 5 No. 2
By Paul Messenger


HIFICRITIC Volume 5 No. 2  I have enormous respect for Martin Collins’ sterling efforts to match (and ultimately beat) the sound quality of his traditional vinyl and CD sources using the latest computer-based music playing systems from Linn, Naim, MSB and suchlike. But I don’t have any plans to join this particular race myself just yet.

This is not because I don’t believe in computer audio as such – I’ve been recording and replaying music on and from my laptop for several years. My decision to take a back seat shouldn’t be taken to imply Luddite tendencies – merely the caution borne of many years’ experience.

Although ‘the early bird catches the worm’ is widely quoted, I prefer the alternative adage: ‘the second mouse gets the cheese’. The ‘early adoption’ of new technologies no longer seems to hold the same attraction that it did thirty or forty years ago. The Who’s Pete Townshend might have been thinking of the political system when he wrote Won’t Get Fooled Again back in 1971, but that rock anthem seems entirely relevant to today’s technological progression.

Stereo vinyl replay took many years to achieve maturity, as did CD, and along the way a number of largely unsuccessful attempts were made to introduce alternatives to those two key hi-fi landmarks.

Was the Compact Cassette the third landmark? You’d be hard pushed to find much hardware or software today, but lots of people bought into a format which accounted for a good percentage of hi-fi hardware sales during the 1970s. But was it hi-fi? I regarded cassette primarily as a convenience, much easier than fiddling around with open-reel tape, and a handy way of making recordings from various sources. For many people its prime use was to make ‘playlists’ for the daily commute, and I doubt many hi-fi people bought pre-recorded Musicassettes (I certainly didn’t).

I don’t download music from the iTunes store either, though I do use a program called iTunes (which came pre-installed on my computer) to make recordings and play music from time to time. iTunes wants to keep changing (via something called ‘Auto Update’), so interacting with it on a strictly occasional basis can prove challenging, exciting or frustrating, depending on one’s mood at the time.

What I do find is that my computer has slotted neatly into a rather similar music recorder/player role to that which the cassette deck used to occupy thirty years ago. As such I’m not anticipating that it will deliver the sort of high end sound quality I expect from my vinyl, CD or FM sources, any more than I’d expect seriously high sound quality when watching the TV, or listening to a radio programme recorded on a Sky+ box.

Ultimately we have to accept that hi-fi is a broad church. Although it’s important to me, as both a hobby and the means of my livelihood, I try not to let it dominate my life. Although program quality naturally matters, in my opinion it never takes precedence over content, which is why prefer to choose my own music (mostly from a large existing collection of vinyl), and pay scant attention to ‘audiophile’ recordings.

I daresay I’ll take computer music more seriously once things have settled down a bit more. In the meantime I’m more preoccupied in extracting the best possible sound quality from the TV, which I use much more than my computer as a source of stereo sound. This is actually quite tricky as it involves things like remotely switching optical connections and introducing delays for lip-syncing. I haven’t yet found the optimum DAC, but am still hopeful. 


Paul Messenger



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