Guide to Hi-Fi Stereo Systems
Listening to music, from the artist’s creativity to the depths of the sound recording itself, can be a passion for some listeners like all of us here at SCG-Systems. We are very passionate about reproduction of recorded music as it was intended by the artist and the recording engineers. Smaller computer speakers or a soundbar just won’t cut it for some people like us personal listening standards. Fortunately, in the past few years, this niche of audiophiles has grown and manufacturers have noticed—and are offering solutions. The timing couldn’t be better, as on-demand, high-resolution music downloads are available from several popular artists, online, for your convenience. And beat this: if you have vinyl records, it’s time to pull those out, because they’re making something of a comeback.
HOW DO YOU STORE AND PLAY YOUR MUSIC LIBRARY?
DIGITAL ANALOG CONVERTERS
Storage of audio files and their method of playback can vary from listener to listener, contingent on one’s setup. Many choose the plug-in from their Digital Analog Converter interface (DAC) to their computer or mobile device via a USB connection. While this setup is relatively simple, it poses some questions for each user.
Do you need to connect an additional external hard drive to house your library and also connect that to your setup?
Is your computer or hard drive adding noise to your listening environment?
As sometimes aesthetics are important, does this setup look “disorganized?”
The term DAC generally refers to the entire device housing the prime conversion chip, similar to the way we sometimes call computers “CPUs,” even though a computer houses RAM, hard drives, and other parts besides the processor. So what does a DAC do? In simple terms, the DAC converts the 1’s and 0’s from the digital source into analog electric current so it can be sent to an amplifier. The DAC is the primary bridge between the digital and analog worlds for your music, so its job is critical—the more accurate detail in the signal it can convert, the more clarity and stereo depth your system can achieve.
NETWORK MEDIA PLAYERS
Besides the component DAC, some audiophiles choose a network media player or network receiver to play from a source. The advantage here is that you can use your local area network (LAN) wired or wirelessly to have your stereo set up in a different location than your computer setup. The network media player option raises questions for the listener.
What will be your network server and do you know how to configure it?
Would you use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive?
Is the network media player or receiver compatible with the files in your library?
If it’s an all-in-one network media player, are you willing to forgo the customization with separate components for the convenience of one product?
Network media players start from a component-type product, with a DAC included, to a stereo receiver that is a network player as well.
As some of these products can be equipped with Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth, keep in mind it’s really the DLNA certification that allows the connectivity to play your high-resolution files across your network.
Digital music may be the most popular option, but an interesting trend is the growing return of the turntable, also known as the “record player.” Record stores are generally long gone, but availability has slowly crept back with old and new manufacturers responding to a newer market demand from consumers of all ages. While they have their own nostalgia, which may be part of the reason for their return, turntables are (by nature) analog and can reproduce frequencies well beyond CD quality, with the proper components.
Turntables comprises of several components:
A platter, driven by a belt or directly from a motor; a tone arm; and a cartridge, which holds the stylus, or needle.
The balance of the platter, the material, and counterweight of the tonearm—even the material of the cartridge with the attached stylus—contribute to the sound reproduction that one can extract from a record.
While the selection for turntables is much smaller than it was in the 1970s, several manufacturers have offerings that will meet your needs.
WHAT ARE GOOD CHOICES FOR SPEAKERS?
Speakers for Hi-Fi audio fall into one of two categories: Active Speakers and Passive Speakers.
Passive speakers have been the general standard for speakers for years and require a separate amplifier to drive them. More recently, just like in the professional recording market, amplifiers have reduced in size and could be fit into the housings of the speakers themselves, to make the speakers self-powered, or active.
Active speakers allow the manufacturer to control consistency from speaker to speaker so two people with the same speakers will have, generally, the same audio experience. However, most active speakers don’t allow you to bypass the internal amplifier, so you are not able to connect to an external amplifier, even if it is of superior quality.
You also have an option of choosing stand mounted speakers also known as bookshelves or a set of floor standing speakers.
WHAT KIND OF AMPLIFIERS DO YOU WANT TO POWER YOUR SPEAKERS?
In the home Hi-Fi market there are three varieties of amplifiers from which listeners can choose. There are headphone amplifiers, integrated stereo amplifiers and a combination of pre and power amplifier.
Headphone amplifiers are designed for listeners who want to listen to music with their personal monitors, like headphones, in their isolated environment.
Integrated amplifiers are the primary component that drive a set of speakers. These integrate two components in one component, pre-amplifier and power amplifier.
PRE AND POWER AMPLIFIER
Pre, Power amplifier combination unlike the integrated amplifier, the two components are separated, pre to connect other components and to provide gain and power amplifier to drive the speakers.
If you’re a music enthusiast, but you’re listening to your laptop in your home or apartment as your music center, you should take a moment to really investigate the options available to you. No matter what genre is your preference, so much attention is put into the creativity and audio engineering behind music—it can only be realized on a true Hi-Fi stereo system. Options and marketing information can scatter one in different directions, as everyone’s ears are different, yet now there’s a good range of options that make it possible for anyone with interest to invest in Hi-Fi stereo equipment for their home. You can build a system to your liking, or simply buy a network player and powered speakers for your living room. The true reward will be music to your ears.