If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you are an audiophile. And if you’re an audiophile, it's likely that when you last went round your dad’s house, you fired up his ancient stereo system from the 1980s just to see what it was like. You thought it would sound awful, but you soon discovered that it was actually pretty good. In fact, after about 30 seconds, you were downright impressed with what this ugly piece of junk could do.
By the time you got to the minute mark, you were getting worried. Could it be that this ancient piece of kit, with all its ugly knobs and its large amp unit, actually sounds better than your new one?
There’s a good reason for this, according to CNET, the online technology reviewer. They say that over the years, actual sound quality became secondary to other concerns. Big box manufacturers wanted to make products that looked good online and in the big box stores, so they got rid of a lot of the features that older sound equipment had and replaced them with sleek plastic variants which looked great but didn’t actually produce a great sound.
It turned out that people started to care a lot more about the number of tracks their devices could store, the wattage of the speakers and whether it was wireless than stereo systems actually sounding good. In other words, it was people’s choices in the market that dumbed down the quality of the sound because they wanted other features instead. You can’t exactly take your dad’s massive 1980s stereo with you to a festival, but you can take a Bluetooth speaker (with a tenth of the sound quality).
According to the data, wattages have gone up considerably. In the old days, an entry level mid-range receiver would have had around 20 to 30 watts of power. By the time we got to 2014, that had risen to more than 90W. High-end receivers were used to top out at around 150W. Today, that’s about the amount of power you get from your average computer speakers, let alone a home surround system.
It’s worth noting that the original stereos were only demanded by audiophiles. They wanted to have that live concert experience in their living room, and they wanted to get away from the tinny, annoying sound of their parents' gramophone. The result was big, steel clad contraptions and enormous speakers which seem sort of laughable in the face of today’s modern speaker technology.
Now, though, going vintage is seen as a good idea. More and more people are picking up older equipment that’s been refurbished and going to sites like NationWide Disc and grabbing media to play on them. It’s a pastime that’s especially popular among those who love classics from the 1990s and earlier, before the days of iTunes and Spotify.
What’s more, many people actually think that going vintage produces a better sound quality. Despite all the dizzying advances in technology over the last 30 years, there’s something about analogue sound that digital music players seem incapable of reproducing.
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