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Are you a beginner audiophile?

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This article was published in the 2010 California Audio Show’s Official Directory originally.


If you are attending Dagogo’s California Audio Show and are reading the show’s program, two things are self-evident truths; 1. You love music; and 2, you have more than a passing interest in the gear that is necessary to listen to music faithfully reproduced in a home system environment.

So, what is a system? A quick look at a dictionary yields the following:

An organized, purposeful structure regarded as a ‘whole’ consisting of interrelated and interdependent elements (components, entities, factors, members, parts etc.). These elements continually influence one another (directly or indirectly) to maintain their activity and the existence of the system, in order to achieve the common purpose the ‘goal’ of the system. All systems have (a) inputs, outputs, and feedback mechanisms, (b) maintain an internal steady-state (called homeostasis) despite a changing external environment, (c) display properties that are peculiar to the whole (called emergent properties) but are not possessed by any of the individual elements, and (d) have boundaries that are usually defined by the system observer. Systems underlie every phenomenon, and are everywhere one looks for them. They are limited only by the observer’s capacity to comprehend the complexity of the observed entity, item or phenomenon.

If you’re just getting started in this hobby, I have to tell you that I do not envy you one bit. I can’t imagine trying to put together a first or even second system in today’s world of audio. There are so many choices, so much advertising, so many companies from around the world, and each espousing their opinions of being “the best”.

As the definition of “system” implies, each and every component, cable and “tweak”, and even room are interdependent and all contribute to the final resulting sound. In practical terms, what this means is that simply cherry-picking different components that each get really good reviews, will not necessarily yield a good-sounding system. That’s explained in (c.) of the definition above.

In the mid-1970’s, when I put together my first system, I had a lot of help and I’m not talking about product reviews. Sure, there were magazines such as High Fidelity, Audio Magazine, and Stereo Review, but the idea of buying a bunch of pieces from different manufacturers, putting them all together, and somehow coming up with a system that sounds the way I would have expected was a real crap shoot. Back in that day, the unsung heroes to young audiophiles was and in fact still is the local neighborhood audio shop.

It’s fine to read as many product reviews as you like. They are a great resource for knowing what’s out there and reading about how each component sounds in someone else’s system. But if you’re just getting started, the only way that you can possibly make the choices you need to make in order to put together a system that meets your tastes and expectations, as well as pieces that will actually work well together, is with the help of a knowledgeable audiophile and/or a very friendly and knowledgeable neighborhood audio dealer. Specifically, a dealer that is willing to spend a little time, encourage you to explore the sound of different systems in their several store environments, and basically allow you to ask as many of the simple, tough, and maybe even seemingly silly questions you may have about, say, how different types of speakers work, or tubes vs. solid-state, or even just questions relating to what may sound best for the type of music you listen to.

Personally, I can’t imagine putting together a system, without actually hearing how they sound together first. That can be easily facilitated by your local neighborhood audio dealer. Rest assured, even in today’s financially stressed, hustle and bustle world, these dealers are out there and they are more than ready and willing to take you in, show you ropes, and get you started on your life-long audiophile journey. If you have trouble finding one, then I encourage you to seek out your local Audio Society and they can certainly point you in the right direction. This is a great hobby and it is certainly a lot of fun. Why not start off on the right foot with a first system you can listen to and enjoy without any regrets or buyer’s remorse?

Throughout Dagogo’s California Audio Show, you are going to see and hear many, many systems that are made of even many more system components. Some components will likely appear in more than one system. However, each system will likely sound quite different. That really is the nature of the audiophile hobby.

Each and every one of us are driven to get that certain flavor of sound in our systems that we individually feel is what sounds “right” to us. We all have different ideas of what actually is “right”. In that way, each system that you will hear throughout this weekend has an indelible signature that reflects the owner’s or constructor’s tastes in music reproduction. It is therefore very important to keep in mind that if you think you hear a digital player you really like, you are actually attracted to the sound of that player as it relates to the system as a whole. There are no guarantees that the great-sounding digital player will sound equally as great in a different and not necessarily lesser, system.

So then, getting back to my original point, some of these rooms are actually demo rooms put together by your local dealerships. What better way to start on your audiophile journey then to step up, introduce yourself, and begin the conversation.

Have an awesome show!

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