From vacuum tubes to streaming music, today’s hi-fi is filled with choices.
Here’s an interesting question: How much should a topflight home entertainment system cost these days? If six figures sounds like an extraordinary sum, there are high-end retailers here in town who have created $1 million systems for well-heeled music and movie lovers. Of course there’s an enormous difference between a $100 “theater-in-a-box” and a real theater in your home that rivals a Hollywood screening room.
Back to Basics
I’ve been a hi-fi enthusiast for all of my adult life, from building my own stereo equipment from kits to assembling a surround-sound home theater and streaming music with Wi-Fi. If left to my own devices, I’m happy to display the gear in all its electro-industrial splendor. But I’m happily married, so I’m content to keep the equipment stowed in nice furniture.
When my lust for near-perfect reproduction of recorded music began, the choices were rather simple, yet even then intimidating. Few things are more controversial than high-end consumer electronics. Enthusiasts quarrel about what components sound like, right down to the simple power cord that connects an amplifier to a wall outlet. But what really matters is what the end result sounds like to your ears and eyes with your music or DVD.
Analog vs. Digital
In my early days of hi-fi, vinyl records were where music reproduction began and serious audiophiles spent a fair amount of fuss and treasure on precision turntables, phono cartridges, and cleaning gear. When compact discs arrived, most of the music listening population quickly joined the digital revolution, but many clung to their analogue gear, asserting that it sounded better.
More than 30 years later, rotary dials and console TVs are history, but nearly every serious high-end hi-fi store offers record turntables as well as amplifiers with vacuum tubes. That’s because more than a few serious audiophiles prefer the smooth, warm sound that analogue playback provides. Of course, the same stores offer digital gear from sophisticated CD players to streaming media and digital-to-analogue converters to smooth the sound.
For music lovers, it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition. The listening room may contain the record collection with its playback equipment, while a music server may stream digital melodies throughout the house. Many audiophiles have strict opinions about what sounds best, but the only test that matters are your ears.
If you have a room you can darken and want a true home theater experience, projection video with surround sound should be your first choice. Flat panels do better in normal light and I like the color depth of plasma, but just like audio, your own eyes are the best judge.
Luckily, San Diego County has a wealth of high-end, professional retailers who love to share their enthusiasm and knowledge. Carlsbad is home to the area’s exclusive Meridian retailer, Kiwi Audio Visual (www.kiwiav.com) where Brian Bass and his staff do their collective best to exceed expectations. Otto Benson’s La Jolla Home Theater & Automation (www.lajollahomeaudio.com) are Apple authorized resellers and incorporate the company’s popular and intuitive products in home systems integration.
Lightworks Architctural Lightling (www.sdlightworks.com) creates home theaters and control systems for a variety of residential and commercial customers.
And at Southwest Audio Visual in Solana Beach (www.swavconsulting.com), Bill Kauzlarich says that one of their current projects is the control system design and installation for a new 30,000-square-foot residence. We’ll profile other leading specialists along with high-end equipment reviews in future installments. BRIAN DOUGLAS