High End Audio - Who cares?

There was a time when I stopped listening to recorded music because I was increasingly finding it unsatisfying with listening to sound produced by home audio systems. The introduction of the audio CD in 1983 was an event of encouragement as the industry promised forever perfect sound without degradation. Prior to that, turntables of the day were a sad reflection of music reproduction, although I admit there was little alternative unless one attended live performances. Clicks and pops were the norm for the analog record. And what about the constant degradation of the record surface as the diamond-tip stylus runs over the grooves? I don't hear clicks and pops at a live orchestral performance, although there is the coughing and the occasional paper shuffling (people sometimes get bored during a performance) and plastic unwrapping to get to the candy.

In the early days of the audio CD, the CD players were extremely expensive (typical symptom of anything bleeding edge). I bought my first CD Player from Sony, one of their consumer market entries for several hundred dollars in the 1980s. I did wait to get over the initial price barrier which was something like $2500 when first introduced. Getting access to audio CDs was also a problem in the early days. And the straight copy of recordings previously done for the analog record industry was not a pretty sight (ah, sound). Recording engineering went on to optimize on the mixing of productions destined for the audio CD, and over time this has become respectable. Circa the 2000s as the Internet gave rise to movements never before anticipated, including the mass populus wanting and demanding music for free, and engaging in activities that made it so. The audio CD industry, as a money making enterprise, is severely crippled by 2010 if not earlier.

As for home audio systems, my first real system consisted of Mission 3-way speakers, Technics integrated amplifier and a turntable of brand long since forgotten. Then the Sony CD player was added in the 1980s. Prior to that, I messed with a Teac system which included a dual cassette tape player (even back then people wanted to copy music). Listening to the audio CD was in the stratosphere when compared to FM radio broadcasts of the day, and in some ways was better (no clicks and pops) than the analog record but worse in other ways (lacking depth and ambience). But I got tired of the sound when it came to reproduction of musical performances.

As an owner and player of an acoustic piano, it was completely baffling why the recorded sound was so lacking. I would listen to Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, marvelling at the proficiency of the performance by professional pianists. I can play the first two movements of that sonata and actually prefer my version mostly because it is the live piano sound. I have repeated this observation with other piano pieces that I am able to play to some degree of proficiency, such as Bach's Goldberg variations where I am about half way through the book of variations. As good as Angela Hewitt is with her interpretation and rendition of the work, I again enjoy my version, especially the Aria which is simple enough that even I can achieve a decent level of proficiency. Same thing with Mozart piano sonatas when compared to Mitsuko Uchida recordings. It is about the sound.

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