DACs Rock

early Edison phonograph. image: pixabay, public domain

Physical media has enjoyed a 140-year run since Edison invented the phonograph. In technology time, that's an eternity. The audio industry has been way past due for useful innovation.

Millennials lately became the majority market segment. They want to do everything with their smartphones including listening to music. Many Boomers also have also been caught up in phone addiction. However we listen, people naturally prefer music that sounds realistic over music that doesn't, assuming they love music and have convenient access to high fidelity.

Digital technology swept into the sleepy audio market like a tidal wave. Rather suddenly, plastic media became as obsolete as a grandfather clock. So did the "front end" analog source sections that play them, no matter how costly, grandiose, and precision the mechanics may be. Hard media have been all about protecting IP rights ever since digital mastering gained dominance.

Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs) partly satisfy that need for technology update. They make that obsolete analog source section of an older audio system expendable by seamlessly marrying a common home computer, a smartphone, or a tablet, to any audio system's amplification and speakers. But be sure to verify a source device you may consider has compatible connectivity. Some major brands (Android) support music well, while others purposely corral you into a specific music distribution scheme that may not even stream Hi-Fi music yet (Apple). 

Clearly, all DACs are not created equal. But the DAC function makes higher-fidelity music far more accessible. With greater realism, music listening becomes more enjoyable. Digital sourcing from online streaming sites tremendously broadens one's available music catalog. Some now enable 16-bit resolution easily and cheaply (TIDAL and Qobuz.) Streaming at 24-bit resolution is waiting in the wings and 24-bit files can already be saved locally and savored later, offline.

Now that streaming media are so good and so affordable, so should audio systems be. This is a predictable consumer inference. Indeed, a high-value DAC can reasonably only cost a few hundred dollars any more. Above that amount, cost exceeds a point of rapidly diminishing returns and becomes difficult to justify. A $30,000 DAC is just right for someone whose Rolls Royce has solid gold wheels. Note that is one customer.

Many new audio component types have appeared since digital audio started gaining precedence. Some are more worthy than others. Listeners may struggle to sort them out and decide what they want. Confusing or misdirecting marketing messages don't help. They simply raise suspicions. But there's hope for navigating this landscape well.

The best musical results have always followed choosing components that play well together in a system and that each support authentic music superbly for an affordable cost. This mantra survives the digital tidal wave. We can trust it. When you find a component that verifies its superb features and specs as you listen, you're onto a winner. Trust, but verify by ear.

The music we love is the sound track for our lives.

-- Joseph Riden


D2 DAC available on ihi-fi.com, an authorized Audioengine Dealer. Wireless DLNA Wi-Fi connection, optical converter / link. Play music conveniently from your laptop from anywhere in the room or house at up to 24/192 resolution. $399. All you need to set up is included.

D2 DAC available on ihi-fi.com, an authorized Audioengine Dealer. Wireless DLNA Wi-Fi connection, optical converter / link. Play music conveniently from your laptop from anywhere in the room or house at up to 24/192 resolution. $399. All you need to set up is included.


How Is an Audio Component Like a Pet Door?

A great product is its own best marketing. A simple description is all we need to hear. Image: Balcony Pets

A great product is its own best marketing. A simple description is all we need to hear.

Image: Balcony Pets

In my previous post, I emphasized how any product is its own best marketing and how a simple disclosure of the facts tells you what you need to know. The following example from an unrelated industry illustrates how a great product markets itself better than any ad.

An exceptional woman friend of mine recently achieved something that Seth Godin considers virtually impossible in a recent blog post. She invented an entirely new product type that deeply satisfies an unserved need in a hot market. It resolves an issue that annoys millions of pet owners worldwide. And it grabbed big traction quickly when offered on Amazon.

Trust me briefly and I'll show how this is relevant to audio shortly.

Folks who have one or more cats or dogs, and who live in any sort of rental, anticipate relief when they discover Nancy Carson's Apartment Pet Door™. Their first reaction is predictably recognition, as in, "My cat (or dog) wants to go in and out constantly. This annoys me. This new pet door invention resolves my issue instantly for a low cost." Their second thought is usually, "Why hasn't someone offered this product before?" And typically, next comes, "Why didn't I think of this?"

This product brings instant gratification to pet owners who rent. The door is affordable at around $145. It drops into a typical sliding glass door setup in a couple minutes. No tools, skills, or modifications to a landlord's property are required. It's lightweight, adjustable to fit any height patio slider door, and portable. There's even an optional carry bag so you can take it along when you move or travel with your pet. And this door's styling looks like it belongs in a glass slider opening. 

When a pet owner rents their dwelling, and they have been living the life of a doorman, or leaving the slider open, they read the simple description and their interest is piqued. No extreme adjectives or adverbs are required. Plain English tells the story because the value is inherent in the product. It's easy to see why the Apartment Pet Door sells faster than Balcony Pets can make them. The backlog is being filled as Nancy brings up large scale production to meet the pace of sales. In other words, it's a hit.

What audio product vendor would not want that kind of response to a new product introduction? The way to create a suction-like audio market response is to satisfy Music Lovers' pressing needs and wants in a way they instantly realize they simply can't pass up. To do that, mix marketing magic into the very bones of a product by giving it features and functions that neatly satisfy customers.

Audio companies can discover design magic by listening receptively to Music Lovers and putting their needs first. To discover self-marketing products, they can let go of lucrative past strategies like offering snobby products to audio snobs, who are a dying breed. They must make products that New Music Lovers greet with delight. Then, if they simply provide the details, no sales pitch is necessary. Calling up secondary motives to push sales figures would simply arouse suspicion where trust should be earned and fostered. Don't even think about snob appeal. Superb audio is for everyone, not only the rich.

The DAC is long since invented. Streaming is going high-res . . .

Audio Industry, what else you got?

The music we love is the sound track for our lives. Make it the best it can be.

-- Joseph Riden

Play Music Like a Boss?

Do you know anyone who wants to be like their boss? Image: Pixabay, Public Domain

Do you know anyone who wants to be like their boss? Image: Pixabay, Public Domain

Sensitivity to marketing messages is quite useful when you consider buying audio components. Weigh how audio component promotion tries to influence you. Consider the associations that marketing messages call up in your mind and ask, "What is this company really trying to sell me?"

For example, you may detect snob appeal -- a psychological play for value perception based on secondary motivations about your self-image and possible self-judgment. Elitism coddles the ego to hide excessive pricing or to excuse the uselessness of flashy cosmetic design. Buying overpriced gear so folks might envy you is too indirect to be musically rewarding. It's like mentioning your second cousin married a former pop music star's ex-spouse. Could that actually help an audio gear purchase to go well?

Many audio product vendors only have one way to make a profit -- by selling an audio component. Marketing messages may try many things to get you dissatisfied with your existing components and sell you a new one. Snob appeal is a typical tactic. However, it offers little help with obtaining any good value.

So if a marketing message says you'll "play music like a Boss," that earns at least one demerit. If an ad drops famous customers' names, that could be useful if they are highly regarded musicians, but not if they are simply celebrities. Critical discernment gives you significant advantages. Be perceptive and benefit.

Most helpful of all, a well-designed product is its own best marketing. A simple, truthful description will immediately reveal obvious value if it's present, or the lack of it. All this matters to Audio Lovers because it simplifies configuring a high-value, fully satisfying music system.

Specific reference to useful features and functions predict greater musical pleasure if they directly enhance listening. Credible details about reviewed musical performance also help. For example, if the marketing message about a Tube Buffer promises "listeners report their music gains enhanced clarity, warmth, and smoothness" and "wider, deeper soundstage with greater instrument separation and better placement," that is highly relevant.

Judge for yourself if the component comes with a money-back, satisfaction guarantee and audition period. Then you can listen to familiar recordings with this Buffer in the signal path and discern both the musical fidelity and the company's integrity in the same session. And your risk is limited to the cost of returning the product.

You can enhance musical realism in any audio system including the one you already have by these means --

  • Eliminate common faults from your system like poor speaker orientation.
  • Apply anti-vibration to all of your audio components.
  • Maintain your interconnects. Treat them against invisible corrosion.
  • Optimize your listening room's acoustics.

And there's much more possible. I authored the popular iHi-Fi Audio Setup Guide to help Music Lovers access high quality listening at least cost. The Kindle e-book price is all of $2.99 on Amazon.com. This is probably the cheapest high-end music component ever released. Be confident that reading it will give you at least one musical improvement that repays the cost and reading effort.

Are you are already getting the very best music that your present system can produce? You won't know until you apply system optimization. Learn how to set up your present audio system well. Good system setup makes it possible for any music system to sound its very best. Until you achieve a great setup, the best potential is not in buying new components because the new gear would also lack good setup.

First, optimize the system you already have. This is potentially very rewarding. Only then can you accurately gauge where you stand and be confident you can get some new piece of gear to sound its very best. If you still insist on be an elitist, why not be an audio setup snob? At least then you're proud of a skill you have mastered rather than simply buying some component that anyone could purchase to assert social rank by demonstrating a level of wealth. And still, someone else will always be wealthier.

The music we choose is the soundtrack for our lives. Make it the best it can be.

-- Joseph Riden