Comparing sound

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One of the most difficult challenges we audiophiles face is making sonic comparisons between equipment. God, it’s hard. And while speakers are the worst, electronics aren’t too far behind in difficulty.

In some parts of the world, a forest of them are lined up in elevated tiers like choir members. A number is assigned to each pair and the listener can quickly go through the lot making what some consider a determination of sound quality. For me, it’s a bad scenario, but not as bad as what others do.

Many dealers limit choices to only a few pairs of different brands. At first, the challenge seems easier because there’s fewer to choose from but look again. Those narrowed choices reduce the field to a point where you might easily be choosing between decent, almost good, sort of ok, and maybe not good at all—and you wind up choosing the best amongst a mediocre group. Speakers vary so widely in their sound and performance that it’s nearly impossible to make sense of it all from a small handful of preselected choices.

And then there are electronics where differences are more subtle. Electronics benefit from long-term exposure in a person’s home. I don’t envy people trying to make a snap judgment on a DAC’s sound quality while comparing it from a limited group in the unfamiliar environment of a dealer’s showroom.

No, comparing the sound of audio kit needs to be done in the peace and quiet of one’s home to see if it matches not only the listener’s tastes but the environment it is being asked to perform in.