How high fidelity?

July 13, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

We talk a great deal about high-fidelity sound.

We often take it for granted.

Fidelity is about faithfulness: the degree of exactness with which something is copied or reproduced.

Faithful to the source.

Which begs the question, how high the fidelity?

My father's high fidelity system was about as good as it got back in the day. Today, we'd likely refer to it as quaint. A good try for a vintage system.

Yet, in his day it was the cat's meow. As faithful to the music as technically possible.

When it comes to higher fidelity we've gone a long way since the 1950s.

And in a few years, the bar will be raised yet again (I know this for a fact after having seen some of what's over the horizon in terms of amplifier and gain stage designs).

How high the fidelity?

Every few years it creeps higher and higher. Who knows what the future holds?

It'll surely be a lot higher.

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37 comments on “How high fidelity?”

  1. Some 25 years ago TacT Audio’s company claim was: The future is digital! They started with a proprietary Equibit technology and today the designers Lars Rysbo and Bruno Putzey have launched the Purifi Eigentakt technology offering the highest fidelity possible. But is it audible while we still have heavily flawed loudspeaker designs creating a most complex sound field as the result of the superposition of many individual sound fields generated by multiple drivers fed via a strange passive crossover enriched by the reflective sound in the listening room - a resulting sound field which heavily differs from the sound field at the best seat in the concert hall? Isn’t a “high fidelity loudspeaker” (having multiple drivers) a contradiction per section?

  2. At the 2018 and 2019 High End Munich show, they among others played a 1947 Western Electric 757-A speaker (and several others of the 1930-1950 era) together with Silbatone and some other rather vintage tube electronics and a vintage Garrard record player.

    As this was one of the best experiences of the shows, one has to search a bit (and not just in the affordable section) among today‘s „higher fidelity“ to find something better to be honest.

    As even official online reports (scroll down) rated them among the best sounds of the show, I’m always a little skeptic about the proclaimed progress we made since then.

    1. There is much to be said for a simple 2 way, compression driver/horn cabinet. As you saw at the show, some things do withstand the test of time...

      1. If we look at planars, tube amps, record players, tape machines, much hasn’t changed either…but wait… we’ve got audiophile fuses meanwhile 😉

        1. The Silbatone JI-107 integrated hybrid with 2 x WE310 tubes,
          is one of the best sounding integrated's that I have ever heard.
          Dr. Sephano Bae is a true master of circuit design.

  3. "Faithful to the source"...being the way the recording engineer, the mixing,
    the mastering & the production has cobbled it together?
    Or how the performance sounds 'live' in the studio or concert hall?
    I only know if I'm listening to a really great recording when I sit &
    listen to it on my home-audio rig.
    Notice I always call it a "home-audio rig" rather than my 'Hi-Fi' 😉

  4. Can the bar be raised too high? It seems a crazy question to ask but I wonder. When digital audio was introduced it was supposed to raise the bar. Okay, it wasn’t perfect but it’s come along way since yet some, or is it many, prefer to stay with the older vinyl technology. Then there’s transistors versus valves.

    Paul has used the word fact recently, which neatly reinforces a statement, and yet in a previous post I’m sure he explained that some ‘facts’ when investigated were nothing more than opinions. When this new amplifier technology is introduced I doubt there will be universal agreement that it is a sound improvement.

    Whilst we have a common purpose here I wonder if we aren’t all chasing a different version of fidelity.

  5. My tube integrated amplifier is a 20-year old design. It makes music better than any newer design I’ve heard in the same price range. So much for high fidelity progress. Just sayin’.

  6. Revolution (giant steps) in audio? Probably not going to happen. Just a snail paced evolution… called refinement in most circles. I wonder if the phrase ‘a lot higher’ just refers to pricing, even when adjusted for inflation….
    I’d really like to be proved wrong, but history says otherwise. Whatever the latest buzzword is will probably be the next cats meow.

  7. Just for fun, anyone care to predict what will be possible with audio in 2030, 40, 50? No doubt there will likely be a shift to all in one systems as has been discussed here. What else do you think will be possible in the future?

    1. It’s possible that we have even better gear by then, but hardly anyone can or wants to produce high quality recordings anymore except a few boutique labels.

      Furthermore I think it’s possible, that physical media (except LP‘s) and downloads are discontinued, so that we have to eat the worse quality streaming services offer.

      But hardly anyone will remember what was by then, so everyone will be happy with what he gets at the time 😉

    2. Great Question Phillip. Our telephones do everything except wipe our behinds as of now. It is very intriguing to think about possibilities of looking into the future (Reminds me of an old song "time keeps on slipping into the future by Steve Miller). I am sure Apple will come out with a telephone controlled Apple Hi fidelity system all wireless with perfect sounding wireless ear buds. This device will also be linked to many others so the manufacturers can become rich. and the cycle continues. When we become too reliant upon technology especially computer technology we will lose everything. I watched a video from Scotty Kilmer yesterday talking about why Elon Musk Oil wants to buy Tweeter. Something to do with promotion of Tesla and his electric cars. I personally will stay in the 80s where life was much more simple and graffitiing. I think Social Media has been the downfall of America for quite some time. We have lost all important aspects of life only to be traded for political gossip and bickering among us as to who is right and who is wrong.

      1. Hi Jim,
        I'll be impressed when Apple comes up with a great subwoofer to go their wireless earbuds.
        Social media represents people's need to communicate with the like-minded but it can also be a sounding board for the disgruntled & with the way the world is going there's gonna be more & more disgruntled I fear.
        Established newspapers & proper journalism seems to be dying out.
        And someone suggested a correlation between the rise of social media & the rise of gun violence.

        Are we becoming our fathers? 😉

        1. Hello Martin you probably don't need subs since your woofs are 10" but maybe Apple will come out with some amazing subs in the future to go with your buds. I think wife friendly 6" woofers seemed to take over sometime in the 80's

          1. My wife is incredibly gracious in the way that she completely ignores my home-audio rig & wears her noise cancelling headphones when I crank it up.
            It took me 30 years to find her & I'm not letting her go!

  8. The question always is: fidelity to what?

    What I’ve heard live and acoustic?
    What I’ve heard live, acoustic and reinforced?
    What I’ve never heard — a recording studio performance, or the real time studio mix?
    Electronic music produced through a specific set of instrument amplifiers?

    You get the point. Whatever sounds best to you is all that matters. No such thing as fidelity, just a good approximation of our individual musical experiences.

  9. Likewise, I’m not convinced of a dramatic increase in performance over the last 70 years. Briggs & Walker did Live vs. Recorded demonstrations to great acclaim in the UK and USA to tens of thousands of people - in 1955/56.

    The audio industry has developed a top end that never previously existed on the basis of extreme fidelity and the principle that the more you have to spend, we’ll find you something to spend it on.

    My perspective is that we all find our level and most of us enjoy where we’re at, much as Richard_43 explains. The important thing is not to want more, however hard people try and persuade you.

    1. For me one of or maybe even the best and best sounding Ring cycle (Keilberth) is the first ever stereo recording of the Ring from 1955, reissued by Testament on an LP set (and CD).

      If one hears that, the question what happened since then is more than justified.

  10. "New", "Different" and "Better". One must learn to recognize the difference between these three. New is often different, but is it better?

    Having said that I do agree that in just about every area of a home audio system there is better gear that produces higher fidelity than gear from the 1950's. Material science and modelling tools have given us much better speakers, tube amps sound better today than they did 70 years ago, solid state amps now sound musical instead of brittle and glaring as the ones from the 1960's did. Turntables, tonearms and cartridges thanks to better materials, better designs and better technology. Finally, the new comer, digital audio, has gone from its infancy to mature and in some cases doesn't sound digital ( DSD ).

    1. Well, I wasn't going to say anything,but since you opened the door I will pile on. 😀 My Magico S7's also have excellent phantom center imaging.

      1. Although, in my opinion, it is much nicer if the imaging doesn't just hang around
        the centre but also moves beyond the outer boundaries of the loudspeakers.

        1. If you ever had a chance to listen to P.F. Dark side of the Moon and The wall with Bob's sonic Hologram generator you would be amazed at the spatial sound it delivers. While there are some sonic repercussions it is amazing to hear.

  11. I have long accepted that once an amp has less than 0.02% THD+N then I am unlikely to detect any further improvement. If I buy anything better than that it is for the bragging rights 🙂

  12. The future of sound reproduction will be limited if we continue to use nearly one hundred year old speaker technology--cones, horns, etc. It will take a quantum leap, some new paradigm, to break through the current limits, and reach those higher levels of fidelity. For as it stands now, we are not at all close to sounding "real." We now have at best a pleasant facsimile of music, that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.

  13. [And in a few years, the bar will be raised yet again (I know this for a fact after having seen some of what’s over the horizon in terms of amplifier and gain stage designs).]


    Are we talking about little green "GaNFET" transistors?!? 😉

    1. No, interestingly enough, using standard MOSFET technology. Darren has been holing up in his lab playing with the simulator and what he's come up with is stunning. I'll be writing more about this as time allows and the project gets closer. Internally, we're referring to one of his new circuits as a SuperCell.

  14. At some point the fixed speaker/mixed and mastered multi-track paradigm becomes like building bigger telescopes on Earth - the inherent spatial distortions overwhelm any increase in performance, and you have to expand into space.

    If you want to reproduce a sound like a piano on center stage with high fidelity, you have to put a piano shaped speaker in center stage.

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