Users vs. listeners

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Interacting with a front panel has always been important, but rarely how we judge a piece of equipment. Even the klunkiest front panel layouts were tolerated if the unit’s sound quality was up to snuff. The user interface took a distant second to performance.

As we rush headlong into the age of the user interface, that dynamic has been flipped on its head—out of phase if you like. Increasingly, we judge a server’s performance by its user interface first, its sound quality second.

I think this is a fascinating development because it more closely mirrors the way we used to interact with the music in hi-fi’s heydey, through the album’s cover, liner notes, and back cover.

Once we entered the digital audio era of CDs, and later downloads and streaming, we were disconnected from the user interface and left only with the performance and sound quality. While this may have been a more expedient way to consume music for some, it was a letdown for others.

I, for one, welcome the return of the user interface.