It seems our most memorable encounters with recorded music happen without much consideration for the quality of the medium on which the music is transmitted. A whole generation of young people have apparently discovered their favourite artists, songs and albums through the pallid, eviscerated medium of mp3. Likewise, deacdes ago, I can recall falling in love with music heard on a tinny transistor radio or a mono tape cassette, or poor quality but exciting bootleg live recordings. It seems that if the emotional connection to the music is powerful enough, we listen through the medium’s imperfections that is bringing it to us. On the other hand, making acquaintance with new music through good hi-fi certainly doesn’t detract.
These thoughts followed a memorable hour listening to music courtesy of Oxford Audio Consultants, the city’s prime shop for audio equipment. I went to listen to a top-of-the-range CD/SACD player called La Source made by French company Aeroaudio. The retail price of the unit is about £20,000 (!) – between $30-40,000. Only a lottery win would give me a chance of owning one, but I was curious to hear what kind of sound that amount of money could deliver. At the demo La Source was hooked up to speakers and amplifier worth a further £35,000. I should add that for the cash-conscious among you there is a budget version of the player La Fontaine which is about £12,000.
In hi-fi the curve that links increasing sound quality with increasing cost means that you get the biggest improvement in sound over your first thousands of outlay, but thereafter it takes proportionately more money to get smaller improvements. I can’t say I heard £55,000 worth of sound or an improvement 55 times greater than my budget home system. But La Source was a remarkable listen – incredibly smooth sound and creating a sense of depth in the stereo field that was almost surround sound in itself. With my eyes shut I could hear voices and instruments not only positioned left, right and centre, but in differing positions near and far. I could hear different levels of ambience on different instruments within a single recording. All the instruments and voices sounding amazingly lifelike. Hearing The Casuals’ ‘Jesamine’ – one of my favourite 1960s songs – albeit a rough 1968 stereo mix on CD – on this system was certainly one of the best audio experiences I’ve ever had.
Now, where’s that confounded Lottery ticket? ….