The Psychology of Hi-Fi
In a world where devices do more and more and get smaller and smaller, why do we choose separates for our audio?
In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last fifteen years, the pace of technical change in electronics has been extraordinary. What has characterised recent innovations is that new developments have been less important than miniaturisation and the increase in capability. In 1999 my mobile phone was a less than svelte brick that made calls, 160 character text messages and treated me to an occasional game of snake. My ‘mobile phone’ of 2013 is unrecognisably more intelligent. It is still a ‘phone’ but the capabilities it offers are a world away from 1999.
Among this, the idea of buying a piece of hifi equipment that performs a single task seems faintly anachronistic and old fashioned. Like most other categories of electronics, audio equipment has also seen an increase in capability unit for unit but the basic idea of building an audio system from separate units is the same as it always has been. Why is this? In a world where one of the dozens of functions my mobile phone performs is a remote for my Stream Magic 6, why does the separates system still exist?
The most compelling reason for this is that first and foremost, you are choosing the components that will fulfil your musical requirements as specifically as possible. The entire basis of a separates system is that you only buy what you need and don’t find yourself in possession of formats and facilities that you have no interest in. At the purest level, a separates system is the format of your choice partnered with the amplifier and speakers that complement it to best effect in your room. If you have this sorted, everything else is a garnish.
Furthermore, as each component performs a single task, there is no need to compromise the performance in the pursuit of maximising convenience. Even with the more sophisticated Cambridge Audio products, their additional features are present because they complement the major feature of the design. The 851C has the finest digital to analogue conversion of any product we have yet designed. It is logical enough to add digital inputs to the back panel to allow you to get as much use from this piece of engineering as you can as doing so has no effect on the main design aspect of playing CDs. The focus is undiluted - a separate does one thing and one thing only with a power supply designed for the task and the internal electronics laid out to best effect.
These dedicated units can then be combined in pretty much any way you need in order to achieve the performance that you are looking for. We would obviously be delighted if you plumped for a complete system from us but with the wide requirements of different types of music and the even wider variety of spaces in which to play it, it is sometimes the case that a complete Cambridge Audio system is not a ‘best fit’ for your needs. Happily the nature of separates means that if you want one of our CD players to front a single ended valve system you can. It is one thing to ‘customise’ your smartphone with suitable apps and quite another to pick from hundreds of possible manufacturers to have one task performed perfectly.
Building a separates system also allows for the inevitable upgrade bug to be dealt with as economically as possible. As and when you choose to try and improve the performance of your system or add a new area of functionality you can do so without having to start all over again from scratch (unless you’re really going for it in which case you can at least take advantage of separates having some residual value) and thus keep your spending under control.
Beyond all of this is a more intangible element to the separates system. In the same way that the most coveted watches are mechanical and no matter how good ‘Bridge’ cameras get, the SLR is still the sign of the professional, separates are cool. You don’t need to be especially interested in music, let alone hifi to recognise - even at a subconscious level - that when you see someone with a proper separates system set up and placed correctly in a room, it says they care about their sound in a way that an all-in-one system sat on a shelf just doesn’t.
Of course, we don’t know what the future holds. Products like the upcoming Minx Air show that we are as interested in the area of technology where products get smaller and more capable as we are with the more traditional side. We recognise that many listeners don’t have the space for separates but still want to enjoy the technology and experience we have gained from designing full size audio systems or want to add audio to rooms other than where their main system is and feel that Minx Air will set new standards in this regard. For as long as the best audio performance comes from choosing a separates system to best suit your needs however, we will be producing the best equipment we can to help you achieve this.