Digital or analog? How to choose an audio system for your home

The current multitude of offers in the audio equipment market can confuse a beginner. Everyone is talking about a vinyl renaissance – but how affordable will vinyl records be? And what about the infamous “crack” on the LP? Should we stop at the digital path? And what if you take a swing at the magnetic tape and the reel? Below we will look into these issues in detail – so if you are thinking about how to choose an audio system (Hi-Fi system) for your home, read our new guide.


Contents:


The easiest way is a – Hi-Fi system with digital music streaming

The easiest way is a - Hi-Fi system with digital music streaming

Of course, there is no question of any MP3 now – streaming services have long adopted more progressive compressed formats, and they also offer lossless streaming, and even Hi-Res streams (albeit in not too high bit depth, or in MQA ). The highlight of this approach is that you (for a modest subscription amount) receive conditionally “all” or most of the world’s media library – tens of thousands of albums in any genre. The downside is that the same TIDAL or Qobuz (offering the best quality for today) have not officially entered our market, but even if you manage to launch such streaming, its quality will clearly lose to the options that we will focus on below. So, this assembly is most suitable for music lovers – audiophiles usually use streaming to get acquainted with music and create a shopping list in other formats.

Pros – the highest ergonomics, thousands of albums in direct access

Cons – not always high sound quality

Verdict – an assembly for egoists, or a path for acquaintance with music and its purchase in other (higher quality) formats.

Our pick of the best streamers of the season.


More complex, but better – an audio system with a music server

More complex, but better – an audio system with a music server

If it is not important for you that the music is always ready, looking at printed booklets and collecting a collection on the shelf, you can opt for the option with a music server. In this case, you buy tracks in high-quality digital versions, up to DSD256 – but there are still few releases in such formats. However, no one bothers to buy legal music in ordinary Hi-Res formats or digitize your own collection of CDs. All tracks will be available in a few touches, and space in the apartment will be freed up.

Pros – Superior DSD formats provide a luxurious sound

Cons – you will have to hunt for the content, the digital plaque in the sound is still preserved

Verdict – the choice of those who do not care that the music is always ready


For fans of physical formats – installation based on SACD/CD player

For fans of physical formats - installation based on SACD/CD player

If you already have enough CDs or plan to purchase rare Japanese SACDs (the format is very popular in the Land of the Rising Sun), then it is worth considering a path with a SACD / CD player as your music source. Many models of players, moreover, can work on a home network and are equipped with a digital streaming module. Then several birds with one stone will be killed at once.

Pros – no connection to the Internet, no manipulations with the network, you can touch entries and consider booklets

Cons – physical digital formats are slowly disappearing from the markets

Verdict – first of all, this option is suitable for those who already have cabinets with disks


Vinyl – the easiest way to touch the analog

Vinyl – the easiest way to touch the analog

Whatever one may say, it is the vinyl renaissance that is a fait accompli today. Almost all fresh releases come out on new-made records, the number of re-releases is growing day by day, and if you want to touch the originals of the “golden era”, you can hunt for the first pressures of famous albums. Do not be afraid of “crackling”, new records (or first presses in excellent condition) make almost no noise – but you will have to tinker with adjusting the cartridge and tonearm. A phono stage will also be needed. True, now there are more and more proposals for factory ready-made models with an already installed cartridge – so all that is required in the future is to be careful in work (a pickup cantilever breakage is not uncommon, especially for beginners in analog sound).

Pros – solid and fluid sound is radically different from the “caustic” digital

Cons – it will take a lot of manipulations during assembly and configuration, as well as extreme care in handling

Verdict – Today’s Choice


Analog luxury – reel to reel system

Analog luxury - reel to reel system

Unfortunately, it is magnetic tape (in two-track format at speeds from 38 to 76 cm / s) that is now the top of the pyramid in terms of playback quality. A reel-to-reel tape recorder will easily lay on the paddles any other modern means of reproduction – only a very meager selection of copies of master tapes offered for sale will become a fly in the ointment in this splendor. Nevertheless, every year more and more sellers of legal recordings appear, and the fleet of modern reel-to-reel technology is also expanding – if earlier it was possible to pay attention only to vintage, then today (if 12 thousand euros have been allocated for the purchase) you can already think about a new reel-to-reel.

Pros – Ultimate sound quality that leaves no stone unturned from other formats

Cons – extremely limited choice of branded recordings, extremely high cost of reproducing equipment and releases on reels

Verdict – as a second or third sound source in the system, this option is suitable – especially if the budget allows such spending


Conclusions

Combine options 1 and 4 – two sources are already becoming the standard in today’s Hi-Fi system. Streaming will allow you to have access to virtually any music – and select gems can always be purchased on vinyl and put into your collection.

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