The term High Fidelity or Hi-Fi (short for High Fidelity) is a reference to the quality of audio playback compared to live performance. This term is also used in the music and audiophile industry to refer to audio equipment capable of playing high quality music and sounds.
The quality of Hi-Fi audio and video equipment is measured by various technical specifications such as maximum output power, signal-to-noise ratio (how much background noise there is), dynamic range (the difference between the strongest sounds and weaker than can be reproduced), and more. In this article, we will explain what Hi-Fi is and how you can use it to better listen to your favorite music.
Choosing a hi-fi system that suits your tastes, your budget and your expectations is not necessarily easy. Which brands to choose?
What power for the amplifier? What kind of speakers to choose? Which budget should be allocated for each item? These are all questions that invariably arise to the future buyer.
This guide does not pretend to be an exhaustive investigation of the matter, nor does it propose an infallible method for determining which products are most suitable for each case and every budget.
More simply, it aims to guide you in your choices, to help you bring the right questions, in order to offer you a maximum of knowledge to understand and compose the high fidelity system that's right for you.
Because whatever the level of investment, you always try to get the best relationship between emotions and price.
The importance of the listening room
First of all, it is important to choose loudspeakers that are proportionate to the size of the listening room. A micro system with compact speakers will struggle in a room of 40 square meters or more, with a high risk of saturation in case the volume increases to fill the space. Conversely, too powerful a system with large floor speakers will not be suitable for a study or a small living room, which will quickly saturate with intrusive bass (and so are the rooms and apartments of the neighbors!), to the detriment of the mids and highs.
If your room is small, i.e. less than 13 m², it is not to be expected to hear frequencies below 35 Hz, which will only be audible from the next room! Instead, for large rooms, from 25m² upwards, the attenuation due to the distance between the speakers and the listener must be taken into account, depending on the listening position.
Bass response is a key element to be assessed based on space. It is much easier to make compact speakers of good quality when you give up the lower octaves. This lack is not too annoying if the speaker is well balanced, and can be compensated for by adding a subwoofer.
Then choose the 3, 4 or even 5 speaker floor speakers for a dedicated room or a large living room (more than 20m²), and choose quality compact speakers for your bedroom or a small living room (less than 15- 20m²). You will also save space!
What level of performance to prefer?
As for the source, depending on whether it is a CD player, a network player or computer, particular attention will be paid to reading mechanics (which must be stable and silent) the transport of the digital flow to the converter (respecting the signal, protecting it from noise and interference) to the DAC itself (oversampling or not, operating frequencies) and at analog output stages, the latter contribute significantly to the musicality of the reproduced signal.
If your main source is your computer and its digitized music gigabytes, the USB DAC is an essential component for enjoying optimal audio quality.
In addition to digital / analog conversion, the most efficient audio DACs are equipped with an asynchronous USB port that bypasses the original clock frequency of the signal, which is often disturbed by all electronic circuits on the computer, and instead synchronizes the frequency of incoming data on its own clock, much more reliable.
If you are using a Streamer or Music Server, then you must neglect the encoding quality of the audio files and, when possible, use lossless compression formats or even HD files
The power of an audio amplifier is not an absolutely essential choice parameter.
Of course, it must be quite powerful, with 2 x 25 Watt RMS being the minimum acceptable requirement.
But above all, it must be adapted to the size of your room and the characteristics of the speakers.
Furthermore, the number and nature of the audio inputs, the presence or absence of acoustic correction functions (balance, tone) or the possibility of remote control are self-contained selection criteria.
To conclude, the speakers must be proportionate to the listening environment, as we have already seen, and suitable for the impedance and power of the amplifier.
Their sensitivity must also be taken into account. For example, speakers with low sensitivity (low efficiency) will require more power to reach a certain sound level. Conversely, speakers with high sensitivity (high efficiency) can require a lower power amplifier to produce the same sound level.
What is the most important Hi-Fi component?
Each ring of a hi-fi system is important, be it the source, the amplifier (or the amplifier / preamplifier pair) or the speakers.
Of course, the speaker may seem like the most important element of the audio chain.
Firstly because it is the last component before our ears: it is the one that converts the electrical power signal into an acoustic vibration.
Secondly, because all experts agree that the best speakers last longer than any other link in the chain.
But good or excellent speakers cannot work wonders with a poor quality source and / or a mediocre amplifier with too weak a power supply to avoid saturating as soon as the volume rises.
This is why we should always aim to create a balanced system: in fact, the overall performance of a system is always limited by its weakest link.
So it is useless, even counterproductive, to choose high-performance speakers if your amplifier is a poor signal processor or if the main source is a simple DVD player or the computer with its slew of ultra compressed MP3 audio files!
Very good speakers can in fact bring out the defects of a poor quality source, which would have been masked by more modest speakers.
The key word that should guide the choice is balance, from one end of the system to the other.
And if there is to be an element that is better than the others, it should be the source, rather than the speakers, so that the original signal is always the best possible.
It should also be borne in mind that all electronics and speakers require a break-in period before reaching their full potential.
HiFi and High-End cables and accessories
The signal cables and power cables for the speakers are intended to transport the audio signal in the best possible conditions from the source to the speakers.
As in the case of speakers and electronics, there are several brands and prices.
The choice must therefore be made in harmony with the other components of the system.
Just as you wouldn't mount Formula 1 tires on a small car, or vice versa (!), you should not choose a high-end modulation cable or a speaker cable for a standard hi-fi system, or a basic cable for an exceptional system.
Replacing the original power cord with a high quality shielded power cable can significantly improve the performance of a hi-fi system.
We don't realize it, but our environment is often heavily polluted by the electromagnetic waves generated by the currents that flow into the electrical cables.
Each electrical appliance generates fluctuations in the network (peaks, overvoltages) or causes a variation of the electromagnetic fields in the surrounding air.
The effects occur around the equipment itself and on its mains power supply, but they can also affect the interconnections between the various components of a hi-fi system.
Low power audio signals transported on RCA cables, for example, are extremely sensitive to the interference of these electromagnetic fields.
The use of a high quality power cable limits electromagnetic emissions and generally translates into better quality of silence (absence of hisses), a higher level of detail and a sound scene with better spatiality. The background noise is reduced, the music is more fluid and lively.
Different types of accessories can also be used to optimize the operation of a high fidelity system.
Speakers and electronics can be supported by decoupling or resonance damping feet.
Banana connectors or forks can also be used at the ends of the cables to secure and ensure an optimal connection.
Finally, the quality of the electricity that powers the various elements of the chain can be influenced by the use of a mains filter or a filtered power strip.
In any case, it is commonly recognized that the amount to be spent on cables and accessories represents around 10-15% of the total budget.
How much you have to spend on a HiFi system?
Whether you decide to spend 1,000, 10,000 or more euros on a hi-fi system, there are no strict rules, except to maintain a certain balance between the different elements.
Let's take the example of a system consisting of an amplifier (or pair of amplifier + preamplifier), a CD player or a network player, a pair of speakers and all the necessary wiring and accessories.
On a budget of 2,000 euros, it would therefore be unreasonable to allocate 1,600 euros to the speakers only and the remaining 400 euros to the amplifier, CD or network player and to cables and accessories.
A better distribution of the budget would be to allocate about 800 euros to the speakers, 700 euros to the amplifier or to the amplifier-preamplifier pair, 300 euros to the CD or network player and 200 euros to the wiring and accessories, or to remain in this order of proportions.
Based on the same budget, it is possible to replace the CD or network player with a vinyl turntable that costs between 300 and 500 euros, proportionally adapting the share intended for electronics and speakers.
Here too, it's all about balance, and spending crazy amounts doesn't guarantee an optimal result. Items purchased at a high price but poorly matched or installed in a room that is too "lively" can lead to mediocre or even tiring listening. On the other hand, a more modest but harmoniously composed and optimized system can offer you intense musical emotions.
If you have the slightest doubt or question about the composition of your future system, or about the evolution of your existing system, do not hesitate to contact our business consultants for personalized advice.