Fidelity: n. faithfulness/ accuracy (of a reproduction). That’s what a high ﬁdelity system, or hi-ﬁ, should do; faithfully reproduce what’s on your CDs, records or tapes. To talk about a hi-fr sounding good kind of misses the point, it’s whether the music sounds good that’s important. The List hi-fi guide offers a few tips on how to get value for money — and that doesn’t necessarily mean finding the cheapest deal. Good service costs money too, and in the hi-ﬁ jungle, an expert guide can be invaluable. But above all, don’t be bamboozled by sales talk — just listen to the music.
ILLUSTRATIONS: JONATHAN WILLIAMS
How do I tell it It’s any good?
‘There are basically two kinds of people; those who want a hi-ﬁ to look like a hi-ﬁ and those who want a grey box that sounds good.‘ according to one salesman. There‘s some truth in that, but most of us want a bit of both. Concentrating on how music sounds through a hi-fr system is the most reliable basis for judging it - the rest is just jargon and ﬂashing lights. A useful trick is to take along a piece of music you know well and listen for individual notes and whether there is ‘space’ between each instrument. It‘s easy to be initially impressed by a system that jumps out at you in the shop, but may not actually reproduce music very accurately. Be particularly careful in shops that use ‘comparators' which switch between different pieces of equipment. They are helpful but insist on listening to each piece of equipment for several minutes; switching back and forth every few seconds can create a false impression.
' Midi or separates?
Ifyoujust can’t face tangling with separates — the pick n' mix of hi-ﬁ — Dixons, Comet or Clydesdale (at least up until The List went to press) will sell you a midi, which is an all-in-one system somewhere between separates
and the old fashioned music centre. It will almost certainly be Japanese. sound OK. look OK and may well be available on interest-free credit. Most hi-fi buffs despise midi systems (or minis, which are smaller and don’t include a turntable) because they compromise sound quality in favour of compactness. One shop went for a footballing analogy, describing them as ‘the Brechin City of hi-fr’. But even lower division sides have their fans and if size is a priority, why be snooty about it? Most budget and mid-range
shops sell the better makes so you can compare them to separates.
How much do I need to spend?
There’s no answer to that. Spend £500 on a basic system and you'll certainly get something most buffs will regard as ‘true' hi-fr. Some shops talk about ‘diminishing returns’ - you achieve a big improvement in sound quality by spending a little more at the budget end of the scale and only a small improvement by Spending a lot more at the high end. It's a question of working out at what point you’d prefer to buy more CDs or records, rather than spend money on a slight improvement in sound quality.
Work out how much you want to spend.
The shop listing (see following page) will give you an idea of which shops cater for your budget. Visit a couple to see who is prepared to spend time finding out what you want, rather telling you what they want to sell. For any budget, it's good advice to buy the best ‘source' you can afford; that means the CD player, turntable, cassette deck or radio tuner. For instance, if you’re buying a system to play CDs only. a rule of thumb is spend half the budget on the player. and split the other half between amp and speakers.
Are record players obsolete?
A straw poll of shops suggests as few as one in twenty people buying a system include a turntable, or what the buffs call an ‘analogue source‘, for reasons too boring to explain. But if you’ve got a big, and often irreplaceable. vinyl collection. obviously you'll still want to listen to it. A misconception is that the better the turntable, the more you'll hear the pops and crackles on old records. Not so. say the experts — the opposite is true. A good turntable allows you to play indifferent condition records. a boon if you hang around secondhand shops. None of the shops we approached have stopped stocking turntables, but many admitted their range was limited.
76 The List I I-24 February I994