Beginner Hifi Guide

 

Hifi is an expensive hobby. Not many people have the luxury of constantly changing their hifi systems in their pursuit for the search of their preferences in music. Some people love the sound of sweet relaxing jazz pieces, some love the explosive nature of rock music, some love the commanding tones of orchestras. No hifi system is the ultimate hifi as each listener's ears are unique. Each hifi system have their own special characteristics to suit the listener's needs. The aim of this guide is to help beginners find what they are looking for and help them save on unnecessary expenses. Their purchases should be the best sounding deal they could get out of their budget.

1) Why a hifi system?
2) Purchasing Factors
3) Getting started
4) Hifi Components
5) Connecting Hifi Equipment
6) Music Genre
7) Advance Guide
8) Disclaimer

 
 

Why a hifi system?


Home audio is about reproduction of music to the owner's ears at their cosy home. It brings mood to its environment. Depending on the purpose, home audio provides a great variety of usages like soft relaxing music while doing house chores, dance parties, reproduction of live performances or even a spicing up romantic night. Though there are many subsitutes like home theatre sound systems, ipods, computer music, mini compos, etc...none can come close to a true hifi performance. It's simply purely musical and is designed to reproduce music performances as close as the originals.

Personally, I will classify hifi music under 2 types. One type is easy listening and the other is attentive listening.

Easy listening - Music that makes you relax. You can be reading newspapers, doing housework or even studying while the music plays as a background. Does not force you to be sitted. Often, the types of music played are jazz, vocals and classicals.

Attentive listening - Music that gives you the kicks. Makes you desire to get a chair and sit at the best spot for the best effects. They are relatively attention grabbing that it is usually harder to be in conversations as the music is competiting for your attention. Often, the type of music played are concerts, life performances and rock music.
 
 
 
 

Purchasing Factors

Budget
Price is the one of the main deciding factors. Most people have an intended amount to spend. They like to see what is the best deal they can afford out of their limited budget.

Needs
Some people use it for relaxing while reading or working. Some simply want to re-experience the feelings from life concerts & performances. Mostly is to bring mood to the environment.

Type of music
Most hifi systems are not all rounders. Each hifi system has certain characteristics that make it unsuitable for some types of music. Knowing your music preference will help you save on unneccessary purchases.

Size of system
If your room is small, get a small sized hifi system. A big hifi system in a small room makes the music overwhelming and boomy and you probably won't enjoy it. Likewise, a small sized hifi system in a big room results like a mini compo setup. The sound from the hifi system is unable to cover the whole room. You have to crank it up and make it work harder. Sound may become distorted and over time, your hifi system is damaged.

Acoustic Looks
These days, people also go for looks in their hifi system. Not only must sound good, it must also look good. Some people have homes that are of architectural design. They want a classy looking hifi system to match their room and furniture. 

Other factors
Length of warranty, place of manufacture, reviews, etc

Purchasing Tips
Tip 1 - When you find a hifi system that you really like and you know that that's the ultimate one for you. If it is over your budget by a little, delay your purchase and buy it later when your budget is enough. Many people have compromised too much on their budget that they eventually got something they did not like. Their purchase becomes unneccessary and may end up collecting dust. Sooner or later, they would have to spend more money on upgrading again.

Tip 2 - The outlooks of the hifi may be a big factor to some people. My advise is to put looks as a secondary factor and go for the sound it gives. A good looking hifi system that does not deliver sound quality will eventually be left unused and collects dust. Won't collecting antiques or collectables be a better choice if that is the case.

Tip 3 - A simple hifi system consists of a cd player, an integrated amplifier, a pair of speakers and some cables. Here is a rough estimation on how much to spend on each hifi component if their price = their performance percentage(%). If you wish to upgrade your hifi system, changing your amplifier or speakers is better since they make up a big percentage(%).

Speakers - 40%
Amplifier - 40%
Cd Player - 15%
Cables - 5%

 
 
 

Getting Started
1) After knowing your budget, your preferences in music and the size of system you will like to get, the next step is start shopping for your ideal hifi system.

2) Matching is very important. Most people make the mistake of buying components individually but as a system together it doesn't performs to its best. Example, the buyer buys a cd player from a seller, then he buy an amplifier from another seller and gets his speakers from a third seller. However when placed together, the system may probably won't sound right to his expectations.

3) A good way is to get a whole system that you have auditioned as a set. In this way, what you have heard in the shop, you can expect roughly the same type of sound quality at home. However, not many people can purchase a whole system at one time. If you are purchasing new products, you can go back and purchase the other components you have missed out at a later time.

4) If you already have part of the existing hifi component eg. speakers. Bring your speakers along(if it is not too troublesome) to test when purchasing the other components of your hifi system.

5) Bring your favourite music discs to test hifi system and see if they suit your tastes.

Getting Started Tips
Tip 1 - Reviews from hifi magazines or online reviews acts as a basic guideline of what is a good product but do take note that that does not always neccessarily mean they are the best for you. To get the type of sound and described in the reviews, you need the exact same equipment that the reviewer is using. If you do not, the sound you get may be different and off from what the reviews write. Each hifi component is important.

Tip 2 - Cables/Interconnects are connectors of the hifi system. But do not spend too much on them. Spend around 5% to 10% of the cost of the whole hifi system is good enough. Their purpose is to transmit signals from one hifi component to the other. They also slightly enhance the sound but do not change to basic characteristics of the hifi. If your whole system costs $5000 and your cables purchase amounts to $3000, won't a better solution be upgrading a better system with $7500 and just $500 on cables? People play with cables and accessories when they feel their hifi system is already at the optimum.

 
 
 
 
 


Hifi components(Part1)
Source - Cd player - Picks up the information on the disc and converts it to an analogue signal
Source -
Cd transport - Part of the Cd player. Picks up the digital information on the disc
Source -
DA converter - Part of the Cd player. Converts the picked up digital signal to analogue signal
Source -
Tuner - Picks up the radio signals
Source -
Turntable - Reads the information on the Records
Source - Others - Technology changes, from cassette tapes to now computer where music files are stored 
Source & Amplifier -
Receiver - Consists of a tuner and an integrated amplifier
Amplifier -
Integrated Amp - Consists of a pre-amp and power amp section
Amplifier -
Pre-Amp - Processes and shapes the signal
Amplifier -
Power Amp - Amplifies the processed signal
Amplifier -
Phono Amp - It amplifies the weak signal picked up from the LPs on the turntables
Output -
Speakers - Converts the processed and amplifies the signal into sound
Output -
Subwoofer - Converts the processed and amplifies the signal into sound. Focuses on low freqencies
Cables - Power Cord - Powers up your equipment
Cables -
Digital Cable - Connects between Cd transport and DA converter
Cables -
Interconnects - Connects between Cd player to amplifier, or amplifier to amplifier
Cables -
Speaker Cables
- Connects from the amplifier to the speakers/subwoofer

A basic hifi system consists of a cd player, an integrated amplifier, a pair of speakers and some cables.

Hifi components(Part 2)
As technology changes, there are improvements in designs. Currently there are many brands and designs of hifi with many exceptions. Therefore the description I state shall be in general.

Cd Players(Digital) -
The type of sound it produces is more digital but can be offset by the amplifiers and speakers. It is more hassle free than Turntables that brings up their popularity. Many still use cd players as their source of music.

Computer(Digital) - As technology advances, computer storage for music is getting popular. Favorite music files are saved into a harddisk drive. The advantage is the ability to store many music files, it is non bulky as well as being about to choose your favorite music directly. The downside though is that music files are usually compressed hence giving lower quality. The output sound is also usually inferior but that can be compensated through use of a USB Digital Analogue Converter. The main idea is convenience.

Turntables(Analogue) - Records tend to produce music that is more smoothing and natural to the listener's ear. However, due to the need for maintenance and hassle. It's popularity has declined. However, there are loyal audiophiles who will still use records for the type of sound that digital sources cannot touch.

Vacuum Tube Amplifiers(Tubes) -
They generally sound slower and warmer compared to their transistor counterparts. The sound they give are usually more of the mellow and layback type. Great for relaxing and getting into a comfortable mood. They are suitable for jazz and vocals music.

Solid State Amplifiers(Transistors) - Transistor amplifiers sound more dynamic and fast paced. Many rock, instrumental, drums and life music lovers would use transistor amplifiers for their characteristics. Their category of music is more towards attention grabbing type.

Speakers(Bookshelf) - Small sized speakers. They are designed for bedrooms purposes. Usually they are placed on stands. Amplifiers do not need to be bulky and powerful to drive them. Usually, an integrated amplifier is enough. Most small sized speakers are easy to drive(high sensitivity). However, their limitation would be of the low bass they they would not be able to deliver. A subwoofer can be added to compensate for the lack of bass frequencies.

Speakers(Floorstander) - Big sized speakers that stands on the floor. Their purpose is to deliver the type of low bass that bookshelf speakers cannot. However, these speakers are usually more power hungry(low sensitivity). A pre and power amplifier combination is more suitable than an integrated one. They are not limited by the power output. Most integrated amplifiers are of low power design.
 
 
 
 

Connecting Hifi Equipment

 
 
 
 

Music Genre
A music genre is a category of music pieces that share a certain basic musical language and style. Categorizing music, especially into finer genres or subgenres, can be difficult as music pieces are not totally distinct. They tend to overlap and fall into multiple categories which are especially so for newly emerging styles of music. For example, techno music can fall under electronic and dance genres. Lounge music can fall under easy listening and instrumental genres. Genres are tool used to commodify and commercialise an artist's complex personal vision.

Here are just some recommendations for the type of hifi equipment to use on the different genres of music.
Some genres like rock music require the punch and dynamics transistor amplifiers have. Some genres like Jazz sound better on tube amplifiers which have relaxing layback sound characteristics. Floorstanding speakers generally are better producing low frequency bass where music instruments like drums, double bass, etc are used.


Genres ------------ Amplifiers --------------- Speakers 
Alternative -------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Blues --------------- Tube amplifiers ---------- Either
Classical ---------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Country ------------ Tube amplifiers -----------Either
Dance -------------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Easy listening --- Tube amplifiers ---------- Either
Electronic --------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Hip Hop/Rap ----- Transistor amplifiers --- Either
Instrumental ------ Either ----------------------- Either
Jazz ----------------- Tube amplifiers ---------- Either
New Age ----------- Tube amplifiers ---------- Either
Pop -------------------Transistor amplfiers ---- Floorstanding speakers
R&B ----------------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Rock ---------------- Transistor amplifiers --- Floorstanding speakers
Vocals -------------- Tube amplifiers ---------- Either
World --------------- Either ------------------------ Either

Alternative - Alternative Music is music that doesn't fit in to the mainstream genre. Presently, alternative music generally defines rock music that is an offshoot of the several spinoffs of rock music during the 80s like punk-rock, college rock, indie rock and etc. Like rock, alternative music uses guitars, bass and drums. The major difference is the sound of the instruments.

Blues - Blues is a style of music and how it is played. Classic blues instruments included the guitar and harmonica. Other instruments included in blues are, drums, bass guitar, piano, trombone, trumpet and saxophone. The most important instrument used in blues music is the human voice. For a lot of people, vocals are what make music so great to listen to. Everything else is accompaniment.

Classical - Classical
music were written when forms such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata were standardized. The instruments used in most classical music were largely found in an orchestra like stringed bows(Violins/Cellos/Double Bass), woodwinds(flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon), brass(trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba), percussion(cymbals, triangle), keyboard, guitar, together with a few other solo instruments (such as the piano, harpsichord, and organ).

Country – Country music  is an American style of popular music, developed from the folk music of the rural southern USA and first known as Hillbilly music. Until the 1920s it was performed largely at home, in church or at local functions, on fiddles, banjos and guitars.

Dance -
Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. By 1981, a new form of electronic dance music was developing. This music, made using electronics, is a style of popular music commonly played in dance music nightclubs, radio stations, shows and raves. Disco became influenced by computerization. Looping, sampling and seguing as found in disco continued to be used as creative techniques within Trance music, Techno music, and especially House music.

Easy listening - Easy listening is a broad style of popular music and radio format, evolving out of big band music, and related to MOR (middle-of-the-road) music as played on many AM radio stations. It encompasses the exotica, beautiful music, light music, lounge music, ambient music, and space age pop genres. The range of lounge music encompasses soft rock music-influenced instrumentals, modern electronica (with chillout, nu-jazz and downtempo influences), while remaining thematically focused on its retro-space-age cultural elements. Easy listening is broad and may include instrumental arrangements of popular music designed for playing in shopping malls. A good deal of easy listening music was pure instrumental with no vocal parts, which was called lounge music.

Electronic - Electronic music is any music produced or performed primarily using electronic instruments in a unique, non-generic fashion, such that the focus of the music is on the electronic aspects. Electronic instruments include are not limited to the use of synthesizers, samplers, drums machines, and filtering techniques.

Hip Hop/Rap -
Hip hop music is an American musical genre that developed as part of hip hop culture, and is defined by four key stylistic elements: rapping, DJing/scratching, sampling (or synthesis), and beat-boxing. Rapping is a vocal style in which the artist speaks lyrically, in rhyme and verse, generally to an instrumental or synthesized beat. Beats, almost always in 4/4 time signature, can be created by sampling and/or sequencing portions of other songs by a producer. They also incorporate synthesizers, drum machines, and live bands. Rappers may write, memorize, or improvise their lyrics and perform their works a cappella or to a beat.

Instrumental - Instrumental music intended to be performed by a musical instrument or group of instruments. Usually no vocals and singing are involved.

Jazz -
While jazz music may be difficult to define, improvisation is clearly one of its key elements. In jazz, the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice. Depending upon the performer's mood and personal experience, interactions with fellow musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician/performer may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will. The instruments used in marching bands and dance bands became the basic instruments of jazz. Music instruments including woodwinds, saxophones, guitars, brass instruments, drums, keyboards, and band instruments types.

New Age -
New Age music is music of various styles intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments, and is often associated with environmentalism and New Age spirituality. New Age music is defined more by the effect or feeling it produces rather than the instruments used in its creation; it may be electronic, acoustic, or a mixture of both. New Age artists range from solo or ensemble performances using classical music instruments ranging from the piano, acoustic guitar, flute or harp to electronic musical instruments, or from Eastern instruments such as the sitar, tabla, and tamboura.

Pop - Pop is a term that originally derives from an abbreviation of "popular". Pop music is usually understood to be commercially recorded music, often oriented towards a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilizing technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes. Although pop music is often seen as oriented towards the singles charts, it is not the sum of all chart music which has always contained songs from a variety of sources, including classical, jazz, rock, and novelty songs. Pop music as a genre is usually seen as existing and developing separately. Thus "pop music" may be used to describe a distinct genre, aimed at a youth market, often characterized as a softer alternative to rock and roll.

R&B - Rhythm and Blues music, or R&B music, was originally termed "race music". Today’s contemporary R&B music has a distinctly different sound than its forebears, focusing on pop beats and culture rather than the blues, gospel and jazz sounds of previous generations. R&B groups consisted of brass instruments and woodwinds, as well as drums, piano and vocals. These elements were common in jazz bands, but R&B musicians produced a heavier sound with a steady beat.

Rock - Generally rock is a modern music with a simple tune and a strong backbeat is played and sung loudly with the help of electric guitar, electric organ, electric bass or electric piano and drum.

Vocals -
Vocal music is a genre of music performed by one or more singers, with or without instrumental accompaniment, in which singing (i.e. vocal performance) provides the main focus of the piece.

World -
World music is a general categorical term for global music, such as the traditional music or folk music of a culture that is created and played by indigenous musicians and is closely related to the music of the regions of their origin.

 
 
 
Advance Guide
Refer to next page

 
 
 
 

Disclaimer
This is a basic beginner's guide. The information provided is to the best of knowledge and accuracy. However, we shall neither be liable nor responsible to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly by the information of this guide.
 
 
 



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