Expensive CD players make a difference



As a buyer of a hi-fi system, you usually have to deal with sellers who only want your best, namely your money. Unfortunately, there is hardly any really competent advice that is optimal from the buyer's point of view, as I know from my own experience and from my circle of friends or through discussions on the Internet. With the vanishingly small number of dealers, who firstly have the necessary expertise and also offer customers neither unnecessarily expensive products nor unnecessary accessories such as Want to talk up special cables, I would like to apologize for the following, sometimes harsh words about hi-fi dealers. But as I said, the probability of getting to such a good dealer is unfortunately not much higher than cracking the jackpot in the lottery.

In the following, you will find out how to separate the wheat from the chaff, what you have to do to avoid being ripped off, and how you can finally get an inexpensive but still very good sounding hi-fi system. It makes sense, of course, first of all to find out how the various components work, such as CD player, Speakers and To inform amplifiers so that you cannot be told "something about the horse".

Basic recommendations

In the majority of cases, the demands placed on a hi-fi system are considerably lower than the salespeople always want you to believe. If you do not have a dampened (living) room in which the system is to be set up, and if you do not prefer to sit in a stereo triangle (i.e. form an almost isosceles triangle with the speakers), you do not need to worry about the highest possible playback quality anyway. This is even more the case if you mostly use music as a background shower and maybe read a book or pursue other hobbies while listening to music. Only reasonably good speakers also make sense in these cases, since, for example, throbbing bass or unnaturally hissing highs get on your mind quite quickly, even if the music is only playing in the background.

Even if you position your hi-fi system optimally in the room and listen to music in a really concentrated and analytical way, you will not be able to determine a significant difference between mid-range systems and so-called high-end systems. The big exception is the speakers. Because as in As described in loudspeakers, the correct conversion of electricity into sound is a matter that is very difficult for physical reasons. Good and unfortunately often expensive speakers therefore always make sense.

Usually a very inexpensive amplifier, CD player and tuner is absolutely sufficient. Sound effects can only be expected if the manufacturer has saved in an inappropriate place. In this case, the output resistance is often very high, so that under unfavorable conditions there is a drop in height, which can of course be heard. With cheap amplifiers you can almost never switch off the tone control. If the controls are in the zero position, this does not mean that the frequency response is straight as a straight line due to the tolerances. In direct comparison with another amplifier, small differences are often audible, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that one of the amplifiers is better than the other. Anyone who buys a mid-range system where each component (amplifier, CD player, tuner) costs between 150 and 300 euros, usually has components that cannot be surpassed in terms of sound. Only with the tuner there is still little room for improvement in the form of better HF filters, for example. So-called compact systems or micro systems with speakers attached to the side do not belong, in my understanding, to the category of hi-fi systems, but rather are to be seen as better portable radios. Above all, the loudspeakers are consistently so bad that we really cannot talk about enjoying music. In addition, the very last cent is often saved on the electronics, although it has a catastrophic effect on the sound. Much more emphasis is placed on a chic design and eye-catching displays that you don't really need to listen to music.

Hearing test

The hearing test that many retailers offer only makes sense for loudspeakers in order to make a pre-selection. Because when the loudspeakers, as in many hypermarkets, are both in a row next to each other and also staggered one behind the other, one can no longer speak of a real comparison. More than 2 loudspeakers should not be placed next to each other when making a decision, because the sound depends to a large extent on the location. In addition, depending on the loudspeaker, it is more or less dependent on the acoustics of the listening room, so that the best-sounding loudspeaker at the dealer does not necessarily have to be the best for your living room. For this reason, it makes sense that you try out 2 or 3 loudspeakers of the type in your home, which many, especially smaller, dealers allow. Such dealers cannot of course be the cheapest, because logically the service also needs to be paid for.

The differences between different speakers are sometimes small, sometimes very large. Depending on your personal feeling you will perceive the sound of a speaker as better or worse than the other. Another person may see it the other way around. For example, those who prefer to listen to techno will dismiss even the highest quality hi-fi speakers with a linear frequency response and genuine, abysmal deep bass as being very weak and prefer the bum-bum boxes, which are catastrophic from a hi-fi point of view. Other effects such as excessive heights make a positive impact on inexperienced listeners at first. In direct comparison, a linear loudspeaker sounds very unspectacular and sometimes even dull. In the end, however, all effects revenge because they go in the long run on the nerves. The aim of HiFi is high fidelity, i.e. high fidelity of sound. This cannot be achieved with speakers trimmed for effect. Comparison tests are therefore sometimes not easy. On the other hand, you shouldn't make things too difficult for yourself. Because at home there is no direct comparison standard. Also, the second in a direct comparison or third best speaker can very sound good. It is particularly important that he has no sonic quirks that are annoying in the long run.

Listening tests between different amplifiers or CD players are relatively pointless even with mid-range systems. The supposed differences that you talk into yourself or allow the seller to talk into, dissolve very quickly into thin air when viewed scientifically (double blind test!). For example, if you like brand X and don't like Y, you will always find minor advantages over brand Y in the sound of brand X hi-fi components for purely psychological reasons. But if you do not know which amplifier or CD player is currently delivering the music, you will not be able to determine any differences with the same loudspeakers, the same volume, linear frequency response, etc. Even those who do not have a pronounced brand awareness often classify the quality, i.e. the sound, according to the external appearance. A valent looking device must indeed simply sound better than a "cheap" looking. From a technical point of view this is absolute nonsense, but in the absence of other sources of perception one tends to transfer the optics or the good / bad feeling that one unconsciously develops for the respective component to the sound.

Anyone who has to unplug it and put the CD in the other CD player can forget about a hearing test anyway. Because the ear, or more precisely the brain, can only remember sound nuances with great difficulty over several seconds or minutes. With this type of hearing test, for the aforementioned psychological reasons, it depends crucially on the benevolence towards a certain component whether you hear a (non-existent) difference or not. Makes sense only a direct A-B comparison by instantaneous switching. When comparing CD players you need 2 identical CDs, which you have to synchronize with a lot of manual effort. This practice is very rare and for good reason. Because it immediately becomes clear that a "cheap" 250-euro device sounds exactly the same as a 2500-euro device (or even more expensive).

Preparing to buy

Before you go to the lion's den, i.e. the hi-fi shop or consumer market, you should seriously consider which components you really need and what demands you place on them. If you don't know what you want and what you need, you shouldn't be surprised if you leave the shop with a system that you really didn't want. It is also important to think about the maximum total price. Otherwise one chooses a system, which is time-consuming, then realizes that it is far too expensive and has to start all over again. This is just as unsatisfactory for you as it is for the seller.

The tricks of the salespeople

You can expect a hi-fi seller who is good from the customer's point of view to ask you unsolicited
1. what kind of music you normally listen to,
2. how you listen to music (i.e. what demands you make),
3. how big is the room in which you want to listen to music,
4. how it is equipped (due to acoustics),
5. which components you want to buy,
6. whether you have already committed to certain devices and
7. How much you want to spend in total for it.
He will respond to your wishes and recommend exactly the right thing for you. He will neither sell you something more expensive nor try to convince you of another brand. So much for the beautiful dream. Unfortunately, the reality is very different.

Sellers in hypermarkets are, in my experience, more technically oriented. That is why they often try to let the technical expert hang out by using technical terms, etc. As a Dipl.-Ing. Electrical engineering, who has been dealing intensively with hi-fi systems for more than 30 years, I have enjoyed discussions with such "experts". Comedy shows on television, on the other hand, are downright boring. You only have to ask very few clever counter-questions, and they are already tangled up in their own false statements. Unless you have in-depth specialist knowledge, however, you will not be able to do this. But you don't have to, as you will see below.

Sellers in high-end stores pursue a completely different strategy. The technology is rather subordinate here. As a rule, one rides the esoteric wave here, whereby it does not matter at all that one can explain anything. It is important to have nice words and a strong belief that even the greatest nonsense has a sonic effect. How else are Belt drive CD player or To explain special cables? Such sonic effects are usually "proven" with a listening test, with fine words replacing the direct A-B comparison described above. Too German: You talk yourself and others into differences that don't really exist.

Regardless of whether you are a salesperson in a hypermarket or a high-end store: When you come face to face with a salesperson trained in sales psychology (this applies to almost every salesperson), you should always keep in mind that you are the customer and that the customer should be king . If you contradict him, the salesperson will want to engage you in discussions and try to outmaneuver you rhetorically and psychologically, but that is also his job after all. He does this every day and is therefore very used to it, while you maybe buy a new hi-fi system every 5 to 20 years and without any electrical engineering expertise, simply no words to the screaming nonsense that you are often thrown at your head Find. The main trick of the salespeople is to treat you as an equal partner, as in discussions with friends. They want to suggest to you that everything that you cannot refute him is true. But that's wrong: you don't just have to accept what people are trying to praise you, because you are the master of the action as long as you don't let the reins be taken out of your hands. After all, it's all about your wallet. You don't have to convince the seller of your opinion; it is absolutely enough that you don't believe him. Unlike one of your friends, he has to accept that. And if you get the impression that you are being fooled, trying to talk you into something you don't want at all, or persuading you incessantly, just turn around and leave the shop. That is your right and by no means impolite - at least it is no more impolite than trying to steer your purchase intentions into completely different channels or deliberately disregarding your wishes.

If possible, never go to a hi-fi shop alone. Because a single person is always the easiest target for a salesperson. The best thing to do is to take one or, better, two self-confident people with you, who ideally have a little knowledge of hi-fi systems or, even better, electronics in general and who are not so easily talked into. One of the rare good sellers will very quickly see what you really want and offer you something suitable. A bad seller who only has his commission in mind will try to sell you something more expensive or something that has a higher commission for the same price. If you have the right people with you, this will quickly lead to heated discussions. Time to turn your back on the store.

Inexpensive purchase

A very recommendable strategy, in which you do not have to worry about incompetent salespeople, is to simply buy the electronics from one of the numerous mail-order companies using a catalog. Due to the lack of a demonstration room, the prices are considerably below the level of the large hypermarkets. 25% lower prices are more the rule than the exception. You can find the addresses of senders in all common hi-fi magazines. As already mentioned, mid-range systems from around 150 euros per component are so good in sound that you can use design, convenience functions and price as selection criteria with a clear conscience. Only the speakers should only be bought after a hearing test. Since sound differences can indeed be heard here, you are likely to be spared useless discussions with the seller. You should only seriously consider exercising your right if he asks you which amplifier you want to use the loudspeakers and then wants to sell you another amplifier straight away because yours (or your planned one) allegedly does not harmonize with the loudspeakers To buy your speakers elsewhere.

Closing words

If so many salespeople and die-hard hi-fi gurus agree that expensive amplifiers and CD players sound audibly better than cheap ones, then as a responsible consumer you will hopefully not believe everything you read here without comment, but rather ask the question whether not a cranky person is at work who does not want to admit reality and therefore tries to blame the hi-fi industry. After all, this is not so rare on the Internet because everyone can openly express their opinion here, no matter how wrong it is.

But as already mentioned, as an electrical engineer who has been dealing with both hi-fi and music electronics for many years, I am a specialist and know the background very well. In the descriptions too Compact discs, Speakers, HiFi cables and Amplifiers are primarily concerned with a description of the function and mode of operation of hi-fi devices from an electrical engineering point of view. That this cannot be a wrong view becomes clear very quickly when you consider who is developing the many beautiful hi-fi devices that are on the shelves of the dealers. As a rule, they are physicists, mechanical engineers and, above all, electrical engineers. If you now ask why academic professional groups who should know that from a certain point more effort does not lead to sound improvements develop such devices, I would like to answer a counter question: Assuming that white bicycles made of titanium are standard and technically exhausted. If, thanks to marketing, those with colorful patterns sell better, you wouldn't also build colorful bicycles, even if you know that dealers claim completely absurd things, such as the colorful pattern that you need less force to pedal because of the cosmic energy better bundle?

That alone is not proof, but at most an indication of the correctness of my statements. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies on this subject that are really scientific, because science does not spend any money on the investigation, which is quite obvious nonsense. And the hi-fi industry will be careful not to commission scientific studies because it will continue to want to find buyers for expensive equipment.But both the hi-fi magazine Stereoplay and the computer magazine c't had carried out tests in a simple blind test, which speak a clear language:

Already at the end of the 80s, Stereoplay had carried out a listening comparison between several more or a few high-priced and an absolutely cheap CD player. The only real 14-bit CD player ever built without oversampling could not be distinguished from the other CD players with 2-bit higher resolution in terms of sound, even though the test subjects were experienced hi-fi enthusiasts. If no differences are audible despite clear, metrologically easily verifiable savings measures in the electronics, how can you hear differences between CD players that are almost perfect from a metrological point of view?

At the end of 2001, the magazine c't carried out a comparison test between CD and the MP3 format, which is frowned upon by high-end fans, with different compression rates, also in a simple blind test. In the MP3 format, the audio data is lossy (!) Very heavily compressed, which sounds horrible from a high-end view. In fact, apart from excessively strong compression, only one of the listeners achieved a detection probability slightly above the value obtained by rolling the dice. But even this test person, a sound engineer, could sometimes hear differences but could not assign whether CD or MP3 sounded better. Since, from an electrical engineering point of view, sound influences are to be expected rather than ruled out with MP3, the result shows once again how insensitive the human ear and the subsequent processing chain in the brain really is. The result of a further comparison test in mid-2002 with different compression methods compared to the CD came to very similar results.

Overall, it can be said that the human ear is not able to perceive differences at all, or at least only with great difficulty, although this is very easy to do in terms of measurement technology. This is even the case with musicians and sound engineers - those people who are most likely to be expected because they create the basis in the form of CDs and should most likely know what music sounds like where it is made. Against this background, anyone who wants to talk about the sound differences of amplifiers, CD players or even cables, for example, is simply making themselves ridiculous.