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What Does "Hi-Fi" Even Mean Nowadays?

Hi Fi

For years, people have thrown around the term Hi-Fi. Sometimes you'll hear it referred to as high fidelity, although that isn't a term that is used nearly as frequently as the shortened version. Back in the early 1980s, virtually every stereo system you saw said that it had a Hi-Fi sound system. What does all of that even entail? Was it something that was genuinely present or is it something that's designed just to get your money? Perhaps the more important question is does such a thing as Hi-Fi still exist or in today's technology, has it become totally obsolete in lieu of other things that provide a more realistic sound?

Hi-Fi Defined

If you want to get technical about things, Hi-Fi can be more or less defined as pure sound. More often than not, it's almost always associated with movies or music and the sound that is produced therein. For some people, it doesn't really matter if they use High Fidelity sound or not and for others, it is the thing that makes or breaks everything else. Think about it like this. Have you ever put on a pair of headphones or earbuds in order to listen to your favorite song, yet the equipment you were using was something that you purchased at the last moment from the bargain bin of your nearest dollar store? Now consider the possibility that you're traditionally used to listening to the same song with something that is at least considered mid-level quality. There is no doubt that you will notice a difference and there is every chance that the difference you notice will be quite considerable, to say the least.

The Importance of Hi-Fi

The reason that Hi-Fi is important is because it gives you the purest, most crisp sound available without all of the distortion that is involved in low-Fidelity recordings. If you enjoy hearing your movies or listening to your music without a lot of extra sounds in the background that blend in and get in the way of what you're trying to hear, Hi-Fi becomes very important in a matter of moments. In fact, there's nothing worse than trying to listen to your favorite film or your favorite music through a speaker that has so much distortion that you can scarcely even make out what you're hearing. By the same token, you want the volume to be loud enough that you can clearly hear what you're listening to without the additional distortion that sometimes comes with turning up the volume on equipment that is of lesser quality. Until high-fidelity audio came along, it was impossible to do any of these things. These days, it is so much a part of virtually every piece of technology that a lot of people have failed to appreciate what a difference it can really make when it comes to enjoying something to the fullest extent possible. People sort of expect it and in many cases, take it for granted. That is, until they hear their favorite piece of music or try to listen to some dialogue from their favorite film through a speaker that sounds like it's partially broken and wonder what's going on. It's hard to believe that there was once a time when that was essentially the only option available to anyone. If they wanted to listen to something, it was that or nothing at all.

Then and Now

Remember that Hi-Fi audio was invented in the 1940s. It's hard to believe because if you listen to something from the 1940s, it sounds like it is anything but Hi-Fi. That said, any music that was produced prior to that time has so much distortion associated with it that you can scarcely hear what the people are saying. It's become such an ingrained part of the sound that many people who like music from earlier eras listen to original pieces because they consider the distortion part of the personality of the piece as a whole. For those individuals who were born listening to high quality sound, it would probably be almost impossible to force themselves to listen to something with so much distortion. These days, the equipment that is used is a lot different and it produces a different sound, even compared to the high-fidelity audio of the 1980s and 90s. In modern times, the equipment is often connected either via a cable or digitally, producing a crisp, clear sound that makes you feel like you're actually witnessing the music as if it were being played live. It can in some cases become an immersive experience, especially if you're fortunate enough to have a sound system that plays from numerous speakers located in different parts of the structure where you're listening. Many times, it sounds so real that you might find yourself searching for the source of a particular sound until you realize that it is in fact coming out of the speakers. It's an experience that has to be enjoyed firsthand in order to be fully appreciated. Anyone who hasn't witnessed it for themselves we'll never be able to simply read about it and understand what it's truly like.

Is Modern Equipment Really Better?

A lot of people ask themselves whether or not modern high-fidelity equipment is actually any better than the stuff that came out 20 years ago. As a matter of fact, you can go to any one of a number of different online forums which typically feature rather healthy discussions about the benefits of using older equipment versus something that came out only a year or two ago. The reality of the situation is that everyone has their own opinion and for the most part, at least some portion of that opinion is valid. It's definitely true that the types of systems designed around 2010 to 2015 were far more complicated than something designed in the 1980s, yet the sound was almost identical, at least as far as most people are concerned. The thing is, the newer systems produced a similar sound, yet they required a crazy amount of set up. They tended to be fickle and they didn't always work as they were designed to work, not by a long shot. In fact, it was often difficult to find enough space to set up all the equipment and make it work the way that it was intended to work. Furthermore, many individuals felt like they practically needed some type of degree in order to effectively set up everything and make it work properly. It's worth saying that someone who doesn't have a lot of experience with this type of thing would typically find it so difficult to set up that it just wasn't worth doing. As a matter of fact, a lot of people argued that the technology, which had been advancing steadily up to this point, suddenly seemed to take a step or two backward. It was at this point that people started to seek out older equipment for use because they felt like when everything was said and done, much of it was actually better.

A New Era

Eventually, Bluetooth technology more or less took over and a lot of equipment started becoming digital in practically every since you could think of. Instead of connecting things with an audio cable, you are now connecting equipment wirelessly, all with the intention of gaining both better sound and more convenience. At the time, the idea was to make things sound better and to correct the problems that were typically associated with the sound systems that had come out in recent years. The problem is that early Bluetooth technology didn't really fix much of anything. As a matter of fact, much of it only served to make things even more frustrating than they already were. Why, you ask? It has a lot to do with the fact that the Bluetooth technology that existed at the time was just about as fickle as the high-fidelity audio that had been developed a few years prior. Anyone who ever tried to connect any type of Bluetooth to anything during the early years of its existence knows how frustrating it was to do so. More often than not, it didn't work and when it did, it didn't work especially well. In addition, the wireless technology that was used meant that everything had to be in close proximity to everything else. If you had any plans on taking a Bluetooth speaker that you just spent several hundred dollars on more than a few inches away from the equipment that was used as source material, you would have to think again. Any sound that you did manage to get from the wireless technology would either become so static-filled that you couldn't hear anything else or it would simply stop working in its entirety. Fortunately, much of that has changed for the better.

Today’s Equipment

These days, you can indeed find Bluetooth equipment that actually works. Even for those who are technologically challenged, modern-day equipment is as easy as turning it on, getting it relatively close to the other technology you want to pair it with, and then allowing the two systems to talk to one another. Before you know it, you have a system that works well. Better yet, you can now buy high-fidelity speakers that feature wireless technology, yet they can also be plugged in using an audio cable in case you have a desire to do things the old-fashioned way. In addition, a lot of these speakers can be purchased for a relatively affordable price, often only a few hundred dollars. The majority of them are also portable, meaning that you don't have to fill an entire room with sound equipment in order to get the sound you want, nor do you have to lug hundreds of pounds of equipment from one location to another every time you want to utilize your equipment somewhere other than what is considered your home base. It really is as simple as swinging a speaker or two into a backpack and taking off. The truth is, the sound that comes out of these little tiny, portable speakers is nothing short of astounding, even for people who are used to this type of thing.

So, What Does Hi-Fi Actually Mean?

Now that we've covered the history of high-fidelity audio and the growing pains that went with it, it's time to make sure that the question has been thoroughly answered regarding what modern-day Hi-Fi actually means. Most people agree that it refers to being able to create the highest possible quality sound through any type of medium, whether that involves digital music, CDs or vinyl records. In other words, do you have a system where you can play your favorite digital songs, yet also connect those same speakers to a CD player or even a record player and get the same type of sound or does the sound change based on the medium that you were using to play your music? If you're fortunate enough to have something that is able to cancel out excess noise and optimize the sounds that you actually want to hear regardless of the medium that's being used, you know that you have your hands on something that is a legitimate winner. Fortunately, there are a lot of pieces of equipment out there that are capable of doing exactly this type of thing. Those portable speakers that were mentioned in an earlier paragraph are just one option. Granted, they don't all work the same way. In fact, it's possible to purchase one that has the worst sound you've ever heard regardless of where your source material is coming from. That said, it's also possible to find one that is capable of delivering true High Fidelity audio regardless of the situation at hand. The key is in doing your research and in realizing that you typically get what you pay for. Truly good Hi-Fi speakers aren't terribly expensive, but they will run you somewhere between $200 and $350. Anything that you can purchase for $20 or less is not going to have good sound, no matter how many descriptions tell you otherwise. At the end of the day, you have to decide what is right for you. Chances are, once you find something that truly works, you'll never want to use anything else. There is something that is quite addictive about listening to your favorite music in a way that is so clear, you can hear things that you didn't even know existed on that track before.

Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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