Magazine article Gramophone

Should Hi-Fi Be Heard and Not Seen? as Music Moves Away from Physical Media and into Streams and Network Files, Remote Control Is Getting Smarter and Audio Hardware Less Apparent

Magazine article Gramophone

Should Hi-Fi Be Heard and Not Seen? as Music Moves Away from Physical Media and into Streams and Network Files, Remote Control Is Getting Smarter and Audio Hardware Less Apparent

Article excerpt

Something was nagging away in my head when writing the product reviews for this month's issue, but when the realisation came, it was more of a statement of the obvious than any great insight. What we are seeing increasingly are hi-fi products with no vestige of a display to show what's being played, relying instead on dedicated apps to control it. Last month KEF's LS50 Wireless speakers followed this path; this month it's the dCS Network Bridge.

That's one of the biggest changes in audio for a very long time. It's the result of a shift in the way many of us listen these days, eschewing physical media such as CDs or even LPs in favour of computer music files, be they downloaded from online stores or ripped from existing discs. No longer do we need to place a storage device in or on a player and press buttons to make it play; instead we just tap or swipe on the screen of a smartphone or tablet to select the music we want to hear--either from our own library stored on a computer or NAS device, or increasingly from a streaming service for which we have a subscription--and then tap again to start it pouring forth from our speakers.

All of which has a number of benefits, not least of which is no need to have half of one's listening environment taken over by shelves of discs. Yes, there's a certain romanticism about flipping through a collection of LPs or running one's finger along rows of CD cases, choosing something to play, but all of that assumes a fairly disciplined shelving and sorting regime unless it's to be a complete pot-luck exercise.

I know many will have elaborate cataloguing systems but, having served my time in public libraries many years ago and remembering what a chore the ritual of 'shelving' was, these days I'd rather have it done for me. And on the screen of my tablet I can find music instantly, sorted by composer or work or album or genre or ... well, you get the idea.

If I add music, it's added to the virtual library indexing, and fully searchable. Using the excellent Roon software, which integrates both my own library and that from the online Tidal service, I am treated to a seamless combination of both kinds of music. If I want, I can even play one of my own albums and then have Roon carry on playing similar and complementary music from the Tidal database. And that in itself can be a fascinating voyage of discovery! …

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