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What is HIFI?
Nov 21, 2018

High fidelity (often shortened to hi-fi or hifi) is a term used by listeners, audiophiles and home audio enthusiasts to refer to high-quality reproduction of sound.This is in contrast to the lower quality sound produced by inexpensive audio equipment, or the inferior quality of sound reproduction that can be heard in recordings made until the late 1940s.


Ideally, high-fidelity equipment has inaudible noise and distortion, and a flat (neutral, uncolored) frequency response within the human hearing range.


Listening tests


Listening tests are used by hi-fi manufacturers, audiophile magazines and audio engineering researchers and scientists. If a listening test is done in such a way that the listener who is assessing the sound quality of a component or recording can see the components that are being used for the test (e.g., the same musical piece listened to through a tube power amplifier and a solid state amplifier), then it is possible that the listener's pre-existing biases towards or against certain components or brands could affect their judgment. To respond to this issue, researchers began to use blind tests, in which the researchers can see the components being tested, but not the listeners undergoing the experiments. In a double-blind experiment, neither the listeners nor the researchers know who belongs to the control group and the experimental group, or which type of audio component is being used for which listening sample. Only after all the data has been recorded (and in some cases, analyzed) do the researchers learn which components or recordings were preferred by the listeners. A commonly used variant of this test is the ABX test. A subject is presented with two known samples (sample A, the reference, and sample B, an alternative), and one unknown sample X, for three samples total. X is randomly selected from A and B, and the subject identifies X as being either A or B. Although there is no way to prove that a certain methodology is transparent, a properly conducted double-blind test can prove that a method is not transparent.

Scientific double-blind tests are sometimes used as part of attempts to ascertain whether certain audio components (such as expensive, exotic cables) have any subjectively perceivable effect on sound quality. Data gleaned from these double-blind tests is not accepted by some "audiophile" magazines such as Stereophile and The Absolute Sound in their evaluations of audio equipment. John Atkinson, current editor of Stereophile, stated (in a 2005 July editorial named Blind Tests & Bus Stops) that he once purchased a solid-state amplifier, the Quad 405, in 1978 after seeing the results from blind tests, but came to realize months later that "the magic was gone" until he replaced it with a tube amp. Robert Harley of The Absolute Sound wrote, in a 2008 editorial (on Issue 183), that: "...blind listening tests fundamentally distort the listening process and are worthless in determining the audibility of a certain phenomenon."

Doug Schneider, editor of the online Soundstage network, refuted this position with two editorials in 2009. He stated: "Blind tests are at the core of the decades' worth of research into loudspeaker design done at Canada's National Research Council (NRC). The NRC researchers knew that for their result to be credible within the scientific community and to have the most meaningful results, they had to eliminate bias, and blind testing was the only way to do so." Many Canadian companies such as Axiom, Energy, Mirage, Paradigm, PSB and Revel use blind testing extensively in designing their loudspeakers. Audio professional Dr. Sean Olive of Harman International shares this view.


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