What Is HiFi Audio (and Why You Should Care)?

It’s hard to compare live music to a set of headphones, speakers or soundbar. 

When you see an artist or a band on stage, playing their instrument, singing their song, you can feel it — not just hear it. Live music evokes a visceral response from us as people. 

And it doesn’t matter how good your gear is, the sensation of live music is second to none. 

That’s part of the inspiration of (and addiction to) HiFi audio. That live, real experience that many of us crave drives audiophiles forward in pursuit of a high fidelity replication of live music. 

Audiophiles, the folks who have an ear for detail and sound quality, continually try closing the gap between the live music experience and that which comes at home through speakers, soundbars, headphones and the adjacent components. 

If you’re new to the concept of HiFi audio, welcome. This post walks you through the basics, telling what it is, why it matters, and what to do if you run into issues with your system at home.

What Is It? HiFi = High Fidelity (Audio)

HiFi, or high fidelity, is the common term used for audio that closely matches the source. 

When an artist plays music in a studio, the sound that comes from his or her vocals or instruments is the original audio or source. That set is recorded for playback. 

When played on vinyl, a CD or streamed via a high-quality service, the goal is for the recorded version of the audio to sound as close to the source as possible. But, it’s not always easy to achieve this. 

To playback audio in a way that’s true to the source can involve several components and environmental factors. It can also become quite expensive. However, you can still achieve HiFi results without spending thousands on a setup or making it too complicated. 

Although, it’s important to note that as you begin surfing the web for gear, you should pay attention to the construction of equipment and intended uses. 

Speakers with a bigger price tag typically run higher due to the construction material. Those materials work together to reduce distortion and vibration, while delivering high quality audio. 

Further, some equipment should be set up in certain ways to reduce any kind of interference with one another and keep sound quality high (i.e., speakers should be some distance away from hard surfaces like walls). 

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Regular Ol’ Audio and HiFi Audio? 

When entering the world of HiFi audio, you begin your journey to tuning your ears for the finer things in recorded music or sound. 

LoFi audio leaves out the quick, dragging sound of a guitarist’s fingers moving along strings. It doesn’t let the resonate, lingering notes playout until they settle. 

In particular, audiophiles become disappointed when the details like these become lost from recordings. These subtleties add layers to music and audio, helping recreate a truer sense of what the artist intended for listeners to experience.

When listening to music, some audiophiles tend to lean toward a more analog setup versus a digital one because of the greater dynamic range — meaning, higher highs and lower lows. For humans, the normal hearing range is between 20Hz and 20,000Hz, which allows us to pick up on extremely subtle audio to very overt audio (low pitches and high pitches); this means more opportunity to enjoy HiFi audio. 

When music is streamed from a service or made available digitally, the dynamic range compresses, resulting in a loss of data. While sometimes only subtle, this impacts the audio. Compression can help in certain ways, but part of the appeal of live music is the raw nature of the sound, which is why enthusiasts go to such great lengths to replicate it.

The more you progress in your pursuit of high quality audio, the more you uncover and realize what’s lost in subpar listening. Be warned, once you take this path, normal earbuds are ruined forever. 

Audiophiles Recommend a HiFi Setup — Which Can Get Expensive and Complicated

Getting your start with a HiFi setup can be a bit overwhelming at first. Our best advice is to take it one step at a time and upgrade gradually.

Assuming you’re headed toward a vinyl setup, you’ll need these four components

  1. Turntable – This is what you carefully, delicately set your vinyl onto. This reads those grooves to produce an electrical signal.
  2. Pre-amp – Once the turntable translates the music on the record to an electrical signal, the pre-amp elevates the signal to a higher level.
  3. Amplifier – The signal that comes from the pre-amp goes through the amplifier and out to the speakers.
  4. Speakers – The speakers distribute the music for your listening pleasure. Note: speakers can be passive or active. Passive speakers are powered by an amplifier, whereas active speakers power themselves. 

With these four components, you’re ready for a better-than-a-cheap-pair-of-headphones listening experience. But know, these four components can range from a couple hundred dollars to thousands. 

What’s more, many companies offer these components in a single or bundled package, meaning some turntables may have all the components built in. Wary audiophiles caution against buying into these too quickly if you’re after quality. 

The downside of all-in-one solutions is that sometimes the sound quality degrades due to vibration or interference. Weigh the benefits of cost-savings and simplicity against the level of quality you hope to achieve.

While having individual components often increases the price and complexity of a system, you may have less buyer’s remorse once you hear the beautiful sound quality it produces. 

Read Next: A Buyer’s Guide for a D.I.Y. Outdoor Movie Theater

If You Run Into Trouble Unlocking HiFi Greatness, Call an AV HERO

Now, don’t feel overwhelmed. If you run into any issues, we’ve got your back. 

You can achieve your dreams of owning a HiFi system to enjoy all your favorites. But we know better than most that technology can be tricky. 

There are several common tech issues that arise with speaker systems, requiring troubleshooting skills or some additional sleuthing to root out the problem. (Also, check out this blog post about troubleshooting any AV problem.)

AV HERO employs the largest network of skilled and certified audiovisual professionals who stand at the ready to help you overcome obstacles — especially because we share in that passion for high quality audio.

Learn about our Residential services here

“I had a problem with my surround sound. I couldn’t figure out how to use it and don’t have the time to try and figure it out. I clicked a couple of buttons with AV HERO and they showed up super quick. They were on time, super nice and took extra time to teach me how to use my system. It was really quick and easy and I would definitely recommend it to everyone I know.”

Sarah, Carlsbad, CA

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