You’re Paying Too Much for Your Audio System: Even Dark Side of Moon Engineer Alan Parsons Says So

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Hey Bubbas,

One of our recurrent themes is that too many “audiophiles” and other system purists pay too much for audio systems, sometimes thousands too much. We know how marketers can convince shoppers to part with bucket loads of money for gear that simply doesn’t make the difference to most ears. See our discussion about high-end “performance” cables for example. But if you don’t believe us, how about Alan Parsons, the engineer responsible for mixing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon?  From CEPro.com:

You get what you pay for. But having said that, there are some decent budget surround systems you can buy at Costco or Walmart that really aren’t bad. Everybody has their budget; the hi-fi world will tell you if money is no object you can get better results out of every component – even the surface the amplifier sits on. Pro sound people have different expectations; they are only concerned that a piece of gear works and allows them to do their job. Hi-fi people spend huge amounts of money for tiny improvements, and pro sound guys will say, “I can spend half as much and get the results I need.” I’m simply not very familiar with the latest domestic hi-fi equipment. I don’t go to hi-fi tradeshows and I don’t have sophisticated equipment in the family areas of my house for music, but there are things that make sense like good speakers and a decent amp. But I dare say there would only be a small improvement if I bought a $20,000 amp. I can live with what I have.

While Parsons think that most formats of current audio delivery are acceptable, “TV however, sounds dreadful.”  He rightfully attributes that to the multiple times and levels of compression that the audio goes through, even losing sync much of the time.

You're Paying Too Much for Your Audio System

Money, It's a Drag. (Alan Parsons during the fab 70's)

So, often times we’re amplifying a substandard signal to start with. True, it is a goal to improve all links in the chain of delivery. But be realistic, there is a point of diminishing returns. Bragging about paying hundreds of dollars for a handful of hot, colorful, high performance cables is insane. Ever been to a recording studio or radio station wired up with fancy purple cables? Equally or maybe more important than gear that costs more than your last truck? Parsons says that you could spend some time on room design:

I do think in the domestic environment, the people that have sufficient equipment don’t pay enough attention to room acoustics. The pro audio guy will prioritize room acoustics and do the necessary treatments to make the room sound right. The hi-fi world attaches less importance to room acoustics, and prioritizes equipment; they are looking more at brand names and reputation.

A square box of a bare room with untextured, untreated walls and flooring is going to sound like a bad dream no matter how expensive your woofer is. I read a discussion on high end auto sound systems a while ago. The acoustic expert suggested that the very top end systems were great, but there were maybe one or two autos on the market at that time that were actually quiet enough to even hear the improvement that the higher price bought. Road noise hum and rumble basically cancelled out any improvement that a super-high-end system was able to produce.

In other words, get started. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage to start building a respectable home theater. If the guy who mixed the Dark Side of the Moon says you’re paying too much for your audio system… then it’s time to start putting a system together even if you have a limited budget.

Check the rest of the article/interview here.

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