The altar has disappeared

by Volker Weber

Photo: Denon

In the 80s of the last century people would buy home stereos and pile lots of components to "stereo towers". Clarion made similar components that young guns would build into their pre-owned Porsche 911s. Your stereo was an altar. Then came surround systems and the back of an AV receiver became daunting. See photo above. Behind that altar there would a snake's nest of cables. You would own lots of LPs, then CDs, then DVDs and pile them up in racks. Been there, done that. And since then have thrown them all out. I remember buying a 400 CD player that was cheaper than buying decent looking racks for 400 CDs.

Then SONOS came along. At first I would connect a zoneplayer to the altar as a component. It lived with the other components like DVD player, CD player, Radio, DAT recorder, amplifier. Lots of cables that I reorganized with ZIP ties.

All of this is gone. I kept two large Braun speakers and connected them to a Connect:Amp. That is the only echo of the past. I hardly fire it up anymore. Because there is an almost invisible surround built with Sonos components in the same room. And there are many more Sonos speakers throughout the house. Physical media have been replaced by tracks on a storage, hidden away in the cellar. Which is being replaced by streaming services. Equipment no longer matters (compare Ken Rockwell's Measurebator for a fun analogy).

The altar has disappeared. It's the music that takes center stage.


Been there, done that too. And couldn't agree more to your conclusions ...
And even better: Two locations, both Sonos enabled, equal access to same music everywhere!

Frank Terhorst, 2015-07-17

All correct. But still... the picture you included at the top of your post seriously turns me on and makes me swoon. And I'm not afraid to admit it.

Similar effect as the fact that I enjoy looking at lovely tuned and accessible engines in e.g. vintage Ford Mustangs, where every piece is visible and nice and shiny, but am quite happy to be driving a "modern" Audi as my everyday driver.

Daniel Tietze, 2015-07-17

That's true for music, but not so much for the home surround-sound TV/movie experience.

Craig Wiseman, 2015-07-17

Same here. I got rid of my Denon AV receiver, the towering Canton sperkers, the rear speakers and the subwoofer as well as a ton of cables. Selling all that stuff paid for most of the Sonos equipment I replaced it with. With it all the AV receiver gone all the frustration related to using it also went out the door. I never looked back ever since. Years before that I got rid of almost all of my CDs. Very few still sit in the drawer for no apparent (= nostalgic) reason :-)
I has been a smooth (Sonos-based) ride ever since. And if you ever need to get rid of your Sonos components (which is highly unlikely unless your living circumstances change) they have a tremendous resale value.

Markus Dierker, 2015-07-17

As long as you find suckers who pay top $$$ for old surround systems the switch is pretty easy. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

I'd have really liked to listen to the sonos team when they discussed not to support DTS...
There are so many movies in my collection where the DTS or HDA tracks are mastered with a much better quality (more dynamics, less boomy bass, less vocal clarity "enhancements", etc).

Ralf ter Veer, 2015-07-17

My collection went out the door. And when I watch a new movie, I am more consumed with the action than with the quality of the sound track. I would not be able to tell you the difference. If I were, the movie wasn't any good. And I certainly won't watch it again. Hey, tell me a new story instead of an old one.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

i agree on all points, besides that it hurts to pay for streaming every month and when you stop, you loose everything. I know buying a cd doesn't make me own anything, but I can play it without drm, internet or even subscription.

Samuel Orsenne, 2015-07-17

Samuel, how do you live? Do you rent or do you have your own place?

22 Tracks, Hype Machine, Mixcloud,, Soundcloud are a few services you won't pay for.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

I find that black or white is too extreme. I live in grey. I love everything that Sonos gives me. Flexibility. connection to the services and all my music in the cloud. It has liberated my music collection and expanded the amount of music I listen too.

Tech has done the same thing with movies & tv for me. Between netflix/hulu/hbogo and vudu for digitial releases, my movie collection gets more use than ever. especially when traveling.

BUT - there is still nothing like sitting down watching a movie with a killer soundtrack with a proper home theater setup. Take Terminator 2 - so many sonic moments that proper 5.1 makes you feel and hear, not just see. I never want to give up that experience. So Sonos and the apps/services expand my world, but I can still sit down and watch and hear moments as the movie creators envisioned them. I will live in that grey world and be very happy. And I love that you can live in a purely digital world, others can live in a purely mechanical world, and many of us like me can live in between.

John Head, 2015-07-17

John, absolutely. I only describe my world. When I grew up, I only did mixtapes reel-to-reel, where everyone else had cassette players. We listened to the same music, but I deemed mine to be superior. Today, I am not so sure anymore.

In the case of Terminator 2, I think the movie creators envisioned a really big theater screen, not something you can have in your home.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

@volker: I had not considered moving music to the same level than a rented flat I call home ;)

Samuel Orsenne, 2015-07-17

So, music is more important and you must not lose it, while home is disposable?

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

I live in both worlds also.

For a movie that I really want to get absorbed in, I'm spending $1.50 to get the Bluray for an evening from Redbox on the way home from work. If it's something I'll repeatedly watch, I'm probably picking up the Bluray again once it hits $10. Streaming just doesn't compare to the quality of the audio and video that comes with Bluray. For lesser shows, the artifacts and minimal audio quality that come with Netflix/Hulu/Amazon aren't a big deal. I often lend out Blurays that I want people to watch, which is another tough one to do with streaming.

For music, I've moved onto ripping all my CDs to FLAC. Even when I make the rare purchase now, they get ripped to FLAC immediately and the CDs go in a rubbermaid bin in the basement. I wish we had uncompressed music that I could buy directly, because it's wasteful to purchase the CDs and spend my time ripping, but alas...very few options. Racks of physical CDs are a thing of the past for me too.

For now, that alter is very much a necessity for me, but it's dwindling. A FireTV running Kodi and a Bluray player are all I really need. The speaker wires are the majority of the cabling.

Mike McPoyle, 2015-07-17

ok you got me XD

Samuel Orsenne, 2015-07-17

You did not stand a chance. ;-)

But I know where you coming from. I grew up with the concept of albums. MP3 downloads from iTunes changed this. People would only buy the tracks the loved and not the whole album. Without those album sales, it became less important to own the music.

Steve Jobs believed that people want to own music. Like yourself. The world has changed since. Not all the people in this world though.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-17

So how do you explain the vinyl revival?

Armin Grewe, 2015-07-18

I love services like Mix Radio and Napster to discover new music and listen on the go. However, i still buy the music i really love. And i still listen to albums. I often discovered that the music i loved disappeared from streaming services after some months.

Christian Just, 2015-07-18

Neil Young oder die amerikanische Sängerin, deren Namen mir gerade nicht einfällt?

Volker Weber, 2015-07-18

Armin, I don't believe there is a vinyl revival. There are three constituencies: old people who never got into CDs and still play their old records, hipsters, and some folks who want their youth back.

My car is loud and fast, it smells of fuel, it does not have A/C, nor ESP, the accelerator is analog. Like those vinyls, there is a lot of emotion involved. But when I want to go places, I take the train, I fly, or I walk.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-18

this story might fit for the majority of music consumers. There are folks like me, who own Sonos next to the "legacy" audio and home cinema equipment. And there are good reasons for that. So far I have not heard a sonos speaker, which reproduces opera voices in a quality i can enjoy. Sonso is great where I'm using it: for the office, for the living room/kitchen etc, where I neither want to see loudspeakers, no cables. And where I do not sit just to listen to music. But for the music room I do not expect that sonos will replace my oldfashionec equipment. And no, there is no vinyl player. Streaming as well... Once tranferred more than 1500 CDs to flac.

Helmut Weiss, 2015-07-19

I still find the standby power consumption of the Sonos equipment far too high.

Hanno Zulla, 2015-07-20

Sadly, in this day and age the UK will be lagging behind. A recent High Court action as outlawed ripping tracks from CD / DVD's as being illegal. In this scenario you either buy all your music online, on use a streaming service.

Makes me wonder where you stand with all those tracks on a NAS.

Complete nonsense especially for the 500+ CD's I have acquired over the years.

Andy Dennis, 2015-07-20

The law varies across countries. Not only is it legal to rip the CD but you can also give your friend a copy. DVDs are different because they are encrypted. Breaking the encryption is illegal. And therefore buying DVDs (or Blu-Rays) will not let you watch them on your iPad. IANAL but it's quite possible you are breaking fewer laws by streaming from questionable sources than by ripping the DVD you just paid for.

As you can see, you are not a monopoly when it comes to stupid court decisions.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-20

In my view, this is not a question of one or the other. Both reply to different requirements, and are valid options. I dont have Sonos at home, but am listening to ones regularly at a friends home. There is today no digital audio format that comes close to the volume (not high/low volume) of a CD or vinyl. For any background music at home or on travel, I would not like to miss the flexibility digital music is offering, but when I want to properly listen to music (Rock, Jazz, Classic), this is still, and will continue so, happening in front of my Altar, either via CD or via vinyl.

Henk Aichernig, 2015-07-20

What exactly makes you think, that a digital track on a CD has a higher dynamic range than a digital track on a different storage media?

Are you confusing this with compression which is a mastering fad to make music sound louder?

Volker Weber, 2015-07-20

Three remarks:
One, even if recent codecs are getting closer to "CD quality" such as FLAC or ALC, there are still differences in the frequency spectrum (some users are more sensible to these than others).
Second, CD has about a 26dB dynamic advantage over vinyl and about 40-50dB better stereo separation, so is technically speaking better.
Third, all this is about feeling. And there I must say, on a good recording in all three formats my feeling is that a vinyl sounds better than a cd and better than another digital copy, all in front of the same Altar.

Henk Aichernig, 2015-07-20

There is a whole lot of people who believe their car runs better when burning 100 octane fuel. As an engineer I can only tell you that it's all about the feeling. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-20

With respect, Volker: people of our age have inevitably lost a great amount of sensitivity in our hearing! As a (part-time) recording engineer I am very conscious of this - there is a very measurable loss in high-frequency hearing over the half a lifetime that I've been engaged in it, no matter that I have been extremely careful about my hearing.

So - back in the day, I spent a lot of time crafting a really fine hi-fi system for myself, not out of pretension, but because I could *hear* the difference - I had (and retain) a fine altar, even if nobody would be impressed by its visual aesthetics.

Now, if somebody were to sneak in and replace it all with something cheaper and simpler, I'm less convinced that I would notice the difference....

Nick Daisley, 2015-07-21

Nick, the funny thing about this that only people our age care about sound quality. Kids just use the speakers in their smartphones or tablets. They might use the cheap headset that came with the device. If they are posh, they buy Beats cans or a Bluetooth speaker.

But those folks buying expensive cables, pre-amps and speakers, they are all old farts without proper hearing. How old is Neil Young? And is he going to rebrand as Neil Old? ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-21

Entschuldigung, aber auf Englisch bekomme ich das nicht hin:

Es geht doch aber nicht nur um die Soundqualität.

Es auch darum, das Hören von Musik zu zelebrieren. Man legt eine Schallplatte auf, putzt sie vorher noch kurz und dann kommt die Nadel mit einem leichten Knarzen. Und dann legt Ben Folds mit dem Klavier los. Bis der Rest der Band einsetzt, sitzte ich gemütlich im Sessel und freue mich des Lebens bei einem gut gekühltem Gutmanns.

Was will man mehr? Sonos? Ganz bestimmt nicht :-)

Karl Heindel, 2015-07-21

Mehr als Lagerfeuer braucht kein Mensch. Und ein Säbelzahntigerfell. Alles Weicheier. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-21

Nachsatz zu meinem Posting: Nein, die Künstler die verschwanden waren "We are Augustines", "Yawning Man" und immer mal wieder verschiedene Hörbücher von "Die Pinguine aus Madagaskar". Dienst: Napster. Bei Spotify kann ich es nicht beschwören, meine aber, dass zum Beispiel die letzte Platte von Dinosaur jr. auch plötzlich nach einigen Monaten verschwunden war. Insofern ist für mich Streaming ein Komfortdienst um jederzeit auf viel Musik zurückgreifen zu können und neues auszutesten. Aber kein vollständiger Ersatz für eine Sammlung von MP3-Stücken bzw. gerippten CDs.

Christian Just, 2015-07-23

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