A new website for burnt-out audiophiles?

EDI. Easy does it. That's the polar opposite to the 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' belief. EDI is the lazy man's guide to enlightenment. As an aesthetic, it believes that simpler is better even if the outcome is only as good as something more complex. Simplicity per se is viewed as being more elegant and efficient. Think winning a chess game in fewer moves. Placing just one Scrabble letter so it connects existing rows into multiple new words. Defusing a potential bar fight with a self-deprecating humorous comment. Getting results equivalent to separates from an integrated amp. An obvious extension is money. If one achieves the same or better results for less money, that too is more simple and easy. Less does more. In hifi, there are a number of obvious ways to practice EDI. Those are integration, miniaturization and artificial intelligence. Integration combines various functionality in one box. Miniaturization achieves the same results with smaller footprints. Artificial intelligence is digital signal processing. If frequency response adjustments in the digital—or even analog—domain can achieve the same or better results as a mountain of room tunes, it's a more elegant solution. If a subwoofer's DSP-driven amp can linearize bass response and avoid boom modes, it's a more effective solution than suffering a big passive speakers' non-adjustable bass. If high-performance monitors make better sound and integrate better visually than tower speakers, it's a double win.

Another obvious EDI attack is speaker efficiency. Needing less power for the same SPL can simplify the gain circuit tasked with driving the speaker. Instead of needing many paralleled output devices with control circuits to make them behave as one and reduce distortion, a single device and just one gain stage per channel might suffice. Lower complexity means fewer parts. This could mean a far smaller simpler cheaper amp. High speaker sensitivity quite literally means more efficient voltage-to-SPL conversion. More efficient solutions are part of the EDI view. Class A bias is the most inefficient mode of amplifier operation. Here EDI would prefer to achieve equivalent sound from a more efficient amplifier class. Of course if your speaker were well served by just 3 watts, 30-watt power draw in class A might still be lower than alternatives. Long cables are costlier and lossier. EDI would prefer fewer shorter cables. Big heavy components leave a physical and visual footprint. EDI would prefer fewer smaller components. The trouble is, in their usual career progression, audiophiles move from simplicity into ever deeper complexity. What began as a small integrated setup with bookshelf speakers morphs into big speakers with mono amps, preamp with outboard power supply, DAC with external USB bridge with external battery power supply, cables with separate bias power supplies, cable lifts, assorted pucks, cones and platforms, mass dampers, power conditioners, aftermarket AC outlets, super tweeters and infra subs.

If you trade up an inferior integrated amp for separates with mono amps because that's what presented itself as an opportunity at the time, you could forever after be imprinted by the belief that separates are necessary. They were your first car coming off a scooter. You'll never consider a better scooter again. You'll never meet a Gryphon Diablo 300 integrated which could be your end-of-life solution otherwise. It's this automatic stickum of chance encounters and resultant assumptions that guide many to never be questioned. Results seem to speak for themselves. If mono amps with outboard PSU outperformed their previous integrated amp, who could blame them for thinking monaural amps necessary? If adding bigger power supplies to the same amps made them sound better still... you get the picture.

In the natural order of things, a preference for EDI arises later in life when youthful excess and fascination with the complex give way to appreciating simplicity for its own sake. Perhaps the kids have moved out to where the parents want smaller quarters with a less imposing hifi. Perhaps retirement can't justify expensive hifi. Something cheaper becomes a must. Or the turn to simplicity is predicated upon having learnt that there's no inherent advantage to complexity other than being easier in the beginning. Saying the same with fewer words is harder. It's more work. It requires whittling things down to their essence. Winning by brute force may appeal to the adolescent. An older man prefers to win by playing it smarter where less effort goes farther. But why should only older folks enjoy the many advantages of simplicity? If simplicity meant lower cost and less maintenance, anyone would appreciate it no matter the age. A road map for a simpler hifi could include the following:

1/ set up your system in a smaller room where you sit in the nearfield. Lower SPL, less room involvement and lower distance losses all add up to needing less to achieve more.
2/ shop for higher speaker efficiency and linear impedance to ease the burden on the amp.
3/ shop for integrated solutions to shorten signal paths, optimize the electrical interface between various circuits and eliminate cables.

Even on the hardware level, things work better with EDI. All things being equal, simpler xovers are easier to drive. So is higher more linear impedance with lower phase angles. When the physical layer of a USB transceiver works less hard to clock incoming data, the sound improves. When the power delivery of your system isn't loaded down by non-audio devices (refrigerator, heater, aircon, washing machine, fluorescent lights etc), things sound better. When machines work less hard, they work better and last longer. Just so, EDI does not equate to being easily achieved. To identify an integrated amp that beats a separate preamp plus mono amps could mean a long search. Ditto for monitors with equivalent bass to tower speakers and so forth. It's because EDI practitioners also appreciate simplicity for its own sake that they are committed to the extra work involved in achieving it. Defaulting into complexity is easier.

EDI includes low maintenance. If you'd heard your ideal sound from single-ended triode amps with four rare rectifier/stabilizer tubes per mono PSU to mean 16 bottles just for the power amp, EDI sees it as a personal challenge to pursue the same quality sound from a stereo amp with far fewer far more common tubes and integrated PSU. If you could eliminate a four-box tube preamp sporting another 12 tubes with a quality attenuator fitted to the amp, EDI would prefer that. Ditto for an attractive compact piece of real furniture whose top housed the remaining two components over the usual industrial double-wide hifi rack with numerous shelves. The aesthetic of EDI obviously runs counter to most marketing forces. They want you to buy more and bigger stuff. Saying no to crass consumerism and excess means discernment and going the extra mile to find simpler solutions. It might involve learning from the mistakes of others. It's the common hubris of youth to think oneself so unique that nothing one's peers and elders have learnt applies. It's the subsequent realization of greater maturity that on many levels, we're all the same. Lessons learnt by our elders might just apply to us, too. Now they can become a shortcut. We don't have to make the same mistakes. If the idea of a simpler hifi of lower maintenance and with a smaller physical/fiscal footprint appeals, start thinking about integration, miniaturization and DSP.

This could mean a buy-only-what-you-need Vinnie Rossi Lio. Or a fully configurable do-everything Devialet. At the bleeding edge, it could spell Bel Canto Black. For the price of an audiophile power cord, it could be a Clones Audio 25iR. It could mean active studio monitors from Genelec. It could mean a tidy headfi system of Questyle QP1R and Final Sonorous III. Whatever it means to and ends up for you, it'll be practical, attractive and compact. From that perspective, most hifi systems which the glossy mags suggest as aspirational destinations are primitive caveman contraptions. They might well do the job but boy do they go about it with unnecessary effort, expense and excess. Here's to hoping you'll avoid that lengthy detour and proceed straight to easy does it. If you don't, chances are good that you'll either burn out on the usual escalation of bigger and more complex to get frustrated and stop with this hobby altogether; or end up with EDI anyway, albeit after a long and costly migration. Isn't it more sensible then to learn from the "old goats" and head straight for the smarter option? As Aussie contributor John Darko put it when wrapping his Devialet Expert 200 review, "the possibility of building a separates system that bests the sound of Devialet's Expert 200 isn't in doubt. What very much is in doubt is the ease of that task. And when you're done, will it be as flexible as the 200? Will it look as good? I'd wager not a chance. Arguably the finest looking and best sounding all-in-one system available right now, Devialet's Expert 200 is peerless." Cheers to such discoveries and level-headed thinking!