Modularity is one of the ways to take hi-fi closer to sustainability. Modularity is what Schiit and Moonriver (review soon) do.
Another way is to make a product that comfortably out-performs anything in its price-range. We lose our superficial need to upgrade if we are forced to spend significantly more to get an insignificant increase in sound quality. Find something that sounds/functions/looks clearly superior in its price range and you are more likely to think twice before upgrading. Many an audiophile have made that blunder: to sell a cherished component to afford a ‘better’ one, only to find they have lost something rather than gained it.
Finding the right component and keeping it is at the heart of sustainability in hi-fi.
A third way is for a product to be so versatile as to make one, two, three even four other product categories obsolete. That is why Green Audio Review reviewed the Quad Vena II Play: yes, it is made in China, no, I don’t know the size of its dirty footprint. But the Vena II Play is a small all-in-one integrated amp that sounds rich and detailed and big – and took care of streaming, pre/power-amplification; it has a MM phono stage, other analog and digital inputs, and even sports a very decent headphone amp. That’s a rack full of gear rolled into one small box that sounds anything but. Sustainability simply from fewer boxes.
Versatility comes in other guises as well. The Sony WH-1000XM3 are ANC Bluetooth headphones that give us pristine audio on the go. No extra DAC, no extra amp, no wire: no worries!
Versatility is also what set the Mojo-Poly and Hugo 2go from Chord Electronics apart from the competition. Not to mention their performance. Take the Chord Mojo. A terrific battery-powered DAC/amp – in my view, still, five years! after its release, unbeaten in its price-range, battery or no battery. The Mojo functions as both a portable DAC-Amp for headphones and as a DAC you use in your 2-channel setup. With the Poly-appendage versatility goes through the roof: a battery-powered DAC-amp-streamer in one. On-the-go functionality, you stream from your phone to the Mojo-Poly, giving any(?) DAP a run for its money. At home you connect it to your pre-amp or integrated amp. As a DAC-amp-streamer at this price-point and well beyond it is in a league of its own.
We might ask: why is that sustainable? Because it rolls several boxes into one – without even a hint of a hit to sound quality. Functionality and sound quality are, I think, unequalled. That it slips comfortably into a pocket for on-the-go listening will make it even more enticing than the Hugo2go, which is bigger, more advanced, more powerful, and sounds better. It is also more than three times the price.
So, what makes hi-fi sustainable?
- Sound quality: it has to sound good; to you, in your room, with your music. If it doesn’t none of the below matter,
- Modularity: lets us add the functionality we need and, crucially, introduces upgradability,
- Versatility: an integrated amplifier that does everything makes a full rack of boxes (and I’m here to tell you, aluminum (aircraft-grade of course, nothing less will do) is expensive and requires a lot of power to produce), and cables and power this and that obsolete.
- Build quality: if the knobs feel wobbly, if your shiny amp brakes down after a six months, if your headphones have channel imbalance, those money that you saved buying direct from Asia are gone. And so is any semblance of sustainability. The fact is, you get what you pay for. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any bargains in hi-fi. There are. I’m reviewing a pair of Fyne Audio F-302 at the moment and they are revelatory for their price,
- Price-performance: if a speaker or other perform beyond its price-point, we are less likely to buy something else…and then buy something else again, etc….
And also: where is a product manufactured, what is it made of, and shipping.
But we’ll get to that…