Audio vs. computers, and the winner is?

Are computers the least reliable consumer products ever made?

The Audiophiliac never got an "error" message when playing a record. Steve Guttenberg

I'm not knocking computers, I'm using one right now. It's just that they've got to be among the least reliable consumer products ever made. Glitches, stability issues, crashes, and balky software are all part of living with computers, but people put up with the hassles. You just have to accept that you can't always access certain programs or files on your system.

It's also clear that computers aren't built for the long haul. The best two-channel audio products--turntables, amplifiers, speakers--have useful working lives measured in decades . I've owned four computers in the past 13 years.

Audio, unless it's broken, works every time. Computers and software products can't make the same claim. Brand-new and functioning as intended by the manufacturer doesn't guarantee a usable, out-of-the-box experience. The owner might have to invest a few hours on the phone or Internet trying to get satisfaction from customer service. Your wasted time is never compensated for; you're just the sucker who bought a not-ready-for-prime-time product.

The audio vs. computer question reminds me of that old joke that went something like this: Bill Gates and the president of General Motors were discussing how their products evolved over time. Gates says, "If GM's technology kept pace with computers, cars would sell for $500 and get 1,000 miles to the gallon." The GM president ponders Gates' assertion and says, "Perhaps, but they probably crash a couple of times a day, and in the instant just before a head-on collision the driver would have to react to an onscreen prompt asking "Are you sure you want to deploy the airbags now?"

Two-channel audio products aren't 100 percent either, but assuming they're not broken, they provide hassle-free operation day-in and day-out. I can't remember a single time where I couldn't play a nondefective CD on a working CD player. That's never happened to me in the last 28 years! Same with LPs; they play every time, never got an "error" message. Up to this point I've been referring to two-channel audio, home theater audio is also pretty good, but ease of use doesn't compare with two-channel gear.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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