'Good enough' speakers and headphones might be good enough after all

The Audiophiliac pondered this age-old question, and he now thinks good enough sound quality may be a good thing after all!

Steve Guttenberg
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 Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Apple headphones Steve Guttenberg/CNET

It's a fair guess that sound quality isn't a big priority when you only listen in your car, or with a Bluetooth speaker, free earbuds, a boom box, or a cheap speaker or headphone. In 2015, music sounds perfectly fine for most people, most of the time, so seeking out better sounding headphones or speakers doesn't rank high on their things to do list.

Audiophiles need more, we chase detail and resolution, craving ever better sound quality, that's why we're audiophiles. But even hard-core audiophiles were, in their youth perfectly satisfied listening to poorly recorded music, because their old audio systems smoothed over the music's rough edges and distortion. In the 1960s, '70s and '80s resolution wasn't discussed, and audiophiles weren't obsessed with extracting more and more detail from their music. Sound quality was the thing, resolution not so much.

I was thinking about all of that just the other day when I listened to a high-resolution FLAC download of "Led Zeppelin II." I still love the tunes, but the album's gross distortions were impossible to ignore over my Audeze LCD 2 headphones. So I popped on my "Led Zeppelin II" LP, and the same distortions were there, the ones that didn't bother me decades ago. That's because speakers back in the day didn't reveal the full measure of music's grit and crud. Please don't misunderstand, I'm fine with raw, distorted guitars, I love them in fact, but it turns me off when all of the sound is harsh, when I'm listening over really good speakers or headphones.

The "cure" is simple enough, take the nastiest sounding recording and play it over a Harman Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth speaker or Apple headphones, and the recording's sound quality won't be an issue. The sound will be good enough.

So that set me thinking, maybe that's why most folks have zero interest in better sound, they like what they currently have, and maybe they have the right idea. Perhaps less is more, and going for headphones or speakers that render average recordings' sound palatable makes a lot of sense.

I love music, but I mostly listen to great sounding recordings, where the best headphones and speakers let the music shine. But my tastes aren't all that mainstream, so I'm self-selecting music that sounds good on my system. I'm starting to see the light: most people are using headphones and speakers that make the music they like sound good to them. I don't have a problem with that, whatever works is good enough.

Audiophiliac readers are probably a lot more interested than the average person in seeking out better sounding gear. That's where I can help, look over the last 1,200+ Audiophiliac blogs, and you'll find lots of great sounding products.