The coronavirus pandemic makes it a new normal to stay home rather than venture out to meet with people. Consequently, a wide variety of indoor activities ranging from home renovation to binge-watching videos on streaming services are booming.
The trend offers a unique chance for those who want to upgrade their outdated gadgets in the name of improving the quality of life at home. Of course, I proudly belong to the group keen on justifying spending on new gadgets. The item that has kept me reading tons of online reviews is a new type of speakers that would replace -- and hopefully upgrade -- my old home theater system.
Before I talk about the mysterious audio gear market, I have to clarify my position on Hi-Fi. I’m not an audiophile. My music library, now mostly in digital format, is fairly small. My knowledge about music in general is also limited, as I listen to a short list of my favorite musicians.
Nevertheless, I am now more than willing to overhaul my music system in the living room, largely because a slew of advanced solutions and far better devices are now available at relatively affordable prices.
About 20 years ago, setting up a home theater system was a sweeping trend in South Korea, along with the then fast-growing DVD market. At first, I was skeptical about the potential of DVDs, as I thought my 14-inch TV set was good enough for cozy home entertainment.
As with those who tend to upgrade their gadgets whenever possible, I quickly pulled out of the skeptic’s phase and jumped into a vicious cycle of upgrading. Eager to see movies on a bigger screen, I bought a 29-inch TV and started collecting DVD titles known for its excellent audio-visual quality. At the time, I could not afford a pricey 5.1 channel home theater system. When I found old speakers that had long been gathering dust in the storage room, I came up with a solution: a makeshift multichannel home theater system. I put together old speakers and purchased a used center speaker and a simple amplifier. With the mix of old and new speakers plugged into the TV, I watched “The Matrix.” I was simply awestruck by the dramatically improved sound quality based on the 5.1 channel system.
That was when I crossed the point of no return. Once people get a taste of better sound or visuals, it is incredibly difficult to downgrade their systems. I meekly followed the typical pattern of looking for better speakers, amplifiers and subwoofers. Eventually, over a relatively short period of time, I reached the far end of the upgrade cycle by settling down with my current home theater system. In the following years, the idea of upgrading again never came to mind -- until last year.
When the coronavirus hit the world last year, I was also required to stay home longer and, whether I wanted it or not, I came to take a closer look at my home theater system that looks increasingly outdated. One thing that bothered me the most is a web of cables that are wired into the amplifier and speakers. I didn’t dare to sort out the jumble of cables, even though I know I should simplify my living space as recommended by tidying-up guru Marie Kondo.
Another issue is that the system is not compatible with the high-quality streaming audio services like Apple Music and Tidal that are gaining popularity. When the two factors are combined, I have noticed that my system does not “spark joy” any longer.
I considered many options, focusing chiefly on the wireless system. I did not want to end up with a burdensome assortment of HDMI, optical and coaxial cables that should be connected into the central system. And I realized that I don’t have to stick to a 5.1 home theater system. It is almost impossible to raise the volume of the Hi-Fi system to a level that I like in a typical Korean apartment complex for fear of causing inter-floor noise or unbearable vibrations.
My final choice was a set of active wireless speakers. No amplifier, no complex setup of arcane cables, no subwoofer. Now, I listen to my favorite songs via Wi-Fi network at home in a far more simplified system. I’m not sure how long I will use the new system, but I hope this will be good enough for another decade -- or until I catch another gadget-upgrade fever.
Yang Sung-jin is a senior writer at The Korea Herald. -- Ed.
By Yang Sung-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org