High Fidelity

Q: What is an audiophile?

A:  A Hi-Fi enthusiast.

Q:  What is Hi-Fi?

A:  An abbreviation for “High Fidelity.”

Q:  What is High Fidelity?

A:  A definition used to designate an audio recording or playback where there is low “noise and distortion, and neutral or uncolored frequency response.” 

There… that clears up everything!  Well, mostly. 

For anyone who is a millennial and not alive during the technology boom of stereo (short for stereophonic), and later quadraphonics, and currently surround-sound it might be something of a time accepted reality, but without any understanding of the mechanics. 

Hi-Fi was a wonderful advancement during prehistoric days of pre-millennial life.  Actually, it began in the 1930’s with Bell labs.  RCA Victor added more research and development in the 1940’s.  Then with the advent of reel-to-reel tape recording, LP (microgroove) records in 33 1/3 rpms, and transistors in “solid state” with amplifiers and high quality speakers, full length recordings and playback of symphony orchestras was possible!  WOW!!!  Nothing even close in the old 78’s!  Being able to record hours of music and voice, clear and clean!  Or anything else for that matter!  Those were the days!  It became a marketing tool for the music industry to advertise that the album you were about to purchase was recorded in Hi-Fi!

It wasn’t long before audiophiles lived for the perfect recordings.  They paid double or triple price ($30-$40) for “digital masters” in the 1970’s.  And all for the pure sound of “low noise and distortion, combined with neutral uncolored frequency response.”  Clean sound!  Just like as if you were there listening! 

Enter Rock & Roll

Ah.. but alas.  With the addition of “Rock and Roll” came intentional distortion.  Using amps and mixers to create stereophonics went beyond the realism of HI-Fi.  In fact, the whole point of rock-n-roll was to create an offbeat, and increase the amplitude of frequencies to the point of not only hearing, but “feeling” the music. 

Most are not aware that our skeletal system made of bones is “piezoelectric.”  Meaning, sound is converted into electricity.  So amplified sound makes a much stronger impression on us.  It actually stimulates not only the central nervous system, but the peripheral as well.  Ever see a baby watch fireworks for the first time?  How about a puppy?  A dog listening to a violin?  Think about the response you feel when someone is yelling at the level of a drill sergeant in your face, vs. someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear.  Both will invoke a feeling, and a response, but they are very different.  What will it be like when Jesus comes with thundering’s and trumpets?  Simply put, we don’t just listen with our ears, we hear with our whole body.

With the new ability to twist sound in amplifiers, and amplify and bend frequencies in electric guitars, the 1950’s and 1960’s introduced an entirely different approach to HI-FI.  It wasn’t necessarily to produce “clean sound”, but rather to move the listener into an experience of the whole being!  Add to that the drug culture, and you have a recipe for addiction to both.  Addiction to both?  Yes, both!  Both drugs, and music (assuming we can qualify rock-n-roll as music).  Dr. Daniel Levitin describes the addiction in his book, “This is Your Brain on Music.”  The essence of rock-n-roll is that there is a syncopation, an unexpected break or change in rhythm.  According to Levitin, it impacts our nerves in the same way as someone startling us with a “BOO!”  But, since nothing bad happens after the startle, the brain translates the syncopation into elation, like you feel the moment after the “BOO!” when you think it’s funny.  And the dopamine inducing stimulation is addictive.

This is one reason why there is no such thing as “Christian Rock.”  God never uses force, coercion, manipulation, or any evil device to stimulate our spirit.  He uses truth!  He uses the original Hi-FI!  In fact, there is no greater fidelity in the universe than that which comes from God our Father, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit who comforts and convicts!  That’s High Fidelity!

But could we learn something from these worldly realities?  Oh yeah!  We can learn something alright!  But it’s doubtful our knowledge will be good.  When did the knowledge of evil ever make things better or us truly wiser?  No, worldly wisdom does not make one wise.

What would these truths tell us about the way we live?  What about the way we listen and sing praises to God?  Are we looking for the pure clean sound, as if we were actually in His presence?  Like the early orchestral recordings in HI-Fi where the sound was without noise and distortion, neutral and uncolored frequency response?  You know, clean sound! 

What would these truths tell us about the upcoming “Music and Worship Conference” at Andrews University?

You have to click on “Presenters” and read about who will be teaching music and worship in our school.  Then ask yourself,

“Will this teach our young seminarians, seasoned pastors, conference leaders, youth in undergraduate programs anything that will tend towards Godly understanding?  What will be the likelihood that this conference will produce another group who are dazzled with worldly wisdom arrogantly believing themselves to have esoteric knowledge of the best way to worship God?  How much more determined will the next generation be in demanding music and worship be according to their new found addictions?  Will this conference teach a love and appreciation for the pure clean sound of the original High Fidelity, or will it bring intentional distortions and amplifications designed to impact for a whole body experience?”

Audiophiles are almost non-existent.  The terms have changed.  The goals are different.  The masses no longer cherish the sweet and melodious symphonic.  They crave and demand the loud and distorted. 

Don McLean was right, “The music died.”  But he was dead wrong about what was music.

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).



John Howells works as an echocardiographer, and lives in Centerville, Ohio.