The best audio upgrade no one knows about

The best audio upgrade no one knows about

I have a small bladder. I’m not ashamed of it or anything, but it is inconvenient. People with small bladders can miss out on some exciting moments. For example, a baseball fan with a small bladder is more likely than a fan with a normal-sized bladder to miss a great catch or home run because of the increased number of bathroom breaks taken. It’s a question of odds.

Enter Stadium Pal. It’s a portable urinal pouch for men designed to attach to your leg under your pants. If you’re wondering how such a device can be used as an audio upgrade, I’ll tell you.

But first, ask yourself this: What, objectively, is the most important criterion when it comes to sound quality? This is an important question to answer before deciding what or how to upgrade. What will it take to say that the overall sound quality of a system is now unequivocally better?

For some people, especially those just starting out, it’s all about the bass. When home-auditioning a couple of amplifiers, for example, they’ll tend to prefer the one with more bass. After all, more bass means more power, and more power means more music, right? Except that too often that bass comes at the expense of clarity. To fully enjoy the music, don’t we also want that see-through quality? Isn’t an integral part of better sound also about letting the details come through, unobscured? To see the pick strike the strings when listening to a rock guitarist? To feel the rosin of the violin strings being rubbed? If so, then better sound is not all about that bass, despite what Meghan Trainor might say.

Nor is the best sound all about clarity. Some people start the journey by obsessing over clarity and nothing else. I was one of them, putting too much emphasis on detail retrieval. Because of this, I often fell for overly bright sound, a mistake I usually made, for some reason, when buying tower speakers, which was a pain, because trying to sell a pair of bulky floorstanders, or a heavy amp for that matter, takes a lot of effort. Compared to selling something like a portable DAC that you can fit in your pocket and ship for $10.00, there’s just a lot more involved in selling a big item: you have to take several photos of it for your ad, pack it and move it around without damaging it or breaking your back or toe in the process, wrap it on a pallet, pay high shipping and insurance fees, etc. You can trade it in with a dealer but you’ll likely not get much return on your money—dealers need to make a profit after all. All of which is to say that if you’re going to buy something that’s big and heavy and would be a pain to ship back, best to get that purchase right so you can enjoy it for the long term.

Another common term to describe sound is warmth. Many seasoned audiophiles seem to go after it. “It just sounds warmer” is often said and interpreted as “better”. But to this day, after going through so many speakers, electronics, and cables, I still don’t know exactly what “warmth” implies. Maybe it’s because I never went after it so I didn’t bother to listen for it. But based on how others use the term, warmth seems to be caused by a certain upper bass boost that affects the midrange, in essence filling it out, perhaps as a way to counter the impression of brightness. Assuming I’m right, won’t this type of “false” warmth invariably cover some of the minute, natural detail in the music, or plump up the bass so it sounds boomy in the listening room? And won’t this ultimately diminish the quality of the actual bass?

Something else to watch out for is soundstaging—the effect of seeing musicians and sounds spread out in space. It’s very easy for those just entering the world of high-end audio to get seduced by it because it sounds so new and impressive. Wow, the trumpeter and the guitarist sound like they’re 10 feet apart! And four feet behind them are the drums. How cool is that? It makes me think of how a child might react when a magician pulls something out of thin air. It can be novelty-ish. A realistic soundstage is enjoyable to hear, but I suggest careful restraint and not getting carried away by blindly pursuing this one aspect of sound until you end up with a wide, thin soundstage that sounds lightweight and out of focus.

All of which means, don’t only shoot for more bass, or clarity, or any one sonic aspect, because invariably everything has to work as a team, and if there’s too much of one thing, it will come to the detriment of something else. And once you hear that detrimental loss that makes the presentation sound not quite balanced, not quite natural, you can’t unhear it. You will hear it every time you listen to your system. It’s a recipe for audiophilia nervosa.

So what, ultimately, determines sound quality? It’s how long it lets you listen to the music. If the sound captivates you and makes you want to keep listening because everything—and I mean everything, from bass to clarity to the big picture—sounds just right, well proportioned, and musically compelling, then that’s the most reliable—and guaranteed most enduringly satisfying—criterion you need to worry about.

To help achieve this goal of longer listening, you can upgrade your speakers or electronics. Or you can try different cables. Or you can move the speakers around. But let’s say you’ve done all that and you’re happy with the sound of your system, but, whether it’s a small bladder issue or not, you’d like to listen to music longer to not break the spell, then I would like you to consider ordering—and there’s no shame in this—the aforementioned portable urinal pouch, Stadium Pal. With this baby in your pants, you’ll be able to go through the entire discography of Pink Floyd or the complete symphony cycle of Gustav Mahler without ever having to get up. Now that’s what I call musical immersion. Just don’t let anyone see your face when you…. go.

It may be the best audio upgrade you ever made.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.

Dear readers,

As you might know, PMA is an independent consumer audio and music magazine that prides itself on doing things differently. For the past three years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to bringing you an authentic listening experience. Our commitment? Absolute authenticity. We steer clear of commercial influences, ensuring that what you hear from us is genuine, unfiltered, and true to our values.

However, independence comes with its challenges. To continue our journey of honest journalism and to maintain the quality of content you love, we find ourselves turning to you, our community, for support. Your contributions, no matter how small, will help us sustain our operations and continue to deliver the content you trust and enjoy. It’s your support that empowers us to remain independent and keep our ears to the ground, listening and sharing stories that matter, without any external pressures or biases.

Thank you so much for being a part of our journey.

The PMA Team

If you wish to donate, you can do so here.

Search for a Topic

and receive our flipbook magazines early


Email field is required to subscribe.