John Atkinson sets the stage Nothing seems to polarize people as much as the vexed question concerning the importance of audible differences between amplifiers. If you think there are subjective differences, you're an audiophile; if you don't, you're not. And as any glance at an appropriate issue of Consumer Reports—the publication for non-audiophiles—will confirm, the established wisdom is that once the price of an amplifier or receiver crosses a certain threshold, any further improvement in sound quality becomes irrelevant, in that it puts the price up for no apparent gain. In other words, when it comes to amplification, there is such a thing as being "too" good. Yet, as a reader of this magazine, I would expect that not only have you been exposed to real subjective quality differences between amplifiers that Consumer Reports would regard as sounding identical, you have made purchasing decisions made on the basis of hearing such differences.
In "Music and Fractals" in the November 1990 issue, I discuss how digital audio's quantization of amplitude information in what was originally a continuous waveform represents a fundamental difference between analog and digital representations of music. In a letter published in the English magazine Hi-Fi Review in January 1990, John Lambshead conjectured that naturally originating sounds were pseudo-fractal in character; that is, their waveforms have a wealth of fine detail, and that detail itself has an even finer-structured wealth of fine detail, and so on, until the crinkliness of the waveform is finally enveloped in the analog noise that accompanies every sound we hear.