David Heinemeier Hansson

December 10, 2023

What is HiFi

I grew up in a home where music was always playing. My father repaired electronics, so an endless stream of speakers, amplifiers, turntables, and TVs passed through the household. And all of it had to be tested, of course. At max volume. Sometimes at odd hours.

While that was frequently a bit of a nuisance, it did seed a deep appreciation for musical experiences in me. Founded on the fact that music can sound very differently depending on the equipment that conveys it.

But most of my life, I’ve listened to music in one of two more dull settings: Using noise canceling headphones while traveling and in the background while working at a desk. Neither of those two settings are usually conducive to “musical experiences”. Most of the home offices I’ve used haven’t had good acoustics, and there’s only so much you can do with a pair of Bluetooth headphones that also have to compete with the roar of flight.

Every now and then, though, I’d be reminded of what was possible when listening to music in a media room or at friend’s house with a real HiFi setup. And I’d be reminded of those childhood years, when a piece of music flowed through some great speakers and produced a transcendent experience.

I don’t even have a great pair of ears. The left side has a permanent 5% loss of hearing, and the right side is average at best. But that’s the thing about a great HiFi setup, you don’t have to be a connoisseur or be blessed with reference-grade aural hardware in your head to enjoy it. It’s as easy to tell the difference as that between watching a movie on a VHS tape and seeing it from blue-ray on a 4K projector.

And that’s what it feels like right now, as I sit at my desk in front of a pair of KEF LSX-II speakers, lost in listening to my favorite tunes, discovering new notes and instruments in the fresh detail. Like I’m sitting in front of 4K projector, soaked in vivid colors and perfect blacks. It’s mesmerizing, and I’m kicking myself for not upgrading sooner.

But I really didn’t think it was possible to get this kind of sound in my Malibu office. It’s got a beautiful view, but it’s full of hard surfaces, which ruin acoustics. So I had resigned myself to that VHS quality flowing from mediocre speakers in the ceiling to fill the background.

Then I changed two things: I installed an acoustic panel behind the desk to improve the sound quality for podcasting, and I posted a picture of some new TUK desk speakers I’d gotten to deal with the hassle of unreliable AirPlay streaming. They looked really nice, and the hardwired connection to the computer meant they just worked, without any lag. But they weren’t exactly HiFi.

That’s when the magic of X lead me to the KEFs. A couple of people chimed in on the thread about my new desk look, and recommended I have a look at the LSX-IIs. So I did. Not even so much because I thought about the sound quality, but because I liked how they looked, and that they were more proportional to the rest of the desk in size compared to the TUKs.

So I came for the aesthetics, but I was blown away by the sound. I’ve been glued in front of these speakers for hours now, just listening to all the tracks I thought I knew so well. Constantly uncovering new facets and depth in the music.

That to me is HiFi. Music rendered so purely, so broadly, so detailed that it can’t help but step out of the background and take center stage. Sure, you can get nuts with it, like everything, and start chasing gold-platted cables and purer forms of electricity to avoid interference.  I mean, if that’s you, great, it’s fun to have a hobby!

But for me, and probably many others, a fully integrated set of KEF LSX-IIs connected with USB C to a computer streaming Apple Music Lossless is probably the peak of what we can appreciate anyway in an office setting. But what a damn peak it is!

So thank you, kind strangers on the internet, for pointing me towards these remarkable desk speakers. They're sublime.


About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.