With regard to Paul's email above, I disagree that one can't exist without the other. Home audio is living proof IMO. Aside from source tech it's been pretty stagnant, except for pricing, for decades. I also argue that if there's so much progressive thinking/innovation, where are the results?_mykl
Years ago the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Chicago and it was at one of those shows where we had a line outside our door from opening to closing to hear the system. The line was so long that we actually had to employ someone to manage the line so it didn’t get unruly.
What caught everyone’s attention was the Infinity IRS loudspeakers were playing in our room. My friend Arnie loaned us a pair of these 1.2 ton loudspeakers after much pleading and begging on my part – never a finer loudspeaker had I ever heard – and the sound we were getting in the room was stunning.
The system consisted of PS electronics and an Oracle turntable as the source. By far THE most popular piece of music was Dafos, a Reference Recording which featured Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. It was mostly a percussion piece and on one track a giant drum apparently fell over during the taping and they left it on the disc. On the IRS, with several thousand watts of servo bass amplification and twelve 12″ woofers for the bass, the impact of that drum hitting the floor was something no one had ever witnessed before. I am not talking pant rattling bass (which it was) but window moving bass. Literally, the windows in the hotel room visibly pushed in and out when that drum landed on the floor – it was and still is – the most jaw dropping sonic experience I have ever had.
Then in walked Max Townshend designer of the Rock turntable. He stood in line to hear the system and when it was over he approached me and said he thought we had a problem and could he come back that evening to fix it? Sure. Why not?
Max showed up promptly at show’s end and with him one of his Rock turntables. He explained to me that what we were actually hearing when the drum landed was turntable feedback – a problem his Rock table didn’t exhibit. He connected his table, played the track and the drum hit the floor with a loud thud but the windows didn’t move and the pant legs didn’t flap in the breeze. It was totally unexciting. But he was right, the performance we got was not real. It was an artifact of a poorly designed turntable.
Then Max volunteered to leave the table so we could present the real, pure sound that was actually on the disc. I thought about this for about a microsecond, thanked Max and sent him packing.
You still have to have fun when you’re playing with high-end.
I’ve written a lot about bass and its importance in your system in these posts. It’s a subject I’ll probably continue writing about – so important it is to the music.
As my readers know I am always surprised when I find a system without benefit of a subwoofer. There’s perhaps one or two loudspeaker systems in the world that don’t benefit from a sub and my guess is most people don’t own those systems.
So if most great systems have subs (and they should) then why is it there aren’t many great subwoofers available? I haven’t been studying subwoofers of late but to my knowledge there are very few truly high-end subs out there. High-end to me, by the way, means they are either very well EQ’d or better still, servo operated. What is a servo? It’s feedback on the woofer.
The problem with all loudspeakers is they have relatively high distortion and are not flat – woofers being the biggest culprit of them all. Measurement folk turn a blind eye to real performance standards when it comes to loudspeakers and proclaim 5% distortion and flatness of better than 3dB as magnificent. Imagine an amplifier with those specs.
A servo solves both flatness and distortion failings to a pretty impressive degree – at least an order of magnitude when designed correctly. To add a servo to a woofer, one must attach what’s called an accelerometer to the woofer and then use that device as an active part of the system making real time corrections based on a comparison with the input signal. Accelerometers range from expensive to very cheap and all have about the same performance. Devices we used when I was designing such things were less than a dollar.
Does adding a servo increase the complexity of designing an active woofer?
Heck yes, but since when did hard have any bearing on doing what’s right?
REALLY????!! I have to take exception to McGowen's latest email. Sony still makes high-end audio and the SS-AR1s are IMO examples of, at the very least, a commitment to it along with the rest of their reference line. Even if at this point it isn't extensive. What's more how many companies have been more innovative in audio than Sony? AFA The Harman Group; Levinson may not be what it was when Mark still had the company but it still qualifies as high end and Lexicon certainly does. JBL has their Project Array Series which are certainly high-end. Paul IMO seems very full of himself here. Perhaps a marketing attempt? If it is I find it a shabby one.
When I meet new people I am often asked how is it we even dare to compete against the giants in our industry like Sony or Harman?
There’s a simple answer and then a more complex one.
The simple answer is we’re not – never have been. Our market is the high-end, Sony and Harman don’t even have that on their radar.
But the more complex answer is interesting because it really goes to the core of innovation.
Perhaps the real question is “the big guys have all the R and D money so what you make must always be just a pale copy of what they invent. How do you survive and why do people purchase your products?”
Fact is most innovation comes from smaller entrepreneurial companies, not the big guys. The reason this is true is that smaller companies have less to lose than the bigger guys and are driven out of necessity to make some noise with their product innovations to be noticed.
Bigger companies are more cautious, have many more layers and don’t need to have their products make the noise – they have well financed marketing divisions that do that.
So how does David beat Goliath? He doesn’t even try, all he needs to do is win his own game.
For some reason I keep thinking that music reproduction is getting worse; what with the proliferation of iPods and portable music devices. But I am wrong.
A quick listen and a bit of remembering about just how bad audio has been in the past – the first CD players, AM radio, cheesy one-box systems – and I am pleasantly surprised that the new bad is pretty good.
Which means that if the new bad is good, then the gap between low-end and high-end audio is narrowing.
This is great news and just in time for the music industry to start flourishing again with their new model.
I’d say with some level of confidence we’re right at the cusp of great things happening for music and high-end audio.
In an earlier post I mentioned that we were one of the guys who first introduced the idea to high-end audio of just turning the front panel light off instead of the power.
I wanted to touch on this subject once more because I think it’s important. Important to keep your equipment powered up and at the ready – as long as we’re talking solid state not tubes.
I think most of us understand that when a piece of high-end gear has been warmed up and burned in for some time it sounds better – but there seems to be a common misunderstanding that left on it wears out – when actually the opposite is true.
If you switch off the power to your equipment day in and day out it won’t last as long as simply leaving it powered on. Why? Because the inrush current to charge your power supply up takes its toll over time – while steady state power has no such problem. Your electronics take a small thrashing every time you plug and unplug them from the power.
I think the myth that products wear out started with tubes and mechanical devices like turntables, CD transport mechanisms, hard drives etc. (because it’s true in their case). But a purely electronic piece like a power amp or preamp are better left powered on at all times – with but few exceptions.
So, keep the lights on with your equipment – it helps everything live longer and sound better.
It may seem counter intuitive to look for trouble rather than solutions but in almost every case it’s a better idea.
Take for example hum. Many of us experience hum in our systems and the first thing we do is try various hum breaking tricks: cheater plugs, Humbusters, different cables. We’re working on solutions before we know what the problem is. All we really know at this point is the symptom – not the problem.
The challenge is not trying solutions but finding the problems. I always instruct people to start at the amplifier and work backwards to isolate the problem. Remove the inputs to the amp, see if the hum is still there. Keep this process up adding back one piece at a time until you hear the hum. Now you’ve isolated the problem – and a solution is much easier to figure out.
Imagine if you went into your doctor with an ailment and he gave you a different pill to try each day – if one worked then he’d know what was wrong with you – provided the others didn’t kill you first.
Look for trouble first and solutions to the trouble second. It sharpens your focus.
Yesterday’s post about the Myth of Perfection stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest. That’s great.
The essence of the post is that perfection is only a point of view and only valid at the instant it happens and only if we accept the warts of the moment as part and parcel of that perfection. In other words, a perfect musical performance doesn’t mean the performer made no errors. It simply means those errors were perfect for the moment.
Quite a few of my readers wrote back to say their quest for perfection in their high-end systems means they are an Audiophile by definition and they never intend to stop seeking the perfect performance. In fact, their quest for perfection is what defines them as Audiophiles and felt my post was meant to discredit their goals.
I disagree. In my view Audiophiles are those of us who have a desire for better sound and then take action to achieve that goal.
I too strive for the mythical perfection in my system, in my interaction with the music – but that’s not what qualifies me as an Audiophile – although most Audiophiles are looking for the same thing. I have met many an Audiophile who are completely delighted with their system and are looking for nothing more than to simply enjoy it every day. They are every bit as much an enthusiast as the person who never reaches a point of musical ecstasy and is never quite happy with the system.
I have no qualms with people striving for perfection – believe me – I support it and love the process. I just want us to remember there is no final plateau to reach – it is in fact the journey itself that is the goal and along the way we hit perfect time and again without even knowing it.
Perfection happens all the time in our lives – we just have to recognize when it occurs and bask in the moment – because it never stays in one place.
The above post is another one of those by McGowen I find contradictory. He says he knows many audiophiles who are completely happy with their systems and only want to enjoy them. (The goal I'm after with my system.) Yet he turns around and says he wants us to remember that there is no final plateau to reach and that the journey itself is the goal. So what then, have the ones who have reached a point of contentment with their systems lost track of the "goal" of home audio? Have they stopped being audiophiles? He states they are indeed audiophiles, so which is it? Sounds to me like the statement of a manufacturer who doesn't want us to forget his goal. Which is for us to continuously buy more gear in pursuit of the impossible sonic dream._mykl
Manufacturers try to brainwash us. Their new product is better than anything ever made. The re-release of a recording is the best sounding release possible. Manufacturers cannot survive if we stop buying.
Most of us have been trapped at least one way. Maybe some audiophiles have reached the point where they feel that more upgrades are futile and cannot improve their system. They just want to sit back, relax, and enjoy the music.
McGowen might know "many audiophiles who are completely happy with their systems and only want to enjoy them". They are probably the minority number of audiophiles he knows.
I enjoy modding & the challenge to improve as much as I enjoy listening. They are all part of my audio pleasure.
I indeed think they try to brainwash us and I'll admit I've fallen victim to "upgradeitis" many times. As an example I've been hooked by remastered CDs too many times. And I understand manufacturer's needs for us to buy. I don't hold that against them. The only way they can stay in business is to sell their wares.
I also have nothing against the journey being the goal. If that's what makes you happy in this hobby than that should well be your goal. It's probably a good thing that I don't have the skill and resources to do internal mods myself. I'm afraid if I did my equipment would spend little time in use as they'd always be apart as I looked to improve them. It could be I'm misinterpreting his point. But what I take away from it is, that despite him saying those who aren't in a constant quest for improvement are audiophiles, he's saying if you're not engaging in that pursuit you're not an audiophile. That in fact to be an audiphile you must be in constant pursuit of sonic improvements as we must remember that the journey is the goal and there is no final plateau. It seems totally contradictory. If the pusuit is what makes you happy that's fine. I guess I'm not an audiophile, according to McGowen, because my goal is the final plateau of great musical enjoyment not it's endless pursuit. That's not to say I'll never be open to improvements once I reach a certain level. It just means I want to reach a level where the enjoyment of the SQ of my system far supercedes any desire I might have to improve it and that if I don't improve it I could still be very happy._mykl
I do agree that audiophiles can be content with their systems. I was not very clear about that in my previous post. I was implying that it is probably a minority that is content with their systems.
A nearby 80 year old couple I know are IMO true audiophiles. They listen to CDs & music DVDs several hours/day. He is very knowledgeable about classical music & held music appreciation sessions for a group in our townhouse complex. They seem content with their system & not concerned about making changes to it.
I am also gradually slowing the pace of change to my system. I still have some planned system changes, but maybe someday I will also reach the point of "satisfaction" with my system.
David_S_It wasn't you that I felt was saying that, it was McGowen. I understood that you felt audiophiles could be happy with not upgrading and I agree that they probably are a small percentage. Especially those with "high end" systems. Perhaps beacause their high end systems are a result of steady upgrades. I do feel one can be audio enthusiast, a lover of listening to recorded music which to me is an audiophile, without having a high end system though. I know many auto enthusiasts who do not own fancy, or expensive, or rare, or exotic cars. Nonetheless they are avid auto enthusiasts. It seems to me McGowen was contradicting himself. While he acknowledges that there are audiophiles happy with their systems he goes on to state we must remember the journey is the goal. Maybe he was speaking just to those who are constantly looking to upgrade. If he was maybe he needed to be clearer on that as that's not what I took from his statement._mykl
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