In yesterday’s post about my dislike for Sample Rate Converters I must add one more thought: all sample rate converters are not equal. Some actually help the sound while most do the opposite.
This is important to note because I don’t want folks to get the wrong idea. My main beef with Sample Rate Converters in hardware DACS is the lack of choice. How do you know if what they do is good or bad if you cannot choose in or out?
There’s a reason we’ve always done our best to offer choices on our equipment: Straightwire in/out, Sample Rate converter in/out, Filters 1 through 5, big power supplies or little power supplies, MultiWave or no MultiWave.
Plain fact is if you can’t compare one with the other, then how do you know it’s better or worse? Some PC based software has selectable upsamplers that you can choose to use or not. That’s a great idea and something I consider a feature benefit.
I would encourage all high-end audio manufacturers to offer choices wherever it makes sense – not a dizzying array of too many confusing choices – but a few well placed important ones.
We all want to empower our customers and that’s hard to do with nothing to A/B.
What I found interesting about this is his admission that he and his engineers have come across something that to their understanding shouldn't happen but is. I feel there's alot more of this happening in audio. Things that to many that seem like they shouldn't work yet really do. Discovering why some of these happen may lead to open minded research into why many of the other seemingly impossible are actually happening. In the end that would lead to much better SQ.
I have always smiled when I witnessed fellow designers getting offended by some engineering claim they either disagree with or can’t understand – that is until it happened to me.
Recently our engineering team has been scratching our collective heads over how software can affect sonic performance when everything we know says it shouldn’t. I am not referring to the obvious software like that of a CODEC that translates one format to another or upsampling, but software that runs a front panel or connects one device up to another – where the bits are identical in every case.
At first we were defensive and offended. Then we relented because the facts are irrefutable – even if we don’t understand or agree with them.
Now we’re hell bent on mastering the problem and from that mastery will come great things – of that I am sure.
Getting offended tends to be my first step in becoming humble enough to recognize the truth and move on to finding a solution.
Why is it we are forgiving and tend to overlook loudspeakers as a source of coloration in our systems yet demand perfection in our electronics down to the tiniest degree?
We are convinced that tenths of a dB, a few pico seconds of jitter, a slightly different cable dielectric are all critical to our system’s success when the gross deficiencies of loudspeakers, that border on the embarrassing, go unnoticed. You’d be lucky if your speakers were flat to within a few dB, let alone tenths of a dB. Their phase response and time alignment are absurdly bad, atrocious actually – relative to your electronic chain.
My guess is there currently isn’t much we can do to fix this so we focus on what we can do.
It’s instructive to keep in mind the magnitude of difference between the flatness and accuracy of the single most important element in your system and everything else – if for no other reason than maintaining a healthy perspective.
You might feel better polishing your car’s chrome to a high gleam, but that won’t make your car perform any better.
I was chatting with one of our customers on a recent tour of our facilities and he asked if it would be overkill to strive for higher sampling rates and greater bit depth in recordings given the fact current 192kHz 24 bit recordings exceed (by far) the limits of human hearing and analog hardware’s ability to reproduce anywhere near the dynamic range possible.
The short answer is no. It would be like suggesting your grandmother needed a bigger faster car to go to the shopping mall just in case she needed it. She doesn’t.
But then …. the difference between a lower grade technology like analog recording, or a higher grade technology like DSD all sound significantly better than the current high sample rate and bit depth PCM technologies – some of the time.
Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place for what improvements are possible.
The human auditory perception mechanism is a complex model that rarely conforms to textbook solutions that “should” make sense and exceed our ability to hear differences.
It certainly can get better, we have a long way to go, but perhaps the way we get there isn’t so clear.
Yesterday’s post about the gross inaccuracies of loudspeakers relative to the perfection of electronics raised the hair on a few people’s necks. So let me add to that.
It isn’t clear that we even want our loudspeakers to be flat and perfect. There’s reasonable evidence that we don’t.
My former partner in Genesis Loudspeakers, Arnie Nudell, was famous amongst insiders for what became known as the “Nudell Dip” a carefully crafted reduction of volume in the critical 500Hz to 2kHz region. This small dip in amplitude helped Infinity and Genesis loudspeakers have depth and the ability to disappear in the room.
When I first learned he did this I was horrified that anyone would do anything but make it flat. Arnie told me “loudspeakers will always be anything but flat, so why not take advantage of that fact and tailor the sound to your advantage?” He was right. The flatter we made the speakers the worse they sounded.
Recording and mastering engineers use less than perfect speakers to create the sound on our recordings in the first place. Perhaps if they used a mythical flat loudspeaker to do their work in the first place the Nudell Dip wouldn’t be a good thing. But they don’t.
Imperfection at the source breeds imperfection at the output for best results.
I believe the most important part in any audio system is the source and speakers. Those are the only things that I made changes to in any audio system I ever owned in which I can hear an audible difference.
We just released some new software that changed the sound of our PerfectWave DAC. As is normal there’s debate on whether or not those changes are better or worse. For me there’s no question they are better in every respect – but only after I retuned my system to take advantage of the changes.
I think it’s instructive to remember that your system has been setup and tuned to optimize the equipment and environment at the time you did the work. It is therefore illogical to assume that changes in equipment or environment can be effectively judged without revisiting your setup.
For example, when I first auditioned the new software I liked everything I heard – greater soundstage, better depth, improved space and separation of instruments – but there was also a slight added harshness and over emphasis on the top end that sounded unnatural.
I could have simply assumed it was wrong and went back to the drawing board or – and this is important – I could have reexamined my setup. It turns out that when I originally setup the Maggies I didn’t have enough top end and solidity of the center image so I toed them in slightly. Bingo, the image popped into focus. But that was a few months ago.
With the recent change in software I simply removed the toe in and the slight upper harshness vanished and in its place and even deeper and wider soundstage appeared with an even more convincing three dimensional image.
So it begs the question – which was correct? My first setup and the original software or the new setup and the new software?
The answer is both as long as you are willing to redo your assumptions.
IMO he charges alot for "good enough". Also IMO good enough has alot to do with the level of today's amp and speaker tech. I think the quest for perfection was a far, far greater driving force 30-40 or more years ago in those areas than it is today.
I think the answer is complicated but if we boil it down to two simple measurements it becomes easier to answer: perfection level and expectation level.
The perfection level measurement is, of course, the most difficult because there is nothing perfect ever made. So one must then set a reference level of how many imperfections are allowed to be able to measure it – and then accept the imperfect results. Not an inspiring model for building a product.
The expectation level, however, is probably a much more attainable measurement and far more meaningful to the end user. Let’s focus on that one.
If we produce a product that meets or exceeds every expectation you might have then by default it was not only good enough it was better than good enough. That’s a solid win even though the product is only “good enough” and is imperfect and perhaps has multiple issues.
This subject came about because my engineering director and I have been studying how to become better software programming managers (we both come from hardware backgrounds). What we’ve learned is that in an environment where we don’t control the hardware, like a program running on your PC, software becomes a black hole sucking in resources at a constant and infinitely long rate. That’s a reasonably eye opening concept to get a grip on.
It’s an even bigger eye opener to learn that “good enough” is the new standard for development.
Yesterday’s post Good enough raised the hair on a few people’s necks wondering why I had apparently thrown in the towel and accepted having to make products and services that were just good enough.
I must not have done a good enough job explaining the thought.
It’s not part of my nature or the team at PS Audio to make products that do anything but surprise and delight the end user.
So is that good enough?
If we set our standards for a product as having to exceed our customers expectations and then surprise and delight them when they receive it, then the product development team need only make a product “good enough” to meet that standard and it’s a product.
The point of yesterday’s post was not to justify mediocrity – quite the opposite in fact – it was to dispel the notion that perfection is attainable and if one seeks it out – one will be disappointed.
Exceeding expectations and building products and services that surprise and delight is good enough.
I'm thinking maybe Paul should visit some folks here in Vegas because for some of them it's definitely a status symbol, and that goes for both stereo systems and HTs. Or maybe he should just talk to some of the custom installers in the area. I know one who told me that I'd be stunned at the number of million dollar HTs in the area. He also told me that for many it had alot to do with status.
I’ve been noodling on a comment made a few weeks ago that high-end audio is mostly a status symbol owned by wealthy people who do not care about audio or music. I must say I find that totally wrong and offensive.
In fact, the more I think about the comment the more convinced I am it’s completely wrong.
Unlike most status symbols such as cars, watches, cameras, clothing and mansions, high-end audio gear is rarely displayed publicly and almost never trumpeted to guests of a person’t home. In fact most people I have met invite only the rare few into their homes to enjoy their setup. It’s almost like a closely guarded secret – one we don’t share with people who wouldn’t “get it” and you kind of feel privileged to be shown the music room.
Certainly there are those amongst us who buy only the expensive kit because they can, but rarely do you ever see them showing off the equipment unless it’s another Audiophile they’ve let into the their inner circle. Then, of course, they show it off like a proud rooster strutting his stuff. I get that.
Get outside the audio circle and I’ll bet you rarely ever see stereo as a status – unless you think a pair of Dr. Dre headphones are high end……
see I hit a hot botton. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Since I’m the one who wrote the original posting that nettled Paul’s noodle I feel obligated to respond… by explaining, not apologizing. This is going to take some time.
Where to begin? I think with Paul’s own words about being offended which he published on March 6:
“Getting offended tends to be my first step in becoming humble enough to recognize the truth and move on to finding a solution.”
So being offended is not necessariily a bad thing, it all depends on how and why you’re offended.
“I’ve been noodling on a comment made a few weeks ago that high-end audio is mostly a status symbol owned by wealthy people who do not care about audio or music. I must say I find that totally wrong and offensive.”
Where’s the offense? In suggesting that the products that Paul and many people he respects in his industry toiled to create are bought by people for whom they are nothing more than ornaments. That it would hardly matter how much effort or adhievement went into them, all that mattered was that they are by most standards expensive and indicative of a lifestyle rather than bought to be used because they are a superior tool that someone had worked hard to devise.
Before I examine whether or not this is at least in part true I’m going to set aside my own opinions which to put it mildly does not hold any of these products in high esteem and finds no reason to prize them. This should not be hard for anyone to understand who feels the same way about other products they do not prize….like a certain product of a certain MIT professor who made lots of money from what some call treasure, others call trash (that was discussed here on more than one instance also.) So the products are different, the idea is the same. For the sake of argument I’m going to assume here that “the high end” is what those who make it, sell it, buy it, aspire to own it claim it is, superior to other products for listening to recorded music.
So what exactly is the high end? I can find no delineation by any factor that I can see that distinguishes one product as high end and another as not. There seems to be a continuum of them whether measured by price or by the extremes people have gone to in creating them. But there is an emotional connection for many., The term “mid-fi” seems to have been invented by those who describe themselves as audiophiles to characterize expensive equipment other people own that they don’t like.
Now for some perspective. To most people in the USA and other “western” nations who would describe themselves as middle class, a sound system costing $50,000 would be considered high end. It would likely be something they’d only buy if they wanted it very badly. They’d usually acquire it only after all other financial priorities were met such as having paid off the mortgage on a house, seeing to their children’s college education, having a comfortable retirement income. They’d usually acquire it somewhat late in life. In this bracket lie products that while generally (but not always) significantly superior to the more run of the mill Best Buy products are not in the top tier of most high end manufacturer’s product lineup. You can pick almost any high end brand you like. Yet these people who own them and those who aspire to join them are the kind you’ll meet at most audiophile club meetings. They are the ones who eagerly wait for every new issue of XYZ magazine. For them, a $25,000 pair of loudspeakers could have paid for a car. The $10,000 pair are hardly worth mentioning. You are not likely to see anyone with a $10,000 pair of loudspeakers in their sound system buying a $10,000 power regenerator, that hardly makes sense I think. Those who make “the high end” would politely classify their audio equipment as “mid-fi.”
Then you get to a different level, one that starts where most people’s finances would consider the stratosphere begins. $50,000 is barely entry level for the true high end. Such people who buy this kind of equipment think nothing of paying $20,000 for a phono cartridge preamplifier. Their speakers alone may cost over $75,000, in fact often well over that, many times as much. They will buy many thosands of dollars worth of wires. Who tells them to buy this stuff, a little bird? Magazine A or B? No, it’s often the store manager where the owner of the store was met on a golf couse or by a wife’s interior decorator, or some AV consultant who is installing a million dollar home theater. The hallmark of much of it is that it makes a striking visual appearance and is simple enough for someone who knows nothing about it to operate. It’s part of a lifestyle just like a $600 pair of sunglasses will not protect your eyes any better than a $16 pair bought at a drug store. It goes with the territory of having many tens of millions of dollars of disposable income.
Why don’t people show these things off? There are many things that are trappings of real wealth that are deliberately not shown off, that are kept secret. A mistress is one. A cocaine habit is another. (Another reason is that today high end sound systems can only be fully enjoyed at one single small “sweet spot,” everywhere else it sounds little better than far lesser equipment.
So what is the test? How do you know? The answer is how the equipment is used and how often. The claim for it is superior accuracy (which I said I would not dispute in this thread.) Where and when is accuracy of sound reproduction at issue? When the sound is about a Guanari del Jesu or Stratavarious violin, a Steinway grand piano, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, Luciano Pavarotti’s voice, Placido Domingo’s voice, Kiri Tekanawa’s voice. For others it may be about Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and their like. It is not about Diana Krall, Taylor Swift, or the Beatles. Is there a large collection numbering in the thousands of recordings of what would be called “serious” music, that is worth the kind of expense that the high end equipment cost to design, manufacture, and purchase? Were these recordings the best efforts of the best artists playing the best written music? Is is listened to frequently? Is there a culture of music appreciation placed in high importance in the home? If the answer to these question is yes then the equipment has a rational functional purpose. If the answer is no, then it is just there as an ornament for the maid to dust and the hostess at a party to point to on a tour of the house just after passing the library of thousands of books that will never be read and before visiting the fancy wine cellar full of the world’s most highly prized trophy wines that will never be drunk. It goes with the lifestyle.
I don’t expect you to agree Paul. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. But there is much worse. People who’s life’s work was so very valuable, whose ideas made so much money and yet it was all stolen from them. Among them, Farnsworth who invented television, Major Armstrong who invented FM radio, Rosalind Frankland who discovered the structure of DNA, and even more Nicola Tesla who invented the modern world as we know it yet died in poverty having been cheated by two American icons, Edison and Westinghouse. After that, being dusted off by the maid once in awhile isn’t so bad after all.
Innovative Audio is a business that is driving distance from me. They specialize in selling used audio components. They test & repair components before putting them up for sale. I have been their store a few times. It is a very interesting business to visit.
I previously read the blind comparison test between the 2009 Yamaha RX-V1800, 1978 Pioneer SX-1980 & 1978 Sony STR-V6 Receivers.
Older 2 channel receivers were very simple devices compared to today's multi-channel AV receivers. Manufacturers stuff all the new technology into a box that is similar size to older 2 channel receivers and have to keep it at a price point affordable by the masses.
Information posted on this forum demonstrates some of the problems these new AV receivers face.
I have shown how wiring location can affect residual noise in an audio signal. Nick has improved his DA9100ES with ferrite tiles & posted information about the effects of vibrations on crystal clocks. Maxx has demonstrated the improvements of resonance tuning on the V-Link. These are all problems that overstuffed modern AV receivers have.
Modern AV receivers are essentially complex computer controlled devices dedicated to distribute & amplify audio & video signals. It should not be very surprising that a well built vintage receiver can match or better the SQ of a modern receiver.
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