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How does fidelity relate to musical enjoyment? - Page 4

post #46 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post

I'm more interested in understanding why people believe the sort of effects some higher end audio gear have on audio as being "higher fidelity". Some of these do not measure good at all on traditional measurements, but they are often considered much "better sounding", in terms of either euphony or neutrality. Something I have wondered is if software DSP can replicate the sort of measured distortions (minus FR inaccuracy) that certain "higher end" gear have on the audio signal, or maybe just record the output of such gear and replay it again on "lower end" gear that measure well on tests. I don't think this will solve the conundrum, but maybe it may turn out that it is indeed these measured distortions that make us like higher end gear, or it might turn out that lower end gear have effects on the music we did not suspect. Or maybe offer an alternative to the tired explanation that we must just be suffering placebo.


I prefer the term expectation. The problem with any serious comparisons of high fidelity kit is that we are so easily swayed by appearance and price and reputation, whenever these cues are removed (by blinding) the evaluations change , often drastically, Harman did this, they ran sighted tests on speakers and the most expensive and nicest looking speakers were always rated the best, when they used the same speakers but blinded the comparisons the rank order changed drastically and listeners preferred the most accurate speakers.

 

Then there was the listener who was told he was listening to a cheap amp and when he reviewed it he slammed it as crap, noisy, compressed and so on, but he was listening to his own beloved Bryston amp.

 

You could get **accurate** high fidelity kit and then inject differing amounts and types of noise and distortion and see what difference it makes on evaluations, blind of course, that would be fascinating.


 

post #47 of 68
Thread Starter 

I don't doubt that humans are easily biased by expectation, but then you have two options, to abandon research involving such human fallacy, or try to find a way to minimize it.

post #48 of 68

 

Here's a interesting read: http://www.high-endaudio.com/rec.html#Noise

Quote:
THE "SOUND-FLOOR"-THE ULTIMATE KEY

The term I formerly used, "noise-floor", has been in use in the audio world for a number of years now, and while I do recognize the vital importance of the underlying concept, I also felt that the choice of words ("noise-floor") was very unfortunate, because it has proved to be a confusing term for many audiophiles, even veterans.

A much better term, in my opinion, is: "Sound-Floor"

I feel this way because: The expression "noise-floor" has Nothing to do with traditional "noise".

"Traditional" meaning the measurable noises (hum, thermal hiss, mechanical buzzes etc.) that emanate from all active, electronic components; such as amplifiers, preamplifiers, motors and even CD players. While loudspeakers, which are a passive component, have no "traditional noise".

In contrast, all audio components, passive AND active, including loudspeakers, have a "sound-floor". And that is not all...

So does the actual software; records, tapes and CDs, and in this instance, I am, once again, not referring to their background "hiss".

For a better or different perspective, the reader must realize that...

The key word in this expression is not "sound" or "noise", but "Floor". The word "floor", in this instance, is an indication of the "lower limit" of a particular capability of that component.

The "sound floor" (or "noise floor") can be best described as: The "lower limit" of an audio component's capability to reproduce (or pass) softer and softer sounds.

Put in another manner, the "sound-floor" can be described as: The softest sound that can be heard or sensed through that component (or system).

(And that by definition means) Any sound that is lower (or softer) than the "sound floor" Must be Inaudible.

Analogy- It is the audio component's (or system's) direct equivalent of the listener's ability to sense or hear "soft sounds".
 
 
THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS ESSENTIAL CAPABILITY

A component with a high "sound-floor" will obscure and mask a large amount of audible sound (music), while a component with a very low "sound-floor" will reveal virtually everything about the sound (music). Unfortunately, "the weakest-link-in-the-chain" rule applies in this case. This means that if even one component has a high sound-floor, so must the entire system.

This is the reason why systems that have a high sound-floor will be played at a higher volume, usually without conscious awareness, in an attempt to hear what is missing.
 
 
WHY AND HOW LOW-LEVEL INFORMATION IS LOST

Why do certain components have a higher or lower "sound-floor"? That is not entirely known. What is known is that components that use overly complex circuits and layouts, longer signal lengths and poor quality passive components (wire, resistors, inductors, capacitors, speaker drivers and vibrating cabinets etc.) generally have a higher "sound floor" than those components which avoid their use. Poor execution will also compromise the "sound floor".

Also, everything being equal, tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers will almost always have a lower "sound floor" than their transistor equivalents. Ironically, this is true even though their actual "noise" (hiss, hum) will usually be measurably higher. Speculation about this phenomena has focused on the greater simplicity of most tube circuits (especially single-ended-triode designs) and the fact that the actual amplification occurs in a vacuum, not silicon or some other material.

So to summarize, there are four requirements in order for a component to have an exceptionally low "sound floor":
1. A simple, though highly competent, design
2. The use of the best quality parts, both active and passive, within the component
3. The finest execution of the above, both in build quality and in close attention to (small) details
4. The shortest signal length(s) possible

If any of the four requirements are compromised, the "sound floor" will rise accordingly, and the recorded sounds (and the music) will be permanently lost. Sadly, only a few rare and outstanding components meet all the requirements. Searching for them, and hearing them, one way or the other, should be high on the list of a serious audiophile's priorities.
 
 
THE SOUND-FLOOR AND "LISTENING FATIGUE"

There is also a relationship between a system's sound-floor and listening FATIGUE.

When a system has a high sound-floor, meaning more of the musical information is missing, the listener will then (automatically) attempt to fill in "the missing parts" with his brain.

This continual effort, usually unconscious, will eventually cause "listening fatigue". The existence, and even the degree, of the fatigue is dependent on the previous experiences, and expectations, of the listener.

For example, digital recordings and sources are known to have a higher sound-floor than good analog. This is the reason why some listeners, who are used to analog, may experience fatigue with digital, despite digital's other sonic advantages over analog.

While other listeners, who are used to primarily digital recordings, do not appear to suffer the same fatigue.
post #49 of 68

That is a superb find Albedo, thanks.

post #50 of 68
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
THE SOUND-FLOOR AND "LISTENING FATIGUE"

There is also a relationship between a system's sound-floor and listening FATIGUE.

When a system has a high sound-floor, meaning more of the musical information is missing, the listener will then (automatically) attempt to fill in "the missing parts" with his brain.

This continual effort, usually unconscious, will eventually cause "listening fatigue". The existence, and even the degree, of the fatigue is dependent on the previous experiences, and expectations, of the listener.

For example, digital recordings and sources are known to have a higher sound-floor than good analog. This is the reason why some listeners, who are used to analog, may experience fatigue with digital, despite digital's other sonic advantages over analog.

While other listeners, who are used to primarily digital recordings, do not appear to suffer the same fatigue.

 

I dislike this kind of generalization. I would emphasize the fact that fatigue is different person to person, time to time. Some may be more fatigued by real life acoustic music or high fidelity reproduction than by the rendition from "low fidelity" gear. The author presumes it is a cause of fatigue to unconsciously fill in "the missing parts", but fact of the matter is there is no direct correlation between these two things. It may be a useful rule of thumb, but as he says in the last sentence quoted, there are very obvious exceptions. I would also add that being afraid of being mentally fatigued does have a direct correlation with mental fatigue.

post #51 of 68

I can't agree that the only cause for lack of detail or clarity would be the sound floor.  Additionally, there are other causes for my own fatigue when listening as I had outlined before.

 

As to what's the secret with high end equipment?  I have to agree with Nick_Charles that a lot of it may well be down to expectation.  Expectation that what you are listening to should or shouldn't sound great is a powerful effect.  This effect in the negative, can be a great source of fatigue.

post #52 of 68

It might be that the fatigue has something to do with:

http://www.high-endaudio.com/philos.html#Weak

Quote:
The weakest area in audio at present is the same as it was back in 1960... The INability to reproduce lifelike "dynamics"

This is the capability of the system "to change its volume at the same speed, scale and intensity of real live music". I refer to this as: Instantaneous Dynamic Response (IDR). Most audio systems are simply pathetic when it comes to imitating what occurs in real life. Any live concert, even for a solo flute, or just a passing high school band, makes this unavoidably clear.

Part of the problem is that none of the existing musical software is yet capable of storing the entirety of this information, but most systems couldn't begin to reproduce realistic IDR even if it did exist on available analog or digital sources.

Instead, systems will routinely compress the IDR to varying degrees, or even seriously distort. The best I've heard are some "horn systems", but only at certain frequencies, and they still have their other, unique problems. Some conventional systems are pretty good at reproducing IDR, but only at lower volumes. Why is this so, and what is at fault?
 
 
The Causes of Compression

The causes are many and various, but the two main culprits are amplifiers and speakers. For an amplifier to reproduce IDR, it must have high voltage and power swing, and this gives the advantage to tube designs, which should be no surprise to experienced audiophiles. However, amplifiers with truly high voltage swings are very rare because of their extra difficulty and expense to build.

On the speaker end, the ability to move large amounts of air is critical, which consequently requires a large, total driver area and also larger cabinets to house them. The subsequent problems are that accurate, large drivers are very costly, and so are their required, large dead cabinets.

If that wasn't enough, if the drivers are too large, they will then have unavoidable problems with transparency, purity, delicacy and refinement etc. This is why there has never been an easy and obvious solution to this problem. (However, if a listener prefers rock, or any other poorly recorded music, he/she will not be as unhappy with those compromises.)

CAVEAT: Don't confuse "playing loud" with IDR. The former is like a sexual climax, while the latter (IDR) is the climax plus everything that led up to it. In other words, it is the entire journey, and not just the final destination, which is at issue.
 

Maybe some of the reason choosing Head-Fi is to minimize the problems with IDR?

post #53 of 68
Thread Starter 

Maybe, but I haven't heard people complain about fatigue from the slow dynamics of low fidelity gear.

post #54 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post

Maybe, but I haven't heard people complain about fatigue from the slow dynamics of low fidelity gear.


 

Conditioning and acclimatisation is a hell of a thing.  Not to mention expectation and making do.  A little radio sounds wonderful when there's nothing else to listen to.

 

Go into a factory and soon you wonder how the workers there deal with the noise day in day out.  However, put you in it and you'd be going crazy in minutes.  It amounts to the same when one person is happy with a particular system and another comes along and can't listen for more than 10 minutes.  It may not even have anything to do with the degree of fidelity, but just a different sound signature.


Edited by aimlink - 9/13/10 at 11:40am
post #55 of 68

I have read the whole article and much of the rest of the site and have now been put off by the author's authoritative tone. Which I suspect is a bit like liking the look of a bit of hifi and then as you see the rest of the range and read the company's design philosophy, that can put you off as well.

post #56 of 68

Arthur Salvatore do have some points, but of course he is also angry with the whole industry and the latest fads. He might not think highly about Rock 'n Roll, but many of his caps lock statements do ring some truth, especially what he is saying about cables in the search of fidelity: http://www.high-endaudio.com/magaz.html#Cab

 

Much of today's Hi-Fi sickness and continually changing gears, what is that all about? The Holy Grail? Who profits on the general confusion of the populous and what is happiness compared to fidelity one might ask? Why is asking multiple questions in this manner continuously so upsetting?

 

I see your point Prog Rock Man, but when High-Fidelity fears James Randi I think that something definitely is wrong.

post #57 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Albedo View Post

Much of today's Hi-Fi sickness and continually changing gears, what is that all about? The Holy Grail? Who profits on the general confusion of the populous and what is happiness compared to fidelity one might ask? Why is asking multiple questions in this manner continuously so upsetting?

 

 

It's upsetting because it doesn't reflect well on us the consumers in many ways.  Considering the implications, it would be very upsetting indeed.

 

But the situation isn't just confined to Hi-Fi, but to a lot of other things.  Keeping your car for many years is an eccentric thing to do these days.  We change our cell phones perpetually.  Same for computers and accessories.  We wish to experience the latest and greatest in everything, hoping that the newer offering will provide even better after we become bored with what we had before.  FOTM couldn't be a more appropriate term here.

 

I'm not excluding myself from such criticism by any means.  It's just that I'm beginning to see things in a different way of late.

 

Anyway, we could look at it another way.  We should be free to shop as we please and the consumerism cycle does provide jobs etc.  However, it doesn't help the planet.  Why bring this all up? Well, IMO, this whole question of fidelity and the search for it is all wrapped up in it. 
 

post #58 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by nick_charles View Post




I prefer the term expectation. The problem with any serious comparisons of high fidelity kit is that we are so easily swayed by appearance and price and reputation, whenever these cues are removed (by blinding) the evaluations change , often drastically, Harman did this, they ran sighted tests on speakers and the most expensive and nicest looking speakers were always rated the best, when they used the same speakers but blinded the comparisons the rank order changed drastically and listeners preferred the most accurate speakers.

 

Then there was the listener who was told he was listening to a cheap amp and when he reviewed it he slammed it as crap, noisy, compressed and so on, but he was listening to his own beloved Bryston amp.

 

You could get **accurate** high fidelity kit and then inject differing amounts and types of noise and distortion and see what difference it makes on evaluations, blind of course, that would be fascinating.


 

I like the term expectation too. What makes the whole thing even more complicated is that a group of people can have the same perceived idea about what certain things should sound like based on what they think they know. You can get a majority verdict that is totally incorrect..

One example: Most human beings are not familiar with the sound of a huge amount of water running -water fall; wave etc.. (That includes people who live by the sea). When you see a water fall in a nature documentary, chances are you are not hearing the noise of the actual waterfall. Sound engineers found out long time ago that the real sound of the water does not sound "real" so they would use multi tracks of small amount of water running and played with the levels. I guess we all listen to the tab running every morning when we brush our teeth!

You will get various results in listening tests whether it is sighted or not. :-(
 

post #59 of 68

I disagree with the statement that the 

aggregate transfer function between the waveform represented by the recording and the 

waveform of the sound arriving to outer ear should be a simple gain function. At the very least, it needs to be adjusted for the personal preference in the listening level and the resulting equal loudness contour - both can be very different for different listeners.

 

Neutral gear is better than untuned colored gear of course, in that it minimizes the average subjective sound reproduction error over a wide variety of recordings and listeners. Yet colored gear carefully tuned for a particular listener is better yet, as it further lowers the average subjective error over a variety of recordings, at the cost of that tuning potentially only being any good for that listener alone.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by khaos974 View Post

I don't exactly understand how you disagree with me, do you disagree with the statement that the aggregate transfer function between to output of the DAC and the waveform of the sound should be a simple gain function?

 

PS: I know that in practice the measurement practice make it near impossible to guarantee the accuracy of the measure due to the microphone response, room response... I'm just talking about the basic idea.

post #60 of 68

I see what you mean, but I would add that my preferred was for sound reproduction would be a "wire with gain" from the DAC input to the transducer output, as neutral and uncolored as possible, before that however I don't mind a different EQ for different sound level (to match equal loudness contours), HRTF correction for headphones, room correction for speaker...
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Krav View Post

I disagree with the statement that the aggregate transfer function between the waveform represented by the recording and the waveform of the sound arriving to outer ear should be a simple gain function. At the very least, it needs to be adjusted for the personal preference in the listening level and the resulting equal loudness contour - both can be very different for different listeners.

 

Neutral gear is better than untuned colored gear of course, in that it minimizes the average subjective sound reproduction error over a wide variety of recordings and listeners. Yet colored gear carefully tuned for a particular listener is better yet, as it further lowers the average subjective error over a variety of recordings, at the cost of that tuning potentially only being any good for that listener alone.

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