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Good Specs = Good Sound

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I've been interested in audio since the golden age of 8 tracks. Back in the analogue days, specs were very important. You pored over the literature the salesman gave you because one tape deck would do 25hz to 15kHz and another might do a little better. The noise floor using Dolby was better than without. One amp would have a THD meausered as a fraction, while others would be into whole numbers. Noise, distortion, response... All of the problems were within audible levels, so you had to come up with a compromise, balancing the various plusses and minuses in a way that worked for you.

Today, this sort of thinking has carried forward into an era where none of this applies any more. Digital audio performs to specs that we could only dream about in the analogue era. Noise floors aren't just low, they're down in the strata that makes up the Earth's core. Response is as wide as a human being can possibly hear. Distortion levels are so low, you don't even have to look at the specs any more. Just about everything is free of audible distortion.

Yet people keep wanting to use spec sheets to choose what amp or CD player to buy. They look at numbers that slice gnat wings up into microscopic potato chips and decide that a gnat wing sliced ten times is better than a gnat wing sliced nine. They create new specs like jitter that have no real basis in audibility.it's just another gnat wing to slice up. When they finally get to the point where they figure out what .0001 actually sounds like (or more accurately, *doesn't* sound like) they convince themselves that there must be some magical property of sound that hundreds of years of intense scientific research hasn't discovered yet... And lo and behold! They happen to own a pair of magical ears that can hear that mysterious aspect!

People have a natural inclination to want to plus things. They want to think that their CD player is superior to other CD players. They want this so much, they convince themselves that it is, and then go looking for any shred of science that might prove that. When science can't come up with a good explanation, they abandon specs entirely and just say they can hear it even if it can't be measured.

HiFi equipment has become wonderful in the past few decades. It's time to shake off the preconceptions carried over from the analogue days, and start talking about things that are measurable, can be heard, and do make a difference.

What should we be looking at today to choose which model to buy? Usability. Digital audio is tremendously flexible, but equipment manufacturers make consumers jump through hoops with massively complex remote controls, multiple black boxes that all have to be plugged into each other to produce sound, and settings for organizing and listening to music that require plowing through submenus, inventing kludges and coming up with just the right combination of checks in boxes. Usability is key to a stereo that provides enjoyment, and no one bothers to break that down systematically to compare different models like they do with specs, which really don't matter at all.
Edited by bigshot - 8/14/12 at 11:32am
post #2 of 6

I think all these "baseless" tweaking started after the birth of CD. With CD there is basically nothing to tweak. No more "direct to disc" and "half speed mastering". So now we have to have CD demagnetizing and maybe the rainbow sticker.

 

With spec based marketing, there is basically no differentiation and loss of advertising revenue and margin. All the main stream publications are basically out of business. A new technology has to be invented that has no measurable parameter or high end will have nothing to sell.

 

Looking back 40 years, the quality of low end is getting better and the price of high end is getting higher. There is no such thing as a $100 cable. We were debating the merit of a moving coil versus a moving magnet which now can buy 5 decent CD players that can compete in quality without the constant tweaking of the turntable.


Edited by dvw - 8/14/12 at 4:47pm
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Absolutely!

But the elephant in the corner is the fact that as great as midrange equipment sounds, it's a right holy mess to try and live with the ergonomic nightmare that manufacturers have created. The remote control for my Yamaha receiver looks like the dashboard of a 747. The on screen menu system it controls is even worse... Nested submenus inside nested submenus inside...

My brother knew a guy who got a little money later in life. He already had a house, so he added a room... Then a year later another... And another. His house was a rabbit warren of unrelated spaces with tiny connecting hallways all over the place. That's what the controls of my Yamaha receiver feel like.

I'm sure there are some people who want the biggest remote with the most buttons on it, just for bragging rights. But I just want one I can use by feel in the dark. No one makes those any more.

Apple seems to be the only company that addresses useability.
post #4 of 6
As far as I can tell, this resembles what I witnessed over the last fifteen years with copiers (I work at what used to be called Kinkos). Customers demanded more capabilities and features. Manufacturers responded. The same customers then complained about the added complexity of the interface. The number and scale of issues that could cause problems, the frequency of said problems and the effort required to dignose and repair them multiplied.

Some mitigation occured when the machines went as digital as possible. Printing from memory, touch screens, printing from digital originals instead of hard copy when possible, scans converted to digital and so on. Unfortunately, some of the print engine will always be mechanical. There are clear and obvious parallels to audio recording, processing and reproduction.

Digital can lead to simplification sometimes, but it also enables enormous control over the processes and a myriad of choices - if you let it. A classic example of be careful what you wish for. Spritzer has long advocated and sometimes pursued a DIY Volksamp. Perhaps only his high standards have thwarted the reality thusfar. I do wonder how much of the current Rube Goldbergesque home theater nightmares are the result of unimaginative interface design and how much is end users demanding too much control over too many dubious features and "enhancements".

I am luckily a "simplify" sort of guy. I prefer two channel for both music and movies. I like as few components, interconnects and transducers as possible. When alone I prefer headphones to speakers. I have and use both, but both systems are simple. I have all this really nice stuff but end up using a Sony Blu-ray player for a source, an old Denon receiver, a nice but old CD player, a Stax amp and Omega headphone, and a pair of Hammer Dynamics Super 12 full range tweeter augmented crossoverless speakers. Oh, and some big thirty year old JBL studio monitors for movies with guests. You know, use what you have lying around, especially when it works and sounds better than the new stuff. Doesn't happen much with electronics though.

Bottom line, since the CD player's remote died I am left with just three. For the Denon, the Sony and the plasma TV. Since I gave up TV broadcast viewing, I only use the TV remote to turn it on and off.
Edited by Clarkmc2 - 8/14/12 at 9:02pm
post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clarkmc2 View Post

I am luckily a "simplify" sort of guy. I prefer two channel for both music and movies. I like as few components, interconnects and transducers as possible. When alone I prefer headphones to speakers. I have and use both, but both systems are simple. I have all this really nice stuff but end up using a Sony Blu-ray player for a source, an old Denon receiver, a nice but old CD player, a Stax amp and Omega headphone, and a pair of Hammer Dynamics Super 12 full range tweeter augmented crossoverless speakers. Oh, and some big thirty year old JBL studio monitors for movies with guests. You know, use what you have lying zround, especially when it works and sounds better than the new stuff. Doesn't happen much with electronics though.
Bottom line, since the CD player's remote died I am left with just three. For the Denon, the Sony and the plasma TV. Since I gave up TV broadcast viewing, I only us the TV remote to turn it on and off.

 

"Simplify" works for me as well.

 

I think the ideal "Volksamp" would be the old console stereo concept updated for the 21st Century.

 

It would be a single unit with a single power cord. It would include a pair of REAL speakers (not a pair of tweeters combined with a farting 6 inch "subwoofer"), amplification, and several inputs, including analog, digital and WiFi. Remote control would simply be power, input selection and volume.

 

se

post #6 of 6

This is why I dump the smart phone and bought an used RAZR from Ebay. Some people call them old people phone. I just prefer dialing on a real key pad.

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