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post #19156 of 19490

The type of music I listen to, for the most part, sounds bad in concert. Metallica back in 2004, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, is the only concert I've been to that actually sounded good. Metal shows are way too loud and earplugs help but they make everything sound muffled. I stopped regularly going to concerts back in 2008, when i saw Ozzy and Rob Zombie. My ears were ringing for 2 days, so I decided to save my hearing and only go to really special concerts.

post #19157 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by Letmebefrank View Post

The type of music I listen to, for the most part, sounds bad in concert. Metallica back in 2004, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, is the only concert I've been to that actually sounded good. Metal shows are way too loud and earplugs help but they make everything sound muffled. I stopped regularly going to concerts back in 2008, when i saw Ozzy and Rob Zombie. My ears were ringing for 2 days, so I decided to save my hearing and only go to really special concerts.

Agree, Rock concerts are a crap shoot. Both of these were in the last couple of years, Zappa plays Zappa was over the top too loud for the smaller venue he was in, Leon Russell however was acceptable in even a smaller venue.

Blues, Jazz, Folk, Bluegrass and the like are generally better managed. Free local outdoor events can be great, choose your loudness.

I am done with large venue and over loud stuff.

JMTC,
r2
Edited by r2muchstuff - 4/19/17 at 5:50am
post #19158 of 19490

The Pixies would be an excellent reason to buy a CD and listen at home too :).

But you would miss out on all the attitude and the bandmembers hating eachothers guts.

Kim left anyway...so I`m not going!

 

edit:

only just starting to listen to Zappa a bit. Really outspoken stuff :)

Maybe I`ll grow into it. Never used to like Pink Floyd either, now I am really starting to like Wish You Were Here.

Probably an age thing on my part..hehehe.


Edited by HumanFly - 4/19/17 at 6:07am
post #19159 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by HumanFly View Post
 

The Pixies would be an excellent reason to buy a CD and listen at home too :).

But you would miss out on all the attitude and the bandmembers hating eachothers guts.

Kim left anyway...so I`m not going!

 

edit:

only just starting to listen to Zappa a bit. Really outspoken stuff :)

Maybe I`ll grow into it. Never used to like Pink Floyd either, now I am really starting to like Wish You Were Here.

Probably an age thing on my part..hehehe.

 

Zappa was always one of my favorites, being a famous Frank probably helped when I was younger lol

 

My favorite Zappa album has to be Apostrophe, followed closely by Over-Nite Sensation. I have a nice CD with both albums on it that my father bought back in the day.

 

Being in elementary school in the early 90s singing Frank Zappa songs probably didn't help me fit in very well. :) 

 

Wish You Were Here is my all time favorite album, its flawless IMO.


Edited by Letmebefrank - 4/19/17 at 6:21am
post #19160 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by HumanFly View Post

The Pixies would be an excellent reason to buy a CD and listen at home too smily_headphones1.gif.
But you would miss out on all the attitude and the bandmembers hating eachothers guts.
Kim left anyway...so I`m not going!

edit:
only just starting to listen to Zappa a bit. Really outspoken stuff smily_headphones1.gif
Maybe I`ll grow into it. Never used to like Pink Floyd either, now I am really starting to like Wish You Were Here.
Probably an age thing on my part..hehehe.

Enjoyed Zappa since the release of Freak Out. Went to a show the 70,s. Small, low ceiling crappy venue, bordered on to loud but the crowd and the haze in the room made the music great smily_headphones1.gif. Rock & Roll with outstanding guitar.

r2
post #19161 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by r2muchstuff View Post


Enjoyed Zappa since the release of Freak Out. Went to a show the 70,s. Small, low ceiling crappy venue, bordered on to loud but the crowd and the haze in the room made the music great smily_headphones1.gif. Rock & Roll with outstanding guitar.

r2


I wonder: did he ever find out why it burns when he pees?

post #19162 of 19490
Thread Starter 

2017, Chapter 6:

Conversations With A Stubborn Engineer

 

Back in my first job for Magnavox Advanced Products and Systems, there was an engineer that, well, all engineers know. He was, in short, a caricature, a downward-looking, muttering, rumpled-shirt, wrinkled-old-black-tie, pocket-protector kind of guy who literally (a) lived with his mom (in his 40s) and (b) had to be reminded to periodically cash the paychecks he'd leave in his desk for months at a time. 

 

I don't know if I ever really knew what he did for us. I think he was a mechanical engineer, because he never seemed to spend any time in the electronics lab, but he was always in the review meetings. Sadly, I don't even remember his name, because some of his bewildered, innocent questions echo in the back of my mind to this day.

 

I can rationalize this, of course; Magnavox was a serious government job working on secure communications for alphabet agencies; we weren't encouraged to fraternize; discussing the wrong thing with the wrong person could be very, very bad; the lab itself fostered paranoia, as you had to go through 2 scrambling keypads and an armed guard to simply get into the cube farm—our unnamed hero of this story, the Stubborn Engineer, pointed out a failing in that system that I, in my naivety, demonstrated to the staff, and instantly earned the suspicion of, well, pretty much everyone in the company, and probably delayed me getting my Secret clearance.

 


Aside: the security flaw the Stubborn Engineer pointed out was the fact that, for all the unmarked doors and scrambling keypads and anterooms with guards watching you punch in your passcode, you could go straight from the corridor outside to the secure lab by lifting up the ceiling tiles. He was smart enough to simply mutter about it; I was young and a smart-ass and I decided to demonstrate it. Not the brightest move. But then again, we live and learn. Or certainly hope so.


 

So, let's stick with that moniker: The Stubborn Engineer.

 

 

The "Do You Mean" Question

 

The Stubborn Engineer's specialty was his "Do you mean..." question. This question was usually delivered after an hour's worth of presentation by the team lead, or 45 minutes of soporific blathering from a vendor rep.

 

And it was deadly. Because the Stubborn Engineer had a way of distilling the most opaque buzzword blather and corp-speak ******** into simplest terms, and then turning it around a hundred and eighty degrees to make something seem like the silliest thing in the world.

 

Examples?

 

Let's start with the one that really frosted my ass, because it affected my pet project.

 

I was doing the software programming interface for the communication system we were working on. I'd suggested using a standard Sharp pocket computer of the time that ran a version of BASIC. Easy to program, inexpensive to buy, simple to document, lots of programmers (at the time) who could make changes as the hardware evolved.

 

Stubborn Engineer only half-watched the demo, leafed through the software user manual I'd written, sighed, and said, "So, do you mean on the project where we're spending multiple millions of dollars and doing custom hundred-thousand-dollar ASICs to create a truly secure communications interface, we're counting on a consumer product you can buy at Radio Shack to set them up with? Will Sharp be making these over the next decade of service life? Or are you planning on buying a truckload of them and convincing DC to store them in a spare room of the 5-sided building there?"

 

I went red and snapped, "Better than using your foil-wrapped UNIX terminals that cost $35K and can't be moved out of the room."

 

(They were wrapped internally in copper foil because we were paranoid about people remotely sensing the EM from an operating computer, so even cheap PCs were blindingly expensive.)

 

Stubborn engineer pursed his lips and shrugged. He didn't care. He'd asked his question.

 

Now, everyone in the room was muttering about our problem with the Sharp portable computers. What had seemed a great idea for the past four months was now fragged like a model town under a nuclear blast. Suddenly we were drawing up plans for a purpose-built handheld and building new timelines. I never saw how it turned out, because the Sumo job came up about a month after that, and, well, the rest is history.

 

But he did that to pretty much everyone.

 

"So do you mean you're designing in a single-source connector that costs $1685 each, when you could use a standard SMA that costs a couple of bucks?"

 

"So you want us to engineer up a complete handheld enclosure for something that's still on eighteen 10 x 12" boards—would you like to be first up in review when we have to scrap it?"

 

"So do you mean you want to run microwave tests in the hall and take the chance of frying someone's future kids because it's too much trouble to haul the stuff out to the remote test area?"

 

It was funny when it wasn't you. And he made you stop, look around, and consider the big picture. In my time at Magnavox, he probably saved more money and time than any other complete team put together. (When they listened to him--they didn't always.)

 

And he was right about my damn Sharps. They would be a problem in the future. I wasn't looking far enough ahead. And I wanted to use something that I was familiar with. And I wanted to show off a little. But that didn't mean the answer was right.

 

So why dredge up this ancient history? Because, I realized a few days ago at CanJam, we need another Stubborn Engineer. Or a few of them.

 

Because, when you turn things around, a lot of what we're doing looks really, really silly.

 

 

An Audio Epiphany (or Two)

 

I remembered the Stubborn Engineer first when I was sitting on a panel about "Headphone Audio in a Changing World." This is a panel they select people from the audio biz and ask them to combobulate various trends with high-end personal audio (and, hopefully, come up with some interesting things for the audience to consider.)

 

Now, when I was asked to participate, I almost passed. Because the first thought that came to mind was Ah, great, Apple EarPods, Lightning connectors, Bluetooth crap, and the Internet of Things...not exactly high-end, hmm.

 

But, in the end, I accepted, thinking, Well, I gotta keep an open mind, let's see what's coming down the pike. Plus, maybe they'll need a voice of reason.

 

And, sigh, yeah, they needed a voice of reason.

 

The panel started out with a question about wireless headphones. One of the headphone manufacturers on the panel was super-excited about this, and praised the new Apple tech as a game-changer. The fact that it was still a compressed standard, and that there were multiple different and confusing standards for Bluetooth connectivity, was never even hinted at. The other headphone manufacturer said they were also working on wireless tech, but mentioned some of the downsides, including battery life, and the recent episode of exploding wireless headphones.

 

I decided to not mince words.

 

"It's funny," I said. "We spend all this time trying to get the highest quality sources—the best masters, high-res material, stuff like that—and then send it down a quality-destroying, MP3-quality connection? Let's be clear, Bluetooth wireless headphones are quality-destroying and potentially dangerous technology for the sake of convenience only."

 

That took some of the audience aback. Some muttered to themselves, but I also saw some knowing nods. Nobody had ever couched it in such stark terms before.

 

(What would the Stubborn Engineer have said? Wait. I'm getting to that.)

 

Then, of course, they talked about other typical stuff—DSP and the challenges of small battery-powered amps, etc...all the stuff that implied the future was just another endless romp down the assumption that lives would get ever-more-frenetic, even more on-the-go, with no fixed place to relax and enjoy...as if the entire audiophile market would be turned over to overcaffeinated transients in the next 10 years.

 

I said a few things about how tuning to personal preferences is fine, but that we, as a scrappy manufacturer of cheap stuff, were focused on making sure that people could get a taste of what the high-end could do, for not very many dollars.

 

That theme came back later when someone in the audience asked, "But how do we get outside of the audiophile ghetto? How do we expand the audience into the mass market?"

 

I sighed. Because this is one of the questions that always comes up at audiophile events. The whinging, hand-wringing, oh-gawd-we're-all-gonna-die-if-we-don't-go-mass-market positioning that is, well, 100% crap.

 

"First," I said. "We have to make sure that if people want to take an audiophile path, that it's affordable. And I'm not talking "affordable" in terms of $5,000 amplifiers. I'm talking 2 figures. I'm talking, at or below the fashion-accessory headphones. And that's what we do."

 

"But," I added. "We also need to let it go. There are forums online where people can discuss $1500 steak knives and $15000 bicycles and $150,000 cars, and there's nobody whining about how they need to be able to move into the mass market. Why do we think we're special that we have to proselytize and convert people who aren't interested? Bottom line, some people will love high-quality sound, and some won't. It's OK. Let it go."

 

Now, this was something they'd never heard.

 

I was challenged by someone who said something about advertising, so I reminded them that I had an agency for 20 years, that we had done work for the high-end, that the question of reaching the mass market almost always came up, that (in the early days), we took the money and tried to do that, and that it always failed.

 

I brought up the economics of mass advertising (they were thinking that "a million dollar campaign" was a lot of money, I told them that was a 3-month buy in the San Fernando Valley). Big brands are built on 9-figure-per-year campaigns that span decades. Bottom line.

 

Nobody in high end can do that.

 

And—to be clear—nobody in high-end SHOULD do that. There's plenty of room in high-end for all--from entry-level companies like us to ultra-high-end audio jewelry. It's just that maybe, right now, the spotlight is blazing too brightly on the jewelry.

 

 

More From The Show

 

The Stubborn Engineer came up again later when I was talking to a designer at another company. Said company was thinking about doing something like the Audeze Lightning cable for their headphones--essentially a phone-powered DAC/amp dongle with a Lightning connector on one side.

 

I said, "So when Apple goes to USB-C next year, do you throw all the Lightning cables in the landfill?"

 

The guy stood there looking dumbstruck. "Ah. Oh yeah. That's right! Apple probably will go USB-C. And then..."

 

"And then you're boned."

 

"We'd have to do a Lightning version and a USB-C version at the same time," he said, brows furrowed. "Oooh, that's expensive. Not good."

 

"Maybe better to wait," I offered.

 

He nodded and muttered to himself a bit, while I stood there and wondered how anyone couldn't see that one coming. Apple is a mile-a-minute on USB-C, as evidenced by the dongle-bonage of the new MacBook Pros (yeah, I have one, but I like my Surface Pro better...yes, I know, heresy, but Apple is not really Apple anymore.)

 

Apple is absolutely gonna bone everyone with USB-C on phones. Just like the 30-pin to Lightning transition. Perhaps they can put all the iPhone 7 Lightning earbuds in a landfill next to the trillions of AOL disks from decades past.

 

And, I realized, this is where the Stubborn Engineer could help us. He could get us to turn around and look at some of these crazy audio tropes from an entirely different angle.

 

And that might be, well...illuminating.

 

 

What Would The Stubborn Engineer Say?

 

Okay. I'm doing that thing where I stick my finger in the stat amp running 500V rails...while dripping wet from the swimming pool. Some of you won't like where this is going. Some will accuse me of being fundamentally anti-customer. Some will say I'm the Stubborn Engineer.

 

So, let's take a look at some of the latest audio fetishes, when run through the lens of the Stubborn Engineer.

 

On Bluetooth: "So, you want us to spend thousands of hours in engineering to create an interface that is lower-quality, less reliable, and requires a de facto agreement to tens of thousands of hours for support, patches, and upgrades in the future, because you're too lazy to plug in a wire?"

 

On WiFi: "So, you want us to pick one of several half-baked standards--any of which might go away at any time--and spend thousands of hours in hardware engineering, plus become a de facto software company producing apps for setup, or add a screen and alphanumeric IO to the product, plus the tens of thousands of support hours in the future, plus updates on both the hardware and software until the end of time, because using one of the well-known and reliable wired analog or digital interfaces is just too much trouble? Oh, and remind me why we have multiple digital formats and connection standards?

 

On wireless headphones: "So, you want us to spend tens of thousands of engineering hours to produce something with lower sound quality, higher noise floor, customer frustration due to lost connections, the inconvenience of another device to charge, additional weight, and potentially dangerous batteries, based on a fast-moving standard we have no input on, because customers can't just plug the headphones into their phone?

 

On streamers: "So you want us to become an actual computer company, producing custom hardware ans software, with the tens of thousands of hours associated with it, to release a product that will require the largest amount of customer service ever seen in the history of the company, to replicate something any $300 computer already does?"

 

On DAPs: "So, you want us to build all the infrastructure for advanced handheld manufacturing, starting with micron-tolerance machined chassis and tough glass technology for large screens, plus advanced battery management, phone-level microprocessors, and custom operational software—which will be buggy as all heck, no matter what we do—in order to create a device that is bigger and does a small subset of what your phone already does? Oh, and have you ever seen the customer support for smartphones? You're crazy, I quit."

 

On MQA: "So, you want us to submit to a proctological examination of all our DACs by a third party and rely on their timely approval to certify them, with the associated hundreds of hours of engineering necessary to include their code in our devices, plus the thousands of hours in the future to update it, plus the thousands of hours of customer support to explain the various options on the one shaky streaming-music service that supports it, for the limited amount of music that is MQA-encoded, plus how the MQA-encoded CDs will play through the system, and take the chance that this is (a) what will become the de-facto standard for big streaming services like Spotify and Apple, and (b) will not simply be perceived as an irrelevant consumer standard like SRS?, and (c) has not painted itself into a lose-lose corner?"

 


Aside: MQA's lose-lose corner: in my opinion, MQA has two ways to lose and zero ways to win. Lose 1: Get picked up by Apple and Spotify. At that point, we can just say, "Well, it's another compressed consumer standard, not relevant to true HiFi," and ignore it. Lose 2: Not get picked up by Apple and Spotify. In which case the studios will stop seeing dollar signs and it'll go away. But that's my opinion. I've been wrong before.


 

On DSD: "So, the vaults never opened, and your sales are great without it…why would you expend any effort on it?"

 


Aside: I think he might be able to be convinced on DSD, since, unlike MQA, it is another open standard. He'd probably grimace and groan about the lack of content, though. And, no, this isn’t a veiled hint that we’ll be doing anything with DSD.


 

I can keep going—home theater tech (surround sound) is another place where you have little control over where the industry is going, and a limited number of companies that support the actual implementation of important standards like HDMI. High integration products that don't allow for upgrading are also vulnerable as digital tech changes (so you have a cool Bluetooth/Wifi/speaker/headphone/all-singing combo now...but what happens when better tech comes along?) but I think you get where I'm going.

 

The point being: charging in to new tech has a lot of gotchas...a lot of gotchas that aren't easy to see from the outside. This is why we're going to be slow and cautious when it comes to new standards, especially when they're fundamentally a convenience, and especially, especially when that convenience comes at the price of quality.

 

We also need to understand when The Stubborn Engineer is just plain wrong. Because nobody is perfect, no matter how sharp their tongue.

 

We understand that means our products won't always be for everyone, and we're OK with that. Again, we have been wrong many times before. The market—meaning you—will let us know when we're lagging too much. And then we just have to be agile and open-minded enough to adapt.

 

And I think that’s something we’ll be able to do.

post #19163 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baldr View Post
 

I beg your pardon??

A misinterpretation of one of your posts.

Very much reset and explained later.

Sorry for the offence.

post #19164 of 19490

@Crazychile: This forum is no mandatory reading.

Just take from it what you do like.


Edited by cozzi - 4/19/17 at 7:39am
post #19165 of 19490

Great chapter Jason. Of course, you and Baldr need new shirts now:

 

"We're Engineers, and we're stubborn as Schiit."

post #19166 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by Charente View Post
 

I have some regret selling my vinyl set-up... why ? Well, at the time it was the compelling argument of digital music..all that convenience and the promise of anologue-like sound to come but without all the hassle. The reality was different...I've spent way more time (and money) getting a half-decent digital system together and I may still not be quite there even now....!! In the 'old days' it was much simpler... a small handful of decent and affordable record decks to choose from...I opted for a Linn Sondek LP-12 with a Lingo (no contest)... a decent amp (Exposure pre & monos) and a pair of Linn speakers. The only tinkering I did was the occasional cartridge (a bit like tube rolling I suppose). I had this system happily for years. With digital there are many more variables to get right...once you've got your head around it all...tubes, cables, USB, S/PDIF, headphone sound types, power supplies and the vast array of DAC types the market confronts us with, etc, etc. Fortunately I stumbled upon Schiit...their philosophy and products appeal to me (and my ears) and I am finally more settled....but it's been a long journey.


I was a 2-channel, speaker based audiophile from early 70s to 2009 when I old my massive LP collection (which included many rare and coveted LPs). I also sold my then-current system, including Vandersteen 5s, etc. All this was due primarily to a change in life situation.

 

Slowly over the past 2 years I've gotten back into serious music listening - this time all headphone based. I don't look back and regret selling my LP collection or equipment, except for Mike's Theta 5. Maybe it is because I'm older and less obsessed with just about everything in life, but I love my current system and get more enjoyment out of it than I ever did during my audiophile years. I bought my Bimby because of my faith in Mike and I love it. I also love my Feliks Audio Elise and HD800S. Perhaps most of all, I love the ease of use and virtually unlimited choice of music I can get through Tidal HD. I now love listening to music far more than I ever did before.

 

I no longer have the upgrade bug. I do have FA's new Euforia amp on order. Someday I'll probably buy a Yggdrasi as a true endgame product, but I don't feel I'm missing much with my Bimby and anything above that in the Schiit DAC line would be balanced, which I can't take full advantage of with my FA amps.

 

I don't think the societal influences that cause many to constantly chase the latest and greatest (in audio, cars, homes, etc) is much different than it was 50 years ago. Just that some of us are finally embracing adulthood - although in my case it certainly has taken a long time)))

post #19167 of 19490

Quote:

Originally Posted by HumanFly View Post
 

my point excactly. Except for the live performance part. As soon as the performance involves amps and a mixingtable there is no warranty it won`t sound like ass.

And then there are the musicians that just dont do all that well when its live.

 

As for me...I try to stay away from brands that others seem to enjoy to fortify their egos with. But that then defines me just as much.

I am not out to critisize btw. Just observing. No idea what the right thing to do is myself.

 

And I really need music. So if it comes down to chosing between listening to ass or no music...I`ll have some ass.

 

 

 

I have gone to concerts, where I know what the group should sound like, but the Mixer's ears are totally burnt beyond recognition and he plays them WAY too loud...and I love loud music...but their ears are so fried they seem to not recognize quality sound anymore....but that is exception not the rule thank God!


Edited by LarryMagoo - 4/19/17 at 7:38am
post #19168 of 19490
Quote:

I don't think the societal influences that cause many to constantly chase the latest and greatest (in audio, cars, homes, etc) is much different than it was 50 years ago. Just that some of us are finally embracing adulthood - although in my case it certainly has taken a long time)))

I cant speak for 50 years ago. But the nineties seemed a lot less materialistic than nowadays to me.

This might have been eighties-backlash or just my perception as the scene I hung with was not your average healthy young people (grossly understating).

I don`t remember brands being that important back then. You had some elitist stuff for sure but I don`t remember kids giving eachother s**t about their no-brand-shoes.

Today it seems with young people,you need at least a pair of Nikes and a Beats headphone jacked(pun intended) to your iPhone to be socially acceptable.

I totally worry when I see six year old girls obsess about looks and asking if they are to fat. But I guess all that comes with the grey hair.

post #19169 of 19490

Nice read!

I totally agree on the bluetooth/wifi/wireless/streamer/dap/MQA thing.

From a consumer standpoint its a bottomless pit you throw your money in.

Most of that stuff is basically outdated by the time it hits the shop.

Next year there will be some new protocol it does not support and you have to get a new one that probably uses a different connector too.

If it is compatable with the rest of your older stuff at all that is.

 

Edit:

I looked long and hard at those KeF ls50`s, the new powered ones.

Found out they could not even be accessed from a browser and passed.(you need a mac or android (with the dedicated app) device to even use DSP and subwoofer settings). So even if those speakers would survive the decade there would be no way to set them up correctly 10 years from now.

All is well that end well because now I own some Schiit.


Edited by HumanFly - 4/19/17 at 7:50am
post #19170 of 19490
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Stoddard View Post
 

"2017, Chapter 6:

Conversations With A Stubborn Engineer

 

Back in my ........... we’ll be able to do".

Bummer.

No news here.

But great story none the less.

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