Headphones vs Speakers -- an Inconvenient Truth
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I'm still waiting for a headphone to reproduce something that my speakers can't. (Aside from bass extension, of course.)
 
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Robert Wortman

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I'm still waiting for a headphone to reproduce something that my speakers can't. (Aside from bass extension, of course.)
Dollar for dollar up to a point. I have a pair of Shure SRH840's. I don't believe there are any $200/pair speakers that can duplicate the resolution of these 'phones.
 
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Dollar for dollar up to a point. I have a pair of Shure SRH840's. I don't believe there are any $200/pair speakers that can duplicate the resolution of these 'phones.
I owned five figures worth of headphones and auditioned five figures worth of other headphones on top of that. (Read through my profile for details.) I have yet to hear a single detail on any headphone (including highly resolving ones like the HD 800) that my speakers do not also reproduce. It's just that headphones tend to emphasize certain details in an unnatural way while speakers reproduce them in a more natural way.

Oh, and I'm actually hearing far more *real* detail from the speakers.
 
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I wasn't talking about 5 figure anything. I listen to my speakers except when I travel because they do things no headphone can do. At the cheap end, though, headphones outperform speakers. That is my experience. I have heard headphones under $50 that didn't sound bad at all. I have NEVER heard a speaker pair under $50 that weren't garbage. I have a pretty expensive surround setup that sounds better than any headphone I have heard. My Shure's are better than my JBL LSR305's at some things. I still use the JBL's more for mixing because a headphone stereo image is just strange. If your 5 figure headphones aren't any better than a cheap pair of speakers I guess I am glad I never bought any 5 figure headphones.
 
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I wasn't talking about 5 figure anything. I listen to my speakers except when I travel because they do things no headphone can do. At the cheap end, though, headphones outperform speakers. That is my experience. I have heard headphones under $50 that didn't sound bad at all. I have NEVER heard a speaker pair under $50 that weren't garbage. I have a pretty expensive surround setup that sounds better than any headphone I have heard. My Shure's are better than my JBL LSR305's at some things. I still use the JBL's more for mixing because a headphone stereo image is just strange. If your 5 figure headphones aren't any better than a cheap pair of speakers I guess I am glad I never bought any 5 figure headphones.
I meant the total value of all the headphones, not an individual headphone. The LSR305 was originally $400, so it's a little higher than the "cheap" range. I can't think of a single category in which any headphone is actually better. (Save for the fact that headphones can extend deeper in the bass.) I'd be interested in hearing what others who disagree are hearing.
 
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[1] The ATC Scm20 ASL MKII, has a monstrous looking 6 inch woofer.
[2] Unless sound stage is of primary concern, headphone hold the edge in audio fidelity value for dollar and pound for pound.
1. Do you mean it's "monstrous looking" because it's shaped like a monster? It's can't be monstrous looking because of it's size, as a 6" LF driver is small and the exact opposite of "monstrous"!
2. Accurate soundstage reproduction is part of "fidelity"! So your statement doesn't make any sense. It still wouldn't have made sense if you'd said "Provided soundstage is of no concern, ... "

I know I prefer to maximise value on the woofer and the associated cabinetry to contain the physics.
You are still falling into the same audiophile trap I mentioned previously. Despite you mentioning "the physics" a number of times, you don't seem to realise that you're actually ignoring the physics! The cabinetry of a speaker is obviously NOT designed to "contain" the physics, it's designed to project sound out into the listening environment and this is the part of "the physics" which you're completely ignoring. If you're the least bit interested in fidelity, instead of thinking only about the physics of the speaker components, you'd be thinking about the physics which dictate how those speaker components will actually perform in the real world. If one doesn't consider environment, a speaker's price or performance is irrelevant! It's like with a car, where you also have to consider environment. If you were to spend $200k on a Ferrari for it's performance you'd be sorely disappointed, as you'd actually get better performance from a $20k Land Rover if your environment is a muddy field. In the audiophile world though, testimonials, marketing and reviews in say Car-o-phile magazine would likely result not in sore disappointment but an honest belief they were actually getting "night and day", $180k better performance than a Land Rover! lol

Provided you are actually listening nearfield (a meter or so) to decent nearfield monitors, they are very good but, never great because you cannot get great low freq performance out of small nearfield monitors, at any price. Most start loosing accuracy around 60Hz and below about 40Hz there's typically very little accuracy at all. This is why commercial recording studios never use only nearfield monitors, they always also have a set of main, mid-field monitors with large integrated woofers. Cinemas and Imax not only have large integrated woofers in the front (screen) speakers but a whole bank of additional large woofers and incidentally, these "large" woofers are typically double to triple the diameter of your "monstrous looking" woofers!

While good headphones will reproduce low freqs more accurately than nearfields, you've again failed to consider the physics. This additional headphone LF accuracy does NOT equate to "fidelity" because this LF content is often intended for powerful subs which cause the audience to physically feel the impact of the sound pressure waves on their body. Headphones are physically incapable of reproducing this effect/intention, so in this respect they have virtually no fidelity whatsoever!

G
 
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1. Do you mean it's "monstrous looking" because it's shaped like a monster? It's can't be monstrous looking because of it's size, as a 6" LF driver is small and the exact opposite of "monstrous"!
2. Accurate soundstage reproduction is part of "fidelity"! So your statement doesn't make any sense. It still wouldn't have made sense if you'd said "Provided soundstage is of no concern, ... "



You are still falling into the same audiophile trap I mentioned previously. Despite you mentioning "the physics" a number of times, you don't seem to realise that you're actually ignoring the physics! The cabinetry of a speaker is obviously NOT designed to "contain" the physics, it's designed to project sound out into the listening environment and this is the part of "the physics" which you're completely ignoring. If you're the least bit interested in fidelity, instead of thinking only about the physics of the speaker components, you'd be thinking about the physics which dictate how those speaker components will actually perform in the real world. If one doesn't consider environment, a speaker's price or performance is irrelevant! It's like with a car, where you also have to consider environment. If you were to spend $200k on a Ferrari for it's performance you'd be sorely disappointed, as you'd actually get better performance from a $20k Land Rover if your environment is a muddy field. In the audiophile world though, testimonials, marketing and reviews in say Car-o-phile magazine would likely result not in sore disappointment but an honest belief they were actually getting "night and day", $180k better performance than a Land Rover! lol

Provided you are actually listening nearfield (a meter or so) to decent nearfield monitors, they are very good but, never great because you cannot get great low freq performance out of small nearfield monitors, at any price. Most start loosing accuracy around 60Hz and below about 40Hz there's typically very little accuracy at all. This is why commercial recording studios never use only nearfield monitors, they always also have a set of main, mid-field monitors with large integrated woofers. Cinemas and Imax not only have large integrated woofers in the front (screen) speakers but a whole bank of additional large woofers and incidentally, these "large" woofers are typically double to triple the diameter of your "monstrous looking" woofers!

While good headphones will reproduce low freqs more accurately than nearfields, you've again failed to consider the physics. This additional headphone LF accuracy does NOT equate to "fidelity" because this LF content is often intended for powerful subs which cause the audience to physically feel the impact of the sound pressure waves on their body. Headphones are physically incapable of reproducing this effect/intention, so in this respect they have virtually no fidelity whatsoever!

G
You're going to have to excuse my hyperbole, typing on a tablet, it is easier sometimes for hyperbole. I could have typed 'an impressive magnet and basket structure for a 6.5 in woofer'. 'Monstrous' was easier on my patience.

In my opinion, one is not subject to true fidelity without a very low measured THD throughout the audible frequency band. I could wire one speaker in a stereo speaker out of phase, and experience a subjective 'monstrous' soundstage, high fidelity? Questionable.

Soundstage is purely subjective. It cannot be measured objectively. Positional audio is purely imaginary. When one spends time and resources that cannot be recovered in chasing imaginary positional sounds in an auto repair, one understands and learns quickly how factual this is.

THD on the other hand can be measured, it is objectively factual. At any reasonable given price range, with reasonably engineered, headphones or speakers. The headphone will have a lower measured THD. Subjectively, it sounds that way to me also.

In the case of the HD650 headphone, not only will it give a high fidelity, low distortion sound. The frequency response is very near a good house curve, or Cinema X curve. It even has better lower distortion resolution in the mid, low mid and bass than both my 'studio' monitors (the monitors holding an edge in upper mids and treble resolution). The price difference, is 'vast' to say the least.

I think I got lucky this time around with speakers. I normally flank my TV screen with speakers, because TV sounds are awful. This time around, I ran out of space where I normally flank the speakers. But the table was deep enough that I could move it forward from the TV screen. This left space between my passive Tannoy bookshelves. This empty pocket of space created the so called 'soundstage'. Which I constantly read about, but could never figure out what was so impressive about it. At near field, it was indeed very spacious and going back to my SE215 IEMs, the next morning was a bit of a shock, the space had collapsed.

The point of my anecdote is simple. Are engineers recording for themselves and each other, so they can run back to their sound treated ego...I mean studio, and enjoy their perfect sound?

Because in reality, most, make that no consumers will be attaching pads of any type to their ceilings, the ones that consume the product you offer and pay your wages.

I was fortunate to be exposed to good headphones...which was a battle in itself, considering the crap that was out there a decade ago. I have a good frequency response and low THD reference at affordable prices. Because of the affordability of accurate headphones, I have become a new breed of audiophile that is well experienced with low THD, neutral sound before listening to any Hi Fi speaker.

Unfortunately for you, an audiophile is what defines a consumer with interest in hi fidelity. Not all consumers of this type managed to become audio engineers. It is also unfortunate, that this word fills you with disgust. But this is the only consumer that pays your wages and appreciates your efforts.

Here is hoping that we can work in unison , rather than in opposition, for the greater good.

Cheers mate.
 
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I'm starting to think these Iso Acoustic stands are a load of crap, maybe not a load of crap, but they aren't useful in all scenarios and in some scenarios do the opposite of what they claim.

For those that don't know, isoacoustic stands are very popular to place under studio monitor speakers and 'decouple' the speakers from the desk.

I have two sets. One for my A7X and smaller ones for the KH120s. The smaller set was a catastrophe waiting to happen. I had assembled them them found one set as higher than the other set. So I squished the taller one some more. They were harder to assemble than my bigger set.

Somewhat even, I place 2K worth of KH120 on top, and boy were they wobbly. After sometime, I see that my speakers are tilting up. I pull them off and notice the stands have sunk. I am a strong guy, all my might squeezing them could not overcome the combination of friction and compressed air to seat them correctly.

Fortunately, I am mechanically minded and a dab of rubber friendly silicon grease 'supe lube' solved the problem. I can't believe how much lower the speaker sat once assembled correctly.

Ill conceived made in China crap. The marketers have made a truck load of money selling rubbish. The thought of my KH120s toppling over because of this, an inevitable fate had I not greased the rubber and tubes.

So having spent a week purely on my KH120s, enjoying their detailed midrange, laid back highs, and tuneful bass that seems to go lower with better tune at the very bottom than the A7X. It's f..ken crazy if you see how freaking small this thing is. I'm telling you, this 5 inch woofer' packs a bass you would not believe...not sloppy either, with excellent definition, not the best, but very good. Despite the rated not as low as the A7X with its 7 incher...they go usefully lower with better linearity and clarity than the way bigger A7X.

After a week though I miss something. I always feel that the KH120s are clinical and lacks emotion. The reason for this I know why. The small 5 incher cannot resolve lower mids well. At all. Not compared to instrument speakers...big paper coned, fabric surrounds, high resonance...15 inches.

It is here that speakers tend to fall short on good headphones. It's evident in the best factory car stereos. Meridian, Bowers and Wilkins, Harmon Kardon, Bang and Olufsen...you name it. Physics, my friends is the enemy of simple guitar and piano chords. The most basic schiit you learn in music classes.

Here, my HD650s, SE215, LCD2, HD800S...destroys puny speakers. Crushes them into a bloody mess.

It's here the A7Xs hold an advantage to the KH120. It resolves the lower mids better. I put my ear up to the woofer' of the KH120, all I hear is mud... indistinct warmth (as I type this am reminded to put my ear to the woofer of the A7X...aha!). I then put my ear to the tweeter...there is all that midrange detail and space I hear.

Are the woofers better on the KH120 than the A7X. I start to doubt my earlier declaration. The tweeter is leading the center midrange charge as well as reproducing the uppermidrange.

Perhaps the woofer in the KH120 is weak, but the advanced computer designed aluminium construction housing extracts the most out of it.

I suspect that in fact, the dome tweeter is the cause of the highly detailed and spacious center midrange. The ART tweeter always felt a bit upper mid/lower treble recessed, could this be the cause of the midrange 'compression', i.e two dimensional midrange of the A7X?

The answer is yes. The A7X needs a bigger ribbon to move more air for uppermidrange dynamics, so the midrange can breath. I now have the A7X running. Putting my ears on the tweeter confirm my suspicion. Putting my ear on the woofer of the A7X I hear definition...not just warm indistinct sounds like on the KH120.

I have also removed the Iso Acoustic stands on the A7X, they sit on a non slip rubber mat. They are more stable without the stands. The stands make the recessed upper mids worse. It loses some subbass for an illusion of bass tightness at the expense of bass linearity. The A7X has rubbish sub bass, complete and utter rubbish. But above that the bass is quite tight. The crappy stands make all !y speakers more unstable. It is easy to test...pushing them creates a subtle oscillation...on the table they are stable. Those stands are crap...Iso Acoustic suck. Big time.
 
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I'm starting to think these Iso Acoustic stands are a load of crap, maybe not a load of crap, but they aren't useful in all scenarios and in some scenarios do the opposite of what they claim.

For those that don't know, isoacoustic stands are very popular to place under studio monitor speakers and 'decouple' the speakers from the desk.

I have two sets. One for my A7X and smaller ones for the KH120s. The smaller set was a catastrophe waiting to happen. I had assembled them them found one set as higher than the other set. So I squished the taller one some more. They were harder to assemble than my bigger set.

Somewhat even, I place 2K worth of KH120 on top, and boy were they wobbly. After sometime, I see that my speakers are tilting up. I pull them off and notice the stands have sunk. I am a strong guy, all my might squeezing them could not overcome the combination of friction and compressed air to seat them correctly.

Fortunately, I am mechanically minded and a dab of rubber friendly silicon grease 'supe lube' solved the problem. I can't believe how much lower the speaker sat once assembled correctly.

Ill conceived made in China crap. The marketers have made a truck load of money selling rubbish. The thought of my KH120s toppling over because of this, an inevitable fate had I not greased the rubber and tubes.

So having spent a week purely on my KH120s, enjoying their detailed midrange, laid back highs, and tuneful bass that seems to go lower with better tune at the very bottom than the A7X. It's f..ken crazy if you see how freaking small this thing is. I'm telling you, this 5 inch woofer' packs a bass you would not believe...not sloppy either, with excellent definition, not the best, but very good. Despite the rated not as low as the A7X with its 7 incher...they go usefully lower with better linearity and clarity than the way bigger A7X.

After a week though I miss something. I always feel that the KH120s are clinical and lacks emotion. The reason for this I know why. The small 5 incher cannot resolve lower mids well. At all. Not compared to instrument speakers...big paper coned, fabric surrounds, high resonance...15 inches.

It is here that speakers tend to fall short on good headphones. It's evident in the best factory car stereos. Meridian, Bowers and Wilkins, Harmon Kardon, Bang and Olufsen...you name it. Physics, my friends is the enemy of simple guitar and piano chords. The most basic schiit you learn in music classes.

Here, my HD650s, SE215, LCD2, HD800S...destroys puny speakers. Crushes them into a bloody mess.

It's here the A7Xs hold an advantage to the KH120. It resolves the lower mids better. I put my ear up to the woofer' of the KH120, all I hear is mud... indistinct warmth (as I type this am reminded to put my ear to the woofer of the A7X...aha!). I then put my ear to the tweeter...there is all that midrange detail and space I hear.

Are the woofers better on the KH120 than the A7X. I start to doubt my earlier declaration. The tweeter is leading the center midrange charge as well as reproducing the uppermidrange.

Perhaps the woofer in the KH120 is weak, but the advanced computer designed aluminium construction housing extracts the most out of it.

I suspect that in fact, the dome tweeter is the cause of the highly detailed and spacious center midrange. The ART tweeter always felt a bit upper mid/lower treble recessed, could this be the cause of the midrange 'compression', i.e two dimensional midrange of the A7X?

The answer is yes. The A7X needs a bigger ribbon to move more air for uppermidrange dynamics, so the midrange can breath. I now have the A7X running. Putting my ears on the tweeter confirm my suspicion. Putting my ear on the woofer of the A7X I hear definition...not just warm indistinct sounds like on the KH120.

I have also removed the Iso Acoustic stands on the A7X, they sit on a non slip rubber mat. They are more stable without the stands. The stands make the recessed upper mids worse. It loses some subbass for an illusion of bass tightness at the expense of bass linearity. The A7X has rubbish sub bass, complete and utter rubbish. But above that the bass is quite tight. The crappy stands make all my speakers more unstable. It is easy to test...pushing them creates a subtle oscillation...on the table they are stable. Those stands are crap...Iso Acoustic suck. Big time.
The lesson hear is, there are no winners here. Both get a participation award. They both win. Or they both suck. But no, I enjoy them both...it's like a menage a trois...
:ksc75smile:

Edit...I didn't mean to quote myself, that was meant to be an edit, I hope I didn't quote myself again .

Edit...thank god I didn't quote myself again, image how stupid that would look...
 
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@SP Wild

Why not get proper speaker stands?

I use the Samson MS200. They made a big difference.
I have had a new set in the boot of my car for months. I haven't worked out how to arrange stands in my current layout. They are the same as your one, a bit pricier but triangular base for maximum stability, adjustable height.

I had a pair if stands in the late 90s...the university had a volleyball court. Late at night I got busted with my speaker stands at the court, which was just outside my college room, filling with sand. The other students could not comprehend what I was doing. I had Gale speakers back then.

But yes... They were certainly more solidly stable than the Iso Acoustics. As I only set them up without them late last night, today I will give a thorough diagnosis of those, and how they effect each of my monitors.

I suspect the A7Xs get affected by those stands more than the KH120. The KH120 box is solid like a rock and is probably never affected by the stands sloppiness.
 
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[1] In my opinion, one is not subject to true fidelity without a very low measured THD throughout the audible frequency band.
[2] I could wire one speaker in a stereo speaker out of phase, and experience a subjective 'monstrous' soundstage, high fidelity?
[3] Soundstage is purely subjective. It cannot be measured objectively. Positional audio is purely imaginary.
[4] At any reasonable given price range, with reasonably engineered, headphones or speakers. The headphone will have a lower measured THD. Subjectively, it sounds that way to me also.
[5] In the case of the HD650 headphone, not only will it give a high fidelity, low distortion sound.
[6] The frequency response is very near a good house curve, or Cinema X curve.

[7] Are engineers recording for themselves and each other, so they can run back to their sound treated ego...I mean studio, and enjoy their perfect sound? Because in reality, most, make that no consumers will be attaching pads of any type to their ceilings, the ones that consume the product you offer and pay your wages.

[8] I have become a new breed of audiophile that is well experienced with low THD, neutral sound before listening to any Hi Fi speaker.
[8a] Unfortunately for you, an audiophile is what defines a consumer with interest in hi fidelity. ...
[8b] It is also unfortunate, that this word fills you with disgust.
[9] But this is the only consumer that pays your wages and appreciates your efforts.

[1] Here is hoping that we can work in unison , rather than in opposition, for the greater good.
1. Agreed, although that's only one aspect of fidelity.
2. No, it would not be high fidelity or even vaguely close. You might (or might not) get a large soundstage but it would not be an accurate soundstage, plus, you'd destroy freq response!
3. Soundstage is a perception and is not directly measurable. However, it is not purely imaginary, it is carefully produced (by human beings who also perceive soundstage) and therefore a system with high fidelity must be able to faithfully reproduce it. You do realise that audio "fidelity" means: "How faithfully sound can be reproduced"?
4. The amount of THD becomes irrelevant once below the threshold of audibility.
5. By the definition of "fidelity", no the HD650s are not high fidelity. They cannot faithfully reproduce that which has been produced. Namely, soundstage and bass response. That's not a fault with these particular headphones but with headphones in general because the vast majority of music is mixed/mastered for speaker presentation and headphones do not faithfully reproduce speaker presentation!
6. A house curve and the x-curve are two different things, which is why they have different names. So your HD650's freq response could ONLY be "very near" to one OR the other, not to both! In actual fact, HD 650's are not close to either! I'm not saying HD 650's are bad headphones, they're very good, I own a set myself! If you had some understanding of what house curves and the x-curve are (and what they are for), you'd understand why.

7. No, we obviously have no concept of reality, we spend all our lives in studios and none of us have ever been in a normal person's house or heard a normal person's sound system. We have no idea who pays us and we obviously don't care and have no idea what consumers think of our products! Sheeeesh, have you not even the most basic understanding of why mastering exists, what makes successful audio engineers/producers successful, that it's a competitive field?

8. Yep, and that's the problem! Headphones are nowhere near a "neutral sound" but to audiophiles, if they like the sound of some bit of kit then they'll call it "neutral", "transparent" and/or "Hi-fi" without any real understanding of what those terms actually mean! Providing you're using your nearfield monitors appropriately, they are going to be more neutral and produce more fidelity (faithful reproduction) than your headphones, though not necessarily a presentation you personally prefer or are used to. Obviously (I hope!), the opposite would be true if trying to reproduce a mix/master designed for headphones (a binaural recording/mix for example).
8a. That's incorrect! Many audiophiles, particularly the most vociferous, extreme ones, have little/no interest in high fidelity. Their interest is in audio equipment and a sound presentation which they like. They call this high fidelity, even though it frequently has nothing to do with fidelity, and they call themselves audiophiles, even though they love their equipment and personal preferences, rather than the sound itself.
8b. Yes, it is unfortunate, for nearly everyone: It's unfortunate for the public, who see audiophiles as nutters, it's unfortunate for true audiophiles, who don't want to be tarred with the same"nutter" brush as the audio-equipment-philes calling themselves audiophiles and it's even unfortunate for those audio-equipment-philes themselves, although they typically don't realise, understand or care why it's so unfortunate for them!
9. No, audio-equipment-philes typically contribute only an insignificant fraction of our pay, the vast majority of it comes from normal/rational people.

10. Well that depends on you! It's not going to happen if you continue trying to make yourself look big by spouting nonsense and casting aspersions on audio engineers, when it's obvious you don't have the first clue about audio engineering/engineers!

G
 
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I'm not here to argue with you, by all means educate those that are interested.

But by no means am I of any significant relevance in solving the issue you have with audiophiles.

Me sound big? I am not even relevant, period, to the bigger scheme for things. You take issue with an irrelevant random strangers exhuberance with the new speakers he bought, studio monitors, because he was inspired by professionals ... Huh, way to go Mr Serous Audio Engineer.

The way you carry on, who wouldn't lose interest in audio engineers. Not that this is the reason any of us are here. We are here because we enjoy music and are fascinated by the science and artistry.

Perhaps one day, you too will rediscover the youthful exhuberance you once had and not harbour a grudge with those that never lost it.
 
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I haven't worked out how to arrange stands in my current layout.
What is the layout of your listening room?

Mine is about as basic as it gets: a table in the corner of a bedroom. I guess you could say I'm lucky because I haven't even touched room treatments and EQ yet, but already have phenomenal sound. And the stands are simply placed on either side of the table within arm's length. (I experimented with positioning and ended up preferring a more intimate placement.)

The most noticeable difference with the stands is that the bass doesn't resonate through the furniture and walls nearly as much. (I'd still like to improve the stand setup because it isn't fully isolated.)
 
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