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Is constant tweaking worth it? Or are we forgetting to just enjoy the music?

Discussion in 'Currawong' started by currawong, Mar 25, 2011.
  1. Currawong Contributor

    Sokolov posted an interesting rant below in another thread, which provoked some good replies. My own thoughts are below.

    There was an interesting rant on another site, the author and link to which I don't have handy, but in which the author stated that for any new component to replace an existing one in his system, it had to beat his current reference, upgraded to take it as far as it could go.  Many common tweaks DO make a sonic difference (though some may not).  Upgrading the clock and OPAMPs in a digital component and upgrading the capacitors where they are in the signal path or power supply result in distinctly better performance.
    However, I do understand this rant -- I recall someone having in their signature something like "Don't ever forget it's about the music.", a wise reminder if ever there was one. We definitely do tend to get caught up in the gear. For me, it is fun tinkering and the results often increase my ability to enjoy what I listen to. When I don't feel as good about a change to my system, I reverse it. Often changes I have made which I thought would make no difference at all, though I can't nail down exactly what I feel has changed about the sound, have often changed my feeling when listening, for better or for worse. Through a process of alimination, and an increased understanding of the effect of various things, when I do choose to buy something new, it is much easier to guess whether it will be a worthy improvement or not.  When it is, the reward is more pleasure when listening.
    However, I reckon I could stop now and be satisfied with the sound quality of the gear I have.
  2. roadcykler
    That's a great question. Find any two people that share the headphone (or just about any other music reproduction) hobby and they almost invariably talk about hardware 99% of the time. I think one reason is, regardless of what many people say, about the only difference in sound comes from the headphones or speakers whereas there are many, many types of music and they all sound different. 
  3. LFF
    Fantastic question/topic and one I myself ponder from time to time.
    I stopped lusting after many headphones and gear when I learned to master/remaster/restore music. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I could demo some crappy speakers hidden behind a curtain playing well mastered music in the same setting as a high end room held by a high end company playing "normal" retail music. It would obviously be the same the song but with different treatments. What would the reactions be? What would people think? What would people believe? Could a $400.00 speaker beat a $20,000.00 speaker?
    Of course, this hasn't caused me to stop tweaking...no...instead I just tweak the music but the result has been that I stopped worrying about tweaking my listening room rig. More importantly, it put my mind into a "source first" mentality and that has been the savior of many of my hard earned cents and dollars. Still...I enjoy trying out new gear and being surprised by many new things that pop into this great hobby of ours.
  4. Uncle Erik Contributor
    Excellent topic!

    First, this reminds me of a great book I read some years back, "The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less," by Barry Schwartz. Excellent book and I highly recommend it. Here is the Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice:_Why_More_Is_Less).

    The discussion of satisficers and maximizers very much applies here.

    Admittedly, I've had a foot in both camps. While I generally take a dim view of mods and tweaks, I have bought far more headphones and amps than I actually need. I wanted to experience them all and I did. The only ones I didn't buy were ones I didn't enjoy or were just too expensive, like the R10 and HE90 (I like both, but that level of money, IMHO, should go towards income-generating assets. Not condemning those who can afford them; I'd buy them, too, if I wasn't bent on unearned income.)

    Now that I've heard everything that interests me, I've settled in on two primary headphones, the HD-800 and K-1000. I keep a few others for occasional use, but will reevaluate that eventually. It might be good to let them go to people who will use them and put the cash elsewhere. For almost two years now, I haven't made a major purchase. I am reasonably sure I'm satisfied.

    Still not entirely done with amps - I'm going to build the parts I've stockpiled over the past few years. I became very curious about the different topologies and tubes, so I pretty much got one of everything that interests me. I won't keep them all - I'll likely sell off all but the few I enjoy the most.

    As for mods and tweaks, I generally dislike them because they're second-guessing professionals. People who know a lot more than I do. I also realize that there are tradeoffs for everything. It's like squeezing a balloon - you might get one part just the way you want it, but it'll bulge out somewhere else. Unintended consequences and the unforseen are everywhere. Designing headphones is a balancing act. You have to have a deep understanding before you can change things without upsetting the balance. This is why I don't dissect headphones and muck around inside. I don't know what I'd be doing. Further, if something doesn't sound good, I don't buy it in the first place. Buying something I don't enjoy just to tinker with doesn't make sense. Especially when you can damage them and the fact that modified headphones have poor resale here.

    I am getting to where I can tinker with an amp, though. In a way, they're simpler because you're not dealing with acoustics. I don't know much about circuit design (yet), but know a little about power supplies. You can do things like change filament supplies from AC to DC, change rectification from diodes to tubes, add chokes, additional filtering, regulate the supply, and much else. As I start building more, I'm going to experiment with these. I understand the challenges of additional circuit complexity, heat, casing requirements, and cost. The goals are straightforward, too, like keeping ripple to a minimum and supplying enough power to the circuit. As I learn more, I'd like to experiment with the topology. That's trickier. I've read a lot and understand a bit, but it always seems that a new wrinkle turns up when I think I'm making headway.

    As for the unmeasurable and perpetually controversial mods and tweaks, they're not worth my time. I'm mostly convinced that they're imaginary. And if not, I don't have a Ph.D. or a research lab to investigate the claims. And I'm not going back to school. At least not for that. If something isn't easily demonstrable with a 'scope or meters, it probably doesn't exist. I'd much rather spend that time experimenting with things that inarguably exist. There are many combinations of existing designs and devices that haven't been fully explored yet. Monkeying around with the paranormal is silly when something like a ribbon headphone has never been put into production. A ribbon headphone is possible - someone just has to do it. So why waste time in contentious dead ends when you could, instead, make something that a lot of people would enjoy? Similarly, research into casing and construction techniques could give us better amps at a lower cost. That sort of thing could benefit everyone, instead of a bunch of testimonial "evidence" and suspicious profit margins.
  5. SoupRKnowva


    unfortunately we all dont have your talents LFF [​IMG]
  6. DeadEars
    I find myself agreeing with Uncle Erik on this one.  Three years ago, a business that I founded went belly-up, so I was forced to stop spending on audio gear (an addiction) as my income came to a screeching halt.  Instead, I did two things.  First, I focused on new music rather than new gear.  I started going to more concerts, and buying CD's that were far, far away from my current repertoire.  At the end of one year of doing this, I inspected the 'happiness meter' and decided that I got FAR more satisfaction out of the music I discovered and heard than I had gotten out of all my audio gear spending in the previous few years.  So maybe it is about the music after all!
    The second thing I did was start to learn about how electronics affect sound.  I revisited my high-school electronics training and started tinkering with vintage tube amplifiers.  I had built a couple of kits in high school, and could still read a circuit diagram.  So I figured I would buy some clapped-out vintage amps on eBay and rebuild/restore them.  My goal was mostly to stay cheap and learn things.  I wanted to better understand how different circuits work, and what the sonic consequences are of choices of circuit topology and the sound of different components.  I bought a bunch of old Pilot, Scott, Eico, Dynaco, McIntosh, and Marantz gear, most non-working and for very cheap.  My troubleshooting and soldering skills improved markedly.  I solicited and got a great deal of help on various DIY forums. 
    I learned about the differences in vintage components versus modern resistors, capacitors, wire, etc. when used in vintage circuits.  For instance, I rebuilt an Eico HF-81 amp that I got for $25 at a thrift store.  First I got it working, and listened to it in its "stock" configuration (it was actually a 1959 factory-wired unit, not a kit).  Then I rebuilt it with "boutique" parts, the really expensive stuff you can buy at Michael Percy or Parts Connexion.  Turns out it sounded better in stock configuration.  Who would have expected that result!  Crappy little mica capacitors instead of Orange Drops.  Noisy carbon comp resistors instead of modern Vishay and Rodersteins?  So I re-rebuilt it back to mostly stock configuration, then started experimenting with parts, as well as tube rolling.  Eventually, I modified it one-part-at-a-time, using my ears rather than my wallet.  What a nice way to learn about electronics and sound!   
    This past year, I built several headphone amps, as well as using some vintage amps reconfigured as headphone amps.  I started hanging out on DIY audiio forums, and learning about modern techniques for biasing tubes using LED's or cascoded cathode follower stages, and constant current sources.  Turns out, even without engineering background, but just doing hands-on tinkering, you can do some pretty remarkable things to generate decent sound.  I'm amazed at how many different solutions there are, and how so many of them produce such good results!  I also attended a couple Head-Fi meets so I could compare my experiences to modern gear.  Who would have guessed that my modest little Eico HF-81 would make such a great headphone amp for Audez'e LCD-2's? 
    So I'd say on reflection that getting more into the music first, and learning more about how to make great sounds come out of headphones can be a great hobby, and it can be done cheaply, on a limited/fixed income.  What a great hobby!
  7. KingStyles Contributor
    It is about the music for sure. I am constantly tweaking and upgrading my setup just out of curiosity to see just how good it can get. Could I stop now and be happy, yes. I havent bought a new can in a while because the one I have seem to fit me perfect. While it does make me happy to get a new toy/tweak, it dosent compare to the joy and excitement that you get when you find a new artist or a song that you like. I spend a lot of time going through all the recommended music threads buying a lot of the cd  that people suggest in all genre. Every few cds I get the one that you just fall in live with or hear a song that just gets you excited needing to be played over and over out of sheer extacy. That excitement is never reproduced by upgrades or tweaks. That is why the music is the most important  upgrade.
  8. MomijiTMO Contributor
    I probably could have settled down with my MS Pros and my first set up. That gave me the most value for money. Since then it seems like diminishing returns kicks in hard. I should focus more on buying music than buying a new dac, amp etc etc. 
  9. gsilver
    In my setups, I researched everything I've bought, and I'll probably avoid any further replacements.
    Every component that I've ever purchased (excluding the HD-650, which I sold), is still in use and still has a purpose. The only thing I can see myself replacing is my at-work headphones, for one with less harsh treble, since I listen to mostly badly compressed podcasts... but that may end up being a downgrade for a specific purpose (making badly compressed audio easier to listen to).
    My PC, on the other hand...
  10. Mkubota1 Contributor


    What a GREAT thread... and short too!  [​IMG]  I am easily as guilty as the next guy of liking new toys.  But it is true- I have gotten comparable joy out of a used $6 CD compared to a few hundred dollars worth of hardware.
  11. Deep Funk
    Tweaking, adjusting, trying new things/variations is rewarding but where do you stop? I stop as soon as I cannot appreciate my favourite albums anymore. Thankfully I still enjoy my favourite music but there is so much new music I have to focus less on the audio gear. (I could not control myself with discovering new music.)
    If it gets out of hand: I walk away, breath and enjoy the sounds and sensations of life again. Sometimes I just want silence... (Silence is underestimated, generally speaking.)
  12. jackmccabe
    I currently have a dac and amplifier that I feel are the best you can get.
    I love my headphones and speakers but always feel there is room for improvement.
    I am looking at getting a tube amp just for a different sound, but that's about it for dacs and amps.
    I am currently very content with my lcd-2's and esl63's, but may consider buying a set of r10's or building some linkwitz orion's.

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