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Old 17th November 2010, 12:25 AM   #1
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Default Source and amplifier reviews

If youíve come here in the hope of finding a review, Iím afraid I have to disappoint you.

Iím here to argue against some reviews as being superfluous, and worse; counter-productive.

You may wonder how I have arrived at this conclusion.

Bear with me while I reminisce for a while.

In the early 60ís I first started to read a magazine called Amateur Photographer. AP was almost beyond doubt the leading photographic magazine of the time in Britain, for both amateurs and professionals alike. In fact, during several extended periods, it was the only photographic magazine.

In common with present-day photo mags, (Amateur Photographer still exists) AP carried a variety of articles ranging from competitions, presentations of photos by readers, photos commissioned from professional photographers and Members or Fellows of the RPS, letters to the editor, hints and tips on both taking and processing photos, and reviews of equipment, primarily cameras and lenses. Not an issue would pass without a review of a camera.

A principal feature of any camera review was the lens test. The results in early days were expressed in terms of LPPM (line pairs per millimetre) at centre and edge and later came to be presented as MTF (modulation transfer function) charts. These were taken very seriously and there is little doubt that the success of the Olympus OM1 was predicated to a great deal on the superlative results for the 50/f1.8 F.Zuiko, with which the body sold as standard.

As an enthusiast, I used to read these reviews ardently, and the first place I would seek out in the reviews, in common with other enthusiasts, was the lens test. This, after all, was the measure of the primary function of the camera. Secondary to this was the shutter accuracy, followed by the meter (if any) function, and then the ergonomics.

Imagine my dismay, when, in the early 70ís AP ceased to publish lens test results as part of camera reviews. It took a long time for me to understand the wisdom of those reviewers.

The reason given was that the general standard of lens performance had risen so high that adequacy could be taken for granted.

Lenses, in the main, were good enough. Good enough to be taken for granted.

My subsequent view was that there was an unexpressed subtext that the tests encouraged an unhealthy focus (sic), if not to say obsession with a single aspect of photography to the exclusion of others.

You may, by now, have some idea where Iím going with thisÖ

With the advent of digital cameras, their growing popularity and performance levels, review sites on the web (and presumably magazines, although I no longer read photo mags) started to publish MTF charts for lenses (and sensors) once more, as buyers sought some objective means of discriminating between cameras, the variety of which had proliferated to a considerable degree. This too, however, will pass. Eventually reviews will simply report sensor resolution, lens aperture, focal length and perhaps SNR versus ASA. Other than these parameters, performance will be taken for granted.

And so to the subject of audio sources and amplifiers.

Here is my thesis. Audio sources and amplifiers are so good that it is no longer worthwhile reviewing them. Speakers, thatís a different matter. But sources and amplifiers, by and large, are so good that under controlled conditions it is impossible to distinguish between them. Review them for features, yes, but for performance, no, and certainly not for subjective performance, any more than the reviewers in AP would have permitted their subjective impressions of a lens to override or supplant MTF charts. They simply stopped discussing lens performance.

Itís not a popular view.

ĎBut what about the differences that reviewers hear between different sources and different amplifiers?í I hear you ask.

Well, if they didnít hear any differences then theyíd be out of a job wouldnít they?

Thatís a pretty strong motivation to hear a difference, in my book. Iím not saying that theyíre all knowingly dishonest, but some are, and the rest self-deceived. As, unfortunately, are the majority of posters on this forum when they claim to hear differences between pieces of equipment, although not in all cases as obviously many pieces of DIY equipment do fall below the standard where there is no perceptible difference.

ĎBut what about the differences that I hear between different sources and different amplifiers which the numbers say should be indistinguishable?í

Do you? How do you know that?

Iíve never participated in a double blind test. I donít know anybody whoís participated in a double blind test. Iíve never met anybody whoís participated in a double blind test.

What I do know is that Iíve read things written by people who have conducted double blind testing. Iíve read numerous reviews too. I trust the writings of the double blind testers. I donít trust the writings of the audio reviewers, not in the same way I trusted the reviewers in AP all those years ago. Why not? Because of nearly early 60 years of experience of reading and assessing what Iíve read for veracity.

The DB testers tell us that in the great majority of cases there is no perceptible difference between sources and amplifiers of a given quality and above. That as long as the manufacturer's specs exceed a given standard there is no need to look any further.

Not that manufacturers are incapable of fraud, but there are constraints on their behaviour, while there are no constraints on reviewers behaviour.

I donít think I was into my teens when I read Adamskiís ĎFlying Saucers Have Landedí. It was the first book I had ever read where the author deliberately tried to pass off fiction as the truth. As a child I knew instantly that this was the case. As a child I was appalled. As an adult I have never forgotten.

Exactly how one sifts the genuine from the fraudulent and self-deceiving is hard to express precisely. It has something to do with internal self-consistency, something to do with the standards one would apply oneself when writing something that one hoped would be believed. I sincerely hope that youíve got the capacity.

This is over 1000 words already. Thereís more that I could say, but if I havenít made my point by now, I doubt that I can swing the case by carrying on.

Anyway, there it is. If youíve stuck with me this far, then thanks for the attention.

w
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Old 18th November 2010, 09:49 PM   #2
DF96 is offline DF96  England
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There might at one time have been a strong element of truth in what you say. Minor differences heard were most likely to be due to minor differences in frequency response and other things of little consequence.

Not any more. There are now items with significant distortion, significant frequency response errors, significant design errors. People now review amplifiers in a way which would be appropriate for a musical instrument (tone, musicality, warmth) but wholly inappropriate for a reproducer. This would be fine (its a free world), if only some did not insist that these errors were somehow superior to well-designed items without these problems.
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Old 18th November 2010, 11:27 PM   #3
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Quote:
The DB testers tell us that in the great majority of cases there is no perceptible difference between sources and amplifiers of a given quality and above. That as long as the manufacturer's specs exceed a given standard there is no need to look any further.
If what they say is true, what are we all doing here on diyaudio designing and building one amplifer after another?
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Old 19th November 2010, 06:10 PM   #4
DF96 is offline DF96  England
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Some of us are learning how to do audio. Some of us will never learn how to do audio.
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Old 19th November 2010, 11:36 PM   #5
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There's more than an element of truth in what you say DF96, but I'm not about to back off. At one time nobody would have dreamt of giving credibility to 'subjective' reviews. Then somebody started publishing them and gradually, with persistence, succeeded not only in getting acceptance for them, but they have become the norm.

Such a process can work in reverse though. If audio engineering is to be fashion driven, then so be it. The tide flows and the tide ebbs.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Van Morrison
Don't want to discuss it
Think it's time for a change
You may get disgusted
And think that I'm strange
In that case I'll go underground
Get some solid rest
Never have to worry
'bout who's got what and what is best

Oh, oh, Domino
Roll me over Romeo
Time for a change
Allright...
w
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Old 19th November 2010, 11:37 PM   #6
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Blog Entries: 8
Building amplifiers repeatedly, as long as the circuit itself is studied thoroughly and understood, widens your experience, meaning you have the ability to *fix* other, similar amplifiers, often at a profit - faulty amplifiers go cheap on eBay, yet they're usually easy to sort out.

Back to the OP, I'd say that amplifiers can be different, but one way can't be inherantly better than another. Valves vs solid state is an example - they each have their own distinctive characteristics, yet trying to pick the best one would cause havoc.

I should probably go now, but more thoughts shall be posted later today.
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Old 26th November 2010, 03:14 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wakibaki View Post
If youíve come here in the hope of finding a review, Iím afraid I have to disappoint you.

Iím here to argue against some reviews as being superfluous, and worse; counter-productive.

You may wonder how I have arrived at this conclusion.

Bear with me while I reminisce for a while.

In the early 60ís I first started to read a magazine called Amateur Photographer. AP was almost beyond doubt the leading photographic magazine of the time in Britain, for both amateurs and professionals alike. In fact, during several extended periods, it was the only photographic magazine.

In common with present-day photo mags, (Amateur Photographer still exists) AP carried a variety of articles ranging from competitions, presentations of photos by readers, photos commissioned from professional photographers and Members or Fellows of the RPS, letters to the editor, hints and tips on both taking and processing photos, and reviews of equipment, primarily cameras and lenses. Not an issue would pass without a review of a camera.

A principal feature of any camera review was the lens test. The results in early days were expressed in terms of LPPM (line pairs per millimetre) at centre and edge and later came to be presented as MTF (modulation transfer function) charts. These were taken very seriously and there is little doubt that the success of the Olympus OM1 was predicated to a great deal on the superlative results for the 50/f1.8 F.Zuiko, with which the body sold as standard.

As an enthusiast, I used to read these reviews ardently, and the first place I would seek out in the reviews, in common with other enthusiasts, was the lens test. This, after all, was the measure of the primary function of the camera. Secondary to this was the shutter accuracy, followed by the meter (if any) function, and then the ergonomics.

Imagine my dismay, when, in the early 70ís AP ceased to publish lens test results as part of camera reviews. It took a long time for me to understand the wisdom of those reviewers.

The reason given was that the general standard of lens performance had risen so high that adequacy could be taken for granted.

Lenses, in the main, were good enough. Good enough to be taken for granted.

My subsequent view was that there was an unexpressed subtext that the tests encouraged an unhealthy focus (sic), if not to say obsession with a single aspect of photography to the exclusion of others.

You may, by now, have some idea where Iím going with thisÖ

With the advent of digital cameras, their growing popularity and performance levels, review sites on the web (and presumably magazines, although I no longer read photo mags) started to publish MTF charts for lenses (and sensors) once more, as buyers sought some objective means of discriminating between cameras, the variety of which had proliferated to a considerable degree. This too, however, will pass. Eventually reviews will simply report sensor resolution, lens aperture, focal length and perhaps SNR versus ASA. Other than these parameters, performance will be taken for granted.

And so to the subject of audio sources and amplifiers.

Here is my thesis. Audio sources and amplifiers are so good that it is no longer worthwhile reviewing them. Speakers, thatís a different matter. But sources and amplifiers, by and large, are so good that under controlled conditions it is impossible to distinguish between them. Review them for features, yes, but for performance, no, and certainly not for subjective performance, any more than the reviewers in AP would have permitted their subjective impressions of a lens to override or supplant MTF charts. They simply stopped discussing lens performance.

Itís not a popular view.

ĎBut what about the differences that reviewers hear between different sources and different amplifiers?í I hear you ask.

Well, if they didnít hear any differences then theyíd be out of a job wouldnít they?

Thatís a pretty strong motivation to hear a difference, in my book. Iím not saying that theyíre all knowingly dishonest, but some are, and the rest self-deceived. As, unfortunately, are the majority of posters on this forum when they claim to hear differences between pieces of equipment, although not in all cases as obviously many pieces of DIY equipment do fall below the standard where there is no perceptible difference.

ĎBut what about the differences that I hear between different sources and different amplifiers which the numbers say should be indistinguishable?í

Do you? How do you know that?

Iíve never participated in a double blind test. I donít know anybody whoís participated in a double blind test. Iíve never met anybody whoís participated in a double blind test.

What I do know is that Iíve read things written by people who have conducted double blind testing. Iíve read numerous reviews too. I trust the writings of the double blind testers. I donít trust the writings of the audio reviewers, not in the same way I trusted the reviewers in AP all those years ago. Why not? Because of nearly early 60 years of experience of reading and assessing what Iíve read for veracity.

The DB testers tell us that in the great majority of cases there is no perceptible difference between sources and amplifiers of a given quality and above. That as long as the manufacturer's specs exceed a given standard there is no need to look any further.

Not that manufacturers are incapable of fraud, but there are constraints on their behaviour, while there are no constraints on reviewers behaviour.

I donít think I was into my teens when I read Adamskiís ĎFlying Saucers Have Landedí. It was the first book I had ever read where the author deliberately tried to pass off fiction as the truth. As a child I knew instantly that this was the case. As a child I was appalled. As an adult I have never forgotten.

Exactly how one sifts the genuine from the fraudulent and self-deceiving is hard to express precisely. It has something to do with internal self-consistency, something to do with the standards one would apply oneself when writing something that one hoped would be believed. I sincerely hope that youíve got the capacity.

This is over 1000 words already. Thereís more that I could say, but if I havenít made my point by now, I doubt that I can swing the case by carrying on.

Anyway, there it is. If youíve stuck with me this far, then thanks for the attention.

w
HEAR. HEAR!

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