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Old 28th May 2004, 07:29 PM   #1
MBK is offline MBK  Singapore
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Default Musicality of speakers, amps, and instruments

Hi all,

a friend of mine is a violin maker. So we often discuss acoustics, design and measurements. I'd like to share some thoughts I got from this.

Apparently a violin maker attempts to build the violin body in such a way that all 12 demi-tones that make up an octave are represented equally in the resonance pattern of the fundamental.

Also, the overtones (harmonics) created by the violin, are being considered up to the 20th to 25th by a violin maker. The "medium harmonics" in the range of the 10th to 15th or so (!!!) are being considered the key as to why classic Italian violins sound so good - they have more of these medium harmonics. A violin with more medium harmonics is also said to carry the sound farther inside a concert hall. Note that they apparently don't always sound so good to the musician himself, the quality is only apparent from a distance.

My own thoughts as related to consequences for speaker and amplifier design:

- some speaker designers have attempted to build speakers like musical instruments, accepting and shaping resonance signatures of the speaker rather than just trying to eliminate them. The Pass Rushmore comes to mind. I'd be curious what strategies, say, Nelson Pass and his people, have followed in the Rushmore design.

- in the same vein, it occurred to me that tube amp folks often claim their amps sound "loud enough" even with a low wattage. This could be related somehow to the above harmonic structure for those violins that "carry farther". I could imagine that an instrument / speaker / amp that produces a lot of say, 8 to 12th harmonics from a mid frequency fundamental, would sound "louder" than it really is - the 10th harmonic of a 440 Hz tone would be at 4400 Hz and squarely in the ear's most sensitive range. The distortion would make the amp sound louder.

- But SE tube amps are also reputed to sound especially musical, and Pass Labs' Alephs as well. For this, low order even harmonics have been quoted responsible, since both are SE designs.

Now, the proponents of very low distortion amps have pointed out that both SE tube amps and Pass Alephs do have distortion of pretty much all harmonics and fairly evenly so, starting from a strong 2nd harmonic of course.

From all the above it would rather seem that "musicality" may be related to an evenly spaced and balanced demitone characteristic in the distortion signature of an amp or speaker.

It would appear that it's evenly strong wideband harmonics that make an amp/speaker sound musical, and not just a strong 2nd harmonic.

It would appear that midrange high order distortion would make an amp/speaker sound louder...

And it would appear that in an amp/speaker that *doesn't* sound musical, the problem lies not so much in overall low harmonic distortion (duh), or in the presence of high order harmonics per se (to which I see it usually attributed), but in "unnatural gaps" in the harmonic spectrum...


Any thoughts?
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Old 28th May 2004, 08:40 PM   #2
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Just some thoughts. If it is true, as you say, that the instrument
would sound much different close-up than heard from some
distance, this might give one further clue to why close-up
microphones sound so bad (well, bad in my and many others
opinion, that is). Violins are particularly sensitive to this,
I think. Strings sound very harsh on many modern recordings.

A similar but still different case is when an opera singer uses
a deliberate vibrato to make the voice carry through better.
I don't know if they can really sing louder that way or if it
just creates an illusion of being louder. Some overdo it, of
course, or don't intend it in the first place. Hm, would this
mean we would prefer wow and flutter on a TT? Guess not.
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Old 28th May 2004, 11:04 PM   #3
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A speaker should not be a generator of anything. It should reproduce the input signal and that's it. Ditto for an amplifier. Of course in the real world . . . s**t happens.
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Old 28th May 2004, 11:09 PM   #4
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"- some speaker designers have attempted to build speakers like musical instruments, accepting and shaping resonance signatures of the speaker rather than just trying to eliminate them. The Pass Rushmore comes to mind. I'd be curious what strategies, say, Nelson Pass and his people, have followed in the Rushmore design.
"

i doubt. i speaker with stone front is dead compared to an instrument, no harmonics. they use some bended wood or so like seen in some pianos, but that does not mean anything for the sound. it will not be piano like.
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Old 29th May 2004, 12:10 AM   #5
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While I've seen some speaker designs that claim incorporate resonances in their design to good effect, primarily for enhancing bass, as I DIYer with no experience in design and construction of musical instruments, I'll just stick to eliminating resonances to any extent possible.
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Old 29th May 2004, 04:58 AM   #6
MBK is offline MBK  Singapore
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Just to clarify, I also still think it's best to have a well damped speaker with low overall resonance, and an amp with low total distortion. Given that some distortion will remain though, I start suspecting that the "balance" of the distortion could account for the "pleasant" or "unpleasant" signature of this speaker/amp vs. that speaker/amp.

For instance Nelson Pass has often said on this forums that when developing amps the best sounding point is often not the point of lowest overall distortion.

About close miking: yes I thought the same thing. And apparently an inexperienced musician will often find an exceptional instrument quite unremarkable at first, because at close range the quality doesn't come through.

About singing: My cousin claims that in his singing class the teacher would tell him he sounds at his best, at a point when he himself can't really "hear himself" or thinks it sounds unremarkable.

It's funnay also how you read comments about well regarded amps or speakers some time when people claim they sound boring or unremarkable at first, until you discover they just sound "right", and don't overemphasize some aspect of music in any spectacular way.

But the point of my post was mostly an inquiry into why some equipment is deemed musical and some isn't when total distortion measurements are similarly low, or why equipment with higher distortion can sound better.
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Old 29th May 2004, 06:15 AM   #7
Jay is offline Jay  Indonesia
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Quote:
Originally posted by MBK
About singing: My cousin claims that in his singing class the teacher would tell him he sounds at his best, at a point when he himself can't really "hear himself" or thinks it sounds unremarkable.
I'm aware of this "bad at close distance but good at far", but when singing using microphone I believe that we use what we hear as a "feedback". If I hear an unremarkable sound then I will try to "manipulate" my tounge (or anything) to make it remarkable. or should I do otherwise? ()

Quote:
Originally posted by MBK
But the point of my post was mostly an inquiry into why some equipment is deemed musical and some isn't when total distortion measurements are similarly low, or why equipment with higher distortion can sound better.
I still believe it is the transient (among other thing such as even harmonic). I don't know what this is theoritically, but when my ears can hear something as if a jet plane is passing my ears anytime an instrument is hit (or even when a burst of pressured air comes out of the throat), I believe that is what musical is all about. The system (eg the loudspeaker) has the ability to produce 2 different tones with ease, such that it doesn't sound "flat".
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Old 29th May 2004, 10:43 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by MBK
It's funny also how you read comments about well regarded amps or speakers some time when people claim they sound boring or unremarkable at first, until you discover they just sound "right", and don't overemphasize some aspect of music in any spectacular way.
Oh Boy! Is that ever a sight for sore ears! Just five days ago I got me a pair of little Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 speakers that I had been hankering after for ages. Now the trouble is, I have spent absolutely ages listening to speakers ranging all the way from grade Z junk to middle-of-the-road hobby shop stuff. No decent speakers for me. I drove them with a clean sounding class A amp and they would give a surprisingly enjoyable result considering how cheap they were. What's more, I grew completely accustomed to this kind of sound.

Now I have these Wharfedale things they sound as boring all get-out. What a dissapointment! Trouble is, I have almost no experience listening to live music and now I am probaby hearing it a lot more like it originally sounded. What's a person to do???
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Old 29th May 2004, 10:48 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Circlotron

Now I have these Wharfedale things they sound as boring all get-out. What a dissapointment! Trouble is, I have almost no experience listening to live music and now I am probaby hearing it a lot more like it originally sounded. What's a person to do???
Go to live concerts to get accustomed to the "right" sound,
of course.
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Old 29th May 2004, 12:18 PM   #10
lucpes is offline lucpes  Europe
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Quote:
Originally posted by Circlotron

Trouble is, I have almost no experience listening to live music and now I am probaby hearing it a lot more like it originally sounded. What's a person to do???
It's really a pain but a good pair of headphone cans (Sennheiser HD580 has the best price/quality factor) might help to decide how things should sound.
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