My rant about audio

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Hi guys and gals,

first off, a little bit of background about me... For all of my life, up till now, I have been into PCs. Having the greatest/latest/fastest/coolest/most extreme/most modified PC around, that was me. I invested all of my $$$ into PCs. Anything sub-par just wouldn't make its way into my rig. I used to game...

But that is gone. PCs had an impact on my eyesight, and games just got boring... so when games went away, I slowly began to see no point in going faster...

Then came RC cars, which has turned into a big time hobby for me. I've been into RC cars for 2 years now, and things are starting to go as planned, I really enjoy the hobby and the community.

Since I left computers, I begun to have more time for music, so I started listening to music... first I listened to hip-hop/rap, but it all just seems the same to me, so I started to listen to rock, pop (well, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and the like), Cohen (not sure where he fits in?) and stuff.

Soon, I realized that my audio system was no good. My first upgrade was headphones, I switched the Apple earbuds for Grado SR80s (which I am very satisfied with). Then of course, that wasn't enough, and I wanted to have good sound around me, so I got a new pair of speakers (Sonus Faber Concertino Domus), which I hooked up to an AV receiver that happened to be at home.

So I listen to stuff, and its a world of a difference compared to my SONY hi-fi I had for 10 or so years. When I listened to Michael Jackson however (Billie Jean for example), I noticed that the music is not really that dynamic... it just lacks something, a bit of spice, so to say. Today, I went out and auditioned several audio systems (my primary concern was to get a new CD player, looks like I've settled for a Marantz). The thing is, as fast as I got into audio, it looks like I'll get out of it equally fast.

I auditioned several systems as I mentioned, one store had some Canton speakers which I didn't find that great, but it gave me a good basis to compare CD players on. So, I did notice a difference between how CD players sound, that is for sure.

Then I went to another store, and auditioned a McIntosh system (CD/pre-amp/amp) with some Monitor Audio Platinum PL300s. All connected with WireWorld cables. All, in my opinion, a top notch system. All in all, I see it at a price of around $20 000 to $30 000 (I'm in Europe, so things cost twice as much here as in the US). Simply put, the sound was excellent, it had great definition, dynamics and what not.

But anyhow, I was disappointed. I was expecting more for my money. I just came home, switched on my $2000 system, and to be honest, it doesn't sound that much worse.

All in all, the difference I heard was just waaaaaaay too small to justify the price.

There are several things I have begun to dislike about audio.

1) You cannot quantify what you hear: you cannot put an objective score to something, you can't say "In our tests these speakers score 100, whereas Speakers B score 200" or something. This is what makes me mad most of all. When I got a new component for my PC, I could run benchmarks, and instantly know how much better my computer is. I could instantly compare with thousands of enthusiasts around the world. With audio, this is not possible.

2) The difference between a bad and good system is minimal. On a bad system, you will hear the words and everything, they might sound a little distorted. The main area that I find separates the good and the bad is bass reproduction, some overdo it, some don't have it at all, some have it just perfect. This is my second worry. Why invest horrendous sums of money into something, just to hear an extra tone or two.

To add a bit to two, I have yet to experience something where you pay so much to get so little. Take cars for example. There will be a big difference in everything between a car for $2000 and for $20 000. The differences will be measurable (acceleration, braking distance, and whatnot), as well as subjective (position behind the wheel, etc). Similarly, a garage equipped for $2000 or $20 000 will show a large difference in the quality of tools.

I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying audio sucks, but its a bit of a disappointment for me personally. You can't get any closer to the music than what is on the medium, be it CD or DVD, but you never know when you're close to the music!!! That is, I guess, problem 3. We all like different things, and so what sounds like an absolute reproduction for me might not be so for you.

All in all, I just see no point in investing horrendous sums of money into music. It makes no sense.

Or can someone prove me wrong?

P.S.: I didn't have time to read this after myself, so I hope it makes some sense.
im also new to audio, and i have seen the same thing. i have always been the type of person who needed to quantify why i was doing it- (mostly car modding, but i could never justify paying $300 for an air intake that would give me MAYBE a mpg or more fuel economy. i added my supercharger only because it was free, and the smiles are worth it for the extra $3 or $4 per tank of gas.) i just can't seem to justify top notch things- especially since 95% of people in this world could never tell a big difference. when someone gets a ride in my miata, it surprises them how fast it really is with the supercharger. with audio, its its not louder, i don't think any of my friends will notice. i think i will set a price for what im willing to spend on whatever, and just get the "best" i can get from what i can tell. i think this DIY forum is awesome in how people are able to do amazing projects, but i don't see myself getting into it nearly that far, other than building a good sounding amp myself. my friends are even questioning why id do that when i can buy a used receiver on craigslist for less than im going to spend on parts. oh well... some joys are not quantative, they just make you happy.
Some of the best reproduction, I think, comes from open baffles and from horns. Neither of these are very marketable. A good open baffle design requires electronics as well. You don't normally see this stuff for sale as a high quality package in the hifi shops. This is where we need to DIY.
i have to agree i have a sub $2000 system and to me it sounds good i'm sure others will disagree however it does the job i want it to. i think the more interesting/fun thing about audio is learning how it all works the actual technology and science behind how and why it is.

You don't have to build an amp to sound the best in the world just build it to know how it all works and what diffrences each part makes.

just my 2 cents.
yep, I know exactly where you are coming from, and the prices of >$2k systems are just crazy in my opinion.

Only way to get better sound for any budget is DIY I'm sure...

I could go out and spend $5k on a set of stereo speakers (looked at a bout 10 different pairs fro $5k to $15k) , and the difference compared to some diy enclosures was not worth the $4k difference (to me anyway), but WAY better than stock $1k-$2k store floor standers.

keep it simple and it will sound better.
Hi D_o_S

Well, think about audio about the same as you think about computers. A top notch gaming machine will cost maybe 3000$. A top notch 5.1 audio system will cost maybe 6000$.

When you get into 20 000$ of audio, it's like a Ferrari in the car world, slightly better performance than a 75000$ Corvette Z06, but you pay for the brand, for the rarity and for the pride. The difference is subtle, you may even get inferior performance since some Ferrari are behind Z06.

Just purchase what you are confortable with, what you like and else.

Audio is very subjective, sorry. The testing methods are still very primitive and most subjective methods still give better results than the objective methods already developped.

You could purchase that 20k$ system and try a THD, IMD, loudness, frequency flatness, phase flatness, good polar patterns, etc "benchmarks" but you may end up not satisfied !
Joined 2005
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Here is my take - I would never buy an expensive audio component over $1000 = never have, and most likely never will. But I easily would buy $1000 worth of resistors, capacitors, transformers etc to build a a few cool components. There is just an appreciation factor of learning and understanding electronics you get from DIY audio that you simply cannot get from a store bought unit. If you built your own computers, you surely have an appreciation for this. I also went through a computer building stage a few years ago that I simple ended up getting bored. I have 11 computers in my basement closet to prove it. I knew my computer stage was over a few years back when my wife caught me sitting on the couch with a laptop I built (from broken parts off ebay) trying to hack into my neighbors wireless connection for an entire weekend.

If I were you (and I am not), I would challenge myself and build a pair of nice Electrostatic speakers (just drop into that forum here on diyAudio) and a nice amp like a ESP P-101. You will be impressed. You will get an added dimension of audio satisfaction you currently lack. I have had 'buyers remorse", but never "builders remorse". I don't like the way something sounds, mod it till you do...

But be warned, You will get addicted. There are some on this forum that at first glance could be mistaken for homeless. I for one have been known to spend days without eating /showering - sometimes never seeing daylight - building and amp or preamp or refurbing a set of planar speakers. If anything, it's a great way to lose 20 lbs,

My wife and friends just don't get it.

Oh well. We here do.

Of course YMMV.
Heh, I understand!

I have a friend that's a hardcore gamer. He did the same thing, pouring tens-of-thousands into his machine. I respect him for it, because he does make intelligent, educated decisions on his hardware rather than grabbing something because it's there and new.

SY said:
People buy high performance audio gear? That's baffling to me.

Good one :D

My confuzzlement is people go gaa-gaa over a mega-kilobuck amp and I can do it for < $600 (every part new, $0 for on hand DIY).

Kinda reminds me of the card-carrying-consumers lining up to pay $100 for jeans that can be had from the SAME manufacturer for $30, the difference being the label :rolleyes:

I'm all for a guy making a living, but c'mon already :hot:

So, for audio, I go with what I like.

D_o_S, you're right. Audio does suck! out of your pockets if you buy into all the hype. Actually, because of the hype, it is very difficult to predict on paper the realised performance of any audio component. But there is a massive difference between good and bad audio products. The problem is that as you progress up the performance ladder, new performance criteria start to emerge. At the low end are frequency response and signal-to-noise ratio. At the top end are resolution, soundstage, dynamics, etc. A good mid-range system might initially sound similar to a good high-end system, but it takes a while of living with the respective systems to appreciate the difference, which becomes more and more subtle the higher up you go.

But you don't need to break the bank to get a very good audio system together. The used market or DIY will see to that.

I hope that your early audio experiences do not discourage you. Perhaps you should take it a bit slower and upgrade your system bit by bit. You already have a respectable brand of speakers. Perhaps now you should look at the amplifier or front end (or just maybe your present system is good already!).
I don't understand your reasoning, you were willing to pay top dollar for computer hardware, that only performed marginaly better than midrange products... (I am also a gamer and a recovered PC modding fan, although PC games have gone to the dogs, now playing old nintendo games rather on my Gameboy Advance), Although I do play some trackmania (free online raceing game) and am ranked somewhere between 30000 and 40000th on the rankings... (which goes into the hundreds of thousands even maybe millions).
D_o_S said:
When I listened to Michael Jackson however (Billie Jean for example)...

We might be zeroing in on the source of the problem. Did you bring any recordings of music? :D Honestly, GIGO. The systems you heard were equally adept at revealing the low common standard of the recordings, why blame the gear or the industry? That Trunk O' Woofers suffice for Curtis James Jackson III is no argument against better gear.
Lol, likewise! Just don't toss the baby out too, trying some naturally recorded dynamic music you enjoy might be a pleasant surprise and worst case set you off on a life-long, poverty-inducing obsession. No disagreement with your solution, you're definitely in the right place.
I too can relate. I ended up working for a custom install shop near home and through good relations with my boss got some higher priced equipment for cost. I ended up building a sub and modding another set of speakers i have. but alas right now in my life i dont have the money nor the listening room to have anything better. Stupid plaster walls.

So right now i learn and try and make my own projects.

My boss has a specifically dimensioned room for a specific set of speakers ($6,500) and they sound ridiculously good. Its a feeling that literally you are right in front of the artist during the recording. I have experienced nothing like it before in my life, this is what i aim for in 20+ years down the road.

I totally understand, i have trouble convincing myself that i need to replace my denon dvd player that I had to add a computer fan, take the cover off and drill a large vent hole in so that the chips can stay cool enough to keep playing. even with that done on hot days it locks up.
I can add my two penn'orth to this. I have just paid out for the top-of-the range Hypex power amplifier modules. They cost about twice the price of my previous amp. kits/components.

Is it worth it?

I had the advantage of listening to a pair owned by another DIYAudio member, so I knew the answer before I bought.

Yes they are. How do I tell? I listen to complex music. Those who attended the UK DIYAudio Fest 2007 may recall the a capella choral music I subjected people to - the Tallis 40 part motet Spem in allium, yes - 40 people singing different parts.

Now I can hear the rest of the singers' individual voices.

So paying more for better equipment does give more, but in the ready-made market the laws of economics dictate that the price goes up exponentially as the manufacturer's cost of parts increases arithmetically - proportionally higher overheads on lower sales.


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