:: The Problem With Hi Fidelity ::

Have you guys ever been caught up in the cycle of buying audio gear, obsessively looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hoping that the next amplifier or the next speaker would get you to audio nirvana?

If so, what was it that "broke the cycle" for you?

I thought this might spark an interesting discussion, since so many audiophiles I've met are compulsive about "upgrading."

This phenomenon illustrates the fundamental problem with HiFi. It's our brain. Our brain is wired to tell us that novelty equals pleasure. Our brain is literally flooded with pleasurable chemicals when we encounter something novel. That novelty could be anything from a giant subwoofer to a pretty view. Therefore, our perception is permanently flawed to favor a speaker which is novel. That's why it's easy to wind up in the vicious cycle of upgrading your audio gear until the end of time. It doesn't have to be an upgrade; in fact it can simply be DIFFERENT and your brain will like it. For more info, read this.

This thread was inspired by a sidebar on the waveguide thread. When I first heard a speaker with a waveguide, it sounded dull. The treble seemed attenuated. The speaker sounded lifeless. I stuck with it, despite my reservations. After extended listening, my perception changed, and now the treble sounded natural.

I was left with a problem though; now EVERYTHING else sounded wrong. I literally can't listen to a dome tweeter without hyper analyzing every cymbal crash and every strum of a guitar string. Dome tweeters sound hopelessly flawed now. Sure, I still own speakers with dome tweeters, but listening to them is like staring out a window that's warped. The presentation is all wrong.

In case you're interested, dome tweeters have a flawed presentation because they're power response is wrong. If you want to know more, go read the waveguide thread.

So I'm curious - has something like this happened to YOU?

Have you ever listened to something that made you change your perception of musical playback permanently?

Here's the original post:

What's Wrong With This Hobby
 
Patrick

You are pampering the problem. It's more than just the "newness" phenomina, but the whole flawed evaluation problem where our "standard" is based on the flawed presentations that we have listened to for years. Much as we want to find that "new reality, nirvana" we can't help but to judge everything against our "expectation", which has a flawed basis derived from our flawed experinces. It is no small task to find accurate reproduction since there is very little liklihood that we would recognize it when we heard it. Breaking this cycle of mediocracy is not easy to do.

There is no doubt that one cannot simply "listen" their way to accuracy. You will just go around in circles (which the marketing people love). Unless we insert some form of objectivness into the process it is hopeless.
 
Turn off the TV for a while. Turn off the radio, iPod, and other electronic gizmos. No movies, no car stereo. Avoid the phone as much as possible. At least a 24-hour (and a whole week would be better) fast from electronic sound, then go listen to live, non-amplified music with singers, violins, brass, woodwinds, and a piano - at fairly close range. Spend a whole evening doing this. Enjoy yourself. Get into it. Relax, have fun, dance if you feel like it.

When you first listen anything electronic, from a Toyota truck AM radio to a $150,000 boutique hifi or home-theater system, it will all sound awful - grotesque, an appalling and tasteless parody of the shimmering and transitory beauty of the real thing.

Good! Welcome to reality.

Now you can assess if anything electronic or "hi-fi" is any good at all. The very first time anything sounds "good", turn it off, turn it all off, and go back and listen to some more live music.
 
Well, every time I hear live music I have to do something to my system.

I keep getting closer but am not yet there.

I think I'm to the point though I can only make very small differences because my system is better then most recordings.

I do have a fancy new measurement system but I have found I already had things 'right'
 
Lynn Olson said:
Now you can assess if anything electronic or "hi-fi" is any good at all. The very first time anything sounds "good", turn it off, turn it all off, and go back and listen to some more live music.


Lynn - I do object to live music being the standard as that is a narrow deffinition of the audio experince. Its good to hear live music, sure, but there are some very good works that are produced in a studio where "live" is the presentation in your home. This aspect of music must not be excluded from "reality".

I am not a big fan of classical music so my listening basis is not the same as someone who is a fan. I would be deeply offended if you were to claim that my perspective is somehow flawed because of this.
 
Here's what HiFi is like:

While driving to work one day, your engine begins behaving strangely. It's running, but not as well as it used to. A proper mechanic might check the compression on your engine. But you don't trust anyone but yourself. Not knowing the first thing about fixing a car, you replace the tail lights. The next day you find that your car is still behaving poorly, and you don't know why.

So it is with audio. Most "audiophiles" are stuck in a endless cycle of applying random band aids to their system, in the hope they'll get lucky one day.
 
Nirvana or not

been there done that

having played wind instruments earlier in life and excelled at them (through early college, mostly 1st chair clarinet and sax) my reference was set to live performance (good or bad) while a teenager. Until roughly 15 years ago, purchase/upgrade decisions were based more on what I could afford over what I wanted:rolleyes:

The first time i heard the clarity from an Infinity EMIT tweeter, back in the 70's, I somehow new it was in my future. Bought RS II's in '78 as my first BIG (relatively speaking) purchase, after building many boxes, horns, amplifiers, tuners, etc. prior to that date. Hearing what a somewhat open baffle sounded like in a larger room, I never again listened to boxes for serious sessions.

Somehow, through many amps and receivers feeding the infinities, I kept chasing bass problems until I read Art Ludwig's internet page on room interactions. This led to building large sonosubs (2) for my largish 15,000 ft^3 primary listening space, and, subsequently, RD 75 quasi linesource planar dipoles, both of which seem to minimize room effects and brought me closer to live performance than I ever imagined. Many dozens of musicians and audio afficianados have stated they've not heard anything better at any volume. Which brings me to a question.... does your <-- {general plural you not individual} system sound as good at low volume as it does at high or concert levels? Mine does, which leads me to think I've reached a plateau. That and the fact that, at 57+ years, my expectations and testosterone poisoning have abated to some extent...:D

With my latest addition of a 7.1 Denon receiver with active room equalization, I now hear (subtle) improvements over previous equipment, and access to multiple sources has been greatly simplified. No more rats nest between components, or pushing buttons until the right connections are engaged...;)

So, I'm pretty much sated at this point.. (at least until something blows up or source material improves)


John L.
 
When I visited the BBC in 1975 I was deeply impressed that their "A-B" standard for studio monitors was a short walk between a live concert and the control room. This seems the most rigorous standard possible - live, un-amplified music in a concert hall, compared directly against a live mike-feed straight into a control room.

This was further confirmed by listening to a test recording made on a non-Dolby Studer tape machine playing a first-generation tape at 15IPS on a quartet of BBC monitors - with the most difficult material imaginable, the Chorus section of Beethoven's 9th, recorded at "Last Night of the Proms". That was the most realistic and true-to-life sound I've ever heard - and it was a pale shadow of the live mike-feed in the control room, and that in turn a pale shadow of what people heard in the concert hall.

Personal taste aside, I cannot imagine how a hifi system can be compared against anything other than acoustic instruments, and for a very simple reason. Their sound simply cannot be duplicated by electronic means, as musicians know, and not for want of trying over many decades. A Steinway or Bosendorfer does NOT sound like an electronic piano. Ask any professional pianist.

In addition, ambient spaces do NOT sound like electronically synthesized re-creations, no matter how sophisticated. People have been "working the problem" since the 1920's, but the difference is still immediately obvious with the simple BBC test of walking from one place to another. Personally, I'd say the difference is as big as looking around in real-life and watching HDTV. HDTV (or IMAX) is good, but I'd never confuse it with what I see looking out the window.
 
gedlee said:



Lynn - I do object to live music being the standard as that is a narrow deffinition of the audio experince. Its good to hear live music, sure, but there are some very good works that are produced in a studio where "live" is the presentation in your home. This aspect of music must not be excluded from "reality".

I am not a big fan of classical music so my listening basis is not the same as someone who is a fan. I would be deeply offended if you were to claim that my perspective is somehow flawed because of this.



I believe the essence of what Lynn is getting at is the purging of your reality from electronic/electric influenced audio and re-identify what 'real' sound 'sounds' like. I believe that this is a very productive and essential exercise to go through.

It does not matter what music you like or listen to. Our hearing system were engineered to process natural sounds and re-calibrating that system should prove to be quite useful for most people.
 
Re: Nirvana or not

auplater said:
Hearing what a somewhat open baffle sounded like in a larger room, I never again listened to boxes for serious sessions.

I was hoping someone would bring up open-baffle speakers.

I haven't personally heard the Linkwitz Orions. But whenever I hear people talk about their first experience with them, it reminds me of my experience listening to the Summas.

Just one of those moments where a light bulb goes off on your head, and you realize that your perceptions of sound reproduction have been hopelessly re-arranged.
 
Re: Re: Nirvana or not

Patrick Bateman said:


I was hoping someone would bring up open-baffle speakers.

I haven't personally heard the Linkwitz Orions. But whenever I hear people talk about their first experience with them, it reminds me of my experience listening to the Summas.

Just one of those moments where a light bulb goes off on your head, and you realize that your perceptions of sound reproduction have been hopelessly re-arranged.

a highly dynamic low compression open baffle bass (like a good bass horn) system can be a revelation. Probably a bit better with strings (piano, upright bass ect..) then a horn but not quite as good with electronic bass or closely miked percussion. The dipole system can sound more 'free' - IME either makes bass reflex boxes obsolete.
 
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I think it's easy to get caught up in the emotional aspects of the performance, and loose perspective on the technical accuracy of live or reproduced music. many musicians I've spoken and listened with seem surprisingly immune to technical defects in the sound; they seem to focus on the performance rather than the sound per se.

As Earl points out, many "performances" were never intended to be "live" events; in fact, live attempts to reproduce them pale in comparison to the recorded venue. So the argument of "live vs. memorex" is a double edge sword. Much of my collection sounds like crap when I hear attempts to reproduce it live. lots of rock and jazz fall into this camp. Plus, the live venue is usually contaminated with audience artifacts, HVAC blower noise, lf noise from passing dump trucks or semis rumbling through the auditorium, that sort of thing. Much of my classical collection actually reveals these extraneous noises, now that I have the system tuned in.

When listening to complex music critically, I can focus on individual instrumental presentations orthe overall construction with my current setup. This can vary dramatically across the material.

I guess my AHA momemt was when the sound (especially bass) developed a uniform 'envelopment" without being an overwhelming presence. That's when I realized I had arrived at a better setup. had everything to do with the speakers, much less to do with the earlier components in the chain (other than the source).

John L.
 

Pano

Administrator
Paid Member
2004-10-07 6:05 am
Panama
A good subject, Patrick. So many of us end up chasing our tails.
But maybe that’s what DIY is all about?

As we say here on Maui – "It’s not Hana – it’s the road to Hana" i.e., not the destination, but the journey. Enjoy the trip.

I had my Lynn Olson – BBC moment in Paris, in the mid 80s. I was into big hi-fi, but was too busy to listen sometimes. I was working in the music biz, going to concerts and rehearsals every day. Classical, acoustic Jazz, folk music, etc. and I was dating a cellist. 2 weeks of a steady music diet and NO recorded music. Then I walked into an audio show in Paris to hear the top end stuff – all tube powered.

There were a lot of great sounding systems there of all different looks and types. Some really wonderful hi-fi. But only one system nailed it - absolutely nailed it. It was Mr. Jean Hiraga who had brought his A7/1505horn/Westrex & EV driver speakers to demo tube amps from his vast collection. And that was it – bingo! It sounded like real musicians playing real instruments. Quite astonishing. Nothing else at the show hit the mark the way this system did. At least not to my "non-polluted" ears.

Every other system there sounded in some way "wrong." Many had small flaws, but flaws none the less. Mr. Hiraga’s system did not have the highest highs, the lowest lows, or the most hyper detail. I tried to tell everyone there that it was by far the best, even Mr. Hiraga. No one believed me. "Good, yes" they would say "but not the best."
The systems they liked sounded too Hi-Fi to me. Great sound, but not entirely natural.

I finally gave up. But I did resolve to drag the guys out to hear more live music, which they appreciated. To my great satisfaction, those speakers are still the reference at the "Revue du Son et Home Cinema" magazine, over 20 years later.

Disclaimer: I had helped restore and rebuild the above mentioned speakers and had used them as a small Jazz P.A. so I knew how they sounded. But even I was surprised coming off my no hi-fi, all acoustic, 2 week diet. ;)
I gave up Hi-Fi from 1991 to 2003 (but continued to work in music) – recorded music just never sounded right to me. Did not even own a CD player or TT during that time. I’m back in the game now, and it still doesn’t sound right – but I’m trying!
 
The part that most people forget about open baffle is the higher directivity that they tend to have than the typical boxed speaker. Its the directivity factor IMO that makes the difference and why the perception of the Summa and the open baffle is somewhat similar. To my ear (contaminated by Summas) the Magnapan and other very larger electrostats are about the only other speakers that I can tolerate - again, to me its the very high directivity.

But I would put this challenge to all of them; that the Summas will blow-them-away at very high SPL, particularly the open baffle designs. These designs just don't have what it takes to take a lot of power and put out a lot of SPL.

As I have said many times before - designing a good loudspeaker for low SPLs is an almost trivial task compared to designing a system that sounds as good at very high SPLs.

Linkwitz himelf admits that his designs are not intended for high SPLs - he's not "into" that.
 
Karna came home and reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago living in Silverdale, Washington (on the other side of the Puget Sound from Seattle).

Gary Dahl and I went to hear a Seattle Symphony performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". Now, on record and CD this isn't one of my favorite pieces - too harsh and dissonant, and too virtuoso-playing and "showy" for my tastes. I have it in my collection, but rarely listen to it.

In performance at Benaroya Hall, it was so stunning beautiful I was in tears for much of performance. Instead of shrill dissonance - I hate that 12-tone stuff - it was achingly beautiful. I was genuinely shocked - although I had listened to "Rite of Spring" on many different hifi systems over four decades, going back to childhood, it sounded completely different in performance, with a completely different emotional effect. What was loud, belligerent, and obnoxiously "look-at-me" on recordings was simply beautiful in performance, filling the hall with swirling music that seemed to move around the audience.

As Gary and I took the ferry back to Bainbridge Island, I had a lot to think about. It wasn't a difference in performance, it was a difference in sound - and a big difference. A piece of music that I'd heard many times, on all kinds of hifi systems, sounded completely different in concert. Not only that, a whole class of modern 20th-Century classical music that I'd never cared for, turned out to be something completely different in performance. Maybe I would like Bartok or Hindemith after all - just not on recordings!

This was one of the biggest revelations about hifi that I've even known. I had long suspected that the deficiencies of the recording art was skewing popular tastes towards some kinds of music and away from others, but what I heard that evening was the most dramatic example I'd ever experienced.

It goes without saying that 20th-Century "atonal" classical music is unpopular and limited to a very small, academic, and esoteric audience. I certainly wasn't a member of that group, and didn't think I would ever like it. The "Rite of Spring" is considered the "entry-level" piece for that genre, and based on all the recordings I'd heard, it wasn't anything I'd like to explore any further.

But the performance I heard that night at the Seattle Symphony changed that. It still sounds nasty on recordings, and I have no desire to listen to it that way. But I know there is not just one symphony, but astoundingly enough, an entire genre of music that cannot be satisfactorily recorded - at the current state of the art! On recordings, the performances are repellently dissonant, enough to discourage all but the most adventurous listener. But in concert - well, that's a different experience.

This in turn tells us a lot about the limitations of contemporary hifi systems, from microphone to console to recording medium to amplification to loudspeakers. I suspect if the spectra is dense enough, the sheer weight of IM sum-and-difference distortion products destroys the musical qualities of the performance. Similarly, if the spectra is sparse enough, such as with multi-miked pop, rock, and country music, the IM products are not as troublesome, and may not even be detectable.

I do know from my work on the Shadow Vector quadraphonic decoder that musicians can make and break phase-lock when playing in ensemble (even though they don't know they're doing it), and this make-and-break phase-lock proved a very troublesome aspect of the direction-sensing part of the decoder. Knowing that musicians are capable of phase-locking entire ensembles - and making-and-breaking it for dramatic effect - has profound implications for the spectral density of symphonic music. What would normally be considered little more than "phase noise" in terms of spectral content may actually contain very important emotional cues, and to mask these with low-fi sound wouid be to destroy the fabric of certain kinds of dense music.

Swept-spectral systems like traditional spectra analyzers ignore the time domain completely. Impulse measurements do not readily reveal fast-moving spectral content, like the make-and-break phase locking mentioned above. The traditional measurement techniques used by the audio-design community usually ignores time response completely, or if measuring time, ignores the spectral domain.

There are things going on in dense, acoustical music played in a concert hall that is either at, or beyond, contemporary measurement techniques - partly because we don't know what to look for. I doubt very much that what made the Seattle Symphony playing in Benaroya Hall sound so beautiful could be quantified with any known measurement technique. If we can't even synthesize the sound of a single Steinway or Bosendorfer playing by itself in a dry acoustic, how much further away is a full symphony orchestra in a concert hall?
 
Breaking the cycle

To break the cycle you have to build something that is so big, and takes so long to build(2 years) and sounds so super, that you are only interested in upgrading your CD collection.

I did that. I build a 7.5 foot line array with 34 mid ranges, 60 dome tweeters, two 12 inch 15mm xmax woofers. Each midrange had it own completely separate(3/4 inch air space) from its peers. The system was tri amped with electronic crossovers.

There is virtually nothing I listen to that begs for more bass, clarity, or anything. I might add 4 more woofers at some point, but maYBE NOT.

That how I did it.

Zarathu
 
gedlee said:
The part that most people forget about open baffle is the higher directivity that they tend to have than the typical boxed speaker. Its the directivity factor IMO that makes the difference and why the perception of the Summa and the open baffle is somewhat similar. To my ear (contaminated by Summas) the Magnapan and other very larger electrostats are about the only other speakers that I can tolerate - again, to me its the very high directivity.

But I would put this challenge to all of them; that the Summas will blow-them-away at very high SPL, particularly the open baffle designs. These designs just don't have what it takes to take a lot of power and put out a lot of SPL.

As I have said many times before - designing a good loudspeaker for low SPLs is an almost trivial task compared to designing a system that sounds as good at very high SPLs.

Linkwitz himelf admits that his designs are not intended for high SPLs - he's not "into" that.

Come down to Ohio. Bring your Summa's, I'd like to compare them with my open baffles - you loose directivity real fast with your boxes - but I can keep it with virtually unlimited SPL -

:eek:
 
I like listening to my speakers, the same ones for the past four years, prior to that 6 years and prior to that 19 years (I think:) what they are and were doesn't matter.

I expect the music I love to come out of them in a certain way, I am used to it, I do not want it any other way, I do not want any surprises. If I were to make any changes it would only be after much consideration or in the event of an unrepairable breakdown.

Buying a different recording of a familiar piece is bad enough and I have to listen to it umpteen times before I get to like it as much as the familiar one, which is often the first recording I bought 25 years ago and on some inferior label.

And the reason I buy another recording? you've guessed it, because it was reviewed/advertised as such.

Jem
 

Pano

Administrator
Paid Member
2004-10-07 6:05 am
Panama
LOL! :rofl: That's funny as hell, Lynn!

You see, Bartok and Stravinsky have long been two of my favs. Live or recorded. (I’m a bog 20th century fan). Actually remember going to hear Leonard Bernstein direct Bartok once, so we listened to the piece as a "warm up" on the Quad ESLs before going. Both were good, but the recording seemed "hyper-real" compared to live. Some of us in the group liked the recording better. Go figure.

But I know where you're coming from. There are certain types of music I could not stand, e.g., Arabic music. But once I heard it live, I was enchanted. Some Andalusian and Indian music the same. Hurts my ears in a recording - sounds magical live.

So I would agree that recording techniques have pushed us toward music that plays well on recordings.