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The Purpose of Audio Reproduction


fas42

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Time to crack this back open again, 😄.

 

Yes, what's the point? There could be a zillion answers, but my answer is to be true to the contents of a recording ... I was going to post this to that unloved thread, now gone to zombie land, but I'll do it here, instead,

 

 

Bit of a mess, eh? And, this is the remaster, from 2015!! - I've got it on a double CD from 1998 - a low cost release - sludgy, plus? ... You bet!

 

What should a system do to, for this? In my book, absolutely nothing more than the best job possible to being accurate to the data - now, what I'm getting at the moment is not elimination of the sludge - but is a realistic pickup of what was heard in that club. The reproduction, currently, is not the best it could be - my active speakers still need to be refined more; which will gain me greater clarity, a better connection to the musicians doing their thing ... this sort of track is very helpful in making it clear where the shortfalls are.

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This review, https://www.soundstagesimplifi.com/index.php/equipment-reviews/164-heavenly-soundworks-five17-active-loudspeakers, deftly points out what the apparent dilemma is - note how many times terms like, "hard", "harsh", "edgy" are used when comparing the Heavenly Soundworks speaker against the others; but, OTOH, the concepts of greater detail, clarity, and similar, is used to describe what the FIVE17 actives bring to the equation.

 

So, is it a tradeoff? No!!! ... An emphatic no! What's happening is that as the resolution improves, so does the need for utmost cleanness, integrity of the chain - so if you decide you want to hear everything that's on the recording, then you will need to do all in your power to ensure maximum integrity of the chain - there's no alternative ...

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Is the sound above, the fault of the speakers ... of course not! A counter example can be found,

 

 

So, what's going on ... the chain, of course! Get those speakers, set them up better - and drive them with a relatively clean playback rig; and everything changes. That is, no component "solves" subpar SQ - it takes the ability to debug issues that maketh the system; not the addition of some special part therein.

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Courtesy of another thread here, found another example of someone "who has seen the light" 🙃 ...

https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/divin-marquis-to-the-max.33036/

 

He's achieved the 'breakthrough' with very high end gear - and that is a good thing, because it means that the quality of engineering necessary will steadily percolate down to more value for money components - it will become less and less necessary for highly focused tweaking to be applied, to get these results.

 

What made it happen? Well, the DAC is the item most sensitive to noise normally - and the owner of this rig inserted one which is highly optimised to be impervious to those sort of factors ... which just happened to tip the SQ of the overall system into the zone of sufficient integrity. "Magic sound" emerged, as it always does 😉 - the language he uses to describe the experience tells the story ...

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Just going back to a post of that just linked to thread,

 

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So today's gem is Peter Green's Splinter Group disc called Destiny Road

 

I have an earlier album, and the same qualities are there in spades, in the live tracks of this record, as described in that post. This track is as good as any from it,

 

 

This should rock your socks off ... be a powerful hit of pure audio adrenaline - if this doesn't happen, then the particular system is not up to scratch ... 😉.

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Now curious about the Wadax Reference DAC - this seems to get most things right ... looked around, and this clip - one of the better ones - of a reasonably tidy setup 😁 ticks a lot of boxes,

 

 

Plenty of space in the sound, and decently clean ... good!

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Most audio systems are "broken", to pick up a point currently discussed in the MQA thread - and what I mean by that is that they distort, or 'mask', what's on the recording enough to lessen one's chance of being at ease in the listening, or largely attenuate the immersive qualities of the experience. The latter is the "land of magic", and needs no explanation for those who have been exposed to it, at some stage of their audio journeys, 😉.

 

If you "know" that your system is performing at lower than optimum, then you won't be happy, 😆. Or, put it this way - you will be highly motivated to explore all and every avenue that hints at being a means for reaching that peak performance.

 

Where most conversations about how to go about it are waaay off target is that they are obsessed with Adding Goodness; rather than recognising that the key is acknowledging that their rig is "broken", meaning that it is quite easy to hear that it is misbehaving; and that the solution is to resolve the causes of the below par performance - that's the vitally important Subtracting Badness part of the matter.

 

An essential step in this is recognising that interference, electrical noise factors are tremendously influential on the subjective experience - every effort aimed at reducing these ultimately reaps big rewards, in terms of what you hear ... what is unfortunate is that so few audio people recognise this, and hence, "the lack of happiness" ... 🤣.

 

 

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Every now and again I'm strongly reminded of the absurdity of the world of audio objectivists, and right now is one of them ... to sum it up, they have close to zero clues about how to assemble an audio system so that it produces capable, competent, convincing SQ - and they dispute that such is even possible, 😉 - and they jump up and down in great agitation, when someone suggests that more than the assortment of normal numbers that get thrown around matters.

 

The most obvious shortcoming of their viewpoint - they have no ability whatsoever to specify what are acceptable levels of resistance to electrical noise interference, no matter what the source is, that guarantee that the impact is inaudible. You get blown over by the windstorm of arm waving that occurs when such things are mentioned, with comments like, "All competent designers know how to make sure their products are good enough!!"; with absolute zero information about how to assess whether a particular component, or setup, is "good enough".

 

So often when I read what they say, is to be reminded of something like the home security "expert" huffing and puffing about how fabulous is the lock on the front door, who when queried about what has been done with the back door, glares, and snorts in sarcastic tones, "The bad guys never come in through the back door!!" ... 🤣

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One of my favourite people on this forum, 😉, most likely objected to my response to @pkane2001's post on another thread, where he said,

 

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Hmm, no, I’m just recounting what happened from my perspective. Bit identical can sound different, as noise and timing errors can interfere. But maybe that’s all you were trying to prove to Mans. If so, the test design was OK, but the result is really not that surprising, and to me, not that interesting. Maybe it’s just that my expectations were wrong.

 

Deemed "not objective" most likely, and then deleted, this is very roughly what I said:

 

The part bolded above is the heart and soul of why playback can be boring or irritating, leading you to leave the room as soon as possible; versus having you enthralled for hours - trying to deal with the anomalies in what you hear, when noise and related factors are affecting the SQ to a significant degree, is stressful, even when it is occurring completely unconsciously - and you rapidly lose interest in continuing to listen ... commonly termed "fatigue", and this is a fair term to use; you are indeed tired of putting up with the need to constantly unscramble what you want to hear, from that which is equivalent to a mosquito constantly buzzing nearby.

 

So, it is indeed immensely interesting, to understand how to make things different in the playback chain, so that those factors are far less present - learning the "why" a change in the subjective experience occurs is where genuinely useful knowledge is acquired, and things progress. Unfortunately, the audio industry is currently failing us by almost always delivering components which are not engineered well enough to be unaffected by these things - meaning that tweaks and, yes, even "snake oil" are thrown at the situation, trying to get the setup to perform better.

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An idle thought ... I was just browsing through some YouTube channels, of people talking about audio, and demo'ing stuff - and got the sense that things are definitely better than they used to be ... the gear playing is not doing so many obvious things wrong - although it's still extremely easy to find highly expensive rigs sounding appallingly bad, 😆 - and the attitudes of the runners of the channels were more attuned to the need to work very carefully with what one had, and use value for money techniques to achieve optimum SQ ... much less the thinking, just keep throwing money at it, to get the good stuff ...

 

I could be totally wrong, of course - I may have just lucked on just the right clips 🙂; but it gave me a sense of optimism, in the watching, for the future.

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Here's an interesting part of


 

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Tsuyoshi Yamamoto's piano sounded like I've never heard it previously. In fact, I spent about an hour listening through my own system last night just to compare what I heard from memory. The presentation of this piano in my own system is vastly different from the APL Endless in Joel's listening environment. I can't say which one is more accurate to the original performance, I can only describe the sonic differences. 


On the APL Endless I could picture the piano in a large space behind the left speaker. There was this huge openness to each note as it went on endlessly into the empty spaces around the piano. If anything, the Endless is about a presentation of natural sound that is tailor-made for an acoustic jazz trio. On my own system, in my acoustically treated listening room, the sound isn't nearly as large. The piano is much more localized with much less decay than can be heard through the Endless

 

 

Now, to me, the APL setup was much more accurate - the sense of openness "around the notes" is a key part of what makes for convincing playback; the sounds on the recording have their own space, which is entirely dependent upon how the recording was done; and this interacts with the space in which you are listening, but there is never a conflict - the listening mind can separate the two acoustics, and so what you listen to can be massively expansive, or extremely intimate - without there being unpleasant aspects in the listening.

 

I have heard systems in highly treated rooms, and I don't like it - far, far too unnatural; I start getting itchy before too long and want to leave them - it's a better solution to have a system work well enough, so that any environment will be fine ...

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Just to note this review,

 

It's another instance of where the crucial DAC area has been sorted out sufficiently, so that the distortion anomalies are low enough in level not to get significantly in the way of the listening - this is as good an example of any of how hard it has been for the audio industry, for decades now, to get on top of being able to produce clean, digital sound without the consumer having to spend silly money on the exercise: the key people in Schiit have been doing digital playback gear from the earliest days, and have had all the measuring gear and test equipment to monitor what's going on, in the audio output, from day 1. Yet when "last years model" is compared to the latest evolution, it's clear that the predecessor falls short ... decisively so.

 

Why? Simple answer: noise ... it just turns out that it's mighty hard to engineer the digital to analogue with subsequent amplification in a cost effective way, so that distortion artifacts are not obvious - the dreaded 'digititus' is the obvious manifestation; but if one wants a complete absence, subjectively, of unpleasantness, of 'digital signature' to the sound, then it can be an arduous journey 🙂 getting there ...

 

Throwing lots of money at it is one solution - currently. Another is very careful, DIY, attention to detail, removal of the causes of the noise - my method, for decades now 😉.

 

The Good News is that if one goes to the necessary lengths, then Magic Sound emerges - the recordings have everything on them, already, for best SQ to happen in the room; it's persistence and a desire to get there that will yield success.

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This just popped up, 

 

 

Haven't watched it all; but since he uses the word, "crap", this is exactly what he utters, at about 1:20 ... that is,

 

"It isn't in the recordings themselves" !!!! 😟 ... this is the BS that audio people keep repeating, to appease their sense of not getting "the good stuff" - what they are really saying is,

 

"My rig isn't good enough to completely disappear from the picture - it always, always, always adds audible distortion, or being more kind, sauces up, or mixes in 'signature' to that which you hear !!"  🙄

 

While this Great Audio Myth persists, people will not be motivated to improve what their system produces - and the world will be stuck with mediocre sound replay as the general rule, indefinitely ... 😒

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People keep trying to have, or attempt to deal with, their gear 'spicing' what they hear - rather than letting the recording speak for itself ... the bit of the thread starting here,

 

points this out.

 

Competent gear shouldn't "have a sound". Period. As soon as you become aware of a character slant, you will hear that identifying motif over and over again, in every piece - capable reproduction should be, is completely dominated by all the characteristics of the captured event, and the environment and gear used for recording it ... the qualities you hear are unique, per album, and track.

 

Is there a solution? Yes ... but currently it's still difficult to attain - however, the signs are very good, in that highly cost effective equipment can deliver the goods now, with added, knowledgeable input; and hopefully in the near future this will be far more common ... :).

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From

 

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Is this a bona-fide characteristic of the MSB Reference dac that you will feel---extracting more detail and "life" out of digital source material---or just marketing stuff?

 

It's not a 'characteristic' of the DAC - it's merely getting much closer to the true content of the recording! :) Turns out that engineering a digital playback chain is just hard, if you want it to show zero audio anomalies, and especially those that "suck the life out of" the material. Unfortunately, an off the shelf unit is mighty expensive, that gets it right with no extra fiddling - down the track, this type of performance should be much cheaper, as manufacturers learn how to do it properly, ;).

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A good word to use with music is "heft" - the sense of a powerful machine, a juggernaut seemingly capable of overwhelming everything. This comes with many moments in orchestral pieces  ... and I was reminded of this, just now playing a freebie CD, that came with a newspaper some years ago - a collection of famous "big stuff!" in various compositions. This conveys such a sense of strength, and energy being unleashed - you are seemingly so small in comparison :).

 

A capable rig needs to be able to get this right - it is on the recording; so, no excuses for not jumping through the hoops to make it happen ...

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Again, a review has posts pointing out the difference between accuracy, and components adding signature,

 

If one wants 'enhanced' presentation, then this is not a crime! However, don't confuse this with the idea that they are both different versions of the 'truth' - the latter is what the contents of the recording actually are, irrespective of what anybody's ideas back in the studio, etc, were.

 

My take is that one evolves a setup to a level where there is close to zero detectable personality from the playback chain - then, and only then, incorporate components which add makeup to the replay, if one feels a 'zingier' presentation would be more engaging. If you do this with full awareness of what's going on, then there are no arguments about "rightness" - it is merely a preference decision.

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Just came across this comment by Linkwitz, which I had read some time ago - and forgotten - which is one of the easiest tests for determining whether a system is getting most things right,

 

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I judge any sound system by how tiring it is to listen to. When after a while you feel like you had enough, then your brain is telling you subconsciously: I have worked enough to compensate for the unnatural cues that I receive. I am tired.

 

This comes from https://www.linkwitzlab.com/Fitz/acoustics-hearing.htm, which also has good material by Bregman, from his ASA book.

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And even George gets to better understand what competent replay can produce,

 

:)

 

Note that the added component, the Gaia, "cleans up" the digital input signal - and this makes the major difference to the presentation. Which says what? Well, the same thing as has been the case since digital was made available to the public, nearly 40 years ago: that digital playback chains are extremely sensitive to noise issues, from the POV of the subjective impression of what you hear. Why? Because 'digital' noise messes up the low level detail which the ear/brain relies upon to understand what all the data means; in a way that it can't be unscrambled, inside your head. Analogue adds lot of obvious noise and distortion, but the brain can deal with this quite easily - hence the everlasting fondness for LPs, say.

 

Most people with an objectivist stance can't, or refuse to understand this. Hence, the ongoing Fight Club. And they're the losers, from their need to deny what's going on ...

 

Does one need a special combo, like what George reviewed? Well, it helps to get to the goal for those who just want to purchase a solution - but the option is always there for people to "clean up" noise issues, using far cheaper materials and parts, and knowledge. Like myself, ^_^. Of course, if one wants to live in an alternative universe where only the magic of very expensive gear can release the specialness of what is actually on recordings, then feel free to do so - but that's your choice, ;).

 

Music playback can be very, very special. And it only takes a capable, very low cost setup to produce this. Especially these days. They will be available to buy off the shelf one day, but in the meantime good DIY input and careful tweaking can bypass the remaining gremlins that bedevil systems, that are the bottlenecks to achieving competent SQ.

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Archimago finds it difficult to conceive that accurate reproduction does produce a special experience - in the following, he is essentially right; my quibble is with "acoustically controlled space",

 

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When audiophiles argue about "what is accuracy" (like this recent Steve Guttenberg video), they typically fail to recognize that the only thing we can say a high-fidelity system can be accurate to is the source material; not what was supposedly heard in the studio control room, nor the live performance, nor even what the artists think they heard (for all we know, they could have used earbuds on an iPhone to listen to the final CD). As technically astute audiophiles, we know exactly how a digital audio file should be reproduced through a high-fidelity system without distortions or added noise - that technical ideal is what we should be aiming for, and can be achieved with high resolution devices in an acoustically controlled space.

 

However, he argues about the word, "warm"... live music is immersive, intense - now, if the music was produced in a very laidback manner, then it most certainly will come across as warm, especially from a distance - on an accurate system. But this is totally track dependent; if a very aggressive, in your face, piece of music is played, then this is exactly how it should come across; no "nicefying" is permitted.

 

But this gives zero excuses for distortion of the playback chain to come along for the ride!! If I hear Hendrix's Marshall amp screaming, spitting, ready to dump its insides onto the carpet in front of me ^_^, then that's all I should be aware of - I want a perfect amplifier, and perfect speakers, so to speak, to deliver absolutely zero of themselves in what I hear of that instrument. Trouble is, many normal audio people believe, like many pro audio people believe, that what you hear should be PA'ed - a whole extra level of seasoning is added to the signal, to 'condition' the sound ... well, this is not what competent playback is. Capable setups produce the full gamut of sound pictures - not, a tiny subset ...

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A primary objective for a replay system is to be accurate - here's an example of inaccuracy,

 

 

And here's what it should sound like,

 

 

The sound of the piano is an obvious marker; but generally the treble, and sense of 'air', is clearly lacking - this type of inaccuracy is very common, and is one of the harder areas to get right. So this is not to say there is anything 'wrong' with the equipment per se but rather, most likely, that the necessary optimising of the electrical environment has not been done.

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Just came across this post by our Peter, http://www.phasure.com/index.php?topic=4250.msg45328#msg45328, and his thoughts, and those of the following posters are on the money ... this is all about how there is a critical zone of 'correctness' with digital playback that needs to be hit, completely cleanly - and if you can achieve this, then a whole step up in the subjective presentation occurs. This is the 'magic' that competent playback delivers - and what makes the effort to reach such fully worthwhile ...

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On another audio forum, in a thread where some rather impressive playback on a member's system was posted in YT clips, some were appreciative, liking what they heard; but at least one poster was very negative - "I don't like the tones and the diffuseness of the sound!" - ummm, the recording is what it is; choices are made in the instruments used, how they are played, and how it's recorded - a recording doesn't have to very precisely tick a whole set of boxes, to fit in with the expectations of a particular listener, for it to be a pleasure to listen to. Such a requirement is akin to needing everyone you meet to have the looks of stereotypical fashion models - the diversity of the real world is something to be savoured, to be enjoyed ... c'est la vie ^_^.

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We're getting closer to competent digital replay becoming mainstream ... new review I just read, https://www.stereophile.com/content/gramophone-dreams-55-mola-mola-tambaqui-da-processor-page-2:

 

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Since it arrived, the Bartók has delivered the most compelling, pleasurable, undigital digital I've experienced at home. So has the Tambaqui. The Tambaqui and the Bartók sound more alike than different. Both DACs admit users to an elite level of digital audio playback. The dCS and Mola Mola turn streaming music into a sophisticated, high-level pastime, but there is one thing the Tambaqui does that the Bartók does not do: intense, raw clarity. And the chief byproduct of that intense, raw clarity is that recordings appear denser with a more believable corporeality than I've previously encountered from digital.

 

That's it. Dense, intense, believable raw clarity ... replay done right delivers such in spades, and once heard anything less is unacceptable. The annoying part is that the audio world is taking such a long time to grok what Bruno Putzeys said in a reply to the writer of this review,

 

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So, as much as you'd like to know what the magic ingredient is, I can only tell you that it's about getting all the parts right, not just individually but as a system. It's not sexy, but then real engineering rarely is.

"

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