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Is any thing known for sure about what makes good audio?

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I have been reading the thread on jitter with dismay.


When I was in high school I build a kilowatt ham radio transmitter, using a pair of 813s. Transistors at that time were a promising new technology. I bought some CK722 transistors and built a simple short wave receiver, but I never expected it to replace my Hallicrafter SX-42, which was a beauty of 1950s technology. I believe CK722s were 99 cents. I also built a Heathkit mono hi-fi amp. It used, I think, 6V6s, but I don't remember for sure. It had an imprssively heavy output transformer, and I thought it sounded great. When I ran into problems, which I did often, because I was using almost entirely second-hand and military surplus parts, there were several old guys in the little town I lived whom I could ask and who could answer my questions. I did what they told me, and it worked. They weren't engineers, but they could make quite sophisticated shortwave gear work. Austin Hopper taught me how to hand-wind transformers.


I read Audiophile forums not because I am interested in technical audio stuff, but because I am interested in music. As far as I can tell, however, and I have read the audiophile forums fairly regularly for a long time, almost nothing is known for certain about what makes good audio. Some people think it is a matter of controlling jitter; some think it is triodes; some think it firewire rather than USB; people think it is all rf interference. Others think expensive cables and boutique capacitors are scams. A roughly equal number of people think the opposite and say so in derogatory and unpleasant terms. I seems more like religion than science.


So is anything known? I want to take signals from whatever source I can get my hands on (I am still getting most of the signals from CDs), and drain every ounce of musical intelligence and excitement from them that I can. What is know about how to do this? I read these forums assiduously, and I have no idea how to get the most music out of the disks. I have about $20k invested in my system, and it sounds good. I have heard better sounding systems, but for getting the music across, my system is in the park ball. But I put this system together by trial and error, and whatever results I am getting are the result mostly of good luck.


But what is the science? Obviously, the source has to be good. What makes a good recording? What is the best way to get the signal off the disk? What influences the music in getting it from the disk to speakers? Do we have any science? In science, I believe, everyone who has a right to opinion mostly agrees.








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I am newby to the computer audio scene. I have a decent audio system that I like. I trust MY ears. One thing that has facilitated my efforts to achieve a good musical sound is the bricks and mortar audio dealers that I patronize. They lend me gear to try at home in my system. This is something that computer dealers don't seem to be willing to do and there aren't any computer/server sources at my audio dealer for me to try as yet. At least any that will allow for higher resolution digital audio than 16/44. I am an LP kinda guy and am hoping that something superior to redbook cd will become as common as mp3. Then I'll be tempted to ditch the LP and all the rituals of cleaning the disc, the stylus etc. But "CD quality" sound won't do that for me. As far as a scientific approach goes I have heard all sorts of claims through the years many of them claim to have scientific evidence to support them. Some seem to have been legit and many not. I tested them by listening. I really hope that I will be able to evaluate servers, hard drives etc in MY system soon so I can make informed decisions based on listening.


tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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I can answer as someone with a background in science, who loves music, and listens to lots of live and recorded music, but who doesn't necessarily consider himself an audiophile.


There is a science, because there is something you can measure. You can measure whether the audio system composed of your source -> preamp -> amp -> speakers has all the good properties people like, at least in principle: flat frequency response, low distortion, good off-axis dispersion, good separation between channels and what not. I guess the best you can say in this case is that if you get all that right, then you can blame bad sound on a bad recording or a cranky audience. There is also a lot of engineering too, about how to build a good amplifier, etc.


There is another science here too. That is the science of psycho-acoustics – you can conduct scientific experiments to find out how people perceive sound, what they can and can't hear, how it sounds to them, what sounds good to people. (Sometimes people even hear sounds that aren't there, not as hallucinations, but as an artifact of the way our brains process sound.) All kinds of methodology that people use in social sciences works great here. This is how people developed the much-maligned MP3 format, and its successors – figuring out which information people need to hear.


I think this is all a little bit disconnected from audiophilia, because scientific methodology is pretty actively rejected in most circles, as far as I can tell. I don't particularly take exception to that – scientific methodology, measurements and experiments aren't the answer to everything – but it also allows a lot of crazy, expensive bunkum to circulate in the audio world, and maybe it lets audio dealers and the rest of the industry take advantage of people a little bit. (Of course, they're free to do as they choose – nobody is forcing anyone to buy $1000 power cables.) There is also the issue that people, I think, will scream up and down that what they want at the end of the day is the purest, cleanest reproduction of the recorded sound, but then will actually swear up and down that some particular components are best – and if you go out and measure them, they turn out to perform terribly, for their cost, based on the engineering criteria people use for good sound reproduction. You can find such a piece of equipment in just about every issue of Stereophile. Who knows, maybe they're on to something? I've spent my fair share of time in hifi store listening rooms, hearing six-figure systems that really sound fabulous (and sometimes I go home and look at third party measurements of some of the equipment, and I'm left scratching my head wondering why it sounded so much better than the gear that only costs a few grand?).


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