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Article: The Audio Value Proposition Special Topic: Downsize To Upgrade

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1 hour ago, firedog said:

And as far as bass: I understand what you wrote and can't argue with any of it. But subjectively, my experience is that speakers that do fairly low bass without rolloff (say 30hz; we won't even talk about those that go significantly lower) sound much more realistic and convincing in music that needs bass reproduction (organ, orchestral) than those speakers that "only" do 40 or 50  or 60 hz. And they even sound better than those speakers reproducing rock and jazz where, I agree, there is probably little sound below 40 hz. I'm not sure why that is: maybe they just have better quality of bass reproduction, or saying it another way, they do it more easily, with less strain, and therefore sound better when doing it. 

 

Thanks!  I agree that there's often something "extra" from speakers that stay flat below 30, and it seems associated most strongly with larger drivers.  I think it may be in some part related to the volume of air being moved with each stroke of the cone.  A small woofer has to travel much further (and therefore faster) than a large one to move the same amount of air at the same frequency. Air is compressible, so I suspect that a smaller cone that's moving further, accelerating faster, and "punching" harder generates a slightly less precise pressure wave because it has to move the air molecules around more rapidly.  This probably compresses them a bit more at the beginning and separates them a bit more at end of each excursion of the cone than they should be.  The hysteresis curve of their repetitive motion is aggravated by this nonlinearity, and it's probably audible.

 

If this is correct, it would be causing mechanical distortion of the waveform that would slightly blunt the attack and smear the decay of each cycle. Maybe that's why big cones tend to generate more natural sounding deep bass fundamentals.  And using EQ to push small cones harder would compound this problem, although true DSP could theoretically correct for much of the problem.

 

I've also previously offered (and been criticized for) my theory on natural intermodulation among the instruments in an ensemble.  A performance generates IM among all the tones and overtones being played.  As this IM is part of the performance, it's captured in the recording unless each instrument is acoustically isolated and individually mic'ed.  If the basses are bowing an A at 55 Hz, and the cellos are playing E above it (82 Hz), the sum and difference tones are recorded along with the notes being played. This adds a 27 Hz component to the source signal at several dB below the notes that generate it.  A speaker that's already down 6 dB at 40 will simply not pump out much of that 27 Hz tone.  As the same intermodulation is again generated on playback, it's reinforced by the intermodulation on the recording.  I suspect that it's part of the sonic richness we're discussing.  I also strongly believe that this phenomenon is a major reason for the inability of reproduced music to sound truly live, but that's a different story for another time.

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Thanks!  I also like your taste in Barolo, but you did not include space competition effects between the HiFi and wine aging & storage space in your article...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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2 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

Thanks!  I also like your taste in Barolo, but you did not include space competition effects between the HiFi and wine aging & storage space in your article...

 

Ahhh - that's yet another downsizing adventure! We had a wine cellar in the house that held about 10 cases on display racks and about 100 unopened standard 12 bottle cases. My life plan was to rotate the stock, laying up fresh ones as we drank a perfectly aged bottle about once a week.  When we decided to downsize, I planned to convert the closet next to the front door into a climate controlled glass enclosed storage area for about 50 cases, assuming the cooling unit could be vented and drained into the building's vent and plumbing systems.  It turns out that there's no way to do that from any usable location in the apartment.

 

So I now have a pair of commercial 10 case storage units in the kitchen -

 

wine_storage1_small.thumb.jpg.e2bcf8504d120d907a1628de7ed35264.jpg

 

and a pair of 3 case open racks in the dining room -

 

wine_storage2_small.jpg.a6ec364bb5840da3e022147fa48d016c.jpg

 

With our newly reduced capacity, my plan is to have one properly aged bottle a month until I die. It is what it is.....

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6 hours ago, firedog said:

 

And as far as bass: I understand what you wrote and can't argue with any of it. But subjectively, my experience is that speakers that do fairly low bass without rolloff (say 30hz; we won't even talk about those that go significantly lower) sound much more realistic and convincing in music that needs bass reproduction (organ, orchestral) than those speakers that "only" do 40 or 50  or 60 hz. And they even sound better than those speakers reproducing rock and jazz where, I agree, there is probably little sound below 40 hz. I'm not sure why that is: maybe they just have better quality of bass reproduction, or saying it another way, they do it more easily, with less strain, and therefore sound better when doing it. 

 

I would say there is at least one very simple reason why ... the speaker cabinets needed to mount bigger drivers are much more substantial, better braced, quite a bit heavier, sit more securely on their bottoms in the room. The truth is that it is quite straightforward to get "big" organ and orchestral recordings to sound authoritative and rich from 'tiny' speakers, simply by stabilising the cabinets, internally and in how they are coupled to much greater mass objects - subjectively convincing intensity from the bass lines is delivered, and the whole of the music soundscape is in balance.

 

Recorded music can mostly certainly sound truly alive, but the means to that end is not a method that appeals to many people - there are no magic bullets, secret sauces, special techniques that only a few people know; rather, it's unceasing attention to detail, constant experimentation and optimising to eliminate every area of the audio rig, treated as a system that requires a key level of integrity to work its 'magic', that is below the necessary standard.


Frank

 

http://artofaudioconjuring.blogspot.com/

 

 

Ahhh, Mankind ... Porsche intellect, Trabant emotions ...

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those are nice looking case storage units

 

my goal is to not stick more than 1,000 bottles in the guest bedroom...


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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I... hewed through the lifestyle and self improvement sections.  The rest was exactly what an, ahem, non-industry facing article should be in this corner of the web.  Engaging and light on it's feet. 

 

Didn't bother me if you had to get some things off your chest before settling in to your somewhat offbeat acceptance of the patternalia your new home (and audio system) became.  Looking forward to the next part of this series that follows now more than I anticipated this one.  That is if, it isn't unkind to say, life sprung from cover that didn't look ready to flower so riotiously.  

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I can and have put together a verified nice system - verified as its had a performance analysis run on nearly all the components and they all perform well  - for under a $1,000USD. Just add an inexpensive computer, with storage and WiFi, and away you go... B|

Yamaha WXA-50 for <$500USD:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-yamaha-wxa-50-streaming-amp.7964/

Infinity Reference 162's, which can frequently found on sale for ~$250USD:

https://www.harmanaudio.com/R162BK.html

Infinity Reference SUB R10, which is frequently on sale for <$200USD:

https://www.harmanaudio.com/infinity/REFERENCE+SUB+R10.html?dwvar_REFERENCE SUB R10_color=Black-USA-Current#q=SUB&start=1

https://www.soundandvision.com/content/infinity-reference-r162-speaker-system

image_wxa-50.thumb.jpg.b500375a4c67989083cf38b844080a10.jpg
 

4639195972.jpg

20180819_114409.jpg.6daa965524ab8cb1d5b4cc4c25e67869.jpg

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4 hours ago, Bill_G said:

I can and have put together a verified nice system - verified as its had a performance analysis run on nearly all the components and they all perform well  - for under a $1,000USD. Just add an inexpensive computer, with storage and WiFi, and away you go... B|

 

Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!  You've found and combined great sound and great value in nice looking, space- and power-efficient, user friendly components with serious capabilities.  The Yamaha also has a traditional vibe for those who like having a "stereo system".   And using their app for all control functions (which I believe it can do from the description on the Yamaha product website - I haven't had my hands on this one yet), the electronics can also be hidden (with proper ventilation, of course) for those who lack the desire and/or the space to keep it in the open.

 

Wifi, BT, ethernet, DSD, analog in / out, digital in (including USB despite what appears to be an erroneous statement in the review you linked, if I understand the Yamaha spec sheet correctly), adequate power for many excellent speakers, etc etc etc - many if not most audiophiles could live very, very happily with your system.  A headphone amp is the only potentially serious design omission I see - but that's workable, e.g. drive a headphone amp from the line out jacks. 

 

I've always loved the serious Yamaha audio pieces - my B-2 power amp was one of the best sounding amps of its day, my 12" NSW-1 was a stellar sub (sadly sacrificed to downsizing), and the 8" Yamaha sub in our living room now is tight as a drum.  I agree completely with the review you linked (except for the USB error, if in fact I'm right): "It won't provide competition to state-of-the-art separate products but it also doesn't embarrass. As such, I am going to put the WXA-50 on my recommended list."  Enjoy it!!

 

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34 minutes ago, bluesman said:

A headphone amp is the only potentially serious design omission I see - but that's workable, e.g. drive a headphone amp from the line out jacks. 


Yeah, the lack of a headphone jack, and USB input from a computer, I found a bit odd as well. However, as you say, there are work-arounds: analog input from a computer (provided it's clean enough) or even a USB to Optical converter, and I see Yamaha has a Windows version of the MusicCast application, would solve the direct connection to PC issue. 

I'm glad you enjoyed my input on the topic... B|

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2 hours ago, Bill_G said:

Yeah, the lack of a headphone jack, and USB input from a computer, I found a bit odd as well. 

 

According to the "specs" page on the Yamaha product site for the WXA-50, there is a usable USB input. 

 

WXA-50_spec.gif.cd08f27ce847ba492fe17121a171c5f2.gif

 

There's no breakdown of supported formats by input, but it does say that the USB port is a usable input. Have you tried it?  As for headphones, you can also drive a wireless DAC / headphone amp, e.g. the $200 Audiolab M-DAC.

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On 7/18/2019 at 12:11 PM, firedog said:

But a couple of small points: the most obvious answer to many of your issues are active speakers, especially those with DSP. Add a source (even a Raspberry Pi) and you are done. The better ones these days (Kii and Dutch & Dutch) get very loud and do very low bass on their own. But even many high quality "lesser" ones (Audioengine, KEF, etc.) do  enough bass - and you can always add a small sub if you want.

 

I can attest to the quality of the powered network speakers. We needed something for our small living room for morning music and dining room background. Just picked up a set of KEF LSX - had been looking at single box all in one stereo setups like the Dynaudio Music 7, but they all took up a lot of space in a small room. (Small enough that whatever we chose had to sit on one of the side tables - at an angle about 3 feet of separation.) The LSX pair takes up VERY little table space. The bass is surprisingly good, without any DSP. Had a sub I thought I might use, but won't... will be selling it now. Sound quality is good enough, streaming wifi from our house media server, that if there's one more downsize in our future, these will be our audio system. Picked them up for $840 - open box, and they were the green color, which apparently is the least favorite color, the audio place couldn't sell them. We've got green in the rug, and in the curtains...so that's a nice sounding system for $840.

 

We replaced an old DAC in our bedroom (that cost me almost $800 way back when I bought it) that had a USB drive plugged into it with an Allo Boss that takes streams from the house server. Sounds better than the old DAC. About a quarter of the size.

 

And we just replaced our monster music server (full size tower) with an Intel NUC running headless, and a small RAID 1 direct attached storage. The table that used to be devoted to the music server, mouse, keyboard, monitor, now is devoted to flowers.

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Nice article Bluesman.

 

Your personal experience and knowledge shines through and mimics my own thoughts. However, I've just done the bloody opposite. I'm half way through renovating a 3300ft house and driving myself and my wife crazy. They say never say never but believe me never again!

 

For the past 10 years my office system has consisted of my lap top as the source (Audirvana & Tidal) feeding a Benchmark HDR DAC 1 with balanced out to ADAM A7 Active speakers. This system fits your desire for a small footprint and excellent sound quality but fails your "low cost" criteria. However, I bought the system 10 years ago and when you amortised it over such along period (with no sign of deterioration due to both components having excellent build quality) it is IMO actually very cost effective. Despite reading thousands of audio reviews and CA threads I've never thought the need to upgrade until last month when I bought a used Benchmark DAC 2 DX for $US 900 (I don't need the analogue inputs) and gave the DAC1 to my son for his home recording studio.

 

As an aside it is one of the joys of our hobby to buy a product manufactured in the US, from a gentleman residing in Austria, and then arranging for it to be transported to Australia.... while paying 1/3 of the cost to purchase it new here. The second hand audio market (s) provide an excellent way of obtaining great gear at reasonable costs. Here knowledge is everything.

 

I have also purchased inexpensive DACs from SMSL (Chinese) that you mention in your list and concur that the sound quality / cost ratio is outstanding and for someone starting out pairing one with JBL 305 active speakers is a no brainer. A great little system can be had for < US500.

 

To your list of equipment "bargains" I would also add the Auralic Mini (Streamer/DAC). It ticks all the boxes - small footprint, good sound, flexible, user friendly, Local HD, Tidal, Spotify Connect, USB, Coaxial, Optical inputs. Really versatile piece of kit, which is also great to take travelling. Auralic have their own proprietary app, Lightning DS, however, they have discontinued the Mini (?) but if you hunt around you can pick one up for around US$350 (I have 3). I'm sitting on my balcony controlling my music via my iPhone (as a remote) and listening through my outdoor speakers. Very cool.

 

Well done again on an excellent article.

 

All the best,

 

Ajax

 


LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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7 hours ago, bluesman said:

According to the "specs" page on the Yamaha product site for the WXA-50, there is a usable USB input. 

 

 

That input is for USB storage devices only, though... 😉

 

As for headphones, most smart devices are more than adequate for driving those these days when using the MusicCast app on them. 

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10 hours ago, Bill_G said:

That input is for USB storage devices only, though.

 

Interesting - Yamaha’s description and placement of it adjacent to the other inputs in the spec list is really misleading. They should either change the specs to clarify that it’s not a signal input or change the electronics so that it is.

 

All I can think of to say is....”Yamaha, if you’re listening, find that missing input!” 😝

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7 minutes ago, bluesman said:

Interesting - Yamaha’s description and placement of it adjacent to the other inputs in the spec list is really misleading.


It's mentioned in the manual for it's for storage devices, and to not connect a computer to it. 

As for why they didn't choose to allow computer input is beyond me, since it would have been rather simple to route the input to the DAC via some inexpensive USB Controller within the amp... :confused:

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Great and interesting perspective.  But on the flip side, there are ways to make a "big" system fit in small spaces.  I live in an 1100 sf single story home where I have to be very efficient with the space and the floor design wastes nothing.  When I redid the kitchen/dining area I made sure to leave a 7' wide area where I could squeeze in my system consisting of tower speakers, Pass Labs amp, dac and Mac source.  The room acoustics may not be optimized as I am sure I am breaking many room treatment rules such as marble surfaces being adjacent, tile floors and wood furniture in front.  But I would gain nothing by going to a smaller system.

IMG_5716.jpg


RIG:  MBP - Qutest | Pass XA30.8 | Paradigm S6 Cables: Kimber Silver Streak RCA Mapleshade double helix speaker Lifatec Toslink |

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20 minutes ago, photonman said:

Great and interesting perspective.  But on the flip side, there are ways to make a "big" system fit in small spaces.  I live in an 1100 sf single story home where I have to be very efficient with the space and the floor design wastes nothing.  When I redid the kitchen/dining area I made sure to leave a 7' wide area where I could squeeze in my system consisting of tower speakers, Pass Labs amp, dac and Mac source.  The room acoustics may not be optimized as I am sure I am breaking many room treatment rules such as marble surfaces being adjacent, tile floors and wood furniture in front.  But I would gain nothing by going to a smaller system.

 

No question about it - you’re another great example of one who understands and accepts compromise consistent with your own values and expectations.  Moving to an apartment means I can’t crank it up any more. In fact, I don’t play our grand piano early or late in the day and instead use my Kurzweil through ‘phones at off hours. The grand is a similar accommodation to your larger system, in that it takes up enough available space to be useful in other ways (eg wine storage), yet I can’t really get the most out of it. But my wife knows how much I love it & we’re both OK with the compromises we have to make to keep it.

 

As I said in the downsizing piece, the key to successful right-sizing is to know what’s most important to you and to let go of lesser concerns happily and without looking back. It’s great that you and I could do that, and I hope we’re helping others to learn how. Happiness and contentment are essential to a good life for us all, especially as we advance to later stages of life or must accommodate unexpected and undesired change.

 

Audio enjoyment has the power to enhance our lives at every turn, if we pursue it thoughtfully.

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On 7/20/2019 at 10:10 AM, photonman said:

Great and interesting perspective.  But on the flip side, there are ways to make a "big" system fit in small spaces.  I live in an 1100 sf single story home where I have to be very efficient with the space and the floor design wastes nothing.  When I redid the kitchen/dining area I made sure to leave a 7' wide area where I could squeeze in my system consisting of tower speakers, Pass Labs amp, dac and Mac source.  The room acoustics may not be optimized as I am sure I am breaking many room treatment rules such as marble surfaces being adjacent, tile floors and wood furniture in front.  But I would gain nothing by going to a smaller system.

IMG_5716.jpg

 

Absolutely agree on sometimes you can get joy (and make accommodations for joy) from a large speaker system. I had a double-Advent system for years in a range of small student and broke actor apartments for years. But while I know it's not a popular opinion, I do believe that in general, there's an optimal speaker size for spaces. Our place in NJ was huge in cubic feet - really high ceilings, open side walls. Along with long and wide floor measurements. We had GoldenEar Triton 2 speakers, traded up to the Triton 1, and it was amazing how they filled out the space with sound even better than before. (FYI, my enthusiasm for the speakers is the shape of the bass output... I've always had a thing for speakers that do bass in an open baffle or similar pattern...)

 

When we moved to our new place in VA, while the T1 sounded great, they're not being used anywhere near their full potential. The new space is rectangular with a 12 foot, not 30 foot, ceiling, not t-shaped with open sides. In our NJ space, the T2 had the bass amps set to 2/3... and landing alien ships rattled the dishes in the kitchen. The T1 in the old place was set to about half. The built in woofer amps are set to well below a third of max in our new place.

 

Helped a neighbor set up her new T3 speakers in her house, and she agreed to let me try them in our space. Damn, they were perfect. The bass could still rattle your innards, the amp was a hair above middle, and everything else - upper bass, mids, and highs, didn't sound terribly different other than all the drivers seemed to be working in their sweet spot at normal listening volume. 

 

Every speaker I've ever owned was tested at quiet background levels, and dance like no one is watching levels, and if they didn't do both well, I passed. But... I think that for speakers, there's some kind of optimal space and stress level. Maybe less true with designs that radiate everything to the front. 

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@bluesman Another great piece of writing here!  I have helped and watched friends and family with downsizing.  It is an interesting experiment in human interactions.  “Donate, Trash, Keep” over and over and over!  My wife and I have been slowly working our way through the process to simplify any change down the road.  Your happy living list is very nice.

 

We vacation at a small cottage in Wi almost every year. It makes you think about living space pretty hard.   There is a hodge-podge  system there for CD playback and TV.  (No TV any more as digital does not get into the woods).  We never use it.  I skimmed your article before we left and saw the reference to the AudioEngine A2+ speakers and it was a ticker for me to try mine at the cottage.  I am adding a section to my Volumio Primo review to include this idea.!  Please keep writing, your work is refreshing.

 

Bob

 

 

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On 8/4/2019 at 11:08 AM, photonman said:

I am looking into an active speaker setup.  If my low-fi Sonos is any indication of the active speaker world, I think it can work for me.  Less wires, built in bi-amping, signal crossovers before amplification;  all good things.

 

It's difficult to get to compare active speakers. The big box stores tend to carry only one or two that are above junque level, so I had to fall back on looking at reviews by reviewers who seemed to hear the same things I hear when reviewing gear I own, with a price ceiling that represents sanity, and the fact that the speakers I was getting weren't going to be my primary setup. That got me to a short list. Then when I said, gotta be a Roon endpoint, I only had one choice - KEF LSX.

 

Based on how good those little guys sound, I'd love to find a way to try out the big brothers, the LS50s, in our main listening room, before I start trying to sell stuff. 

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