omnidirectional point source active crossover loudspeakers

. . . a peaceful little universe of audio sanity

Let's keep our emotions in the music and out the gear.

1) Measurements don't tell the whole story, so specs are meaningless.

The trouble with this statement is that it's true. If we don't get all the relevant measurements, we don't get the whole picture, and we're playing a game of The Blind Men and the Elephant. If we don't understand the significance of the measurements, or how they correlate to what we hear, then the measurements are meaningless. Furthermore, there are certain thresholds (which vary from person to person) to human hearing sensitivity. Test equipment exceeds human hearing sensitivity by orders of magnitude. Below the threshold, measurements no longer tell us anything relevant because we can't hear it. Above the threshold there is incontrovertible evidence that specs can be directly correlated to what we hear. Once the correlation between measurement and perception is learned, the meaning of the specs becomes clear and understandable. Specs can tell us a lot about a component even before we hear a note, or they can confirm what we hear with objective evidence. Anyone arguing this has not learned the correlations. See : Types of Audio Distortion.

Seeing Is Believing. America's Test Kitchen did a taste test of commercial vanilla ice cream. The tests were run with eyes open and blindfolded, the brands were unknown in both trials. Brands with specks of vanilla bean got the highest marks for flavor. Second time around, when the tasters were blindfolded, the specked brands lost. How could that happen? Chemical analysis clarified these contradictory results. Those ground up bits of vanilla beans were from spent bean pods containing little or no vanillin, the primary flavor molecule in vanilla. Merely seeing the vanilla bean bits made the ice cream "taste" more vanilla-y. Take away the misleading visual information and the real, measurably validated taste was subjectively and accurately perceived. It demonstrates, once again, that double blind testing is the only reliable, valid means for subjective evaluation. The implications of this example apply to nearly everything that follows.


2) Tubes sound better, soundstage better, are smoother, warmer, richer. Anyway, tube amps only produce even order harmonic distortion and transistor amps use negative feedback; anything negative has to be bad.

Measurements clearly reveal differences between tubes and transistors. With a few minutes of experience, one can look at the frequency and distortion charts of an unknown amp and tell whether it's a transistor, tube, or switching amp. Multiple, independent, double-blind listening tests have confirmed with statistically significant results that the ability to distinguish between two different amps is extremely low. Output impedance, which is higher for tubes (considerably higher for OTL, output transformer-less), will react noticeably with hard to drive, low impedance speakers. This is audible as a change in the linear response of the speaker, and it won't be flatter. No one mentions that intermodulation distortion is also considerably higher in tube amps. It will hit the 1% mark well before the THD hits 1%, usually at less than half the rated output. At least one study has found that tubes were preferred when comparing units with similar wattage, but if the transistor amp had double the power of the tube amp, transistors were preferred. The richness, smoothness, warmth of tubes are the result of linear deviations plus higher harmonic and IM distortion. Maybe distortion creates the illusion of a deeper soundstage.

Where did the baldfaced lie about tubes having only even order distortion ever start? It is categorically wrong. Tubes produce both even and odd, some types the third and fifth stronger than any other. All clipping results in the production of odd ordered harmonics—tubes clip 'softer' because their circuits saturate more gradually. All added harmonics are distortion. All clipping is gross distortion.

Negative feedback is not exclusive to transistors, most tubes amps make use of negative feedback too. And for a good reason, it is one of the most brilliant techniques ever devised for reducing distortion. True, excessive amounts will produce transient IM distortion, cause oscillation and make an amplifier unstable, but when properly applied none of this happens. In fact, the optimal amount of negative feedback stabilizes an amp, reduces distortion by orders of magnitude, and improves linearity without causing TIM. Negative feedback is indispensable. See this link :

Considering the cost, reliability, longevity, and performance, transistors deliver more all the way around without adding any artificial warmth, or color, or richness. Still, this may not be the final word on the dispute. Perhaps there is something special about vacuum tubes. For more on this subject see : The Vacuum Tube Solution.


3) Single driver, electrostatic or planar-magnetic, or 1st order crossover are the only accurate loudspeakers.

Another example of a partially true statement that deceptively leads our attention away from factors of greater relevance. The step response and square wave produced by these designs are much closer to accurate. So, from this limited, single point of view it's true. But at what cost do we get good square waves? Panels beam and lobe. Low order crossovers stress the drivers and amps, producing higher levels of nonlinear distortion and intermodulation. Since music contains no square waves, and since time and phase discrepancies are audible only under certain very specific conditions, and with certain very specific signals, and primarily with headphones not speakers, there's little reason to be overly concerned with time and phase coherency. As long as relative phase is preserved, the issue is of little consequence. Also note that any time a port or enclosure cavity is used to amplify the bass, it effectively becomes an acoustic crossover causing phase shift and group delay. Ooops. That's just like adding another driver and filter except that this one isn't controlled by the amplifier. See : Principles & Priorities of Loudspeaker Design


4) Horns and high efficiency speakers have the best dynamics and transients.

True again. And again, the question must be asked, at what cost? Horns are acoustically very complicated and very difficult to do properly. Since I'm not a physicist, I can't explain in detail all the issues surrounding the size and dimensions of the horn and how it will effect sound quality, dispersion, frequency range, and distortion. When it's done right, it will be very expensive. (A short page about : Horn Geometry.) Yet, I'm still not convinced the effort is worth it. Horns are most appropriate for high level, large scale amplification, e.g., stadiums, coliseums, outdoor concerts. This is not necessary for home audio. Other high efficiency designs are usually single driver, or quasi single driver (2-way with a high x/o frequency to a super tweeter) fair no better. One or two drivers cannot cover the entire audible bandwidth with low distortion and linear amplitude.


5) It takes a super fast tweeter to get great resolution, but some go too far and start to sound etched.

Resolution needs to be clearly defined, because it's too easy to fool the ear into perceiving high resolution when it's really not resolution we're hearing. (It also ignores the fact that midrange and bass resolution are equally important.) Resolution is the lack of resonance or stored energy in the driver, the cabinet, and/or port that radiates additional time delayed acoustic energy not found in the recording, thus blurring or muddling the sound as it mixes with the original signal. Usually when someone speaks about too much resolution or etched, they are actually hearing an elevated mid-treble. The illusion of fast or airy or "too resolved" can be imparted with a 2 or 3 dB rise in the 5 to 10 kHz region. It's a simple little trick that many manufacturers do intentionally to make their speakers sound faster and more resolved than they truly are without making them sound overtly bright. In other cases, that etched sound is straight up distortion often on top of the elevated treble. But the real misconception is that some tweeters are faster than others. In the audible spectrum, they are all fast. They have to be. The rise time needed to produce a 20 kHz signal is 12.5 microseconds. If it's not fast enough, it won't produce the frequency. So, a little boost in the mid-treble is all it takes to accentuate that part of the spectrum where we hear treble detail and sparkle. It doesn't actually make anything faster or more resolved, but rather, only makes the high frequency detail louder for it to stand out more. This trick, along with a mid-bass hump that fools the ear into hearing "extended bass," creates the classic smiley–face frequency response which is very good at initially making a big impression. (Also used to create the "big speaker" illusion out of little cubes & a black box stuffed in a corner.) Listen more carefully, and the illusion vanishes into thin air.


6) Big massive speakers are the only true full range speakers capable of realistic sound pressure levels.

What's the huge, heavy cabinet for? Two very good reasons, air volume and mass. A larger air volume lowers the system Q and the driver resonance. (So why are most of these systems still ported?) The air volume is for bass extension, the mass for reducing resonances. Any time you make a box, those flat sides are easily flexed. That flexing can put a significant amount of spurious sound into the room. Bigger, heavier boxes with copious amounts of internal bracing are harder to get vibrating. So what's wrong with that? Nothing, if you want to spend tens of thousands of dollars for cabinets that require a crane to move. Big speakers commonly incorporate larger numbers of drivers, often in some sort of line source or d'Appolito configuration which operates on the more is better principle, and the reduction of vertical dispersion. This creates lobing, and in a line source, considerable beaming with increasing frequency. The justification is to reduce floor and ceiling reflections and lower harmonic distortion, but in reality it's not so simple. If room interaction is so detrimental, try listening in an anechoic chamber, or give up speakers and switch to headphones. The ideal perfect transducer would be a massless point source. Line source and d'Appolito both increase the mass and size of the source, heading in exactly the opposite direction. Throwing more mass and drivers (and money) at the situation creates as many problems as it solves—a zero sum game. (See : Near-Field Line Arrays) There are more intelligent and practical ways to get full range performance. These flagship monster speakers never truly aim to be great. Their goal is to appeal to the vanity of both buyer and maker in a joint frenzy of conceited ostentation.


7) Get back into vinyl. LPs sound more natural, smooth, rich . . .

Lower signal to noise ratio, limited dynamic range, linear deviations, surface noise, pops & clicks & crackles, wow & flutter, rumble, grounding, dust, static, cleaning, wear, warps, tracking inaccuracies, tracing distortion/scanning loss, feedback, short play time, higher THD, IM, and resonance, . . . Are there any more reasons to regress into vinyl? Fascinating link outlining the complexities of LP playback : Airtangent


8) Read the reviews, they all rave about XYZ.

User reviews are worthless. We don't know what experience the reviewer has, or how easily swayed he/she might be by belief. And worse yet, most user reviews are written during the honeymoon period, that is, the first few days or weeks of ownership. The new toy is likely to be an improvement and the new owner will be ecstatic. I know, I've been there, only to discover, sometimes months later, the new item that's “better than anything else at twice the price,” isn't really worth one-half the price.

Professional reviews are worthless. We don't know what kind of relationship exists between the reviewer and the manufacturer. And worse yet, most professional reviews are written in double talk. They tread lightly over faults, sometimes serious ones, and gush floridly over inconsequential trivia. Can't tell you how many reviews I've read. Only after listening to the component for myself will I really be able to decipher the cryptic language of the review to get the hidden message. Unfortunately, it all comes down to a nasty Catch-22. If you don't have the knowledge and experience, then you won't be able to determine whether the review (or other advice) is valid or bogus. If you have the knowledge and experience, then you don't need the review. Use your own ears, and bring your head along. Measurements are real, your hearing is an illusion. And close your eyes. Our vision is dangerously influential. The looks of a pretty component can easily override what we think and what we hear, only to lead us down the wrong path. See this study from 1994 : The Dishonesty of Sighted Listening Tests

Plus an amazing way to tweak your system!

My husband and I (both trained/experienced listeners) noticed this effect [the effect of vision] recently when we swapped out our tv for one with better resolution. We both perceived that our audio system sounded better than before, even knowing that nothing in the system had changed.

HDTV makes dramatic improvement in sonic resolution! Whooda thunk?


9) Amp and speaker synergy is most important, like pairing wine with food.

This is a false analogy and a brazen misuse of the word synergy. There is no metric for analyzing wine and food to determine a good pairing, nor any objective standard for comparison. On the other hand, there are measurements for speakers and amps, and we do have an objective standard reference by which to judge : live acoustic music (and more precisely, the accuracy of the output compared to the input). By checking the impedance of the speaker and the output impedance of the amp, it can be determined whether or not the amp is suitable for the speakers. Back in the days before transistors, an impedance mismatch would be detrimental. Tube amplifiers have a higher output impedance than transistor amps. Different speakers' impedance curves can vary wildly causing audible variation in frequency response. Matching used to be imperative. Today's modern multi-way speakers with passive crossovers often have dips in the impedance curve falling below 4 ohms, sometimes approaching 2 ohms. This can be a difficult load for any amp, and especially for tubes. This is why high efficiency, high impedance speakers are recommended for tubes, but even these are not exempt from wide impedance curves, e.g., ported, transmission line, or back-loaded horns have two sharp peaks and dips in the curve. Now, let's fast forward to the 21st century; transistor amps (most, not all, some try to emulate tubes) have exceedingly low output impedance making a mismatch impossible. Eliminate the passive crossover and the entire subject no longer applies. A good, adequately powered, low output impedance, low distortion transistor amp will do a respectable job.

This subject is associated with the theory of whole system compatibility and to a side issue of the evil tone control. Tone controls induce phase shifts, phase shift is distortion, ergo tone controls are bad. What's more, the very presence of a tone control on equipment degrades the sound. To avoid this little nasty, yet in admission of the need, some audiophiles go through great lengths to adjust the tonal balance of their systems by using other components as surrogate tone controls. It starts with the selection of a single component to impart a characteristic “sonic signature” in order to control tone. When that isn't enough or goes too far another component is sought to mutually compensate for the vagaries of the others in a daft stab at creating "system synergy." This is so off-base. First, anything that changes linearity causes phase shift. Second, tuning your system is pointless. The variations from one recording to the next are not only unmissable, they are the root problem. Variations between recordings are all across the board and can vary far more widely than any “component optimization” could or should ever attempt to correct. This raises the real question; how can a one-size-fits-all system do justice to every recording? Tones controls serve an essential function. They are there to help balance out the all too common out of balance recording. Remember, the recording engineer has equalized the sound correctly for his equipment. On other occasions the balance was made for some assumed average end user. It will probably not be correct on any system. Typically, the majority of classical recordings are well balanced and sound best flat (on a flat system), but not always. Microphone selection and placement varies greatly. Concert hall acoustics vary greatly. These variations combine to make for considerable sonic disparities. Most pop and recent jazz recordings have been EQed bass heavy. (Most average systems are bass challenged, and most listeners have become accustomed to an exaggerated mid-bass, hence the engineer boosts the bass for you. No thanks.) Too much bass, too bright, there's no predicting or knowing how a recording was balanced. In light of this, it is counter productive to eschew the use of tone controls. It is fruitless to tailor the system to a single balance setting. And finally, system compatibility is not synergism.


10) If it costs more it must be better. A proportional relationship exists between price and quality.

Generally speaking this is true. Low quality parts and sloppy workmanship equals low price; better parts and strict quality control, higher cost, higher price. It's all very logical and relatively proportional. It will come to a point when getting a fraction more performance requires disproportionally greater cost. Beyond a certain point the gains are meaningless. However, there aren't many industries where this truth is less applicable than high-end audio. More examples of price not corresponding to quality can be found in audio than most any other industry. A perfect illustration of this is the super-high-end speaker costing $10k, $20k, $40k, $80k, or more. How, why, in this astronomical, cost-no-object price range are makers still using passive crossovers? It is one of the most detrimental elements of speaker design, and the simplest, easiest one to eliminate. When the price for a pair of speakers exceeds a few thousand dollars, it is inexcusable to be using a passive crossover.

Some time ago I heard a pair of $50 thousand dollar speakers, with probably as much in front end components, in a professionally designed listening room. Nothing is perfect, yet in this price category, nothing less than astounding is expected. I heard excellent bass and midrange, wonderful soundstage, detail, impact, and powerful dynamics. Yet, the first thing I noticed, even before entering the room, was an exaggerated, edgy mid-treble—excruciating and unforgivable. Still, the system really looked impressive. High-end products spare no cost on cosmetics—which is most of what you're really paying for most of the time—or sometimes you're merely "paying for the price." It should also be noted those speakers use a 5" ribbon tweeter, the Aurum Cantus G3Si, $260 retail each. Later I discovered confirmation of what I heard. Tests results show the frequency response starts to rise from 2.5 kHz, steadily rising up 5 dB to 5k, then holding at that level through 15k before going up more! Harmonic distortion is very high below 2.5k and poorer than average above, with a strong 3rd harmonic spike between 7-8k. Alright, I admit it, I was really off the mark. They are way worse than I thought. And, did I mention, $50,0000 USD per pair? See the summary at the bottom of this link : Non-dome Tweeters.

Here's an interesting quote from an anonymous audiophile.

I went to the new [audio store] to listen to the Piega and Magnepan speakers. They had them hooked up to $1,000.00 Cambridge Audio and Arcam pieces. My CD Transport and DAC are $11,000.00 and my Integrated Amp is $8,000.00, I couldn't relate to anything that I was hearing because of the difference in the level of electronic gear.

A telling demonstration of a curious psychological prejudice based on price. The power of price is amazingly potent, especially at the subconscious level. High-end manufacturers know this well. It's unfortunate that high-end audio no longer means high fidelity. Digital technology has democratized high fidelity to such a degree that the only way for audiophiles and marketing departments to distinguish high-end from hi-fi is with a high-price.


11) Cables, interconnects, power cords and power conditioning can make or break a system.

Fluorescent lights, dimmers, and electric motors on the same circuit as audio/video equipment can cause hum/interference. Power conditioning can do little to solve these problems. An isolated electrical circuit running exclusively to your electronics can help. Having all components connected to a common ground may also be important, but I've read conflicting sources. Getting to the root of a problem and solving it before it has a chance to manifest is far better than after the fact remedies. Sometimes cable TV, even when properly grounded, can cause a hum problem. An isolation transformer between the cable coax and receiver or processor will resolve it.

Digital cables, coax or optical, are known to introduce jitter to a digital signal. This has been clearly shown to be negligible for lengths less than 20 meters. Only extremely long lengths need to take measures to prevent this. It's generally considered advisable to keep optical cables shorter, not because of jitter, but for signal loss over greater lengths. Unless a cable is grossly under engineered, its performance will be indistinguishable from any high-end cable which exploits our fear of jitter and misrepresents actual scientific fact. Don't read this link. It'll make your head explode : Digital Coax Test

For electrical cables, measurements reveal cable resistance, capacitance, and inductance do vary. The variations translate into changes of tenths or hundredths of a decibel. Those who can hear these tiny changes or the differences between copper or silver and power cords or line conditioning have a rare gift. Their paranormal psychic powers infinitely transcend the abilities of us common folk. And while we're on cables, another old tired chestnut needs to be put to rest, biwiring. I've read the theoretical electrical properties about how bi-wiring may potentially have an effect. Some will try to sell it to you with the "you won't know until you to try it" line of thinking. No you don't. Don't waste your time or money. Every DBT (Double Blind Test) done has demonstrated conclusively that bi-wiring has zero audible effect. (On the other hand, bi-amping may improve sound quality.) I put my money and effort into the parts of my system that I can hear with unquestionable certainty. (Although, incense and crystals do improve the sound of New Age music.)


12) Tweaks are a way of fine tuning your system that will take it to the next level.

Tweaks are for squeezing out the last little bit of performance from your system. This may involve many sorts of things, such as, isolation feet or platforms, cable elevators, cones, pebbles, ac outlets & cover plates, and any number of specialty products which claim to make improvements to the soundstage, imaging, transparency, and yada-yada. Without the support of objective evidence, these are all irrational, superstitious beliefs. Many companies rely on the gullibility and ignorance of credulous consumers to sell these bogus products by making unsubstantiated claims disguised under specious pseudoscience. These sorts of marketing schemes are easily identified by the language they use, and the lack of evidence they provide. Steer clear of everything these egregiously unscrupulous companies sell.

Here are some dead giveaway phrases:

“. . . makes listening more involving, more emotion packed.”

Emotion comes from the music, not the system. Involving is your subjective response to the music. A good system does not bring attention to itself. It should be an instrument for music reproduction, not a musical instrument.

“. . . dramatically improve the sound.”

Dramatically? The very definition of tweak is to pinch or twist, or to make a tiny change that might be just perceptible, not a dramatic improvement. Dramatic claims require dramatic proof; dramatic changes require dramatic efforts. Tweaks are never dramatic.

“. . . makes a huge difference in the sound.”

See above.

“. . . cleaner, more transparent soundstage, with better harmonics and improved dynamics.”

How do you make better harmonics? Improved dynamics will take far more than a tweak to accomplish. Everyone claims more transparent. I want to know how the tweak does it. They never tell us that.

“. . . uses cryogenics and modified quantum . . . technology . . .”

What?! Where do you begin with stuff like this? All I can say is that when they start blinding you with science, it's a screaming, flashing, red flag! Such nonsense is never supported with measurements. Anyway, quantum level effects are subatomic events. They occur inside the nucleus of an atom. These effects can not be measured with the most sensitive audio test equipment, let alone heard by our ears.

“. . . having the performance of a full tilt Ferrari. . .”

Whoa baby! Could this be an exaggeration? Exaggerated claims and fallacious analogies must be viewed with suspicion. No, make that total disbelief.

These quotations were taken from only three websites, each filled with even more examples of their marketing departments' delicious drivel.

Soundstage, imaging, transparency, detail, dynamics, are the most commonly cited improvements. Most of these things are properties of the recording. Certainly the playback system can do harm, but tweaks will never get something out of a recording that isn't there. Also watch out for hot audiophile jargon, especially, "coherence," "synergy," "involving," "musical," and "holographic." (All of these words are consistently misused and misleading.) If your system is weak, tweaks will not bring it up to par. If your system is strong, it doesn't need tweaking.


13) Proprietary technologies separate the men from the boys. You can't get superior performance from standard off-the-shelf parts.

Most proprietary technologies come in one of two flavors. Flavor one is simply an ordinary off-the-shelf product that's made with some slight modification for or by the manufacturer in order to make the claim proprietary. Sometimes this modification is nothing more than a color change. At other times, it's as drastically farcical as hacking off the whizzer cone from a Lowther driver (ain't makin' this up). Flavor two is the most insidious and insulting. It's the use of a cryptic, technical sounding phrase (which usually refers to something prosaic such as a rear firing tweeter), often reduced to a suggestively cute acronym, such as AIR or BAM. These things are neither proprietary nor innovative. They're not even clever.


14) An audiophile's goal is a delicately balanced rig that's adjusted to his/her taste or you might run the risk of it sounding "too hi-fi."

I can understand why someone might want a system tailored to their own personal taste. That's okay. But, do not conflate that with high fidelity. I do not understand the concept of "too hi-fi." What is "too hi-fi?" Isn't fidelity the goal? How could it be too faithful or too perfect? I suspect this disqualifies me as an audiophile. That's okay too. I am not seeking a personal, subjective audio nirvana. My goal, and the goal of high fidelity, is the objective transduction of music and sound into an electrical signal and then back to audible sound waves without loss or addition. Many things get altered, lost, and added in the transition; perfection is impossible. Yet the impossibility does not negate the value of the pursuit. See this insightful, funny and to the point opinion : Audiophiles Need Not Apply.


15) Online forums are a great place to ask questions and get answers from experts. They are full of people who know way more than the rest of us.

Yes, the forums are full of people who are full of way more than average amounts of goofy ideas, and a few who might truly know what they're talking about. A word of caution is in order here, because you run into the same Catch-22 you have with reviews. Top that off with many, many conflicting opinions, off track responses, inadvertent red herrings, etc., and you have a real mess. How do you sort through it all to determine what's valid? Some opinions are based on belief, anecdotal evidence, or insufficient knowledge and false understanding. If you get lucky, some answer(s) may lead you in the right direction, nevertheless, you must take responsibility. Do your own homework. Verify everything.

Then there's the problem of semantics. What precisely is bloom? What distinguishes soundstage from imaging? Until our terms are clearly defined, and we all understand them in the same way, we can't communicate effectively. Sometimes we may very well be saying the same thing, only disagreeing with the words being used. Our terms not only need to be defined, they need to be correlated to objective metrics or repeatable cause and effect so that we have a way of reliably talking about the hows and whys. Too often certain terms are used interchangeably that could be or should be understood differently. A good example of this, referred to above, is high-end and hi-fi.


16) Garbage in—garbage out : the source, CDP, DAC, or TT, is most important.

Hard to argue this point, except it misses the target . . , twice. First, the source is the recording, not the playback equipment. Second, no single part adds more distortion or creates more problems in the playback chain than the speakers. Those who claim that you have to have a system able to resolve the differences in order to hear them are actually proving the point. You need highly resolving speakers. And then, most people haven't done a carefully controlled comparison. Without doing so, we're relying on our unreliable auditory memory and allowing our expectations to override reality. Not long ago, I compared a stock refurbished $150 Sanyo DVD/burner/universal player with a highly modded Oppo 970. How much better would my system sound with a higher resolution source? Set the volume levels equal with pink noise and spent 2 hours listening back and forth, over and over, with several recordings. I really expected to hear something, and expectations are more often than not realized. After all, it was modified and should sound better, or at least distinctive in some way, but no matter how much I wanted to hear a difference, I could not find any. Fifteen hundred dollars of modification, and zero audible difference.


17) Components, amps, cables, and especially speakers, can take hundreds of hours to fully break-in. Equipment always improves as it burns-in/breaks-in.

I've yet to hear of anyone who has actually taken the time to measure and prove that their speakers, or other components, have actually changed over the first few tens or hundreds of hours. The dramatic changes people describe would be very easy to measure. These debates continue endlessly because the believers refuse to accept the plain truth. It's too easy to deceive oneself, too easy to believe or expect that the bass will improve, or the treble will smooth out. If there were any validity to burn-in claims, it would have been established scientifically long ago.

Tests indicate that raw drivers break-in within seconds and change very little after that. It's also a fact that when a driver is placed in a speaker cabinet, the compliance of the inside air overrides any minor change in the driver's free-air behavior. The driver's properties are restricted by the internal air volume, and that doesn't change. Here's another interesting quote.

I can only speak for myself and the speakers I own: When I first brought home the new Klipsch, I expected it to be on the bright side but only found it actually sound a little dull compared to the JBLs I have [had] for years. After a few days of listening, the Klipsch started to sound better, brighter and more transparent, just like the JBLs I liked. I thought hey maybe speakers do need break in. But then I listened to my JBL again, oh my god the JBL sounded so harsh that I couldn't recognize it any more. So in my case, it's my ears becoming accustomed to the new speakers.

Our ears will adjust, like our eyes do with color, to changes in tonal balance. We have the ability to adapt to an imbalance with a psychoacoustic adjustment that rebalances the sound. Tonal balance isn't the only criterion to focus our attention on, but it's usually the first to be noticed. Since it's impossible to listen to every element simultaneously, repeated listening is needed for directing attention to various aspects and to focus on what previously slipped by unnoticed. Music is multilayered; music reproduction involves many elements. Our minds can focus on one layer or one element at a time with a single attention stream. Each listening allows us to focus on a different stream. From one listening to the next, nothing has changed except our focus. (Curious, I've never read any claims of CD break-in, or what about LP break-in?) Chances are if a component doesn't sound good out-of-the-box, it won't get better. In my experience, just the opposite happens. I find my ears getting more critical as I get more acquainted with an item. I begin tuning into faults that I hadn't noticed at first. When an item is truly good, it doesn't get better. Instead, I am gradually appreciating it more and more, not for any improvement, but rather, because I can't find any faults. There's no substitute for time, and time will prove a component's worth, not break-in. Anyway, why doesn't anyone ever claim things get worse as they break-in?


18) Digital sucks : analog rules. Digital is never going to get the soul of music.

Years ago I felt there was something special in a live performance that couldn't be captured in a recording. Recordings got the sound, but never quite got the spirit of the music. Perhaps it is some sort of psychic energy exchange between the performers and the audience that makes the difference. This special something only happens live and in person via an unknown vibration which can't be picked up by a microphone or recorded on any medium. There is no way for that special extra-musical property, that spirit, that soul to survive the recording and the playback process. You have to be there.

Years later, with a system capable of recreating all the information captured in a well made recording, I hear things I never would have believed possible to hear from recorded music. I'm hearing that live performance magic. Of course, I understand now, there's no psychic energy; it's not really magic. It's the full range of audible frequencies, the full dynamics, the full impact of the transients. It's the musicians' breath, their fingers on the strings, the space between the notes. It's in all the finest details that previously were missing, muddled, and sapped from the performance. Distortion of any kind takes away those living, musical, and seemingly mysterious qualities that make live acoustic performances sound alive. Limit the bandwidth; something is lost. Add noise; something is lost. Truncate the transients; something is lost. It's true, we can still enjoy music from a boom-box or an MP3 compressed file, but it's no comparison to the impact of live, is it?

Analog or digital is not the real issue. It's the limitations of the medium. We must understand that LPs can't begin to hold all the information registered on a high quality analog tape recording. And analog tape can't hold all that's encoded in a high resolution digital recording. Distortion is cumulative and compounded. Every component and every generation adds a little more distortion on top of the previous one. I never heard the magic of live until digital came along with its higher capabilities and lower distortion. Add to that speakers capable of reproducing a greater percentage of the musical impact and together they make a system that bridges the live performance gap. It still isn't perfect, but digital recording coupled with low distortion playback are eminently capable of getting to the soul of music. See this link : An Electrical Engineer Speaks Out


19) You have to get the harmonics right to get the timbre of real instruments right.

Most audiophiles know little about the harmonic series or the harmonic structure of musical instruments. Since it's integral to the discussion, it needs to be better understood.

Each instrument has a unique set of overtones (or harmonics). The overtone structure also varies with changing registers. Some instruments produce a spectrum of natural harmonics, like strings do. Others don't. The clarinet's harmonic series doesn't follow the natural series. It contains predominantly odd order harmonics. The pitch heard as the fundamental on the xylophone is actually the 2nd harmonic, so its '2nd' is the 3rd, and so forth.

The volume of an overtone is usually inversely proportional to its pitch, i.e., the higher its frequency, the lower its amplitude, although some instruments have harmonics stronger than the fundamental. In addition to this, some instruments contain inharmonics, tones not part of the natural harmonic series or out of tune with the series. Examples are gongs, bells, steel drums, and most percussion instruments. Acoustic instruments don't all obey the simple mathematics of harmonics. This is part of what makes each instrument's unique timbre.

The natural harmonic series is often used to rationalize the superiority of tubes. Based on the claim that tubes produce mostly 2nd and only the even higher order harmonics (none of those odd order harmonics, the bad ones), then tube distortion is more pleasant sounding. If this were true, tube distortion of any instrument is actually greater, since tubes exaggerate the 2nd disproportionately more than the higher order. However, in reality this even order tube distortion argument is not true. Tube distortion is not that simple nor is it limited to only even order—odd order harmonics are also produced. Pentodes in particular actually produce the 3rd & 5th stronger than the 2nd & 4th. Anyway, if odd order harmonics are so bad, then the clarinet and the xylophone should be a very obnoxious sounding instruments. Note also that a sawtooth wave, a very edgy sound, is comprised of both even and odd harmonics. Tubes add more harmonic distortion to every instrument. To instruments with inharmonics, they add harmonics that don't exist. All in all, tubes alter timbre more than transistors. In the end, it's a twisted way of rationalizing the attraction to a small amount of added low order harmonic distortion. LP playback and tubes do both. About waveforms & harmonics :

Why are even harmonics "good" and odd harmonics "bad?" Even harmonics may be less objectionable because they are generally more consonant—the 2nd, 4th, 8th, and 16th are octaves, which are perfectly consonant—while the odds are at intervals less consonant, yet both even and odd become progressively more dissonant as they rise beyond the 8th. Notwithstanding, any addition of harmonics is going to alter the sound of instruments by making them sound at times brighter or crisper or edgier, and consequently distorting their natural tonal quality. Extra fulness is imparted by adding harmonics, especially the 2nd (an octave), and the 3rd (a twelfth). Sometimes it's done deliberately with overdubbing, or an octave divider, or by amp overdriving. Where would that big fat grungy Rock & Roll guitar sound be without overdriven amps? (Musicians say tubes do it best, but this is subject to misconceptions too, see : Guitar Distortion 101.) The sound of an octave divider has a richness that's incomparably lush and opulent (although it's adding a subharmonic, an octave lower). Nevertheless, let's let the musicians decide when, where, and how much added harmonic color they want for their special sound. To hear the musicians as they intended, let the playback system be pure.

Getting the harmonics right simply translates to a flat frequency response and very low THD, nothing more.


20) The top two goals of any audio system are PRaT (Pace, Rhythm, and Timing) and musicality. Each component must sound musical for getting the entire system to sound musical.

Alright, no pulling punches on this one. That statement is unequivocal hooey, and simply stupid. Pace, rhythm and timing are qualities belonging to music. A cable cannot be musical, an amplifier cannot be musical, speakers cannot be musical, nor can any other mechanical or electrical component. If a component is changing the pace, rhythm or timing it is severely malfunctioning.

How is this kind of distortion even possible? How can a amp change the pace? How can a speaker screw up the rhythm? How can a cable alter timing? If you want to play games by citing that frequencies travel at different rates through a cable, you still have to answer the question, how are those nanosecond changes audible? If you want to cite that turntables can rotate at the wrong speed and change the pace, that is clearly a flaw that can be measured, fixed, and is plainly audible to someone who has perfect pitch. And then, you still have to explain how we can hear any rate of change greater than the firing rate of our neurons? (Typically neurons fire at a rate of 200-400 times per second, or about 2.5-5 ms apart. This also means our hearing is digital, not analog. Furthermore no one has ever listened to a digital signal; it's always converted back to reconstruct the original waveform.)

Stop confusing music with sound, or music with the reproduction of sound. Music and musicians are musical. Sound is not. Sound reproduction systems are not musical. And they should positively not make any attempt to be musical. That would be reinterpreting the original musical event and violating the musicians' artistic intent. Nor should they behave like musical instruments. That would add another layer of resonance. The goal of an audio playback system is to reconstruct the acoustic information on the recording precisely, without alteration, without addition, without reinterpretation either artistically or musically. In other words, to be objective, analytical, neutral. When perfect, output = input. No recording is perfect, no playback is perfect. A perfect recreation of the original performance is impossible, but a reasonably faithful reproduction of the recording is quite possible.

Musicality is the emotion expressed by musicians in their music. Recordings and playback systems are electro-mechanical processes, completely oblivious to and devoid of any emotion. The purpose is simply to deliver the musical content. The more unobtrusively a system reproduces the audio signal, the more we can hear of the subtle musical nuances expressed by the musicians. More on this subject : Don's View


21) "It is not science to say that something does not exist until you have an explanation for it. Theory in physics is great but it is a broad extrapolation from reality, not reality itself. In any case there will be many effects that can affect the sound and theory by itself can not tell us which is the critical one. If we are not to depend on our hearing what are we to base our decisions on? Being convinced by a theory is no different than being convinced by some one else's glowing testimonials. Neither is definitive, science advances by discovering anomalous effects contrary to accepted theory." (A verbatim quote.)

There seems to be no limit to half truths. It is believed there is matter and energy in the universe that has yet to be explained or detected. Science knows this not from guessing nor from theory. It has been deduced from a mounting collection of direct empirical evidence that points in its direction. Dark matter & dark energy has not been proven, but it's not just wishful thinking. The evidence for something undetected is there. In the field of electronics and acoustics we know the parameters that cover every conceivable variable. If a parameter has been missed, there isn't a bit of evidence to suggest it. It is not science to wish the existence of something without reason. If another parameter should exist, propose an hypothesis, show the evidence for it, and find a method for testing its validity.

There seems to be no limit to muddled thinking. Theories are not extrapolations. They are models. Models for taking the phenomena we experience and putting them into understandable linguistic or mathematical terms. All technology is built upon models—should we care to listen, look, read, and attempt to understand.

There seems to be no limit to gullibility. Our perceptions alone are unreliable. They are very easily altered by mood, drugs, and other internal or external psychological and physiological influences. That is why we employ the help of instruments to gather objective measurements. Measurements are consistent and replicable. With the aid of instruments we can measure things our senses are incapable of sensing. The denial of controlled measurement and testing is the denial of reality, and the closing off of our minds.

There seems to be no limit to inverted logic. Theory is based on the reliable results of experimentation, observation, and its ability to make accurate predictions. Testimony, opinion, speculation, and anecdote are not evidence and cannot be compared to science, because they are not reliable, cannot make accurate predictions, and never give us any consistent results. Science advances by various means, including but not limited to new discoveries that occasionally contradict accepted theory. More often, advances make incremental refinements, not revolutionary change. Using the exception or occasional failure to conclude that theory and scientific knowledge is indefinite ignores the overwhelming success of science.

Our judgments mustn't ignore either physics or our hearing. We need to use and rely on both our senses and science. Science compliments and magnifies our senses, and through it, our understanding of the world. Also see : Disclaimer.


Don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.

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