A Few Audio Truths I've Learned?

I've been playing around in the (relatively) high end audio world since 1982 or so (with a few breaks for sanity--and economics'--sake), and, for amusement, found myself trying to figure out if there were any "truths" of high end audio (other than perhaps that "reality is fluid"?). What follows are some of my nominations:

1. Tubes have magic.
2. Not all tube gear has magic. Some of it is even downright annoying.
3. Tubes are a pain in the butt. But they're worth it, at least in pre-amps (and, once you get addicted, in amps as well).
4. If you have a tube amp, always keep a spare (amp) around. (Every tube amp I've had has sooner or later blown a resistor and had to go in the shop.)
5. Vinyl has magic (but is also a pain in the butt).
6. Analog vinyl is generally easier on the ears than digital media.
7. However, some CDs, especially more recently made, sound pretty satisfying, and maybe even have some magic.
8. As to classical CDs that consist of older analog material remastered to digital, there is a 70% chance that the sound will be too bright, and annoyingly so, when compared to the corresponding LP.
9. As to classical vinyl, even 25 years after the "death of the Lp", you can find, second-hand and otherwise, enough material (performers and repertoire) to keep you busy listening for practically a lifetime.
10. But you still need a decent CD player because of Martinu, Koechlin, Schmidt, Hahn, Bridge, Marx, and a bunch of other cool composers that are better represented on CD...not to mention excellent performers of standard repertoire recorded in the last 25 years.
11. "Tweaks" are called "tweaks" for a reason. They're just for that last 5-10%, at best. Only exception (for me): record cleaning machine--indespensible for the vinyl-lover.
12. Cables matter. And most of them try too hard to impress you with lots of detail, which becomes fatiguing.
13. That new piece of gear that you just brought home with great certainty that it will be the answer to all of your audio problems, will someday annoy you. Just wait.
14. Most (but not all) British equipment is more "polite" sounding than US gear. If your US gear starts to annoy you by reason of an overemphasis on "detail", try some British gear.
15. A $1,700 system can give very substantial musical satisfaction--and sometimes more--than a system costing 10-20 times as much (as I learned when I was an ex-pat in a flat in Holland with only my Linn Classik system for my music).
16. That piece of gear you tried in your own system at home last week and thought was totally awful sounds really great in somebody else's completely different system today.
16. There is no absolutely accurate (reproduced) sound. (Except we each secretly think that there is, and only we know what it sounds like.)

That's my short list. What's yours?
That's a pretty good list. I don't know what I can add. How about this?

Room acoustics and room treatments can have a greater effect on sound than any equipment change.
1.listen, try it home and listen some more. To answer the question : is this component for me or will this work with my gear.
2. Not all great brands are well....so great.
3. Not all super expensive gear sound....expensive.
4. Don't pay attention to room acoustics if sound quality is of little imortants to you. If you care , then start there first and buy that lustrous, shiny gear you dreamt about later.
5. Match speakers with the amp and amp with the preamp.
6. WalMart ext. power cables for $8 will sound as good as hyped up cables costing more.....a lot more. All cables have coloration......pick yours.
7. Small brands or like one big shot describes them " garage brands" can and in most cases will give you a better product , care and long time relationship then big names in the industry. Why? Because they care and are just as passionate about music as you are and they can not afford mistakes or poor customer service. Their reputation is build on customer feedbacks , not on reviews or adds.
8.Brick & mortal is still well and alive, but its existence will depends on customer service, honesty, and building relationship with costumers.
Being just human goes a long way.
9. If you haven't try vinyl, do it - even if it is only the entery level rig. Who knows, you might find out somethiing new about yourself and music.
10. Do not look at my system and say: it must sound good or it must suck. We ALL have different taste and budget. Follow your ear and your gut feeling.
11. Educate yourself to become a better listener.
12. Find the Audiophile club in your town or city. Nothing is more helpfull then advice of fellow audiophils and access to gear that you never heard before.
I really do not have anything to add it is a good list along with Markphd and room acoustics yes a good list Thanks
component matching is everything

if it sounds good to you it is good

on a personal note, the simpler the better
Hello Eweedhome,
You put a smile on my face reading what you have learned with this hobby of our's.
Enjoy the music. Great letter. Great observations.
Good music is good music, no matter if I'm listening to it on my $5K system or my $60k system.
Joe Nies
"You want the truth. You can't handle the truth".
it's all subjective and a matter of opinion.

since opinion is neither true nor false, and one man's trash is another man's treasure, there are no truths, only audio experiences.
1. Tubes are great, but “the more, the merrier” strategy does not apply. Since every tube in the signal path has its own unique character, compounded by coupling capacitor distortion, each tube/cap in the signal path makes the sound increasingly colored and vague. Therefore I recommend a minimum of tubes in the signal path for best performance.

2. Although tube amps are great, solid-state amps also have their strong points. And now, there are digital amps that sound as good as either genre but are much more energy efficient. The best amplifier sound I have heard is running a custom 6SN7 (single tube) preamp into my digital amps. In my opinion, it is the least compromised sound I’ve been able to achieve and I’m extremely pleased with it. On my high-resolution ribbon speakers the sound is ultra smooth, detailed, and lifelike.

3. Equalizers and tone controls are valid and do have a useful place in some installations. My room has a broad peak around 125Hz to around 180Hz. The only effective way to flatten it out is by using a good transparent EQ -- and that works exceedingly well. The sound is so un-naturally boomy without the EQ that I couldn’t listen to it for any length of time.

4. Most “high-end” cables are obscenely overpriced, although competent cabling definitely makes a positive improvement.

5. Most systems can benefit greatly from using AC regeneration or AC filtering products. If you really want the most from your audio system you need to address this area. It’s a real problem and not snake oil by any stretch.

6. The more you paid for your expensive moving coil cartridge, the more break-in time it will need, and the more painstakingly accurate set-up it will require to really shine.

I have owned tube power amps for over a year and nothing has ever come close. I own Cyber 800s like Mr Stark. IMHO the real magic that tubes can provide is only found if you you use tubes in the output section. I have a fabulous tube integrated as well now, a Jadis DA-60. It too has that special quality. I tried the tube anywhere in the system approach with results that don't even hint at what tubes can do.
Tubes are a relative pain in the ass if you roll them and get addicted to that. I did and now can't even recall all of the tubes I own. Many old tubes are just not functioning correctly no matter what the emissions or transconductance are. I have enjoyed them more than found them a burdensome. If you just want stock that works well in my experience for most amps. These are much less prone to give you you a hard time as almost all are equipped with new tubes. The attraction to Old tubes is justifiable in terms of a move toward the better but has its risks.
Otherwise you have hit all the common beliefs.
Ha! Cool Thread - Thanks Eweedhome!

Perhaps my list is a little more off the path but...

In no particular order and by no means exhaustive:

1.] It's not about the music. It's about an experience. The system is the silver platter, the music is what gets served and the taste is the experience.

2.] Optimized simplicity is better than impressive complexity. A chain door lock works. A chain door lock with a maze for the door jam works too but...

3.] Hidding behind how smart I think I is or ain't isolates me and starves the broader soul of the matter. If I had a triple E or M.E. Maters on my wall, somewhere on it I'd like it to read "You've not arrived. you've only just begun..."

4.] The beauty of a woman is to be appreciated, not figured out. Music is the same way. To that end...

5.] Music is not intended to be an intellectual exercise. Oh it can be but it sort of misses the point.

6.] The "Boy" in us likes his toys - this is good - but...am I "Man" enough to let the passion of music stir something beyond my intellect to inspire something better in me?

7.] Being an audiophile does not preclude or exclude having a life. It requires it!....

8.] If you're an audiophile that just means you have high expectations. This is good.

9.] If you're an audiophile it's more about a journey - not the destination.

10.] If you're an audiophile, have realistic expectations: Excellence will serve you better than perfection.

11.] If you're an audiophile, letting yourself "dance to the music" more often will serve you better than a habit of "judging the system".

12.] If you're an audiophile and your playback never did or doesn't engage you emotionally any more, It's likely one of two things or a combination of the two: a.) Your system really, really sucks or b.) you don't have a life where music can anchor your experiences.

13.] If you're not an audiophile anymore, it probably means your system really, really sucked and/or you have a life...

14.] Audiophile: 1982 - 200? R.I.P.
It's the space in between, the dash, that really matters.


Mrjstark, "12. Find the Audiophile club in your town or city. Nothing is more helpfull then advice of fellow audiophils and access to gear that you never heard before."

I'd like to change the wording from "Nothing is more helpfull..." to "Nothing is more expensive."

I can personally say that while we in the Philadelphia Area Audio Group have had a great time and made a lot of lifetime friendships, nearly every one of us has invested thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars in our systems since joining the group. How blissful we were before getting together so often, and being exposed to the relative strengths in the systems of others. Though this is all said in a joking way, there is a bit of seriousness in my statement that we receive some sort of subsidy from the high-end audio industry.
Ah....two more I wished I would have stuck in:

15.] Electronics is science that requires art to be great. Music is art that requires science to be great.

And, off track but kind of along the same lines and because I love playing drums and get to teach a little, something I share with my students to help them get better grades in school and be a more encompassing drummer:

Drumming is mathematics artistically applied.

Wished I would have known that when I was in high school. I might have gotten something better than a D - LOL!


I think we forget about #16 (the first #16 in the original post) too often. We tend to speak in absolutes. "This amp is better than that amp", etc. It always depends on associated gear, room, personal preferences. Synergy or lack of it can make or break any piece of gear.
Great post!!!

I am sitting here listening to a late 80's Realistic Receiver as a placeholder in my system while I await my new integrated amp...and I'm smiling ear-to-ear as I enjoy Hugh Masekela's Hope on CD! Good thing this is a hobby and not life and death : )

For me, I'd like to share the following from my journey...

1) Room acoustics are as [more???] important as any component choice. I think of it as getting your money's worth out of any purchase. The treatments that I built and installed have yielded more gain in system performance than any component swap EVER!!!

2) Different is different; not necessarily better.

Good luck in your travels...and enjoy some music along the way!!!
Eweedhome: You have a sense of humor with timing. Very entertaining. One comment regarding above the above wisdom, IN CAPS:

"12. Find the Audiophile club in your town or city. Nothing is more helpfull [sic] then advice of fellow audiophils [sic] and access to gear that you never [sic] heard before." I FOUND MINE, AND NEVER BEFORE HAVE I SEEN SUCH AN ASTONISHING COLLECTION OF UNSOCIALIZED GEARHEADS AND GEEKS IN ONE SPOT. IT MADE ME ASHAMED TO BE AN AUDIOPHILE AND I IMMEDIATELY UN-FOUND THEM, NEVER TO BE FOUND AGAIN.

I am not at the moment up for setting out an exhaustive list of things that I have come to discover about audio gear, but I'll provide a few, which will be familiar to Audiogoners who have paid attention to my posts over the years:

1. Most people do not understand tube amps: watts per channel are irrelevant if, like 97% of all tube amps (and that includes many allegedly very good ones), they use mediocre output transformers and power supplies. First-rate output transformers and power supplies are exceedingly heavy and exceedingly expensive, which means to look for a back-breaking, budget-busting tube amp if you want to do it right. If you can't afford to buy one with this profile, buy good solid-state instead.

2. You often hear "[R]un a tube preamp with a solid-state amp". If you're talking about top-shelf equipment, it's just the opposite. Here's why: (i) tube preamps cannot compete with the low noise floor of the best solid-state preamps, low noise being CRUCIAL (is that clear enough?) at the preamplification stage; (ii) with the exception of the ones that are transformer-coupled, most tube preamps have output impedances that are too high to drive the majority of solid-state amps without some bass rolloff; (iii) really good solid-state preamps layer space just as well as tube pre's; and (iv) with the exception of a tiny handful of the very best solid-state amps, solid-state amps cannot layer space like a tube amp. All of this said, if you are on a budget and can find a solid-state amp with a high-ish input impedance and the interconnect run between your preamp and amp will not exceed 2 meters, a tube pre combined with solid-state amp will generally cause less problems than the alternatives.

3. If you own a tube preamp or tube DAC and are having to re-tube every three to six months, throw out the current tubes, re-tube the component, but leave it turned on 24/7 and when not listening, keep the volume turned down to zero and if you have one, keep the mute button engaged. When, in three years, you notice that the tubes are still going strong and sound better than ever, remember this #3 and the fact that tube gear manufacturers and tube vendors make their money selling replacement tubes. CAVEAT: this may not work if your component has tubes in the power supply.

4. Too many of the people posting on Audiogon do not know what they are talking about. If you have a f-cking question about your gear, call the manufacturer first. When your refrigerator is acting up, do you drive to the middle of a mall parking lot and start asking people walking to their cars for advice about how to fix it? Audiogon is that parking lot.

5. For the love of God, if Atmasphere or Kr4 or Rives are nice enough to post on this site, just accept what they write and consider yourself lucky that they have condescended to throw us a bone. Atmasphere: everything nasty I wrote above about tubes does not apply to you and your stuff - PEOPLE, THIS GUY STILL HAND-WIRES ALL HIS GEAR AND HE KNOWETH NOT THE WORD "FEEDBACK".
Upon entering the realm of so called “high end audio”….. be afraid. Be very afraid…. And bring money.

1 Check your ego at the door and you’ll write less checks.
2 Contempt prior to investigation is the only true bar to the enhancement of the auditory experience and your own genuine satisfaction.
3 Everything matters….. E V E R Y T H I N G!
4 Have an auditory exam every now and then.
5 Different is easier to come by than better.
6 Be honest…. And with yourself most of all.
7 If you wish to explore tube based audio…. Find a good tube vendor.
8 Find a good local repair tech.
9 The statements surrounding audible improvements derived from the use of aftermarket cabling, power conditioning, and isolation, are not urban legends.
10 buying without trying first can and does work….. in the end.
11 Never allow yourself to be intimidated by a dealership. If they’re not about satisfying your wants? Just say good bye and leave. There are far too many other places that do want your business.
12 Expensive doesn’t always equate to better. It does always equate to expensive.
13 Attaining a synergistic system takes more than just plugging in and out different components. Eg., cabling, PLC, and isolation, above.
14 if you’re about to remodel, it’s probably a good idea to hold off on buying them purple Zebrawood speakers until after the project is completed.
15 Change tubes before the listening event…. Not during…. Unless you have an Ov-glove handy, or you’re The Human Torch.
16 IF after several months of speaker placement adjustments have been made without obtaining complete satisfaction….. move the chair.
16a If moving the chair around yields similar results, buy headphones.
17 Don’t swap in & out ICs while the gear is turned on.
18 Pay by credit card.
19 Ship expensive; out of production; and/or matched items, banded to pallets; air mail; or both.
20 Ask questions. There are no bad questions, but there are bad choices made by their lack.
21 If you can’t hear or see the difference, don’t pay the difference.
22 The room is important, as are it’s treatments. Eg., see EVERYTHING above.
23 When constructing an up stairs system, buy lightweight stuff.
24 During cable auditions, before a final decision is made, plug back in the current wires and listen to them one more time.
25 Involve the whole family in the audio or video hobby! Even if it’s against their will. Other types of hobbies will lend themselves to this effort. Like for instance,“hunting”.
26 If an involuntary family effort is forced, along with a local tech, and good tube vendor, keep an attorney on retainer.
26 This is the most important aspect of the high end audio mystique, or psychosis. If you’re experiencing “the grass is greener on the other side’’ syndrome more often than not, with regard to chasing gear for the perfect fit…. “It’s time to water your own lawn”.

Remember perfection is an ‘illusion’. Outstanding, however, can be acquired with lot’s more ease, and with a great variety of paths.
I am overwhelmed by the general trend towards generalisation.
As for the audio group providing a competative element and coveting other systems. Go home and play an old favorite. I bet you will say yes that other system was good but damned if I don't like this too.
Audiophiles are no different than any group that lies just outside the current mainstream so they are indeed havens for the different people. But we are very tolerant well occasionally you just have to say why is that bizarre moron here. Most are just regular people, unfortunately regular people are in fact a bit strange.
What is so wrong with liking gear. Who decided that because you want your music played on whatever you consider good or valueable gear (to you anyway) that you don't like music equally as well. That is crap. I like the music and my equipment makes me grin with delight. I don't feel the joy of finding the equipment that does it perfectly, as far as I ever known, fading at all. I am in awe of it's ability to make every listening session a joy.
I tried a lot equipment on the trail to this Nirvana but even really expensive stuff didn't do what I have now.
Gear is important for getting the best experience from music. If anything it shows how much music is important to you. Clock radios can get me thinking what a great song that one is, and I do enjoy it, but I wish I was hearing it on my big rig.