Articles You Feel Should be Shared

I’ll kick off with a recent posting by the remarkably clear-sighted and even handed Archimago.

Once again cutting through layers of mostly deliberate confusion, obfuscation and denial.

Production, Reproduction and Perception - the 3 pillars upon which everything in our audiophile world stands, is my new mantra.

So simple it’s surprising that no one else pointed it out earlier.

Be sure to also check out his follow up blog from Wednesday, 11 March 2020.
Kinda rambling and disorganized, doncha think? I mean he wrote like five thousand words. Yet all he really said was we can't make up with reproduction what wasn't originally captured in the recording. Nor should we try. 

Is that even news?

In Memoriam: Siegfried Linkwitz, 1935–2018 by Robert E Greene.

As well as a general appreciate of Linkwitz, REG presents a somewhat detailed, but non-technical, explanation of why sometime a dip around 3000 Hz makes music nicer sounding, and in a sense more realistic.
I enjoyed both articles very much. I’ll make a filter with a dip in the 3000Hz region and try it out. Here is a link on problems with digital audio and how they have pretty much been figured out, take into account the article is 12 years old and technology has been catching up.
+1 djones51! Excellent and easily understood explanation of the digital process!

Err... just when I had accepted that the BBC (Gundry) presence dip had been discredited.

"I've heard mention of 'the BBC dip' or 'the Gundry dip'. What does that mean?"

"There is much myth, folklore and misunderstanding about the 'Gundry presence dip'.

The 'BBC dip' was a shallow shelf-down in the acoustic output of some BBC-designed speaker system of the 1960s-1980s in the 1kHz to 4kHz region. The LS3/5a does not have this effect, neither in the 15 ohm nor 11 ohm, both of which are in fact slightly lifted in that region.

According to Harbeth's founder, Dudley Harwood, who ran the BBC's design department during the time that this psychoacoustic effect was being explored, it was introduced initially to mask coloration in the vacuum formed cones available at the time. Whilst reducing speaker output in this audio band achieved this, it subjectively pushed the listener away from the speakers as the stereo-listener's sound stage subjectively receded behind the speakers, which is unobjectional for acoustic music, but takes the life out of non-classical music. An alternative strategy employed or in combination with the Gundry dip is the application of heavy glue (dope), usually by hand brushing, to the surface of the cone to ameriorate latent coloration. The Harbeth RADIAL™ cone has no coloration issues so does not need to use the BBC dip, nor cone doping, to disguise latent mechanical problems.

You can explore the sonic effect of depressing the presence band for yourselves by routing your audio signal through a graphic equaliser and applying a shelf-down in the 1kHz to 4kHz region."

Still worse, this from the REG tribute article.

"This is something important. My personal view is that it accounts for a large percentage of why musicians and other people who listen hard to live music but not so much to audio think that audio does not sound right compared to live music. I recall Lincoln Mayorga telling me that his goal in co-founding Sheffield Lab was to try to make recordings that sounded as much like a real piano as the recordings Artur Schnabel made in the 1930s, compared to which, and to reality, modern recordings were too “bangy.” This simple EQ change would do a lot to rectify the difference between recorded and live in many cases.

A second point to note is that Linkwitz suggests the idea of making the matter adjustable. The idea that one particular non-adjustable speaker could be ideal for playback of all recordings is not on the table here."

Did Siegfried Linkwitz really suggest that some form of equalisation is more or less compulsory? 

Even in his own designs?

Why is high quality audio playback so complicated?

It's that word 'quality' isn't it?

cd318: Yes, as far as I can see, Linkwitz did recommend this, including in his own designs. I use it sometimes but I agree with SL (as quoted by REG) that it must be adjustable. I think that a shelf down 1-3 kHz is a bit broad.

As you say, other reasons for using this dip have been stated, most prominently necessity due to manufacturing limitations.

I am no theoretician, but I believe the need varies according to the design of the speakers (in particular their directivity with frequency), the type of recording, and so on.

Where there seems to be agreement is that around 3kHz the ear is most sensitive. Playback that is hyped there will be irritating to many people, and that can be relieved by adding this dip.

Quality audio is complicated IMO because there are no standards for recording; mics are colored; speakers are colored; and no two home setups are the same. Of course, there’s also the issue of how one quantifies "quality." Not trivial!

Yes, it is unfortunately complicated. I can easily imagine the dip being used to mask crossover issues in some designs but also to correct recording anomalies where the need arises. Can’t boil it down any further than that.

Anyway, here’s an article by Hugh Robjohns that I thought got closer to unravelling the secrets of analogue warmth than most. Despite his pro digital bias he is able to understand the appeal of analogue.

"In short, enjoyment of an artistic product (be it a sound recording, a photograph, a film or whatever) isn’t necessarily about precision and accuracy: more often, it’s about mood, character and subtle enhancements that make the end result more vivid and interesting than real life."

Perhaps, in short, some might feel that analogue recording allows an chance to restore something of the essence that the very act of recording itself inevitably must lose.

Others will call it distortion.
Another good article from sound on sound. CDs in the early days the 1980s certainly sounded harsh and cold to me but as time and tech has improved so has my medium. I no longer listen to vinyl or tape and haven’t for about 20 years. A lot of this article was on creating the mix, the Production, and how to create or mimic those differing types of analog warmth. Which would Reproduce that sound better digital source on solid state designed to be as neutral as possible or vinyl or tape with tube equipment? I’ve used both but as I get older I seem to be going more in the neutral give me what’s there direction, Perception , maybe I’m an anomaly. Anyway great read.
For sure dynamics matter, for sure timing matters, for sure imagery matters, but without vivid life-like tone they are nothing, or next to nothing for me.

I've also heard some very highly regarded (and high priced) systems which couldn't reproduce the varied colours of sound.

Harvey Rosenberg was a man who also shared these sensibilities.

Here's a book review (Optimal Audio and Video Reproduction at Home (Vincent Verdult, 2019) from the redoubtable Archimago which may be of interest.

Often these types of books can seem a little too dry for general audiophile tastes - this one may not be.

Markus Sauer - God is in the Nuances. Stereophile Jan 19 2000.

Here’s an article, quite lengthy (if you plan to read it give yourself a good 20 -30 minutes) but symptomatic of an approach that somewhat disturbed me back in the days I sought to climb the ladder to audio Nirvana.

My attention was hooked almost immediately upon reading what Markus had written.

"In the July 1994 Stereophile (p.19), I "outed" myself as a triode-and-high-sensitivity-loudspeakers man."

I was puzzled, I mean why do people who had been far further up this mythical ladder often suddenly disembark and decide to find solace in equipment which seemed positively antiquated by the standards of the day?

Markus Sauer was not alone in this approach. Far from it.

I’m sure some on here will already be familiar with this wide ranging article (which focuses on the analogue/digital and objective/subjective debates amongst other topics) but for those who aren’t it’s certainly well worth a look.

Since Siegfried Linkwitz was mentioned above, here is his site, one of monumental importance to audiophiles (IMO). 
There's advice about speaker building as well as construction plans for outstanding speakers (I heard the Orions II—to say I was blown away is saying too little)

Agreed. I bet more than a few designers have had a good look there too.

I especially like the Basics Section featuring Loudspeakers and Issues in Speaker Design. Just a quick glance reveals just how closely Siegfried Linkwitz examined all the minute details. Everything from the magical speaker disappearing trick to the way drive units are mounted to the baffle is covered here.

The link given above seems to be blocked by my ISP but this one works, at least in the UK.

Music as Medicine

I guess we Audiophiles know this stuff already, but just in case anyone missed it.

The full report - available as a pdf file by following the link in the article - is worth checking out too.

Definitely belongs here. I can't think of anyone left in audio whose opinions matter more than Floyd Toole's.

It's funny but I had been recently thinking about giving this another listen. Sometimes I like to fall asleep to this kind of stuff, or if I'm waiting in the car. The watch later button is so valuable.

So much good stuff on YouTube - so little time. Absolutely essential to spotlight the good stuff.

Thanks again.
A Tannoy 15’’ Enclosure for the Enthusiast – by Volker Heinz

Volker is a real enthusiast of vintage Tannoys. His adventures and findings are well documented on his wonderfully candid blog. In particular you will find the details of the various challenges and disappointments our hero encounters along the way to eventual success.

There’s also plenty of interesting opinion concerning the rights and wrongs of audio.

I would consider this necessary, maybe even essential reading for anyone contemplating rebuilding a cabinet for Tannoy 15 DCs - and even possibly any other vintage design.

You could read the whole saga from here. Part 1 starts from Thursday, 29 August 2013.

or jump to his first listening session (The Realisation) upon completion dated Wednesday, 29 January 2014.

Good stuff.

Here’s two video presentations from the redoubtable Ethan Winer.

I’ve spent years trying to ignore or refute Ethan’s ’pissing on my fireworks’ attitude.

In the end I had to admit that I couldn’t. I now feel that I owe Mr Winer an apology.

Audio Myths Workshop

AES Damn Lies Workshop

I’m pretty sure you meant the doubtable Ethan Winer. 🙄 Innocent question: is someone holding up cue cards for him on those videos? 
Sound Reproduction: Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms

Good article touching on the measuring of loudspeaker behaviour in typical rooms and the dreaded Circle of Confusion which continues to this day because of the lack of industry standards from microphone to final cut. 

In fact so bad is the Circle of Confusion that it casts great doubt on ALL subjective evaluations of audio equipment. 

In the meantime fans of 60s music might want to check out a pair of vintage Tannoys or JBLs.

If not, there's always the possibility of experimenting with some EQ correction for those who can be motivated.
Interesting article on sound reproduction and room acoustics. Some of us can't have dedicated rooms and it's nice to see a book that helps get a good sound in a normal room environment. I agree on the subjective evaluation of audio equipment especially in digital playback and DACs in particular. I've  come to realize if the equipment is neutral, the noise floor is below human hearing then it's all you need. Speakers have a lot more distortion than well engineered equipment and room interaction with the speakers have the most to do with your listening experience. 

Yes, I agree the best way forward would be to have loudspeakers that are reasonably neutral - both in the recording studio and the home.

I’ve no doubt that many users of brands such as ATC, B&W, Genelec, JBL, Neumann, etc will feel some assurance that similar speakers are being used today in the production of the music they listen to.

On the other hand when it comes to music recorded 60/70 years ago there seems to have been a huge variance in the monitors used back then for playback as illustrated in this Wikipedia Studio monitor article.

What are you supposed to make of the following statement?

"The Altec 604 had a notoriously ragged frequency response but almost all U.S studios continued to use it because virtually every producer and engineer knew its sound intimately and were practiced at listening through its sonic limitations."

Or this one referring to the 50s?

"As a result, pretty well every U.S studio had a set of 604’s and every European studio a Tannoy Dual Concentric or two."

No wonder these classic designs/brands still have a loyal following. To get close to what the artists, producers and technicians heard back in the day you’re going to need similar playback speakers or settle for a more modern take.

No wonder that the remastering of vintage recordings is such a tricky business. Especially if you want to retain that important ’authentic’ period feel many of us do whenever we want the occasional trip to travel back to those apparently more simpler times. Ah, those priceless memories!

Anyway here’s another article, one featuring some of the recording studios where most of this music was recorded.

Inside Track: The Second Coming Of The Technics Sl-1200

David Price talks to Tetsuya Itani, to get the full story of how Technics brought its iconic SL-1200 turntable back…

If you go on measurements and data the Technics is one hugely impressive feat of engineering.

But as the designer himself says,

“Measurement is only a rough guide,” he says. “For example, the wow and flutter figure doesn't tell us about a deck's performance under load, playing a record groove with music, but only with a test tone. It's like a two-dimensional photograph when you're working in three dimensions. Our engineers have been on a learning curve. For example, when we developed the new flagship SP-10R, we found that when we get more sophisticated in our approach, the sound quality becomes much better…”
The dreaded Fletcher-Munson Curve.

For something that has huge implications for those audiophiles looking for accurate playback, this information was surprisingly difficult, at least for me, to assimilate.

Many, many points covered here, including the history and motivation behind the research, and some surprising findings too.

Perhaps the main one being that there might be only one correct volume level to listen at if we want to hear all the bass, midrange and treble frequencies that exist in a recording equally as well.

Plenty of other great points in there too.

Anyway, this excellent presentation by AVGenius was the closest one that came to making sense to me.
The Cable Null Test  by Ethan Winer

WARNING : those with expensive cables may find the subject matter disturbing.

For the rest of those interested, if you're pushed for time you can skip to the last 3 minutes.
Here’s a great article published in SOS way back in 2011 recently posted by fellow member rauliruegas.

How the Ear Works by Emmanuel Deruty

Everything from Fletcher-Munson, Darwinist speech based EQs, high frequency hearing loss to the 140dB dynamic range of the human ear.

Grim reading in part, but incredibly useful when auditioning equipment.

"Not that I want to sound grumpy, but if you want to make a career out of sound engineering, mixing or mastering, stop smoking, get some exercise and turn that monitoring volume down. Otherwise, in 25 years from now, you're out of a job..."
2 hugely inconvenient truths in high-end audio.

It’s plainly obvious that the industry does not care for sound quality or for the whims of audiophiles. Not now, not ever. Like others before me I too have sometimes found CD sound quality to be inferior to that on YouTube. Can’t even blame the so-called loudness wars for the industry’s blatant indifference.
They just don't care about recording fidelity.

A shocking state of affairs.

Secondly, whilst some audiophiles will debate the merits of different amplifiers, CD players, DACs, interconnect and loudspeaker cables, the evidence from controlled blind listening tests suggests that these differences are largely imagined.

There are innumerable examples of this but here’s just one by the enigmatic author Mario Cavolo, a self confessed audiophile and no stranger to the high-end.
You find interesting articles. I used to be enamored with the bling for lack of a better word of high priced gear and always swore it sounded better. I started questioning this notion with the onset of crazy priced cables. Another thing was unbeknownst to her my wife made me question my notions as well when she would say I'm sorry I have no idea what you did but it sounds the same to me. It's hard get people to question long held beliefs and I'm not sure very many on this site will but I enjoy your thread, keep em coming. 

Listener Preferences and Perception of Digital versus Analog Live Concert Recordings 

John M. Geringer and Patrick Dunnigan

Excellent research article from 2000 of the kind that the audiophile press never seem to find time to even mention.
For that reason alone articles of this kind are worth more than decades unfocused conjecture.

As I was reading through I was becoming increasingly curious as to what the results would be. Which version of the live event would the students prefer?

There will always be inevitable questions regarding the methodology employed in recording but the results seem fairly conclusive enough to me.

Plenty more of interest here. Here's just one of many preliminary observations.

"In an often cited study, Kirk (1956)
demonstrated that despite differences in technical signal quality, listeners
preferred the sound systems they had listened to consistently. Kirk concluded
that learning played an important role in determining preference for sound
reproduction systems and that continued contact with a particular system produces shifts in perception towards that system."

What does this suggest about our preferences, and what they're based upon? 
I found the study on a link from this article.

What does this suggest about our preferences, and what they're based upon?

Good question, I know my preference was vinyl and tape but at the time those were the choices. When CDs came around they didn't sound right but I had no idea why. As technology caught up and the more I listened to digital I got a sense of why, with digital I was hearing more which might have explained why vinyl sounded warm and more "relaxing" ? It was what I was used to. Now after years of exposure to digital I find I prefer the accuracy,   it sounds more real to me. Maybe like a marriage of 30 years it boils down to familiarity. 
Excellent article on room treatment by a multi-award-winning studio designer:   

Some very advanced concepts about loudspeaker design and relevant psychoacoustics:   

Excellent article on the home audio implications of concert hall acoustics, written by a concert violinist and author of the previously mentioned article on the late great Siegfried Linkwitz:  

Here’s something that might be called Peter Aczel’s last will and testament, at least as far as audio goes. The words might as well be engraved upon stone for their continued veracity.

Peter Aczel: What I have learned after six decades in audio (call it my journalistic legacy):

1) Audio is a mature technology. Its origins go back to Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Alva Edison in the 1870s. By the early 1930s, at the legendary Bell Laboratories, they had thought of just about everything, including multichannel stereo. The implementation keeps improving to this day, but conceptually there is very little, perhaps nothing, really new. I have been through all phases of implementation—shellac records via crystal pickups, LPs via magnetic and moving-coil pickups, CDs, SACDs, Blu-rays, downloads, full-range and two/three/four-way mono/stereo/multichannel speakers, dynamics, electrostatics, ribbons (shall I go on?)—and heard incremental improvements most of the time, but at no point did the heavens open up and the seraphim blow their trumpets. That I could experience only in the concert hall and not very often at that. Wide-eyed reviewers who are over and over again thunderstruck by the sound of the latest magic cable or circuit tweak are delusional.

2) The principal determinants of sound quality in a recording produced in the last 60 years or so are the recording venue and the microphones, not the downstream technology. The size and acoustics of the hall, the number and placement of the microphones, the quality and level setting of the microphones will have a much greater influence on the perceived quality of the recording than how the signal was captured—whether on analog tape, digital tape, hard drive, or even direct-to-disk cutter; whether through vacuum-tube or solid-state electronics; whether with 44.1-kHz/16-bit or much higher resolution. The proof of this can be found in some of the classic recordings from the 1950s and 1960s that sound better, more real, more musical, than today’s average super-HD jobs. Lewis Layton, Richard Mohr, Wilma Cozart, Bob Fine, John Culshaw, where are you now that we need you?

3) The principal determinants of sound quality in your listening room, given the limitations of a particular recording, are the loudspeakers—not the electronics, not the cables, not anything else. This is so fundamental that I still can’t understand why it hasn’t filtered down to the lowest levels of the audio community. The melancholy truth is that a new amplifier will not change your audio life. It may, or may not, effect a very small improvement (usually not unless your old amplifier was badly designed), but the basic sound of your system will remain the same. Only a better loudspeaker can change that. My best guess as to why the loudspeaker-comes-first principle has not prevailed in the audiophile world is that a new pair of loudspeakers tends to present a problem in interior decoration. Swapping amplifiers is so much simpler, not to mention spouse-friendlier, and the initial level of anticipation is just as high, before the eventual letdown (or denial thereof).

4) Cables—that’s one subject I can’t discuss calmly. Even after all these years, I still fly into a rage when I read “$900 per foot” or “$5200 the pair.” That’s an obscenity, a despicable extortion exploiting the inability of moneyed audiophiles to deal with the laws of physics. The transmission of electrical signals through a wire is governed by resistance, inductance, and capacitance (R, L, and C). That’s all, folks! (At least that’s all at audio frequencies. At radio frequencies the geometry of the cable begins to have certain effects.) An audio signal has no idea whether it is passing through expensive or inexpensive RLC. It retains its purity or impurity regardless. There may be some expensive cables that sound “different” because they have crazy RLC characteristics that cause significant changes in frequency response. That’s what you hear, not the $900 per foot. And what about the wiring inside your loudspeakers, inside your amplifiers, inside your other components? What you don’t see doesn’t count, doesn’t have to be upgraded for megabucks? What about the miles of AC wiring from the power station to your house and inside your walls? Only the six-foot length of the thousand-dollar power cord counts? The lack of common sense in the high-end audio market drives me to despair.

5) Loudspeakers are a different story. No two of them sound exactly alike, nor will they ever. All, or at least nearly all, of the conflicting claims have some validity. The trouble is that most designers have an obsessive agenda about one particular design requirement, which they then inflate above all others, marginalizing the latter. Very few designers focus on the forest rather than the trees. The best designer is inevitably the one who has no agenda, meaning that he does not care which engineering approach works best as long as it really does. And the design process does not stop with the anechoic optimization of the speaker. Imagine a theoretically perfect loudspeaker that has an anechoic response like a point source, producing exactly the same spherical wave front at equal levels at all frequencies. If a pair of such speakers were brought into a normally reverberant room with four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, they wouldn’t sound good! They would only be a good start, requiring further engineering. It’s complicated. Loudspeakers are the only sector of audio where significant improvements are still possible and can be expected. I suspect that (1) further refinements of radiation pattern will result in the largest sonic benefits and (2) powered loudspeakers with electronic crossovers will end up being preferred to passive-crossover designs. In any case, one thing I am fairly sure of: No breakthrough in sound quality will be heard from “monkey coffins” (1970s trade lingo), i.e. rectangular boxes with forward-firing drivers. I’ll go even further: Even if the box is not rectangular but some incredibly fancy shape, even if it’s huge, even if it costs more than a luxury car, if it’s sealed or vented and the drivers are all in front, it’s a monkey coffin and will sound like a monkey coffin—boxy and, to varying degrees, not quite open and transparent.

6) Amplifiers have been quite excellent for more than a few decades, offering few opportunities for engineering breakthroughs. There are significant differences in topology, measured specifications, physical design, and cosmetics, not to mention price, but the sound of all properly designed units is basically the same. The biggest diversity is in power supplies, ranging from barely adequate to ridiculously overdesigned. That may or may not affect the sound quality, depending on the impedance characteristics and efficiency of the loudspeaker. The point is that, unless the amplifier has serious design errors or is totally mismatched to a particular speaker, the sound you will hear is the sound of the speaker, not the amplifier. As for the future, I think it belongs to highly refined class D amplifiers, such as Bang & Olufsen’s ICEpower modules and Bruno Putzeys’s modular Hypex designs, compact and efficient enough to be incorporated in powered loudspeakers. The free-standing power amplifier will slowly become history, except perhaps as an audiophile affectation. What about vacuum-tube designs? If you like second-harmonic distortion, output transformers, and low damping factors, be my guest. (Can you imagine a four-way powered loudspeaker driven by vacuum-tube modules?)

7) We should all be grateful to the founding fathers of CD at Sony and Philips for their fight some 35 years ago on behalf of 16-bit, instead of 14-bit, word depth on CDs and 44.1 kHz sampling rate. Losing that fight would have retarded digital media by several decades. As it turned out, the 16-bit/44.1-kHz standard has stood the test of time; after all these years it still sounds subjectively equal to today’s HD techniques—if executed with the utmost precision. I am not saying that 24-bit/192-kHz technology is not a good thing, since it provides considerably more options, flexibility, and ease; I am saying that a SNR of 98.08 dB and a frequency response up to 22.05 kHz, if both are actually achieved, will be audibly equal to 146.24 dB and 96 kHz, which in the real world are never achieved, in any case. The same goes for 1-bit/2.8224 MHz DSD. If your ear is so sensitive, so fine, that you can hear the difference, go ahead and prove it with an ABX test, don’t just say it.

8) The gullibility of audiophiles is what astonishes me the most, even after all these years. How is it possible, how did it ever happen, that they trust fairy-tale purveyors and mystic gurus more than reliable sources of scientific information? It wasn’t always so. Between the birth of “high fidelity,” circa 1947, and the early 1970s, what the engineers said was accepted by that generation of hi-fi enthusiasts as the truth. Then, as the ’70s decade grew older, the self-appointed experts without any scientific credentials started to crawl out of the woodwork. For a while they did not overpower the educated technologists but by the early ’80s they did, with the subjective “golden-ear” audio magazines as their chief line of communication. I remember pleading with some of the most brilliant academic and industrial brains in audio to fight against all the nonsense, to speak up loudly and brutally before the untutored drivel gets out of control, but they just laughed, dismissing the “flat-earthers” and “cultists” with a wave of the hand. Now look at them! Talk to the know-it-all young salesman in the high-end audio salon, read the catalogs of Audio Advisor, Music Direct, or any other high-end merchant, read any of the golden-ear audio magazines, check out the subjective audio websites—and weep. The witch doctors have taken over. Even so, all is not lost. You can still read Floyd Toole and Siegfried Linkwitz on loudspeakers, Douglas Self and Bob Cordell on amplifiers, David Rich ( on miscellaneous audio subjects, and a few others in that very sparsely populated club. (I am not including The Audio Critic, now that it has become almost silent.) Once you have breathed that atmosphere, you will have a pretty good idea what advice to ignore.

9) When I go to Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center in Philadephia and sit in my favorite seat to listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra, I realize that 137 years after the original Edison phonograph audio technology still hasn’t quite caught up with unamplified live music in a good acoustic venue. To be sure, my state-of-the-art stereo system renders a startlingly faithful imitation of a grand piano, a string quartet, or a jazz trio, but a symphony orchestra or a large chorus? Close but no cigar.

10) My greatest disappointment after six decades as an audio journalist is about today’s teenagers and twentysomethings. Most of them have never had a musical experience! I mean of any kind, not just good music. Whether they are listening to trash or Bach, they have no idea what the music sounds like in real life. The iPods, iPads, iPhones, and earbuds they use are of such low audio quality that what they hear bears no relationship to live music. And if they think that going to an arena “concert” to hop around in one square foot of space with their arms raised is a live-music experience, they are sadly deluded. It’s the most egregiously canned music of all. (To think that I used to question the fidelity of those small dormitory-room stereos of the 1960s!) Please, kids, listen to unamplified live music just once!
Thanks for that post. Cd318

Regarding "the cell phone generation".

Even at concerts, they are too busy trying to capture the event on their phone rather than sitting back and enjoying the moment.

A psychologist’s view of the lunatic fringe  J. Zelinger

This one seems a little cruel and far fetched but I have seen nothing to refute it. Life is about many things and a little self discovery is no bad thing.

Besides most of us are adults here.

I will also admit to succumbing to the temptation myself, but hey I'm human.

Besides in my defence I never descended as far as to giving my hi-fi individual names. 

[Or could all of this be down to watching this rather spooky episode of Hammer House of Horror last night titled Charlie Boy?  Watch with caution if you must. ]



A psychologist’s view of the lunatic fringe

Many of us are becoming increasingly aware of those audiophiles who show an extraordinary preoccupation with hi-fi equipment for its own sake. Contributors to as well as readers of HFN/RR have expressed irritation with this so-called lunatic fringe, which has been repeatedly criticized for being out of touch with reality.

The symptoms of this preoccupation are well known: an inclination to attach enormous significance to audio equipment’s capacity to induce sonic pleasure and an inordinate emphasis on the sensuality of the reproduced sound, with a consequent tendency to relegate the music itself to a secondary position. 

We can also recognize in this obsessional interest a need to amplify very small differences between audio components out of all proportion to their true value. These audiophiles are prone to convert such differences into preferences, and institute them as rigid ideals.

It is easy enough to dismiss the lunatic fringe, but it is more important to try to understand it. With this purpose in mind I wish to undertake a brief analysis of the psychology of this group of audiophiles.

I know that some readers may feel uneasy with psychology intruding upon the sphere of musical reproduction, but perhaps they can reassure themselves with the thought that psychological knowledge has been partly responsible for bringing some ‘sanity’ into the controlled subjective assessment of hi-fi equipment. 

What is more, techniques evolved in the psychological laboratory have been useful in solving a variety of psychoacoustical problems. However, while these applications have been primarily directed at the perception of reproduced music and speech, I am proposing now that we focus our attention on some aspects of the personality of this special group of audiophiles.

Naturally this kind of investigation will require a different approach and I expect some readers will find the topic under discussion unfamiliar. But I have made every effort to draw upon our common experiences of musical reproduction in arguing my case.

Some of you will wonder how I have collected my data, but discretion requires that I say little. I can tell you that I have had discussions with members of this group and have also observed auditioning sessions with some of these people. In addition, I have examined the linguistic content of their magazines.

For most of us, listening to a chosen disc would involve placing the record on a turntable and making the audio equipment operational. Thereafter we are free to listen – our focus of attention is on the music. Our attention may drawn away from the music by the reproduction of an unexpected pressing defect, which may prove irritating temporarily; but we accommodate to this nuisance and re-establish the original focus of attention.

Another sort of non-musical sound may prove more disturbing. For instance, our attention may be drawn away from the music by a loud hum issuing from the loudspeakers. Perhaps this is due to an electrical fault in one of our components, and as it is more difficult to tolerate this kind of disturbance, the faulty component may have to be repaired in order to restore our musical pleasure.

In quite a different situation we may actually choose to weaken our attention to the music and shift the focus to some characteristics of an audio component. I am thinking of the situation in which one would audition a selection of loudspeakers with the aim of making a purchase, when some models may produce disturbing colorations or other undesirable sounds. At times such as these, listening to the music, while still the main justification of our activity, is relegated to a subordinate position. The audible characteristics of the equipment are the matter at hand, and it is these that we judge. We search for differences and try to establish preferences.

I am citing these examples in order to underline the common basis of all listeners’ responses to musical reproduction. We should recognize that the relationship between our listening to music and our listening to the characteristic sound of audio equipment is not a constant one. It can shift if the circumstances demand it, but it is clear that members of the lunatic fringe have shifted an unusually large proportion of their attention over to the audio equipment.

This shift is not a temporary one. It is long-term. For this group of audiophiles hi-fi equipment does not merely serve the purpose of listening through, rather it has also become something to listen to. We can say that members of this group have relegated the music itself to a position of lesser prominence. 

This view is further justified on the basis of additional evidence: the lunatic fringe insist that their access to musical pleasure is dependent on the special characteristics of the audio equipment that they own or aspire to own. It is as if the real aim of musical reproduction, to listen to an account of a musical composition, is displaced. It is displaced onto an object (the audio equipment) which becomes at least as important a source of pleasure for the listener. I will refer to this phenomenon as hi-fi fetishism.

I feel fully justified in employing a term which derives its meaning from an extreme form of sexual behaviour; but I am sure you need to be convinced of the applicability of this nomenclature. 

Typically, a fetishist is someone who has endowed an inanimate object (eg a piece of underclothing, a high-heeled shoe) with sexual significance. He or she requires the presence of this fetish in order to become sexually aroused, and this is the case regardless of whether a human subject is present. Sexual pleasure is entirely dependent on the fetish.

This form of sexual behaviour, while no doubt extreme, is really a gross amplification of normal responses. We are all capable of investing an inanimate object with sexual significance, but what has happened for the fetishist is that the usual source of sexual pleasure, another human being, is replaced by an object which itself becomes the source of pleasure.

In the case of the hi-fi fetishist the true object of his pleasure. the music, has been displaced. Or to put it another way, this pleasure has become dependent upon the particular characteristics of the audio equipment. This is not to suggest that the hi-fi fetishist likes music less, it is simply that a shift of attention has placed the emotional and perceptual priority firmly on the audio equipment. This accounts for the equipment’s transformation into a fetish.

We observed that the sexual fetishist endows an inanimate object with powers not normally assigned to it. Thus without any alteration in its real nature that object is aggrandized and exalted. It has magical powers assigned to it which resonate on a level of fantasy in the mind of the fetishist. I think it is possible to explain the hi-fi fetishist’s attitude of over-estimation and over-valuation by recourse to the same process of idealization. 

Look at it this way. A piece of music we love will have the power to move us whether we hear it reproduced via a music-centre or a high quality system; this is the power of art. Indeed, many of us may describe this encounter with the music as magical. But what happens in the case of the hi-fi fetishist who has shifted the psychological priority from the music to the reproducing equipment? 

Musical pleasure (as with sexual pleasure) becomes dependent on the magical properties of the fetish, the audio equipment. But audio components do not possess any magical properties – they are under the control of the laws of physics.

Like the sexual fetishist, the hi-fi fetishist cannot fully bend to the demands of reality for the simple reason that his relationship to the fetish is active on a level of fantasy. 

Of course, the hi-fi fetishist is not completely out of touch with reality, otherwise he would need to deny the existence of the laws of physics. 

Therefore, in order to ‘accommodate’ his magical thinking to reality he modifies it so that he can still enjoy the pleasure afforded to him by his hi-fi system. We see these modifications appearing in the hi-fi press in the form of mystification. 

This reconstituted form of magical thinking is transparent to all those who are not under its power, but for those who are, it is very convincing.

The form that this mystifying language takes is quite evocative, which it must be in order to maintain the imaginary intensity of the fetish under review. 

The characteristics of this language are well known: they are ambiguous. motoric, sensual. Here are four examples. Notice the way the audio equipment is assigned a fetishistic value: it can excite and arouse emotion, or fail to do so. Pay attention to the implied sensuality and physicality. No doubt you will recognize the tendency toward over-estimation. 

Finally, try to bear in mind that the fetishist can no longer sustain a normal relationship to music but needs audio equipment of a certain kind to allow him access to musical pleasure. (I have retained the anonymity of the following selected samples, but they are representative of some of the popular British hi-fi press. Brand names have been edited out.)

But given the right amp and speakers, the speed and dynamics of xyz mean that a whole gamut of musical emotions can be reproduced.

Speed... is very difficult to put into words. The speed of a system has an effect on the overall perspective with which it is perceived and the level of excitement it can generate...

The transformation of sound when switching to the xyz was mind-blowing. The improvements in bass tightness and detail, imagery and general low-level detail resolution was of such a magnitude as to make confirmatory A-B listening tests redundant and pointless.... [With this pickup arm] more emotion in vocals and in musical expression was obvious, and it became far easier to get into the music.

My conclusion after listening was that xyz was more capable of conveying intangible things like the degree of commitment displayed by musicians in a performance...

At this stage I think we can claim to have a better understanding of the hi-fi fetishist’s special relationship to his audio equipment. Yet we need to go a little deeper than this to appreciate fully the psychological importance of the fetish.

Let us turn to the sphere of sexual fetishism again in order to get our bearings. As we have observed, the fetishist has difficulty in functioning in a normal sexual manner; his natural responses have been distorted. He cannot establish a sexual relationship with another person unless it is mediated by the fetish, and sexual arousal is dependent on the fetish. This indicates, and clinical studies confirm this, that the fetishist feels sexually inadequate in the presence of a human subject. Being under his control, the fetish does not pose this threat to its owner, and thus allows to him the potency he would otherwise lack.

Before I begin building the bridge between this feature of sexual fetishism and hi-fi fetishism I must cite a few more familiar examples, otherwise what I have to say may meet with strong opposition. 

I am sure we are familiar with a particular remark that reviewers sometimes make at the conclusion of their test reports. Having assessed an excellent audio component which is outside their own financial reach, they say that they are sorry to see it go. While the professional reviewer is fully aware of the component’s virtues he does not feel compelled to purchase it – because reality, financial reality, is a major consideration.

As we would expect, financial realities are not handled with such objectivity by members of the lunatic fringe. Should a very expensive ‘better’ component come onto the market they will somehow find the means to acquire it. For example, upon the appearance of a new and very expensive audiophile product a fetishist remarked: ‘If it is better I’ll have to buy it.’ 

This continual search for perfection, or ‘up-grading’ as it is sometimes called, can lead to financial disaster. Under severe pressure from debts many a member of the lunatic fringe has been forced to sell his highly prized system.

From our observations of the lamenting reviewer we can predict the reaction of the hi-fi fetishist to separation from his audio equipment. 

Of course, in the latter case the stakes are higher; consequently, the sense of loss is far greater. 

He describes his feelings as depression, a sense of emptiness, depletion, etc. Do not be surprized by the depth of his feelings. 

Have we not observed that the fetishist maintains his relationship to the equipment on a level of fantasy? We should, therefore, expect the same fantasy relationship to operate in his separation from the fetish.

One more bit of evidence would be in order before I present my final interpretation. We all know how hi-fi fetishists defend their choice of components tenaciously. For example, writing in the hi-fi press a ‘reviewer’ may aggrandise and exalt a piece of audio equipment. He insinuates that his fetish is ‘better’ or ‘best,’ assuming its superiority and implicitly demeaning any competing products. What is also evident here is a wish to be envied for the possession of an idealized object. One can even discern a sense of triumph (see the letters of Mr. Ted Meyer, HFN/RR April 1980). 

However, I have observed that when a fetishist discovers that someone else’s equipment is superior, his reaction is akin to narcissistic injury.

We are now in a much better position to understand the psychological significance of the hi-fi fetish. I would like to suggest that the fetishist treats the fetish as an extension of himself. To be more accurate, we should say that the fetish is a representation of his ideal self. Does the fetish not give him the powers he would like to have? Does it not lend him the authority he needs? Surely his passionate claims for sonic superiority and audio perfectionism confirm this; as do his establishment of rigid ideals. Indeed, he tenaciously defends his choice of equipment because he measures his ego against this ideal. 

Thus the hi-fi equipment acts as a mirror to the ideal self.

No doubt you are still wondering why it is that among audiophiles only some become fetishists, while the majority remain mere enthusiasts. 

Here generalizations about psychological dispositions become more difficult, but perhaps one can go a little way toward a solution by examining the effects of fetishistic publicity in the hi-fi press. 

As I see it, this publicity – in the form of reviews and test reports as well as paid advertising – is partly responsible for leading young people into the lunatic fringe. Study shows that this publicity begins by working on one’s natural appetite for pleasure. But the pleasure it appeals to is the pleasure of ownership. 

While musical pleasure is held to be the ultimate aim, this kind of publicity really glorifies the pleasure of having a certain audio component. It proposes to offer us something better, something better than we have now, and this way it works on our insecurity or doubt and sets up an insidious form of envy.

As we would expect, rational assessment can do very little against such feelings; it is a poor weapon against the mystifications of fetishistic publicity. I might add that manufacturers who allow themselves to be exalted and aggrandized by fetishists in the same manner as their products are doing themselves a disservice. 

For they too are indulging in a form of narcissistic gratification and are lending yet further credibility to the lunatic fringe.

J. Zelinger

From Hi-Fi News and Record Review, October 1981
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Lunatic fringe is the pejorative term given to advanced audiophiles by backsliding knuckle dragging pseudo skeptics when unfamiliar or preposterous sounding concepts infringe on their world view. A bit like natives on some distant isolated island ranting at the sun 🌞😀
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Yes, it's just one of those quirky takes on the subject from a mainly neutral outside observer.

It's not necessarily an indictment of all audiophiles, more of a warning against the perils of puting the equipment before the music and the dangers of lapsing into the "so-called lunatic fringe".  

Talking of outsiders looking in, here's an extract from an article by 'Bad Science' author Ben Goldacre.


Blindingly obvious: hearing is believing 

Ben Goldacre 
Fri 3 Feb 2006

So let's talk about the high end hi-fi industry. I wrote about their very expensive power cables last month, ranging from £30 to a whopping £1,800, for what is, after all, a kettle lead to connect your stereo to the three pin power socket in the wall. 

The various manufacturers claim that their cables will filter out radio frequency interference in the power cable, and that this will improve the sound. 

I doubted this, and the outpouring of bile that was subsequently vomited in my direction (references on surprised and delighted even me. 

But what was most interesting, to students of this stuff is that the angry outbursts came primarily from the natural constituency of Bad Science readers. 

Several were deeply wounded. Homeopathy was one thing, they said, but this time, I had clearly got it wrong.

And that was when I started to notice the frightening similarities between the thought processes of the alternative therapy fans and the hi-fi freaks. 

Both make an appeal to personal experience, as the highest and most valid form of measurement; both use mystifying, scientific-sounding terminology in their publicity material; and both use the appeal to authority.

But the most striking parallel is the widespread notion in the hi-fi community that blinded trials - where you ask listeners to identify a cable without knowing if it's cheap or expensive - are somehow intrinsically flawed. 

This is exactly the card that the alternative therapy community have been playing, almost since blinded trials were invented.

I give you the editor of Stereophile, a respected hi-fi magazine of 33 years standing. He's talking about blinded tests on amplifiers:

"It seems," he says, "that with such blind listening tests, all perceived subjective differences ... fall away ... when you have taken part in a number of these blind tests and experienced how two amplifiers you know from personal experience to sound extremely different can still fail to be identified under blind conditions ..."

Now I'm getting worried. Here comes the money shot.

"... then perhaps an alternative hypothesis is called for: that the very procedure of a blind listening test can conceal small but real subjective differences."


"Having taken part in quite a number of such blind tests, I have become convinced of the truth in this hypothesis."

What voodoo is this?

If there is a difference to be heard, then you will hear it.


The full Grauniad article can be found here.
Talking of outsiders looking in, here’s an extract from an article by ’Bad Science’ author Ben Goldacre.
“I give you the editor of Stereophile, a respected hi-fi magazine of 33 years standing. He’s talking about blinded tests on amplifiers:

“It seems," he says, "that with such blind listening tests, all perceived subjective differences ... fall away ... when you have taken part in a number of these blind tests and experienced how two amplifiers you know from personal experience to sound extremely different can still fail to be identified under blind conditions ..."

Now I’m getting worried. Here comes the money shot.

"... then perhaps an alternative hypothesis is called for: that the very procedure of a blind listening test can conceal small but real subjective differences."


"Having taken part in quite a number of such blind tests, I have become convinced of the truth in this hypothesis."“

>>>Ben Goldacre is a piece of work. Typical pseudo reviewer/scientist. IMHO. Perhaps he should change his name to Ben Wiseacre. 😀 I know the guy JA from Stereophile and he’s right. Blind tests are at best inconclusive due to all the things that can and do go wrong. Ben Goldacre should not quit his day job. At least the name of his blog “Bad Science” is apropos and ironic. Ouch,
Testing Audiophile Claims and Myths

Following on from my posting above I feel I should bring to attention this thread which has been running on Head-Fi for a good while now - over 10 years to be exact.

The original poster, Prog Rock Man has compiled a record of various blind listening tests that have come to his attention and their conclusions.

I hope neither he (nor Head-Fi) will mind me sharing his valuable hard work here.

This is exactly the kind of endeavour that could be of enormous value to all potential customers of audio equipment.

For that, we the consumers owe it to ourselves to at least consider the findings.

A word of warning to those unfamiliar with the history of controlled blind listening tests, after all press and dealers are unlikely to point them out, the following may come as a considerable shock.

Here’s just a few of his summaries:

A test of interconnects and speaker cables found that no one could pick out the differences between a series of wires from ‘blister pack $2.50 to $990 speaker cable.

All the results were even with approximately 50% going for the cheap and expensive options.


3 - Do all amplifiers sound the same? Original Stereo Review blind test.

A number of amplifiers across various price points and types are tested. The listeners are self declared believers and sceptics as to whether audiophile claims are true or not.

There were 13 sessions with different numbers of listeners each time. The difference between sceptic and believer performance was small, with 2 sceptics getting the highest correct score and 1 believer getting the lowest. The overall average was 50.5% getting it right, so that is the same as you would expect from a random guess result.

The cheapest Pioneer amp was perfectly capable of outperforming the more expensive amps and it was ‘striking similar to the Levinson‘.

As an extra to this and for an explanation of how amps can all sound the same, here is a Wikipedia entry on Bob Carver and his blind test amp challenges


8 - Secrets of Home Theatre and High Fidelity. Can We Hear Differences Between A/C Power Cords? An ABX Blind Test. December, 2004

A comprehensive article with pictures and the overall result was 73 out of 149 tests so 49% accuracy, the same as chance.


18. DIY Audio forum, confessions of a poster. 2003

A forum member joined and confessed that "Then I started to hear about some convincing blind tests and finally conducted my own. I was stunned at the results. I couldn’t tell a $300 amp from a $3000 in the store I was working at.

Neither could anyone else who worked there."

Then he did his own blind test on a mate between an Onkyo SR500 Dolby Digital receiver and a Bryston 4B 300 wpc power amp and a Bryston 2 channel pre-amp owned by his mate.

The ’red faced’ mate could not tell the difference.


20. Cowan Audio, an Australian audiophile and a blind test between CD players 1997

A $1800 un named (they were reluctant to name it) versus a $300 Sony which resulted in both only guessing and getting about 50%.

William Cowan stated that a sighted test before hand made them say "This will be easy, lets get on with the blind test".



31. AV Science forum, Observations of a controlled cable test Nov 2007

A blind test between Monster cables and Opus MM, which as far as I can find is $33,000 worth of cable

but the owner of the very high end kit and cables was unable to tell the difference.


35. The Wilson ipod experiment CES 2004. Stereophile Jan 2004

Tenth paragraph down. A ’trick’ blind test where a group at a consumer technology tradeshow thought they were listening to a $20,000 CDP, but were actually, happily listening to an ipod and uncompressed WAV files.

Sight really does have a major role to play in sound!

And many, many more examples.

Whilst loudspeakers have clearly been reliably identified via blind listening tests, the same cannot be said for cables, DACs, CD players, amplifiers, Hi-Res files etc.

The implications of this are enormous for the entire industry and should not be repeatedly swept under the carpet.

The consumer is always at liberty to buy whatever components he/ she may wish to, just as long as they are clear it is unlikely to be on the basis of any identifiable sound quality improvements.

Once again I would like to give my thanks to the original poster over on Head-Fi, Prog Rock Man.

Thanks again.

*and now for the inevitable brickbats from all those with various vested financial interests in disputing, denying or decrying the findings by any means possible. But not necessarily a blind listening test!
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I dont understand this obsession with blind test at all....

The goal of an audiophile or of anybody that want to increase the S.Q. of his audio system is to implement various methods of controls and tweaks that amount to a a regular incremental increase in S.Q. in a period of weeks, months, and years....

Do you need a blindtest to compare your own system before any controls methods and after?

Even for one slight increase after a change, who need a blindtest?

Learning to listen to music and learning to listen to the sounds go hand in hand and they are a process in time....The learning process dont need blindtest at all....People who want to sell something need it, marketters or debunkers......

Awake yourselves.... :)
mahgisterAwake yourselves.... :)

>>>>>Perhaps it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. 🐩 🐩 🐩