If you are new to high fidelity reproduction then what you are experiencing is normal. It takes time to train and develop your hearing.
Just like top chefs and wine connoisseurs, they had to develop an acute and discernable palette which take time and training. Developing a higher level of hearing is no different than developing a high level palette, or refining any of our other senses.
I would say that your experience is fairly atypical but Brf's explanation makes sense and perhaps you have yet to develop critical listening skills especially when it comes to certain sounds that are important to you.
2- Not in my experience.
3-Speaker placement is critical and can have a major impact on the sound you hear.
You are not doing anything wrong, just enjoy your music. Perhaps you will develop the dreaded audiophile ear and want better/different systems every two weeks. You have chosen your set up well. In the event you should ever want to change -as you noted -the resale on these items (well cared for) is excellent. It is a good to great set up as a first system for many it is a destination rig, Consider yourself fortunate.
I would say for someone new to high end, the experience seems to be just fine.
I personally believe audiophiles exaggerate subtle details all the time. So a tiny diifference,like from a cable is called 'jaw dropping' etc.
Yes about blowing money on amp upgrades just because I had the money.
I bought a $5K amp to replace a great under $2K amp, just because I had the money burning a hole in my pocket.
Speakers are the biggest things which have different sound. And as the op noted, even changing the angles can have a huge impact on the sound.
After you get to know your 'sound' I think you may begin to be able to hear little things better.
Changing the whole system at one time is hard, as you lose your 'reference'.
One odd thing I note is how easy it is to get used to better sound, almost instantly. And only going back to the old sound can I say wow that sucked.
As for buying for looks.. no problem. A LOT of higher end gear is built to look good as well as work good.
1) Is it normal to not hear much (or any??) difference when changing out preamps or amps assuming the components in question are within similar specs?
Yes. Most will probably not detect a clear difference. THe ear has to adapt and be trained over time to detect subtle differences. Some might never hear much difference of any concern.
2) Has anyone else purchased relatively expensive amp/preamp combinations even when you believe the components are not making a difference in the sound quality?
I'm sure many have but I have not. I only spend more when I can see a clear reason to. How to know? That is a product of technical knowledge that can be accumulated over time. I do listen to good or expensive setups whenever possible in order to help train my ears and determine what represents good reference sound for me.
3) Placement and angle of my speakers in my room make almost as much of a difference as the brand and model of the speaker - at least to me. Anyone else have this experience?
Yes, yes, and yes. This is a major factor in determining the sound you hear and is one of teh most inexpensive and worthwhile tweaks one can apply with diligence.
4) What am I doing wrong that is leading to not hearing a difference?
Assuming you have good/normal hearing, probably nothing. I suspect this is something that may come over time. The other possibility is that the differences between the things you are comparing are subtle and not as clear as other comparisons might be. Try comparing a low power SS or tube amp versus a high power SS amp 80 watts or more. You should hear a difference. Try a tube DAC versus a SS or roll tubes in the tube DAC. I would expect most with trained ears will hear some difference.
The other possibility is that you hear the differences but they are not significant enough to matter to you. Nothing wrong with that. I suspect that over time though most will converge on some preferred sound though others might still be enjoyable to some extent.
ALso I would note that differences between setups tend to become more exagerated and noticeable at higher lifelike volumes and in larger rooms in particular. In smaller rooms and at low volume, the differences may still be significant but to a much lesser degree. A top notch stereo rig is as much about being able to play convincingly with lifelike dynamics and overall top notch performance at lifelike volumes. The smaller the room and the less the need to go loud, the more good choices there are to deliver top notch performance.
BTW, congrats to the OP. This is an excellent question!
I agree with all that has been said by the others above. I would add that the quality of the recording makes a big difference in how easy or difficult it is to hear subtle differences. The better and more lifelike the recording, the easier it becomes. And once you have "locked in" on a difference using high quality recordings, it will become more readily perceivable on lesser recordings.
I agree with all the above and yet have to ask, are the non differences you and your wife hearing not worth considering or are you not hearing them at all?
A trained ear will detect even subtle differences, previous comments not withstanding. You could be experiencing a "can't see the forest for the trees" moment. Simple as that.
This can all be overwhelming to the uninitiated and keep in mind that most of us have been doing this for the better part of our lives (a sad thing to admit).
All the best,
>> Let me just get this out of the way and say it up front.. While the speakers (and their placement in my room) seemed to make a huge difference, the amp, preamp, and cables do not seem to make any discernable difference to me or my wife. <<
We have a winner!! Differences between speakers are *huge* compared to that found in good-quality, well-constructed equipment and cabling. You are much better served by improving the following:
2) Speaker/room interface
3) Source materials
Improving these 3 items will result in significant improvements. All the rest is mucking about the fringes.
You have a nice setup and seem to have discovered the basic truths on your own - good on ya! For now, I would simply sit back and enjoy that system...
To piggyback something Elizabeth stated, audiophiles exaggerate very subtle differences and use hyperbole to describe these really small differences.
The idea that you need to develop your listening skills is silly. It is not so much listening, but more of being able to describe what you hear in words. Is being able to talk like an audiophile a social skill you want to develop?
Onhwy61, are you telling us that you cannot develop your senses? My neighbor who suffered blindness 6 years ago will beg to differ as he has developed his sense of hearing that today just amazes me.
Ability to discern differences via hearing can be developed and refined over time. FOcus and desire is needed. Most "audiophiles" tend towards this. But there is no rule that says one must or should if they are getting by fine as is. GEtting by fine means the sound quality serves the purpose of enjoying the music. IF you are enjoying what you hear sound quality-wise, then you are fine. If not, then some additional refinement might be desirable as discussed but it will likley take some time and dedication. It may or may not be worth it. That is what matters. It can be a difficult endeavor to master! So many variables beyond the gear like recording quality, room acoustics, expectations (hopefully realistic, unrealistic expectations can be a curse), etc.
I agree also with most of what has already been posted.
Years ago when I was just starting out in this hobby I listened to two CD players in the shop. The salesman kept mentioning differences in the music I couldn't hear.
I brought both of them home and thought the more expensive one sounded better...maybe. So I had my wife swap players (input select on my preamp) and I would try to guess which was playing. The first several times I got it right but felt like I was almost guessing. Then it hit me clearly, I could tell the differences immediately. In fact, where in the beginning I needed 15 - 30 seconds before I guessed, at the end I just walked in the room and knew for certain even before I sat down.
I believe that once you get very used to the sound of your system you'll hear differences in the components, but probably never as much as speakers.
A lot depends on the equipment that was compared. If of similar design, its reasonable to expect that the differences will be slight. This is why many transistor amps sound the same.
Thank you for the replies so far..
When we had the smaller speaker wire (below min. specs according to mcintosh), some sounds did not come from the same locations. For example, a bird chirping in the background of a song seemed to be coming directly from the speaker itself. Swapping cables to the larger 12AWG (meeting mcintosh minimum specs), changed it so that the sounds of the birds felt like they were transported 2-3 feet away from the speaker and much more distinct. It was easily reproducible.
I'm also in agreement that over time you're going to be able to better distinguish key characteristics of the sound, and as a result, you'll get better at picking out what appeals to you most.
However, at the end of the day you always need to trust what you're hearing. So the answer to #2 should always be a big "NO".
You should be aware that short term a/b comparisons will not always detect a difference in sound. You need to listen to many recordings over weeks and sometimes months to pick out differences that might be present.
I wish that I had your problem...I would have a lot more money in the bank.
(to quote Morpheus, in The Matrix, upon Neos awakening)
Welcome to the real world. :-)
All the best,
This is too easy:
What RLwainwright said:
"We have a winner!! Differences between speakers are *huge* compared to that found in good-quality, well-constructed equipment and cabling. You are much better served by improving the following:
2) Speaker/room interface
3) Source materials
Improving these 3 items will result in significant improvements. All the rest is mucking about the fringes."
rlwainwright speaks the truth!! If you accomplished 1,2 & 3 you are 95 % "there" in terms of real life sonic happiness. That last 5% is expensive and fussy and I have not yet found it yet either but pleased with what I have none the less.
Right amp for the speakers is another big one.
I agree with most of what has been said here, learning to train your ears how to listen, et al. While this does help you hear more differences, you may eventually regret spending time trying to develop skills that will lead to unhappiness. Just enjoy the music, don't try to find faults that may or may not exist.
While I also agree with the "top 3" as many have stated here, I would change the order.
1) The Recording
2) Speaker/room interface
The rest of the gear varies the sound on a much smaller scale. IMHO, coming in at a distant 4th would be the preamplifier. Personally, I've found it much more difficult to find a preamplifier that pleases me than an amp, source or cables. I don't know why.
I do know that I've never heard a preamp with built in dac that I have liked though. However, I haven't heard your C50. I have heard the MC275, that is a nice amp. In fact that was the first tube amp I ever heard, probably about 25 years ago, I remember it making me smile. :)
Ecsrun, your simple cable swap should make it clear to you that all the above, though well intentioned, means practically nothing when it comes to your and your wives ears. YOU heard the difference with YOUR own ears when YOU made the cable change.
Still the voices declare that what you just did matters not. Trust in your own self, take advice when asked, experiment at will and be prepared, when asking something, to hear something else.
Some here have very strong beliefs as to what is the most important aspect, what influences sound the most, what matters little, if not at all. You'll eventually find yourself in complete disagreement with most and in agreement with few.
Enjoy yourself here and at home while listening.
All the best,
Would not add much to all of the above, but I do envy your being able to demo such fine gear. Especially in your home. What you ended up with is a dream come true system for many.
My experience has always been speakers make the largest and most discernible revelation.
Your maturing "audio ear" will detect differences in many other facets over time. Even then it may be of little concern over other aspects of a given component. Choices between the good stuff is often not just about sound, but look and feel, build and philosophies.
"Although I do not hear any difference in preamp/amp/cabling, it does not mean that a difference does not exist."
Actually, that's exactly what it means.
Marakanetz has morphed into Ebm, dude !!!!!!
I think the right question is, "Under what conditions will I be able to
hear a difference, when changing equipment?". When this becomes
the issue, then the equipment, and whatever dollars it represents,
is relegated to a different role. What do I mean?
Instead of searching for the Holy Grail, or the one piece or
combination of pieces that will be most satisfying, I suggest
you focus on two variables, only. And they may not have occured to
you, or been mentioned to you, yet!
The first one is the organ you use when you listen to music...
yes, your ears! I recently discovered that a cleaning kit from
Rite Aid made it possible for me to experience more of an emotional
connection to the music. Sure, I thought my ears were clean,
but those canals go pretty deep, I learned. Another option
is a professional cleaning, which I last had done over twenty years ago!
The next point of attack, with exactly the gear you already own,
is "vibration control." All electronic pieces are subject to internal
as well as external vibration. What are you doing to address this?
IMO, the finer your gear, the more you will be able to appreciate
the effects of the proper treatment, in this area.
The challenge is, this will take a bit of time and effort.
The retail store is selling the high dollar gear because that generates
the most profit, for them. They might not want to talk about
the lower cost alternatives that can efficiently improve your sound.
Wouldn't you rather be happy with what you currently own,
and have the feeling that you are absolutely getting the most benefit
from each piece?
What to do? There are posts here, that address vibration control,
from manufacturers such as Stillpoints, Symposium, Marigo, and BDR.
And you might pay attention to the rack or furniture
that is supporting your equipment, and holding your cables.
There are online and catalog retailers (Music Direct, Audio Advisors,
The Cable Company) that can open up your world to many different options. And you may even choose to audition them, with the ability to return them if you are not happy.
Lastly, check out Jim Smith's book, "Get Better Sound."
I can't imagine anyone with an open mind who has failed to
glean some great ideas from this book.
"Just have fun." For me, it is very rewarding to initiate a
change that improves the listening experience, and does not involve
spending a ton of money! This way, the journey can be as
enjoyable as the destination...
"Just have fun."
Different strokes for different folks.....dude!
Try adjusting your room acoustics with products from companies like RealTraps, TubeTraps or RPG Diffusor Systems. Then you will be able to hear the subtle changes in different Amps and cables, etc. Proper room treatment lets you hear the equipment, rather than the room.
It depends on where you are coming from and where you are going.
"It depends on where you are coming from and where you are going. "
THat's a good answer!
The very best article I have read about system enhancement is on the Walker Audio site. Simple, and straight-forward.
When you go from a damping factor of up to 500 and compare that to an amp with 1000 or more, you're talking about audible extension of another full octave on the bottom end. That's no subtle difference. That goes for top end rise times also. Going from above 2u sec to below is easily recognizable, given all other performance parameters are of a high standard. As the OP's question refers to similar specs, it stands to reason differences will be subtle at best.
When you go from a damping factor of up to 500 and compare that to an amp with 1000 or more, you're talking about audible extension of another full octave on the bottom end. That's no subtle difference.
Peter, I would respectfully disagree with that. A damping factor of 500 is equivalent to an output impedance of:
(8 ohms)/500 = 0.016 ohms.
The resistances of the speaker cables and the internal wiring of the speakers, and the resistance(s) of the inductor(s) in the crossover networks, will add up to considerably more than that in almost all cases, limiting the effective damping factor that both amplifiers can provide to far less than 500.
Also, there is no direct relationship between damping factor and bottom octave extension.
If an amplifier having a damping factor of 1000 sounds different than one having a damping factor of 500, and it often will, the reason is not the difference in damping factor. Although the differences in sonics and the differences in damping factor may have some degree of commonality in their causes.
Okay Al, thank you. I have amps with damping factors of 150, 400, 500, 700, and 1000. My understanding is that there is a direct correlation with this number to bottom end control. My experience is that the higher the number, the sharper, more articulate the bass response is. The amps I have with df 0f 1000 do indeed produce discernible notes a full octave lower than the others. The others have the extension alright, but notes are not articulately discernible. Can you please elaborate a little more on this? Or just cut to the quick and tell me it's all in my head.
I know what Al is saying is correct theoretically from what I read, and I think I understand whybut I have to wonder sometimes also.
I do not have as many data points as Csontos, but I have noted a clear correlation between extreme differences in damping factor of amps I have used and major differences in sound along the lines Csontos describes (better dynamics and articulation of details overall though I am not sure that better low end extension is necessarily part of what I hear) with my larger OHM Walsh (wave bending) speakers in particular, which have a reputation of benefiting from high damping perhaps more so than many conventional dynamic box designs.
I think I have even noticed something similar with my smaller Dynaudio Contour 1.3 mkii monitors.
In my case I'm talking about going from a 120w/ch (Class A or A/B, not sure) amp with <50 damping (Musical Fidelity A3CR) to 500 w/ch and 1000 damping (BelCanto Ref1000m). Of course, the whole amp design did change, so big difference there! Lots of possible factors to consider. I sought an amp with 50 damping minimum, but had no concerns about going higher in that the effects would only be in the direction desired, to whatever extent. The first time I listened after changing the amp, the difference is sound was one of the biggest and clearest (for the better) I have ever heard with any system component change. It was a total sonic transformation that I would have to attribute to much better accuracy and retrieval of detail, whatever the technical reason. I'm sure increased damping is at least part of the reason, but I also suspect that damping factor of 1000 may be more of an insurance policy than anything else.
I believe that most top performing systems have some sort of similar over the top technological insurance policy or policies in play as a precaution just to make sure no corners are inadvertently cut. 500 w/ch and 1000 damping that went with it were two of mine.
Peter, consider the fact that many and probably most high quality tube amplifiers have damping factors that are less than 10. I don't think that anyone would deny that there are a lot of users out there with expensive, high quality, essentially full range dynamic speakers who obtain outstanding bass response with suitably chosen tube amplifiers.
And some speakers, such as many electrostatics whose impedance is high in the bass region and descends from there as frequency increases, will provide much better bass when paired with a tube amplifier having a low damping factor than with a solid state amplifier having a high damping factor.
Atmasphere has said in a number of threads in the past that no speaker in existence requires a damping factor greater than about 20. I don't have the background to agree or disagree with that specific number, but given the resistances of speaker cables and crossover inductors that I referred to, I would have to say that if 20 is not the number, it is certainly no greater than about 200, and probably a good deal less than that.
Beyond that point increases in damping factor are simply overkill, as I see it. Which is not to say that your perceptions are incorrect. It is simply to say that there are countless other design variables which may have played a role in contributing to what you perceived.
One very major design variable which comes to mind is that amplifiers having damping factors in the 1000 kind of area are commonly Class D amplifiers, while those in the 150 area you mentioned are commonly Class AB amplifiers. Obviously that would be an apples to oranges comparison.
Also, everything else being equal, if greater amounts of feedback are used in a design a result will be a significant lowering of output impedance/increase in damping factor. The increased feedback will ALSO result in a decrease in Total Harmonic Distortion, which can be expected to make some notes more "articulately discernable," to use your words. Some of the downsides of increased feedback, though, being increases in Transient Intermodulation Distortion, and the possibility of increases in certain odd-order harmonic distortion components that are particularly objectionable.
For that and other reasons, as I indicated earlier it seems conceivable that in SOME designs a degree of commonality may exist between the design factors which result in sonic differences such as those you perceived, and the design factors which result in damping factor differences. But although a cause and effect relation between extremely high damping factors and better defined bass is not infrequently cited in some marketing literature, and is a belief that is shared by a lot of audiophiles, it is a misconception IMO. One that has the potential to steer other audiophiles who may be contemplating an amplifier purchase in the wrong direction.
Alright. Given that the speaker sees far less actual damping than what the amp itself produces, does it not stand to reason that practically, the more the amp is capable of, the more the speaker will effectively see regardless of what is accurately representative in numbers? Btw, the amp in question here is the Acoustat TNT200 which is a pure fet class A/B amp. I don't have a lot of experience with tubes but they do have a reputation for soft, muddy inarticulate bass. I read Ralph's post on this and I believe it 100%. I have no choice. So I'm assuming (guessing) that that effective df of 20 is more likely to be achieved with an amp that has a very high published capability? Who cares what that number is as long as it represents the amp's potential to deliver the goods, so to speak. Are you suggesting that an ss amp capable of optimally controlling the speaker will have a downside effectively cancelling out it's benefit?
I would also point out that there is a difference between bass articulation and/or tightness and bass extension. While Csontos initially mentioned an additional octave of audible extension, his later posts talk about tight, quick bass w discernable differentiation between different notes. I believe Al was responding to the initial suggestion that a high damping factor will provide more bass extension.
Michael (Swampwalker), thanks for noticing that. My first response indeed addressed the claim in Peter's preceding post that:
When you go from a damping factor of up to 500 and compare that to an amp with 1000 or more, you're talking about audible extension of another full octave on the bottom end.
However, my second response also applied to the somewhat revised assertion in his subsequent post that:
The amps I have with df 0f 1000 do indeed produce discernible notes a full octave lower than the others. The others have the extension alright, but notes are not articulately discernible.
Regarding Peter's response to that post:
So I'm assuming (guessing) that that effective df of 20 is more likely to be achieved with an amp that has a very high published capability?
The reference by Atmasphere to a damping factor of 20 refers to the damping factor of the amplifier itself.
I don't have a lot of experience with tubes but they do have a reputation for soft, muddy inarticulate bass.
Note that I referred to high quality tube amps. Certainly many of them, having damping factors of less than 10, can produce extremely good full-range bass with many high quality essentially full-range speakers. Just peruse the system descriptions here at A'gon for evidence of that.
Given that the speaker sees far less actual damping than what the amp itself produces, does it not stand to reason that practically, the more the amp is capable of, the more the speaker will effectively see regardless of what is accurately representative in numbers?
In the case of a dynamic speaker, the combination of crossover inductor resistance and speaker cable resistance will be much greater than the 0.016 ohm amplifier output impedance which, as I previously indicated, corresponds to an amplifier damping factor of 500. If the amplifier damping factor is increased to 1000:
(a)The overall damping factor will therefore only be increased by a very small amount.
(b)The DF 500 amplifier already provides a DF that is way more than adequate, per Atmasphere's statements and per the results that a great many people have obtained with tube (and other) amplifiers having very low DF.
(c)Even if 500 DF were not already beyond the point of overkill, its effects on overall DF would be so miniscule as to provide no basis for a presumption that a perception of better defined bass with a 1000 DF amplifier is in fact due to the difference in DF.
Are you suggesting that an ss amp capable of optimally controlling the speaker will have a downside effectively cancelling out it's benefit?
No, I am suggesting that once the DF is high enough to optimally control the speaker further increases in DF will not control it any more optimally. Whether or not further increases in DF will have significant downsides depends on the particular design.
In that case my experience is only coincidental or it is all just in my head. What other factors are in play regarding bass definition?
What other factors are in play regarding bass definition?
In addition to the distortion-related issues I mentioned earlier, the quality of the power supply design certainly figures to be a significant factor. In part because a great deal of the energy in most music tends to occur in the bass region. In part also because it is not uncommon for the impedance of dynamic speakers to reach low magnitudes at some frequencies in the bass region, and to also have significantly capacitive phase angles at some frequencies in that region. Each of those factors can be hard for many amplifiers to handle without adverse sonic effects, and even more so if they both occur at the same frequencies.
My understanding is the benefits of higher damping is also speaker
dependant. Some speakers are more naturally damped thmselves. Also
speakers that are tube friendly also tend to have higher input impedance.
Well I've got some serious comparisons to make now. More like research. Not sure what to think.
With due respect to Sgordon1, Walker Audio peddles among other things, a "Reference Record Clamp" made of no more than $10 worth of brass and $5 worth of lathe-work, for $1750, a "Talisman Magnetic Optimizer" for $275, and vibration pads and points for $500 a set. This handily disqualifies Walker Audio from dispensing advice that's "simple and straightforward."
The very best article I have read about system enhancement is on the Walker Audio site. Simple, and straight-forward.