Is It Ironic?


There's a type of thread on Audiogon where somewhere asks "is this piece of equipment obsolete?" Or a similar type of thread where the question is "has there been progress in some equipment category since" some arbitrary date. The consensus answer to the former is usually yes, the equipment is obsolete. That's even when the equipment in question is only ten years old. The consensus to the latter question is always that there's been significant progress in equipment. Digital is better, loudspeakers are better, amps are better, cables are better, etc. What I find ironic is that much of the music used to ascertain the improvements in equipment was recorded fifty years ago. The touchstone recordings by RCA, Mercury, Columbia, Decca and Blue Note were made with equipment that was being retired as obsolete when Brian Jones was the guitar player with the Rolling Stones. We're using newer and newer equipment to find out that old recordings made with "antique" equipment actually sounds really good. Ironic?
Convert?fit=crop&h=128&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mdg3njc1otasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&rotate=exif&signature=3f6da5a31fa347342de42fe781dac9bb27ebe15b6e7b885f1699c9451d648037&w=128onhwy61
"Really good" is subjective opinion. I find older Rolling Stones record not so great sounding but have 2010 remasters that sound much better. Early Beatles recordings sounded just horrible, but to my surprise some people find them great sounding. Even Beatles, after recording first LP in Abbey Road Studios realized how much better it can sound. There might be some exceptional older Jazz recordings or exceptional pieces of equipment, but you can find even better recordings and amazing hardware today. Digital is not better - nobody claims this. It is getting on the par with analog playback but is much more convenient.
"What I find ironic is that much of the music used to ascertain the improvements in equipment was recorded fifty years ago. The touchstone recordings by RCA, Mercury, Columbia, Decca and Blue Note were made with equipment that was being retired as obsolete when Brian Jones was the guitar player with the Rolling Stones. We're using newer and newer equipment to find out that old recordings made with "antique" equipment actually sounds really good. Ironic?"

Recording studio gear and playback gear, are 2 completely different applications. They don't do the same thing. Whatever studio gear that was used to capture the event is a fixed variable. Weather the recording is good, bad, old, new) is all you have to work with. The job of an audio system is to play the recording back in the most transparent way possible. It doesn't matter if the recording is old or new, you'll still benefit from modern equipment. For example, consider high frequencies. If you are using low quality playback gear, cymbals don't always sound like cymbals. They can sound like a piece of metal being dropped on a cement floor. As you upgrade your audio system, the more real they sound. You're trying to get the proper timbre of a cymbal and not something else. So, when you are playing an old recording, cymbals still need to sound like cymbals. They still have the potential to sound like metal being dropped, just like in a modern recording. So the better the playback system, the better the sound quality. Even if the recording is old.
Is it ironic? Yes. Ludicrous? Possibly. It's funny how technology is constantly "improving".....until you pop in some old piece of classic gear that demands you ask the question: "Are these "improvements" real?
Yeah, a 1980s car will get you there, and the roads were probably built in the 1950s. So why buy a new car?
Jmcgrogan2,
So true ;-)!
Yes, technology continues to evolve and improve. Meaning better performing choices are available today for those in needed who choose to seek them out.

Does not mean older gear is "obsolete" though if that is what floats ones boat. Also better performance is a good thing but alone does not assure better sound/end results. Many things come into play there. Quality/nature of recording being a big one.

If you can hear all the unique nuances of each recording, and how different ones are produced differently, you are probably in pretty good shape with whatever one is listening to.

If you continue to change or try to improve gear in teh interest of making each recording fit to some personal ideal that they cannot, then that is the road to home audio hell for sure.
Great point, Onhwy61, and yes, it certainly is ironic.

There are certainly a multitude of factors that are involved. When it comes to classical music, at least, I suppose the most significant factor is not related to equipment quality per se, but to how it is used. When the classic RCAs, Mercurys, Deccas, etc. were recorded, a minimal number of well placed microphones were used, and the signals they provided were minimally and simply processed. Today the norm, especially for symphonic recordings, seems to be the use of a forest of microphones, placed too close to the performers, and for their outputs to be heavily processed with elaborate consoles that are adjusted by misguided, artistically insensitive, and/or incompetent engineers.

That said, I'll also particularly second the response by John (Jmcgrogan2). Having fairly extensive experience with vintage tube gear of the 1950s and 60s I can say that many of those pieces from the better manufacturers of the day, if well restored and/or in top condition, and if suitably matched to the associated components in the system, as a general rule of thumb will easily be competitive with modern gear selling at comparable price points. (I'm referring to the present day selling prices of both the vintage and modern equipment).

I'll say also that it is not just collectibility and rarity that drives the present day value of vintage Marantz tube gear, Tannoy speaker drivers, Brook amplifiers, REL tuners (no relation to the British subwoofer manufacturer), etc. Nor are those the only reasons for the values of 1930s(!) Western Electric speaker drivers, amplifiers, and tubes, which in some cases approach the astronomical. (And one of our most highly experienced and knowledgeable contributors here, btw, whose system is definitely in the upper echelons price-wise, makes very extensive use in his system of some of that 1930s Western Electric equipment).

One final point, which Ralph (Atmasphere) has made in the past, and which I think is very valid. Those classic recordings were made many years before expensive audiophile-oriented cables came into being. And the cabling used in the halls in which many of those recordings were made approached perhaps as much as 200 feet in length. And most cable effects are proportional to length. So how could the recordings be so good? Because those cables were balanced AND were driven from low impedance outputs having very hefty drive capability. Which Ralph has asserted (and it makes sense to me) results in cable effects and cable differences being essentially (and perhaps entirely) negated.

Best regards,
-- Al
Today's so called innovations are, more often than not, about better margins or a marketing gimmick to goose sales. For the most part, American corporations are not about the product at all. No reason to expect them to compare favorably to the old union made stuff. I'm not interested in what Rush says.
So you are saying that if you had two windows, one old, where the glass had become wavy and distorted and one new where the glass was perfectly clear, and you held a photograph, which was taken in the late 1800s, behind each one, you could not tell the difference. Perhaps time for a new pair of spectacles.
Nice analogy Viridian!

Chances are the OLDER photograph would be less resolved and the harder of the two to discern information from accordingly and would up the ante in terms of what is needed to get good results.
Being an audiophile with a limited budget, I could't afford what it would take to achieve the sound quality I wanted, even buying used.

Tannoy HPD's from 1975, and a restored Garrard 401, has enabled me to have the level of pleasureable listening I was after all along. I couldn't have done it buying new.

In comparison with systems comprised of newer equipment, the old stuff holds its own, and then some.

Regards,
Dan
"08-20-14: Mapman
Nice analogy Viridian!

Chances are the OLDER photograph would be less resolved and the harder of the two to discern information from accordingly and would up the ante in terms of what is needed to get good results."

I'm not sure that's what Viridian's meant. I got something else from reading it. I think he meant to say that if you look at an old photo, you should still use a new window that is clear, and not some old one. The idea being, even though the picture is old, you'll still benefit from viewing it through a new window. Anyway, I think that's what he meant.
Turntables are one thing that one will likely pay a premium for these days if bought new compared to vintage models. That's of course because records used to be everywhere and there was lots of decent quality gear to play them on. I suspct the best (and quite pricey) tables out there today may incorporate useful technical advances, but teh market will dictate paying a premium. I would personally think twice before buying a new turntable. There are still some good affordable cart options out there though. Same true for phono amps. Some vinyl lovers who have heard it all still prefer certain high quality vintage gear, properly maintained, restored or even enhanced.
"The idea being, even though the picture is old, you'll still benefit from viewing it through a new window. "

Sounds right. The new window will deliver more benefit for everything. But in the case of the old photo, it may be good enough to appreciate, but if one views it through the inferior window, that may no longer be the case. Whereas, the sharp new high quality picture might still be appreciated through old, and will also shine its best through new.

In any case, I tend to disagree with those that might shy away from better, more resolving gear, for fear that it will reveal flaws in bad recordings. It will reveal EVRYTHING, not just the flaws. The source material is what it is, but that's no reason to compromise it further and have less chance of enjoying.
I'm not quite sure what Marty (Viridian) meant, but in any event I don't see how the analogy is relevant. The recordings in question, that were referred to as "touchstones" in the OP, are widely considered by those familiar with them to be sonically exceptional, as measured against today's standards as well as the standards of their time. I don't think anyone would say that about a late 1800s photograph, unless perhaps artistry rather than realism were the criterion.

Best regards,
-- Al
True I would not equate high quality "touchstone" recordings from the 1950s with 19th century photography in terms of technical merit, but I still like the analogy as an example of why technology done better is ALWAYS better.

There are plenty of good and bad recordings from both years ago and currently. That newer better modern technology is a useful tool to help confirm the quality of recordings made with older technology years ago as well as today does not seem all that surprising or ironic to me. Better tools enable better determinations.

Now if it were the case that technology has gone downhill over the years, as some might claim, we would be harder pressed to recognize quality recordings from years ago.
There might be some exceptional older Jazz recordings...
Yes there are and they equal or exceed anything produced today. "Jazz Party In Stereo", "Kind Of Blue", "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie", "Blues And the Abstract Truth", etc.

Viridian, I don't understand you analogy. May I suggest viewing the Mona Lisa under 20x magnification. You may lose the total artistic perspective, but your appreciation of Michelangelo's technique increases by an order of magnitude.

There are three points in my original post. First, the consensus is that equipment has gotten better. I don't disagree. Second, many of the reference recordings used to judge the improvement in equipment are 50 years old. I find that ironic. Finally, the recording equipment used to make the reference recordings was retired as obsolete by 1970. Commercial considerations forced this change. The newer equipment was better suited for multitrack/overdub recordings. That's not ironic, but sad. Although it's interesting to note that some vintage recording equipment (50 year old stuff) is highly prized by recording engineers. In fact, a whole industry has emerged of modern products, mainly tube designs, but some solid state, that use old circuit designs to recreate the vintage sound mojo. Now that's ironic.
"Second, many of the reference recordings used to judge the improvement in equipment are 50 years old. I find that ironic."

Well, it would not be possible to compare old equipment no longer used with new recordings that did not exist back then whereas old reference recordings are available to all that came later.

I suppose I can see some irony in it all. :^)
"Second, many of the reference recordings used to judge the improvement in equipment are 50 years old. I find that ironic. Finally, the recording equipment used to make the reference recordings was retired as obsolete by 1970. Commercial considerations forced this change. The newer equipment was better suited for multitrack/overdub recordings. That's not ironic, but sad. Although it's interesting to note that some vintage recording equipment (50 year old stuff) is highly prized by recording engineers."

Going back to what I said in my first post, I really don't see why the age of a recording matters all that much when used it to evaluate new equipment. You still want to get the most out of the music and the equipment. Let me give a different example. Going back 50 years or so, the technology used in the studio, and that used in playback systems were not equal. I think recording equipment was far more advanced in SQ than playback gear. So, as home stereo evolved and got better in just about every way possible, newer equipment is now able to get a lot more out of an old recording.

Look at it from another angle. If you took a well produced 50 year old record and played it on high quality equipment from that period, and then put the same record on modern equipment of the same quality, chances are you'll hear a lot more of what's on the record. If modern equipment wasn't able to get any more out of a recording than vintage gear, then SQ should be about the same playing the record on either system.
08-20-14: Zd542
Look at it from another angle. If you took a well produced 50 year old record and played it on high quality equipment from that period, and then put the same record on modern equipment of the same quality, chances are you'll hear a lot more of what's on the record.

That may be true, more modern gear does offer more resolution. The question though, is more resolution always a good thing? Using Onhwy61's analogy of looking at the Mona Lisa under a 20X magnification seems apt. Should the art work simply be looked at and/or listened to and enjoyed, or must it be dissected and studied?

I know that there are a lot of resolution geeks out there, I used to be attracted to a more highly resolving sound myself. Resolution can be intoxicating at first. Until I found myself listening less often, probably due to listening fatigue. Listening to all of that information became a tedious chore. Information overload. These days I prefer a more musically relaxing sound, one that draws me in and makes me want to listen more. I am no longer driven by the desire to zoom in and try to listen to the fly buzzing about the 2nd chair viola's ear, or hear the page rustle as the conductor turns it. I prefer to just sit back and enjoy the performance as a whole. Obviously, some are intrigued by the capabilities of expanding technology. I am intruiged by the music.
"The question though, is more resolution always a good thing?"

It's a good question. Some might say "no". I would say yes.

If you have it, there are many ways to control it to one's tastes via tweaks, etc.

If you don't have it, you do not know what you are missing, so one cannot be in a position to judge.

That's just how I look at it practically.

Here's an interesting scenario to consider. Say one has resolution but results are unpleasant. Is resolution the cause or is this a case of shooting the messenger? How can one pin the blame on resolution conclusively?

Medusa is still ugly, even in HD. A lot goes into production to make it look good on HD TV. But I'd bet few who care would give up their HD TVs and go back to something less resolving. Not to say they might not play with filter/picture control tweaks at their disposal.

HD TV and modern digital audio are pretty much analogous in terms of what works best, what does not, and how to maximize utility to consumers.

OR, is there anyone out there if given the choice would choose to have less than 20/20 vision? How about hearing problems that limit what one might hear otherwise? Food for thought....

I would rather focus in conjunction on effectively minimizing noise and distortion and maximizing resolution in order to achieve best results possible. Nothing too radical there, I think?
Yes, too much resolution sometimes can be a bad thing - when listening to some horrible recordings from 50 years ago. They sounded OK on less resolving system.
"Yes, too much resolution sometimes can be a bad thing - when listening to some horrible recordings from 50 years ago. They sounded OK on less resolving system."

I have some old 78 RPM records that I converted to digital and listen to along with all the rest.

THey sound like...78 RPM records. Mostly midrange, limited dynamics, lots of surface noise.

They are what they are...but I do like to listen to them, warts exposed and all.

Of course I did play them back to record on a 70s vintage Admiral ceramic cart turntable I picked up for $10 at a yard sale specifically for playing 78s. Not to shabby compared to the quality of the format itself. But I guess its possible that the Admiral was the weak link... :^)

I have some CDs with remastered tracks from the 20's and 30's. I have no problem with resolution when listening to these as well.
"08-21-14: Jmcgrogan2

08-20-14: Zd542
Look at it from another angle. If you took a well produced 50 year old record and played it on high quality equipment from that period, and then put the same record on modern equipment of the same quality, chances are you'll hear a lot more of what's on the record.

That may be true, more modern gear does offer more resolution. The question though, is more resolution always a good thing? Using Onhwy61's analogy of looking at the Mona Lisa under a 20X magnification seems apt. Should the art work simply be looked at and/or listened to and enjoyed, or must it be dissected and studied?"

I don't see where having newer, more revealing equipment available to us, is anything other that a very good thing. Why? Because we have choices. You don't have to buy anything you don't want to. Some people like vintage gear, while others like state of the art. Nothing wrong with that. Just buy whatever you prefer.
What's Ironic is when a newbie asks for an opninon on starting a system and then gets chastised by senior members on here telling them to go listen to gear and let your ears decide and then said members go post and often get in to heated debates on topics that are subjective at best. I love this site.
"08-22-14: Chrshanl37
What's Ironic is when a newbie asks for an opninon on starting a system and then gets chastised by senior members on here telling them to go listen to gear and let your ears decide and then said members go post and often get in to heated debates on topics that are subjective at best. I love this site."

That's just pure genius. So its wrong of us to make recommendations if someone asks? And on top of that, its wrong to advise someone to listen to the equipment and make a selection based on what they here?

What are you supposed to do with stereo equipment? I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure you're supposed do listen to it. I think that was the intent of the designers who made it.

And the nerve of us for debating the subjective qualities of the gear in question. lol. Why would anyone want to do that?

I think you may have missed one small point. In your post you say this "What's Ironic is when a newbie asks for an opninon on starting a system". That's a purely subjective question. It can't be answered with anything other than a subjective opinion. That's why its an opinion in the first place. I don't see how you can fault someone for properly answering a question. But I'm sure you'll try.
I think you missed my point....I never said it was bad advice to tell someone to go out an listen before buying. In fact its the only sensible response. However, many on here will skewer a fist or second time poster for asking questions that for many of us find quite rudimentary and will give a sarcastic response and follow it up with "let your ears decide".

There are many posts on here from senior members who have stated such questions from new members are irritating. But those same members will attack others for having opinions on gear vs gear threads and get into heated debates on which is better. These feeble arguments are nver settled and the forums are full of them as you know. I guess I find it rather ironic that letting your ears decide often times only goes so far on here.
08-22-14: Chrshanl37
What's Ironic is when a newbie asks for an opninon on starting a system and then gets chastised by senior members on here telling them to go listen to gear and let your ears decide and then said members go post and often get in to heated debates on topics that are subjective at best. I love this site.

Yes, it certainly is ironic. As you can see, there are NO absolute answers in this subjective hobby. Which always makes the threads asking "What is the Best XYZ?" so amusing and comical, since obviously, there is no "best" of anything.
"However, many on here will skewer a fist or second time poster for asking questions that for many of us find quite rudimentary and will give a sarcastic response and follow it up with "let your ears decide".

How do you know that they are being sarcastic in the first place? You even agree that listing is the only sensible response. I don't see a problem with that. And lets not, these people are asking for opinions/help. You will get a wide variety of responses. That's just the way it goes.

"There are many posts on here from senior members who have stated such questions from new members are irritating. But those same members will attack others for having opinions on gear vs gear threads and get into heated debates on which is better. These feeble arguments are nver settled and the forums are full of them as you know. I guess I find it rather ironic that letting your ears decide often times only goes so far on here."

That really makes no sense. And before you start arguing with me, I'll ask you 1 thing first. Can you give me some examples of what you are talking about? If you can't do that, then you can't expect anyone to take you seriously.
" These feeble arguments are nver settled"

Kinda like the United Nations track record.

Or everyone's favorite flavor of ice cream? We know most like vanilla.

Or lists of hottest this, best that, favorite the other thing that one finds everywhere these days and no two of which is the same.

Following the crowd is hard work. Not to mention confusing. Better of just having a mind of one's own.

I'd just say trust one's ears, but even that is under dispute.

It is ironic that so many seek out "the best" yet few would agree on exactly what that is in most cases. Even Tiger Woods ain't what he used to be....
"Following the crowd is hard work. Not to mention confusing. Better of just having a mind of one's own."

You're right. I have a hard enough time keeping track of what goes on in my own head, let alone what goes on in everyone else's.