Neutral electronics are a farce...


Unless you're a rich recording engineer who record and listen to your own stuff on high end equipment, I doubt anyone can claim their stuff is neutral.  I get the feeling, if I were this guy, I'd be disappointed in the result. May be I'm wrong.
dracule1
I think that "neutral" is one of the most miss-understood and misused words in the audio hobby.

My impression of neutral is a sonic signature which does not emphasize the low or the high frequencies. However, most of the time I see that word being used, even by the print media, they are describing a component which highlights the upper frequencies, which provides the illusion of more detail/resolution.

They call a component that emphasizes the bass region warm, but one that emphasizes the highs is called neutral. In my humble opinion this is an incorrect usage of the word.

The other issue is 'neutral in relation to what?' Since a whole audio system works in unison to present one sound, all components have an impact on the final product, the sound.

Neutral electronics are no more or less a farce than neutral speakers, cables, etc. In essence, neutral means what one wants it to mean. Neutral can mean many different things to many different people.

Personally, I don't strive for a neutral sound, I strive for a natural sound.
Yes, I understand that the word 'natural' means many different things to many different people.....but that is for another thread.
"Rich recording engineer"? You think recording engineers are rich?! I'll bet you think professional musicians are too. News flash: Most musicians live in abject poverty, making barely enough money for food and rent. Recording engineers make a modest living, nothing like rich, not even close.
No one ever said they were neutral.  
Yes, I’d say you were not exactly correct, but for a different reason. This exact problem is one I found a solution for after stumbling onto Alan Maher Designs in 2010. I keep going on about AMD, from time to time at least, and nobody may pay me much mind about it I suppose, but I can understand that really since AMD is too new and too out there for anyone to feel they have any kind of real-world frame of reference, and so there is too little advertising or user reports yet for most people to have something to go by or to be able to latch onto that particular concept of reducing electrical noise.

But, I think you are absolutely *correct* in identifying that there is indeed a problem...that there is a rather noticeably large gulf between all but the very most expensive gear (or presumably, at least, since many of us don’t easily visit that economic strata) and the real-world (lack of) performance in regard to what you noted vs the descriptions of "neutral"-sounding gear. But, what I’d tell you, based on my experience for the last 6 years with AMD, is that what I think you’re are bumping into here is really an "electrical noise" problem - not any equipment issue at all and not a recording problem either. If sinking more that $10k into AMD gear (and quite happily) over the last 6 years has taught me anything, it’s that all recordings are perfectly fine (the bad ones make up entirely less than 1% [I listen to CD’s]) and that most every piece of gear is far better than we give it credit for - that is to say that electrical noise crushes the life out of music FAR more than the average audiophile ever suspects...or may feel they have reason to suspect. When you get rid of noise on a large scale, all sorts of longheld sonic problems clear up entirely (the kind that also, likewise, usually get blamed on gear or recording quality), but the problem of neutrality here is certainly one of them. Without the noise problem present (and yes, it is everywhere, trust me), then EQ behaves like a dream, not a bandaid, digital sounds better than reel-to-reel, your gear never dictates what you might ever want to listen to...on and on like that. Every system then can reach it’s potential because all the components can then operate at full spec (or better than spec if the spec in question was arrived at by real-world measurement rather than calculation). That not only extends the bandwidth in the room, but it more importantly flattens it as well. If flattened enough, then neutrality improves tremendously...it has the overall effect, too, of increasing both accuracy And musicality at the same time.

This is a solution to one of those problems that I think it seems the audiophile community at large has yet to catch on to, and yet sometimes, like you point out here, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room that is the apparent disconnect between system performance and cost and that it too often seems that working one’s way up the audio food chain only really seems to be asking to repeat the problem. It’s just that I believe that, IME, it is in fact explained by neither recording quality nor gear quality, but indeed can be explained by electrical noise alone...you just need to be able to throw enough of the solution at the problem to reveal to you the true nature of both. As always, I am not affiliated with Alan or AMD in any way, just a satisfied customer.
I'm one of those recording engineers. There are electronics that really are neutral- that don't emphasize the highs while also getting the bass right. The problem areas are in equipment matching, distortions made by equipment that the ear interprets as brightness, speakers that don't have problems of their own, and the media itself.

If you have a recording that you have created, its possible to wade through all the errant examples of hifi and find those that really work. So the answer to this was hidden in the original post.
I'm also a pro sound dude (recording, live sound mixer, musician, bon vivant, lazy older person trying not to seem creepy) and I agree that no gear is "neutral" really, but if you can cobble together a system that demonstrates the differences between things and makes music enjoyable for Active Engaged Listening, that's all you can ask. By the way…ever actually hear what "rich sound engineers" listen to for mixing? It's shocking I tell ya…Yamaha NS10s…man…it varies wildly but often it simply comes out just fine.  And what does "bon vivant" mean anyway?
I am thinking that pro-sound guys, listen, to their studio consoles.
Those damn Yamaha NS10s are everywhere, and Auratones (!) are still around, to mix singles for Radio play (they sound like car speakers). I've been seeing Tannoys in studios lately, but never, ever, audiophile type loudspeakers. Pros use a completely different kind of speaker, and EQ to make music sound "good" on them. Wonder why their recordings played back on your home speakers sounds "wrong"?!
Some studio consoles are excellent and others not so good.

I do a lot of listening on Grado headphones; they are trustworthy.

We built up 6 channels of vacuum-tube microphone preamps which are wired directly into the tape machines- no intervening mixer console; no EQ, nothing but the mic. Our monitors are made by High Emotion Audio and are very fast and revealing. I don't think there is any Yamaha gear in the entire recording chain...
^^^ ... I agree bgp24.  

The proof of what you're saying is when you hear a CD that's been ripped right off of the master tape with no added digital reverb and very little or no EQ. Just a flat recording one step from the original source. When you hear a great CD like that, one can clearly hear how so many of the recording engineers really foul things up. Totally unnecessary too. Amazing. 
I've done a little mixing, some with Yamaha NS-10s.  I think of them as a critical-listening speaker, not a listening-for-pleasure speaker.  I'd be curious to hear from the pros as to whether that's a valid distinction.
I know one thing:  when I'm testing a mix it sounds different on every single system I try.  It's maddening.
I am another believer in recordings are the first thing to blame when sound is not good in a hifi system. And i believe they are 90% good to great in actuality . There is no way in hell big record labeles are putting out crappy sounding records . Can you imagine the producers , studio engineers , execs doing a listening session before release and the sound making their ears bleed from crappy sound . Then they tell the record execs  "don't worry it will it will sound better on a car radio" . nonsense i say 
Auratones…man…and I think the only valid explanation of NS10s is everybody had them, but I have never been able to stand those damn things…they give me a headache. Note that mastering has a huge impact on the final sound…luckily…Bob Ludwig, et al…save the day often.
In a very early Stereophile, Gordon Holt (a good recording engineer himself) showed a graphic equalizer as it was adjusted in a studio during a recording. He then showed the measured frequency response of the monitors in the studio. He pointed out that the equalizer settings were the exact inverse of the frequency response of the speakers---the engineer was using the equalizer to correct the frequency response of the speakers! The problem is, that equalization was applied to the tape, so when the recording was played on a speaker that didn’t require EQ’ing, the recording would sound like that inverse of the monitor speaker. In order to sound right, the recording HAD to be played on that studio monitor loudspeaker, and it alone! In many studios, since each speaker in the monitor booth makes a recording sound different, with no definitive reference to live sound, the engineer will adjust the EQ until the recording sounds about equally "good" (whatever that means to the engineer) on all the monitors. Oy!
My system is neutral it is possible.
If neutral = accurate then sign me up.    
If you can eliminate glare, etch, boom, bloat, and minimize sibilance and room interactions, then you can get consensus on something that approaches "neutral". 

It's all a recreation done to your liking which makes it possible for enjoying the music instead of listening for the music. I think that "neutral" has a pretty big soft spot to hit so all you have to do it be careful to rid yourself of the annoying artifacts and leave it at that.

All the best,
Nonoise
"One thing you can’t hide is when you’re broken inside."

"...bull frog’s croakin’...everything is broken."

As fate would have it the system shoots itself in the foot, what with the induced magnetic field produced by current flowing through all cables and wiring including those big honking transformers AND the RFI/EMI generate by the house AC as well as all those cute little microprocessing chips. Chips Ahoy! If you haven’t addressed those issues it’s not neutral, trust me. I don’t blame anyone for putting the issues on ignore.

Nice rhetoric!

Rhetoric:

language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.
I just knew Mopman would ignore that post. Mopman is mopping the floor with me again. He’s fast on the trigger and the mop. Mopman is the Catcher in the Rye for young naive gullible folks just starting out.

Lacking in sincerity?  I'm as serious as a colonoscopy without anesthesia.

You can’t persuade someone who’s made up his mind a long time ago. ~ Old audiophile axiom
Geoff how about worrying about everything you have no control over. Like the Sun for example. It keeps us warm but is going to explode and kill us all some day.

Or maybe apply your genius and offer up some solutions to the problem. That should be really entertaining!

Are you trying to make us all neurotic?   It may be working.  I already have to resist the urge to buy useless crap from time to time.   If I get the urge to buy  Machina Dynamica, well then good job, mission accomplished!

Mopman out.
You might have no control over the issues I brought up but I do, Mopman.  Why on Earth would I bring up issues I have no control over?  I wouldn't.  Probably just wishful thinking on your part.
Most cables are designed to resist interference by being spiraled (many speaker cables, including the ones I use) or shielded…careful grounding, good wall plugs, transformer hum busting and better power supplies instead of wall warts, an effective power conditioner, and my own nuclear power plant I got from a scuttled sub…great conversation piece by the way.
Cool Geoff.

Glad to hear all is not lost.

Do you think the engineers actually designing and building this stuff might be able to do it as well?  Some, like the really good ones maybe even better?  

How about the successful end users setting this stuff up?   Are they imagining that things are actually going quite well?

If not maybe you can lend yourself out for hire. 



System neutrality is gauged by the percentage sq/signature of your music collection. The higher the quality similarity, the more neutral the system. The more polar, the more skewed the performance characteristics of the components are. How that relates to real life is another topic.
ebm, how do you know your system is neutral?
I think the lesser of similarity among recordings would indicate neutrality as a more neutral system would function as a window into detail…and all recordings differ. 
Wolfman, solid core interconnects are not spiraled. And shielding assuming they have such doesn’t protect against induced magnetic fields, only external RFI/EMI. Hum bucking is not generally employed for transformers although as you suggest it should be. Not to mention that all exposed internal wiring, even the wiring that’s spiraled, capacitors, chips, etc. are subject to the rather large magnetic fields produced by large transformers.
wolf, when the majority fall into a median average with some significantly better and some worse, that is when the system is at the mercy of the recording. When there is no median, that is when some are enhanced by the components, and some are degraded. Experience with multiple systems reveals this.
Geodffdude...I meant to say that the  interconnects are shielded and the speaker wire I use is spiraled, but I shall now start worrying about large magnetic fields just to keep you happy. I'm a giver. My "dual mono" preamp has isolated transformers so I assume that's a good thing. Also, the philosophy I apply to my hifi rig is the same as what I apply in live sound mixing, less stuff in the way of the signal sounds better...to me anyway…for live it's about unstressed plentiful amp and mixer headroom with proper signal input trimming (you'd be surprised at how many inexperienced or simply lame live sound techs don't understand trim pots), and tone manipulation kept to a minimum…no compression. It could be argued that pro mixing boards aren't neutral at all, but I don't want to think about that…too frightening. My hifi rig doesn't even have balance controls let alone any tone stuff to manipulate them pesky electrons…but neutrality is relative to the listener's taste as the listener likely prefers some overall tone characteristic due to personal preference, not unlike my preference for tube amps for hifi and guitar, and in my car (hit a bump and the tubes fall out sometimes, not to mention the car's turntable skipping). 

Geoff, learn from the Wolf.  Take a chill pill on occasion.  

Dr. Mopman...signing off.
with the induced magnetic field produced by current flowing through all cables and wiring including those big honking transformers AND the RFI/EMI generate by the house AC as well as all those cute little microprocessing chips.

You can avoid that by going balanced line.


Balanced can reduce what?  And how?  I'm very curious to know.

Balanced connections can reduce interference - including RFI & EMI - because the signal comprises two hot legs - one out of phase with the other - and a separate ground. Interference is typically induced equally into the two hot legs. The balanced circuit then reverses the phase on one of the hot legs (I'm oversimplifying, because getting into things like differential amplifiers here won't be helpful) and combines it with the other hot leg. The interference is now in phase on one leg, 180 degrees out of phase on the other, so the net result is that they cancel each other out, leaving the original signal intact.
I use balanced cable runs from my DAC to the preamp, and balanced out to the amp.  Perhaps unnecessary but I like XLR plugs from many years in pro audio and recording…snappy! 
Cleeds, that’s actually what I thought, what with the third wire. But read what I said, I’m not talking about RFI/EMI. I’m taking about magnetic fields.
EMI **is** magnetic fields! So yes, that is what you are talking about.
EMI = Electro-Magnetic Interference
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_interference
Hi, atmosphere, sorry but no it’s not. EMI is radio frequency interference just like RFI. It’s an electromagnetic wave. Unlike its ugly cousin magnetic field which is a stationary field. Both EMI and RFI are light speed. The other difference obviously is what I'm referring to is the induced mag field whereas EMI is an external radio frequency interference. I trust my post doesn’t sound too much like I’m all jacked up on cafe lattes.

"EMI is radio frequency interference just like RFI."

RFI is a type of EMI.

Radio-frequency interference (RFI) is when the EMI is in the radio frequency part (just one part) of the spectrum.

So EMI is not just like RFI.

Lay off them lattes!!

Dr. Mopman out.

The height of ’neutral’ nonsense is when a reviewer says an amp is so neutral that it ’adds no signature or coloration of its own" ...compared to what?....the same setup minus the amp? Those really are some golden ears.

In the very unlikely case two different amps yield the same sound...does that mean they are both neutral...or both colored in the same way? Then we add the room....

Neutral is simply one of the many ridiculous terms we ’bandy about’ in this hobby.
Mopman, RFI and EMI are the same thing, I.e., radio frequency interference. Reading comprehension required on this thread. Fasten your seatbelt, ladies, laddies, lattes, whatever.
Post removed 
Mapman’s last post is correct. EMI can occur, for example, at 60 Hz, which is not generally considered to be a radio frequency. EMI can also occur at pretty much any other non-radio frequency, as well as at RF (radio frequencies).

Regarding neutrality, those who are sufficiently interested may want to read through the 9 pages of the following thread. BTW, the post above by Wolfie, dated 1-26-16, and also the first of his posts dated 1-28-16, make essentially the same point as the OP in the other thread.

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/how-do-you-judge-your-system-s-neutrality

My opinions on neutrality were expressed in that thread, and were in essential agreement with its OP (Bryoncunningham). Frankly, I was surprised that his points, which I considered to be almost self-evident, aroused so much controversy in that thread.

Regards,
-- Al

Of course the real point is that EMI is not magnetic field. Which is what my original post was addressing. I.e., that shielding is effective for RFI/EMI but not for either external magnetic fields such as those produced by transformers or induced magnetic fields such as produced by current running through cables and wires. I used to work on the ELF program which transmits at 75 Hz so yes, I’m quite familiar with low frequency radio frequencies. Just because some people might not consider it a radio frequency it actually IS a radio frequency.

I record, mix, master classical and rock music semi-professionally (you’ll never get to hear it but some has been on the radio). I review gear for a little magazine about 3 years now. I feel I’ve been listening critically since about 1974 and started pointing microphones at things well before that. I am completely baffled by the initial thread post and it has set me off but I see little value in my rant ...whatever. I’m entitled to my opinion (everyone’s got one and they all stink!)
Recordings are indeed mastered for their medium and it is extremely rare to hear a recording straight off the master tape. On top of that microphones are not at all neutral in general, go listen: http://www.coutant.org/contents.html . Add placement and venue acoustics...blah blah.
Pros hate my recordings because they sound exactly as I hear them in the particular venue like a 180 year old adobe church but they don’t have that "classical ambiance" DG and the others have established as the default. It is all an illusion albeit a highly crafted artful one. I go for the reality I experience but I bow to the master engineers like Dr. Keith O. Johnson or others who construct the presentation with multiple microphones as is the norm commercially.
I prefer single point purist stereo recordings like those from Opus 3 or MALabs and strive to do the same. Yes I get to listen to my 1st generation DSD recordings at home whenever I like. I do believe this gives me an edge in reviewing gear in general but of course I mostly listen to commercial media. Progressive Rock and Jazz are my faves.
Recording technology since Joe Meek & Les Paul is a fully plastic medium and the tools now are awesome. The Beatles remain the gold standard in that regard imho but you’ll find a lot more Zappa in my library; the Plastic Master.
Neutrality is completely relative and with electronic music what comes out of your speakers is the 1st generation "original" sound. Does it sound like it did to the creators in the studio? Never and every studio will sound different anyways.Hell it will sound different at different times of day even. However that would be the definitive "sound" which can be exceeded in some cases with a very decent home system. "True to the master tape" is a valid judgement in my opinion but who gets to hear both? Is that master tape neutral to the source?
The speakers of course the most deterministic component but I for one find cables to be extremely important as well as stands and power conditioning and only because I hear it. I care not if it can be measured or explained (although I have found measurable differences in cables that correlate to audible quality). You may dismiss me as you please but come to my home and I will demonstrate reliably and repeatably.
 BTW Common mode rejection is the advantage of balanced cables which aid in long runs. Interference is assume to be induced in both legs and when summed negated. In most audio gear however balanced is rarely true symmetrical circuits and most of the time requires additional stages which actually degrade the sound. Simpler is better in general but there are always exceptions.
Now is electronic gear for production or reproduction potentially neutral? Definitely yes in my opinion but one problem is with measurement which is static and musical signals are highly dynamic and chaotic so of course a "reference" recording is your best place to start.
Different gear with the same measurements can and often will sound entirely different and the factors are beyond my space here. Try to hear different amps all based on the Hypex Ncore for instance; wow.
That is why the ear must be the final judge and reviews are valuable when you can trust the reviewer to some extent but just like a food review personal taste differs. I’ll put my $335 used Sumo Nine Class A amp up against any amp at any price for instance. Price does correlate to a degree but there is a sort of luck, art, and magic any component might posses. Everything matters even the damn fuses. I wish it were not true.
 Honestly I’ve been to CES many times and indeed there is some megabuck gear that literally made me weak in the knees. I love the hunt and am a tremendous cheapskate having been poor most of my life. Part of the fun is finding the inexpensive stuff that punches over it’s weight but I will still crave MBL speakers and 70’s Ferraris.
Can electrically reproduced music accurately resemble the live acoustic sound of the live performance? Lightning in a bottle...if you have ever been privileged to sit in a control room and listen to a live microphone feed than you know no matter what, there is LOSS at every stage of the game. Does neutrality matter then? Yes, it is something to strive for, like immortality or perfection and just as difficult to achieve. The efforts can be most gratifying and sometimes the illusion is complete enough to fool our ears and brain. Neutral is an ideal and must be found incrementally through time, experience, and expense. It is a rush when you get close. Just my thoughts on my passion. I reserve the right to change my mind pending new information and experience. Music is the best!
Great post. Welcome aboard!  👍
Semantic Gymnastics!   Too bad keystrokes don't burn more calories.
Glad to see a recording engineer's point of view.  Just goes to show how many steps in the recording chain to home system can get f*#k'd up. My rant is more about these golden ear audiophiles including reviewers who claim a component is neutral.  When you see their mega expensive, apartment/home living room audio system with no room treatment, you know they're speaking out of their asses. IME, how you acoustically treat your room has more impact on sound than any speaker, amplifier, DAC, cables, etc.  I don't strive for neutral anymore because I have no "true" reference (ie, original recording event).  Now I strive for what sounds natural and good to me based on my live concert experiences and my playing the classical guitar for many years.
Very refreshing and most welcome, humand. I hope you continue to contribute.

Also, thanks, Al, for mentioning Bryoncunningham as I was just recently wondering what happened to him. I liked his posts.

All the best,
Nonoise