Pro v Audiophile - Science v Snake Oil?


I have a long time friend Mike who has an interest in audio gear that broadcasters/pros use unlike myself who remained mainly confined to domestic audio. He reads journals written for industry professionals and is mainly interested in using pro/semi pro gear. 

Of course there is no hard and fast distinction between professional and domestic audio, as companies such as ATC, B&W, Harbeth, JBL, PMC, Sony, Technics etc. often have product lines for both markets. However there does seem to be a feeling of two separate camps each with its own aims. This feeling is probably enhanced by the different way the products are often reviewed and sold (with the possible exception being headphones) which often don't seem to care which camp they fall into.

Domestic audio used to be sold by retail outlets whilst pro gear was often sold via catalogues. The rise of internet shopping through retailers like Amazon now sees such products often sold side by side. Still, the way they are reviewed are remain separate between industry publications and domestic magazine press. Professional audio gear remains largely ignored by the domestic press and vice versa. You can almost sense the feeling that each camp might regard the other as being beneath contempt. 

Industry users and reviewers seem to have a no nonsense approach to audio gear and go by technical specs and durability whereas domestic reviews major on vague subjective impressions. Yet once upon a time domestic audio too used to be reviewed in a similar fashion. 

As the years have rolled by I increasingly find myself asking whether by reading domestic audio magazines and the like, I was on the wrong road all along. Especially when I consider how 99.99% of all the film, music and TV/ radio output that I've enjoyed was originally produced and recorded. Mike just knowingly smiles in a 'I told you so' way, and just this once he may well be right.  

Anyway, here's a great resource showcasing  how audio journalism once used to work.

https://www.americanradiohistory.com





cd318
Snake oil exists in both camps.

The big difference is that pro equipment must work day in day out reliably and consistently for many years. Pro often sells by word of mouth. Pros often take demos into the work place to try out before making a commitment. Pros don’t care that much about aesthetics. Performance and neutrality to provide consistent reproduction is more important. Pro gear for professional facilities use tends to be much more expensive than consumer gear or pro gear destined for private home use.

Often consumer audio is cosmetically stunning but does not really need to be reliable or provide consistent performance with any standard. Aesthetics are more important in consumer audio than performance. Flavour to suit a variety of tastes and provide coloured but exciting presentations is more important than consistency. Some luxury consumer gear can be astronomically expensive compared to pro gear (often because of aesthetics and “luxury” branding of high end models)

Both camps have fantastic gear and awful gear. There is no monopoly on good or bad sounding gear.

In general pro gear will be expected to perform more accurately over a much greater dynamic range (low to very loud volumes) and pro gear in professional facilities is often directly compared to real live music. Consumer gear is rarely compared to live music and tends to be judged emotionally on things like “musicality”.
@shadorne Great points! Live recording is always going to remain a good point of  reference for playback.
 
I imagine Film and TV studios would place a  high priority on performance and reliability simply because of the huge recording and production costs. Time is big money indeed, and unreliable products get very short shrift.

It's saying something that in 2019 the BBC developed loudspeaker designs are going from strength to strength. Not only Harbeth and Spendor, but also PMC have their roots in the BBC R&D dept.

Another British company ATC seems to straddle both worlds with ease. Almost every review hints of their speakers perhaps being too honest. Too honest for what? Bad production values? Are domestic loudspeakers supposed to hide recording faults?

Wouldn't we rather have the unvarnished truth? 


Pro gear is used to record music.  If you thank that the pros are making good sounding recordings, go with the pro stuff.  If you think recordings need a little help to sound good, check out audiophile gear.
@tomcy6 No I don’t believe recording standards are very high. In fact it’s pretty obvious that most of the industry has very little regard for the concerns of audiophiles. We’re just far too small a group for them to take us seriously. The Steve Hoffman's and Barry Diament's are few and far between in the recording world unfortunately.

Your idea of ’helping’ recordings sounds good, say if you want to add a little warmth and bass via your setup, it might help thin sounding recordings and vice versa. Perhaps all amps should have tone controls.

@tomcy6 No I don’t believe recording standards are very high. In fact it’s pretty obvious that most of the industry has very little regard for the concerns of audiophiles. We’re just far too small a group for them to take us seriously. The Steve Hoffman's and Barry Diament's are few and far between in the recording world 


Unfortunately, you are correct. Outside of classical, some jazz and a few mainstream artists, general, mainstream new music recordings have not been great for many years. Thus audiophiles latching on to recordings of years past.




@cd318
I imagine Film and TV studios would place a high priority on performance and reliability simply because of the huge recording and production costs. Time is big money indeed, and unreliable products get very short shrift


Sadly this idea of a high priority on performance vis a vis recording is not usually the case. Most sound stages are awful and the ones which have some dedicated acoustic treatment are, with some very rare exceptions, mediocre at best. And because most film people have a marked predisposition toward the visual the sound departments generally get very short shrift. In fact in order of importance they most often sit somewhere between craft services and the janitorial staff .

And in situations where usable sound cannot be gotten off the floor, which is often the case given the sad state of sound stages, looping is used to fix it after the fact. Thus looping is unfortunately a much overused bandage that in almost all cases does not do the in frame performances any favours, in fact quite the opposite. And btw most editing suites have acoustics that are worse than the average living room.
@cd318

Funny you would bring up Barry Diament. Remember not too long ago when Mr Diament made an appearance on another audiophile forum. After some extended attempts at trying to speak truth to bs on several topics he was quite familiar with, including recording and acoustics, he was basically chased off the forum by the usual mob of no-nothings and haters because he was critical of some long held dogmas ( and an industry insider, then a forum favourite, who was fluffing the followers of said dogmas to solicit business for his dogma friendly products ).

Which was really too bad because Mr Diament would have been an amazing source of information on a number of topics important to the audiophile community.
@taras22 , that is a shame to hear about film sound bring treated so badly. I imagined after all the efforts of Orson Welles, the great musical scores down the ages, and more recently George Lucas's weight behind THX that the industry would finally realise it's importance. Hmm, maybe they have the same attitude towards the consumers as the recording industry does.  

As for Barry Diament, it's unfortunate that someone so polite with so well thought and reasoned opinions can be deemed to be so threatening by so many people. 

It would be great to hear him contribute here. We should all stand to be corrected if necessary, shouldn't we?


Some movie directors pay more attention to sound than others. For example, Coen Bros., Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Ridley Scott.
As the years have rolled by I increasingly find myself asking whether by reading domestic audio magazines and the like, I was on the wrong road all along.

cd318, IMHO, you have not been on the wrong road all along. The philosophy behind audiophile gear is that you judge gear by how it sounds, not by how much abuse it can take or by how a few measurements can tell you that it sounds as good as everything else available.

Many tube amps have high distortion specs, yet many people love the sound of tubes. Audiophile gear is available for every taste, from the often cited "ruthlessly revealing" to the warm, euphonic, romantic sound. Which is right is up to each individual, and to me that’s a good thing.

Sure there’s snake oil and outrageously priced audiophile gear, but I’m glad that I have access to gear made by very highly talented and knowledgeable designers who measure AND listen to gear before they offer it for sale.

That it looks nice, or at least tries to, is a plus too. If you keep your gear in a closet, that doesn’t matter, but if it rests in plain view in the living room you share with your wife, appearance can be very important.

So, don’t fear the scorn of the pros or audiophiles. Find the gear that sounds right to you and enjoy it.
The Movie "Barry Lyndon" was haunting from beginning to end because all
the music, of which there was plenty, was composed by one Franz Schubert .
@geoffkait 

And you can add Terry Gilliam to the list as well.
Schubert, you’re absolutely right, the musical score made Barry Lyndon. Even though it was classical music. 😛
What's wrong with classical music?
@ks2, you're new here. Geoffkait delights in taunting others.
Try getting a sensa humor sometime, guys.
I think it's also fair to say that there is an entirely different expectation from professional and domestic audio. One is a tool for work and the other for hopefully, a route to pleasure.

Professional audio gear is there primarily to serve a purpose ie help the technicians and engineers to get a job done and is judged by reputation and performance specs. Design and ergonomics must follow function.

Audiophile gear is sold on cosmetics and styling first. Performance specs and reliability appear to be an afterthought or even unimportant in many reviews!

Snake oil does exist in both camps but I can't imagine many engineers worrying too much about cable directionality, or sound quality differences amongst digital hardware - it either works or it doesn't. Domestic audio has always been littered with surplus 'eye candy' junk such as glitzy connectors or ephemera such as bi-wiring, spikes, or Dolby B whilst useful features such as tone controls or a mono switch are often omitted altogether!

The world of domestic audiophilia can easily look like a dangerously expensive place infested with snake oil sellers where the promise of audio satisfaction is forever kept tantalizingly just beyond reach.

For the uninitiated, a safer course to  follow might be to look at those manufacturers who have some association in both camps (ATC, Audio Technica, B&W, Beyerdynamic, Focal, Harbeth, Harman Kardon, JBL, KEF, Kerr Acoustic, PMC, Sennheiser, Sony, Tannoy, Technics etc) and ask yourself just what the differences between their offered product lines might be.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_audio

One of the audio greats of our time sharing some of his immense knowledge.

Floyd Toole on Sound Reproduction - art and science / opinions and facts

https://youtu.be/zrpUDuUtxPM
For all the "pro" and "science" that goes into it, why doesn’t a much larger percentage of recorded media sound awesome? There are those who do outstanding jobs and could justifiably be called experts and I applaud them.

But it’s obvious being a "pro" doesn’t mean you all have the answers, I don’t care what equipment they use or what their opinions are. My proof is the huge amount of average or below sound quality of so many recordings. We shouldn’t forget that "pro" can mean excellent, average or even below average so to hold up the whole group as some kind of audio exemplar is pure hubris IMO.
cd318
Audiophile gear is sold on cosmetics and styling first. Performance specs and reliability appear to be an afterthought or even unimportant in many reviews!

>>>>Gosh! I did not know that.…😳

"Audiophile gear is sold on cosmetics and styling first." In many cases this may be true but as a general statement covering a very large group of products I believe it’s an exaggeration. Plus it begs the definition of the term "audiophile gear".

I keep gear for a long time and have had very minimal problems with any of it so I take issue with that part of the statement as well.
Sometimes I would say these forums tends to be a little unfair to the recordings made today. There are plenty of good examples from the past to find, but the general quality today is so much better it's no contest. Lot's of good work done in the studios. Listen to Gregory Porter and compare that to some Sinatra recording....I still have to find an interesting Sinatra other than At the Sands (not perfect in any way - but very "live"). Today technical possibilities also gives new and "small" artists the opportunity to quality recordings. What's unfortunately hard to find is high quality bluray concert recordings. Not sure I can count to more than 20. 
@gosta yes, the technology is definitely better, (give or take the old valve driven mixing desks) but I fear much of the old snobbish attitude to anything other than Classical or Jazz remains.

Pop recordings and authenticity parted ways many decades ago. Most are created to sell. No more no less. And they do.