Fess up, John. You're really Art Dudley, aren't you?
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I am borderline shocked that you'd think there is anyone left on this site who is not thoroughly aware of your position with respect to this subject, John. :-)
Now, don't get me wrong. I am all for DIY stuff (I have a few myself) and am all for a bargain. I will take equal performace for a dime instead of a dollar most any day.
Certainly there are high-end components with high-end prices that talk a better talk than the walk they walk. On the other hand, casting a net over most of the lot is also a disservice. Just as it is wrong to say that all (or even most) low or moderately priced equipment is junk, so is it wrong to say that all (or even most) equipment which most of us cannot afford is over priced or "sterile". As much as I would hate to have someone look down their collective snout at me for having a 70's Sony tuner which performs as well as some much higher priced tuners, so do I hate the inference that I was stupid or foolish to lay out a grand-and-a-half for my Spacedeck instead of cobbling together, say, an old Lenco.
The idea that most lower end equipment provides better musicality than high end stuff is clearly a matter of debate - and based on VERY SUBJECTIVE impressions, to boot. While I have not owned equipment that is in the price stratosphere as many on this site, I have owned a TON of stuff ranging from a low-budget Rotel amp to a $2.7K McCormack amp. I can't share your impression that the McCormack could take lessons from the Rotel. :-)
If folks want to spend as I have or thousands more, who cares? As long as THEY are happy, big deal. It is their money. Doubt you'll sway many on this site who don't already share your views, anyway. :-)
Drubin, I have to admit that I am an admirer of Art Dudley! He definitely had a point, and he was entertaining and fun. I will mourn Listener magazine to the end of time, but thank God Art's still writing!
4yanx, this is a "discussion forum" and what's the point if most or nearly all of the time answers given involve that tired old horse spend more money, get on the "inevitable upgrade path" blah blah blah? Or if we avoid discussions? It's not all meant to be simple answers to simple questions, is it? Galileo challenged the science of his time, and science advanced. Now I am not Galileo, but I can share in a bit of his spirit. Can't we be more creative, try different technologies, different angles? Timing is information which is actually more important to the music than all of the rest of the audiophile goodies combined: check sheet music, the music lies in the beats between the notes, tempos, pauses... It seems to me, as it has to many audio reviewers, that a lot of equipment is being designed by businessmen who see an opportunity, but either have no love of music, or don't understand it. There's no substitute for talent, an engineering degree is not enough. I'm serious when I write that many audio designers need to look at the issue of timing, and sincere in wanting to advance the art. Your input is part of a discussion. While I seem to be the most vocal one carrying this particular torch on this site, many here agree with me, as you noted. I am trying to draw them out, as they seem to be relegated to the sidelines. By the way, your Spadedeck story explains a lot. I never named any particular 'tables, I made an effort to avoid the issue of idler-wheel drive vs belt-drive, I invited those with money in their decks to join in. I'm also putting my money where my mouth is. If I'm full of crap, then those who build these Lencos for $200 plus a Rega arm will let you all know. I throw down the gauntlet. Remember the Dynaco amps, or the LS3/5A kits (still one of the best speakers ever made)? I simply tried to inject a little bit of fun back into this hobby, as well as restore a measure of sanity: $2500 cartridges called "good for the money" or "a bargain" indeed! I anticipated your type when I wrote "Now there are those who have spent lots of dosh on their tables, and those who plan on spending lots of dosh on their 'tables, who will tell you this project is no good, that the Lencos are no good, that idler wheel-drives are no good, etc. Don't believe them. I will not make a dime doing this for you, which will actually cost me some money and time and effort. I'm doing this to restore some measure of fun to the hobby, as well as further the art of music reproduction. Is spending $5000 fun? No. Conversely, there are those again with expensive set-ups who will want to join in in a spirit of fun and experimentation, the heart of this hobby of ours, and they are welcome, and I hope to get some input from these as well as everyone involved." Strangely enough, those who've signed up or are planning on signing up have expensive systems, with expensive analogue rigs. Consider this. I am on record praising the AR 'tables (which are timing champions), I have given advice to the effect of buying Sotas, and have been on record writing to someone who loves Thorens to keep buying Thorens. I keep an open mind, and don't believe detail is everything, which is why I love my modded AR-XA as well. For those who don't want to go to the trouble of building a great big marbled deck, I suggest the AR-XA, a belt-driven 'table which shines when you mount a better arm on it. Simply remove the tonearm, take a hacksaw and cut off the cast arm-bearing from the subchassis, stick a stone bit in a drill into the remaining hole and grind away until you can fit a Rega arm in the hole. Cut an armboard (you will have to take a saw and cut a hole in the upper metal plate where the arm emerges) from hardwood (not oak) or acrylic or Corian, and mount Rega. Presto, killer belt-driven 'table, killer timing, excellent isolation. No prejudice here.
My theory on why some high-end equipment doesn't "get the music right" has nothing to do with the equipment itself, but where that equipment is located.
Rarely have I seen high-end equipment located in an environment that is truely comfortable. I mean, high-end equipment is expensive, and is usually arranged to be shown off. Surrounded by equally exquisite furniture. Set up for a "sweet spot". Perfect. Stuffy. Boring.
But take my friend "Jeff". Jeff is still using the same Technics turntable, Boston Acoustic speakers, and Onkyo receiver that I helped him pick out in High School ('87 I believe). His system is set up in the corner of his unfinished basement. His speakers are asymetrically arranged up on cinder blocks (there is no "sweet spot"). His speaker cable is about the thickness of dental floss. He's got a couple of thrift store chairs set up in no particularly way. I think there is a lamp, but I know there is always incense burning and a longneck Budweiser being offered. Matter of fact, his foam baffles are cracking on his speakers. But...
I can listen to music on his system for hours without wondering if the soundstage is too forward, if the amp is tranparent enough, or if he would be better served by a seperate DAC and transport rather than the $90 Sony CD player he's using.
The only thing that goes through my mind are things like, "Damn...that Neil Young LP is amazing!!!" and "You're right...they do sound influenced by the Velvet Underground."
Maybe we need to listen to more music while lying on the floor, studying the LP cover like we used to "back in the day." Grab some cinder blocks. Time to run down to the 7-11 to grab a 6-er of Bud.
Tried to be somewhat light-spirited and jestful while still making what I consider a salient point and tried to indicate so by placing several :-)s but youve obviously taken things very personally given your personally pointed response. As such, I will say:
1) I'll wager you've never heard a Spacedeck. Clearly you haven't based on your discussion of "timing" which the 'Nots do exceedingly well (try timing one), while I have heard more than one Lenco.
2) You've made a point to avoid the belt-drive vs. idler wheel-drive debate? Please.
3) When you say the following "I anticipated your type when I wrote ..", you really say it all and expose yourself fully.
My type? - you don't have a clue what my "type" is, especially based on the little I've written here regarding stuff I've built (successes and failures). I may well have begun in this hobby before you were a glimmer and may well have put together more lower priced table and arm combos in my day than you can imagine. But, you'll never truly find out since youve already determined "my type". If you ever saw the stuff in my music room you'd quickly realize just how off-base you are. Is my Spacedeck, end all? Certainly not. Could its performance be approached by something cheaper? Always the possibility. OTOH, it gives me the performance I love at a price I think is reasonable and it doesnt force me back to my days of fiddle farting around, which I dont have the desire to do anymore. Having done so myself I would never discount anyone's ambition to do such, so please spare me your stifling creativity or thwarting discussion theory. While I encourage those with the inclination to tinker to go for it, I take umbrage at being denigrated for not doing so.
Have fun with your Lenco projects. I truly hope that these things work out for you and for others and that you will gain immense pleasure in listening to the music and gaining an added satisfaction of having built something yourself (perhaps many for the first time). In the end, however, it is ALL about the satisfaction derived - whether you've spent $50 or $5000. If you can get your kicks having spent less, fine, feel free to wear a smug smile, just dont expect everyone to notice. End-o-rant! ;-)
"Why do you think it is that you have that experience at Jeff's? And do you ever have it at your place?"
Great follow-up questions.
1) Part of the reason I enjoy an environment like that is because of the company I keep while listening to music in that environment. I like listening to music with someone who is passionate about music. I like to be given a tour of their music collection - allowing them to share music that they are passionate about, and pointing out what makes them passionate about that particular music. Some of my favorite LPs were introduced to me this way.
Also, I have no obligations while listening to other's systems except be a polite and thankful guest (sometimes I'll bring something interesting musically to share, but most of the time I allow the host to DJ). The child running around isn't mine. The dishwasher isn't mine. That pile of clothes that needs to be put away isn't mine. This allows me to relax and bathe in the music. It's a nice escape.
2) When you host a party, you want everything to be perfect. Perfect food. Perfect drink. Great converation. Interesting guests. Etc. You worry about everyone else having a good time that you yourself do not have a good time. I think this may occur when listening to my system with others.
Also, sometimes when listening to my system, I tend to be overanalytical and overcritical of the system and production ofthe music, and not pay as much attention to the music itself. This is a bad habit that I picked up in college while working as a recording engineer. I focused on the mix and not the music (which is very unfortunate because I recorded some great performances from wonderful performers).
Now, would I trade my system for Jeff's? No way in hell. But my point is that the problem lies with me and not my system. Gimme another Bud...that'll fix it all.
Now I am throwing out an idea to which I hoped for constructive brainstorming. Nrenter discussed the topic seriously, accepting it as an issue worth thinking about, that he had in fact noticed. What I'm talking about is real, not cooked up simply to upset people. Was he correct in his assessment? It boiled down to the social environment. But what if the explanation is simpler: what if his friend's system simply is better at timing, end of story? What if it is not his engineering training which makes his home system ocasionally less musically involving (being again a case of subjective/social environment in Nrenter's eyes), but that his system emphasizes the information at the expense of the musical message (please don't take offense, Nrenter, just possibilities)? Hasn't anyone ever tweaked their favourite piece only to reach a point where suddenly it seems to have lost the magic which prompted us to tweak, while giving us all that extra detail? I know it's happened to me. Many people have noticed as well that music is simply more fun in the car: no friends, no beer here! Whatever the explanation, Nrenter recognized the phenomenon I'm talking about. Drubin highlighted the existence of a writer and a magazine which were in fact devoted to the subject I'm talking about: a magazine which blamed "bad" equipment for the problem. What if it's not bad equipment but, say, synergy problems? If it's simply an issue of capacitance, for instance, wouldn't it be good to know this: that improper design with respect to capacitance is the culprit in systems which time badly? This is what I mean when I say that high-end manufacturers (not all, as I clearly wrote , but some) could learn from listening to lower-end equipment.
Across the pond an entire country/audio community (the British) have been saying since I got into the game in the early '80s that large power supplies damage the timing, or Prat. Now simpy dubbing it "Prat" simply makes the idea "cute" and makes it easy for us to dismiss it as unimportant - this is a form of rhetoric designed to steer us away from this aspect, not focus out attention on it. But I believe, Art Dudley believes, all those Naim and Exposure followers believe, Linnies, horn-speaker fans, to name but a few, that timing is the supreme issue. Anyone who plays an instrument knows that this is the supreme issue, apart from the notes themselves. Perhaps the British were right. Why is it that low-powered tube amps are now sweeping the country? I know that a friend of mine recently tried one of these, and the timing in his expensive sytem leaped forward, and now we sit with bated breath in awe before the musical performances in his basement. His system is high-end, extremely detailed, dynamic and so forth, but the magic is back. This shows that high-end systems can have the magic, but the fact is many simply fail, as his did before the low-powered amp, while we listened for details, playing the same old audiophile records again and again.
Right now audio magazines are always going on about information retrieval of some sort. The more information an item extracts, the better it is (with of course some exceptions). And of course this is related to money. Frankly this approach bores me: there is no genius in building larger and larger power supplies, in building heavier and heavier speaker cabinets, and in charging more and more money to do this. Will a thousand-pound record-player necessarily sound better than a 20 pound record-player, and is this an interesting or ingenious solution? Not at a $20,000 premium. To provide an example of an alternative: the Well Tempered 'table is ingenious, and William Firebaugh deserves all the recognition he gets. Of course if you keep throwing money at a problem - keep thickening the baffle, build exotic cabinets and so on - the information retrieval will improve, but this is an engineering approach to a musical problem. It doesn't work, the problem is not that simple. Thus we are trained to think in this way. But if all audio magazines only considered timing issues, (relegating information - small details - to the background Prat currently occupies) I submit we would now all be aiming for timing in our equipment. As Nrenter suggested, it's in our heads. Since we don't place Prat at the fore-front, we don't think about it, and since we don't think about it, we don't understand why our expensive equipment isn't enthralling (impressive maybe, but not enthralling), and we fiddle endlessly with cabling and so on instead of being entranced as we had had hoped when we spent the money. I know my system is a success when a non-audiophile asks me to play more music. And I know others of you think the same way, though you're keeping silent. I think it's time we think about it. It's been said often enough that the high-end needs an overhaul, that it's on its last legs, ect. Is it too much to ask that there's a good chance that the next multi-grand item I buy is enthralling? Of course our experience and wisdom comes into it, but there is tremendous peer pressure (audio magazines, price, etc.) to go against our instincts and buy that "ultimate" piece. I'm not against the high-end, I'm against unimaginative approaches, and high-end items which are a fraud. Remember, this is a discussion forum. Plato's works were the result of such forums, science advanced because of such discussions (Galileo corresponded with various other famed astronomers to advance science). While we are not all Socrateses (!) or Platos or Galileos, maybe someone reading this forum is, and he designs audio equipment. Any other Nrenters out there want to make a go?
If I listen to a state of the art system and my toe doesn't start tapping and my knee beebopping, I know something is wrong. This was a common occurance in years past at high end showrooms. Today, I experience this less and less. Of course, it is about PRAT or whatever you want to call it.
When I must put on my critical listening ears for setting up a new piece or for evaluation sessions I'm not enjoying myself. I find concentrating too much on all the details takes me away from the music. Sometimes though, I find I can't concentrate on the details and get swept away with the music. That's when the magic is happening. It happens more frequently these day than in days past. So, I'm both agreeing and disagreeing with you. I believe that the potential to put together a SOTA system that retains the basic attributes you alude to is higher today than at any time before.
This thread hasn't gotten into the good and the bad of the high end component world. I'll offer some recommendations for gear that is world class and keeps the soul of the music intact. I don't know for sure but I think these pieces could be inserted in nearly any system and retain these characteristics. They are: Berning amps, Supratek preamps and Ridge Street cabling.
I'd like to thank Vetterone for introducing me to these lines. The Supratek is simply to die for. Biggest bang for the buck piece I've listened to in over 35 years in this hobby.
Lugnut, tell me more about the Supratek, price and so forth and sites where I might read a review. I both agree and disagree with you as well, as the experience of walking into a high-end shop and being forced to sit down and enjoy the music is as elusive as ever, at least in my experience. Of course, it does happen, as it did recently when an ASL Tulip amplifier was driving a pair of Oskar Heil air-motion loudspeakers, which simply swept me away. To get back to the fun aspect, I'm looking forward to trying out the Bottlehead preamp. Maybe you're right after all, and things are getting better. But I still think that cheaper items can teach us something, and certainly the automatic quality-connected-to-money thing is still very prevalent, if only in the form of the constant "trickle-down" articles out there, about pieces of equipment which on audition simply doesn't get the Prat. So what exactly is trickling down? I've suggested it before and I will suggest it again: I'm beginning to suspect that "neutrality" is in fact in many cases a colouration in disguise, a stripping of the music (but not always!) from the information. And don't forget the Supratek info! Now we're getting somewhere.
Perhaps "simpler" really can be "better" and the overcomplication of some expensive items can introduce more problems than it solves.
Many older portables and car systems used single-driver speaker systems with no crossovers. Maybe that had something to do with it. We can see that multi-way speaker systems may extend the frequency range and some IM distortion profiles, but do they sound as coherent as single-driver systems? I think not, in many cases.
Many audiophiles have been touting "short signal path" for years, but many others ignore the idea. Maybe that has something to do with it. Hi-tech solid state amps with high power can certainly play loud and deliver deep bass slam. But do they sound like the simple tube SET designs, which are known for their "magic"? In many cases, they do not.
As far as idler-wheel technology is concerned, if you like it then use it. I feel that the vibration path from the motor to the platter is too direct, and rumble(and other vibration nasties) can become problematic. This is the main reason that it is no longer used on modern hi-end tables. Perhaps if you listened to some of the better belt-drive turntables, you'd find that belt drive can be just fine for timing(at least Linn thought so), while achieving a lower level of rumble and better detail retrieval.
I have always been a proponent of good value for dollar on this website, and laud any movement by members in that direction. However, it cannot be construed that there is no advantage in buying some expensive items. There are some very expensive audio items that will outperform any lower priced over-achiever. And if the buyer percieves that performance level to be what he wants, then he is quite right to purchase it for his system.
For my own system, I have found that "upper middle" level components will generally satisfy my needs, with a healthy dose of DIY sprinkled in to ease the budget.
Twl deserves a big thanks for his post. In part, his references to his Berning amps (Micro ZTOL & Holy Grail) were influential in Vetterone's purchase of the ZH270's. He also speaks wisely about crossover free drivers.
Regarding the Supratek line of preamps there is a thread here at Audiogon about "The best preamplifier deal of the century" or something similar. It has over 600 posts. A Syrah, which has a phono stage that will handle ANY cartridge, runs about $2600 plus shipping from Austrailia. This price includes a remote. Maybe someone would be kind enough to post the link to this thread. The website can be found at www.supratek.biz.
I really enjoy my own system because it excells at providing enjoyment with the vast majority of my software. I don't suffer from the "can't stand the recording quality of that LP" syndrome. By inserting the Supratek preamp and the Ridge Street cables into my system all the previous attributes were retained BUT the realism (insert all the audiophile language you want) took a quantum leap beyond anything I could have imagined.
In fairness I must say that there are probably a handful of cable manufacturers of the caliber of Ridge Street, and together these folks may be responsible for much of the improvement I'm hearing in general. I've never been one to praise high priced interconnects until this revelation. It's real and hopefully will trickle down to the average DIYer someday.
Some of the benefits of high priced stuff can be enjoyed by a handy DIYer. Sistrum platforms are wonderful pieces. Making your own, well designed racks and incorporating their Audio Points and Micro Bearing material is a logical route for the frugal minded audiophile to take. Some discussion regarding design of home made pieces that would reap the rewards of using the points and bearing material would be appropriate. Perhaps Twl would provide a primer for such a project.
Anyone have any experience with Transcendent Sound OTL amp kits? These seem to be worthy of consideration and fall within my humble finances.
Twl, good to hear from you again! If you check my original statement, I didn't say all high-end sucks, giving as example the C-J stuff. So yeah, buying an expensive component can pay off, but expense is not an indicator of quality: for that, talent is needed. I am saying that we are often misguided (meaning guided by others to bad decisions: press, manufacturers, peers), and that we should take a closer look at why cheaper equipment is so often more musical. Your thoughts on simpler-is-better are spot on, and we should look closer at this. As to the idler wheel thing, if you check my other thread you will see that I own some "high-end" decks, which is why the idler-wheel drives blew my mind in the first place, as I was shocked to hear an old abandoned technology so easily blow my high-end 'tables (I own a Maplenoll and an Audiomeca, both of which easily blow the Linn in terms of information, which I hasten to add is not everything: I love the sound of classic three-point suspension designs). This discovery was a complete accident, which was heard by a certain millionaire I knew in Europe, who funded my investigations into this with the aim of producing a marketable design: the result being the Lencco/Rega pairing and chassis. But the timing was bad, as at that time everyone was abandoning vinyl (with Shure terminating prodcution and so on) and idler-wheel technology very expensive to implement. The rumble issue, as I've pointed out, is due to poor implementation: just as we now know that a resonant box is a no-no in belt-drive designs, leading to all the exposed subchassis designs, solid plinths and so on here - so this applies doubly to idler-wheel designs, due to the more powerful motors. The fix is cheap and easy: a heavy, solid plinth instead of a cheap resonant one to sink the vibrations. This works very well, even if it seems primitive. The rumble issue is old propaganda/dogma from the days that belt-drives were touted as the new great improvement, which reminds me of the early days when solid-state first appeared, and tubes were dismissed as inferior. Again I point to the revered Sugano, who we must assume had good ears and a revealing system. Your comments are a breath of fresh air, as is your attitude! And I share in your "upper middle level" philosophy, which I follow myself, as I don't like to be distracted by too much information (for instance, I don't want to hear that one of my favourite pieces of music sounds like crap, preferring equipment that strikes a balance in which I can hear the information, which, being an audiophile I love, but which makes all my recordings enjoyable).
Well, John, I have alot of similar feelings with respect to the audio environment, and the confusion that is rampant in the industry. I am hoping that this will settle out, and things will get back to solid thinking that used to be the norm in audio of the past.
Regarding the idler wheel issue again, it is entirely possible that a good implementation of idler wheel technology could yield an enjoyable turntable at a budget. Many times, it is the implementation that makes the difference between designs. Ultimately, the proof is in the listening, and I also prefer musicality(among other things) in my system over an analytical and dry presentation. As long as my listening needs are met, I am not picky about which technology is used to meet them. However, I am technically savvy, and I know which technologies are more likely to be able to meet my listening needs, so I have some certain prejudices, as most of us would. But, an open mind is always an asset, and we should be open to new ideas and concepts that may benefit us.
Keep up the good work.
My amps have very large power supplies and my speakers are also very large with complex crossovers. Maybe I could have achieved a great result with less, but my listening room is large and I enjoy the stereo even while standing 40 feet away in the kitchen. Moreover, my audiophile and, especially, my non-audiophile friends love to listen to the music. Even people who don't like to listen to music enjoy the music. Most importantly, my wife and I love the music. It really does sound like the singer is right there. Oh, and the sweet spot -- glorious!
My point: It's all in the design and in your personal tastes. Maybe my system shouldn't sound good, but it does. Someone must have compensated well. Go figure!
Johnnantais, thanks for the post. It's always good to question the status quo. It's always good to remind people to focus on the guts of the music and how it hits you in the guts.
Johnnantais, I'm curious about your feelings about time. Other than the Quads I know of no time coherent British loudspeakers. Aside from the new digital stuff (which I haven't enough experience with to comment on), the "fastest" electronics I've heard are the Spectral products. Interesting that both the digital and Spectral stuff seems to be lighter and smaller. You mention the C-J gear as an example (BTW that's what I'm currently using)of your position, yet I don't think many would say that their appeal is about "time-ing" or speed. Is your issue of time about speed and/or tempo. Speed may be good in that things may start and stop as they are intended or bad for not. Pace or tempo can be related to the above and/or be a byproduct of proper or even improper (unnatural, over emphasis) dynamics both micro and macro. Your implication that the use of mass may be unimaginative, is intersting. While there are no free rides and mass unto itself may bring extra materials, cost, shipping, storage both of the product itself and of unwanted energy, it still may be the best solution at present for the problem at hand. I don't think too much information is the problem with all gear all the time. I think having misinformation is the problem more often that not. I can't help but feel that you have been to narrow in your critisim of the current state of High Fidelity. The issues are much broader.
Ozfly, no disrespect intended for equipment such as yours.
Quite often, it is important to satisfy many requirements such as the ones you mention, and the choices I made do not qualify in many other applications and environments. In fact, my choices would be very poor where maximum SPL and deep bass response were the most important factors.
So please accept my humble apologies if there was any offense taken. It was just my awkward way of trying to make a point about simple sometimes being better.
To a large extent it's all a matter of design trade-offs and personal preferences. Few if any individual audio products or systems truly excel at all areas of audio reproduction and we as listeners are attracted to those products that match our personal tastes. Some value coherence, others harmonic integrity or PRaT, dynamic capabilities, etc. I don't know of any system of thought that places any of these factors as primary to another. It all comes down to personal preferences.
As an example, in many ways the Quad 63/988 is a "perfect" speaker, yet it's not the universal choice of audiophiles. It's perfectly reasonable for someone to desire greater dynamic capabilities or deeper bass from their systems.
Can simple designs outperform relatively complex designs. Of course! But at the same time there are numerous complex designs that can outperform their relatively simple design counterparts. Somewhat surprisingly many of the simplest designs (i.e., Audio Note or Lamm) are quite expensive products. High performance, simple designs seem to require very high quality, high cost parts. Forgive me for not even knowing whom I'm misquoting, but things should be kept as simple as possible, but not simpler than necessary.
No offense taken Twl. I am a great admirer of you and your system. Simple is often good; complex can also be good if done right. I was simply taking up the banner for two things: 1) It is the music that counts (that's the whole gist of this thread and I was simply adding my voice) and 2) Many approaches can work if executed correctly.
Please accept my apologies if it appeared I took umbrage. My comments were aimed to correct a general school of thought (i.e., large power supplies are not good) and were certainly not meant to cause you regret or concern. On with the music, however one enjoys it! ;-)
Continuing with Nrenter's explanation, many systems we hear are either in showrooms or set up in the home as though they were showrooms. To my ears, this often provides a more sterile, less intimate sound as the rooms have an unnatural feel, damped and empty. It provides a good environment to listen to the detail generated by the equipment but not necessarily to connect with the music.
The type of music also determines our need for detail in the presentation. When I listen to rock I want to literally feel the music and whether I hear every note by every instrument is inconsequential. When I listen to classical, I need the details, the air, but not the bang.
Our expectations are always at play when we listen to music. In the car or a friend's basement we are not concerned with the presentation, just the music. When we see and hear a high end system we expect to see and hear a high end system. Sometimes that gets in the way of hearing the music.
Unsound and Drubin, actually Drubin first, I think you're on the right track: speed and timing are two different things. For instance, I hear more correct timing - to my subjective ears, but other around me have noticed it - from tube amps, which generally sound "slower" than solid state amps. Emphasis on leading edge dynamics is not the spaces between the notes, or the lingerings or contrasting stacatto of certain notes or phrases. Rhythm is a primitive things which many solid state amps get right, the basic bass line timing: what I'm talking about in timing is a more subtle thing, difficult to describe, which actually came up in a discussion of the Shure V15 cartridge. If you permit me, I'll quote from this, as it took some time to put my finger on it: "We tend to think only in terms of detail, and though the Shure is respectable here, many beat it. But the rhythmic interactions between the different components of a piece of music - right down to the timing of the rising intensities or softenings of a singer in counterpoint to other instruments - is simply more clearly discernible especially on a Shure, and on MMs in general." Now let's lay aside the whole MMs vs MCs thing. Still hard to get a bead on what I'm talking about. Part of my point is that the language the audio press uses becomes our reference point, and we end up unable to hear anything else, because we do not have a name for it. It's like learning to hear imaging, which we don't hear until someone points it out and uses te word "imaging." This is a subtle form of mind control which "trains" us to go for predictable and easily identifiable things like detail and dynamics, thus allowing (some) high-end manufacturers to start designing something marketable. Pieces that emphasize leading edge information counterfeit true timing, which can be better heard through some slower-spunding components. We recognize this quality, I think, when we say some component "just sounds right." If we had the right language (a change, or a shift in emphasis in point of view), then this quality would be recognized as fundamental to the music: we can live without soundstaging, or without bass, or without tremendous amounts of detail, but if we don't have this subtle timing thing I'm trying to describe, then we aren't really happy with our systems. It's this subtle interaction between instruments with respect to lags and starts which enthralls us: the rest just impresses us. This is beginning to sound like a Socratic Dialogue!
In the context of this thread, I have to describe an experience I just had at a high-end shop I just came from. I've already said that the experience of walking into such a shop and being drawn in by the music is extremely rare, and I just had such an experience. A pair of top-of-the-line Tetra speakers were playing at the back of this store, and the music emanating from them was wonderful and I was drawn like a bee to honey. Now on the racks behind the speakers was lots of impressive equipment - Copland amps, YBA and so on - and I asked the proprietor what was playing. And he pointed to...a Rotel integrated RA-02 and matching CD player! I was sorely tempted to just buy them and simply bow out of the game altogether...I still am, hmmmm...just couldn't get over it. Amusing anyway, as I fell for the old "it sounds good it must be something expensive" thing myself. Hoist by my own petard!
A FEW CORRECTIONS TO "THEORY".
The price paid for home audio system not neccessarily have to be expencive but the purposes may be different for different rooms.
Amp and speakers are two the most expencive components that contain the largest design effort along with expencive row materials.
To make and design a full range 400W/ch power amplifier is much more difficult than 4W/ch SET that can't be full range by default.
A high gain adjustable phono-stage is also effort-based component.
For larger rooms you need larger speakers or at least with larger power handling and larger power amplifier to drive them. High-powered amps wether tube or SS need expencive power-supply parts and quite an amount of time to optimize performance.
The price of preamplifier less affects system performance since there is realy no need for expencive parts for power supply, no need as obvious for expencive output devices. Another words the preamp is cheap compared to amp or speakers in general since row parts don't cost too much.
CD players especially in our digital 21st century are getting better and cheaper. A cheap $50 DVD player will sound fantastic compared to the 15 year old vintage one that probably worthed near $400 back then.
Yes, the system could be expencive especially for large rooms where you need larger power and stronger speakers.
I see now that I didn't explain myself clearly enough through this thread, and got carried away myself, though there were interesting and informative results! Some say I am condemning the high-end in its entirety, some associate the statements with a condemnation of complex designs...the focus is too much on the equipment and not enough on the idea. So that people know where I'm coming from, I will say that I am a media analyst, meaning that I examine and analyse how the press uses various rhetorical tricks (playing with the facts) to manipulate public opinion. This includes the audio press. So I felt that the constant "trickle down" the audio press uses encourages us to automatically assume that the high-end is superior, and that we should thus always assume that spending more will gain us more. While this is true in some cases, it is not true in all. Those with experience have all bought equipment which, while more "informative", left us ultimately dissatisfied. The audio press is definitely not objective in this, because if they did not laud the new cost-no-object designs and prod us into constantly spending, then they would have no future. This, again, is not to say that these pieces do not deserve the accolades, but does point to a conflict of interest...we must keep our eyes open and question. If a basically unmusical piece's design is incorporated at a lower price level, then what is the result? Does a purely engineering solution (say more mass which means more expense) always lead to an improvement? Do the men who design these expensive pieces actually have talent with respect to musical as opposed to information issues? And finally, is it always true that the cheaper components cannot teach designers of expensive equipment a thing or two? If cheaper equipment often sounds more musical, then I believe a good designer should stop and say "hmmm...why?" So to the constant and uniform "trickle down" which is universal rhetoric in the audio press, I say "damn it; trickle up!" Quite simply, question and oppose, the key to advancement in any science or art, audio being both.
I went to the movies last night. Typical suburban multiplex with Dolby Digital sound. I found the music in the movie (Monster) and even in the previews (a new Bertolucci film with a lot of great 60's music), which were not in surround, to sound very good in a musically satisfying way. No treble to speak of (which may be why it sounded good), but it had a very smooth sound and the stage was spread way out. Rock music sounds great that way, better than it does on my highly resolving, detailed, extended-range home system. It got me thinking.
I don't know what they put in these movie house systems, but I imagine it's largely junk, not only by the standards of the "high end" but by the standards of John's lower-end, simple, good boogie equipment. I mean, simple, direct signal paths? I doubt it!
I'm still working this around in my mind, because I have a point to make, I'm just not sure I know what it is yet. For one thing, while I agree that many of our ultra high end systems sometimes or often seem to miss the point in important musical respects, I'm unsure about the conclusions that John is suggesting with respect to simpler systems.
Drubin, do you think it might be the sheer presence of the music? A theater has many, many speakers in an acoustically satisfactory environment? Someone had earlier referenced car stereos as posessing the musicality/PRAT/timing (your choice of terms) discussed earlier. Bass is artificially high within a car just as it is in the theater (for different reasons). Plus, there are a lot of square inches of speaker per cubic foot of space in both many cars and most theaters. High ratios of speaker surface to listening space (all else equal) might result in something good. Just a thought. Haven't really explored it at all. What do y'all think?
Sometimes the expensive top gear can be too revealing and non forgiving of a lot of the less than perfectly recorded source material. I have leaned towards high end tube gear with Lps and a great cd player. Also the top gear can be sensitive to a good synergy with the associated gear. Agoners know that great involving sound does not have to mean wasting money. I have found that many brands like ARC, VTL, CJ offer magical sounding gear at fair price points all very well made. They can be a steel used ! The hardest part is finding the perfect speaker as they interact with everything , especially your room.
Of course synergy is crucial, good point Weiserb. As I pointed out in another thread, amount of information seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of music which survives. Our main aim should be musicality before information, but the upgrade path seems to emphasize information before musicality. This hobby is filled with pitfalls, and we forget in all the press hype that music and not information is the point. Both the press and high-end dealers seem to forget this, and in the process, lead us to think as they do. Interesting that all the companies you mention make tube equipment. I'm really beginning to like this thread! More please!
Its more in the recording process than in the "reproducing" process. The recording of the sounds and music is done and mixed "with the reproduction method" i.e. theatre in mind and therefore better tailored. Most theatres and their equipment are similar and therefore it is easier to mix in the recording for the results that you want.
If you could run the same mix at home on your system it might sound awfull. Many of our "high resolution" or neutral system just reflect poor recordings, not poor reproduction systems.