Random thoughts from a sort of, kind of audiophile
Random thoughts from a sort of, kind of audiophile.
I've been involved in this hobby off and on for over 55 years having started off building a monaural Heathkit amp and "sweet sixteen" speaker when I was in high school. Since then I've been through so many iterations and combinations of gear I probably could not list them all but, until recently, pursued mostly solid state upstream components and planar speakers. Now it's tubes and dynamic speakers that I prefer but have no arguments supporting either technology over the other for anyone but myself. For those who consider themselves audiophiles in the truest or most understood sense of the word, please dismiss what I'm saying here as ramblings of someone who is somewhat envious of those with superior abilities and the means to "perfect" their listening experience.
I know the words but don't have a well developed understanding of the audio enthusiast's vocabulary and I'm not convinced that everyone using some of these terms uses them with the same meaning either. I'm reluctant, therefor to use them myself. Those that I do use, like timbre, graininess, muddy, thin, tight, etc probably mean pretty much the same to most in the hobby.
From what I've read here on Audiogon, there seems only a few of us that have the luxury of a purpose built listening room so room balancing can be a real challenge. I didn't realize how important this was until I incorporated electronic measuring and setup equipment, especially when I was using large electrostatic speakers. Partly because of this, I suppose, is the reason I enjoy, almost to the point of preference, the nearfield setup in my garage as much as I do. Also, because much of my listening is to solo guitar, a wide soundstage presentation seems not only unnecessary but even unrealistic. I do enjoy good headphones but, again, the soundstage issue pops up; it sounds to me like the sound is coming from inside my head instead of from a guitarist sitting across the room in front of me.
My hearing is not as accurate or with the range of youth as many others' and I've been impressed/amazed at claims made by some regarding sound quality associated with differences between various components and setups. I'm sure, for example, that there is a measurable sonic difference between various comparably constructed interconnects and speaker cables but at what level are they actually discernible by the average listener? Is there anyone who can actually hear the difference between a one meter interconnect compared to one that is two meters long? I doubt it. What about elevating speaker cables? The advantage of elevating cables seems, no offense, bordering on fantasy, understanding of course, that those who use them are probably in a situation of having already maximized everything else in their setup.
What about power supply? Again, I cannot tell the difference between plugging into any old household outlet and one that is stabilized. I do have completely dedicated power circuitry with power management myself but mostly for a little added protection and because it conveniently acts as a large multiple outlet power strip.
I can't give a good reason for this post; it doesn't help anyone except, I suppose, to let those in the same place I am to realize that they're not alone with these same issues. I realize, also, that these comments may have more to do with my own listening shortcomings and not meant to be judgmental of those who are not so burdened.
My current main system consists of the following:
Source - Apple TV - CAL Sigma DAC - Peachtree pre - Cary Audio Rocket 88R - Reference 2 Serie MMC speakers. OR: Theta Basic CD transport - Theta Pro DAC - speakers as above......and it sounds really good.
Broadstone, I enjoyed, understood, and appreciated your post. I also switched to tube (SET 300B) amplification, although I hadn't owned any planar or electrostatic speakers. I did have to switch from low sensitivity speakers, to a bit higher sensitivity sensitivity speakers, though.
My hearing isn't what it used to be either, but my enjoyment of music is undiminished.
Well, for some the knife is sharp when it shaves easily, for others it is just the beginning of true sharpness. If the knife can take this kind of edge, of course. I have never experimented with one meter and two meter same model interconnects, but I am quite certain that there are people who can hear the difference with some or all brands and models. When I put one half inch Walker Audio resonance control disc on top of the tape deck, I clearly hear the improvement in clarity. Also, records treated with LAST record preservative sound slightly better, all of them. Are those two examples of mine significant? It depends, but the difference is small. As for difference in hearing, I noticed many times on this forum that there are a lot of arguments coming from people who cannot hear well, whether they know it or not. I have met people with better hearing than mine, I had no reason not to believe them, most of them were musicians. Oh yes, elevated speaker cables. Sometimes there is a slight difference that I can hear, sometimes not.
I suspect many here are 50 or older in which case yeah we get an unfair advantage not having to worry about the highest frequencies we likely could hear when younger. The ones where little music occurs and noise and distortion of various kinds tend to run rampant. I have no doubt about this.
When I was 20 I could hear to 20khz and nothing sounded as good as much of what I hear today. How much is me and how much teh improvements in technology (and my corresponding budget)? Some of both I suspect.
My teenage kids listen with me quite frequently. No complaints from them. A good omen I guess.
i'm surprised noone's commented on the op's opinion regarding power supply. there seems to be enough real science to support the real measurable benefits of a clean power supply, even if some of us are losing our ability to hear the differences
I didn't mean to imply that the issues I've commented on here are not measurable. Except for those in reference to elevated speaker cables I believe that most have measurable sonic elements that will, to some extent, affect the audible character of the signal. My only point is that even though I have instruments that can measure frequencies far in excess of all audible frequencies, none of us can hear them. (That being said, though, and as an aside, I do believe these frequencies, although discreetly inaudible, ultimately do impact what we hear)
You know, there's something to be said for hearing limitations making it easier to put a system together. If your hearing is perfect, it's kind of like having an unlimited bank account; the more money one has the wider the range of choices he has and the more complicated life becomes. That's not to say, though, that I would mind being wealthy with perfect hearing. The bottom line is, I suppose, that we all make the most of what we have.
Great post. I am another one bitten by the hifi and jazz bugs in high school in the late 50's. My first amp was an EICO Kit mono 12 watt tube amp. Served me well for quite a few years.
I've been in and out of audiophilia over the years, Family changes, job changes financial changes, moving to CDs and back to Vinyl. I'm 74 now, and in reasonably good shape mentally and physically. I'm back into audio in a big way and loving it.
I don't think I have golden ears, But I certainly can tell if something sounds good, and if an equipment change or tweak makes it better (or worse for that matter).
The sheer joy of listening to music with the best possible fidelity is one the greatest pleasures in life.
I’m in my 50s, and can relate to the original post mainly within the context of diminishing returns.
I don’t doubt that small tweaks can make a difference, and have experienced such differences on many occasions. However, I have never been interested in seeking better sound beyond a certain point. I have built several systems over the decades, and very much enjoy the process. But once I reach a level of quality that I consider to be excellent for the budget, I tend to stop tinkering, and just enjoy the music.
My most recent system has been a challenge, as the listening space is very far from being ideal. However, I think that I may have just found the right synergy, and something as simple as a recent, slight toe-in of the speakers seems to have capped off the process.
– recapped and modified Accuphase E-303X integrated amp
It’s interesting to read the above posts about "fidelity’ - but it appears in the manner it has been posted, that the posters use of the word "fidelity" is associated more with the degradation of their high frequency hearing ability.
For me, I’ve also heard the decline in my hearing over my 63 years, i.e. as it pertain to high frequency response.
However, as my system’s resolution & performance has improved, I now find that I tend to think of "fidelity" more from a " details" perspective.
Even with my hearing loss I can still easily discern improvements in... - dynamics, especially the "snap" in percussion instruments - the control and punch of bass frequencies and their extended depth - smoothness of the high end - particularly violins - new details discovered in instrument timbres - strings and woodwind - the vastly oimproved venue acoustics - those reverberations that fill a hall. - refinements to the "vocal character" of each singer
I don’t actually think much about my "hearing loss" - unless the tinnitus is playing up, but focus more on the realism that I still get to enjoy.
I am now very happy with the sound of my system and find I am more focused on musical content, rather than trying to attain Audio Nirvana.
But I do look at new products occasionally - I just purchased a Bluesound NODE 2 - but that was to make streaming easy enough for my wife to use. Turns out the NODE 2 has very good "fidelity" as well - bonus!
Having said that, just as whipsaw as has posted - I do have great interconnects and cables, - dedicated power lines, and - MRI grade outlets on everything. - and I heard improvements as each were introduced - but from the perspectives outlined above .
Did they improve Frequency response? I will never know :-(
Did they enhance my enjoyment? - you betcha!
Bottom line - I think I’ll keep going until they close the lid :-)
Don't discount hearing loss.. For a number of years now, I've been wondering how my once fabulously sounding system now sounded so unmusical/lifeless/dead. I tried cleaning the cables, using a break-in CD disc, trying other cables, but just got new hearing aids and the thrill is back. I can't tell you how wonderful music is again. I went to a live concert last weekend and was uplifted to hear the sound of music again. Can anyone remember the joy when first you tried out your new spectacles?.... the clarity, colors, etc...... same idea.
I think that my system may may be older than yours, that I am the old geezer in this crowd:
cartridge - Koetsu Onyx Platinum arm - Sumiko MMT table - VOI HW MK IV presmp - Beard P505, upgraded with Jansen foil caps amps - NY Audio Lab OTL3 version of the Julius Futtetman OTL monoblocs, modified from pentode to triode and upgraded with Jansen foil caps crossovers - Madteting Lab, upgraded with Jansen foil caps speakers - Altec Landing 605Cs
I am 69 and been doing this insane hobby for about 50 years. Have 6 hi end systems spanning two homes. Still work from home as a lawyer with a fabulous near field system at my work desk. Can't live without music in my life as a constant. Getting too old for live rock, but god I love the stuff in my home. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this discussion. And also how age has allowed me to sample all kinds of music I never listened to when younger. Have developed a real love of female voices with jazz ensembles, Frank Sinatra has become a constant in my life, and country music, who would have thought. Starting to discover the old jazz greats now. Life is great as long as we have music.
Great posts. I feel the same way as many. Just turned 50 in 2016. Love music since my early teens but was never able to afford anything great growing up in Eastern Europe. Many years later I re-discovered music and now my house has a collection on 70-80 gear (Kenwood, Marantz, Yamaha,Sansui and Pioneer - all top models) as well as high efficiency speakers and tube equipment. Over 2500 Lps and growing... The greatest part of teh journey to me is threefold: - met a lot of interesting and mostly nice people (at one point was buying stuff off of Craigslist, etc) - Lerned about Jazz, Classical, early rock, folk, etc. - Share all the above with my amazingly understanding wife who comes to the NYC audio show every year with me and my buddies
Enjoy the wonderful gift of music and the good firtune we all have to be able to enjoy the amazing technological achievements of the human mind and imagination.
Just wondering if you can pinpoint a moment in time, thinking back, in which all of those who relied on your history/recommendations, can now think... I should not take that post into account as far as my buying decisions are concerned.?
It would seem to me that (you) should take this matter ON and make it a personal priority to reclaim any prior referral a (now) non-referral.
How many buying decisions/products did you make based upon your lack of hearing well?
Very much enjoyed this thread. I am 67, been interested in audio since my first exposure at 19. Buying music prior to that. I have hearing loss and tinnitus however it hasn't stifled my music enjoyment.
Slaw, I think you hit on something. We all make buying decisions based on our personal hearing 'condition'. I have no problem with my personal buying decisions given my hearing condition, however others might 'listen' to my equipment recommendations with caution. Likely a ubiquitous issue in this hobby.
No not all buy on our own tastes. I use my ears like everyone. However I follow professional golden ears too. My logic is that although I am confident that I have good ears, I trust MORE the equipment used for 30+ years by a multitude of golden eared professionals.
Frankly, I would suggest that many here are trusting their eyes more than anything else! I suggest that 50% or more of purchase decisions are based on looks and anecdotal reports from other hobbyists and audio magazine rave reviews (hardly unbiased as they receive advertising dollars) and a lot of marketing material - so much so that not much weight in the final decision may actually come down to pure critical listening. It is so hard not to like something that you already are predisposed to like because of reviews and aesthetics. Some beautiful expensive looking gear is actually crap inside and some ugly cheap looking stuff can be extremely good, being made of only the highest quality components; Removal of feelings, emotions, hype and visual impressions from the buying equation is hard for us all!!!
Broadstone, you're opening post was a breath of fresh air...even if you may feel like a voice crying in the wilder mess. ;) It all seems to boil down to whatever boats your float. The pursuit of 'musicality', like many things, has an extremist wing...cost be damned, "I Know this will do (insert here)".
Not that all is pointless or subject to endless 'discussion' of the X vs. Y. In the midst of it, Progress occurs. Which is where we are Now from where we were, and the movement continues. We don't know where the 'next leap forward' will come from. When there's so many involved with so much development, experiment, and the occasional 'what if', the arc of the technology, the desires of the public, and the music that plays forth from what is created and made available....
I'm not surprised we argue the way we do. Passion begets passion, kinda normal for us the species. As long as I don't read a post where 2 of 'competing opinions' are making a date for a midnight tryst for 10 paces with sidearms, heated 'discussions' are OK by me and I trust by most that attend such....
A variant on the above scenario I would buy a ticket to...1 meter pace, 1 meter cables (high $ only, no interconnects). Padded clothing (think the Michelin Man) and full face helmets, gloves. First cable to break loses. First cable to break through padding wins. Simple.
But, I'd also like to see a golf round played with slingshots and pool cues....just because there's sacred cows about that still get tested for pregnancy just like the regular ones....
"I hate each Julie Andrews film they've made, I'm just a nasty narrow-minded jade. Don't think that I will smile at it, I'm not a weak-willed hypocrite, I'll say: I'm bored!"
Shadorne, I don't disagree with your points and realize that sonics are not the only attributes contributing to an audio purchase. My point was that due to our differing hearing deficiencies each of our recommendations should be 'heard' with a grain of salt, using my own recommendations as an example.
bdp24, I just enjoyed the general insanity of all of it, music & lyrics.
The Urban Spaceman afterwards...between those 2, the Fugs, Mothers/Zappa, PDQ Bach, general psychedelia, symphonies, EDM, and all that was between All of That.... My musical tastes are a smear. *G*
Terribly off topic....Pardon.
Somehow, amidst the above I've managed to get to hear a decent amount of it either live or reproduced on average by decent or above average equipment. So at least I've developed some personal preferences as to how I'd like to hear it. And how to live with it...I'm not a big fan of 'sweet spotting' for example. Ergo, omni's. Or good bipolars. As to 'how it hears', MHO is that all speakers have a 'voice'; good, indifferent, bad. Disposable income interferes. You make the best choice available. Apply room and contents, tweak 'till 'done'. 'Done' being subjective and transient to varying degrees. Enjoy 'till ennui forms. Repeat. Or not. Sometimes you just Stop. To each... *S*
"Not so normal as to be normal, I intend to be a freak for the rest of my life." V. Stanshall
Broadstone, I also experimented with the Sweet 16, and built many Heath, Dyna, and Harman Kardon kits. Long time ago, wasn't it?
Yes, my hearing is different at 71 than back then. But the difference is mostly frequency related. In my hearing, highs fall off above 16k, and a 6,000-9,000 4db dip in my left ear.
But I hear live music with the same ears that I hear reproduced music. So I don't notice less hearing acuity - because the fidelity is still there.
What I DO notice about speakers and associated components, is spurious sounds like microphonics, low frequency pumping, and inter-modulation distortion. Those are not frequency related.
But the biggest offender for good reproduction is phase shift distortion and timing problems. Again, these are apparent even if you stick ear plugs in your ears - age and hearing acuity has little to do with this part of hearing. Unfortunately, most manufacturers do a poor job of handling phase shift problems. Super components in crossovers, interconnects and all that stuff can't fix phase shift problems. That rules out 90%+ of equipment that I listen to, at any price, because the sound is just bad.
And, guess what - the old Sweet 16 array didn't have phase shift problems, because there were no crossovers with capacitors, coils and other enemies. And the speakers were small (but crappy).
Mikapen, I totally agree regarding frequency loss with aging not being a significant problem with enjoyment of high end sound. Factors that give rise to great soundstaging and image as well as dynamics are more important to me.
Mikapen, I'm going off subject with you a bit to comment on that "Sweet Sixreen" speaker that we probably both learned of in a Popular Electronics article. That was in the late fifties. I did most of the time consuming build altering the excursion of these 4" RadioShack drivers. If I remember accurately, it required cuttting slits in and applying Vaseline on the surrounds to make them more flexible and then gluing toothpicks radially to, I suppose, help the cones maintain their shape. I ran out of patience and only did 8 of them. It sounded great but what, then, did I have to compare it to?
In another article they described what was referred to as an infinite baffle using the entire attic so I did that also. I cut a 10" hole in the access hatch and mounted a12" "speaker" turning the attic into its giant enclosure. It really put out the bass but didn't last long; mom said it rattled everything in the China cabinet.....and it really did.
In previous posts I've made in forums elsewhere I admittted first that I don't know a mosfet from a misfit, yet some of my equipment can be considered to be of audiophile quality.
I could listen to Led Zeppelin I through two cans connected by a string and still love it as much as I do through my current setup which costs considerably more.
I've been in the wine business my entire adult life, a career that enjoys input from anyone who has bought a bottle or thousands of bottles. It's all good in the end because no man is the lesser of me in that I may learn from him.
I remember buying my first stereo and hearing things that I hadn't heard before on songs I loved. That's why I progressed in hifi, but the two cans and a string will still suffice if the situation calls for it.
Oblgny, if i understand your tin can reference and your dedication to music listening regardless of the competency of its delivery, to some extent, I agree. In my experience, familiarity with certain music allows me to enjoy it regardless of reproduction quality. For example, early in life I lived with German grandparents for certain periods during the 2nd world war and often listened to Wagner in their home. In the Tannhauser overture there is a passage with very powerful brass that consistently nearly brings me to tears. I thought that this emotional reaction was primarily based on volume and power with heavy amplification. However, I found that with marginal quality and volume my brain fills in and I still wait in anticipation for that passage and, when it comes, the hair on my arms stands up.
As as far as wine goes, I know nothing about it, but the other night I watched on Netflix the documentary "Sour Grapes" which focused on the big business of counterfeiting. It reminded me of some self proclaimed "audiophiles" who base opinions of sound quality on the price or name recognition of their various components. I'm sure some wine "connoisseurs" take a similar approach to their interests. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. Even if you haven't, I'm sure you know what I mean.
As with vino, we are addressing utterly subjective material with audio. To a fault either pursuit leaves itself open to, even welcomes, the variety of opinions they are heir to simply by dint of a relatively low price of admission.
Wine is universally misunderstood by everyone because when it receives a broad based spotlight it usually has to do with something exorbitantly expensive. Folks become brainwashed into thinking the best is expensive, rare, requiring gala evening attire to enjoy properly. It ain't.
Admittedly, there is far more technical data to consider with audio when weighing one's decision/opinion, but nothing that can pass or fail the ultimate test - the listener's ears. Very few of us have been introduced to high fidelity sonics as young 'uns, fewer have elected to pursue the interest to the point that would find them here, adding to this forum.
Observation: My girlfriend and I were recently shopping for a new house for her on Long Island. I think we traipsed through at least twenty homes without me seeing a single two channel stereo in any of them. None. What I did see were variations on surround sound/home theatre setups, all with the usual big-box store brands. I don't think I saw anything smaller than a 50 inch flatscreen anywhere, even in bedrooms!