referencing vs plug & play

This last couple of months more of you have been getting ahold of me, it's cool don't stop. I enjoy working on your systems and especially enjoy some listening together. Something though is coming up often and it's making me wonder if somewhere along the way someone has dropped the ball when it comes to comparing components. In talking with a few of you I've learned that a lot of you are dropping components into your systems and comparing without dialing your system into the new set of conditions. Back in the early days of referencing, before plug & play, when we made changes to a system we treated the system as if everything was starting from scratch. We knew that if making a component swap took place that we were going to need to make the rest of the audio chain suitable to accommodate the new signal path. "make a change anywhere in the flow and you've made a new flow"

When the plug & play audio clubs started popping up my friends looked at me as if these folks were off their rockers. I just figured they were doing something interesting but weren't really serious about club night, more than a chance to mingle. It's kind of the same thought as a trade show. You don't really take them serious, but it gives a chance to meet and greet. Saying this, I'm starting to think possibly I was wrong and plug & play has become the norm over actually referencing systems. My mind tells me this is nuts, right, but I'm hearing more and more that HEA folks are actually simply dropping components in mid chain and that's it. So I have to ask.

You do realize plug & play is different from referencing a system change don't you?

please be respectful to each other, thanks

Michael Green

Bfbc100a 64c1 4696 8ad2 e1a6e37e3201michaelgreenaudio
Absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
That might be a good sign. 🥳
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Oh, I can think of at least one who will give him a run for his money.
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MG is addressing retuning one’s audio system after exchanging a component. At the very least, this is an listening room adjustment. This is obvious if one replaces loudspeakers, but not so obvious if one is replacing an IC or power cord. 
And if this is MG’s version of an April Fool’s joke, then he’s lost pretty much all street cred in the audio system treatment arena. 
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Sorry I was late getting here today, subwoofer drivers day. I enjoy making drivers. I had 3 listeners stop by today all saying "we have never seen anyone do this before" referring to my wood voiced speakers. Doing the before and after for the one fella got a big reaction "why doesn't everyone do this". My reply was "because many designers believe drivers are for moving air not having a tone". Next question was "will you make me one"?

Getting here minutes ago the first words I noticed were "street cred" and of course smiled "HEA has street cred"? I don't think HEA has had street cred in the audiophile hobby since the mid-90s. Any hobby that spends more time in disbelief then doing the hobby itself has a serious cred issue.

Michael Green

Back in the early 80’s I was an engineer in TV and Sound and thought it would be cool to have a stereo store. I was still doing some touring but it was the first time I was somewhat settled in one spot for a time. I had done "audio chains" before with my own stereos and studios but having a store of my own gave me many systems to play with. I had some great listening friends who made my place their home away from home and many times they would watch my place for me if I had a concert or show. Every time a component would arrive it would get the royal treatment. I don’t recall ever just dropping a component into a system replacing another component. When a product came in a system was designed around it anew. The Stereophile Class Recommendations was a trip the first time I saw it. I had extra cash so I started ordering many of the products right from the Recommended Component section.

What I noticed right off the bat when doing this was how each component needed it’s own set of conditions to get past that basic box soundstage. If not the system would stall out in certain parameters and never really get exciting like I was use to. Didn’t matter what component I used or what the price doing a plug & play setup was boring at best for me and my friends. We would visit the other stores in Atlanta and the soundstage "box" was all we heard. We started going to the CESs and again that same basic "box". When we would come back to our place even our least expensive setup pretty much blew away the "box" soundstage.

fast forward to RoomTune

When RoomTune came out and news got around I pretty much was on listening tour from then on traveling around the world and doing every reviewers system on the planet it seemed as well as every trade show. How did the reviewers systems sound? That same "box" so I would give them a tune up. How did the systems sound at the trade shows? "box". There were a few folks starting to get into more of a real size/ real space stage in the early 90’s. That said, I have never heard a plug & play setup even come close to a realistic soundstage. There are I would suppose hundreds of thousands of audiophiles out there that have and are able to maintain killer soundstaging and do it consistently with big music collections. I’m not sure those people are here on this forum, why would they be? I doubt any of them are interested in equipment collecting. Some might be on the music forums here. The ones who come up to make smart A** comments about others certainly have no idea what a good soundstage is, or they would be listening to it instead of all their efforts to be rude to others.

How do trade shows sound today? "box". You can't make a soundstage at a trade show in 3 days. Dealers? Well if they're hooking up equipment for others not tuning them in "box". The only way to really get your mind around a real soundstage is if you know what it takes to create one, and if you know that then you also know dropping a component into the middle of a system that is tuned to another component doesn't do it. You're for sure in "box" stage mode.


More nonsensical drivel. 
My god, you're a stalker. Ready to pounce.  
What crawled up you and died?
The problem with Recommended Components from the likes of Stereophile and TAS is that the listing is provided in a vacuum. The listing strips the component from it’s reviewed context, thereby inviting the reader to obtain the item for their system. The problem is that it ignores the reviewer(s)’s system(s) and improperly suggests the item will “work” the same way in the reader’s system. Hence, plug and play. And we haven’t even gotten to MG’s street cred as a tuning guy.

Now the flip side "referencing".

One of the ways to tell the difference between someone who plug & plays and someone who references is the way the listener describes his or her system. Someone who does referencing rarely talks about their system in terms of money. When people come up and talk about how much they have to spend for fair, good or great sound they don’t really understand the audio chain and how it works. These folks think that a component makes the sound as opposed to the audio chain making the sound.

For folks who explore the audio chain there’s a certain maturity level that is recognizable. An importance is given to the entire system start to finish without excluding any part. These listeners don’t make hasty judgement calls and are students of audio not dictators. Someone who references could care less if you’re using a receiver or separates. They could also care less if you listen differently than they do.

But the main difference between someone who references and someone who plug & plays is, the guy who references you can sit in their chair and listen to a piece of music then make a request of how you would like it to sound different and they will know what to adjust to give you that sound or at least be able to show you the variables. Plug & play guys will blame a recording where reference guys will know how to get the most out of a recording. And not only the most by their criteria, but also by another persons view of the way they want to listen to the same piece of music even if it is a different perspective.

Reviewers are mostly plug & play guys, trading out stock for stock. A listener who references has moved beyond reviews and has found tricks within his audio chain that give him the power of system control through variables.


"The problem with Recommended Components from the likes of Stereophile and TAS is that the listing is provided in a vacuum."

It was a fun chapter in this hobby but with the internet now I'm looking forward to system threads. On my forum, old and new, we have mostly system threads. That's what I see forums becoming. A place where listeners have threads documenting their system's journey. These give so much more detail than any reviewer's review could.

And the big plus is, there's no need for arguing.

The best years of this hobby are ahead of us, I think, because everyone is an expert in their own right. It's dependent on how far someone wants to go and there's no limit to how far a person can go.


I always match the quantum signatures of all the pieces in the chain.
I both blame the recordings and know how to get the most out of them. I can hear the difference in sound with and without one week's dust on top of my speakers. When Michael is able to do that then I will listen.

Hi inna

That’s pretty good hearing inna. What speakers do you use? They must be pretty special, wink.

I guess I should also ask you and Kosst what type of grit do you prefer when doing the cymbal voicing in one of the Tunable Rooms?


Yes, Michael, your Rev80 speakers are very sensitive to everything, and that's a good thing. 
Don't know about Koss, I only voice guitars. Final touch in voicing - you read aloud particular lines from Classical Persian poetry in a particular way, different of course for each instrument. 

Hi inna

My season for wood voicing started about a week ago. I have over 200 pieces I’m working on right now. This stock of wood has been curing for over a year now with me doing a flip every morning and every night. I voice from 100 grit to 6000, and up to 12 layers of finish with curing and sanding in between each application. Each piece is hand sanded and some when requested human oil rubbed by me personally. Likewise the Rev Signature Drivers are done by me personally. The baskets are hand voiced redwood that I mix special and apply myself. The development of these designs are done in a tunable room with mechanical adjustments every 14.5".

By your post it didn’t appear you knew how much listening and voicing I actually do. It’s pretty much non-stop all year around, every year, every day. The next tunable room I do here maybe you should come visit and see for yourself what I do. I think you will be satisfied by the amount of effort I put in. It’s probably hard to tell on these audio forums what someone does or doesn’t do, and the hype is staggering, but that’s when people should see for themselves. I will admit I disagree with the amount of negative spins that happen on this forum and feel it comes from people who should possibly come experience for themselves instead of jumping on workers doing and loving their lifetime of experiences. If members really took the time to do a little research on the people they toast, for no good reason other than to get a rise, I think there would not only be a better understanding but also a respect for others efforts. Maybe I’m being too sensitive but that’s because I pour every bit of my sensitivity into what I do. I’d like to win over your support since you happen to own my designs. I also appreciate Audiogon letting me come here and share, and who knows maybe a little of the tune will rub off here.

I think this place needs more respect for each other and curve back the bad karma vibes a tad. Music is the last place bad vibrations should be happening, and when people ask others to have a thicker skins I can't help but feel this is the opposite thing we should be asking.


Can we go a step or two back?

What does the word "referencing" mean here? How did it find its place in this context?

Hi glupson

Referencing is a recording term we used as far back as the late 70’s that I can remember. I’ve probably explained this a couple of times on this forum but for this threads sake, when a tape runner was in charge of referencing a recording it meant we went along with the tape to the different studios to make sure the sound was the same each place it went. For example if I ran a tape from the main studio to one of the private studios for the BeeGees when I got to one of the listening rooms I would explain what was going on so if Robin wanted to make a change I could "reference" that change when I got back to the main studio. Or we could do a dup and make a change right there for me to take back for the others to hear. I’m trying to give a short version of this, but it’s more or less involved depending on who the artist or engineer is. Many musicians have their private studio and play around forever and some guys could care less once they do the actual playing.

You’ve heard of "Mastering" or "Re-Mastering" a recording. A Master is either an original cut or an original cut of a change. With Mastering you vision that first generation of a recording but that’s really a generalization with multi-mixing. That first cut may be laid down but as soon as you start making passes it’s no longer a virgin cut. It depends how picky you are and how many versions you want hanging around, but referencing for a tape runner meant you were the guy who knew the recording as it went through the different stages and what tape was where and what generation of the tape it was. Referencing referred to "a point of reference". As Multi-tracking and storage became more involved referencing evolved. Keep in mind the technology of recording changes very quickly.

For me referencing carried over into playback naturally. With the audio chain referencing is a matter of knowing the original setup sound "reference" as a whole and then being able to see how the sound changes as a physical change is made to the chain. Plug & play is when you do a basic setup "plugging something together and then playing it without tuning the sound in". Referencing is when you put into action changes and want to follow the sound changes to the Audio Code. The Audio Code is the signal + mechanical conduits interacting with the audio signal.


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It’s always a pleasure to witness a budding bromance right here on Audiogon. 

Completely agree with you
This thread will be closed immediately if it is not kept on Topic. 
What is the topic anyway? 
That was the very first post, me asking what does this mean?
Never has been answered. Been off Topic from the get-go.
....what millercarbon said.

As always Tammy you do a great job of moderating!

Thanks for your efforts. Maybe MGA will look into your insiders forum. Is there less trolling there?

Michael Green

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Thanks for the explanation. I really would have not guessed that. Now, I just have to reread it a few times to grasp everything, but I have a starting point.
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I hate to judge before all the facts are in but referencing appears to be strikingly similar to what I’ve been preaching for a long time. And that is the use of a fool proof technique for determining speaker locations using the XLO Test CD or any Test CD with an Out of Phase Track (for such a purpose). But the trick - and the similarity to referencing - is this - after every new room treatment, every component change, every new power cord or cable, every new CD treatment, or any new tweak, the speakers should be checked for position again. Recalibration is another way to say it. Of course, break-in should be accounted for in the recalibration. Rome was not built in a day. These things take time. It’s not supposed to be plug and play, gentle readers.

”My voice should sound like it’s coming at you from all around the room. My voice should not be coming from any particular direction. The more non directional the sound is when the system is out of phase the more focused the sound will be when it’s in phase.”
michaelgreenaudio has never explained what referencing he is talking about. A reference is a standard. We got the story about people driving around the country with tapes. Nothing about what exactly referencing is in regards to systems. The rest of us have to stay on Topic, so as not to have our posts removed. So Michaelgreenaudio please explain. What do you mean by referencing??? Reference literally means to refer to something. To go and look. A standard reference is a source of information. The Physicians Desk Reference. Websters Dictionary. Etc. See? So what is the standard to which YOU refer??? 
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I would think that as long as you used the same recording as a reference, it would qualify.

Did you ever consider using a simple stepped attenuator? Or a pot? Much less laborious. 
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Hi Elizabeth

I wasn't planning on coming up but when my screen alerted me and I saw it was you posting I couldn't resist checking out your post. You already know what I am going to say but for the sake of others who might read this thread sometime in the future, you are a bigtime referencing listener in my book. You understand how each move you make and each step you take relates to the over all audio chain. You are both student and master of your own system and sound. You understand the art of system settling and the must of interacting parts and pieces. Out of a lot of people here who I'm sure are great listeners you are someone I would trust referencing with. I know I could send you a bunch of cap brands and within a few weeks or months you could describe the differences in sound to me.

For another example if I asked you how are your AC outlets breaking in I would get a timeline from you from the day they were installed till now. Speaking of, maybe you could do something to help readers here. I haven't checked in with you but I am assuming you have the screws tight on your outlets. If not that's cool but if so you might want to choose one of the outlets and slightly untighten the screws, just barely. Once you did it I would be interested in if the sound changed and what the change was that you hear. If you wanted I could PM you with the sound you might hear, but for the sake of this post and to short cut this, what you do at the outlets will have a direct affect on your new resistors. Let me know if you try this. There's a balancing act you could do with the resistors and outlets. You might have already done this, but if you haven't it would be fun using your system as a testing ground with this simple experiment.

I've said it before and I'll say it now, I love the way you methodically walk through your system's interactions. Thanks for coming up Elizabeth!


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Unloosening the wall outlet screws is an excellent idea. In, fact I’ve been recommending loosening the screws on my company’s Tru Tone Duplex Oulets for more than 10 years. It’s not rocket science. 🚀 Remember my suggestion to loosen the bolts (or even better, REMOVE them!) on big honking transformers to reduce coupling the transformer vibration to the chassis? It’s the same idea. For a wall outlet loosening the screws helps isolate the outlet from wall vibration, gentle readers. Anyone not see where I’m going?

That's excellent Elizabeth, I'm glad you're going the "...I would rather not be told what to expect..." route.


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I can't believe you're actually loosening the screws on your outlets. That's very foolish. 
Is everyone aware that hearing is a fairly limited sense?