Technical sophistication

Since joining this forum, I've been both amazed and sometimes intimidated by the technical sophistication of contributors. I'm wondering if many of you are engineers or have some similar background.

It seems that in-depth knowledge is sometimes (oftentimes?) required to set up a top-level system and - despite reading a couple of books and this forum, supplemented with online sites and a subscription to "Stereophile" (and "Absolute Sound" in the HP era) - I have no clear and present idea about what's going on, at least at a fundamental level. I've had "audiophile" (as defined by reviewers at various points in time) equipment for decades, but I consider myself a dilettante in this arena.

So, what are forum members perspectives on this observation?

Showing 2 responses by millercarbon

I'm a radiologic technologist for which you have to know enough electronics to read a schematic and build an X-ray tube from scratch. Also enough chemistry and physics to understand how electrons bombarding a tungsten disk produces x-ray photons. And yet the funny thing is I knew all this before going through the program, and a lot of the reason I understood how the x-ray equipment works was because I learned about transformers, resistors, capacitors and all the rest by being an audiophile and all the years spent learning how all this stuff works.

Far as I can tell that is all that counts. Seems to me more often than not its a disadvantage being an engineer. Engineers know engineering and tend to look for engineering answers. Problem being all the really good components performance lies in a realm unfathomed by anything we are today able to measure. These are the guys giving absolutely counterproductive advice saying things like wire is wire and double-blind yada yada.

Not that it doesn't help to understand a few things. Mostly though you just need to understand there's an interaction between speakers and amps, and between cartridges and phono stages, and why that is and how it affects things. You can learn that by reading books like Robert Harley's Complete Guide to High End Audio.

Mostly though what you need is an open mind. Some things that sound positively ludicrous, like you can demagnetize an LP, actually work. And some things that sound like they absolutely must be true, like the sub has to match and timing matters, are so wrong its not even funny. So you keep an open mind. Until your ears tell you what to think. 

Which is really what will help the most. Ears. Ears and a vocabulary to interpret and express what you are hearing. Harley got that covered too. Cannot recommend that book enough.
Thanks for the detailed reply! I have Harley's book and I've consulted it occasionally. Perhaps a more disciplined and conscientious course of study is in order.

Two parts of the book were for me the most valuable were the section on listening skills and terminology and the chapter on the turntable. The advice on why the turntable is the centerpiece of any proper high end music system was for me a revelation. This was years ago back when the CD was supposed to be perfect sound forever. Its been so long and things have changed so much maybe people don't know but that's not made-up derision that was actually the CD marketing message: perfect sound forever. For a respected senior Stereophile reviewer to be saying not CD, LP, was - well it had to be taken seriously. And it was.

But it was the info on listening skills that really hit me. Does not take long reading comments to realize the extent of most guys listening skills ranges from "sounds good" all the way to "sounds better" which if that sounds like close to zero, yeah, then I write pretty clear after all. Compare that with some of the better reviewers like Harley or Fremer, guys who go to lengths describing tiny details of bits of aspects of sound to try and get across what they're hearing. Might seem like flowery prose. Sometimes might even be flowery prose. But it can also be the key that opens the door to your learning to recognize and appreciate aspects of sound you never imagined were even there.

Its a challenge because on the one hand you have the totally valid technical approach of something like say if the first reflection arrives within a window of three to six milliseconds the brain interprets it as being from the same source and so this interferes with our ability to localize the source. While on the other hand you have the totally valid listeners approach of the imaging is more solid with the speakers out from the walls. No right or wrong but its hard to argue you can really understand what is going on without understanding at least a fair amount about both approaches.