There seem to be a growing number of posts which lament the fact that hi fi has gotten too hi fi, too neurotic, and just doesn't sound good.
As I thought about this, I realized that many of the most enduring, classic audio products (Quads? LS35a's? ARC tube amps & preamps? Apogees?) were noted not for their "transparency", thunderous bass, "resolution" or high frequency "extension".
No, what seems to have stood the test of time was old fashioned, middle of the road MIDrange. Is midrange the best benchmark for our hobby?
In many threads, a mention of midrange seems almost quaint and/or apologetic:
" the classic ________ doesn't have the "resolution" of many of today's products in the $150 to $200,000 category, but it still boasts MIDrange which will put all of them to shame!.."
I find this very curious, as to me, there is no high end without glorious, gorgeous, natural, startlingly lifelike MIDrange.
Please, support midrange.
And tell us: what components or combination of components can still deliver good old fashioned midrange today?
I fully agree. I started off enjoying easy-going sound and progressively got more hifi. Lately though, I have taken a step "back" and love it. Transparency and dynamics can wind up unnatural if pushed too far - and many fancy, expensive systems I have heard fall in this trap in a big way. Comfortable music is much more enjoyable in the long run.
I think the renaissance of SET and single driver speakers should be perfect proof for you. They can't do any extremes at all and yet they have withstood the test of time. Same goes for, though to a lesser degree, push-pull vacuum tube amplifiers and analog rigs. I think the ongoing attraction of these two concepts is due to the taming down of high frequency extremes which gives the impression of a more prominent midrange. It is "nice" sounding that way and many wouldn't give up their vinyl or tubes for anything else.
In some cases, it isn't so much less highs as it is more lows. When the spectral balance is descending, the feeling is also more comfortable. Afterall, tonal balance is relative to itself. It constitutes the Yin and Yang of audio and this balance is what we wind up using to form an opinion of the sound we are hearing.
It is very interesting to see your post in light of your system components. Are you thinking of taking a step "back" as well? ;)
Well, IMHO, you need a 'musical' midrange in any system just to get your interest. Beyond that equal demands on other frequency ranges might well depend on the type of music you enjoy most. If you like voices dir-range is everything. Those little LS3/5A are (potentially) a musical wonder. If you listen to flutes and recorders you must also have great, natural, upper-midrange and highs. If you like solo piano music from a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand you want great, natural, bass as well as mids and highs. Unfortunately most audio equipment is designed and built to satisfy the needs of audiophiles who are more driven by the abilities of a system to produce a sense of infinite resolution/detail/stereo imaging and impact, all of which have little to do with live music in a natural acoustic.
Personally I'm a piano guy - I want a system that replicates the sound and power of that Bosendorfer as I would hear it in concert. I'll never get it 'cause it can't be made yet, but the closer I can make it sound like one, the more likely I'm to buy the product. Great musical mid-range without equally good bass is for me like having a good looking woman with no bottem end! :-)
I love your post. I've been saying, for years, hifi ain't what it used to be. We've gone WAY too far in our drive for exactness. I was FAR happier listening to music when I was younger and less nuerotic about gear itself. I've recently sold ALMOST everything and need to take a break. While my answer may speak more to my particular affliction (finding the next "better" piece of hardware), I do believe u are on to something. Less "hifi" equals MORE music/fun. There is a reason "Satisfaction" sounds better in your car than on your home rig. It brings back memories, and it is still a KILLER song whether u can "hear" Keith nod over to Mick or not!
I don't know about the "best in the world" but you would have to work very hard to beat the midrange magic of my system: Spendor Classic 2/3 speakers and the Eastern Electric M520 tubed integrated amplifier. I also use the PrimaLuna Prologue II amplifier and the midrange is the same: glorious !
I agree, get the midrange wrong and the rest cannot hold it all together. That's why it took me 2 years to find a speaker to replace my Harbeth Compact 7's--they don't do everything but they absolutely get the midrange right. Other than the Harbeth line with their Radial driver I can only think of one speaker I've heard that measures up in the midrange department--the Quad electrostatics.
My journey for new speakers led me to the Daedalus DA-1's. While they do not have the midrange purity of the Harbeth's or Quad's, they get very close. Like those speakers they are utterly unfatiguing--you can listen for hours without tiring--this because of low distortion combined with pleasing tonal balance. And, unlike the Quads and the Harbeth's, the DA-1's ROCK. They have all the dynamics you could ever want. They are easy to place and easy to drive. And, to your point, the midrange is darn nice if not quite up to the level of the best in the field.
Arthur said what I am thinking. Taming down of upper high freq extremes is a key to natural midrange. "When the spectral balance is descending, the feeling is also more comfortable. Afterall, tonal balance is relative to itself." a words to live by and set your system to. That is what I am after and got in my system. My analog system is set in at a point where you yearn for little bit more of high freq but don't get IS the rigt setting pint for correct midrange. If you then have extreme flat low end than you have made it. Excessive high freq ruins the music more than any other sound criteria in my experience. Hence my thread in analog section which suggests to try out lower (and then some) (5-7 times the internal resistance) cartridge loading. This is great thread, cwlondon, to open up many audiophiles' eyes (ears) who I believe are stuck striving for other 'audiophile' parameters- soundstage, liquidity, transperancy, etc etc.
I like your system. Like mine, it's not crazy expensive but gives you 90% of what music lovers would accept as great sound. Pursuing the other 10% isn't worth the expense.
By the way, my main system includes:
Spendor Classic 2/3 speakers Eastern Electric M520 tubed integrated amplifier REL Strata III subwoofer Regal Apollo (transport) Bel Canto DAC 2 (with Stereovox digital interconnect) Rega P-25 turntable Sumiko Blackbird cartridge Grahm Slee V ERA Gold phono stage Kenwood KT-7500 tuner with Don Scott modifications Acoustic Zen cables JPS Labs power cords Brickwall surge protectors
my last 2 speakers have had considerable adjustability; which as caused me to really learn about exactly what causes a great mid-range.
the Von Schweikert VR9SE has three tweeters, each with an attenuator. it has a 15" digital amp powered sub which has gain, phase adjustment, and 50hz to 100hz crossover (to a pair of woofers that extend down to 50hz). when i measured to get the flatest mid-range i had the crossover 'all' the way down to 50hz. i messed with tweeter adjustments for 6 months but could never get the highs to completely settle down. the mids were very good but not exactly right. then a friend mentioned that 'flat' was not necessarily right and said he preferred a bit of a bump in the mid-bass for naturalness. i stepped the crossover up to about 70hz and 'BAM' the highs cleaned up and smoothed out and the mids became liquid and life-like.....amazing what 'balance' can do. once the highs were right the mids were right. i would never have guessed that a subwoofer adjustment would affect the high frequencies.
i just got the Evolution Accoustics MM3's.....an amazing speaker. from my time with the Kharma Exquistes i have always loved the Accuton ceramic mid-range driver. it has a certain 'clarity' and see-thru transparency that i have not heard in any other mid-range driver. OTOH it can have a bit of a 'ring' and also has limited dynamics compared to some others. the MM3 has 2 of these Accuton ceramic mid-range drivers. they have somehow tamed the ring; and with two of them they are much more dynamic plus more linear to boot. the MM3 also has '2' 15" digital powered subwoofers with even more bass adjustability than the VR9's.
combined with my acoustically designed dedicated room and the darTZeel amp and pre......the MM3 has the most open and transparent mid-range i have yet heard.....by a good margin. i have never heard the detail i hear.
my tastes are for neutrality and touch of sweetness; but i can easily add or subtract warmth as my (or my visitors) tastes require thru (sub)woofer (on the MM3, the 15" driver is actually a 'woofer'....not a subwoofer) and tweeter adjustment. as the MM3 is 93db efficient and a 6 ohm load i could use a 10 to 20 watt SET if i wanted (but i don't).
although the Kharma's were coherency champs back when i first bought them the VR9's were even better and the MM3's better yet in this area.....which is essential for that 'magic' mid-range.
i do also think that for an ideal mid-range full frequency range response is preferred. there is so much mid-range harmonics going on up and down the frequency range that having deep bass and extened highs just completes the picture. the VR9's extend to 15hz (-3db) and the MM3's extend to 10hz (-3db). both extend over 40khz in the treble.
the world's best mid-range right now?......i would say......"the best mid-range i have heard". i'll leave 'world's best' for magazine covers.
Because we hear vocal sounds every day, our ears are highly in tune with them and what they sound like, ie...we aren't fooled very often.
I've found E-stats, planers, ribbons and "some" horn systems do a pretty good job of pulling off this sleight of ear.... slightly better than most cone types I've listened to over the years. I'm sure though, that this is not 100% the case as mentioned above.
The best (or at least close) to the best midrange I've heard was from the little Apogee Stage speakers setup in a fairly large room, driven by tube amps... deep bass was this speaker systems only weakness.
Shadorne, yes, I have heard great things about the ATC products before, but they dont seem to be widely distributed or very well known.
Could you please give more detail on your experiences with them? Which models? Passive or active?
ATC is a UK company that make their own drivers. They have gained fame from their 3" fabric dome mid range designed by Billy Woodman (ATC founder and an engineer). On SCM 20's the dome is grafted onto the woofer. On the SCM 50's they use a less powerful version of their classic mid range the SM75-150. On the SCM 100's and bigger they use the classic studio mid range (very powerful SM75-150S).
My experience is that the timbre is very similar among all models and all have a very wide dispersion with a very natural sound. Piano sounds just like a piano...this may seem like an odd statement but my experience is that most speakers fail this test miserably. Clarity in mid range is never a problem even with movie soundtracks that are loaded with background noises (something many people seem to complain about).
The passive models are not quite as detailed or precise.
The bigger models have more dynamics and are much more convincing (effortless) at live music levels. Generally I hear more detail from the separate mid range (as opposed to grafted on on the SCM 20) and on the larger SM75-150S... I believe this is because of the greater dynamics or crystal clear sound and probably a better bass from a larger dedicated woofer that allows for more lower mid detail to be audible due to less harmonic distortion from the bass. (Nuances and details in the recording become very apparent...some may not like this)
All models can play extremely loud. Relative to the popular consumer sweetspot of loud speaker sound ATC's will seem light in the bass and treble...polite, natural or neutral sounding. They do get overwhelming at high output levels and generally your ears will tire well before the speaker. At loud levels the lack of mid range compression means the mid range level will be what determines how loud you can stand it. (Most other speakers have way to much audible distortion before exceeding what my ears can stand, which means they lack the necessary headroom at normal volume levels.)
Is the SM75-150S the best mid range in the world right now? I have no idea, but ATC have been making this same model since the 70's. It was a big hit back then with UK/Europe/Australian studios for professional applications and still is today. If you check the ATC user list you will see that studios continue to install them.
I have never seen an ATC advertisement in a rag (unlike nearly all their competitors). ATC are unknown to consumers in North America. Word of mouth has recently made ATC popular in the highest end pro studios in the US too, perhaps partly due to British audio engineers that emigrated.
Mikelavigne, Did you sell VR-9SE? If you did, it would've surprised me. I agree completely with your statement about how "the overall balance affecting midrange quality". I have found that in my system a slight peak at about 4000kHz combined with a dip at 80-100 hZ rendered about 80% of my CD's unlistenable.
Maril; yes, i sold the VR9's last summer; but only because i intended to move 'up' to the VR-11's.....which i ordered last July....they have still not started building them. i did not sell the '9's due to any dissatisfaction with them. the 11's were a dream speaker for me. Von Schweikert's are great speakers.
i have heard the VR-11, VR-9SE, VR7SE (in my room for the last 6 months), VR4SR, and VR4JR. i have not heard the VR5SE. i like every Von Schweikert speaker at it's price point.....to me they are musical and dynamically involving.
in the meantime; i love the MM3's.
regarding your system frequency imbalance; were you able to solve it?
I don't know about best in the world, but right now i'm loving the ARC 100.2's midrange portrayal(among other things). Very rich yet lucid and transparent, with zero trace of grain or harsness. Marry this with a nice preamp and good speakers and I think you would agree.
I do agree with the theme of your post... does the quest for absolute accuracy kill musicality and enjoyment? Maybe, depends on the total system. Like others I have heard a few mega buck rigs that are totally uninteresting and annoying. Must be a synergy thing right ? For my tastes if the mid's are not open and natural sounding, nothing else matters. I just wish I had more time to listen these days!
Mike, I'm glad you didn't sell 9se's because you didn't like them. As to my frequency imbalance problem- trying different pre- power combinations in my system (BAT-75SE/Supratek Chenin/Arcam solid state preamp/EAR 534), I traced the problem back to less than ideal synergy b/w BAT and Supratek, which are outstanding components each in their own rights. I was going to replace BAT-75SE anyway in favor of all-Supratek system (Cortese preamp and Mondeuse power monoblocks), but this experiment only confirmed my concerns about matching components from different manufacturers and design philosophies.
Great thread. Elsewhere on Agon there was some recent discussion about whether to build a system from source to speakers, or vice versa. It's my opinion, and experience, that it's best to build from the speaker to source. The midrange has always been the focal point for me and, as a result, I have not yet been compelled to look at a replacement for my Parsifals. They don't reproduce below 25Hz in my system, but bass is substantial and never at the expense of midrange purity. (BTW, a great recording for bass reproduction is the beginning of Paquito D'Rivera's "La Bella Cubana" from his album, Portraits of Cuba, Chesky JD145. With this recording even most of the 'full-range' speakers I've listened to flattened out before Roger Rosenberg's baritone sax hit bottom.)
Similar to Newbee's penchant for realistic piano reproduction, I am a fool for saxophones. I want to hear Webster's breathing, or the difference in embouchere between Ammons and Jacquet. Because that's what you hear in person (assuming the space has decent acoustics and/or amplification). I've been in any number of jazz clubs across the country from the Blue Note to Snug Harbor to Shelly's to Jazz Alley, and the best listening experience in those clubs is what I strive for in my sytem. With very few exceptions, my Parsifals are able to better reproduce those experiences than the majority of speakers I've had the opportunity to listen to. Accurate - and pleasing - reproduction of frequency extremes is good, but never, never at the expense of the midrange.
Paquito D'Rivera's "La Bella Cubana" from his album, Portraits of Cuba, Chesky JD145. With this recording even most of the 'full-range' speakers I've listened to flattened out before Roger Rosenberg's baritone sax hit bottom
Thats a Bass Viol not a Barotone Sax that hits about 36 Hz. I never heard a baritone Sax hit that low, just my two cents.
Try Massive Attack "Angel" Or Dave Grusin "Homage to Duke" for some extreme LF.
I have to agree with you that Bob Katz (Chesky) is beautifully recorded/mastered.
I think it is important to distinguish between midrange accuracy (i.e. tonal authenticity--do instruments and voices sound the way they do in real life) and transparency (i.e. articulation and detail--how much information is reproduced within the middle ranges). In my experience, it is very difficult to find a speaker that does BOTH of these things very well. The British/BBC approach scores high marks for authenticity but sacrifices transparency. Many, many other speakers provide transparency but fail to deliver authenticity. The Harbeth's, with the Radial driver, move the British sound closer to the ideal in that they are fairly transparent. The Quads are the only speaker, in my experience, to do both. In trying to find an attractive pair of speakers that are successful in BOTH areas, easy to place and could be had for under 8K I was ultimately unsuccessful. The speakers I ended up with get me very, very close to the ideal but sacrifice a little transparency for accuracy. To me this makes the most sense since a lifelike portrayal of instrumental tone and timbre is critical to fooling your brain into believing what is heard is real music. The last measure of detail, while also important for this purpose, can be lived without. Others will reverse these priorities I'm sure.
Perhaps, but I think you will find there is a difference in the audio experience for folks who are trying to replicate what (they believe) is in the pits and grooves, which is really the only true goal for an 'audiophile', and those folks who want to replicate the sound of live music, as they have experienced it, as best they can in their room. They know it can't be done for a lot of reasons but at least they have a real reference.
Now if your goal is to replicate the sound in the pits and grooves how will you ever know when you have succeeded? Were you at the studio? Do you know what equipment was used? Do you know what the recording engineer did at the mixing board. It seems to me that while this may be a worthwhile hobby its sort of like chasing a very elusive goal. Some of the things that equipment designers do to impress you with the speed of their products involves things such as the rise and decay times.
Great speed, great 'detail', impact, more apparent transparency. Great 'sounding' devises. But, IMHO, what is sacraficed in that type of design is selecting the rise and decay times that are not consonant with the rise and decay times of live music in real space. I think for those folks like Dodgealum (and myself) giving up a bit of what is called detail or transparency in exchange for sound which reminds us of what we hear live is no sacrafice whatso ever!
Personally, I think the pursuit of 'accuracy' and 'transparency' is a pursuit which audio manufacturers eagerly indorse and encourage, especially to those who have no frame of reference from which to judge.
Tvad, I do NOT disagree with your distinguishing between the terms and suggesting that they be properly used.
What I'm talking about is the ability of most average audiophile folks to easily distinguish the difference between true transparency and the sense transparency brought by 'apparent' additional detail (I'm not talking about obvious frequency bending) created by manipulating things such as the rise and fall times in the signal. They can hear more, ergo it must be more transparent.
Think of all of those great reviewers who impress us by saying how impressed they were by component x - they were hearing things from well known recordings (to them) that they had never heard before. Think of the fate of folks who run out and buy these components based on those types of comments. I do and I empathize.
While I agree that using the 'right words' is essential for effective communication, I would be more enthusiastic if these 'words' were used less and the things that constituted these summary descriptions were used far more.
But perhaps I hope for too much in a commercially driven hobby.
Tvad, One of the side benefits of being happy with a 'colored system' is you have a goal which when found allows you to relax and listen to music. Now the search for transparency is, seemingly at least, an endless quest. :-)
All of this seems to be a matter of taste and perception compromised by a confusion of terminology. Always we are seeking some sort of absolute where there can be none. Color is another word for character and without some color how can there be any appeal. The notion of a laboratory standard can sustain endless hours of adolescent debate but so long as the objective remains subjective no traction can be gained. My speakers may be colored in the midrange. Some have said so in these threads but I don't hear anything distasteful so I just trundle along my merry way blissfully unaware of their shortcomings and quick to recommend them to others who may ask. So, to answer your question, my midrange is the best in the world right now.
Actually, Shadorne, there is no bass viol on the recording. But, after listening to the track again, it might be a bass trombone, and it does, indeed, read lower than 36 Hz in my room.
Bass Trombone won't go below about 60 Hz, as I recall David Finck plays Bass Viol on this track while Dave Taylor is bass trombone. I can distinctly hear both the bass trombone and the bass viol clearly on my system. The decay on the stringed instrument is characteristically much longer than the bass trombone (wind). They do play only two notes together at the start of Bella Cubana exactly at the same time...but the Bass Viol is an octave lower... (for those who may be confused Bass Viol is the orchestral name for the more commonly named double bass)
Sorry to be a stickler, I may have digital tin ears or don't know how to listen as the Vinyl Analog folks would say, but I hear this all to clearly....
Shardorne, I stand corrected. The funny thing is, when I listen to this intro, the lowest register does not sound like a bow drawing, rather like an embouchere that is beginning to collapse. I'll listen to the recording again later today just to identify the differences you describe. Nonetheless (and I love to use words like that) the bottom-end reproduction of this intro has flummoxed every speaker I've heard - and I use this piece toward that end.
In light of this thread, an email from Musical Fidelity, I suppose this is their view...
Do you have a hi-fi system or just an overpriced music centre?
It's very simple to tell them apart: dynamic range is the main measure of a real hi-fi system.
Can your system produce unclipped 105dB peaks? If so, then congratulations on owning genuine hi-fi. If it can't, then no matter how much it cost, or what it's called, it's just an overpriced music centre.
Most loudspeakers need about 500 unclipped watts to achieve peaks of 105dB at about ten feet.
That's a lot more power than most so-called hi-fi amplifiers have. Imagine asking a sewing machine motor to power a Formula One car, and you have an idea.
You can hear when a hi-fi system is underpowered, because it clips, which limits the dynamic range. The music sounds sharp and edgy and it feels cramped.
But when loudspeakers are given enough power, a system can produce awesome dynamics, with sound that feels so real you can almost touch it.
Check the chart to find out how much power you need to turn your existing system into real hi-fi.
And relax. You can get all the power you need. Visit musicalfidelity.com at 10.10 am on 1st May 2007 to find out how.
How much power do you need for a proper hi-fi system.
Loudspeaker sensitity/Amp power for 105dB peak 83db/800 watts per channel 85/500 87/325 89/200 91/130
But when loudspeakers are given enough power, a system can produce awesome dynamics, with sound that feels so real you can almost touch it.
What musical fidelity says is true, however, what they neglect to mention is power compression in speakers (due to thermal issues and excursion outside of Xmax or linear excursion range of their often cheap drivers)
This means that ALL speakers will compress at higher SPL ouput levels and only "true Hi-Fi" speakers, to borrow musical fidelity's language, will compress very little.
Furthermore, speaker distortion increases very rapidly above 95 db SPL...so not only will it compress but it will sound harsh and perceptively very loud (due to distortion perceived as loudness by the ears/brain)
In practical terms this means that a 500 Watt amp will not help you with a typical audiophile grade speaker that uses $80 retail cost woofer drivers (with limited Xmax and thermal compression characteristics). Again to borrow and reverse their terminology, this is like connecting a Ferrari Engine to a Sewing Machine transmission!
Equating speaker sensitivty and amplifier power to maximum SPL output level is completely academic or meaningless, as most $80 dollar woofers are already compressing/distorting severely at 105 db spl levels!
For example, the best subwoofers typically have way more than 30% THD at 20 Hz when approaching levels of 105 db (the majority are totally off the scale in distortion)...some of the very best will be around 5% THD and the best published specifications, such as the Velodyne 1812, claim 1% THD!
So what is the point of all that amplification?.....nothing if it coupled with a typical sewing machine!
I to had a Audionics BT-2 preamp connected to a pair of Dynacos Mark 6 mono tube amps . Excelent sound , especially in the midrange .And this was when all the good cables you could find was Monster Cable original cable.