I recently purchased a pair of Gradient SW-63 woofers for my Quad ESL 57, and I this is so far the closest approach to the real thing that I've ever experienced. The midrange is probably the best possible, with Quads' holographic properties most audiophiles are familiar with. The micro-detail is also superb. The Gradient woofers add a very competent, tight, and fast bass. I believe this combination is hard to beat at any price. Does anyone think this combination can be beat?
No, to my ears it cannot. However, before I switched to Sound Labs, I replaced the Quad 57s with the Quad 63s. I wanted just a tad more SPL. All the same, I still maintain, that the marriage of Gradient and Quad is a match made in heaven!
Well, let me specify that I was able to integrate them seamlessly (to my ears) in a relatively small room (something like 13x18).
The only caveat is that it took a while to figure out how to place them on the Gradient woofers. Once their feet are taken out, the ESL's sit on whatever flat surface in a slightly bent way. Well, that is definitely not the right position. They have to be perpendicular to the woofer in order to obtain the best sound. It is possible that some of the complaints I heard above have something to do with the position of the ESL's.
Mrtennis, yes, that would be a nice test for everyone -- I think we're deeply biased in the way we listen to our equipment. In the end what matters is the survival test: how long has amplifier x or speaker y lasted in my system? If it's more than 1 year, then it means our ears really like it. If after a few months I begin to question it, then it means there is something wrong. In my case, so far the two things that lasted the most are my EAR 868 power amp and my ESL 57.
Generally the saga goes, that if tubes are used with the Quads, the subs would perform best with SS. Actually blending solid state driven subs with tube driven stators is very difficult indeed. It is much easier to use tubes also for the Gradient subs to get an excellent coalesced rendering, using Gradients own active x-over but only for the bottom end and letting the Quad 63s go all the way down. After much fiddling, listening and moving the whole shebang around ( for this purpose the Quad-Gradient combo was put on wheels and the listening position bolstered with cushions to get the ears in the right height) a practically perfect blend was achieved.
Detlof, your comment about using pillows to get the ear to the right height reminds me of my struggles to get it right. As I said in my prior comment, I ended up bending the 57 slightly forward. That changes the radiation pattern so that you don't have to use cushions or anything like that. By the way, I use a digital source to drive the gradients, and a tube amplifier to drive the quads. I don't think the gradients are terribly sensitive to the amplifier you use...just use something that is more than 50W per channel and you're ok.
i was not asking for help, but rather to offer a test to confirm my hypothesis that i can detect a hybrid speaker when i hear it. it was a nice try , but i certainly would not seek help, from those whom, as you say, i presumably alienate. i believe that would be counter productive and stupid.
Mrtennis, you are 100% right. I apologize. I screwed that up, and even thought to word it differently then.
In no way were you asking for help, as you truly view this as a sort of feat of audio strength on your part. That being the case, it would serve as a priveledge for any of the hoi polloi to be associated with such important point in audio history.
Still, you missed my point ala Rodney, which Tvad echoed - you're going to be extremely hard pressed to find anyone who would want to be involved, or really cares at all. In other words, you're going to have to play with yourself.
Good point Newbee, however mo matter if it is written in two or just in one word, I thought it would work nicely both ways when I read it. I only wished there would be a little less noise when in play. But then I must grudgingly admit, without it would get no satisfaction.
Mrtennis, "i have at least 30 would be assistants in the ny area, members of audio clubs, who would assist me, if necessary."
It's amazing what you can get the hookers to do these days. Well, I guess so long as they're getting paid...
OK, enough levity. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't such a wiseacre. It limits me in that I miss out on being invited to events like this - one of the truly historic moments in audio. I only pray it might be taped, and put up on youtube to be available to the great unwashed such as myself.
For a while, I used to question the direction audio could move in wake of the loss of such lions of the industry as Bud Fried, David Hafler, Jason Bloom, etc. But, after this thread, no more!
seriously, i think short-term listening sessions are quasi pointless. i am pretty sure that a serious brain scientist will be able to offer a scientific explanation for this, but i find myself liking more things than i should after short listening sessions. i begin to have a feel for the real essence of any component only after weeks of serious listening. i believe that these short listening sessions are biased by many things that have little to do with audio (e.g. you read a review that says amplifier x has great imaging, you listen to it, and your brain starts to image like crazy). it would be interesting to see if there are ways to unbias yourself when you do quick tests of this sort.
Visit one of those crushingly loud MBL demos the company hosts. You may well walk out saying that there's no way in hell you'd trade your combo straight up for a 101 - and I'd probably agree with you. OTOH, you will know what the MBL does better - not that you'd necerssarily care.
While apparently Mrtennis does not need any defenders, a couple of thoughts come to mind which apply to all of us in these audio forums.
#1, our hearing biological hearing systems may be similar, but not the same. Consider age, gender, health, etc., let alone ear shape, brain receptors, etc. and we have an infinate variety of aural perception.
#2, our experiences, training, and interests are not the same. With such different backgrounds, we bring an extensive variety of foundation information (and therefore preferences) to the listening experience.
So Mrtennis may be sensitive to sonic details that some others, if not most, may not be so sensitive to. This does not make one person right and another wrong. Ever wonder how some folks prefer only planar speakers while others demand sealed dynamic drivers? Or vented/ported systems? Or horns? If one design approach offered the TRUE reproduction of live music, wouldn't we all be listening to it in our homes?
Therefore Ggavetti, some may agree with you that you found the closest approach, but most others (based on percentage of design type sold) may have other answers.
Pryso, That's a very interesting point, but I am not sure I fully agree. That is, you are certainly right that different human brains, different backgrounds, different professions, et cetera et cetera make for different tastes. But if there is a real thing, and the notion of closest is referred to that real thing, how can it be that there isn't an objective way to define what "closest" mean? In other words, one may have a taste for a bombastic bass, or for an incredibly acute tweeter, or for microscopic detail...and that is all good and respectable...but that ain't the real thing...in my humble opinion.
Ggavetti, what is real is what we perceive to be real. And it does not necessarily relate to huge differences, such as "bombastic bass".
My feeling is that you and I could attend the same concert, seated side by side, and have a quality recording made from that same location. Then we could each have a selection of speakers, amps, source electronics, etc. and choose systems which provide the best match (closest approach) with what we heard. Those systems could very well end up being quite different, depending upon how closely you and I might match up on the two elements I suggested.
I offered my perspective in the first place because Mrtennis stated he had never found an acceptable match of dynamic woofer with electrostatic speaker, yet many other music lovers are happy with such system combinations.
But this is all my opinion, which may also be different from yours. 8^)
Pryso, this is an interesting discussion...human ears differ, and so does our definition of what is real. On the other hand, do we have instruments that capture the true "physics" of a sound? To the extent that we have such instruments, and I am not sure we do, that is what I would consider the real thing. But you're absolutely right: our ears might differ, and very much so...and what each of us considers to be the real thing might differ big time. But if this is the case, all of our discussions should be pointless: what for me is "good" and "real" for you might be a big distortion of reality. From this standpoint, the quality of a system is a totally subjective notion. My belief is that there are ears that get closer than other do to the real thing as it can be objectively measured. These more educated ears are better equipped than others are in assessing the quality of a system. In other words, I wouldn't let the lack of education (in our ears) undermine the notion that there are better systems out there...but of course this is only my opinion, and I respect yours.
Ggavetti, of course human ears differ, so the subjectivity trap is difficult to be avoided, the difference however is not as huge as some try to make us believe. This is especially true, if you, together with a group of audiophile friends have established a kind of a benchmark, say from the visits of a well known concert hall or other live music venues, or say of inviting musicians to play in your homes and then compare the recorded takes of their music to what the sound your rig will make of it. All this can and has been done and is the best kind of education for listening competence and sophistication. It is the lack of benchmarks which leads many audiophiles astray and lets them fall prey to all the hype which surrounds our hobby. Equally it stands in the way of progress to educate beginners or in the development of better gear. This is the reason why I personally find it annoying, when in the midst of interesting discussions certain members of our community chime in mantralike, that since all hearing is subjective we should be content and happy with what we like. To my mind this makes for complacency and intellectual lazyness. If all the great designers did not have the benchmark of the live event, we would neither have Quads nor Gradients nor any decent sounding amps to drive them.
there are two issues. objective quality, which you so aptly stated should be dependent upon how closely the performance of a stereo system approaches live music.
there is also subjective quality, which is basically opinion based upon preference.
as in any aesthetic endeavor, a consumer may select from competing products and end up with some level of inaccuarcy to the real thing and some degree of pleasure with the sound of his/her stereo system.
i wise designer of phono stages suggested to me that if a stereo system does not pass the foot-tapping test, it doesn't matter how close to reality it sounds, as its owner will eventually tire of it and replace components.
my point is that it is difficult to remove the purely subjective element from the process of evaluating stereo systems.
in the end each of us , hopefully, will enjoy listening to music and probably be less concerned with its accuracy, or lack thereof.
We always, in our "aesthetic endevor", end up with more than just "some level of inaccuracy to the real thing" because even our best systems with the best software rarely come even close to this benchmark. So, things being as they are, the "subjective thing" has to come in with the necessary compromises we have to make and it is a this point, but only at this point to my mind, that your mantra (I think you know what I mean) makes sense to me. We need to make those compromises, which out of a number of necessarily unsatisfying choices will perforce lead to what we like best. Not so in evaluating stereo systems, here to my mind a benchmark is needed and the shortcomings need to be seen and if possible addressed to find that compromise which satisfies subjectively in the way you have mentioned. As regards the wisdom of your phono stage designer: Any system without PRAT, without rhythmic accuracy and that is something that CAN be done, is not even close to the SOUND of reality. And again, I disagree with your mantra, stated in your last sentence. This is good for music lovers. They don't need audiophilia nervosa to enjoy what they hear. A table radio or car stereo will do. If however you belong to that rarer breed of not only passionately loving music and being an audiophiliac at the same time, you will be concerned with the accuracy of your rigs rendering "or lack thereof." You're a reviewer. You should be concerned. Otherwise you will lead people astray and not educate beginners. My benchmark for this kind of reviewing was the early Harry Pearson in the first 3-5 years of TAS. His benchmark were the venues where classical music was performed in NYC and Chicago and his preference for his favorite software let their prices skyrocket at the time by the way. On one last word Mr. Tennis: I am sometimes addressed by my name in these pages, but you are the only one who continually gets its spelling wrong. Must be a Freudian thing. I love you too. (;
sorry about the spelling. i agree with you in principle regarding evaluation of stereo systems.let me add that preference and accuracy of timbre may be two different conditions.
however, even as a reviewer, while i discuss inaccuracy of timbre frequently in my reviews ( you can read them at audiophilia.com), there is the issue of perception.
you have suggested, and so have i in other posts, inviting musicians to perform in a room, then compare a recording of the performance to the performance. assuming the feasibility of this endeavor, i suspect, that if you have more than one "audiophile"/experienced listener in a room, there will be a disagreement as to corresponce between live and recorded sound. thus , the problem is, who is to judge ?
whenever i review a component, i am the first to admit that my perception may not agree with that of another hobbyist.
however, i agree with everything you have said, in principle. the problem is implementation. do you have any ideas ? perhaps you could be appointed by your peers as mr. golden ears. if you qualify, your prononucements would be very valuable to both designers and hobbyists.
Hello Mr Tennis, Don't you think that perception can be trained? Especially as far as accuracy of timbre is concerned. Timbre can well be an objective thing and the better your perception of the "real thing" is, the better you will be able to assess it objectively. And yes, you are right, the more my perception is being questioned by my peers vis a vis the comparison of a life event and its facsimile, the more I can train and hone it, in discussion, retrials and verification. In our group nobody really judges. We compare notes, know our subjective preferences, try to learn from each other. We are seasoned audiophiles and have learned to dispose of pecking orders. Within our group the role of Mr. Golden Ears shifts, simply because one friend will be expert in timbre, the other in soundstage, one, because he is a trombone player in the sound of his instrument etc. Nobody pretends to know all, but as a group we would be the horror of dealers, except that a few enlightened specimen of this breed are part of our group. Implementation- and there you absolutely suggest the right thing, if I understand you correctly - can hardly be done by an individual alone, but as a group you come closer and just were you agree to disagree often important qualities of a component vis a vis the shared experience of a live event will easily come to light. To quote early TAS once again, they used to have different reviewers assess the same component and knowing their preferences, that was a real help for the reader. As an individual just by myself I would hardly qualify for Mr. Golden Ears. For once,my ears are too old. But I'm still listened to, when timbre or PRAT is being discussed. Mind you, that's easy, because most gear nowadays is pretty good at this at least as far as timbre is concerned and having been weaned on ESLs and immersed in live music from early on, this is no big feat.
Detlof, I thing we substantially agree. For me there are three things:
a) the actual reproduction of the real thing b) our perception of the reproduction, which may differ by individuals c) our taste
These are three different things, and I don't think we should confuse them.
a) is objective, and if we had a tool that could measure how close we get to the real thing along a number of dimensions (like a scale that measures weight), there would be no ambiguity about it. Too bad we don't have such a machine
b) is subjective by definition, but I agree with you and ears can be trained...and significantly so
c) has nothing to do with a and b. A friend of mine loves microscopic details. Too bad these details cannot be heard in life performances. Another friend of mine likes to hear big vibrations in his belly...too bad you can't hear them in a real concert.
In short, I think the fact that a few things get closer than others to the real thing is an objective fact, in my view. The fact that we as individuals may or may not perceive that is another truth. Finally, the fact that we may like the "closest approach" or not is another truth, but this has nothing to do with the other things.
i like your approach of assessment by committee. however, if it were possible to remove the potential for misperception, namely, the human brain, the result would be an improvement.
measurement to the rescue ??
what about something as simple as spectral analysis.
here is a simple paradigm:
have musicians perform in a room, and take a spectral analysis (printed of course), of two minutes or so of a performance. record the performance (hopefully, a decent recording). then play the recording through a stereo system and take a spectral analysis of the stereo system's reproduction.
one now has 2 print outs. they can be compared.
of course this is not perfection. the quality of a recording comes into question, and the issue of what instruments to record is also a factor. it's a start, i think.
the whole idea is to make evaluation of a stereo system less dependent on human hearing.
Hi Ggavetti, You are quite right I feel, with your three headings, where to my mind taste boils down to value judgements of what we have percieved. Also taste can be educated, but only if you agree upon a common benchmark in your judgment of a rig, but as you so rightly say, many audiophiles build up their systems without regard for what is "real" and why should they. We are free to follow our predilections and also my passion for "reality" is nothing but that.
Spectral analysis in the way you suggest would indeed be interesting. We once dabbled a bit in it, but gave it up, because we had endless discussions, whether disparities in the results were mainly because of the room, the placement of the performers or faults in the recording process etc. Those experiments would have needed more scientific rigour, more intelligent planning and much better equipment than we were willing to invest in. We obviously must have thought that using our brains discussing lively with each other was more fun with our particular bent of minds.
By the way, there exists at least one well known manufacturer I know of in the high end, who prides himself that his entire chain of fiendishly expensive gear has been developed without any human hearing involved. I don't want to mention names, but his stuff sounds singularly sterile to my ears. To my mind it needs both, measurement and ears. However not only ears, but also "science" needs to be met with a healthy dose of scepticism, because often enough we only BELIEVE that what is measured has its sights on the parameters we try to assess and what has been highly praised as relevant to sound has later been proved to be a misconception.
Interesting discussion. While I can understand the pursuit of best sound reproduction available (within the constraints of your budget if you have one) what I can't understand is how does one know when the pinacle has been reached and that further pursuit is merely a fine tuning to ones taste? We all know that absolute fidelity to the real thing is impossible, but we really don't know how close you can get.
In essence then my questions boil down to what is a reasonable expectation in the first place? How does the novice establish a goal with some specificity? When should he realize he has obtained his goal and quit spending money in pursuit of the unobtainable? Is all of the pursuit of the 'obtainable' by equipment synergy and ancillary equipment (tweaks) really effective or is it just mental masturbation reduced to actual practice?
Personally speaking, many years ago I had a very satisfying system then I started reading TAS and Harry Pearsons description of 'imaging' and thought I was really missing something essential. So I did the equipment upgrading routine, flat FR, phase correct, time correct, Class A, tubes glore, equalizers, subwoofers, monitors, electrostats, panels, ad infinitum. Never got there folks! Now I'm back to a very satisfying system(s) and am happy as hell. Sans illusions, I actually have more fun playing with the toys than ever before.
Guess I'm an audiophile agnostic...........what are you? :-)
Hi Newbee, Again you touch upon most important points I find. If you have your perception of live music as a benchmark, then of course - as you rightly suggest - that goal is out of your reach. But then you want to get a close as possible and it is as with expensive cars. Every extra HP above the say 350 will cost you unproportunately more than the first 200. If you are able to hit 100kmh in 5.2 seconds in say an M5 Beemer, to get down to 4.8 will easily cost you another 50 grand more and if you are not satisfied with that, well you can get the Bughatti from Volkswagen which clocks the hundred easily under 3.5 but that will cost you more than a million Euros. The high end ain't much different. It depends on what you strive for, on your pocketbook and last not least on your wife. When I was a novice, I had only one specifity. I wanted it to sound "real". I ran to all sorts of live events and wanted the same at home. I first fell to the hype of all sorts of salespeople, but contrary to your experience Newbee, I became a tad wiser through TAS. Knowing the real thing intimately and probably having an ear for it, I understood at once what HP meant with terms like transparency, imaging etc. I learned that correct phase made for better soundstage, that ELS, at least say in regard of string quartets came closer to reality than any cone speakers I heard at that time. So I slowly got not "there", but closer, because my ears were full of the sound of real music. I had a benchmark which I found I could trust, my own ears, trained on all sorts of live music. That is why I would tell a novice to first get a grasp on what real music sounds like before he starts spending money and I would probably lend him my earlier copies of TAS, where HP developed a language to grasp in general terms what we were hearing or not. Besides, Newbee, having had a look at your system, permit me to doubt your statement of being an agnostic. You are not in my terms. You ARE an audiophile, because to my ears, your gear is knowlegeably and wisely chosen, wisely because you are as fast as it goes and do not have to hit the 100 under 5! Cheers and happy listening, Detlof
Hi Detlof, Although my post had no one person in mind other than myself and my musings, your post reminds me of things I should have said even though they might appear redundant to yours and Mr T's.
I gained most of my appreciation of live music in the first five rows of Orchestra Hall near center because I perferred the balance of sound there BUT mainly because I could hear instruments with great specificity, minimal halls sounds other than bass reinforcement.
What has impressed me was what is natural vs what is artificial. Natural is tight/crisp sound with correct timbre, little affected by room acoustics. That it is not artificially bright, something that so often occurs in audiophile speakers, electronics, or associated stuff, when the manufacturers are trying to replicate the natural clarity of the live performance by 'inhancing the apparent detail' in a recording and/or audio equipment.
So my quest in audio has always been for a 'natural' clarity. As you say, and Mr T sez as well (although I can't understand how he can differentiate timbre so well in the back of the hall with all of the acoustic sounds of the room intruding - I guess he just has finer ears than mine) learing to appreciate the sounds of live music.
That pursuit of clarity put me at odds with the some of the valued audiophile goals, perhaps as suggested by HP and others, which when followed seemed to produce sounds with unrealistic high refquency response more often than not. Seemed as if I was always troubled with attenuating/smoothing the mid's and highs and occasionally reinforcing some upper bass warmth present in the symphony halls I most often visited. Perhaps my ignorance was a barrier to understanding Harry's POV and observations. But that was my life with a crown of thorns if you will. Nothing seemed balanced and natural as I wanted it to be.
NOW the plug (for my hole)! Last fall I purchased some Silverline Boleros based on a couple of professional reviews, some user reports, as well as an in-store and subsequently in home audition. The reviews all seemed to conclude that the speakers had a mid-range dip which made the speakers a bit polite which was suggestive of many British speakers. Just not the reviewers admitted cup of tea, but recommended for folks who wanted to get past audiophillia and focus on music, or folks who had a bright room.
In any event whereas I was expectiing a 'dullish' speaker this was no dullish piece of work whatsoever. No rolled high end at all. A SOTA tweeter, without FR enhancement to impress, maintained the crispness of tone that made the midrange crisp and the bass tight, natural attributes of the live sound. Don't get me wrong, this is not a SOTA speaker but it's the best I have ever heard, certainly in my house, and for the very first time ever, I feel that I have a window opened wide for the assessment of the performance of electronic's and ancillaries, not to mention recordings. I've spent the last year re-visiting all of the stuff I have in the house/attic and I'm amazed at the value in some of these old electonic bombs and wantabees which I had previously discounted/discarded.
The really funny part of my reaction to these speakers is that contrary to every other speaker I have owned which set off a buying frenzie focused on better electronics etc this time I'm so happy with the results of three set's of electronics I've set up to drive them that I fail to see the need of finding perfect delivery in one electronics system. I know in advance what music I want to listen to and what kind of delivery I want and I use the appropriate component combinations connected alternatively by three sets of cables and banana plugs.
Now, for me, audio AND music is FUN! Not just an expensive and frustrating persuit!! No more unquenchable thirst for the next best component to come down the pike. I really like what I have and am contented. Now, if that is not the opposite of the typical 'audiophile' attitude, which to me is represented by the endless pursuit of minute sonic detail thinking that that next cable etc will be the last, I don't know what could be. I was an 'audiophile'. No more - now I'm really back to being a music lover. Maybe I never was an audiophile, just a long nightmare, and one day I woke up, ala JD on Dallas. :-)
Perhaps I'm just dreaming now.........................
Hello Newbee, Your lines, which follow below have warmed my heart, because they are so close to what I have learned in my early years:
"I gained most of my appreciation of live music in the first five rows of Orchestra Hall near center because I perferred the balance of sound there BUT mainly because I could hear instruments with great specificity, minimal halls sounds other than bass reinforcement."
"What has impressed me was what is natural vs what is artificial. Natural is tight/crisp sound with correct timbre, little affected by room acoustics. That it is not artificially bright, something that so often occurs in audiophile speakers, electronics, or associated stuff, when the manufacturers are trying to replicate the natural clarity of the live performance by 'inhancing the apparent detail' in a recording and/or audio equipment."
I've suffered through practically similar problems as you did until through TAS I tried the Jadis electronics with my ELS and was happy for a very long time, let my Abo for TAS run out, but wanted more dynamics than my beloved Quads were able to afford. I then went wild, experimenting with a whole array of stators, got better dynamics, but screwed up all staging of course. Then my fortunes changed and I sold it all. It was a relief and I kept on going to concerts. When fortunes changed again I finally knew what I wanted and how to get it. I chose carefully and no longer convulsively and I solicited the ears of what Mr.T called my committee, friends, musicians, afficionadoes and like you, I am happy now. So looking back, that hiatus which was so suddenly forced upon me was a stroke of luck. Perhaps, to paraphrase your words, it cured me of audiophilia and brought me back to where I belong in the first place, to music.
Thanks Newbee for your great post. In letting your lines sink in, I feel I must retract my previous statement: You are a music lover , whose dose of audiophilia is but a means to this end. I hope the same will be true for me until my ears turn deaf for good.
there is one "fly in the ointment". that is the recording. recording quality varies. if one is trying to attain a semblance of natural timbre, one has to carefully select recordings, as benchmarks.
since the sound of recordings is unknown, the best one can do is listen to a bunch of recordings on many stereo systems and make a selection based upon the results of all of the listening sessions.
essentailly the stereo system and recording is evaluated, not just the stereo system. if one "tunes" one's stereo systems based upon a group of recordings, it is possible that one may not achieve the realism attained from the reference recordings when listening to "non" reference recordings.
Mrtennis LOL, you are so right and there are many more flies in the ointment: Changes in humidity, temperature,the grid, your own well being just to mention a few fat ones. Strangely enough though, and I wonder if Newbee would not agree with this, after your rig has reached that level of satisfaction, we spoke of above and after listening to a lot of various software (LP,CD,r2r,music server, whatever), the quality of a recording does not matter that much anymore. Having finally reached contentment with your set up you listen to music, not to the rig and if the rig suddenly draws your attention away from the music, generally something is wrong, either with you or with the rig which has to be addressed. I have never really consciously "tuned" my system to specific recordings, but tried to tune it to what my ears told me was more or less right with a lot of different software with all kinds of music and of course have found ways in time to compensate, with the choice of specific gear, just as Newbee seems to have done, for recording flaws, which I found irksome and which distracted from the performance.