June 27, 1997
To: John Upton
After reading your article "The Dead End," it appears that you may think that vinyl records are superior to CD's. How can you support this claim? Can you cite references to other articles in other audio industry magazines that support this way of thinking with something more than subjectivist impressions or highly unreliable open-loop listening tests. It would be difficult or impossible to perform double-blind A-B testing of the two mediums, as the first tick or pop of the vinyl would reveal the source. Are you familiar with the article that appeared in the January issue of Stereo Review, titled "The Romance of the Record", by E. Brad Meyer? In it is some explanation for the coloration, top end brightness, etc. that accounts for the apparent superiority of the sonics of vinyl.
If we can't compare vinyl with CD's with blind A-B testing for the reason stated above, we can at least compare a CD with the original analog master tape. And, I understand TDK (a leader in the manufacture of analog and digital tape) did just that at a recent Consumer Electronics Show. The company would give one-million dollars to anyone who could correctly identify the source, tape or CD copy, for 10 successive trials in double blind A-B testing. I assume that the test included closely matched levels--say within 0.1 dB. No one could do it.
So, would you say that the vinyl copy is superior to the analog tape, since, of course it must be superior to the CD, the latter of which is indistinguishable from the analog master tape? So, I guess when you vinyl buffs talk about sonic superiority of vinyl over CD, you are referring to something that must be added to what was not present at the microphone or mixing board, and that is coloration due to frequency response errors (RIAAresponse errors in the playback equipment, or "tweeks" by the cutting studio engineers to compensate for the deficiencies of the vinyl medium, and the physics of the cantilever mechanism), and distortion of phase information, especially at the high frequencies, and of course surface noise, which, I guess, some people, like you, prefer.
If I want coloration somewhere in the music reproduction chain, I would like some choice in the matter. I would like to turn it on or off at will, like a tone-defeat switch. The same is true for lovers of "tube sound". If you own a tube amplifier, most likely it is adding a touch of coloration ("warmth", etc.) which you can't disable or turn off at will. There is a product known as the "Tube Head" that adds tube "warmth"--it may be connected to a preamp at the "external processor" connections and inserted into the signal chain at will. Passing the signal through a pair of voltage-starved triode stages, the Tube Head can add that desirable amount of even-order harmonic distortion so popular with lovers of the tube sound, and without spending big bucks for a vacuum tube power amplifier with sufficient power to drive today's power-demanding speaker systems.
A digital standard has already been developed which "sonically meets or exceeds the capabilities of the humble vinyl record", it's the equally humble 44.1 Khz. 16 bit CD. I love listening to music, and with the current CD market, there is a lot to choose from. The introduction of some new standard (such as a 96 Khz. 24 bit DVD), besides being unnecessary--unless it were for multi-channel surround-sound purposes, would either fail or destroy selection. Unless, if it were introduced very gradually, an only in an experimental way. CD sales are having enough difficulty as it is (especially classical). A lot of this, I think is because of its high markups along the distribution path. The confusion created by the current retrograde interest in vinyl is probably not helping the situation.
With new noise-shaping techniques, the CD's dynamic range is now exceeding 96 dB, especially on the newer CD playback equipment. Only the very best cartridge-turntable-phono preamp combinations with brand new records can meet this degree of dynamic range. What happens to that vinyl after 25 or 50 plays? The CD will sound identical on its 200th play as with its first. And, as for the extended frequency response of the vinyl. Most adults can't even hear the horizontal oscillator of their TV set--that's 15,750 Hz., let alone the guaranteed top end of 20.05 KHz. for the CD. Even the most expensive phono cartridges roll off pretty significanly above 20Khz. If you think there's something else missing with CD's, you better go back and read a good introduction to sampled-data theory, the Nyquist equation, etc.
The vinyl-analog-tube enthusiasts have now dominated the audiophile and high-end press and high-end manufacturing industry. The main reason for this is because of the misleading information touted by manufacturers who are too uncreative or don't have enough knowledge of acoustics and electrical engineering to actually improve the state of music reproduction. They instead manufacture impressive looking and expensive knickknacks for gullible audiophiles to buy to impress their neighbors. They want to convince those with money to burn that audio equipment built with unnecessarily expensive components, oxygen-free copper wire, chrome plated chassis, gold plated knobs, etc. sound better. This brainwashing is rampant in the High-end audio industry, and slowing down real progress.
Much of this merchandise does nothing to improve the sound, in fact, if anything it actually contributes to adding non-linearities, etc., such as the absurd claims by manufacturers of insanely expensive interconnect cables. Just look at the advertisements in Stereophile magazine, the king of the tweako, voodoo, audio high-end cultist magazines, with the very influental and yet least qualified Robert Harley and his cadre of reviewers who report on tests that are generally flawed. Controlled listening tests will show every time that well designed less expensive components sound the same as rudely expensive ones, but these sort of listening tests are difficult to set up and are very time consuming--the kinds of test that the advertizers don't want to see. If you don't like fast A-B switching, then take a week with A and then a week with B. But just make sure you are not peeking behind the curtain that would reveal the manufacturer's label or price tag!
It's funny, because the electronic engineers, recording engineers, musicians, conductors, and producers of music (except for the cultists) are all keeping pretty quiet (or have gone to other careers because they could not stand the lunatic tweako ghetto). I guess they just don't think it's worth debating with people who only know the buzzwords but are ignorant of the science and mathematics behind them. It is interesting to note, no other area of electrical engineering has been subjected to such a blatant degree of backsliding fanaticism.
I think that, unfortunately, the entire point of "The Dead End" editorial has been missed. Whether I happen to prefer cd or vinyl playback is irrelevant- the point is that the high-end audio should be ultimately, uncompromisingly about sound quality. The message, not the medium, is of utmost importance.
If sound quality were to become secondary to other motivating forces in the industry, be it convenience, marketing hype, back catalog stimulus, or whatever, the high end as we know it may very well be imperiled. I have no problem with Mr. Gruber preferring CD's to vinyl and solid state amplification to tubes as long as his preference for the right reasons. If he buys this type of home audio equipment after careful listening and truly believes that it offer more satisfactory sound that vinyl and tubes, he's doing the right thing. If, however, he makes his buying decisions purely out of contempt for me or other high-end journalists, because of some article he read, or for other personal issues unrelated to sonics, then he is part of the problem addressed in the editorial.
The vinyl vs. cd debate has been done to death and I have every confidence that reopening it here will accomplish absolutely nothing. I trust my ears and Mr. Gruber trusts his sampling theories and measurements. Instead, I offer a different solution. I'm sure that there is no shortage of good high-end audio stores in the area where Mr. Gruber resides. I encourage him to buy any CD version of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, take it to a shop with a decent turntable setup, A-B it with the store's Classic Records re-issue of that album, and ask himself if analog playback is truly "backsliding"...jmu
June 26, 1997
[Regarding: "...the writing is on the screen"]
Very well said article! Love SoundStage! Have you checked out Van Altine's Site? One of the best on the Web. Now that is how to sell product.
June 25, 1997
You should have told us who that audio company was that berated you and asked you to leave. No guts? I don't want to buy equipment from stinkin' bastards like those!!
Fact is, internet will just be ONE of the ways to make purchases be it audio/video equipment, CD's, LP's or toasters for that matter. It will grab its share of the market pie. I certainly don't believe personal face to face purchasing will disappear anymore than tubes, LP's or video-less software would completely disappear. The truth as always is somewhere in the middle.
Please let those stinkin' companies that berate this new medium that I obtain 95% of product info. from the internet. I will not likely purchase equipment from people who cannot put info about their products on the internet. AND TELL THAT STINKIN' MANUFACTURER THAT HE'S A FRAUD. He disses the internet while advertising to a national audience in Stereophile (or name that mag you mentioned).
I dare you to mention who that advertiser was.
My real name,
Hi Benny, and thanks for your feedback on this month's editorial piece. You bring up some goods points, however, my point in the story was to use a real-life example of how some businesses treat the web. It is unfortunate that they treat the net like this because there are many people, like you, who now find most of their valuable audio information on the Internet. These businesses are simply missing out (and I wonder if they are the same ones complaining about how difficult the high-end business is). The Internet is a fact-of-life and a new way of doing business. I don't think that naming names is really necessary, they are hurting themselves enough and don't need any more help. I think that the best thing we can do as consumers is constantly remind the manufacturers, distributors, and dealers just how valuable the Internet is. If you found a product, dealer, or manufacturer because of the Internet.....Tell Them!...DAS
June 16, 1997
For the information of our readers, please read the following letter that was sent to our attention by Chris Jameson at Level Ten Communications:
"...In a recent visit to your site, we noted some discrepancies on the Talkin' Shop page, specifically with regard to the review follow up of the Belles 150A amplifier. In the second paragraph, you note that Belles-designed products under the OCM brand had been manufactured by Audiosphere. You went on to state that David had since left Audiosphere.
To set the record straight, OCM brand products were designed and manufactured by OCM Technology Inc., in Rochester, NY. OCM is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Magnum Dynalab Ltd.,located in Brampton, Ontario. At no time has there been any connection between OCM and Audiosphere in either design or production and, as we are sure you are aware, Audiosphere's area of expertise is in speaker technologies, not electronics."
It was not our intention to publish misinformation and we apologize for any confusion that has resulted. In researching the article I was obviously misinformed with regards to which company is the 'parent' of OCM. All of the companies mentioned are fine audio companies and produce products of excellent reputation. We appreciate the information to set the recordstraight for our readers. Thank you....Doug Schneider
June 14, 1997
I saw your post on the Usenet regarding Greg Smith's upcoming reviews of the Z-Man, Musical Fidelity and another product. I am interested in these products and plan now on delaying a purchase until I have read his insights. Would you be able to give me an idea when you will be publishing it?
I really enjoy SoundStage! I wish you continued success and thanks for your time.
Best Wishes, Mike
Hi Mike. The feedback for information on these products (Z-Man, Musical Fidelity, and Margules) has been quite extensive. Greg is in the middle of rustling up the contenders. If all goes well, we will likely have reviews in about 3 months time. Thanks...DAS
June 12, 1997
Could you be a little more specific about the full coverage of HiFi '97 that is "coming soon" I've checked your web page for the last few days, and still no coverage. I know the magazines are still reporting about CES, but I've read a number of things on the newsgroups about the HiFi show and I just wanted to know what "coming soon" really means.
Hi Frank, good call on that one! "Coming soon" in this case means sooner than the print magazines but not lightning speed like our past reports. For Hi-Fi 97 we anticipate having some of the most extensive coverage anywhere. Five SoundStagers! were at the show and covered every floor. We felt that net readers would want more than fast, but less than detailed coverage. Our report will be a room by room assessment with listening impressions and detailed notes on what was in each room. For that we pulled back on our schedule and said "mid-July would be the time to do something GOOD!" Look for full coverage by July 19....we plan for it to be worth the wait....DAS
June 8, 1997
To: Greg Weaver:
I tried your suggestions in your SoundStage! article, and was very pleasantly surprised at the results! I thought you might like to hear about it, although I'm sure you already have many examples.
I have a mid-fi system, except for the speakers (a decision from quite a few years ago, made in ignorance. I figured get good speakers, and then better electronics. Oh well.). I didn't expect much difference in switched power polarity in this setup. First I checked the receiver (a ten year old Yamaha). 1.5 VAC on the chassis! (Both the rcvr and CD player are only two conductor power cords) So I ground off the wide flanges and switched the polarity; 0.3VAC. I think I noticed a slight improvement in clarity. The real surprise came, though, from the CD player. I had plugged it into the switched outlet on the receiver, and thereby reversed its polarity (increasing its chassis voltage to about 1 VAC). It sounded AWFUL! So I plugged it separately into the wall outlet, checked its chassis voltage (0.2VAC), and the sound improved dramatically. I'm getting better clarity, better focus, and a quieter background, which seems to improve the dynamics nicely.
What surprised me about this was how this tweak improved decidedly midfi electronics. It really lends some credence to the idea that stray electric fields really do cause audible distortions. Maybe the Shakti stones aren't so far-fetched an idea (although I doubt they could affect as much result as finding the right power polarity). So, thanks for the suggestion! As I get better electronics, I will certainly be checking the chassis voltage for each unit.
While not really a tweak, I'm currently experimenting with making my own speaker cables, using a Litz-type construction. If you're interested, I'll let you know how things turn out. I'm especially interested in the construction geometry vs. conductor/insulation composition effects. I'm hoping that geometry is the predominate factor (it's a lot cheaper tooptimize than trying to get silverplated OFHC copper with Teflon insulation!).
Thanks again, and Good Listening!
... Pat R.
Glad to hear of your success! This tweak obviously works very well regardless of type or brand of equipment.
As to your speaker wire expimentation, I assume (and we all know what happens when you assume!) you have seen my Positive Feedback reprint on SoundStage! titled "Loudspeaker Cables: Simple Passive Connection or Complex Dynamic Component". If not, check it out at http://www.soundstage.com/pf02.htm as it may give you some ideas and direction toward your goal. It outlines all of today's major construction types and attempts to codify their typical resultant sounds.
Obviously I'd love to hear how you make out in your cable experiments. That is why I have been in this hobby/sport/disease of music reproduction.
Thanks for taking the time to write me and let me know how eventful this tweak was for you AND for reading SoundStage!
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