Getting a piece of it
I’ve written before that in the long run I find that we are very far away from reproducing live sound in our homes. We stress over cleaning and polishing the fine details of our systems when, in reality, they are very far away from live sound reproduced in our home. We can fool our senses by closing our eyes and imagining we’re in a concert hall but we always know we are not.
I believe that the biggest hurdles to achieving live sound in our homes are to be found not in digital vs. analog recording and playback but in the transducers themselves: the microphones and loudspeakers. These are archaic contraptions that will hold us back from reaching audio nirvana for as long as we insist on using them. Not that I have anything better to offer.
But can we get a piece of it right? Is it possible to reproduce some of the live qualities of music in our homes? I think the answer is yes and I would like to touch on the qualities of some of what we have right over the next few days.
My purpose in writing this isn’t to be a naysayer but rather to poke the box as my friend Seth is fond of saying. Poking the box means to me that I bring to light that which some of us may find uncomfortable. That which challenges our cherished beliefs.
Tomorrow I start with the middle of the chain.
Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.
A few posts ago we covered the topic of dynamics in loudspeakers and how a small pair of speakers really isn’t capable of moving large volumes of air. Unfortunate but true for those of us that enjoy listening to realistic sound pressure levels of orchestral music.
I have experienced “the real deal” with large loudspeakers like the Infinity IRS and the Genesis I’s among other large systems, but never with smaller ones. Is it possible? Obviously most of us (including me) neither have the space nor the funds to own a massive loudspeaker system. The answer is yes if we apply a little bit of clever engineering.
I may have written about this before but years ago I figured out a way to trick the ear into believing the soundfield dynamics were linear and uncompressed in a small speaker system. It’s been my experience that we perceive these compressed dynamics as a limitation of soundstage width with volume. This means that as an orchestra gets louder – really loud – the apparent width of the soundstage should increase beyond the size of the room – and dramatically so. Unless you have a large loudspeaker that simply dominates the room you won’t get this impression when the orchestra plays loudly. That is unless you apply my trick.
What I did was simple. I took another pair of loudspeakers, a small bookshelf pair, and placed each one next to the outer sides of of the primary speakers – 90 degrees from the front baffle of the primaries so they pointed to the outside side walls of the listening room. I then connected the new speakers to a power amp whose input had a threshold gate on it and set the threshold so that the speakers started working only when the music was medium loud.
What happened was fairly amazing to any listener. As the music became loud the soundstage width increased exactly as it would have in real life or with a huge loudspeaker pair. It did this because the new speakers added the missing volume levels – but the energy was directed specifically at the sidewalls of the room – not the listener. Some clever speaker manufacturer could easily add side mounted drivers into their designs and make a passive threshold gate using opto couplers so the primary amp could handle everything should anyone want to.
So you see that by using a bit of clever engineering one can overcome the hurdles we encounter if the desire is there.
Paul McGowan – PS Audio Intl.