Real or imagined?
Stereo systems build illusions. The better the stereo system, the more believable the illusion.
It’s not something people think about a lot, yet it is one of the foundations of what we strive for. First time listeners to Music Room Two get a 5-minute explanation of what they are about to experience and why. Their reactions to that explanation are always guarded until the system begins to play. Then it’s all grins.
The questions follow soon after. “The sound is coming from the front of the speaker, right? How is it possible the music appears behind the speakers?”
I was recently asked a very interesting question after the first time listener experienced the illusion of depth. “What’s the value of depth and why does it change from recording to recording?” I answered his question by playing an example, the Mahler 3d.
“The system is attempting to reproduce the sound of as many as 100 musicians seated onstage in a very long hall,” I explained. “Without proper depth, you’d get a scrunched up collection of horns and strings that would not sound right.”
So while depth, width, height, and soundstage are only imagined, they are real enough to justify whatever means are necessary to achieve them.
The difficult part of this equation is understanding just how important audio electronics are in creating the magic trick.
Products stem from their designer’s vision. What are we trying to achieve and why? What resources do we have to work with? What are our limitations?
When engineer Darren Myers set out to design the upcoming Stellar Phono Preamplifier his vision was to build the world’s quietest best-sounding instrument ever produced and deliver it at a price people could afford. Lofty goals indeed!
Once the vision has crystalized the hard work of bringing it into the world begins.
One of the first conclusions Darren arrived at was his ban on IC amplifiers within the device. IC amplifiers simply would not fit into his founding vision of best-sounding. Properly designed discrete circuitry will always sound better than IC based amplifiers. But then the problem of quiet comes into play. Achieving remarkable noise levels is not all that difficult with ICs, yet he’d already determined ICs would not be employed for audio sound quality reasons.
Achieving low noise in discrete designs requires many devices in parallel. In the case of the Stellar Phono Preamplifier 10 extraordinarily quiet input FETs would be needed on each side. That’s a lot when you consider a typical design would use only a single pair. To put that in perspective, the first discrete PS phono preamplifier of the 1970s had fewer than 10 devices in the entire gain block—and Darren went for more just in the input.
The point of this post is that the original vision of the designer plays heavily in the final outcome of the product.
We dream first then roll our sleeves up to sculpt the final product.