Something for nothing
We all like something for nothing: the extra scoop of ice cream, the baker’s dozen, the unexpected set of vibration canceling feet included with our new amp purchase.
Rarely are we pleased with the opposite—something intangible for plenty more. Yet, this is the conundrum we face when considering headroom.
Headroom in amplification—both preamps and power amps—offer huge benefits that we never notice until they are missing. Compare a low headroom amplifier with its polar opposite and the problems of compression, increased non-linearities, and eye-squinting strain become apparent.
It’s not easy to plunk down more funds for greater headroom because it requires a leap of faith, and faith is something we all struggle with.
It’s often the invisible we benefit from the most.
Choose your color
We like to think of our stereo systems as neutral, perfect, clean, uncolored representatives of musical truth. Only, as long as we’re using loudspeakers that’s just not going to happen. Fact is, loudspeakers are the most imperfect elements in our system.
Have a look at the specs for your speakers. Even the most “accurate” among them vary by +/-3dB and many greater than that. It’s also instructive to remember that when we specify something as + and – they often add up.
The challenge with speakers is to find the ones with the colorations that best suit your equipment and your listening preferences. If you like a lean and tight sound, there’s a whole group of speaker designers that agree with you and have tailored their products to make you happy. Or, perhaps you prefer big, fat, and robust sound. Those too are available.
Most audiophiles I talk to profess to want a neutral character to their speakers but, to be honest, I am not sure exactly what that means. My guess is that neutral means the speaker’s colorations are evenly distributed without favor to any particular region.
If you’re interested in more discussion I posted a video on the subject you can watch here.