For those of us with long memories here’s a flashback. Remember when preamps sported rear-mounted AC receptacles to power the rest of the stereo system?
The first memory I have of the rear-mounted AC receptacle was on my father’s McIntosh C28 preamplifier.
Note the use of switched and unswitched outlets. The idea was that unswitched outlets were for the power amp and switched outlets for tuners and tape decks.
What a grand idea. Run your entire stereo system including your power amplifier through a skinny 16-gauge 2-wire zip cord.
What was it Red Fox used to put his hands up towards the heavens and cry out?
“Elizabeth! They’re coming for me.”
Some innovations are better left in history’s dustbin.
I was filling out a group of standard internet security questions and the one that is almost always front and center stood out to me.
What is the name of your favorite teacher?
Of all the milestones we remember in our lives our favorite teacher is almost always a part of it.
Teachers shape futures.
When I was studying engineering my teacher was a hard, no-nonsense, by-the-book, German engineer named Rudy Ströebel. Herr Ströebel demanded I memorize the resistor color codes, formulas I would need, and schematic symbols and their meanings before he would begin teaching me. This was not a good way to absorb learning but, none the less, I wanted desperately to know and understand all he knew. The deal was made and off to studying, I went.
He wasn’t my favorite teacher though I owe Herr Ströebel much. Without his patience and guidance, I would not be who I am today.
Teachers shape lives.
My favorite was my 4th-grade teacher. I was her pet student and every afternoon at the close of school she would let me carry books and stacks of paper to her car—a brand new pink Cadillac with an electrically operated trunk—as futuristic to me as a flying saucer. With a nervous finger, I would press the trunk button under the massive steering wheel and up popped the trunk. It was pure science fiction. I loved that electric trunk and the teacher who let me operate it.
Whether teachers are from our past or in our future, they are wonderfully gifted, generous people the world needs more of.
To our teachers.
On most recordings, there is a combination of close and distant miking. The close miking gets us a closer-than-natural intimate view of the instrument or performer, while the distant microphones add the missing ambiance and space close-miking cannot capture.
What’s odd about this miking technique is that it works despite the fact we are never as close to the instruments as the microphones.
One way to think about this is to visualize actual musicians in the room. Let’s use a single cello in our example. Mentally place the cellist a few feet behind the loudspeakers. Now, close your eyes and imagine how that would sound from your listening seat.
What you are hearing is a combination of the direct sound from the bow and string coupled with the room’s interactions.
Now, mentally replace our imagined performer with the close-miked cello. It sounds “the same” because the distance between the loudspeakers rendition of the close-miked sound and the listener mirrors the distance between our imagined performer and where we’re sitting.
It may seem counter intuitive to place microphones closer than our ears ever go, but that’s how we get musicians in our rooms.
I’ve got great DSD recordings, as well as great PCM recordings. Which format doesn’t tell the story on how good a recording sounds. Lots of other reasons why things sound the way they do.
Is higher better?
Working with DSD and PCM has been a real learning experience. The two formats sound different from each other though it is unclear why. Is it the analog to digital conversion processor? The DACs? That DSD is closer to analog? They are all different technologies.
On the one hand, DSD runs at a much higher sample rate than any PCM. Single rate DSD is 64 times higher sample rate than CD quality PCM. Yet, there’s not much more audio bandwidth available because of that higher sample rate.
And then there’s PCM. Few today would argue that 44.1kHz is the bare minimum required for decent reproduction. Anything less and we lose the audible frequency range. But double that, and now we can capture twice what we are capable of hearing. And 4 times that (176kHz) and we’re able to capture 80kHz. Much more than we can hear and more than sufficient for phase linearity.
Yet more seems better: 2X, 4X, 64X, 128X, and so on.
We don’t know if the “better” we are hearing is due to the change in architecture or sample rate or both.
But, in a way, what does it matter?
I have heard CDs trounce 192kHz versions just as I have heard DSD smash anything PCM.
In the end, I don’t think higher is necessarily better any more than I think lower is always better when it comes to distortion.
Walking on water
A magician can easily walk on water. All one needs is a few inches of the wet stuff and some Plexiglas shoe-lifts. Amazing. Magical.
Knowing how the trick is performed ruins the illusion and that’s the last thing we want to do.
Better to be amazed than to think too hard about how it was done.
Our stereo systems are magical devices. They create a three-dimensional holographic image right before our ears.
We can turn low the lights and press play. Magically, the illusion of real musicians appears in that treasured space between our two loudspeakers.
It’s alright to share the magician’s secrets when it comes to helping others build their own magic machine.
Here’s to day two of a magical new year.
My favorite Fair Trade coffee describes itself as having “smooth earthy notes”. The coffee I thought I would like, but do not, describes itself as “sweet and rich with floral notes”.
These poetic offerings attempt to describe how one will respond to what’s on offer. They remind me of how we audiophiles refer to the sounds of our stereo system: full bloom, foot-tapping, syrupy, slam.
Using poetry to describe emotional responses makes more sense to some while infuriating others. Why the dichotomy?
What I prefer between the two coffees is how one is inviting while the other off-putting—probably because the one I like has lower acidity (or whatever it is that gives some coffee a “bright” taste). The same could likely be said for different stereo system designs: a list of lower this and higher that.
Would we really better off with a laundry list of variables as opposed to poetry reflecting emotion?
Isn’t the end goal of a good cup of coffee and a great listening session how one feels at the end of it?
It is for me.