We don’t know what we don’t know!
We love to judge
One of the readers of this daily post, Bernard, suggested I remind us of some famous words from Linn founder, Ivor Tiefenbrunn.
“If you haven’t heard it, you don’t have an opinion.”
Now that’s fairly direct and to the point. I don’t personally know Ivor but from what I gather he was always that way.
It’s often tempting to pass judgement on something we’ve not personally experienced, which makes sense when we’re discussing extreme activities like parachute jumping, rock climbing, or daredevil stunt flying.
When it comes to offering an opinion on something closer to home like the differences a fuse or an audiophile cable makes, I am guessing the vast majority of naysayers have never actually taken the time to do the work of listening.
Where I will argue with Ivor’s statement is easy: everyone’s got an opinion.
And we read about those opinions as if they were facts. Valid or not.
There are ghosts in our stereo systems. Phantoms of sound that do not physically exist in the real world.
We call them the center channel.
Think of how much time and effort we put into getting this phantom center channel to sound real.
For most people, the center channel is number one in importance. We typically get it to pop and sound real, then work on the rest of the soundstage until the center begins to degrade and that’s where we stop and call it good.
You can easily tell if you’ve gotten the center channel right. Play a mono recording and if things are properly set up, the music from that monaural recording should be disconnected from the speakers and form a believable image.
And the good news?
Unlike home theater folk with their hardware center channels, ours are but an illusion we never need upgrade.
Room in a room
Our rooms contribute to how reproduced music sounds.
Have a room resonance peak at maybe 150Hz? Every track of music played in the room will have that same bass bump.
Your room’s response is then added to by the multiple room responses of where the recording was captured, mixed, and mastered.
What we hear when we play music is a messy amalgam of rooms and their imperfections.
Which is often why my favorite audio recordings may not be yours and vice versa.
Rooms within rooms.
Now you see me…
Most of us want to be noticed and cared about. Few want only to fade into the darkness.
We hope others will pay attention to us.
Yet, when it comes to a high-performance loudspeaker, that’s the last thing we hope for.
The finest loudspeakers disappear in one of the best magic shows I know of.
Large boxes dominating the room. Only our eyes know they are there.
Our ears tell us a very different story.
The way music is supposed to sound
Tell a false fact or a mistruth enough times and people will believe it to be accurate.
I wonder if the same thing applies to music and its reproduction.
Could it be that with enough repetition the hyper-compressed music of acts like Kanye West and Diddy is how music is supposed to sound?
What happens when enough people who believe that is the standard by which all recording should live up to hear open expansive music? Will they then think it’s wrong?
It is conceivable that if enough people think MP3’s and earbuds are the standards by which music is expected to be listened to that someday LP’s and CD’s will to them sound bad.
Cultural shifts often happen because enough people go in a common direction. Even if it is in the wrong direction.
When that common direction is in a direct opposite path than what we as audiophiles have come to accept as real and right, there’s a risk it will become the norm.
For some, it likely is the norm.
I wonder why some topics raise the hairs on the backs of our necks more than others.
Any mention of audio cables and their sound quality and all hell breaks loose. Or, our stereos vibration control. Or electrical power improvements.
Perhaps it can be said that the farther away from Main Street the more brightly the fires of dissent burn.
But here’s the rub. Main Street is boring. We’ve all been there more times than we can count.
If we want to grow and expand it’s good to get out of the mainstay and into the suburbs of questionable practices.
Everything you find on Main Street started out at the edges before becoming accepted.
Can’t vs. has
If you line up three blindfolded food tasters and rate their responses on the difference in taste between arugula and parsley, would it make sense to proclaim there are no taste differences if that should be their conclusion?
More to the point, if in blind testing on someone’s HiFi system there are no differences heard between cables or equipment, do we simply then state there are no differences to be had?
When does it make sense to first set up a stereo system that testers do hear differences and then begin testing it on differing levels of listeners?
If you want to discover how many people can tell the difference between something you first need to make sure the experiment is set up in such a way that at a minimum the proponents of the experiment agree it’s working.
If we want to learn the truth about falling trees and the sounds they do or do not make, it’s probably best to set up the experiment in a forest of trees.
In or out?
Over on the PS Audio YouTube channel, there’s a spirited debate over terminology. In a balanced signal, are the two halves out of polarity or out of phase?
I suppose the fact viewers are in a heated discussion over such semantic differences is a good thing. Or maybe it means folks have more time on their hands than I imagine.
The answer is both are accurate though one is more technically correct than the other.
Phase generally refers to a change in time while polarity is absolute.
In balanced audio, we have two conductors with signals, each 180˚ out of phase with the other. As one signal is rising its mate is falling. Sum the two signals together and they should perfectly cancel each other out and we get zero signal. We use this difference between the two to our advantage. If our balanced signal is fed into a balanced input, then only the difference between the two signals is amplified (and they are 180˚ different from each other). Any signal common to both signals is rejected (called common-mode rejection). Hum and other noises leaking into the balanced audio cable are eliminated.
So here’s the rub. If we say the two signals are of opposite polarity to each other we communicate correctly what the signals are that make up a balanced cable. It is also accurate to say the two signals of opposite polarity are out of phase with each other.
So, both are correct though one way of expressing it makes for fewer arguments among us nerds.
The trick about communicating is to make sure you’re speaking clearly to the audience and that they understand.
Or, find an audience with less free time on their hands to argue about such trivia.