PS Audio International: Opening up an age old debate

Several of you have written me suggesting the issue we’ve been discussing on purity has more to do with the playback equipment than the way it was recorded. I think it’s more complicated than that.

There was a time when we could accurately say that most all digital was inferior to most all analog – the CD vs. vinyl debate. As I pointed out the fact we can master a digital recording into vinyl and have it sound like analog suggests that’s no longer the case. In fact I would suggest that hasn’t been the case for some years now as most mastering studios are digital at one point in the chain even if the work started out analog.

I think what’s happening is that how close a recording gets us to our goal of being in the room with the musicians depends more on the playback equipment and the original recording and mastering process than any other factor – but here’s the rub – it isn’t the purity of the equipment design that matters.  Kit doesn’t have to be pure to be true to the experience.

Purity demands nothing be added or subtracted and that term works well when we refer to reproducing the actual event – not the equipment playing it back.

A great DAC playing a great recording can send us into musical bliss just as easily as a great turntable and vinyl disc can – while a cheezy off-the-shelf consumer stereo system playing the same media can leave us uninvolved.

It takes a great high-end setup playing well recorded media to recreate the musical truth of the original event – purity of the kit’s design, digital, analog, CD, hard drive, vinyl, tubes or solid state are just the means we use to get there – and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.

So, the next time someone tells you they only listen to vinyl or analog and they can’t stand the “sound” of digital, you can smile knowing full well the truth of the matter.



PS Audio International: How to prove a point

I am convinced Bob Carver is a crazy genius. He’s given more to our industry than most and always surprises and delights with his innovative approach. His tiny cube amplifier, his miniature room shaking subwoofers and to the point of this post, his amplifier shootout.

I remember back to 1985 when several reviewer challenged Carver to build a solid state power amplifier that sounded as good as a tube amplifier. Bob was just arrogant and smart enough enough to take the challenge and the magazine published the shootout and Bob won that battle easily.

But here’s what’s interesting: he did it by degrading the performance of the solid state amplifier to match that of the tube amp. His method was simple yet brilliant. Gain matching the two amps he placed their outputs on a scope set to difference mode. When in this mode the scope will visually display the differences between the two inputs. You can see an example of this with the PerfectWave Power Plants’ built in scope that displays the differences between the in and out voltages.

Using different musical pieces played on both amps, he masterfully hand “detuned” the solid state amp to match the tube amp and reduce the differences to nothing. The results were that the two amps sounded identical in a blind shootout by the reviewers. I think Bob even tried to capitalize on the publicity by producing a power amp that claimed the same performance – alas, unless Bob personally hand tuned each model it never sounded as good.

The point of all this goes back to our post on Purity and if it is a myth. If one can retune a device to sound more musical (thus no longer pure) and if vinyl records are filters that help digital recordings sound more musical, then what of purity?

Tomorrow I’ll let you know what I think about all this.



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