Simple, cleaner, less cluttered. That’s the way we like our signal path, right? Less is more.
In simpler days when vinyl LP’s were all there was, a clean and straight path was typically the best for audio quality: the perfect cartridge/arm/table, feeding a great preamplifier, and then on into a power amp. This was before cables and accessories were a thing. Didn’t get much cleaner than that.
Today even analog rigs seem to require more to make them sing. Perhaps it’s an expensive set of audio cables, isolation products, tube dampers, separate phono and line stage, monoblock amps, and so forth.
I remember my first education in how simple isn’t always better. Years ago we used between the phono preamp and amplifier the very finest potentiometer available. No line stage or buffer after the pot for us, because we knew simpler had to be better. Until we tried a proper buffer after that pot and then everything changed. Gone was the wimpy bass without slam factor. Enter a new dimensionality in instrumentation separation and a much cleaner, clearer, better defined soundstage.
All because we recognized simpler isn’t always better.
We’ve likely all experienced the sensation of a blacker audio background. Perhaps it’s a new audio or video cable or a software update that did the trick. Or maybe a power conditioner or regenerator that removed a layer of noise. Whatever the cause, when there’s a deeper blackness we hear it.
Or do we?
In a digital audio system, typical background noise levels are very low—well below the threshold of audibility. When we place our ear close to the tweeter we hear some amount of hiss from the analog chain of amps and preamp (or DAC). In a quiet system that small amount of tweeter noise isn’t typically audible at our listening position. So, even if we made a change to the system that lowered the tiny amount of noise broadcasting out our tweeter, it’s unlikely we’d be able to hear less of it.
So, what gives?
My guess is that when we hear a deeper blackness it’s because the noise we’re lowering is part of the softest passages of music. In other words, it’s embedded or riding on the music. We are hearing the lack of that noise piggybacked on the music.
My logic is simple. When the music’s not playing there’s zero difference I can hear in noise levels. It’s only when the music plays that I notice these deeper velvet moments. Thus, it must have something to do with unwanted energy riding atop the music in the same way we sometimes hear glare and tizz.
It’s little more than an observation, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.