Devils and details
Part of the challenge in audio engineering is to know when to use certain processes or devices and when to use others. For example, a tube in the input stage works well, but not so much in the output. Or, a capacitor used as a DC blocker might sound better than the complexity of a servo, or, vice versa.
Analog integrated circuits, like op amps, can typically be bettered by their discrete counterparts in some cases, but not all. For example, if component matching is a critical aspect to your design then there’s likely no better process than integrating everything on a single piece of silicone. Each component tracks the temperature variations of the other for near-perfect matching.
Yet, in the same way separates can outperform integrated amplifiers, there are disadvantages to IC solutions too. The limitations of single silicone, including low power requirements and a lack of isolation between components, can hinder performance levels in highly resolving systems like the kind you and I might want at home.
It’s always a good idea to keep sweeping proclamations of better and worse at a minimum.
Like just about everything else in life, it’s the details that flush out the devil.
Maybe our focus has been to narrow. We think of our ears as mere microphones. We then design measurement equipment to unravel all the distortions and intricacies that might trip up a microphone, only to wonder why those measurements and our hearing perceptions don’t line up.
Our ears are microphones, but that’s only the simplest of their tasks. The ear is a complex instrument, from its outer shape, called the Pinna, funneling sound through a curved canal into the microphone’s diaphragm—quaintly called the eardrum from years before we understood its full nature—and onwards through other archaic names like the Vestibule, Round Window, and Oval Window, continuing through the three tiniest bones in our bodies: the malleus, incus, and stapes, collectively know as the Ossicles (which literally means tiny bones).
The ear’s sorted electrical signals including those of position and balance are fed to our massive CPU, the brain, for further processing—and this is where we form an image of what we hear. Yes. A literal holographic multi-dimensional image with far more information than any recording or measurement device yet imagined.
You see, we hear not only with our ears but our brains. It’s called Perceptual Hearing.
What a wonderful invention it might be to someday devise an analog of perceptual hearing. We could then quantify that which we perceive as sound.
Some work has been done already. Studies of three-dimensional audio holography have made great strides.
But, for now, we are our best analog. The real deal.