The race for dynamic range in the recording industry is over. We won.
At the beginning of the 20th century the first sound recordings achieved about 15dB of dynamic range. 30 years later, following the Roaring Twenties and the advent of vacuum tubes, we had doubled that number to 30dB. The march ever forward has continued to where today, with the benefit of digital recording, we can boast 120dB and beyond.
And here’s the thing. We do not benefit from greater dynamic range in audio recordings. Already we can capture everything from the movement of a few molecules of air to the sound pressure of a jet engine.
Loudspeakers have yet to catch up but they cannot be too far behind.
The question then is why, after beating THD and IM below the level of audibility, increasing dynamic range past the point of absurdity, laying flat frequency response beyond measure by our ears, are we so danged far from fooling ourselves that music is live in our rooms?
Should we blame the microphones that captured the music? The rooms we play them in? Or just question the viability of the task altogether?
As engineers, we often get mired in minutiae that doesn’t move the needle any closer to the goal—like building better roads on the wrong path.
I have my guesses. You?
I agree with this one!!
There once was a day when power amplifiers struggled. The mainstays, tube amplifiers, couldn’t handle low frequencies well but had immaculate highs. The newcomers, solid state amps, produced prodigious bass but struggled with the high notes. Neither handled both.
That’s when some bright person decided to combine the best of both worlds. A real aha! moment if you ask me. Use two amps instead of one: tubes for a sweet top end, solid state for an authoritative bottom. This was a great idea but there was a problem.
Hardly any speakers broke out the tweeters from the woofers. Of course, a small problem like that never bothered a true audiophile. Out came the snips and the drill. A newly installed binding post did the trick and voila! The best of both worlds.
Speaker manufacturers anxious to differentiate themselves started adding dual sets of binding posts on their upper-end models. Those speakers with dual binding posts were considered higher-end than those without (perceptions are everything).
And while speaker manufacturers went one direction, adding that second set of binding posts to every model they made, amplifier manufacturers went the opposite direction. The solid-state guys figured out how to sweeten the top end of their amps, obviating the benefits of bi-amplification.
Old habits die hard. Today we use the same amps on top and bottom, a practice with the marginal benefits of less stressed power supplies.
But now that you know the history you might consider making a mental shift away from bi-amplifying to spend a few more bucks and get a single amplifier that excels at both: highs and lows.
You’ll thank me if you do.