One of the most difficult, as well as enriching, tasks faced by manufacturers is deciding what features to add or not add to new product. Do you throw in the kitchen sink or just offer the basics? A Swiss Army knife or a P38 can opener?
I know in our case we gather in groups to cuss and discuss this very subject and the conversation always comes back to two things: what features and functions are actually required to operate the gear and what cool things can it do? Of course, the list of cool things a product can do is an opportunity for people’s imaginations to soar, but sometimes, the realities of physics or budgets can squash some of those wild visions. Yet, those that survive often define a product in the customer’s eye.
When I dream of a new audio product it’s always as a user. I picture the entire process of operating the new gear, how I would interact with it, what the results would be, and how it would make me feel. As I am imagining using the new gear features naturally appear in my mind, like easy access to the vacuum tubes in BHK products, or a mute button on the remote. As simple or obvious as some of these features might seem, they came from imagining the use of equipment in my head.
Our designers all practice this imaginary use case. They dream of how it
will be to fire up their new creations and play music. And it’s a good thing
It’s a heck of a lot easier to add or subtract imagined features than adding
or removing them from a physical prototype.
Vibration isolation products are snake oil
We’ve saved perhaps the best for last. “Best” because this is a subject that genuinely gets the hairs on the back of some necks to stand at stiff attention, yet there’s ample proof that it works.
Some weeks ago I published this video of a vibration control product demonstration I saw while at RMAF. Nearly 30,000 people have viewed this video and the number of commenters is one of the highest of all my many videos. Passions run high and I think I know why. The idea that reducing vibrations has an audible impact runs so counter to what we consider normal as to inflame emotions often to the burning point. “It just doesn’t make any sense!” is a rallying cry to get the tar heated up and the feathers collected. Yet, the differences are easy to hear.
Few knowledgeable people would dispute that quieting vibration prone equipment matters: turntables, vacuum tubes would come to mind right away. Perhaps less obvious are capacitors that proliferate within equipment, but these are generally accepted by even the propellerhead measurementists. No, what really freaks people out is speakers.
Speakers make the noise we hear in our rooms and systems. They generate sound pressure and should be immune to their own vibrations, dammit!
Ahh, but sadly, the boxes that hold our speakers add to the melee of sound in the room. At the same time they radiate sound waves those same boxes add time audible vibrations through the floor. As well, some would claim those same floor vibrations are reflected back up into the box to muddle the music even more. If you have the time to closely look at the graphs Dave Morrison shows at the end of the video you’ll gain a better understanding of how isolation products—legit isolation products, that is—actually contribute to good sound.
Is there snake oil in accessories? Oh my, yes. Claims and counterclaims that match Carter and his little pills abound with abandon. Yet, I would encourage the person interested in good sound to wade through the bullcrap to find the truth.
As in any of these Fact or Fiction questions, there’s truth to be found if you’re interested in finding it.