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 use EQ and know how to use it properly. I don’t add, but only cut!
Taming the top end
Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions is how to tame an aggressive top end within an audio system.
The culprits are almost always dome tweeter offering greater detail to the music. And that’s the catchphrase to be wary of.
It’s not that I have something against domes. I’ve heard a number of fine examples over the years. It’s just that the trend in speaker designs today seem pointed at folks who are attracted to the heightened sense of detail, like an over-etched picture or an oversharpened video screen. But whatever the reason, owners of these speakers seem prone to fatigue over time and then search for cables and electronics to tame the high-frequency aggression.
By the time the question gets presented to me it’s usually at the point of wit’s end: Too late or too deep in and hopeful to fix the problem by tailoring system synergy.
Sometimes a simple repositioning of the hot tweeter to a more off-axis focus (not directly at the ear) works wonders. Cables, vacuum tubes, and even careful music selection can ease the problem too, but it’s not the perfect solution.
Here’s my advice. If in the market for new speakers be careful of that shiny object called a “detailed” tweeter. Live music rarely is as detailed as these products suggest.
Enjoy the extended detail and then get down to brass tacks. Does it sound like live music?