One of the more ironic tasks in HiFi is to make the speakers disappear. Quite a feat of magic for big boxes dominating the room.
Yeat, difficult or not, that’s exactly what we want to do.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re system is working correctly is to close your eyes and see if you can point to the playing loudspeakers. You shouldn’t be able to pinpoint the source of sound.
Getting this right can often be challenging, especially when you don’t use much toe in (as I often recommend).
The fixes for non-disappearing speakers are often a mix of room treatment, proper electronics, and setup.
I would always start in the reverse order from which I just listed. Setup can often make invisible the speakers right in front of you.
If it takes a change of cables or stereo equipment because of harshness or colorations that focus attention on the source of sound, that becomes a more difficult task.
Whatever the case, working towards achieving vanishing sound certainly has its rewards.
As of late, I am receiving in my inbox a surprising and delightful increase of messages and heartfelt letters of thanks for our HiFi Family.
Thanks for reinvigorating people’s interest in HiFi. Seems that folks coming to the website find a place where they can once again feel part of a community that they once had.
How cool is that? Just when many thought our numbers were shrinking, along comes a new crop of people interested in what we all love. High-End audio.
I believe the need for like-minded people interested in music and its reproduction in the home has never waned and, in fact, grown.
When the culture changes from one of neighborhood dealers to online communities there’s always going to be fallout. Once things begin to settle in it’s natural for those who always wanted to be part of the community to rejoin.
And that’s a good thing.
Where have all the experts gone?
As our audio industry morphs from its heyday of local experts to a more globally connected version, we see a shift that affects us all.
I remember well the differing areas of influence exerted over localities. Big, influential high-end audio dealers in one area would have their favorite go-to stereo systems peppered throughout their spheres of influence. Thus, audiophiles in New York might have systems very different than their west coast brethren.
Now that we are increasingly connected together by the internet, there’s a homogenization of systems around the world.
I think this is a good thing because it allows us to share together information and ideas we might never have had access to.
There are no fewer HiFi experts than there were before.
You just have to look for them online.
Not sure about this.
In the center
When I look at the wonderful collection of system photos from our HiFi Family photo album, the one thing I notice is that most people place their electronics stack between the speakers.
I too do this when at a tradeshow, but almost never do this in my personal or reference system if I can help it. In fact, for many years, almost no one would consider placing their electronics in the center of the front wall and between the speakers.
Before there were remote controls, it would have been a real pain in the keester to have to jump up and down to change volume levels for each track.
I understand most folks don’t have the luxury of extra real estate to be able to put their electronic stack to the side, and some are anxious to keep their cable lengths short, but I am guessing there’s also another reason.
We like to see the stereo equipment when music’s playing. After all, most of us own some pretty cool looking gear.
So here’s the thing. My recommendation is to keep the equipment stack—or anything for that matter—out from between the loudspeakers. Equipment racks, tables, televisions, all wreak some level of sonic havoc.
It’s not always easy nor convenient, but if you can manage, put the shelf-full of kit off to the side.
I don’t suppose that after all these years I should be surprised when a presumed expert shows off a stereo system that sounds dreadful.
It happens more than it should.
How many times have I walked into a HiFi showroom and did an immediate 180?
Far too many times.
And it’s not just audio where presumed experts get it wrong. Doctors, lawyers, professors, experts.
None are without fault and sometimes embarrassingly so.
An expert is someone who gets it right, time and again. It has nothing to do with credentials.
It’s ok for you to be an expert.
The classic armchair quarterback can be a valued member of any team. Their dispassionate views often add value to those actually making the plays.
But making the plays, designing the audio equipment, making the tough decisions of how to get from point A to point B is a very different challenge than what a critic faces.
What designers, engineers, and craftspeople bring to the table is hands-on experience—the hard-won skills to successfully bring a new product or service from an idea to a finished piece.
When I share my knowledge and experience of designing and building products with the HiFi Family it comes from a desire to help others see what I see without their having to spend 50 years accumulating it.
I truly love the role reviewers, critics, and armchair quarterbacks play. They are not mired in the detritus of sorting through the years of successes and failures.
I do wonder sometimes if they’ve forgotten the differences between passing judgment and actually envisioning, designing, building, and producing that which they judge.
Our son played trumpet for much of his pre-teen and early teenager years and we had two dogs that used to howl when he played. However, when they would hear recorded versions of the same material, played back on my wife’s cellphone, they would also howl. So, our experience is different than Ed’s.
The dog gets it
When HiFi Family member Ed Spilka sent me the following note I just had to smile. How many times have I heard a similar story? Too many times to count.
And here’s the thing. It’s not just about vinyl. I have heard the same stories about DSD, vacuum tubes, and even good vs. bad cables.
I am sure the measurement folks will have a field day with this one.
“I wanted to share an interesting audio experience that happened the other day. We were visiting a friend of my wife’s in San Antonio. She was showing us around their new house when we walked into “his” room which held Wilson Alexandria speakers, D’agostino amps, Berkeley DAC’s etc. You get the idea.
When he came home he invited us into his inner sanctum and we began to play. At one point we were A/B’ing between his vinyl collection and streaming on tidal/Qobuz with Sonny Rollin’s Way Out West. On one cut it is just the drummer and Sonny. When Sonny started blowing on the vinyl version, their dog began singing along—howling like crazy. As soon as we switched to the streaming version, the dog was silent, uninterested.
My wife pointed it out to us since we were too engrossed in “listening” to notice the obvious! It happened every time we switched back and forth between vinyl and streaming. Have you experienced that before?”
As I said, this has happened to me with animal reactions more times than I can count.
We might argue like crazy, but the dogs get it.
The soft effect
A very kind HiFi Family member generously sent me a few Sheffield Labs Direct to Disc CD’s. These treasures are hard to find and I was extremely grateful to have received them.
Upon playing the Lincoln Mayorga and Friends disc I was reminded of just how direct and dynamic they were. There’s a clarity here that you just don’t find on even the best vinyl products.
That clarity comes not so much from the direct to disc mastering process but rather from the lack of the tape recording process.
Tape recorders have a softening effect and every generation of tape gets softer and softer. Cutting out the tape and going direct to disc, while a pain in the keester to make happen, really demonstrates just how soft tape can be.
We get that same softening when we run our audio through analog electronics. Each pass through the circuit rounds off ever so slightly the transient edges, blurring the lines just enough to hear it.
It turns out one of the main advantages of digital is the elimination of the softening effect. No matter how many copies or generations of digital we never lose any resolution.
Tape was an essential medium. Without it we’d never have gotten to where we are today. But I am reminded of how much I do not miss its softening effect.
I prefer the direct dynamics found in the music—regardless of how they got there.
From as far back as 1974 (which to me doesn’t seem that long ago) I have felt part of a community. The community of people like you and me. Out of the ordinary folks who know what good sound is and are willing to invest their time, passion, and available funds into achieving great sound.
I suppose community can apply to any sort of group that finds more benefit from togetherness than from being apart. Certainly, I gain more from our audio community than I would setting out alone and I guess that’s true for most of you reading this post.
Communities give and they take. They give camaraderie, shared knowledge, friendships, and connections. But, like any community, those living within have to agree on some sorts of mutual terms. If we’re fighting and bickering amongst ourselves (as opposed to spirited debates) then we’re not enjoying the benefits of togetherness.
Our HiFi Family is one of the kindest, friendliest, and generous communities I have known. I am proud to call you my friends.
Thanks for all you do for our community.
Like it or not we place a lot of importance on outward appearances. Take rats for example. Most of us are repelled by the sight of these rodents, but dress them up with a bundle of soft fur and a bushy tail and now they’re adorable enough to name them differently. A squirrel.
My first circuit was a phono stage that I placed in a Roi Tan cigar box and powered it with a couple of 9v batteries. Ugly and crude do not adequately describe its appearance and most of my audiophile friends wouldn’t let it near their system. Take that same circuit and battery pack, put it into a nice metal box and suddenly it’s a welcome guest.
We are very comfortable with the idea that a component’s outward appearance speaks to what’s on the inside. D’Agastino’s beautifully crafted outer chassis reminds us of a Swiss watch. It wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that same level of care went into its inner workings.
While the old chestnuts reminding us not to judge books by their covers or beauty by the depth of skin, I think it’s good to remind ourselves we’re forever tied to equate inner workings with outer appearances.
It’s not a bad thing to love the way your HiFi kit looks.