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October 2010
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 132
Eleven years and Counting
Plus the Vibraplane, Arcici Suspense Rack, Black Ravioli Footers, Pure Power PP 2000 AC Regenerators and much more!

Article By Dr. Bill Gaw

 

  Welcome to the end of my eleventh, and probably most eventful, year of writing for this webzine, and my 30th year of being a card carrying audiophile. Prior to 1980, I had been an audio fanatic, building my own speakers, integrated tube amplifiers, etc, but really couldn't afford to be a true audiophile (meaning trading out pieces of equipment on a regular basis to get infinitesimally small improvements in music playback) until completing my medical training.

During those 30 years I've culled out some ideas on music reproduction which have guided me in my pursuit of excellent sound that I wish to share with you today. Again, these are my thoughts and you may feel otherwise. Also several of them will be different from those expressed by other audio cognoscenti, so take them with a grain of salt.

1. The "Absolute Sound" is not absolute. While live unamplified performances are the ideal listening situation, whether the sound is great or horrible depends on many factors, including the hall, where you sit in it, the quality of the musicians and how they feel that day, the weather, whether it's a full moon or not, etc.

2. While a recording may come close to the live performance, it can never perfectly replicate it due to everything from microphone placement and type to the recording equipment to the method of storage and playback to the skill of the engineer in making the final product.

3. On the other hand, the recording is the only possible way or reliving the performance in the future. Thus a recording of a truly superior performance by a great musician will be more satisfying to listen to than the majority of live performances. I can count on one hand the really great live performances which I've attended over the years, but I have several hundred great performances by dead or retired musicians and orchestras that I can listen to at any time.

4. A large percentage of high end audio systems, if set up to their maximum potential, can beat any live sound, except possibly for sitting in the ideal listening position in one of the best concert halls in the world at a live unamplified performance. Otherwise, going to live concerts, especially those putting out 100 dB plus sound from loudspeakers and amplifiers with horrendous distortion levels to overcome the crowd noise, cannot compete with those systems for sonic purity. And remember, you can listen to those ideal performances by those great artists of the past at any time.

5. So go ahead and spend a small fortune on your music reproduction instrument. But remember, it's not the cost of the equipment that counts but how one maximizes their potential. Very few pieces come from the factory with all of their parts optimized for playback. I have yet to find a piece that can't use some tweaking. Also, most equipment is tuned to the listening tastes of the producer on one or possibly a few systems, so even the best of some component may not match your tastes or equipment.

6. No matter how expensive or good each piece of equipment is, there is no perfect reproducer of the musical wave form. Each has some major or minor fault that affects the sound.

7. Thus, all components of a system have to mesh synergistically to obtain optimal sound. Since there are thousands of components, it is very rare for even the best gear to match their idiosyncrasies for optimal music reproduction.

8. Therefore, most systems never reach their full potential.

9. "Garbage In Garbage Out." While others argue over whether it's the loudspeaker or the source that's most important for the sound quality of a system, I say that one needs to go further back in the chain. It's actually the room and the electricity that are most important. If the room is of poor acoustical construction, or the electricity has distortion of the 60 Hz sine wave, it won't matter how superb the electronics or speakers are, the music won't be musical. It kills me to walk into a house and see a system probably valued at four to five figures with the speakers arranged in the worst possible positions in a room with bare walls and large windows just because the owner doesn't want to offend the interior decorator, or even worse, the significant other (WAF).

10. We all live in an "RF'd up" world with all sort of electromagnetic radiation bombarding our systems both through the air and the wall current. Any time one can reduce or eliminate this distortion has got to improve the sound. I think one of the reasons that the recordings from the 50's and 60's sound so natural is that they had to fight with much less electronic noise invading both their recording and playback systems.

11. Air and Ground-born vibrations are the next biggest evil to quality sound. While the worst offender is actually the music adding feedback type vibrations through each piece of equipment, there are also naturally occurring very low frequency vibrations both in the air and from the ground which can distort the playback signal.

12. Since the 1950's (until the past few years),  every new method of music storage and playback has been a step backward in one way or another, usually because the average person prefers ease of use to sound quality. Vinyl replaced open reel tape, cassettes replaced vinyl, CD replaced vinyl, DVD's with down-rezzed Dolby digital and DTS replaced them all, and mp3 and low bit rate web downloads replaced even that.

 

A few years ago we finally had a marked improvement with 5.1 track SACDs or DVD-Audios, but even some audiophile Luddites complained that they didn't have the purity of stereo playback, which pushed back the progress of audio. I remember the same arguments back in the 50's when stereo replaced mono. Adding more equipment would detract from the quality of each individual piece as less would be spent on each. Mono is enough as most of us sit way back in the concert hall and thus hear a mono signal from the players anyway. Stereo is gimmicky with left to right ping-pong effects. Etc. Etc.

The arguments now are very similar for surround. Just remember, in a concert hall we actually pick up more information from the hall reverberations than we do from the direct sound emanating from the musicians. Why does an orchestra sound completely different in various concert halls? It's the information that our ears are receiving from the surrounding environment that flavors the sound. In stereo we lose the majority of that.

Now, happily, we have even a further advancement over audio-only recordings with Blu-Ray discs which can do 1080P high definition video with 24-bit/96kHz 7.1 track audio. You haven't lived until you see and hear one of these superb discs, which allow one to view the musicians and their emotions and techniques as they play.

Over the past 11 years, Steven R. Rochlin, our illustrious (or should I say infamous) editor extraordinaire has given me free reign to discuss whatever came to my mind about high end audio. This has allowed me to do everything from think pieces, reviews of equipment, to helpful hint columns on audio setup and tweaking, usually without much editorializing on his part. A large number of them have discussed what I consider to be the three biggest distorters of high end sound; AC noise, room acoustic anomalies and acoustic vibrations. Over the years, my room has been inundated with various equipment, tweaks and home remedies for all three. This year has been a ground-breaker for equipment that has significantly improved on these problems.

The first problem partially solved was room acoustics. Unless you have a room the size of a small concert hall, there is no way to completely eliminate acoustic anomalies such as standing waves that will distort the sound of the concert hall imbedded in the recording.

Back in the early 80's I had constructed on the side of my house a 17 x 29 x 14 foot (all walls splayed for unparallel surfaces) listening room, 1 inch thick  high density fiberboard walls, with RPG Diffusers covering the back, front and parts of the side walls, and sound absorbing panels of 6 inch thick Sonex covering the first reflection sites for the speakers. In addition I went with bass horns (among other reasons) with the mouth applied to the floor and side wall to eliminate first reflection distortions. Obviously no WAF discussions in this house.

Over the years, I've tried all sorts of equipment, tweaks, footers, weights, etc. to eliminate the vibration gremlins. While most helped to one extent or another, there have only been three that have significantly improved the air and ground born distortion and are still in my system. The first and still most important are the three Vibraplanes purchased probably 20 years ago from Steve Klein of Sound Of Silence that support my amplifiers.

These, and the Arcici Suspense Rack which holds my source components, are the longest lasting components in my system because they do what they are supposed to by almost completely eliminating any vibrations reaching the equipment from the ground. Adding lead shot bags to the tops of equipment supplements the effect and also improves on air born vibrations. This year's addition of the Black Ravioli Footers has all but eliminated this distortion.

Finally, my biggest problem has been the electric gremlins which plague all of us whether we know it or not. Without clean 60 Hz. sine wave electricity, the full potential of our equipment is masked. No power supply for any piece of electronics can be completely protected from the junk carried with the AC wave, even by manufacturers building massive power supplies which add significantly to the price of each piece.

I've tried everything from multiple (8) multi KVA 2-3000VA) transformers with large capacitors (farads), to various pieces of equipment with esoteric black magic type components, to power cords with various windings, coatings, lengths, etc., spending more than on my other equipment, with only moderate success. None until this year would completely eliminate the electric gremlins. One can know when one achieves this if listening at any time of day matches what one has heard from their system during their best listening session.

Through experimentation over the years I've come to the conclusion that the only way of completely eliminating the noise carried on the AC is to completely regenerate a pure 60 Hz. wave. The problem in the past has been that the only reasonable way of doing that was through digital processes which added distortions and usually produced current limiting, thus damaging bass reproduction.

The Holy Grail of almost noise-free electricity was finally accomplished this year with the addition of three Pure Power PP 2000 AC Regenerators. Somehow, the Pure Power units have successfully turned every listening session, no matter what time of day, into a late night type session with the best sound produced from my system in the past 30 years.

They say that as an audiophile ages, he loses both the ability to hear subtle nuances in sounds and high frequency hearing, and we become happy with what we have for quality. While that may be part of what's going on, I still feel that over the past year I've solved many if not all of the problems which have plagued my system over the years and have brought it to the point where I'm actually satisfied enough with it to be able to take it with me as my desert island system. It's really that good.

Of course, since last month, I may not have to cart the several thousand of pounds of equipment to that island now that I've found the Smyth Research Realiser A-8 Headphone system as reviewed last month. With this unit, a source device such as the OPPO BDP83 Mod Wright Universal Player plus a great pair of headphones, such as the STAX 404's and maybe a tactile stimulator for bass impact,  one can emulate almost perfectly any audio system up to 8 channels through a set of headphones. It works so well, that about half of my evening listening sessions are with this system rather than turning on my big rig, it's that good.

So it has been a great year for my listening pleasure and I hope it has been equally as great for you. On to year number 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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