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Insanely Audiophile 508

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the for-those-with-cash-to-burn dept.
wiredog sent us a choice quote from a Washington Post story about high end audio. It compares audiophiles to drug addicts and talks about six figure stereo systems that make me cry with jealousy. Anyway, the true gold mine quote is "For that money [$140k], a local company called the Gene Donati Orchestras will send a string quartet to your home and play on your patio once a week for more than a year. Which is why audiophiles spend a lot of time defending their sanity." I dunno about you guys, but that makes my technology buying habit look like my chewing gum budget.
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Insanely Audiophile

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    [my wife is] deaf in one ear

    That's not what they mean by audiophile, sir.

  • smack is cheaper.

    --
    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • Well, bear in mind the guy with the tubes and horns was going with a vinyl analog record, NOT a CD. In fact, I'd almost be willing to bet he was putting on the 'six eye' Columbia pressing of "Time Out", which was very popular. Reading that made me go 'Aha- I have that one' and so I put it on to accompany slashdotting, and yeah- it _is_ nice. Paul Desmond's sax playing is _really_ smooth, and it's surprising how good the bass is (been doing work on the bass end of my studio monitors- I have _professional_ need of a high performance system, I do digital mastering). Though- a horn system like that simply can't compare to direct-radiating sealed box woofers for low end extension, so the guy may have never noticed the way Time Out really only has nice midbass :)

    Come on, folks- this stuff is FUN! How can you enjoy stuff like PCs and overclocking and not sympathise a little bit with this audio stuff? It's the same kind of thing! It's stereo system hot-rods and NOT only confined to white-smocked technicians making million dollar patchcords for rich idiots.

    Example: all that stuff about magnets? Old news and well discussed at rec.audio.high-end, where there's always an argument but _also_ usually some clued-in people as well. And the thing is- magnets have compliance as well. This is no different from air suspensions- it still has a compliance and a pattern of varying compliance with different amounts of separation. If you want to play with that sort of thing, you can do it for virtually nothing- all you need to do is go get some bike inner tubes. Put 'em under your speakers with the stems tucked out where you can get at 'em. Presto, isolation stand- really works. Using high pressure (stiffer compliance) seems to bring everything forward and make it aggressive- I have no idea why, but can confirm others' reports of that. Really soggy compliance minimizes this- the real fun is tuning the air pressure like it is a 'forwardness' control. Good cheap fun. And isn't that a good thing? About time audio quality went 'open source'.

  • Pretty fucked up considering you need to dither digital audio to make it warm, not insert stupid noises :)

    By the way, I bet if you hid the EQ, compander, and noise gate the audiophile wouldn't have hassled you ;) come on, what are you, post-production? It'd probably sound better without that stuff, honest. Though the guy's response is a BIT harsh, what if you enjoy twiddling knobs a whole bunch? Different strokes :)

  • Yeah! A man after my own heart (though I could spend _hours_ nitpicking about details like the vents on everything, but I'll be tolerant since this is Slashdot and nobody cares :) )

    He's Right You Know! Geekery is _fun_ to apply to audio. In the spirit of Ogerman's post here's what I've done- copy amend tweak etc to your heart's content...

    • old harman/kardan integrated with really beefy power supply, hacked into so the signal path goes basically straight to the power section- none of the elaborate tone controls and buttons remain, just input switching, volume and a balance trimmer
    • four foot tower speakers that are constantly riding the front edge of a wave of tweakiness- bass cone area exceeding that of a 15" due to use of four different sized speakers series-parallel like it was a Marshall guitar cab. 12/10/8/6.5 means averaging of narrow response irregularities. Really works nice. No vents, but a large variovent on the back of the cab.
    • Envy of that monster Sonotube sub ;) but I get obvious SPL at 20hz too, just not in the area of 117db. Mine aren't designed for rock-concert levels.
    • No surrounds- stereo guy here.
    • Cable made from telephone cable found on a mountainside- big spool, garden-hose multipair. Basically, just lots of strands of solid-core run in parallel, each separately insulated. Works great! Heavy gauge is nice but I always hold out for insulated strands. By the same token:
    • Interconnects made from _telephone_ cable. Four wires loose in an oversized black plastic jacket, shielded with aluminum foil tape, with a 12-gauge zipcord ground. The signal wires will actually rattle around in the cable- minuses, electrostatic noise (use this as a guitar cord with heavy distortion and you can hear it like it was a microphone! Had to make other kinds for that purpose), pluses- literally air dielectric _and_ 100% shielding, and _cheap_ for what you get. I've also heard of people using Radio Shack wire-wrap cable, which is apparently OFC with silver plating and Kynar- though they tend to also use just the one hairlike wire, which seems kinda wimpy to me ;)
    • Bike inner tubes floating speakers and turntable for isolation mounts- a terrific mod for very cheap, I really enjoyed this one. Did a simultaneous A/B when I first tried it: one speaker normal, one floating. It really altered the sound quite a bit! I tried it and got to really like it.
    • No line conditioner, but I did throw a big powerline choke on the amp AC power, and on all the synths and effects in my studio rack :)

    I have to concur. High end is not about money. It's about _tweaking_ _the_ _gear_, and any overclocker or kernel hacker should appreciate the fun of that :)
  • Don't be misled. He may not be able to hear 18 kilohertz... but there is MORE TO IT than just the highest pitched test-tone you can hear.

    Recent work on dithering has illustrated that with good dithering you can get audible signal to something like 12db _below_ the noise floor, which was previously (early digital) thought to be a hard limit. This explains much about the vinylphiles... more significantly, it means that people also have the capacity to develop great sensitivity to issues of _linearity_ which is what dithering is for in the first place. Linearity is not a pitch-domain thing. It's a resolution-domain thing. You could have someone listening to a 200 hz tone and be able to distinguish when it 'swelled' to 1.00000001 of its previous volume, even if they couldn't hear above 8K. In fact, some types of hearing loss _increase_ sensitivity to resolution issues, though they do so in an un-helpful manner (recruitment- your response to volume boost is no longer as linear).

    There's no reason to doubt that when you're 71 your ears will still be as sensitive to resolution-domain stuff. You may be a total loss in the frequency domain, though :)

  • For the last 10 or so years, I've been wondering if that all is complete bullshit :)

    It got covered by the Absolute Sound magazine. I've written for that magazine, and the _promise_ of the thing sounds very appealing. And yet the guy would not explain what he did, and I just couldn't accept that... I would _love_ to plug a weird device into my studio power strip that would 'polarize' all the electrons or whatever and clean out the soundstage plus also making my TV look better. The TAS guys apparently had experiences like: played system. HP and some golden ear types were in the other room. Install 'clock', keep playing. About 15 minutes later, HP _and_ golden ear types, unaware of the installing, are clamoring into the room demanding "What did you DO?" because the character of the sound underwent an obvious change that they heard from the other room. And yet Tice won't explain what the hell he's doing, if anything... plus, the TAS guys, um, like their herbaceous sustenance ;)

    Very frustrating. Now that I think about it in the context of Slashdot, this is an argument for open source _science_. The more people do stuff and conceal it, the less good it all is. This Tice may actually have come up with something for all we know- but prove it! There is nothing, nothing but hearsay...

  • Ah, the voice of the mixer ;)

    That's why you need us mastering engineers ;)

    I'll concede this: not every tube amplifier or peculiar high end speaker is at all suitable for mastering. Those monster horns are like audio microscopes: it's a selective view of the audio spectrum, not practical to work with. But really- maybe _you_ can work on Yamaha NS-10s but that doesn't mean everybody can and should. Once you have to deal with serious mastering concerns you have got to go a LOT more 'audiophile' or you will simply lose: your stuff won't be consistent, won't translate well to all systems.

    Different strokes. You keep mixing, and others will deal with the fine-tuning (and pray that you _are_ using NS-10s vs., say, Genelecs: some Genelecs are so 'forgiving' that you can be mixing in horrible bass and treble irregularities and not even hear it. NS-10s at least distort when you do that :) )

  • I bet I know what he was going on about. Mark my words.

    He's reacting to the many, many poor 16-bit CDs out there. You can take CD a surprisingly long way if you dither it really well but there's lots out there which is completely screwed-up: lots of truncation all through the recording process, inadequate bus wordlength, you name it.

    Peoples' ears are trained by what they listen to. You live out in the country, you listen to nature sounds off in the distance, and your ear learns to discriminate between different types of distant sound automatically. There's no effort, you just do.

    If you listen to a lot of _bad_ CDs, your ear is being trained to pull detail out of a lot of _garbage_: if audio can be said to have a fractal quality (like, oh, everything _else_ in nature?), bad digital recording obliterates this. At the threshold of hearing (actually well before that point for really bad examples) instead of pulling signal out of the noise floor as your ear is constantly trying to do, you are pulling the correlated noise known as quantization distortion out of the noise floor. There _is_ no consistent signal pattern to be had. The signal leaves off right there- at all frequencies, too, this is NOT a frequency domain problem. It's a resolution problem, a quantization problem.

    Dithering _really_ helps this. Dithering properly at every single stage of digital transform makes a world of difference. That said, I am not convinced Levinson isn't right: though it makes a difference, I question whether it is a real solution. I think it's sort of damage control.

    In one sense he's wrong- we're constantly surrounded with acoustic sound. You may not be getting a healthy sound for audio-brain-center auditory training from bad _CDs_ or any CDs... but all the time, you're getting an optimal sound from passing cars on the highway, and the road crews tearing up the asphalt :) maybe Levinson leads too sheltered a life if his brain only gets CD digital sound to process! He should get a teenage rock drummer kid to move in next door, then his ears would be getting normal healthy acoustic sound to process, whether he likes it or not >:)

  • Yeah, but it sounds NASTY! Great great music but my God does it sound nasty! What was it, his first digital album or something? Insanely big sonic change between his early stuff and that.

    That said, you're a sillyperson not to like some of the high points of 'Spike'. I mean, come on, "Chewing Gum"? "God's Comic"? "Any King's Shilling" for God's sake? Geez, it may be an inconsistent album but _damn_...

    YOW! Are we OFFTOPIC yet? ;)

  • Um, it's a bit of a scandal among pro audio types just HOW BAD live sound has become in the last 20 years or so. It's gotten really bad. When people say they want 'live music' they _don't_ mean that, they are thinking chamber music or symphony. Insanely, some symphony halls have taken to installing horrible PA systems just to try and give people comparable loudnesses to the horrible rock concert PA systems! :o

    Since you like rock, have you ever _played_ in a band? With nothing but drums and amps, no PA, just raw instrument volume? _That_ is what 'rock live sound' really is, but you won't get it at a concert- unless maybe you're catching some really small gig where the drums and amps aren't even miked. You might get it there. ...or, of course, off recordings that accurately convey what live rock instruments sound like- for instance, if you have a killer vinyl-based High End rig, you can put on Creedence's "Bayou Country" and get damn close to the 'live sound' I'm talking about. It's a lot rowdier than classical as you know, but there _is_ still a proper way to do it.

  • Wow, for 1200 US you can get some *really* good Paradigm Monitor 11s and have decent speakers.

    Yes Canada makes some nice speakers and with the strong US Dollar, it's a really good deal.

    www.paradigm.ca - Really good, really affordable speakers that aren't a scam like Bose.
  • That is the funniest thing I've seen on /. in at least a year.

    Don Negro

  • by rlk (1089) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @04:27PM (#152931)
    Carver's an interesting fellow. He actually built a "real" high-end tube amp that everyone raved over (he probably sold a few), and also built a conventional (by his standards -- it used a highly unconventional power supply that didn't need a monster transformer, but I've long since forgotten the details) amplifier with a matched transfer function that he sold rather more of. The high end critics really hated his much cheaper amplifiers, even if they couldn't tell the difference.

    Of all the snake oil salesmen in high end audio, though, I think the cable mafia is the worst. Particularly the digital cables (which others have already commented on) and some of the really bizarre speaker cables, which in some cases look like they would be more counterproductive than anything. I will certainly admit that trashy connectors can cause problems, although simply gold plating them and taking care not to run them right next to a power line should take care of just about anything.
  • If one uses CD's to play music (rather than to store and retrieve data) timing becomes extremely important. The musical bits simply must arrive at exactly the right time-- hence the need for extremely accurate clocks. Most clocks, are, to a certain extent, sensitive to vibration-- thus, the supposed need for vibration free equipment.

    In addition, CD-Audio is not random access. (I think the resolution is limited to one second-- 88200 bytes). This is why "rippers" usually have anti-jitter routines.
  • by DAldredge (2353)
    It shows that you are in the same boat as the guy in a straight jacket... $20,000 for a set of speakers...Insane
  • by khuber (5664)

    -Kevin
  • Buy stylii instead, they last longer. :-)
  • If the electrical wiring in his house wasn't done with a sound system like that in mind, the refrigerator could make a difference. In an older house you could probably notice the lights dim slightly for just a moment when the 'fridge or a big window air conditioner kicks in. Now if the 'fridge was putting noise on the line that was getting through the power supplies of his various components and into the music, then the components are at fault for not beng properly shielded and filtered, and those external units he put in series between the wall socket and the components could be cleaning up the power enough to make an audible difference.

    Of course at his age, after all those years around jet engines, for his hearing to still be that good is pretty impressive, if true.

  • "...a US$140,000 general purpose PC rig, running whatever OS is appropriate for its purpose."

    If the purpose is relieving the buyer of $140,000, I'm sure Microsoft would be glad to come up with something. :-)

  • The amplifier's output stage may be single-ended or "unbalanced" (one hot, one ground), but after that the unsheilded wires in the cable are out in the air subject to magnetic and electrical fields from all over the place (the twisting helps keep them from acting as antennas, to oversimplify) and the speaker itself isn't "grounded" (even though the woofer, mid-range, tweeter, whatever, and the crossover network may use one side as "common"), so the speaker input is basically a "balanced" input.
  • You might want to inform Shure Bros., Pickering, Stanton, ADC, Grado, Dual, AR, Fisher, P.E., et cetera.
  • Okay, some of them spell it "styli".
  • Au contraire. If the instruments were merely amplified with no distortion, then that would indeed be the case. However, when they are intentionally amplified with distortion, then it is the output of the distorted speaker that is the most pure representation of that sound. Intentional distortion is itself an art form. A finely tuned Marshall stack, four of which could be purchased (for the purposes of the aformentioned electric quartet,) I might add, for easily under $5000; will yield an original sound that must be itself miked in order to achieve maximal purity for reproduction. A small live rock show, for instance, where the performers amplifiers/drums are not miked, is the closest equivalent to being in the audience of an opera you're going to find.
  • Then there are those unique little gems that don't fit well into these categories. I'm thinking of names like Rotel and NAD. Or, on the mid-tier end, Magnepan.

    For Rotel & NAD, they're priced like Chevy, Ford, Honda, and Toyota, but they have a fit and finish that puts them squarely in the Lexus, Infinity, and Volvo range. I'm thinking here of maybe a Volvo when they were first trying to break into the US market. Priced like a Ford, but built like a Lexus.

    As for Magnepan, it's priced like a Lexus, Infinity, or Volvo, but some of their gear produces, IMHO, the best sound available at any price. I've heard a number of $100,000 gear, with >$20,000 speakers, but I've never heard any speakers outperform the Magnepan 1.6 speakers (about $1500). Now, to get that level of performance, you need to match it with expensive electronics. But, for $1500, they are an absolute steal. If you're looking for an analogy, I'd put Maggies in the realm of TVR, the British sports car company. Priced like a Japanese sports car, performs like a Ferrari.

    This is a very good analogy. Furthermore, I would generally agree with your rankings, too.
  • Yes, yes, The audio industry is ripe with sham artists. Check out, for instance, the guys selling those green hilighter pens for $20 a piece. They claim it absorbs extraneous frequencies from the laser, refining the sound. But, wait. Doesn't a laser, by definition, produce one, and only one, frequency? Why yes! So, in fact, these green highlighters don't do shit!

    Well, one thing to correct you one, though. You generally want to oversample the output from your CD player. This goes by to Nyquist theory. Since you have to filter the output from a digital signal to recreate the analog signal, and since filters introduce all sorts of problems if the filter frequency is remotely close to the audible range (as is the case with a CD, but not the case with DVD's audio), you typically oversample the 44.1kHz signal. This effectively moves the filter frequency higher, so that it doesn't interfere with the audible range. When you oversample, you effectively interpolating. In order not to lose accuracy, you must increase the resolution (16 bits -> 24 bits). So, having a 24 bit, 356kHz DAC is entirely reasonable, even if the input source is only 16 bits and 44.1 kHz.
  • and yet, the LED that acts as a source produces but one frequency.
  • The output from the DAC will be a step signal. That is, it needs to be filtered to return it to the original analog signal. This filter works great if you can build a perfect brick wall filter (actually, not quite...but for the sake of argument, it's pretty close--you'll still get aliasing effects). So, what you normally do is simply interpolate the signal, then put the filter at something like 192kHz. That way, these aliasing effects and the effects from a real-world filter (attenuation, etc) occur outside the audible range.

    And as for your snotty remark, I don't care how stupid you are, or how little you know about the topic, you still need oversampling and interpolation to higher bits in order to retrieve the same signal you put in.
  • One of the neat things about LEDs are that they produce only one frequency. Exactly one. Pretty cool. Even cheap ones. And LEDs are used as the source for lasers in CD players. Do a spectrum analysis on a cheap laser, and you'll see what I mean. Other frequencies are effectively below the noise floor, and are probably the result of ambient light. Guess what? Those green pens don't do shit.

    Also, you may want to bring your theoretical Nyquist understanding into the real world. The problem comes from the fact that the output of a DAC is a step function. It must then be filtered to retrieve the same signal as the original input. This is the last part of of the theorem. Well, guess what. If we had perfect brick wall fitlers (we don't), and if there weren't problems with aliasing with real filters (there are), you would be correct in saying oversampling isn't necessary. But it is.

    Oversampling allows the filter to be moved from 22.05 kHz to, for instance, 178 kHz. This moves the aliasing effects and the filter rolloff into the supersonic frequencies. And, voila, the output signal is a closer match to the input signal.

    You know, all those companies investing untold millions into oversampling DACs aren't wasting their money. Oversampling does make sense.
  • No, it's not like "augementing your analog filter with a digital one". Digital filters can help with the rolloff. But they don't help the aliasing aspect. Furthermore, digital filters still have problems--they affect one of the three basic side effects of filters (analog typically affect two). Those effects are 1) linear phase, 2) linear response, and 3) perfect "brick-wall" step function.

    Basically, the best approach, given these problems, is to simply oversample the frequency, interpolate the signal, and move the filtering to the supersonic frepquencies. The goal is not to introduce more signal than you put in. The goal is to reproduce the input signal as closely as possible in real world conditions. Nyquist theory is fantastic, and the results are wonderful, but the implementation using a 16-bit signal (96dB theoretical S/N ratio, while humans are capable of detecting noise at -120dB) and a 44.1kHz sample rate (because of the filtering effects mentioned) require oversampling.

  • Ooops...forgot the obligatory link [earlevel.com].
  • I guess I don't understand what you're saying about it augmenting the analog filter with a digital one. There's no digital filtering going on at all. Just interpolation. Interpolation != filtering.
  • by rho (6063) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:10PM (#152962) Homepage Journal

    ... is that after the years spent in the (related) car audio fanciers (addicts), with jillions of dBs hammering my eardrums, I'm now happy with a 10 year old Pioneer tuner/amp, because I'm so deaf I can't tell the difference between it and a $10K Levinson.

  • by jeff.paulsen (6195) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:01PM (#152963)

    Unfortunately, I can easily hear the difference between a $1k and a $10k setup. This is depressing when I can't afford more than about a $300 system, so I just don't even try anymore.

  • Or the mystery of non existance. I had a 356 s90 and I never liked first gear. It was hard to find, mushy and tentative. After screwing with it I finally took it to a shop that worked on Porsche racing. The mechanic was some old Stuttgart gnome who looked me in the eye and said "vy do you care about first geeer, du only need it vunce."

    And that as they say, is that.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:52PM (#152967) Homepage Journal
    dual Mak tube mono power amps, Phase Linear preamp, 24 band eq, compander, noisegate analyzer, Denon TT, Infinity elctrostatic panels, Voice of the Theater, subwoofer/Ampzilla, Sony 1" open reel.

    Showed it to an audiophile and he said and I quote: "If all you want to hear is shit just plug it into the fucking television and be done with it."

    There's no winning. There's a company that will digitally inject the sound of needle to vinyl into your CD tracks. Just for the warmth of the sound. How fucked up is that?
  • As a DJ I find myself buying all sorts of cool gizmos all the time, but my hi-fi gear is eclipsed by my record collection which costs me about $1000 a month in new vinyl acquisitions. (BTW - if anyone in the bay area needs a DJ for their party my rates are reasonable)
  • You have no idea how much money I spend on Needles......
  • One thing that others have touched on is that the room that you place your sound system in makes a massive difference to the quality of the sound. In fact, if you're serious enough to spend $BIGNUM on a stereo, I'd reckon you'd really want to invest large amounts of money setting up the room for ideal sound.

    I have a townhouse with a window directly behind the stereo (there's nowhere else to put it), and tile floors, and it makes a stereo that sounded excellent in my last house sound like crap. Spending extra money on a stereo in this situation, without fixing up the acoustical environment, would almost certainly be a waste of time.

    Go you big red fire engine!

  • What about
    • A network card?
    • A slide scanner?
    • Something a bit more elaborate for your speaker system?
    • A drawing tablet?
    • A removable hard drive of some description (ORB or MO drive - much faster than optical backup devices)?
    • Something to import/export analog video?
    • A projector (now, there goes $5000 in one hit . . . )

    Lots more opportunities to spend money . . .

    Go you big red fire engine!

  • Why are some people, who have obviously never had the experience, complaining about others enjoying music at something closely approximating the way the musicians played it?

    Not complaining, just wondering about the priorities. After all, if it's the "live" music experience the one guy in the story was shooting for, he could have spent $140,000 on a stereo rig, sure. Or, at a hundred bucks a pop, he could have gone to three actual live concerts a week for the next nine years...
  • Nahh, your equipment's fine - your ear's just wrecked from honkin' on that big bong bassoon.


    sorry, the brass player in me couldn't resist :)
  • Moreover, when drug addicts throw their money away, they're usually pumping it back into the local economy instead of shipping it off to hardware manufacturers overseas.

    Actually, a lot of "high-end" approved gear is made in the US and Canada (Canada funded some serious speaker research several years ago, and a lot of companies grew out of that, making some fine speakers for a reasonable price).

  • by kzinti (9651) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @06:00PM (#152976) Homepage Journal
    Just plain nuts. Imperial Bedroom is not only Elvis Costello's finest album, it's his last fine album period. Everything produced after that is crap, utter crap. Don't talk to me about King of America. Don't talk to me about Spike. The guys been recording with Burt Bacharach for Chrissakes! What's next, dinner music and ad medlies with Barry Manilow? Whatever happened to our angry young man? For all I know, Elvis Costello died in late 1982 and they shaved a monkey and sent him into the studio with dear old Bart. Give me a fucking break!

    IbMePdErRoIoAmL

    --Jim
  • by Axe (11122) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:39PM (#152988)
    Go, do yourself a favor and read some good book on signal physics. If you hear up to 12Khz, you want you equipment to be linear and sampling of the digitization to be up to at least 24Khz. Even then you may get VERY noticable artifacts due to nonlinearity of the system in the area well above 12Khz.. Basically 96Khz/24bit sampling seems to be where you really hit physiological limits. It would seem to me that for all the high end systems, room acoustics would be a bigger factor. It is definitly a huge factor in live performances.. Personally I listen music only in my car. Where even MP3 256kb quality is sufficient. But I DO hear the difference between MP3, CD, and life performance. I just do not care enough.
  • by Detritus (11846) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @06:31PM (#152989) Homepage
    The problem with the high-end audio industry is the large number of crooks and charlatans who are more interested in getting rich off gullible audiophiles than they are in accurate sound reproduction. I'm not an EE, but even I can recognize the pseudo-scientific bullshit in much of the high-end product literature. Add to that the inability of many audiophiles to acknowledge that it is very easy to deceive yourself when comparing audio equipment.

    There needs to be a middle ground between the mass market junk sold in chain stores and the grossly overpriced and under-engineered equipment sold in "audio salons". Every time I read about $100 a foot speaker wire, hand woven out of virgin silver thread by Buddhist monks in Tibet, I want to beat the salesman to death with a book on transmission line theory.

  • After listening to my new (years ago) system:

    "It's OK if all you want to do is listen to music".

  • by HardCase (14757) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:32PM (#152994)
    I've noticed that a lot of audiophiles will say just about anything to a budget audio listener to justify the huge amounts of money that they spend to support their habit.

    I've also noticed that Linux zealots will say just about anything to a Windows user to justify the huge amounts of inconvenience that they go through to support their habit.

    One man's passion is another man's wretched excess.

    Lucky for me I own Conrad-Johnson audio equipment AND use Linux!

    -h-

  • Lead is a strong coupling superconductor
    meaning phonons have more effect on transport.
    No, for best sound quality, use niobium 99.9999%
    purity. Don't forget to properly anneal your wire,
    to get it as close to single crystal as possible,
    I personally can hear every grain boundary.
    BTW, liquid helium is found at around 4 K. Getting
    it to be near 2 K requires pumping on it, which is
    a bad idea if you are trying to keep vibrations
    down. And as for what real men use, well real men
    cool with liquid He^3, not He^4. It costs more
    but the temperatures are well worth it. A dilution
    fridge system can get you into milliKelvin range.
  • Yeah, right. If audiophilia is a religion, then so is $cientology.

    --
  • >> "different qualities of fiber ..."

    fiber??
    Such tourists.
    (spits derisively...)

    Tubing is the way to go, my friend.
    Connecting my speakers to the amp are super-cooled copper tubes of a quality generally only used in high-end nuclear research facilities. (Don't buy that cheap Russian Super-Cooled-Copper-Speaker-Tubing that's floating around these days! You'll *really* be able to tell the difference.)
    Passing through each one is a super-cooled liquid nitrogen that pushed the temperature of the tube down towards 0 degrees kelvin.
    As the tube cools, it becomes a super-conductor, causing the signal's electrons to move to the surface of the tubing, where the sound is richer.
    (True audiophiles such as myself, can really tell the difference.)
    On a side note, I'm moving soon - the excavation is finally done on my new listening room. I've had an accoustically perfect room carved from a layer of granite bedrock under a mountain in the Black Hills. Sadly, my wife will not be joining me - her presence in the room caused the sound waves to ricochet, causing audible distortion.

    ;-)
    Cheers,
    Jim in Tokyo

    MMDC.NET [mmdc.net]
  • just because i drop 20k on speakers doesn't mean im in the same boat as the guy who hops down to the local steet-corner to grab some smack.

    It depends. My obsession (not addiction) is collecting Rocky Horror items and references. Two years ago, I was spending upwards of 20k a year on the hobby - I was also making 80k a year. Then I started my own company, and have been scraping by, and haven't bought anything in months.

    If I had the money, I'd be hitting conventions, eBay, movie memoribelia stores, etc... but I don't, so... oh, well. Now I just update my website.

    There's a difference between Jack Nickolas's $500,000 custom built theater that he hired Bose engineers to build (I went to school with his sons... damn fine system), and the kid who works at McDonalds putting a $14,000 system into a $1,400 hatchback Honda.

    But, at the same time, they are both welcome to spend their money however they wanted. I was broke when the 25th Anniversary of RHPS rolled around, but I scraped together enough to fly out to Vegas. I decided that the *event* was worth suffering a bit for, but didn't buy anything.

    There's a fine line between addiction to items, budgeting for what you want rationally, and simple fiscal irresponsibility. As Robert Heinlein said: "Budget the luxuries first". --
    Evan

  • pardon me, but who is Jack Nickolas? is he someone famous?

    He's the best golfer of all time, blowing away Tiger Woods's record by an order of magnitude (of course, he's been doing it longer). I may have misspelled his name; I'm not a golf fan, I just happened to know his sons. He lives down here in Palm Beach, Florida.

    --
    Evan

  • having won the last four consecutive majors, he's made quite a name for himself.

    Oh, I agree -- that's why I said parenthetically: "of course, he's been doing it longer". I didn't mean to slight Tiger Woods, just that there was somebody breaking records for decades in a row before him (I think - again, I've played and enjoyed golf, but I'll be the first to admit I don't follow it other than in passing).

    --
    Evan "Lettered in Junior Varsity Golf, then did Varsity Wrestling (Lettered) and Cricket"

  • I was reading up a while ago about lots of audio stuff....

    a few facts came to light.

    - In most modern studios, when mixing, the sound engineer is NOT using $20,000 electrostatic speakers with insane frequency response and a perfectly flat response curve. Nor is he using 20,000 electorstatic headphones with the same. Yes, he's using good equipment, but it's not scientifically perfect equipment.
    - This same sound engineer is going to master things so it sounds good on his equipment.
    - Therefore, it's somewhat silly to buy *perfect* equipment to reproduce sound, when the only way to reproduce what the sound engineer had in mind is to use his room/equipment.
    - The exception to this is THX movie systems. THX is a specification that can be reproduced pretty much anywhere, so you can get reliably close to what the sound engineers intended it to sound like. This does not happen in any other recording type.
    - Most of the dynamic range available on modern CD recordings, espeically pop music, is no longer taken advantage of. Instead, music is recorded all as loud as possible, in theory, to get a slightly louder recording during radio play, to make your trakcs more noticed. You can see this; take a cd from the olden days of CD (80's) and take something now. The cd from wayback, you will need to turn the volume up, and those bass beats will sound so much more real.
  • Well...
    I've heard super expensive stereo systems (as in audiophile gear, not feature-laden gear).. I've heard symphony on them. Very impressive indeed.

    I've also seen live symphony. Still no comparison. Yes, the sound may be excellent, and technically accurate, but it's still not the same.

    As I posted in another post...
    Studio engineers do not use such high end equipment to mix things. What's the point in trying to reproduce a sound that the mixing engineer never even heard?
  • ah, but that depends on how much 9000$ is worth to the buyer. For me, 3000$ for an SACD player (tho they have come down a from that) is totally out of my reach, for others it is chump change. There was a guy on the hometheaterforum(.com) that dropped 3K$ on two dvd players because he couldn't choose between them.
  • The vast majority of studios use Yamaha NS-10M speakers - some just as a stable reference (because they're -everywhere-), and others full-time (because they're -everywhere-, and why bother with more than one pair of monitor speakers in the same room?). Somewhat like Windows on a PC. Moving right a long...

    By audiophile standards, it's a horrible speaker. Big, honky upper midrange - and no low bass. Limited low-level detail. Limited dynamic range.

    Supposedly (and I'm not sure if I give them this much credit) Yamaha created the speaker with the idea of making something which sounded similar to what most real people have, but "good" enough to be used in a studio. Compared to most Circuit City wares, it's really not bad.

    Whatever the case, modern rock (and techno, and rap, and...) is dynamically smashed, harmonically huge, and in some cases, artificially tuned, beaten, massaged, panned, and molested in completely disgusting ways, until it sounds good on a pair of abused Yamaha NS-10s.

    If you're really interested in hearing what the engineer and producer hear (these folks have infinately more control of the final result than any member of the band), pick up a pair of NS-10s. If you don't like them, so what? Find something different that makes your music sound how -you- want it to sound, and/or adjust it to sound differently by way of an EQ, a BBE, and boosting the volume of a subwoofer. Throw a compressor in there. How about an expander? A noise gate! Why not fire up the reverb machine in your surround sound reciever? The mind boggles at the signal processing capabilities available today.

    If you just want to listen to rock music, it doesn't matter that you're destroying the original signal with any one of these toys, because the signal has already been destroyed a thousand times before you got your hands on it. Tweak it until it suits -you-, because that's exactly what -they- did.

    Incidentally, the same logic holds true of the audiophile mentality - except, their goal is to recreate sounds in a manner that -they- find realistic (this is supposedly objective), in the most simple way they can. Which can cost a fortune, and yield remarkable results with a similarly minimalist recording. As an aside, a good audiophile system can made some rock recordings sound particularly good - this is an accidental side-effect, and is in no way intended by the producer of the album.
  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:01PM (#153007) Journal
    Heh.

    The world of high-end audio is somewhat amiss from the norm of more money buying additional features. A high-end system is typically as -minimal- as possible - extra components are all destructive of the audio signal.

    Rather than spending X thousands of dollars on, say, all-wheel drive in a new Audi, an audiophile will spend X thousands just for the assurance that a common feature (simple tone controls, for instance) is not present.

    Those features which remain because they're needed for the system to function (crossovers in speakers, for instance) are so ghastly overbuilt, from such stuff as hand-rolled matched capacitors, flat-wire inductors made from .9999 silver, and other hugely-expensive, measurably (and marginally) better parts.

    And still, the use of these parts is minimized - every component counts as another way to introduce distortion between the microphone in some music hall and the listener's ears in a different time and place.

    Joe Consumer buys based on features, because that's what they're accustomed to doing while shopping for cars, electric ranges, and all manner of other expensive items. An automotive purist, in love with driving, will ignore the sticker price and associated list of flash, get behind the wheel and experience a vehicle, and then another, and another until he's found something with the correct balance for his taste. Issues of what color and material the seats are fall aside in favor of their ability to properly support the driver. If the cheapest, low-end fabric seats provide better posture than the supposed-high end, heated leather monstrosities, the choice is obvious and a cow's life is saved. That the buyer saved money is insubstantial.

    Audiophiles don't buy components based on what "features" are present, as they can do nothing but color the sound in one way or another - something they're certainly not interested in while questing for absolute transparency. The best component is one which is not present.

    Much as someone fixated on performance driving might like to feel every stone in the pavement through the chassis of the car, and would be comforted by the steering wheel reporting the exact condition of a road in an attempt to feel more connected, an audiophile seeks the same experience with music. If someone sneezes in the sixteenth row of a Bethoven performance, or a Zippo is lit in some smoke-filled jazz bar, they want to hear it - and hear it with enough character that they can visualize the person who sneezed, or identify the type of plating on the Zippo.

    Whether or not they're insane for wanting such things is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @05:19PM (#153008) Journal
    Heh.

    I'm also a recording engineer.

    The noise floor of a full auditorium is higher than 16-bit linear PCM, in a typical minimalist recording. Probably due to the sound of a few thousand breathing, shifting bodies.

    If one can hear a sneeze from the mic position, it will thus be recorded. Similarly, for the zippo lighter.

    If you cannot hear a sneeze from 16 rows (figure 2.5 feet per row, or just 40 feet overall) away, you've got problems. See a doctor. Your hearing damage might even be treatable.

    For a further dose of reality, let's assume that a healthy sneeze produces a level of 85dBA at a point 1 foot in front of the sneezer's head, in anechoic free field. At 2 feet, this sneeze is at 79dBA, at four feet, 73dBA. Once we get up to 40 feet, the sneeze is just a little less than 55dBA. In reality, the sneeze will be somewhat louder, due to reverberation - but that's safe to ignore for the purposes of this argument.

    Now, let's assume we've got a 16-bit DAT machine with a pair of good mics with good preamps that we're using to record an orchestral work. We've got the gain set such that levels of 120dBA at the microphones, which are at the front of the stage, do not induce clipping (and we're hoping that nothing louder than this occurs and destroys the recording).

    Given this enviroment, the aforementioned sneeze would be 65dB below maximum. If 16-bit linear PCM has dynamic range of 96dB (it does), and the final product (a CD) is not fucked with at all (that is, it is bit-perfect from the original DAT), then this sneeze will be at a level of 31dB -above- the floor of the CD, which is also to say that the sneeze has a maximum of 31dB of dynamic range.

    This is more than adequate to capture a sneeze - it far surpasses the dynamic potential of most modern rock music.

    Oh. In case you missed it: This is completely devoid of being "tweaked all to hell" in the "mixing/mastering process", because such processes do not exist in this example - nor in great numbers of excellent classical recordings.

    It's simple, really: Two microphones (surprise, surprise) match up beautifully with two speakers, and two ears. No need to do anything more except, on occasion, mess with levels. And obviously, in this instance, even that is not needed to "capture the level of detail" I describe.

    What were you saying about transparency?
  • by austad (22163)
    A friend of mine works for a company which designs and installs very high end audio and theatre systems. Almost everything they do is featured in magazines somewhere or another. The usually don't touch anything under 6 figures. Most of the people buying the stuff are idiots with too much money who manage to fuck up their programmable remote once a week and pay the company to come back out and reprogram it. Those are the people that spend $1 million or more on their system (he's worked on $3.5 million dollar home theaters).

    The people whole spend relatively little on their systems know what they are doing for the most part, can manage their remotes, and actually USE their systems for just listening.

    The best part about his job is that people buy new stuff and give him all of their old equipment for free. His house is filled with absolutely wonderful high-end equipment. Once you sit in front of a pair of speakers and close your eyes and it sounds like the music is live and the people playing and singing are in the room with you, you will know the attraction of high-end audio. It's not about "loud" like most people think, it's about quality. I can't get that sort of sound out of my computer sound card (although I'm trying), and the latest $300 bookshelf system won't give it to you either. A nice cd player with a digital out, a good DAC, a good amp, and some Martin Logan or other high-end speakers will give you what you need.

    Take a trip down to your local audio shop and ask them to give you a demo of their best sounding system.
  • As someone who can, and regularly does, pick out just about every voice from a 30-strong choir individually (I'm not so good with orchestras - it depends on the venue and their playing), sound is terribly important for me. Indeed, I am physcially pained by certain sounds ('psycosomaticism' is just another word to me ;-), and am especially prone to headaches. Sure, you may think that spending $140K is a lot for pure sound, but then, many people would think that spending $50K on a computer is extreme - yet Sun still manage to sell quite a few such workstations...

    So, how would I spend $140K ~= £100K? Well, let's see:

    • 1xMeridian 861 'reference' controller, ~£10K
    • 1xMeridian 800 'reference' DVD player, also ~£10K
    • 7xMeridian DSP8000 loudspeakers, full surround set, ~£120K
    Oops, I'm just a littleover budget... And no speaker cables in that list, either. Hmm.

    As you can guess, I like Meridian [www.meridi...idianaudio] - well, given the quite ridiculously amazing technology, they're actually quite cheap, and given as the company designed the up-coming DVD-Audio standard... - anyone feeling exceptionally generous? ;-)

  • If you want great quality audio for a fairly cheap price, check out the reviews of headphones at www.headwize.com. Headphones can achieve a far greater quality of audio for less than speakers. I currently have a pair of Sennheiser HD580s and they're fantstic.

  • You know I was wondering what these people would do when faced with the digital era. No longer will qualitative descriptions be relevant when you can actually say "Yup, the whole signal made it to the speaker."

    When will someone just lay some ethernet cable on this, put a few megs of memory in speakers and just cut out the whole cabling dilemma altogether.
  • Fabio has (allegedly) a custom made Krell Reference amplifier - one of a few in existence, with Dan D'agastino (ownder and founder of Krell, www.krellonline.com) owning another. These beasts put out 650 Watts/Channel at 8ohms and will drive a load as low as .5ohms with a clean division.

    If I'm not mistaken it looked like all of his other gear (cd players, preamps) were Krell as well. The amp goes for around 250k (for a pair of monoblocks - these don't come multichannel and you don't want them to), weighs several hundred pounds, and sounds CLEAN. You can make out every detail of the recording at full volume or at minimal volume. The cd players looked like model 25's, a top loading design, which retails for about $25k.

    Alas, I had to settle for an intergrated amp/preamp combination - quite a bit cheaper but blows anything you can find in a retail store out of the water in terms of clarity and soundstage
  • Move to Texas. Half the people who go to a symphony wear a coat and tie and the other half wear jeans and a t-shirt. The orchestra even advertises that casual dress is acceptable. There is no animosity between these groups because they're all there for the music. Especially in Houston, since the Houston Symphony is wonderful.
  • OTOH, spending money on computers could be justified as a financial investment that will produce more income in the future. If I hadn't dropped my life's savings on a VIC-20 eighteen years ago (when I was 14), I might not have been as well off as I am today.
  • Sounds sort of like computer collecting.. However, in my case, it's not as expensive because classic computers can usually be had for almost nothing. :) (My current collection consists of an '040 NeXT Cube, Apple Newton Messagepad 2100, and an SGI Crimson among others)
  • In order not to lose accuracy, you must increase the resolution (16 bits -> 24 bits). So, having a 24 bit, 356kHz DAC is entirely reasonable, even if the input source is only 16 bits and 44.1 kHz.


    I don't understand this. Oversampling an analog signal for greater accuracy is one thing, but on a CD the signal is already digital. I don't care how fast and accurate your system is; the CD only contains a certain amount of information, and that's 16 bits at 44.1kHz.


    Is there a website that explains this in more detail?
    --

  • Hello,

    I can easily see how a stereo system can cost that much money. One of the more interesting people I have heard was of an EE who built his system out of extremely high-end components (a LOT of Mark Levinson), and who actually built the rest of it himself from parts, especially the interconnects. When you've got the knowledge this guy has (and he lives up near Montreal in upstate NY), and the drive to search for not only stereo components, but super-high-grade electronics components to finish off the system, you're going to have yourself a system that will sound better, period.

    If you know where to look, you can find the parts you need. The dials and switches in one of the components he built were incredibly sensitive, and easily cost several hundred dollars on their own. Same goes for the capacitors as well. If you want to build your own amplifier or pre-amp, the instructions are readily available on the net.

    The funny part was the guy actually paid Lucasfilm, the trademark holders of THX, to certify his system for it. It passed. Yes, that alone will cost you as much as a Lexus if you're not a movie theater chain.

    By building the major parts himself, and finding other components and speakers that were just as good, he saved himself over $25K.

    There's a site called Madisound [madisound.com] that will sell you the components you need to build very high-quality speakers. I will be buying my next speakers and having them assembled from 1" DuPont Corian from these people, when I can actually afford it. If you go for Skanning woofers, they can run as much as $680.00 each. Speakers from them (with parts they will not list on their website because they would have to order them from the manufacturer) can cost over $10K, but the kits run anywhere from $300 to $2000 on average.

    However, I built a system that does what I want on a very tight budget (under $1000), most of which was spent on my turntable needle (Ortofon), BA speakers (which are surprisingly good), a Tandberg tape deck, and a Sony CD player (yeah, yeah, I know, but it sounds damn fine and is getting upgraded soon anyways to at least an H/K).

    I bought most of it at pawn shops. Sometimes audiophiles have to sell as well. Now I'm just planning a major upgrade to a NAD preamp/amp combination, custom speakers, and I haven't decided on the CD player yet :).

    However, I can understand spending $140K on a stereo if you have it. Larry Ellison spent over $1 million on his (which has a subwoofer that sits in a former indoor swimming pool with special acoustical filling, and yes he had it designed in, it is one of the biggest sub assemblies ever made), and Bill Gates is a serious audiophile as well. We know where Slash's royalty checks from GNR go as well :).
  • by dmaxwell (43234) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @07:20PM (#153050)
    Golden ear audiophiles are notorious for claiming to hear subtle things that no one else can hear. What's more they will attribute these differences to things like skin effect in the patch cables. Skin effect on signal that goes to 30kHz max? Gee, a whole micron's worth of the center of a 12 gauge cable might be getting dodged by the signal. This is the least picadillo one will read in publications like The Absolute Sound. They will use the language of art critics to make technical criticisms. One reads things like "The J13 speakers have a wonderful phase shifted aural spaciality but slightly overmunge the dibalanced low-band spectrum." Truly awful. They mangle fantasy and science together the same way flying saucer and new age enthusiasts do.

    It's very easy to suspect that they are in fact full of....stuff. If you're in the business of selling high end audio then it becomes very important to discover to what extent the golden ears are or are not full of it. Bob Carver did a little hands on research at a mid '70s trade show to shed some light on these suspicions. He displayed an impressive system openly. I don't recall the model number but it had the separate tube amps for the right and left channel. It had the oxygen free gold wire to interconnect the type of components that ultra audiophiles have wet dreams about: hand crafted capacitors and resistors and transistors matched to six 9s precision in gain and so on and so forth. In any case the system displayed was in the $30k range at the time. The speakers were no less expensive and no doubt exquisitely hand matched to the amps. But here is where the joke comes in. The speakers were connected to a $200 dollar range bookshelf stereo hidden behind a curtain. Carver injected pink noise into the ultra stereo and displayed the result on a spectrum analyzer. He then set the bookshelf system to a moderate volume and EQed it with the same pink noise as input until it matched the spectrum of the ultra stereo. As long as the controls on the bookshelf were not tampered with, it's sound was good approximation of the ultra stereo at the same moderate volume. He told the audience that he had a top secret experimental system behind the curtain and wanted to field test it to ensure he was on the right track. With some audiophile grade vinyl classical as the input he switched between the ultra stereo (which they COULD see and were familiar with) and the "top secret" bookshelf system behind the curtain.

    Lo and behold! The bookshelf system had far better "aural spaciality.........." I've known salesmen who have done this same thing several times with the same result. I suppose this goes a long way toward explaining the audiophile aversion to double blinded A/B listening tests. Those A/B switches must introduce some truly horrible "multiphasic inhibited frequency shifts" into the signal.

    Now, it is true that a $5000 system will most likely sound far better than a Soundesign bookshelf from Wal-Mart. But there is a point of imperceptible diminishing returns. I have no trouble believing that point comes long before one has spent $140,000.

    p.s. I'll tweak the tweaks a little more by mentioning that Don Lancaster has described similiar experiments in tweak psychology. Every so often in Electronics Now he would describe such shenanigans. Many of his writings can be found at www.tinaja.com. He also critiques would be perpetual motion machine inventers and "free" energy sources that are even BETTER than cold fusion.
  • Last week, some doctors reported that the well-known placebo effect doesn't really work. Blank pills don't work better than nothing. Mind over matter and all that doesn't work so well in that medical instance.

    But look at the audiophiles. They're doing nutty stuff that can't possibly help the sound, and saying how great it is. The Post article missed the famous scam of a decade or so back, the green magic marker called "CD Stoplight". Rub it on the edge of your CD and it sounds much better, or so claimed the editors of Stereofool. To a high-end fan, "bits is bits" just doesn't work.

    Likewise for power conditioning. If the audio gear has good power supplies to begin with, then it shouldn't matter what goes into the AC line. Refrigerator noise? Sure: The compressor not only takes lots of juice when it kicks in, but it shakes the floor (acoustic low-frequency vibration). But a good amplifier power supply should have enough charge in its capacitors to ride it out.

    The whole cable biz is also nutty. Yes, inadequate cables will hurt the sound. But good 8-gauge zip wire is probably just as good as $10/foot gold-plated wire. There's precious little skin effect below 20 kHz anyway. As others have noted, this goes triple for digital cables! Bits is bits.

    Good speakers, sure. Good amps, sure, though I suspect a $1k VFET amp will sound indistinguishable from a tube amp, or at least have no worse distortion or noise. Ordinary bipolar junction transistor amps are not good, but back in 1960 you could buy a good tube Williamson (that's a type, not a brand) amp for $100 or so that today would set you back a few grand. Why? Because nutty folks think that paying more makes it better.

  • by 1010011010 (53039) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @04:04PM (#153059) Homepage
    High-end audio equipment actually colors sound in a way that they find pleasing, I think; rather than providing perfect reproduction. Witness the typical audiophile's love of vinyl and tubes, which don't offer anything like faithful reproduction. They do, however, provide a characteristic coloration which many people find enjoyable.


    - - - - -
  • by 1010011010 (53039) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @04:46PM (#153060) Homepage
    Don't forget Alma Gates [wired.com], creator of The Beast, a Ford Bronco with a 48,000 watt sound system that's louder by a factor of eight or so than a 747 jet engine. Alma's a 6-something retired schoolteacher.

    Okay, so maybe that's not the usual definition of audiophile, but she does exhibit quite a love for her kind of audio.

    - - - - -
  • "Accordingly I bought an Alpine Multimedia head unit and Alpine in dash DVD player. Now we can watch The Matrix while cruising down the road :) People say to me, you're mad, spending $10500 on a car stereo, but what the hell, it's my money, I'm going to enjoy it the way I want to."

    You don't work for the Tweeter store in Framingham, MA, do you? 'Cause the guy I bought my head unit from told me he was putting a system into his car just like that... I don't think the price tag he mentioned was quite as high, though.

    Anyway, I've seen the Alpine in-dash DVD players, and while it's definitely a sweet gadget to show off, well...when you're usually the only one in your car, and usually not for more than an hour at a time, it's most definitely not worth the $3-4k =)

    I still need to get the factory speakers out of my car and put some decent ones in (one that don't have paper cones), and a subwoofer (I like to *feel* my bass). They're decent for now, though. My next step is to check out playing MP3s through it with my laptop that should be arriving on Monday. *grin*

    --

  • "My hearing petered out around 14KHz. When we hit 16KHz, several of the nearby people were covering their ears in pain, while others (and myself) were completely unphazed."

    I have a program that'll generate pretty much any tone you want it to, and tested out my hearing compared to a few of my friends.

    I can hear tones it generates up to about 18kHz. I don't know if that's where my hearing peters out or where my sound card/speakers do, but that's (apparently) pretty damn high. Quite a few of my friends (and, actually, my mother) hear absolutely nothing at 16kHz and even lower. Meanwhile, I'm flinching from the pain. I can hear television sets and older computer monitors from a few rooms over (my Apple IIe's monitor produces a particularly painful shriek that doesn't bother anyone else in the house).

    You know what, though? I have an extensive collection of MP3s, most encoded at 128k, and they sound just fine to me, thank you. Granted, this doesn't mean much, but I don't get audiophiles either. I'm picky with my audio, but I'm not a 'phile.

    P.S. You can get that tone generator here [nch.com.au]. Click "other tools", it's the only one in the category. Windows-only.

    --

  • "I challenge someone here to rough up some specs for a US$140,000 general purpose PC rig, running whatever OS is appropriate for its purpose."

    Alright, I'm bored, I've got some time to kill...let's see how close I can get.

    [A couple hours pass]

    Alright, I suppose I could keep adding things onto this, but I won't. I got it up to $10,103.46, though. It's a multimedia workstation designed for graphics and digital video editing, high-performance gaming, DVD playback, and DVD authoring, with all the accessories.

    • Case: PC 60 Aluminum w/3 Case Fans and Window Kit, $229.99 [thinkgeek.com]
    • Power supply: Antec PP403X 400W Power Supply $84.10 [cdw.com]
    • Motherboard: ASUS CUV4X-DLS w/SCSI $333.62 [provantage.com]
    • Processors: 2 x Intel Coppermine PIII 933mhz $398.00 [neocomputers.com] ($199.00 ea)
    • Processor fans (x2): Antec Heavy Duty CPU Fan $33.54 [cdw.com] (16.77 ea)
    • RAM: 256mb Kingston PC133 DIMM $156.64 [cdw.com]
    • IDE cable (x2): Rounded $25.98 [thinkgeek.com] ($12.99 ea)
    • Floppy drive: Compaq LS-120 internal IDE $127.99 [egghead.com]
    • DVD/CD-RW Drive: HP CD-Writer 9900ci 12x10x32x DVD 8x $349.99 [hpcdwriter.com]
    • DVD Decoder: Creative Labs Dxr3 $79.99 [creative.com]
    • CD Drive: Creative Labs CD-ROM Blaster 52x $49.99 [creative.com]
    • DVD-RAM Drive: Panasonic LF-D201U SCSI-2 $649.00 [panasonic.com]
    • SCSI Cable (x3): Rounded $38.97 [thinkgeek.com] ($12.99 ea)
    • SCSI Hard drive (x2): Seagate Cheetah73 73GB U160 $1576.00 [datastorageplus.com] ($788.00 ea)
    • RAID Controller: Asus PCI-DA2100 SCSI RAID $609.00 [wetmarket.com]
    • IEEE 1394 Card: Belkin F5U501 PCI $79.95 [belkin.com]
    • Video: VisionTek GeForce3 64mb AGP $389.99 [thinkgeek.com]
    • Monitor: Samsung 18" Syncmaster TFT LCD $1891.00 [microx-press.com]
    • Sound: Creative Labs SBLive X-Gamer $99.99 [creative.com]
    • Speakers: Creative Labs/Cambridge SoundWorks DTT3500 Dolby 5.1 Digital $299.99 [creative.com]
    • Printer: Epson Stylus 2000P Inkjet Printer $869.99 [thinkgeek.com]
    • Scanner: HP ScanJet 6300Cxi 1200dpi $387.36 [cdw.com]
    • Mouse: Razer Boomslang 2000 $82.99 [thinkgeek.com]
    • Mouse Pad: 3m Precise Mousing Service $8.49 [cdw.com]
    • Keyboard: IBM Preferred 104-key Black $59.00 [cdw.com]
    • Joystick: Microsoft SideWinder Force Feedback 2 $109.00 [microsoft.com]
    • Steering Wheel: Microsoft SideWinder Force Feedback Wheel USB $159.00 [microsoft.com]
    • Game Pad: Gravis Eliminator GamePad Pro $26.99 [thinkgeek.com]
    • UPS: APC Smart-UPS 1000 XL $577.92 [cdw.com]
    • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional $319.00 [microsoft.com]

    That's right, Win2K. I know we all love linux in here, Win2K is actually a decent OS, especially for all of the tasks I've specced this out for.

    --

  • Network card is built in to the mobo.

    As for the rest of it, the guy did say "general purpose" PC rig. A gamer could make use of that $870 inkjet, not as much as someone doing graphics maybe, but everyone needs to print stuff sometimes. But what's a gamer gonna do with a slide scanner and a drawing tablet?

    That DVD decoder has a TV-Out, btw, so that could export analog video...you're right, though, I should add a capture card. Gamers could use it for watching TV. =)

    Hell, I suppose a gamer could make use of that projector too. Imagine playing Quake on a huge wall...

    --

  • Hmm...you know, I didn't even think to check that, but you're right. Oh well, I could make up that $80 elsewhere =)

    --

  • by cporter (61382) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:21PM (#153072)
    There is really a lot of equipment available for reasonable prices that far surpass the average "consumer" components. Some are recognizable names like Sony's ES line [sony.com] or Pioneer's Elite line. [pioneerelectronics.com] Also check out auctions for older gear from these manufacturers - many offer 5, 10, or 20 year warranties on it, and have extensive lifetimes

    other names are less recognizable like Arcam [arcam.co.uk], Marantz, [marantz.com] Rega [rega.co.uk], Rotel [rotel.com], NAD [nadelectronics.com], and Nakamichi [nakamichi.com]. But all make superlative gear for less than you'd think.

    my habit has recently been Krell [krellonline.com] and Vandersteen [vandersteen.com]

    above all, any audiophile will tell you to listen, make adjustments, and buy and enjoy what sounds the best. all it takes is love of music

  • by joq (63625) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:15PM (#153077) Homepage Journal

    I've always been puzzled why people would spend so much money on a home stereo system. Recently a friend was going to purchase the Beosound 3000 from Bang & Olufsen, and I could not tell the difference between that and a Bose Wave until the salesman played different classical CD's in which certain instruments sounded crystal clear on the Bang player, and it was a bit louder.

    Personally I don't need music to give me Tinitus just one to enjoy crisp sounds, at a decent price. Hell for a 6 figure price I'd have Gwen Stefani sing to me for a few hours, so this would be monstrous system at a fraction of the cost.

    Technics 1200MKII about 450.00

    Bose 901's about 1200.00

    NAD T770 Receiver about 1200.00

    Pioneer combo DVD/CD about 1,000.00

    And then a house to go with it. Or I'd just get a Nakamichi SoundSpace8 [nakamichi.com] (unf) instead of beating around the bush. I guess when you have money like that, it shouldn't be a problem to enjoy your life, however people shouldn't be so materialistic, since there are other more important things in life you could do with that money, send a needy person to school, feed some people in a foreign land, etc, etc.

  • by TPx (64118) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:12PM (#153080)
    This sounds EXACTLY like a description of a Linux zealot :)
  • by Cuthalion (65550) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:16PM (#153089) Homepage
    As I see it there are three (mostly) distinct markets for audio equipment.
    1. The 'consumer' market. This tends to be cheapish to middle-priced and is often (distressingly) designed to look like an SUV. You'll probably be able to find something in this which sounds 'adequate'. The correlation between price and performance is moderately strong, though with a fairly high variance. Typically where you'll find the most 'features' (various playback modes, DSP effects, et cetera).
    2. The 'audiophile' market. Expensive stuff with minimal controls (often nothing more than just a power buton!) and stylish design [martinlogan.com]. Really tweaked marketing - both the buyers and the sellers use lots of completely unquantifiable terms. With all the sales-driven pseudoscience [audioadvisor.com] the correspondence between price and performace is fairly loose.
    3. The studio or 'pro audio' market. Designed for people whose job is to understand what's going on and to know what the numbers mean. If you want a flat frequency response, this is the place to look. No bullshit with gold interconnects - if you want good connections, use balanced cables [passagen.se]. You also get the advantage that mixing boards are prefered over recivers (and you can get a good one [ebay.com]for less than a comparable preamp). Definitely the tightest correspondence between price and performance. The biggest downside I have experienced using these in a home setting is that nothing's typically engineered around a 5.1 configuration. But it is what they used to master most of the things you're listening to.


  • by technos (73414) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:04PM (#153101) Homepage Journal
    Um, yes it does. Addiciton is addiction. Be it psychological or physical, its still an addiction.

    You're just addicted to a costlier substance that does less bodily harm. I smoke, and I'll put myself in the same boat with the crack fiend and the audiophile.

    Perhaps you're still in denial, trying to rationalize your purchase of that $30,000 preamp away, by calling it a hobby, instead of what it is.
  • by intuition (74209) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:49PM (#153104) Homepage
    The point of diminishing returns is NOT where your own ear can no longer tell the difference between a system and a more expensive system.

    If you plotted price vs percentage increase in sound quality over some base-reference sound quality. Diminishing returns is every interval on the graph where a percentage increase in price is greater then the percentage increase in sound quality.

    For example, if one purchased a 10 dollar system and experienced 10% increase in quality and (not being happy with only 10%) decided to return the system and buy a 20 dollar system and experienced a 15% increase in quality (5% over the 10 dollar system.) The audiophile in question is experiencing diminishing returns, and contrary to your definition could still hear the difference.

    Furthermore, by definition there can not be a point of diminishing returns - you need an interval. However, in real life often there usually exists some point x where all intervals beyond that point experience diminishing returns. One might say point x is the point of diminishing returns

    Historical Reference : The notion of diminishing returns was first theorized by the British financier and pamphleteer David Ricardo while studying price theory.
  • by Eric Seppanen (79060) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:08PM (#153109)
    I find people that think expensive stereo equipment is a waste of money have probably never heard any. They seem to think that the big flashy stuff at <insert name of stereo chain> is just the best there is, and they're always amazed at how a good recording on a good system can sound.

    Besides, at $10-$15 per CD, I bet everyone knows somebody who owns several thousand dollars worth of music. Why play them on a $200 stereo? It's like putting a 60GB hard drive in a 486.
    --

  • Technics 1200MKII about 450.00

    if you want a turntable with a great audio quality then the Technics 1200s aren't really the best choice. they're great for durability (i can attest to that), but you can get a better sounding turntable at about the same price.

    of course if you're DJing then get the Techs or get a new hobby ;)

    - j

  • There's always the haunting fear in any audiophile's heart that there's something better out there. That's exactly why a good dealer is imperative.

    on the topic of this story if you substituted "audiophile" with "drug user" the quote above would be just as applicable.

    - j

  • by Alpha State (89105) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:42PM (#153124) Homepage

    Most people just don't understand, even those who like music. They shell out money for their sony integrated system, turn the bass up and think their sound is great.

    What they don't realise is that for a relatively small amount more you can buy a system which is really good at reproducing sound. Those "companies with name you've never heard" are experts at reproducing music, comparing them with Sony or Panasonic is like comparing Porsche to Hayundai or GM. And the price difference is not necessarily that much, many hi-fi companies are producing cheaper components which are still high quality, to compete with the generic brand names. They continue to develop and use technology to reproduce music with cheaper equipment at higher quality.

    If you're one of these people, I urge you to go down to your nearest hi-fi shop and ask to have a listen to some of their systems. If you have a typical integrated stereo at home, even the cheapest setups will amaze you. If you're willing to shell out a bit more, the music will be so realistic you can imagine the musicians standing in your living room when you close your eyes.

    Admittedly, it can be a slippery slope but spending $140,000 is rare and really ridiculous. My system cost a bit over $3000 australian ($1600 and falling for you yanks) and I'm quite satisfied with it for any type of music (until I can afford a better one :-). But these days you can get a reasonably cheap system from companies who actually care about the music rather than their brand image. And you can also buy them from more local businesses, instead of sending the profits to some head office in Asia for products made as cheaply as possible in Taiwan.

  • by jmv (93421) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:24PM (#153138) Homepage
    I remember when I bought my last CD player and the guy was explaining to me that there are different qualities of fiber (for CD digital IO). He told me he could hear the difference, that the sound with a lesser-quality fiber had a different "color" (I didn't tell him I had an EE degree). I would have liked to see this guy to do a listening test and try differentiating fiber quality.

    Sure, there's a lot of different quality, but at these distances they're all equal. Moreover, bit errors will sound like (additive) white noise and will not "color" the sound. I don't know whether the guy believed what he said or was just trying to sell expensive stuff.
  • by El (94934) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:07PM (#153139)
    The point of diminishing returns is the point where your own ear can no longer tell the difference between a system and a more expensive system. For me, this is probably about the $2000 range. For others, electrostatic speakers and absurdly large tube amps may be worth it. But I suspect it's a lot like wine; can they _really_ tell the difference in a blind side-by-side compairison?

    One thing that may be worth it because you can actually _feel_ the difference is subwoofers. These should preferably shake the entire house when "Alzo Spake Zarathustra" is played at high volume (for those of you that don't recognize the name: you have heard the music, it's usually refered to as "2001").

  • by Frizzled (123910) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @01:55PM (#153189) Homepage
    just because it's an addiction doesn't mean it's unhealthy ...

    just because i drop 20k on speakers doesn't mean im in the same boat as the guy who hops down to the local steet-corner to grab some smack.

    _f
  • by TTop (160446) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:30PM (#153240)
    High-end audio can be addictive, but it doesn't have to be. I got the bug and my current system is worth "only" about $5,000. But it's a wonderful investment -- music sounds beautiful and considerably better then many people realize stereos can sound.

    The thing is, most people have never heard a high-end (or moderately high-end) system. So it's easy for them to dismiss it as people blowing money. My audio hardware is of excellent quality and will outlast any of the mass-market Circuit City units by 15 years, easy. It's highly unlikely I'll ever have to replace my stereo due to it being broken.

    Perhaps the most important thing in buying high-end equipment is listening. A surprising number of people don't do this. They look up specs for watts and distortion not realizing that the stereo companies actually engineer their equipment to come in with "better specs" but in doing so they completely ruin the actual sound quality. I have a very good system "on the cheap" (comparatively) because I spent a lot of time in my local dealer's showroom matching components with speakers. You wouldn't think you could tell a difference?? Even my wife could, and she's deaf in one ear! She had very distinct opinions about the various equipment we listened to, even though at first she thought the idea of expensive audio equipment was pretty silly. She even wishes we could've got the more expensive integrated amplifier because it sounded obviously better.

    It's easy to think some of these audio nuts are smoking crack -- thousands of dollars on speaker wires or interconnects (patch cords)?? I borrowed two sets of interconnects from my local dealer for a week to decide which set I wanted to keep (each one was about $100). A friend and I sat around for hours comparing the two and there were obvious differences! If you'd told me five years ago that there are significant, audible differences between two patch cords (which just conduct the electric signal) I would've called you crazy! Alas, it's true. You just have to make out a budget and then stick to it -- try different combinations of components until you get the one that sounds best to your ears.

    And oh yeah, Bose is not the best [purdue.edu] , not even close. They just have marketing that has convinced people that they are the cat's meow. Walk into your local store and listen to Bose, then go into a high-end dealer and listen to their cheapest equipment--you'll laugh at yourself for considering Bose.

  • by Alien54 (180860) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:21PM (#153273) Journal
    Let's face it - If I had the big bucks, then 100k+ for a system might be pocket change.

    but if it was an obsession, taking up substantial portions of my income to a destructive level, then there is a problem.

    A human can be obsessed with anything. Take the previously discussed example of hypnotism. Now if you have people in a chronic hypnotic state, such as via you favorite recreational chemicals, or what ever, - well I imagine that advertising might be much more effective.

    heck, any positive feedback loop can be addictive. Maybe we should just make sure that only negative feedback loops are legal?

    sounds like a plan to me.

    My point is that Positive feedback loops are destructive if there is not a limiter on them. The word Addiction is used too broadly to cover things and classify positive things as negative.

    "He was addicted to life. But we cured him"

    ;-)

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • by plastik55 (218435) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @10:54PM (#153306) Homepage
    Your audio recordings contain VERY little signal at 12 kHz that is 7-8 times louder than signal in the 1-5kHz range. It is a non-issue. You cannot hear it.

    If you integrate over the entire recording, this is true. But percussive sounds concentrate a large amount of high-frequency energy over short period of time. If you were to clamp a 12Khz lowpass filter on the input to your amplifier, you WOULD be able to tell the difference very easily, on almost all recordings. Percussive sounds would be distinctly muffled.

    Even more interesting, sounds in the real world DO have tons of high-frequency content! 40% of the energy produced by a cymbal crash is above 20 KHz.

    And high-frequency transients CAN affect your subjective experience of the music. See this [caltech.edu] for details, in particular this telling quote:

    Oohashi and his colleagues recorded gamelan to a bandwidth of 60 kHz, and played back the recording to listeners through a speaker system with an extra tweeter for the range above 26 kHz. This tweeter was driven by its own amplifier, and the 26 kHz electronic crossover before the amplifier used steep filters. The experimenters found that the listeners' EEGs and their subjective ratings of the sound quality were affected by whether this "ultra-tweeter" was on or off, even though the listeners explicitly denied that the reproduced sound was affected by the ultra-tweeter, and also denied, when presented with the ultrasonics alone, that any sound at all was being played.

    Interesting, eh? Despite the fact that subjects could not consciously tell the difference in an A/B test, or percieve the ultrasonics by themselves, their subjective ratings were still affected by a statistically significant amount. So blind A/B tests and hearing thresholds do not really capture all that there is to the perception of sound quality.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @11:04PM (#153358)
    Actually I think Bose does have one advantage over high end gear in certian circumstances: It always sounds pleasing. Bose can take whatever crap you feed it and make it sound deceant. You can hook up some 301s to a cheap amp and CD player and the sound that comes out will still be pleasing. They also sound good in almost any situation, the manage to reproduce a wide sounding stereo field, even in a tiny concrete dorm room.

    Now of course their strength is also their flaw. To always produce this pleasing sound they have to change and distort the signal a whole lot so they can never sound great. You can back up Bose with the best gear available and they still sound the same as they did with the cheap stuff. They still have that distinctive Bose sound. Well, that is not what I want. IMHO the best sound equipment has NO audible charicteristics of it's own. IF you use really great gear, you should be able to swap any component for another great component and hear no change in sound because the gear isn't changing it in any way, jsut reproducing it. Well Bose speakers change the sound, and change it a lot.

    Basically it comes down to what you're looking for. Bose speakers are great for people like College kids that want good sound on a budget. They'll sound just fine with a cheapie RaidoShack amp backing them up and you can throw them any old place you have room for them. However if you want something that is going to let you hear the music, and not itself, then Bose is not the answer.

  • by McSpew (316871) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @03:05PM (#153359)

    I once read an interview with Bob Carver in Stereo Review. He was talking about the psychology of high-end audio and how even though he'd been able to perfectly duplicate the sound of any tube amp ever made with a pure transistor amp, there were always going to be some people who looked at their tube amps and saw the tubes glowing and automatically knew that the tube amp sounded better than any transistor amp and there was no way they'd be convinced otherwise.

    The problem with many audiophiles is that they'd never bother with double blind a/b comparisons to test their beliefs. Carver performed such double-blind tests with audio critics who never believed he could make one of his amps sound like any randomly-chosen amp. The test in question occurred at a high end audio trade show. Carver was given 24 hours notice of the exact amp he needed to duplicate. He'd put that amp on an oscilloscope and as closely as possible matched what he called the amp's "transfer function."

    When the tests were run, the critics couldn't tell the difference between Carver's amp and the amp he had cloned.

    Carver also told a story about the time he tested some $1,000 silver patch cables. He and a friend were astonished at the amazing quality difference. When he switched back to his original patch cables, he and his friend marveled at how sonically dead and flat the soundstage had become. They swapped back and forth a few times, with Carver's friend continuing to hear the difference, but eventually, Carver was able realize the effect had been completely created within their own minds. When he listened to the sound as critically and objectively as he could, he no longer heard the difference.

    In general, audiophiles are an irrational bunch. Yes, there are differences between high-end audiophile components and even the best "audiophile-grade" mass-produced consumer stuff, but don't tell me putting your power supplies in sandboxes will make that much of a difference. And definitely don't tell me your CDs sound better when you paint the circumferential edge green with a felt pen.

  • by fishwife (325255) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @02:07PM (#153365)
    Drug addicts will at least leave you in peace, shooting their arms up in abandoned alleyways and passing out with friends around the bong. Moreover, when drug addicts throw their money away, they're usually pumping it back into the local economy instead of shipping it off to hardware manufacturers overseas.

    Audiophiles, in contrast, aren't content to waste their money in private or among other like-minded individuals. Oh no. They have a compulsive need to prosthelitize about their audiophilia. As if there weren't enough of their kind in this world as it is, they will openly moan and complain about the quality of others' audio equipment and wax on end about the relative merits of whatever their latest hobbyhorse format is over mp3 which is far too lossy or whatever they're bitching this week.

    In all my years of knowing dope smokers and heroin addicts, I've never known any to spend half as much time trying to justify the benefits of their drug of choice as audiophiles do about their wares. It just isn't done. Drug addicts are content to enjoy their recreational substances and leave it at that. Audiophiles feel a need to go so much further.

    The other day, I was reading about the US Supreme Court's latest court case upholding the constitutionality of religious groups' use of public school space for after-school bible classes. But what I think was left out of the debate was how religious groups are such a small threat when compared to other secular groups. Whereas the liberals would like to bar the Good News club from coming to elementary schools, they would happily and cheerfully admit an audiophilia club. Whereas the Good News club is just trying to save your soul, the audiophiles are both trying to steal your soul and bilk your wallet at the same time. That is the true threat in our society today.

    I'm glad someone is finally casting the light of public scrutiny upon this pestilence in our midst. Audiophilia must be banned and criminalized as it has no place in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our forefathers did not give their lives to found a nation where we could scamper around with our goldplated headphones and 10 megawatt amps in one giant aureal masturbatory frenzy.
  • by slaida1 (412260) on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @11:00PM (#153373)
    Quality isn't measured by money. We have excellent HI-FI magazine here in Finland wich published these do-it-yourself-loudspeaker articles few years ago. These are very popular louspeakers among people who know what's needed to make music Sound Good(TM) without wasting much money.

    In fact, those loudspeakers were so good that the editors of whis HIFI mag were using them as a reference against other louspeakers in reviews. Since this mag is Finland's leading audio-video magazine, sales of brand name speakers went down and to save their asses, owners of audio hardware shops threatened to boycot HIFI mag if they would not draw their self-made speakers off the reviews.

    Ok, now we still have these instructions to make a "HIFI 12/2" speakers for example but since these never get into reviews and comparisons anymore, people are forgetting them. For $300/pair they're cheap and sound awesome. Not to mention the joy of making something by yourself that beats 3 times more expensive sets found in stores.

  • by ColGraff (454761) <maron1&mindspring,com> on Wednesday June 13, 2001 @01:59PM (#153392) Homepage Journal
    ...I'd prefer the string quartet. Then again, I doubt they can play Pink Floyd loud enough to induce brain damage in small children.

Maybe Computer Science should be in the College of Theology. -- R. S. Barton

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