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ARSCLIST  July 2007

ARSCLIST July 2007

Subject:

Re: Is The Record Shop Dead?

From:

"Steven C. Barr(x)" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 2 Jul 2007 00:04:03 -0400

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text/plain

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see [eventual :-)] end...
----- Original Message ----- 
> There's all sorts of mythology and BS about home hifi (presumably)
amplification. The big
> misinformation is broadcast by dubious claims of manufacturers peddling
super-priced stuff to the
> audiophool crowd, and the accompanying mags.
>
> The goal of a home audio amp should be NEUTRALITY. It should take source
material, from preamps or
> direct from sources like tuners, CD players and phono preamps, and amplify it
by several orders of
> magnitude so as to drive mechanical devices (speakers) to move air and thus
produce sound waves. The
> speakers themselves are actually the biggest sound-alterers in most systems,
interacting with the
> room and themselves to produce all sorts of effects. Some go to great lengths
to minimize these
> various distortions and effects, some choose closer-in monitoring, some listen
on headphones, some
> find a very pleasing match of room acoustics and a favorite pair of speakers.
>
> Now, when you get into the amplifier itself, I don't think some sort of frothy
"tubes vs.
> transistors" argument is even worth addressing. What is worth addressing is
what sorts of
> distortions and sound-alterations are likely under what circumstances. Most
but not all tube amps
> are of lesser watts into a given ohms of power than comparably-priced/built
solid-state amps. Most
> but not all tube amps use an output transformer between the output stage and
the speaker. The
> transformers can and do produce distortions, and peak-overdriving the tubes
can and do produce
> distortions. Tube distortion is generally in "musical" harmonics and can
sometimes manifest as a
> "warm" fuzz around an instrument's fundamental sound. Some people find this
very desireable, indeed
> many electric guitarists I know love it and force their amps into overdrive -- 
sometimes different
> overdrive levels in the first stage vs. the output stage and other stages
in-between -- and most
> "classic" electric guitar riffs and songs are fraught with what is mostly
classic tube overdrive
> distortion (and also "barking" speakers and overloaded output transformers,
and some even like and
> seek out power supply sagging). In the home hifi environment, I would submit
that accuracy is
> preferable but there are guys much richer than me proving me wrong with amps
designed to produce
> that "warm" fuzz for other guys richer than me willing to shell out mega-bucks
to hear it.
>
> With solid-state amps, first of all, an early bad reputation developed from
early bad designs. By
> the "golden age" of hifi, tube amps had undergone steady improvement and
development since the
> 1920's, ie about 30 years. Solid-state gear in the mid-60's was fraught with
bad designs (trying to
> copy tube topology for active devices that did not behave like tubes, for
example), infant
> technology (noise-prone and thermal-problem-prone transistors, for example),
and over-marketing
> (looking back on early solid-state advertising, there were some pretty hefty
claims made for pretty
> feeble equipment). As with tubes, things improved with time and I would submit
that there are many
> superb examples of solid-state amps on the market now and have been many good
choices for the past
> 20 years or more. The devices improved, new and better circuits were
discovered and since
> transistors are cheap and transistor overload distortion is just plain ugly to
most ears, output
> power overkill has been the norm (basic philosophy -- make it have such
available peak power as to
> never show the ugly clipping side of transistor power/distortion curves).
Things like rise-time and
> transient distortions were addressed with more modern designs and solid-state
devices.  Also,
> reputable modern amps have good fail-safe circuits to prevent burning up
speakers when a device
> blows up. The latest wrinkle is Class D amps, but I've never tried them and
don't fully understand
> them so I don't want to comment.
>
> In my systems, I have tube amps and transistor amps and I like them all. My
goal in each setup is to
> provide enough available power so as not to get into distortions, and to
provide maximum accuracy.
> The curse of this approach is that many recordings sound pretty darn bad when
cast under an accurate
> light but the blessing is to hear true professionalism at work with no
filtering or hype in the case
> of those rare recordings that just leap out of the speakers and take you to a
place and time. I
> would argue that in a studio environment, accuracy is paramount because you
can't do your job
> correctly if you can't correctly hear the good and bad and know what you have
to do when remedies
> are appropriate.
>
> Finally circling around to Steve's question about dynamic range -- no, tube
amps are not inherently
> able to produce greater dynamic range, but most folks notice when a
solid-state amp is underpowered
> a lot quicker than with a tube amp because transistor clipping/overload sounds
universally horrible
> except perhaps to people who love the harshest sounds produceable on an early
Moog. By the way, most
> factory car stereos are notoriously underpowered and use really cheap power
amp "block" chips, so if
> you want to hear how horrible solid-state overdrive distortion sounds, just
turn up your factory GM
> stereo, for example, especially with highly-compressed FM radio. Obviously
this is more the case
> with my Chevy truck with the stock dashboard radio/CD vs. someone's Caddy with
the deluxo GM/Bose
> system. Back to Steve's question, I would submit that for somewhere +/- $1K
you can get a very good
> 100-150W solid-state amp and maybe a 30W tube amp -- from good but not
hand-built/cult-priced
> manufacturers. I would further argue that the solid-state amp is much more
capable of reproducing
> musical peaks to the power level that your speakers will crap out first vs the
tube amp which may
> run into output-stage overload, output transformer overload or power supply
sagging and thus get
> "warm" in both temperature and distortion -- same volume level, same room,
same level of speaker
> efficiency. Whether or not the listener would find the "warm" more pleasing is
individual taste, but
> the simple fact is that it's not more accurate vs. the dynamic range of the
source material.
>
1) Thanxes muchly for answering my question!

2) As a (VERY) part-time harmonicist, endeavouring to recreate as nearly as
possible the sound of the first generation of electrically-amplified
harmonicists,
I will readily admit to intentionally driving my amps into the distortion
range...
in fact, I intentionally use low-power amps (single-ended if possible) which are
miked into the PA...so that I can reach distortion levels without blowing the
audience into the rear wall! This is, in fact, how I discovered the noticeable
difference between overdriving tube amps and solid-state amps...

3) Agreed...the ideal goal of a "high(est?)-fidelity" system is to reproduce
as nearly as possible the exact sound that was recorded (which, I suspect, is
not possible...especially when the "hi-fi" sound has to interface with our
ears through (electro-magnetic) speakers! I will agree that solid-state gear,
if not intentionally or accidentally overdriven, can produce sound of an
impressive degree of accuracy...I once owned a Heathkit receiver of renown
(forget the model data) which I hooked up to a set of "small Advent" speakers.
The result, which may have missed perfection by a small but identifiable
amount, certainly sounded quite impressive to MY ears! OTOH, my "listening
room was about 10' x 13', with 10'6" ceilings and very little other
furniture...!

4) Also, I suspect the bias toward "vintage tube equipment" is fed to a
certain degree by nostalgia...as well to an additional degree by the "one-
upmanship" inherent in the dominance hierarchy built into Homo Sapiens!
The harsh reality is that most of the "listenership" of this e-list have
reached an age when their hearing has started its inevitable decline
(though probably to the degree of the 78-L folks...?!)...and therefore
any comments in the way of "X sounds better than Y!" must be taken with
a grain of salt (and, in some cases, the specifications of the poster's
hearing aid [s]...!).

5) Finally...I would guess that the majority of the music listeners on
this e-list do NOT own state-of-the-art equipment...and comments can, for
that reason, NOT be accepted as 100% accurate! (Tom, I exempt you from
the above...right?!)...

Steven C. Barr

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