Tom FIne wrote:
> At 07:46 AM 1/22/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>> Ya know, this is probably blasphemy to whatever audiophile-types lurk
>> on this list, but I think you get a lot more bang for the buck
>> investing in a really good CD playback system. More "golden ears"
>> I've met than I care to say rail on about how "digital sucks" or
>> "CD's sound terrible." Then, when I ask them about their system, it
>> turns out they are using either a first-generation CD player from the
>> early 80's or they are using some dirt-cheap on-sale DVD/CD player
>> from the local big-box. CD players are NOT all the same and
>> furthermore external D-A boxes are NOT all the same. If you combine
>> well-mastered CD's with a stable mechanism and an excellent D-A unit,
>> you'll push your amp and speakers (and ears) as far as they can go.
Well, I'm more a Golden Age than Golden Ears guy at this point, as are
a lot of audiophile type these days. I happen to be a fan of SACD, at
least real DSD discs, not the ones done from 44 or 48 kHz masters,
which are only marginally better than CDs. So if I can hear the
difference, the Red Book CD would seem to have inherent limits by
design. While better electronics help (my SACD/CD player has $1000
worth of mods, so I'm trying), the only lipstick that seems to stick on
this pig are rethinkings like the Memory Player, the Regas, and the
various ways around the brick wall filter.
>> Now, just as in the LP era, the majority of CD product on the market
>> is not well-mastered, so the garden-variety CD has a bad rap for
>> sounding awful through no fault of the technology. This was the same
>> thing with a lot of rock and jazz LPs back in the day. Overuse of
>> dynamics-compression, bad EQ choices, and bad mixing or mic-placement
>> choices at the session are nothing new.
But engineering for MP3/iPod players is, if you need a bogeyman.
>> But, the difference with CD's and even more so with higher-resolution
>> digital formats, is that there aren't the built-in distortions and
>> limits of analog formats. No matter how superb your analog setup is,
>> output is audibly different from input. If you like the output better
>> -- ie the distortions are euphonic to your tastes -- that's one
You are referring to trading half the analog bandwidth for 20 dB of
digital S/N, I guess. Life is full of tough choices. Boston's Symphony
Hall is definitely euphonic compared to New York's Avery Fisher, and so
experience with both probably affects my "taste". Euphonic means
"sounds pleasing", of course. And yes, the LP sounds different from the
original tape, but so does the CD. That's why we have people to master
and "balance engineer" recordings, in whose "taste" for what sounds
"pleasing/good/awesome" we trust. It is not a question of simple
accuracy. Seriously, any loudspeaker has far more audible distortion of
the "input" than either format, especially when heard in a real room,
not an anechoic chamber.
>> But the truthful assessment is, a well-designed digital system can
>> get as close to output = input as the vast, vast majority of ears can
>> hear (and certainly the overwhelmingly vast majority of
>> home-listening setups can reproduce).
One problem with the "bits iz bits" argument is that all sorts of
tweaks (not just better players/DACS) change (often subjectively
improving) the sound of CDs - de-gaussing, polishing, trimming, etc.
One of the nice things a good DAC can do is demonstrate how a
"bit-perfect" CD-R copy can sound better than the original CD, and that
is truly weird.
Of course, the vast majority of listeners have never heard well
implemented analog OR digital. No one ever went broke underestimating
the taste (or sonic preference) of the American public. Check the EQ
settings on your next rental car for what the vast majority thinks is
good sound. And someone should do a FOIA request to determine which
format they use to "enhance" things at 110 dB down at Gitmo. I'd cave
to even a Barry Manilow LP on repeat, but I bet they subject the "hard
core terrists" to digital.
>> If I had the thousands it costs to buy and maintain an ATR Services
>> machine, and this were simply for a listening hobby, I'd spend that
>> money on a mechanically-superb mid-line DVD/CD player, a top-line DAC
>> and then take the other 2/3 of the money and invest in great speakers
>> and room treatments so I had a top-rate listening environment. If I
>> already had that in place, I'd invest the 2/3 of the money I had left
>> in a diverse collection of great listening software, paying attention
>> first to my musical tastes and then to sound quality since great
>> music should soar above a crappy recording (although it doesn't in
>> all cases).
>> This is probably not the answer some want to hear, but I submit that
>> it's by far the most bang for the listening-pleasure dollar.
If you buy the electronics and especially the speakers on price-point
or specs, without listening to them in concert at home, room treatment
will just be an expensive band-aid. You might well get more boom and
tizz than bang for your buck. Duane's point about CES is well taken.
Few rooms (Herron's among them) had better sound than I have for much
less money at home. But tellingly, a substantial percentage of the
better-sounding high end rooms had an analog source for demo, and a
wider variety of analog software. The all-digital rooms tended towards
small combo seductive female vocals, which to the aging audiophile
male, is as euphonic as it gets.
As to listening-pleasure dollars, I'm not doctrinaire either. If I
don't pass any yard sales with clean $1 LPs on my way to Borders, I'll
buy a CD or SACD. Have a 40% off coupon in my wallet at this very
minute, in fact. But CD sales are way down, and in 10 years or less
you'll be hitting the yard sales for them too. Should you see a decent
turntable there, I suggest you snap it up.