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ARSCLIST  April 2013

ARSCLIST April 2013

Subject:

Re: NY Audio Show -- one man's observations

From:

Carl Pultz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Mon, 15 Apr 2013 13:36:48 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (274 lines)

I can't speak with authority on that, but it does seem to be one of the
design aspects manufacturers' exercise. It doesn't lead to a
whole-in-the-middle, but does put the emphasis on a 'sweet-spot' where most
of the magic happens. Step away, and it sounds like a PA column. My feeling
is that some qualities, like imaging and bass definition and micro-detail,
have become so much the focus of competitive comparisons that the general
gestalt got lost. We may see a response to that in the increased popularity
of old-school English designs like Harbeth or Spendor, or in horn-loaded
single-driver schemes, which bring some soul (or excessive coloration,
depending) back to the experience. It may also be a gradual recognition that
it will be music-lovers that will sustain the industry, not audiophiles.

But another way the industry is trying to meet customers where they live is
in the private realm, between their ears, where that need for privacy
extends to the home for many people. Personal players have helped to replace
the unfortunate image of quality sound as being all about huge speakers and
gender conflict. Now, it means something more domestically acceptable. It
works with the whole neo-urban thing. It's also the current cool fashion. I
just got home from the gym, where my little ear-buds were embarrassed by all
the big honking 'phones clamped on heads. No metaphor intended!

One beauty of file-based systems is that they integrate with all the
portable stuff. The kid can hook their iThing to dad's system easily, with
all the domestic harmony, if not musical, that implies. Being not just for
the man-cave, it helps to push hifi into Cayenne territory for the
well-healed family unit.

I'm with you in not finding headphone listening as satisfying as speakers,
although I use them a lot for work. If I ever find a product that brings the
good qualities of the various models I own together in one affordable unit,
maybe my mind will change. I can rock out in the nursing home. I also hope
that the industry isn't so sold on the 'physical product is over' meme. I
suspect it is premature, at least in the overall market, which is quite
diverse. Wanna side-bet there will be renewed demand for CDs in five years?
Might those issues with docs be one cause of a revival? I know people who
have the 192/24 file and CD/SACD and LPs of favorite records. Rather than
the replacement paradigm, is there an option in music marketing that covers
the idea that in aggregate people want everything?

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
Sent: Monday, April 15, 2013 9:08 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] NY Audio Show -- one man's observations

Hi Carl:

What do you mean by this statement?

"Narrow dispersion figures into a design concentration on lateral imaging."

Are you saying that speaker designers are trying to make narrow "columns" of
sound as opposed to a wide stereo image with a strong center? If so, why??

The networked-server stuff is really interesting. It's getting very
old-fashioned to have a big pile of CDs! The various iPad-based control apps
are great in that you see your whole music library right there, you can
search it, you can quickly drag and drop playlists and queues, etc. However,
there's still a big issue with booklets and liner notes. Having AllMusic or
Gracenote "notes" about something is a cheezy non-substitute for any good CD
booklet, and definitely not adequate for historical-reissue and box-set
books. The industry should have outsourced PDF'ing all of this stuff to a
low-labor-cost market years ago. It should just be up there and universally
available like track names. So when you buy album X from iTunes, Amazon,
HDTracks or whatever, the CD booklet or original LP jacket art should just
be linked right to the files, pulled right off the interwebs into your iPad
so you can read it while you listen just like in the grand old days of ... a
few years ago!

Regarding headphones, I was surprised, overhearing talk in the various
headphone-centric rooms, how many people don't have big speakers anymore, do
most of their music consumption via headphones. I prefer the sensation of
real air moving in a space, to my ears it's more lifelike.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, April 15, 2013 8:49 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] NY Audio Show -- one man's observations


> Interesting, Tom. Thanks for the report. It has seemed for a long while
that
> some audiophiles work up the 'quality' ladder by chasing more information,
> more detail, or at least the impression of more detail, often where no
more
> exists. That can lead to a clinical, sterile sound that strikes me as
> a-musical. I was on that path, too, until I changed priorities. Narrow
> dispersion figures into a design concentration on lateral imaging.
>
> My friend Bob, who runs The Analog Shop in Victor, NY, was there; I'm
> anxious to hear his impressions. He specializes in record-players, and is
> also heavily into computer-audio. He sees the high-end business picking up
> lately, and the new category of networked systems are helping to drive
that,
> at least as much as the vinyl revival has. Headphones, too, as the two
> categories seem to synergize. One side benefit to the retailer is that
> computer audio customers are accustomed to figuring out their own
problems.
> Thank you, Mr. Gates!
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
> Sent: Sunday, April 14, 2013 9:18 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [ARSCLIST] NY Audio Show -- one man's observations
>
> I decided to check out the New York Audio Show today, I think it's the
> second year of this particular show. It was spread over several floors of
> the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Ave. I flashed my AES membership card
> and got a discounted admission (I think 10% or maybe 15% off). That
> admission got me into everything going on Sunday afternoon.
>
> A general observation is that the hotel was not an ideal place for this
kind
> of event. Demos were taking place in small NYC hotel rooms, and were
> sometimes overcrowded. The rooms were invariably stuffy and in some cases,
> smelly food had been brought in (why? to clear out the over-crowded
room?).
> Detracting somewhat, and no fault of the show organizers, was a power
> failure, which caused super-loud generators outside the windows to kick
in.
> The net result was akin to horrible turntable rumble-feedback. This did
not
> last all afternoon, thankfully.
>
> I won't get into what makes people spend more on stereo gear than cars,
but
> most of what I heard didnt't sound particularly great. Nothing made we
want
> to run out and take a home-equity loan because I _must_have_it! But, there
> were some surprises.
>
> First surprise was how many headphone companies were there, how many
> high-end headphone amps are now made, and how mediocre to bad most of them
> sound. However, I found a couple of 'phones that were superb, better than
> anything I own. Most interesting of that bunch were MrSpeakers out of San
> Diego.
> Dan Clark, the "Head-Master" (I assume that means owner or chief
engineer),
> has some interesting ideas about "voicing" headphones (as he pointed out,
> ALL headphones are "voiced" in one way or another). I really liked his
> mid-line model (the regular unbalanced one). It comes out less
bass-extreme
> than my go-to Audio-Technica ATMH50s but still with plenty of solid,
natural
> bass. The midrange is akin to AKG 'phones (very natural-sounding,
especially
> right where the human voice usually falls) and the treble is much better
> than AKG and more like the more-costly Sennheisers I heard. Dan Clark said
> he allows a 15-day return policy, so I plan to try out a pair in the
studio.
> I think they may be better than the A-T's for judging overall sound
quality
> because of the superb midrange. The A-T's are still probably best for
> hearing exactly what's wrong or right in the bass frequencies (much better
> than near-field monitors). I also have to give props to the Mytek
> DAC/headphone amp I heard driving HiFiMan headphones (which were very good
> in their own right, but way over my budget for headphones). They had the
> Mytek playing DSD streaming files off a Mac laptop and the sound quality
was
> very pleasant and realistic. They didn't have enough variety of music to
> render a verdict on DSD vs high-resolution PCM, but I will say I enjoyed
> that demo very much.
>
> A company out of NYC called Well Rounded Sound makes single-driver
speakers
> in tubular wooden enclosures that can be combined or used alone. They had
a
> setup with their biggest drivers on the floor and their long-tubed smaller
> drivers up on the radiator/ac unit. The beauty of the system is that they
> had time-aligned the bass and treble so the damn thing sounded fantastic.
It
> was a small hotel room, so no telling how this would sound in a living
room,
> but I'm wondering about the applications for a studio, assuming one built
> their own crossover network (or maybe not, I'd probably try it just
driving
> the two speakers per channel first, see if I could align them right for
the
> room). I know there are probably a bunch of acoustics theories broken
here,
> but I know what I heard and that setup sounded really good, better than
some
> of the house-priced speakers in other rooms. I specifically asked the guy
to
> demo full-range and dynamic music, helping pick from his large pile of
CDs.
> Better treble than I expected, really nice stereo-location-cues
frequencies
> and plenty of bass (even though the speakers on the floor are only spec'd
> down to 70hz).
>
> Also noted, definitely in the class of what's called a "lifestyle
product,"
> along the lines with that 4-car garage in the McMansion, the return of the
> "Hi-Fi Console":
> http://www.symbolaudio.com/collection/modern-record-console/
> The difference with the old klunky furniture containing a Garrard
> record-wrecker, some screamy/honky speakers and an underpowered and
> ill-vented tube amp, this thing sounds pretty good. I had the guy put on a
> bass-heavy Jimi Hendrix record and then crank that little tube amp to the
> point of room-clearing loud, too see if the bass would skip the record.
> Amazingly, no! He's figured out some sort of isolatuion system for that
> turntable where he was tracking at 1.5 grams and had no skipping or
feedback
> issues. The build quality was also impressive, although the tube amp has
> more a good DIY fit and finish than an old Magnavox chasis of old. The
> speakers don't have super-strong treble, but they don't sound like a
blanket
> is over them either. The little tube amp is quite crisp and clean, like a
> Dynaco with a better power supply (which is what I suspect is the design).
> The noise floor of the system was good, not at all like the hiss/hum/hash
> background of yore. The Wall Street Journal had an article over the
weekend
> about many-vehicle, million-dollar, stand-alone garages, and one of these
> things would be great in the loft/lounge area of one of those places. It
> would definitely sound better than what's more likely to be there.
>
> Another general comment -- people demo'ing very expensive equipment should
> obey two cardinal rules:
> 1) never plug in an iPod or run lossy files from iTunes on a laptop, no
> matter how thick your cables or how costly your DAC connected to the
laptop.
> 2) try to pick music that is not all midrange.
> Acoustic folk music or a guy and a guitar playing blues doesn't
demonstrate
> anything. Original pressings of 70s rock records also doesn't reveal
> anything except how bad most of those records sounded from Day 1. To
almost
> everyone's credit, no demos were done at pain-level SPL's. To my ears, too
> many pricey speakers are "voiced" to have too much midrange or too much
bass
> and very few do "air and space" well. Also, too few speakers throw the
> treble and midrange very wide, and this seems to be a recent trend. I
> remember in the 70s and 80s that it was common for speakers to be spec'd
> with a wide treble throw (usually having half of the tweeter orb outside
the
> front of the cabinet), and some manufacturers would have a horn-ish setup
on
> their midrange driver (or an actual horn, like Klipsch Heresys) to make
sure
> it threw wide. It could be that the demo'ing folks "toe-in" these modern
> speakers too much, but it's not just a problem throwing out beyond the
> speakers, it's also not throwing in toward the center. I heard this same
> problem in about half of the demo rooms, with speakers costing a couple
> grand a pair and speakers costing more than many homes.
>
> Probably worth noting that I saw a lot more headphone and
streaming/computer
> audio stuff than vinyl-playback stuff. There's definitely a trend out
there
> among computer-saavy music fans to set up whole-house servers and to
create
> or download non-lossy music files to feed the listening systems.
> There were definitely more software and whole-home-control reps there than
> turntable or cartridge manufacturers, and many demos were being run off
> digital devices (although the majority were probably run off CD players).
> That said, there were several "vinyl playback sessions" each day of the
> show. VPI had one of their top-line turntables set up playing LPs all day.
> They had a very good-sounding amp and speaker combo, I forgot the brands
> because the prices were way out of my league (big speakers and lots of
> tubes, but not all for show because that system's sound was clear,
detailed
> and solid if not super-crisp). It was very nice to sit in there, rest the
> barking dogs and listen to a side of "Dark Side of the Moon."
>
> -- Tom Fine
> 

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