Welcome to another diatribe for the insatiable tweaker. I'm writing this during February, at the peak of the winter doldrums in New Hampshire, where there's about two feet of snow on the ground, somewhat more than normal for this time of year. That is actually good for the many skiers in the area, the hospitality industry and the state coffers, as we rely on meals and lodging taxes for much of our state budget (no income or sales tax here), but also for my fellow audiophiles, as it gives us an excuse to hunker down and do more listening and tweaking of our systems.
First some interesting news! I've just been informed by Steven R. Rochlin, our Fearless Leader (he even looks a little like Rocky and Bullwinkle's nemesis) that we have just broken a tremendous barrier. Last month we had over hundreds of thousands of unique visitors to our site with well over 1,000,000 page views. This compares to Stereophile's 80,000 and The Absolute Sound's about 40,000 print subscribers. Who says the audiophile community is diminishing. Maybe I should ask for a raise. (Steve sez: You can ask, though you did get a raise a few months back).
Two months ago, in AA Chapter 111 I discussed my audio predilections and the relative levels of importance of all things audio to my listening sensibilities. Interestingly, several readers were interested enough to email some of their feelings. One was Dr. Bradley Morrical, who previously wrote a column for the second best audiophile webzine out there (ours being the best or course). He had several valid points from the opposite side of the argument over what's important for high-end audio reproduction. Clark Johnsen, one of my best friends and a fellow reviewer, confirmed his credentials and he graciously allowed me to publish his thoughts if we could have a further discussion on the differences.
Below is his original letter:
While I have never had the chance to hear any of Dr. Morrical's systems, he certainly has chosen excellent amplifiers and speakers over the years. He also seems to have the experimenter and home builder bug with his designing and constructing of planar-magnetic loudspeakers with sealed woofers, one of the more difficult combinations to get right. I find it interesting that he is able to drive speakers with very difficult load parameters that normally require large solid state amps, with relatively low wattage tube amplifiers.
We both overcome the problems associated with our different speaker types and amplifier choices by removing one of the major problems with most speaker designs, passive crossovers, from the amplifier-speaker interface, and using variable active crossovers between the source and amplifiers. In his system, this allows him to use lower wattage amplifiers with a speaker as there are no resistors, caps and inductors in the path between the amps and speakers to drop their efficiency, while at the same time allowing one to tune the speaker for optimal reproduction in its particular room environment. In my system, in addition, it allows me to use several different horns and drivers for their respective optimal frequency ranges per speaker with fourth order or higher active crossovers removing the horn's tendency for distortion at their frequency extremes. Also, by using a proper horn design for its frequency range ( hyperbolic-elliptical for bass and Tractrix for the higher tones) and proper room placement, horn colorations are reduced if not completely eliminated.
I don't think we are that far apart on our feelings about the relative importance of amplifiers versus speakers. I placed the loudspeaker on a slightly higher plane for two reasons. First, even today's super high end speakers have orders of magnitude higher distortion levels than even amplifiers from 30 years ago. This, combined with how the speaker interacts with the room, determines its colorations, which will affect how long you'll be able to tolerate it.
Second, unlike amplifiers, which can easily be traded off, speakers, especially large high end units, are significantly more difficult to replace. While I've had about two dozen amplifiers either bought or reviewed, over the past 30 years, there have only been four speakers in my main system, and I still have the first, a pair of Yamaha NS1000 Monitors that were purchased in 1976. The amplifiers were easily sold, while my B&W 801's were very difficult to get rid of, and the other pair ended up being giving away.
What I'm sure we both agree on is that it's not the individual components that are important, but the synergy between them. Since there is no such thing as a perfect component, with each producing its own distortions of the musical signal from source to ear, and with each of us having our own proclivities on what's important for our sound perception, one needs to either buy a complete system from one manufacturer who agrees with how we perceive sound or have a dealer or guru who can steer you in the right direction. There are thousands of individual components with hundreds of thousands of possible permutations of their combinations, only a few of which will produce a sound you'll be able to live with for a long period of time. That's one of the reasons that the audiophile needs to change out equipment so frequently. So I don't think we're that far apart.
Decca Blu-ray Concert Discs
Several other companies, including DGG and Opus Arte have also brought out several Blu-ray discs. I'm still evaluating several of these and will hopefully be able to write them up next month. As a teaser, let me say that each has both sound and video that makes previous DVD releases look and sound like chopped liver. Unhappily, none of them have DTS Master Audio, and only a couple use Dolby True HD lossless encoding, but some, such as La Traviata above, do use 24-bit/48kHz PCM 5.1 surround. So before buying, be sure to check this out.
On another note, I find it interesting that we audiophiles are considered to be "Nut Jobs" by just about everybody out there. Whereas just about nobody would question someone who is having a love-affair with a super-expensive car such as a Ferrari ( such as our illustrious editor who has finally gotten that monkey off his back) or an oenophile who will spend a small fortune for a bottle of wine that may have turned to vinegar, an audiophile who spends a few thousand dollars on his system for hundreds of hours of enjoyment, will be castigated by the same people who'll spend big bucks on a meal or a day at the ball park.
Even high enders in other fields think we're crazy. Take for instance an article by a computer geek who for some reason decided to visit the high end suites at the CES, possibly just so he could write an article castigating individuals who'd spend $25,000 for a speaker. To quote him, "So, could I hear the difference? Well, sort of. I can't say I went ga-ga and wished for the expendable income to blow on these puppies. But I could hear a certain warmth at medium volume that permeated the entire suite, as Pass employees chose different LPs (yes, records) for me to listen to. My home speakers can do that at louder volumes."
This is from a guy that probably trades out video (not audio) cards monthly, computers yearly and has enough RAM and hard drives to store the Library of Congress. The same people who would never criticize him for spending his disposable income on his hobby, would definitely mock one of us for purchasing anything but zip cord for speaker cables. What is it about our hobby that attracts such derision? After all, hearing is possibly second only to sight as the most important sense, and every culture reveres its music and musicians, usually even over the visual arts. So what's wrong with trying to maximize our system's ability to reproduce our favorite music in all its original glory. Nothing, I say!! Keep striving for the "Absolute Sound" and "Enjoy the Music."