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August 2005
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audiophiles... Street Track Racers...
Comparisons and Contrasts
Article By Steven R. Rochlin
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Skip Barber Formula Dodge Open Wheel Race Car  The past week has been an amazing experience! Imagine being thrust into a Formula Dodge open wheel spec car and driving at breakneck speeds around one of America's street tracks. After three days you have racked up well over 125 miles on the racetrack! Better still, after three days in the Formula Dodge you get two additional days over 200 more track miles in a race prepped Ferrari! By now you are saying, "That sounds like fun Steven, but what does it have to do with being an audiophile?" During the past week there were moments where these two hobbies (or professions) has many similarities. 

Skip BarberFrom Monday through Wednesday i attended the Skip Barber three-day Race School at Lime Rock Park. The first day begins with basic theory in a classroom from a professional driver/instructor. This covered vehicle dynamics and whatnot for those unfamiliar with driving a car at the limits. Later that morning we were able to directly apply classroom learning with seat time to become more familiar with the car. Audiophiles, on the other hand, have no such formal type of training available. Sadly, we are not given a classroom opportunity to learn the basic skills of sound reproduction as taught by professionals. A few years back there was the Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video (AAHPAV) who held classroom-type educational seminars during a yearly audiophile show. These seminars first started with the basics and attendees earned an Ambassador degree at the end of the event. The following year the AAHPAV had more advanced classes and graduates merited a Masters Degree. Sadly, there is no more AAHPAV and no one has offered to bring about a formal educational experience to audiophiles.

What amazed me was the sheer lack of reviewers and press members who attended these classroom events! Sessions were taught by some of the best names and most knowledgeable men in their field including Dr. Floyd Tool of Harman International, Joe Kane of Joe Kane Productions, Bob Stuart of Meridian Audio Ltd., and Joe Kellogg of Dolby Labs (to name a few). One can only speculate concerning ego, or perhaps a feeling of (misguided) self-confidence that kept other reviewers and press members from attending such educational events. In the race scene there are a few drivers who have been known to be less than receptive to more established professionals' advice. So let us do a comparison and contrast...


Warm Up Lap... The Basics
i equate vehicle dynamics in a race car to that of room acoustics and how your loudspeakers interact within that space. Vehicle dynamics is the movement/forces of a vehicle including braking, acceleration, and cornering. Said forces are also dependant on tires, gravity, and aerodynamics plus the understanding of said vehicle's response to forces during operation. If you do not understand vehicle dynamics, it would be hard to fully appreciate and achieve the very best from a car. For audiophiles, the only way to realize the potential of your system is to be educated in the fundamentals of room acoustics and how your loudspeakers interact in said space.

There are quite a few books covering acoustics such as Robert Harley's The Complete Guide To High-End Audio (reviewed here) and a plethora of recording studio guides. The main reasons for Enjoy the Music.com's Manufacturer Articles section is to educate our readership. Within this section are articles from leading experts on room acoustics and loudspeaker setup. Fellow journalist A. Colin Flood reviewed RealTraps' Corner Room Reflections and is a must read. Books alone may help to mentally understand the basics, yet applied knowledge is key! Do not be afraid to ask your local high-end audio dealer, or a professional acoustician, to analyze your listening room and make suggestions. Odds are these professionals, besides years of experience, have various electronic devices that can measure your room to aid in attaining excellent results. This comparison is easy as every Formula 1 team considered the highest form of road course open wheel racing worldwide has full time professionals looking at the data acquired from their cars during driving sessions and can make quantified suggestions to optimize either the driver's actions and/or the car's setup.


More Moneys Equals Better Results
Hogwash! Virtually every longstanding audiophile has heard a system that was less expensive than their own, yet it reproduced music better. Where oh where did you go wrong? What was the magic tweak? Maybe it was those newfangled Ultra-Cable Floor Risers or the MegaSonic Sound Fluid? In Formula 1 where investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in development is the norm there are teams with lower budgets winning more races in 2005 than their higher budget competition! So if more money does not equate to better sound, than what is the key?

Like a racecar, a more expensive part may not achieve better results. There is a synergy as each part works in concert with another. As a whole, the entire chain of parts makes a whole. This 'whole' also must perform within a known space, albeit a specific racetrack or for us audiophiles, our listening room. Huge and expensive horns may not sound best in a 9 foot by 12 foot dorm room, though much less costly minimonitors can be just what the doctor ordered. It is only through understanding your room, loudspeakers, and the remainder of your system that have a chance to make significant improvements. Very small incremental improvements may take less understanding.


Adaptation Is Key
With a car we can tweak things such as installing adjustable suspension components, better brakes, and tires. A free tweak would be in adjusting the tire pressure to optimize the tire adhesion patch on the track surface. Audiophiles can tweak their system with various resonance control devices, contact enhancers, and turntable motor/speed control. A free tweak would be in adjusting the turntable tonearm's vertical tracking angle (VTA) as the thickness of a standard record is lower than its 200-gram counterpart. For tube amplifiers with adjustable bias, you can make subtle changes within a set parameter to obtain the best results. Not all efforts towards improvement need to cost money!


Experience Is Another Key
During the last few days at Lime Rock Park there were subtle changes made by Yours Truly to the car. With small adjustments to the suspension (compression and rebound) plus tire pressure changes, the car was faster around the track due to better grip in the turns. Experienced audiophiles may be able to hear a deficiency and realize that the bolts holding the driver's on the loudspeakers need to be tightened, or perhaps the VTA or tracking force needs adjustment. Fine-tuning can lead to more musical enjoyment. Perhaps the guy with the lower priced system that reproduces music better than yours has a better command of his/her listening room and system?

Do not be timid, as audiophiles generally do not suffer bodily injury (or death) from the 'sport' of musical enjoyment. On the other hand, upon entering Lime Rock Park i had to sign a waiver with some strong wording. The regional club has me sign a form with equally strong wording (injury, death, loss of life, property damage, etc. were used many times). With quite a few more powerful cars on the track the car at my disposal stood little chance as it was underpowered. Sure as the sun rises in the East i was passed on the track, but not as often as you would have thought! i found myself passing quite a few cars on the track that were of much higher performance. In this case it was not the system more than the person at the wheel with capabilities and risk taking. i am not saying to take a risk by changing out a part on your tube amplifier where you, by accident, may touch the 1,000 volt heater wires of your 211-based amplifier while the unit is powered on. Turn off the amplifier and make the change. A bit of common sense can go a long way. What i am saying is that intelligent and calculated 'risks' (read: avant-garde tweaks) might yield higher performance. If there is no major loss at trying something new...



The Cool Off Lap
Naturally a system does not live in a vacuum and the most experienced audiophile or racecar pilot can benefit from others' know-how. Seek out the advice of those who are willing to share their wisdom. Put ego aside as we must remember that Formula 1 drivers and reviewers can learn from others. In fact those with more experience yet are self-proclaim to be "the best" or "all knowing" scare me more than someone with less experience that admits to always be learning new tricks. One has a closed mind not willing to gain knowledge while the other has an open mind willing to strive for betterment. While visiting another reviewer's home his system sounded very bright and it appeared his Blue Point Special cartridge was to blame. Upon making a mere suggestion... that ruined our friendship that has never recovered since. Some people refuse to accept suggestions while closed-minded individuals who proclaim to be all knowing can do no wrong. Remember: The emperor has no cloths!

Now go out and buy some books concerning room acoustics, and Robert Harley's The Complete Guide To High-End Audio. If you ask your friends or a high-end dealer for their assessment of your system, do not take their criticisms as a personal attack! They are merely making suggestions to boost your musical enjoyment. Life is a journey and we are always learning.

Beware those who proclaim know it all, as you should wonder are they really trying to help you or are simply concerned with their self-image and ego. Welcome those who readily admit to having overcome certain obstacles, yet are willing to learn new solutions. Of course in the end what really matters is that we all....


Enjoy the Music (Joe Satriani "Circles" from the album Surfing With The Alien right now),

Steven R. Rochlin













































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