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Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo Sounds Better Than Yours

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the and-the-candy-tasted-better-too dept.

Music 674

asto21 writes "Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years, actual sound quality became a secondary selling point since most people started buying their equipment either online or from big box retailers. People started caring more about the number of connections and wireless interfaces and wattage of systems. As a result, there was less money in R&D budgets to spend on advancements in sound."

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Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean Bed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910306)

Procrustean bed: a scheme or pattern into which something or someone is arbitrarily forced.

Procrustes: a villainous son of Poseidon in Greek myth who forces travelers to fit into his bed by stretching their bodies or cutting off their legs.—Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

In most fields of scientific endeavor, advancing the state of the art is the primary goal of researchers and academics. From computer science to medicine to astronomy, technological frontiers are continually being pushed forward—and with astounding results. We can now "walk" through a building that exists only in the architect's computer, splice together the building blocks of life in a laboratory, and take close-up photographs of the outer planets. These achievements will undoubtedly be eclipsed by even more remarkable developments as mankind continually strives to extend the limits of his emerging technological power. If "necessity is the mother of invention," then "dissatisfaction is the father of progress."

There is one field of scientific inquiry, however, where the goal is not the advancement of absolute performance, but of finding ways to make existing, limited technology commercially exploitable—even at the expense of compromising quality. Unfortunately, this field is a hot new area of research in digital audio encoding. Called "bit-rate reduction" or "data compression," this is a scheme whereby the data rate for a digital audio signal is reduced by over 80%, accomplished partly by employing a more efficient encoding scheme, but primarily by throwing out a large amount of musical information judged to be inaudible (footnote 1).

At the Audio Engineering Society convention in Paris this past February, I had a glimpse of the role data compression may play shaping audio's future—and the prospects are frightening. There is a juggernaut moving with tremendous momentum toward implementing data-compression schemes in virtually all aspects of music storage and transmission. Bit-rate reduction systems are the foundation on which many future audio technologies are based, from Philips's Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), to cinematic soundtracks, and even a CD with extended playing time.

Even more disturbing is the prospect that data compression may be used in professional applications to make master recordings. It's conceivable that the majority of recorded music will be subject to some form of data compression in as little as ten years. Consequently, data compression is not merely a mass-market mid-fi system avoidable by the serious listener. Like it or not, we will all be subject to bit-rate–reduced digital audio.

Before discussing the implications of data compression, let's look at why such a contrivance is necessary for greater commercial exploitation of digital audio.

Conventional 16-bit linear PCM digital audio with a 44.1kHz sampling rate (as found on a Compact Disc) requires 705,600 bits, or 705.6 kilobits, per second per monaural channel (705.6kb/s/ch). This number is obtained by multiplying the sampling rate (44,100) by the quantization word length (16). The stereo signal on a CD thus consumes 1.41 million bits per second, or about 10.6 megabytes per minute (1 byte = 8 bits). And this is just the raw audio data, which comprises only about a third of the CD's storage capacity (the rest is encoding, error correction redundancy, subcode, etc.). For comparison, this essay you are now reading consumes 23,000 bytes of storage, about the same amount of data consumed by 1/60 of a second of CD-quality stereo digital audio. Clearly, 16-bit PCM audio involves a huge amount of data, creating a storage and transmission bottleneck—from a commercial point of view.

To store or transmit such a large amount of data requires mass storage capacity or a wide transmission bandwidth channel. Mass storage and wide bandwidth mean high cost. High cost means precluding mass-market applications. Precluding mass-market applications means little profit for the companies selling new hardware. Consequently, a whole industry with enormous profit potential is developing around bit-rate–reduced digital audio systems—an industry that would not be possible without this drastic reduction in the digital audio data rate.

In addition to Philips's Digital Compact Cassette (DCC), which uses PASC, a type of data compression (see "Industry Update" in April, footnote 2), a massive project is underway in Europe to replace FM radio transmission with Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). In DAB, many radio stations' signals are multiplexed together and broadcast from a satellite to consumers' digital "tuners." By reducing the data rate of a digital audio signal, more stations can be squeezed into a narrower bandwidth, reducing cost. There is a direct and inviolable correlation between transmission cost and bit rate.

With digital audio broadcasting made possible by reducing the bit rate, a whole new demand for consumer products is suddenly created. It doesn't take a marketing genius to realize that DAB will make an entire generation of hardware (all radio receivers, including car stereos) obsolete, forcing consumers to replace their hundreds of millions of existing units.

But how can the musical information represented by 705.6kb/s/ch (which many argue isn't nearly enough) be squashed down to 128kb/s/ch without seriously degrading the music? Although the ratio between the digital audio data rate from a CD and that used in data compression schemes is huge (5.5:1), the picture isn't quite as bleak as those numbers would suggest. More efficient encoding techniques are employed, like sampling low frequencies at a slower rate, and allocating bits based on the signal's spectral content.

Fundamentally, however, data-compression techniques are based on a psychoacoustic phenomenon called "auditory masking," which is defined as "decreased audibility of one sound due to the presence of another." When exposed to two signals, the ear/brain tends to hear only the louder. A good example of this is how tape hiss or record-surface noise becomes apparent only during quiet passages or spaces between tracks. The tape hiss is always present at the same level, but is masked by the music most of the time. Although auditory masking has been well researched (primarily by experimental psychologists), there are many unanswered questions, especially about how the phenomenon relates to musical perception; virtually all masking research is based on steady-state test signals and noise, not music.

One approach to bit-rate reduction is called "sub-band coding," in which the audio spectrum is split into multiple bands (32 bands in the case of Philips's PASC encoding used in the forthcoming Digital Compact Cassette), and bits are allocated based on the amount of signal in particular bands. Low-level information in a band that also contains high-level signals would be ignored by the encoder because the high-level signal would mask the low-level signal. Bands with little energy are allocated fewer bits, while those with higher energy are assigned more bits. Whatever the technique, all data-compression systems produce very large measurable errors in the signal—errors presumably masked by the correctly coded wanted signal. Just as tape hiss represents an error in analog magnetic tape recording, it is masked by the relatively error-free wanted signal of music.

All data-compression systems are based on the current masking theory that has produced the "auditory masking threshold" curve. At the Paris AES Convention, Michael Gerzon presented a paper entitled "Problems of Error Masking in Audio Data Compression" asserting that the current spectral masking theory is flawed (footnote 3). According to the paper, when the error is highly correlated with the signal, the masking threshold can be reduced by as much as 30dB. He backs up his theory with extensive mathematics. If he is correct, all the proposed data-compression systems (which rely on traditional spectral masking thresholds) are fundamentally and fatally flawed.

In addition to the prospect that data-compression schemes are based on incorrect human hearing models, there are many real-world dangers of bit-rate reduction. It seems to me that the systems have been pushed to the very limits of "acceptability," with "acceptability" determined under ideal laboratory conditions. In the real world, any spectral or dynamic irregularities in the playback system, storage media, or transmission chain will unmask the gross errors present in the signal. The large frequency-response irregularities found in car stereos, for example, could skew the spectral content of the signal, thus revealing the enormous errors hiding beneath the wanted signal. I wouldn't be surprised if there were an official mandate banning graphic equalizers on Digital Audio Broadcasting car stereos!

Similarly, an important question is what the signal-processing devices commonly used in broadcasting do to a signal that has undergone data compression. Most people would be shocked to learn of the great number of compressors, expanders, equalizers, pitch shifters, time compressors, etc. in a broadcasting chain. In an AES workshop on DAB, one audience member recounted finding fifty processing devices in the broadcasting chain between the original signal and the consumer's tuner. How do these devices affect the delicate balance between the huge underlying error and the wanted signal?

Another fear is of the effects of multiple encoding/decoding cycles. What happens to a bit-rate–reduced signal that is decoded, then re-encoded with bit-rate reduction, and so forth over several generations? It can't be good. This is a very likely scenario in the broadcasting chain as signals are transmitted, decoded, stored, and re-encoded for later use. To the consumer playing back a DCC recording of a DAB signal, there are already two encode/decode cycles, if the signal through the entire broadcasting chain underwent only one encoding process. The information loss must increase with successive generations, perhaps even degrading the signal exponentially.

And what about concealing transmission errors? All digital audio systems experience loss of data that must be corrected or concealed. Clearly, traditional methods of error concealment like linear interpolation (replacing the missing data with an average of surrounding valid samples) are inadequate for compressed-data digital audio.

The degradation imposed by multiple generations creates a profound irony: data compression may succeed where Copycode failed. Copycode, you may recall, was the proposed scheme whereby all copyrighted music would have a narrow notch removed from the midband, the lack of energy at that frequency disabling a recording device's record function, thus preventing consumers from making a tape copy. Because data compression introduces potentially severe errors with multiple encode/decode cycles (not to mention the degradation introduced by data compression itself), it may become an effective—if unplanned—method of discouraging home taping.

Even though these are serious concerns, what really scares me about digital-audio data compression is the potential for professional abuse. It's one thing to compress signals for digital-audio broadcasting or storage on DCC, but quite another if it is applied to master recordings. If that happens, musical information will be irretrievably lost. During every paper, workshop, or discussion regarding data compression I've attended, the word "archival" has surfaced as an application of these techniques. Archiving musical performances with bit-rate–reduced digital audio is not only unconscionable, but strains my ability to comprehend the type of mentality that would even consider such an abomination. It just doesn't make sense. The commercial benefits are virtually nil: recording media aren't that expensive. Preserving our musical heritage for future generations should be done with the best possible methods, not the cheapest or most convenient.

If data reduction is already being proposed for archival uses—where the financial gains are marginal at best—there will be little hesitation to implement it in professional applications where the commercial benefit is far greater. Indeed, Solid State Logic, the British manufacturer of perhaps the most expensive and prestigious recording consoles in the world, has already developed a data-reduction system called Apt-X 100.

More and more music is being recorded in "tapeless studios" on digital audio "workstations" that record individual tracks on large hard disks. Digital audio workstations allow the recording, editing, and signal processing of music in a desktop computer environment. We remember from our previous discussion that 16-bit, 44.1kHz digital audio consumes 705.6kb/s/ch. With many of today's recordings using 48 tracks or more, we can see the voracious appetite digital audio has for hard disk space. Assuming an hour's worth of music recorded over 48 tracks (not an uncommon situation), plus another hour's worth of 2-track space to which the 48 tracks are mixed, we find ourselves needing 127 billion bits, or nearly 16 gigabytes (16,000 megabytes) of hard-disk storage. Anyone who has priced large hard-disk drives can relate to the huge cost of such a capacity. In addition, this large amount of data requires very fast (read expensive) drives since the data is spread over many disks and must be accessed with a minimum of interruption.

Now, consider the same time and channel requirements, but with a data rate of 128kb/s/ch. Rather than needing 16 gigabytes, we now need only 2.9 gigabytes. In addition, compressed audio data means the drives can be much slower (read cheaper), since the data is spread over an area five times smaller and the effective read/write rate is five times faster. These figures won't be lost on digital audio workstation manufacturers who are caught in the race to offer the most number of tracks and recording time at the lowest cost. Many professional users tend to value features, flexibility, and return-on-investment potential over sound quality. Moreover, the encoding and decoding chips will be relatively cheap if they are the same ones used in consumer applications.

Another factor that could fuel the rush to incorporate data reduction into professional applications is the emergence of the MO (Magneto-Optical) disk, a technology destined to supplant traditional hard disks. MO disks are on their way to offering greater storage capacity for less money. However, they have one drawback: MO disks are now too slow for uncompressed digital audio. By compressing the data, however, MO drives becomes fast enough—and will be much cheaper than magnetic disks on a cost-per-megabyte basis. Unlike magnetic disk drives, MO has removable media: recording new material means replacing the disc rather than erasing the previous information. MO's many advantages may be a motivating factor in implementing data compression in professional equipment.

Looking one more step into the future, data compression figures even more prominently in another technology we're likely to see in the next decade: Random Access Memory (RAM) digital audio storage. In RAM storage, the ones and zeros that represent music are put on a memory chip (recording) and can be read out later (playback)—all with no moving parts. The advantages of RAM storage are many: no wear, no servo mechanisms, very few (if any) data errors, and high resistance to damage. The day may come when music is recorded on, and played back from, silicon.

However, with a 1Mb DRAM chip costing around $4, the high cost of RAM storage is prohibitive—at today's uncompressed data rates. Bit-rate reduction will look awfully tempting to RAM digital storage system designers: data compression reduces the cost of RAM storage by a factor of 5.5, the ratio between 16-bit 44.1kHz representation (705.6kb/s/ch) and compressed representation (128kb/s/ch). With proposals of 64kb/s/ch rates being advanced today, there may be a race to implement lower and lower data rates to accommodate the limitations of new technologies like RAM storage—and all at the altar of price and corporate profits, not musical performance. Every time a format is made obsolete, the manufacturers and marketers of the replacement technology sustain their existence for several decades because of demand for the new hardware. Just as it has been with the CD replacing the LP, so it will be with the analog cassette and DCC, FM radio and DAB, and eventually CD and RAM storage.

What's so worrisome about this trend is that the goalposts are being moved—in the wrong direction. Instead of striving to better create the illusion of live music, research efforts are dictated by the multinational corporations' need for convenient and cheap methods of storing and transmitting "software." Despite the remarkable and laudable achievements made in this field, bit-rate reduction in its proposed form and application is a step backward, a regression—even a perversion of audio science. It represents a denial of the vital role fidelity plays in communicating the musical experience. "Just good enough" or "barely detectable" appears to be the pinnacle of achievement. Moreover, the whole concept of data compression is a fundamental reversal of where our priorities should be. Audio technology should conform to the requirements of music rather than making music conform to technological limitations.

Ironically, today Compact Disc—with all its sonic flaws—is used as the reference standard against which bit-rate–reduced audio is judged. Will tomorrow's audio technologies-of-convenience use compressed digital audio quality as the standard for which to strive?

In principle, bit-rate reduction is a worthwhile endeavor. If more efficient coding schemes can be developed, and there truly is information completely masked by other signals, the data saved should be reallocated to improve, say, low-level resolution, rather than thrown out to serve commercial ends. More important, the idea of using data-compression techniques in professional equipment to make master recordings is an appalling abuse of the whole concept.

It would be a supreme irony if, after several years of listening to compressed digital audio, people start enjoying music less without knowing why. Instead of listening to entire performances, they listen to single tracks, thinking about what they will do when the music's over. Suddenly, music is less interesting, less involving, less moving. Because people enjoy music less, they buy less hardware and software, leading to the demise of the very companies that set in motion this tragic spiral.

The future of recorded music needn't be so bleak. I can imagine a far different scenario: Suppose the companies with huge research facilities and budgets who are now developing data compression instead devote their considerable skills and knowledge to uncovering the vast unexplored mysteries of human musical perception as it relates to recording and playback systems. New measurements would be devised that correlated exactly with perceived qualities. Performance aspects such as soundstage depth, bloom, and liquidity could be quantified and measured. Audio design would no longer have aspects of a black art. With the mysteries solved, even moderately priced systems would outperform today's high-end components.

The result would be mass-produced playback systems that better conveyed the expression and emotion of the composer and performers—the essence of why we listen to music. Without knowing why, the general public would find music listening more satisfying and rewarding. And because music would assume greater importance in their lives, people would spend a larger portion of their disposable income on recorded music and playback hardware, creating a self-perpetuating upward spiral in sales. Everyone would be an audiophile. Consequently, the electronics giants who brought better performance to music playback would reap the rewards of this greatly expanded market and enjoy unprecedented prosperity. It's too bad they will never see it that way.

It's ironic that, in this age of astounding scientific achievements, we feel that music is somehow unworthy of the best technology we can provide. Rather than creating technology that accommodates the requirements of music, we arbitrarily force music to conform to our self-imposed, profit-motivated technological limitations.

Procrustes would be proud.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (2)

YodasEvilTwin (2014446) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910368)

Where'd you copy-paste that from? Oh wait, let's ask Google: From http://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/digital_data_compression_musics_procrustean_bed/ [stereophile.com]. Nice work, very classy.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910772)

mmm and 10 years old, lets take a look and compare it to what actually happened

In addition to Philips's Digital Compact Cassette (DCC), which uses PASC, a type of data compression (see "Industry Update" in April, footnote 2),

dcc never took off afaict. DAB doesn't seem to be doing that well either.

OTOH online sales of music with lossy compression have really taken off...

Even more disturbing is the prospect that data compression may be used in professional applications to make master recordings. It's conceivable that the majority of recorded music will be subject to some form of data compression in as little as ten years. Consequently, data compression is not merely a mass-market mid-fi system avoidable by the serious listener. Like it or not, we will all be subject to bit-rate–reduced digital audio.

Afaict this may have happened for a while with minidisc but more recently the trend has been towards doing everything on computers in uncompressed 24/96 or 24/192.

The large frequency-response irregularities found in car stereos, for example, could skew the spectral content of the signal, thus revealing the enormous errors hiding beneath the wanted signal. I wouldn't be surprised if there were an official mandate banning graphic equalizers on Digital Audio Broadcasting car stereos!

This fear seems to have been unfouded, the general consensus seems to be it's easier to detect lossy compression on high quality kit.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (3, Funny)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910382)

Christ...

That's not a post.. it's a damn homework assignment!

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910538)

Plagiarizer and home work are not the same thing.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910632)

I meant reading it .. but yeah.. I assumed it was copy+paste from somewhere.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (1)

Chruisan (1040302) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910718)

They are only different once you get caught.

Re:Digital Data Compression: Music's Procrustean B (1)

aevan (903814) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910790)

Use one:plagiarize.
Use many: it is research.
Don't forget footnotes.

Once you have discovered (5, Insightful)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910314)

what makes it sound good. Surely there's no need for more R&D to maintain the status quo. What sunk good sound was a desire to push down the costs.

Re:Once you have discovered (4, Informative)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910402)

Good sound quality is still out there and still being improved. Companies like NAD [nadelectronics.com] are still in business and still developing amazing gear.

Re:Once you have discovered (4, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910720)

Not only that , but how can a lack of R&D be to blame for a decline in sound quality?
If audio quality failed to improve, you could blame it on lack of R&D, but there's got to be more to it than that for quality to *degrade* over time.
With NO R&D AT ALL, at the least we should have exactly AS GOOD sound as "your dad's thirty-year-old stereo".

Re:Once you have discovered (5, Interesting)

xclr8r (658786) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910820)

Not only that , but how can a lack of R&D be to blame for a decline in sound quality? If audio quality failed to improve, you could blame it on lack of R&D, but there's got to be more to it than that for quality to *degrade* over time. With NO R&D AT ALL, at the least we should have exactly AS GOOD sound as "your dad's thirty-year-old stereo".

I'd have to disagree. As you add more and more complexity to a device there are power drains and voltage/capcitance/current/frequency issues to be worked out.

To put a bad analogy on it.. it's like saying "Lets add a 1000W lamp to this wall socket and not expect anything bad happen to the Audio on the same circuit." Talk to any sound engineer (read non-audiphile subscriber) and they will have tons of stories on how fickle sound set ups can be when no one knowledgeable is watching the setup and correcting things.

Re:Once you have discovered (0)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910450)

Quality is mostly subjective anyway. Good marketing has a much bigger influence on your subjective impression of quality than actual linearity in response and low noise floor. We got to the point of diminishing returns on audio quality decades ago.

Re:Once you have discovered (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910672)

Good marketing has a much bigger influence on your subjective impression

The poster's subjective impression, or the average listener's subjective impression? Big, important distinction. What if our friend here has sensitive ears?

Re:Once you have discovered (3, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910734)

Quality is mostly subjective anyway. Good marketing has a much bigger influence on your subjective impression of quality than actual linearity in response and low noise floor. We got to the point of diminishing returns on audio quality decades ago.

Well to a point is is subjective.
But sitting blindfolded 10 feet away from a single violinist and two very expensive speakers powered by a very expensive tube amp back in the early 80s and NOT being able to tell the difference convinced me that "its all subjective" argument is mostly an excuse.

Switching in a transistor amp was immediately noticed.
Switching in different mics was obvious.
Switching in the Moster cables, - not so much.

We have backed off so far from the point of diminishing returns since then. Of course my ears have backed off a bit too over the decades.
Never the less, you really can't compare the output of any modern digital sound chip driving earbuds from an mp3 to to analog sound
from tubes into big speakers or even studio quality headphones and waive the difference away as "subjective".

Re:Once you have discovered (3, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910764)

No, it's not mostly subjective. Good sound quality is science. Range, signal purity, response, these are all measurable things.

Good marketing will over ride reason. People care less for quality then they do for price, and when you are looking at a 2000 dollars system next to a 500 dollar system people need to ask them selves if the value they get from the better quality is worth 1500 dollars.

There is a reason the pick specific types of music to demo them with.

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910780)

I think it is a different on how we approach music today. Back 30 years ago, the age of Mr. Boom Box in public booming their music for all to hear and get pissed off at (Like in Star Trek IV). Today our music choice is more of a private thing, we take all our music and put it on a little device and with headphones we can listen to it. Yes sound quality of an MP3 Player is less then those old stereos but you are not trying to over power the rest of the world with your sounds, so you really don't need it. Even with better sound systems, they are only realized when placed in an area designed for good acoustics, most places are not.

Small headphones will be enough to give you enough sound detail for most people to enjoy their music.

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

AdamWill (604569) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910786)

The post cites a blinded comparison. Not double-blinded, by the looks of it, but not a terrible test.

Re:Once you have discovered (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910514)

You don't need it to sound good when your goal is to crank it and get baked, and you're used to shitty little earphones anyway.

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

gumbi west (610122) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910522)

Uh, yeah there is. People want to change the inputs, outputs, add HD radio, blah blah blah. Now, do that while keeping the original audio quality intact. I have a stereo from 1988, 1996, and 2006.

There is a noticeable audio quality drop off when listening to CD between them as time goes on, and I paid more and more for them because I wanted to get something I could listen to and even brought a few home in 2006 that I had to return the next day they sounded so awful when I was listening to my music (and not broken FM in the store).

Re:Once you have discovered (2)

JamesP (688957) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910544)

Sound quality is not a secret.

But I guess modern 'sucktitude' is attributable to several issues:

(before the deficiencies of CD mixing or mp3 encoding)
- Sound comes out of a digital player using a 1-bit DAC. A consumer 1-bit DAC can't beat a 16-bit DAC PERIOD. It's like comparing the image quality of a webcam to a DSLR (a 1-bit DAC can beat a 'proper' DAC if using a very high frequency).
- sound circuit: Most modern amplifiers use 1 or 2 chips (being one power chip). Very high gain (and very high feedback). Problem is, all this feedback mathematically woudn't mean anything, in practice it does. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_feedback_amplifier [wikipedia.org])
Of course it reduces distortion, but it adds some distortion (not mentioned in the article, because of the characteristics of the feedback line and of the amplifier itself), also it 'shoehorns' the signal to be perfect, eliminating some of the distortions in lower-gain older amplifiers.
- power stages also contribute with a certain distortion (the 'louder' it is the more distorted it is. That, or very inefficient class-A output)
 

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

xianzombie (123633) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910808)

Any thoughts on the difference between, say, 1W power outputs in 1970 terms, vs. 35W outputs today?

I'm thinking of the stuff I have at home that I've used fairly often:

Yamaha HTR-5940 rated at 105W per channel max vs. my old Pioneer and Sansui gear (75W and 35W ratings).

With a 1W peak output (per the meters) on the Pioneer/Sansui pieces, I can "feel" the music. With the Yamaha, it feels like I need to crank it to 11 to get a full range sound out of it, even though its technically a more powerful amp.

Huge Gap (4, Insightful)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910578)

I think one of the biggest issues is the gap in price between good products and low end stuff. I want my music to sound good and I'm willing to buy something that is 3x the cost of the everyday / low end equipment. But instead I'm given the choice between low end equipment or pro-awesome-blow-your-mind stuff that is 10 times more expensive, with nothing in between. I would love the more expensive stuff, but I just can't afford a 10,000 worth of stereo gear.

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

jason.sweet (1272826) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910654)

Good point.

But maybe engineers realized further improvements would be undetectable to humans ears.

Or maybe its the quality of the sound delivered by digital media that has deteriorated, rather than the quality of the equipment.

Or maybe you dad just had better music to listen to.

Just sayin'

Re:Once you have discovered (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910852)

Yes, all criticism of modern musical taste aside I should have added to the original post; the willful destruction of dynamic range in the quest for loudness or the poor recoding of original sources due to laziness of the desire to compress them ever smaller. But you clearly get my point, it's not that these concepts are misunderstood by audio engineers or that the lessons have been lost, in fact the body of knowledge especially on digital audio coding has grown immensely in the past generation.

quantity over quality? (2, Insightful)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910322)

Who would've *ever* guessed?

Seriously, though - I think part of it, too, is the use of tubes 30 years ago vs now. My dad's old Teac stereo he bought in 1970 still sounds better than 95% of what I see in stores nowadays :-\

Re:quantity over quality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910486)

'see'? i guess you listen too it too? :p

Re:quantity over quality? (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910494)

Solid state is much more linear and low noise than any tubes could hope to be. You might think they sound "better" because you like the characteristics of the distortion they produce. But that's unrelated to what we normally consider audio quality.

Re:quantity over quality? (1)

gumbi west (610122) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910636)

Solid state is really linear until you hit the top hat--then it is incredibly non-linear.

HPM-100 (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910324)

I still use my dad's set of HPM-100s that are a decade older than I am, but connect them to a $50 amp.

Uhhm, I don't put much stock in this guy.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910328)

FTFA:

The receiver engineers have to devote the lion's share of their design skills and budget to making the features work. Every year receiver manufacturers pay out more and more money (in the form of royalties and licensing fees) to Apple, Audyssey, Bluetooth, HD Radio, XM-Sirius, Dolby, DTS and other companies, and those dollars consume an ever bigger chunk of the design budget.

I can't say I put much stock in what this guy says. Why he thinks that patent licensing fees and royalties fall under a design budget is beyond me.

This is a short, terrible article, and I would personally rather never see this author make the front page of slashdot again.

Re:Uhhm, I don't put much stock in this guy.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910404)

Say for instance you have a $400 budget, if x goes to apple for the ipod dock, y goes to dolby for surround sound, z goes to frohnhoeffer for mp3 playback etc. The budget for your components is $400- x - y - z. as you add more and more royalties, you have less money for components. using lower quality components affects your design budget. Included in the $400 budget is probably advertising, profit etc. So if you continue to add more royalties, the materials and design degrade quickly.

Money is fungible (3, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910408)

The patent royalties decrease the profit margin of the device, which affects all aspects of the company's budget, including R&D.

TFA (3, Informative)

Translation Error (1176675) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910342)

Shouldn't the article say more than the summary?

Or maybe there's a different sound quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910348)

There are people I know who like that old school radio hum, who like the pops and scratches of a record, even if the fidelity isn't complete.

Sometimes the error is deliberately sought, such as in Fallout 3. I've actually had people say "I like that sound, why don't they make music that sounds like that any more?" and no, I don't mean the songs, but the sound of them.

It's all in the encoding (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910352)

Actually I'm pretty sure everyone's stereo is crappy because we switched to digital recordings that have absolutely terrible fidelity. Hello 128k MP3s!

Re:It's all in the encoding (1)

gumbi west (610122) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910568)

CD's are digital and are very, very good audio quality. The one issue is what happens when you are out of range. CD's just cut off the audio while analog media tend to just attenuate it (i.e. twice as loud as represented as 1.8 times as loud, 1.4 times as loud).

Re:It's all in the encoding (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910584)

The other major issue is speakers. Most folks didn't notice the quality, or lack of, with the iPods mainly because most folks listened with the bundled ear buds. Leading to among other things an inability to distinguish the various sounds being produced and permanent hearing loss.

I noticed when I moved up to a decent set of Sennheiser headphones a few years back for at home that I was missing most of the music previously as the headphones and speakers just couldn't adequately replicate the sounds.

Its what the consumers want. (4, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910356)

Sound quality is still a selling point to people who want it, and those people will still find a wide selection of good quality components. However most consumers dont want to deal with setting up expensive speaker systems and finding the 'sweet spot' in the room etc. They just want a box that noise comes out of, and thats what they purchase.

And this obsession with bass (5, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910360)

I’d also like to throw into the pile the complete obsession with bass in the current generation. It seems to have become the major selling point of speakers at the expense of the mid and high ranges. I like to feel my rib cage rattle as much as anyone else, but I also like those sharp, crystal clear highs.

And it’s of course mandatory to point out that current music sucks, and kids these days only listen to low quality mp3 versions of it anyway and no one has an appreciation for proper sound reproduction and other such “get off my lawn” arguments ;p

I’d also like to note that modern speakers aren’t big enough! I don’t care about volume (personally I don’t like stuff ear-bleeding loud) but my dad’s huge (up to my neck) floor speakers have a presence that you just don’t get with the modern stuff I’m guessing because they just move more air due to their size.

Re:And this obsession with bass (1)

steveg (55825) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910448)

Um. This isn't new.

My parents compalined about all the bass in my music. This was in 1974 or so.

But yeah, I always liked the highs too.

Older speakers also sound better because they're *denser*. They are made of heavier materials, so the speaker body doesn't flex like newer ones.

Re:And this obsession with bass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910540)

...This was in 1974 or so. But yeah, I always liked the highs too.

Was that just when you were listening to the music?

Re:And this obsession with bass (1)

dwater (72834) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910510)

if you like great sound on the move, i recommend the Nokia N9 (or N950). really excellent sound(imo)

Re:And this obsession with bass (1)

SensitiveMale (155605) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910794)

"Iâ(TM)d also like to note that modern speakers arenâ(TM)t big enough!"

That's the truth. Sound is nothing but changes in air pressure and small speaker simply can not move enough air. I'm completely baffled how the 4" subwoofer was accepted by the public.

Can you hear me now? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910364)

Can you hear me now?

That's right. (2)

Gunkerty Jeb (1950964) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910370)

I'll keep my old-school Cerwin Vega's thank you very much.

Re:That's right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910706)

I'll keep my old-school Cerwin Vega's thank you very much.

The trouble with great sound systems is that after listening to an artist's recording, they are very disappointing live. I don't care if it's Van Halen or your favorite symphony: live music has horrible sound quality compared to the recording. Actually, I'd say the same if you're comparing an mp3 with a live performance.

I used to have this big bulky Fisher 100W systems. I got rid of it and put in one of those all in one nice and small fits on one shelf CD/MP3/Radio job and I can't tell the difference - I never cranked the music so loud that the neighbors could hear it because if I really wanted it loud, I'd use headphones.

Pink Floyd Justin Bieber (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910380)

That's all you need to know

in other news (3, Insightful)

burris (122191) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910396)

Most people buy wine to catch a buzz and are primarily concerned that the product contains sufficient alcohol and isn't totally repulsive. Some people can, or think they can, taste a difference and will pay more. Some people are concerned with impressing their guests and buy expensive stuff with a famous label whether it tastes better or not.

Re:in other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910458)

I buy expensive Vodka cause the cheap stuff makes me gag. I can taste the difference so I imagine it's just as easy for someone to taste the difference in wine.

Re:in other news (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910506)

cheap vodka = bad hangover, while good top shelf vodka = no hangover.

Spend the extra $20 on that bottle of Grey Goose...

Re:in other news (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910784)

I agree with everything but the Grey Goose. Sorry, but the French cannot make decent vodka. Belvedere is my favorite - the Polish sure know their vodka.

I like vodka the best because the idea is to distill out everything as much as possible. No flavorings or aging in flavored barrels or any other gimmicks to cover up the taste. Just make it as pure as possible and enjoy.

Re:in other news (2)

sribe (304414) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910630)

I buy expensive Vodka cause the cheap stuff makes me gag. I can taste the difference so I imagine it's just as easy for someone to taste the difference in wine.

Yes, there are vast differences in wine. (Of course quality does not increase monotonically with price.) As for you vodka, you can take the cheap stuff, pour it through a Brita filter 3 times, and the result will be the premium stuff. No lie.

Re:in other news (2)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910694)

Even cheap wine can taste "okay" but the difference between a $5 bottle and a $40 one isn't so much a matter of taste as it is complexity. Cheap wines have no personality. They have one note, one flavor, and while that flavor may be a good one, it's the only thing you're going to taste. A good wine, on the other hand, has a very complex taste that changes over the course of ten to twenty seconds, with at least three distinct change in flavors (nose, body, finish), and which may or may not have anything to do with the bouquet (the smell), which can also be quite complicated in its own right. As for expensive vs cheap vodka, I've learned I can drink expensive vodka neat, whereas cheap vodka tastes like gasoline on the pallatte.

Re:in other news (1)

ShavedOrangutan (1930630) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910824)

I buy expensive Vodka cause the cheap stuff makes me gag. I can taste the difference so I imagine it's just as easy for someone to taste the difference in wine.

Expensive vodka has less impurities than cheap stuff. So buy the $5 jug and run it through a Brita filter. I know people who've tried this and say it works!

Re:in other news (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910646)

I'd mod you up if I hadn't already posted.

A large part of it has to do with training and the effort one puts into it. That being said, few people really need pro audio gear that aren't professionals and nobody needs audiophile gear. You very quickly reach the point of diminishing returns even with amazing hearing.

The folks who spend more are frequently more interested in appearance than actual use.

My dad's stereo is nothing compared to this $6k.. (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910452)

..CD Player

http://www.stereophile.com/he2006/060206dynastation/index.html [stereophile.com]

I bring you the dynastation. A CD player that produces sound like no other... and it's only a measly $6000

Re:My dad's stereo is nothing compared to this $6k (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910588)

It "produces sound like no other" because those tubes are filtering things out.

Re:My dad's stereo is nothing compared to this $6k (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910844)

Does it come with a wooden knob that dampens the micro vibrations that affect the sound?

Monster cables (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910456)

People started caring more about the number of connections and wireless interfaces and wattage of systems.

I think it's more likely because my Dad was using his Monster cables; the poor bastard I am, I was using some Radio Shack ones.

You can still find good quality, but you'll pay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910466)

JBL S412PII - Found them at an online clearance shop... $300 for both.

If you've missed mids and highs... Get these 2 towers and you'll be in heaven :)

my dad had pioneer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910480)

My dad had that pioneer they have as the picture for the article

chipamps produce distorted sound (1)

babai101 (1964448) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910502)

The excessive use chip-amps in small home theatre systems reduce quality of sound in specific frequency ranges, whereas older vacuum tube amps don't.

Bad production (2)

ubergeek65536 (862868) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910516)

99% of popular music sounds like crap on any audio equipment. Engineers severly compress the audio dynamic range in order to make everything louder. The result is crap sounding music. You may also want to disable the virtual tin can mode on the DSP settings.

Goes for cameras too. (4, Insightful)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910556)

After working at Kodak for 26 years in electronic imaging and hearing nothing but "IMAGE QUALITY", I am now faced with a world where everyone is taking crappy pictures with crappy cell phone cameras. Why did we bother?? As in the stereo world, cost and convenience trump what used to be important.

Re:Goes for cameras too. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910862)

Don't be silly. A decent camera is a decent camera. You can't compare today's cheap digital sensors to SLRs with decent lenses. Try comparing today's cell phone cameras to the shit of the day, like 110s, disk film, and those utter awful "instant" camera, made by your beloved Kodak I believe?

Most people what to take a snapshot, and lots of them. They are not looking to send their photos to professional image labs and have them used in print. You can do that perfectly well with any half decent DLSR and a non-budget lens, which is what professionals use today.

Paradigm (2)

TehCable (1351775) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910570)

My Paradigm speakers sound pretty damn good. With the prices they charge, they have plenty of money to put into R&D. Well worth the price, IMO.

Re:Paradigm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910806)

I agree my Paradigms sound incredible, good sounding equipment is still out there you just have to not go to best buy to find it.

And the Cost Reflects This (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910572)

From the original CNet article:

Right up through most of the 1990s power ratings differentiated models within a given manufacturer's lineup, but that's barely true anymore. In those days the least expensive models had 20 or 30 watts a channel, but now most low- to midprice receivers have around 100 watts per channel. For example, Pioneer's least expensive receiver, the VSX-521 ($250) is rated at 80 watts a channel; its VSX-1021 ($550) only gets you to 90 watts: and by the time you reach the VSX-53 ($1,100) you're only up to 110 watts per channel! Doubling the budget to $2,200 gets you 140 watts per channel from their SC-37 receiver. Denon's brand-new $5,500 AVR-5308CI delivers 150 watts per channel! The 31-year-old Pioneer SX-1980 receiver Butterworth wrote about was rated at 270 watts per channel. He tested the Pioneer and confirmed the specifications: "It delivered 273.3 watts into 8 ohms and 338.0 watts into 4 ohms." It's a stereo receiver, but it totally blew away Denon's state-of-the-art flagship model in terms of power delivery!

Emphasis mine. So I noticed that you didn't adjust the SX-1980's price into 2010 dollars so let's ask Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] about the cost of an SX-1980 in today's dollars:

Its retail price in 1978 was $1295.00. According to the average historical price of gold, it would have listed for an equivalent of $8199.42 in 2010.

Okay. Show me that industry wide receivers that cost in excess of eight grand are vastly inferior to the SX-1980 and we'll have a conversation. What's the Yamaha RX-V1800 cost these days? One grand? Am I surprised your blind listening test found something that costs over eight times that amount sounds better?

Here's what you're noticing: the market of people who want to sink ten grand into a receiver (just the receiver alone!) isn't big enough for them to waste their time making the absolutely perfect everything just in the name of sound quality. You're going to design the circuit board and power output entirely devoted to sound quality? Not if you're only going to sell a hundred units.

I have a lot of audiophile friends but I don't often hear "Gee, I wish they sold an eight thousand dollar receiver devoted to sound quality so I could really blow some money to climb from the 90th to 98th percentile of sound quality."

!000 watts of nothin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910576)

The usual bs..... now highfi is sold by morons in stores that have no idea what a watt is. If you actually had a 1000 watt program power home entertainment system then you could easily become as deaf as a brick. Speaker tech has not improved since the 1960's give me a good old set of 25 watt warfdales from around 1969, a Macintosh power amp with a super pre-amp and really good vinyl on with a great turn table with a really sensitive magnetic cartridge with great transient response and it will make your ipod driven mega watt drivel look like a getto blaster in a cow barn.

I remember the first time I heard a setup like that playing a DDG archive recording of Bach's B minor. Just wish I could have afforded to do more than just shop.

Re:!000 watts of nothin' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910748)

Two words: Laser Turntable.

Cheap crap vs... (2)

Freddybear (1805256) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910586)

Cheap crap 30 years ago sounded just as bad as cheap crap now. Good quality audio gear wasn't cheap back then and it's not cheap now.

Re:Cheap crap vs... (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910740)

I can tell the difference between $3 and $6 headphones. The sound distortion on the cheapest ones is horrible and they're not worth using. But I can't tell the difference between the $6 and the $20 headphones. I'd need to jump up to the $100 range to get another radical improvement in quality. Since I don't have that sort of cash lying around, I am content to use the $6 headphones. They work, that's all they need to do.

I know why my dad's stereo is better. (5, Funny)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910606)

It was taught to respect it's elders, not like these young punk stereos you see walking around with their pants hanging off their butts. And, MY dad's stereo mowed the lawn every week without having to be told. Don't you know that builds character??

of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910624)

Most people don't care about quality for anything, just look at walmart. Anyway, TUBES baby, way better sound.

His Girlfriend Is Hotter Too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910656)

My Dad's 30 year old girlfriend is hotter than mine too.

the decline started with the audio CD (1)

spirit_fingers (777604) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910666)

Mass market digital began the decline in audio fidelity with the advent of the audio CD. At a sampling rate of only 44.1 KHz, it's incapable of resolving enough detail at the upper range of human hearing to sound natural. Coupled with the dithering added in the D/A conversion process to mask inherent sampling noise you have a format with harsh sounding highs and a severely constrained soundstage. Even when factoring in all of the obvious faults of analog vinyl records, a top-end analog system with a decent turntable, moving coil phono cartridge will always produce a warmer, more lifelike and far more immersive sound than a top-end system built around a CD player that employs the same amp and speakers. And when you consider that MP3 is a lossy format that is typically ripped from CDs or the same masters used for CDs, it's no surprise that the result is a source that sounds even less impressive.

And then there is Bose & Greensound Technologi (1)

deadcrow (946749) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910668)

New technology is available from companies such as Bose and Greensound Technologies. They are expensive, but do produce superior sound, from modern technologies derived from R&D. Sure, the bulk of equipment is low-cost and not superior, but cheap equipment has always been available. To claim that all stereos are inferior to a 30 year old systems is clearly an exaggeration.

http://www.bose.com/ [bose.com]
http://www.gstspeakers.com/ [gstspeakers.com]

This is news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910676)

Audio frequencies are an extremely narrow band to worry about. Since they are relatively low frequencies, they've always been easier to measure. There's not much R&D left to do on the analog side. It's not that R&D is lacking, it's that makers are choosing from a different set of designs where efficiency, cost and modularity are more important than overall quality of sound. The designs are quite old--the packaging (in terms of semiconductors) is what is changing. The trend toward greater efficiency started in the early 80s with cheap Class-B integrated amps. Speakers were always poorly made, with peaky, rattle-y closed-box or ported designs. Why is this suddenly news?

...and why you don't care! (1)

afex (693734) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910696)

more importantly, i'd like to see an article on "why your data's 30YO stereo sounds better than yours....and why you don't care"

Ever since the loudness war [wikipedia.org] started, fidelity doesn't matter since the source material has been compromised.

3 points (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910704)

1. In an age of digitally compressed music (MP3s, Ogg, even ATRAC, and others) true fidelity is a wast of money. The source is so relatively awful that good gear cannot fix the problems. And actually, if you are listening to most pop/rap/hiphop/etc music, it's been so worked over in the studio that you're wasting your dynamic range. Headroom for these genres is measured underneath your steering wheel. That audience doesn't care.

2. Much gear is build with integrated power stages, which just don't compare to well designed circuitry. Again, why bother with the front end if the power stage is so messy...

3. Speaker technology is truly impressive today, but give me a set of JBL L100s or their 4xxx brethren, since I don't have room for a Paragon system. Or a set of Klipschorns, even some Belle Klipschs would be nice for me. Speakers were damned good in the 70s. I rarely crank it up to concert level, but the Paradigms I have are adequate, since i now live on a concrete floor. Give those babies a wood floor over a basement and hold on to your glasses...

Don't just blame cheap equipment (1)

Sentry23 (447266) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910708)

Sound recording quality has only decreased in general.
Most audio comes at the same sample rate and bit-depth as CD or DAT, while there is no excuse whatsoever why this should not be increased to 192kHz/24bit or higher, and is stored with lossy compression.
What is generally available now in lossless high quality is movies (DTS-MA, and Dolby HD) but hardly any music.

On the other side, the loudness war has further taken quite a few bits out of the available dynamic range of 96 dB (CD quality s/n), decreasing perceived quality even more.
The other point completely missed is the fact the modern receivers have to drive 5,7 or 9 channels in standard AV receivers, compared to the 2 in the old equipment.
(odd point in the article is that it complains about buying specs, but does a simple Wattage comparison against old receivers to make his point they are better..)

So don't just blame cheap equipment, blame the listeners who don't seem to care.

Then again, if nobody cares, is it really a problem ?

Re:Don't just blame cheap equipment (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910788)

Most audio comes at the same sample rate and bit-depth as CD or DAT, while there is no excuse whatsoever why this should not be increased to 192kHz/24bit or higher,

Other than there's no need, as the human ear isn't sensitive enough to tell any difference between that and 44 kHz/16 bit. That already gives better frequency reproduction and much better SNR than the vinyl that audiophiles seem to love. The problem is that most CDs aren't mastered well enough to take advantage of the medium's capabilities.

But my ears are shot (serious) (4, Interesting)

Danathar (267989) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910722)

I'm 41.

Years of listening to Rush, Van Halen, ACDC, Iron Maiden, Def Leopard, Metallica ,Yngvie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani (among others) at ear splitting volumes has probably reduced the audio reception fidelity of my ear drum to that of a crappy mid 80's Krako speaker set bought from radio shack.

So while I lament with you about the loss of speaker quality I seriously doubt I'd be able to hear the difference.

actual article(s) (4, Informative)

demonbug (309515) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910728)

Since apparently linking to the pages with the actual content in the summary is a no-no, here they are:

First, the Cnet [cnet.com] article talking about the test that someone else did.

Next, the actual source article [iavscanada.com].

10w good enough (1)

whitelabrat (469237) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910738)

One of my favorite amps is my 40 year old Marantz 8b and and 38 year old Tannoys. Just a volume knob and a good music source. My diy daily-driver amp is perhaps 6w and folks are generally surprised it's not a lot of power.

Most folks don't use much more than 1w for normal listening. In any case, the speakers matter far more than the amplifier as far as sound quality goes.

Police Academy (4, Funny)

treeves (963993) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910758)

Steve Guttenberg was amusing in the Police Academy movies (though not nearly as good as Leslie Nielsen), but why should I trust him for advice about audio gear?

Finally a chance to brag! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910766)

I'm still using a '68 Pioneer receiver with a '70 Dual turntable and a pair of custom built speakers from around that time (all much older than I am). They sure sound great, and I can't complain too much about the sound of an iPod running through the AUX input. The setup will not be replaced until something dies...

Harmonic Distortion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910776)

A big part of the reason also is the Harmonic distortion. It's proven that even order distortion, even at high level, human brain perceive it to be much better than a small amount of odd order distortion.

Just like a music note, Minor keys always evoke "sad/scary/mystery.." quality in human brain regardless of the composition. Whereas Major keys deliver "bright/positive/cheerful" quality. Why? There are no scientific explanation (so far), but it's universal and no sane person can argue with that.

We have yet understand even a small portion of how our brain function, and we clearly have not yet fully understand how it perceive sound.

Old equipments, alot of them use tubes, which emit only even order distortion (some with quite high amount), just sounds better than any Transistors-based equipment nowaday the big manufacturers make.

Great transistors gear exist (goog Nelson Pass, John Curl...), and they deliver great sound at a much...much...higher price, because they use topology that's high-biased to class-A. While an old tube gear (or new tube gears mimic old design) yield fluid, 3D sound that's pleasing to human ears for a lower price, even on paper they're worse.

70-80% of ALL good guitar amplifiers are tube-based, and that's the reason, because when they clip, the distortion is "spectacular"

Imagine if a type of gears (tube-based), with all the great new technologies coming out, can survive and thrive after 50 years, there must be something right about it. And we still do not have a full explanation for it BECAUSE we do not fully understand our brain. e.g. So how can we design new software, when we do not fully understand the underlying hardware, and at the same time the old software that's design 50 years ago that works so well is still a blackbox to us.

Clearly we need to go back to the drawing board and re-eval the design.

P.S. I have a modest full tube system, and it's to my ear sounds better than ANY system in any big retail store regardless of price.

Steve Guttenberg, the Actor? (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910782)

Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years

So that's what happened to his career after "Three Men and a Baby"!

Considering that people can be made to buy LPs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#36910812)

...I think there might be a problem that has nothing to do with technology, number of inputs and wattage.

Very True. (1)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 2 years ago | (#36910838)

I designed and built a Class 'A' amp (30w/channel) in 1972. It is paired with some 1970's era Quads. The sound is beautiful and rich.
I made the case, etched the circuit boards, machined the heatsinks and turned the knobs out of Stainless. It was my apprentice piece.
Todays systems are just awful by comparison.Far too much emphasis on distored Bass (IMHO).

You don't need 1Kw to make music sound nice.

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