It is a truism that audiophiles love music. What distinguishes us (footnote 1) from the vast majority of music lovers is the importance we ascribe to the high-quality reproduction of recorded music. But what, exactly, constitutes high-quality sound reproduction? To many audiophiles, the answer relates to accuracy. Useful indices of accuracy include many of the parameters that editor John Atkinson routinely measures: flat frequency response, time and phase accuracy, and low distortion, to name a few. On the other hand, many audiophiles apparently have little interest in these aspects and instead seek nothing more—or less—than a romantic and pleasant sound. Such individuals are unfazed by demonstrable inaccuracies in their systems; as long as it sounds good to their ears, they are happy. Are these two schools of thought both compatible with the notion of high-end audio? If so, is one "more correct" than the other? Are they mutually exclusive? What brought this issue to mind was, of all things, a digital transport. Actually, two transports.
Much as I like the prospect of being able to grunt a heartfelt Je ne regrette rien immediately before expiring, I know there will be too many what-ifs and wish-I-hadn'ts to make that even remotely possible. But here is one missed opportunity that won't flash before me, because John Atkinson has granted me a second chance.
What're they all about, these so-called Products of the Year? Why do we put so much time and energy into the voting? Why compile a list of all the products we've reported on in Stereophile over the last 12 months, putting little checkmarks and stars and numbers and other irreverent doodles and dashes beside their already silly names? Certainly all this hullabaloo isn't for our health. It's not even fun. It doesn't promote that strange, weird, and wonderful tingling feeling way down in the toes. It doesn't taste good. And chicks don't really dig it. So: Why?
If there is one thing I've learned in almost 28 years (ouch) of audio writing, it's that audience reaction is fickle. Sometimes readers will swallow the most contentious pronouncements without indigestion, only to choke on throwaway lines you've invested with little importance. It just goes to confirm that human communication involves senders and receivers, and they aren't always in synchrony.
If you missed Part 1 of this article (Stereophile, January 2005), or it has faded in your memory, here's a résumé. (Readers who recall Part 1 with crystalline clarity, please skip to paragraph four.) The accurate measuring of loudspeakers requires that the measurements be taken in a reflection-free environment. Traditionally, this has meant that the speaker be placed atop a tall pole outdoors or in an anechoic chamber. Both of these options are hedged around with unwelcome implications of cost and practicality. To overcome these and allow quasi-anechoic measurements to be performed in normal, reverberant rooms, time-windowed measurement methods were developed that allow the user to analyze only that portion of the speaker's impulse response that arrives at the microphone ahead of the first room reflection. MLSSA from DRA Labs is the best-known measurement system to work on this principle, and both John Atkinson and I use it in the course of preparing our loudspeaker reviews.
Pick an expletive—one you would normally use to express deep intellectual frustration—but don't vocalize it. Hold it in reserve for a few minutes, letting it simmer to concentrate its intensity. I'll tell you when to let rip.
Stereophile's "Products of the Year," now in its 13th year, recognizes those rare components that prove capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period. These are the components that can be recommended with no ifs or buts, that will grace any system in which they are used.
Someday we may speak wistfully to our grandchildren about the "golden age" of digital audio when consumer formats (CD and DAT) contained a bitstream that was an exact bit-for-bit duplicate of the original studio master recording—not a digitally compressed, filtered, copy-resistant version whose sound is "close enough" to the original. Digitally compressed formats such as DCC and MiniDisc represent, in effect, a return to the pre-CD era when consumer-release formats were always understood to be imperfect copies of the studio original. Even the most ardent audiophile accepted the fact that LPs and mass-produced tapes did not, and could not, sound as good as the master tapes they were derived from.
High-quality digital audio systems require that all digital interfaces in the signal path exhibit signal transparency. The widely adopted AES/EBU and S/PDIF interfaces have been criticized for a lack of signal transparency; here we (footnote 1) address possible problems with such interfaces and present methods for improving the interface standard.
TEMPLES OF SOUND: Inside the Great Recording Studios
by Jim Cogan and William Clark; Foreword by Quincy Jones San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003. Softcover, 7.5" by 10", 224 pp. $24.95. ISBN 0-8118-3394-1.
Looked at from one viewpoint, DVD-Audio and SACD appear to be exercises in sheer profligacy. In the case of DVD-A, why provide a maximum bandwidth almost five times what is conventionally taken to be the audible frequency range, and couple it to a dynamic-range capability far in excess of that achievable by the microphones used to record the sound? In the case of SACD, why provide a potential bandwidth in excess of 1.4MHz, only to fill more than 95% of it with quantization noise?