Accuracy Is Not the Answer

Before 1982, when the Compact Disc arrived, I didn't love LPs. Analog was already very old tech, and while every trick in the book had been applied to turntables and LPs, they still wowed & fluttered at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. Vinyl's deficiencies were legion: warped LPs were more common than truly flat ones; surface noise, clicks, and pops sang along with the tune; LPs rarely had perfectly centered spindle holes; inner-groove distortions popped up at inopportune moments; and each time an LP is played, its sound quality degrades, if only ever so slightly. The LP format? Imperfect sound forever.

So in the days leading up to the introduction of the CD, digital looked like an instant cure for all of analog's ills. It had to sound great. We would finally have a truly quiet format with dead-on speed accuracy, wider dynamic range, razor-flat frequency response, and no wear issues. Digital's implicit promise was of a 100% transparent recording medium that would add to and subtract from the signal nothing at all. Digital had no sound. Music was about to be liberated from analog's gross colorations.

Or that's what I wished for. A few minutes into listening to my first CD (footnote 1), my heart sank. It certainly sounded different—but not dramatically better than an LP. I was confused. Why didn't this hyper-accurate new format produce more realistic sound? Maybe some analog distortions still lurked in the pits of my shiny new CD? Yup, that was it—a lot of early CDs weren't pure, all-digital recordings. Recorded and mixed in analog, they were only mastered digitally: AAD. Whatever, my highly imperfect LPs sounded better. I smelled a rat.

I had to wait a little longer to hear an all-digital—recorded, mixed, mastered—CD. But when that day arrived, my hopes were again dashed. A DDD CD was no better than an AAD or ADD CD. Not only that, pure-digital discs weren't all that much quieter. The low-level noise was still there, but this time it wasn't tape hiss or record-surface noise—it was mike-preamp noise, or the ambience of the recording venue. It was clear then, and it's still true: LPs' musicality trounces CDs'. If anything, my pro-digital bias should have favored CDs, but their sound couldn't hold my attention.

No matter—CDs were hugely popular in the broader market, and a good number of audiophiles loved 'em. But naysayers thought "Red Book" CDs were deeply flawed from the get-go. Many were convinced that the Red Book sampling rate of 44.1kHz was much too low, and that the CD standard's 16-bit resolution was inadequate. That's why CDs sounded so . . . digital. The analog faithful judged the CD as unworthy of true high-end status. I never felt CDs sounded bad, just that they failed to deliver the promised great leap forward in sound quality.

Ten years later, with the debuts of the two higher-resolution digital formats, SACD and DVD-Audio at the turn of the century, it was déjà vu all over again. They clearly sounded better than CD, but didn't really get us closer to more believably realistic playback at home. If I had any lingering doubts that two-channel stereo was the reason recorded music never sounded realistic, the small but steady stream of 5.1-channel releases weren't any better. It took a while to dawn on me, but it was becoming increasingly clear that there was absolutely no correlation between higher-resolution digital recordings and more viscerally realistic reproduction of music. Differences, sure, but sound-quality preferences are just that: subjective preferences. Analog playback may be highly imperfect, but it still has that special something digital never quite achieves.

Then they said that jitter was to blame—digital was perfect, but jitter was messing with the steady flow of zeros and ones. We're quick to find a bugaboo—the one thing that's ruining the sound—and to pin our hopes on the new fix that banishes or reduces the gremlin of the moment. Well, the CD eliminated all of the LP's problems, and still we didn't have perfect—or even better—sound.

Next? Room acoustics were obscuring the sound, so a number of room-correction systems were developed to tame the worst offenders. But they can't make the room disappear. Then came those for whom the prime villain is speaker-cabinet resonances, and some manufacturers responded with massive, structurally inert behemoths.

Again and again, as we rush to identify the reasons why the sound isn't better, engineers poke around for a fix and find solutions. That's great, but it's the LP-vs-CD argument repeated ad infinitum. We're not really getting anywhere. We still don't have hi-fis that can fool the ear into believing we're hearing a live violin or solo voice or rock band or orchestra.

Maybe it comes down to this: Making gear that's more accurate and/or measures better isn't the same as making better-sounding gear. Today's best gear can play louder, with lower distortion, and has wider bandwidth than the best of yesteryear's "Recommended Components." That's true, but a hi-rez file of a new recording can't match the bloody realism of a 1960 RCA Living Stereo LP played through a well-set-up turntable, 1980s-era electronics, and a pair of Quad ESL or Klipschorn speakers.

We must have missed some essential aspects of sound reproduction. I have no idea what those aspects might be, but there has to be more to the pursuit of ultimate fidelity than eliminating or reducing imperfections. We need to learn more about capturing and reproducing the gestalt of music. Analog may be far from perfect, but it still seems to convey more of that hard-to-define stuff that brings recorded music to life.

Footnote 1: Sorry, I have absolutely no memory of the title.

OneMic's picture

Sure Vinyl may not possess the ruler flat frequency response that digital has, but it is not in the frequency domain that vinyl excels: it is the time domain. 

Vinyl is a great source because its impulse response is excellent, the movement of the needle creates a near instantaneous electrical signal.  This is what many hear as real dynamics!  

Even the best digital is lousy in the time domain; not to pick on just one but the NAD M51 DAC that was recently reviewed and raved about in this magazine rang like a bell for a milisecond before and after a single impulse signal was passed through it.  This is due to the oversampling which is a form of digital feedback. 

I often find their are no free lunches in audio, and this is a classic example.  But were a person's hearing often compensates for slight frequency response deviations the ear does not compensate for time domain distortions. 

Great to see you writing for Stereophile Steve, but I hope that you can elevate the discourse above the simplistic CD vs. Vinyl debate that wages between on novices at CNET.  

P.S. love the Quad ESL's (perfect time domain behaviour)! 

earwaxxer's picture

I would have to agree with the above observations. I'm a mid 50's audio enthusiast and, of course was weaned on Vinyl, tubes, Klipshorns etc. To add to the above though, there have been TREMENDOUS gains in the sound of digital in the past 5-10yrs, soon to equal and probably exceed the best vinyl rigs. Clocking, Filters, sample rate algorithms, power supplies, discrete output stages etc. have improved to the extent that digital is taking its place on the table of the most discerning audiophile. Of course the Steve Guttenburgs of the world will not be moved. Thats ok. Its a free country. I cant see spinning a disk of any kind ever again. Certainly not one I have to flip over to hear side 2, and cant move from track to track with a remote. Just like I wont go back to driving a car that is just powered by a gas motor. There are better ways of getting around.

ultrabike's picture

Steve, I strongly disagree. I prefer a well recorded & mastered CD over an LP any day. Dunno why you feel differently.

Hopefully you will agree that understanding "some essential aspects of sound reproduction" sonically improved the "viseral realistic", "bloody realism", and "special something" of the gramophone.

ultrabike's picture

Double post, but here is a more accurate, precise, and enjoyable image of the blurred CD cover at the top of your article (experience it):

DH's picture



You like analog better - and I don't. So it's a matter of taste. I've got lots of Redbook and hi-res that sounds great, AND gets me involved in the music. If it doesn't for you, okay, But that says more about you than the digital medium.

If what you say is true, then how come my homemade digital transcriptions of my LPs sound just like the records - with all that "analog-iness" you write about?

FSonicSmith's picture

First, I want to say how much I appreciate OneMic's post. I believe that S'Phile and JA in particular have fallen woefully short in not addressing, by means of an in depth article, the possible reasons that digital is not satisfying to the present day. 

I want to like digital. I have a ton of redbook cds of valued music, particuarly jazz. I typically read novels while listening, and getting up to flip records is a pain. Having a thousand dollar cartridge that is wearing with every play is another slight pain. That said, I prefer the sound of vinyl. I find it more engaging and relaxing and "of a whole cloth", all at the same time. I don't have a lot of duplicate music on both cd and vinyl, but in those instances where I do, I prefer the vinyl almost every time (with some exceptions due to pressing quality variation). 

I am convinced we high end equipment lovers bring a combination of biases and innate hearing differences to the table when it comes to choosing vinyl or digital as our go-to source. Engineer-types like JA are biased towards digital. The objectivist camp who use the term "ABX" every opportunity they get and insist upon measurments as the primary guage of quality are also bound to go digital. Kalman Rubinson with his love for surround sound... 

Some people hear sound in terms of freedom from gross distortion. The sound of clicks, pops, and the various forms of vinyl induced distortion (tracking error induced and pressing quality induced) are non-starters. They can't hear past them. And then there are those of us who are enlightened. I say that with a smile and don't expect to be taken too seriously.  In my book, Mikey Fremer deserves a lot of credit. He may not be responsible for the rebirth of vinyl, but he certainly helped keep the flame alive. His articles caused me to vaguely eye the beauty of many turntables and vinyl related gear long before I ever dreamed that I would actually return to spinning records. 

And lastly, I agree that Steve Guttenberg failed to say much (if anything) new in his "As We See It". I don't know if it was due to editing or if Mr. Guttenberg needs to brush up on his critical writing skills. He expressed his view in well worn terms. That said, like good jazz, sometimes the important stuff is found between the notes. 

uli.brueggemann's picture

It is well known for a long time that there is a deficiency when listening to stereo speakers. But it seems that no one has brought together the two ends:

With a stereo playback the lower frequencies tend to concentrate to the center between the speakers and the higher frequencies are localized more close to the speakers. By this effect (Gerzon, Griesinger, Sengpiel et al.) the phantom image gets more diffuse and wider spreaded.

If we think about how to correct this we have to implement a kind of frequency dependent crosstalk. This is one of the two ends.

We also know for a long time that pickup systems have a "lousy" channel separation. Furthermore at higher frequencies the crosstalk attenuation may become worse. This is the other end of the two ends.

So for years we have investigated in getting a channel separation as high as possible. An audio device with less than 120 dB crosstalk attenuation is considered to be bad. Except pickup systems where we accept 30 dB.

But: let's bring the ends together. The pickup system with the "bad" crosstalk is simply more or less compensating the weakness of our localization deficiency.

So I have tried to add a frequency dependent crosstalk into the playback of digital media. And it works. The music becomes more natural, it is less nasty. It is flowing. You can also try by yourself with the demo version of AcourateNAS, see Play three test tones and try to get them localized to the same origin. Then treat a music track with a filter built on the found parameters. Listen to the result and compare it with the original track.

FSonicSmith's picture

The above comment/post strikes me as blathering spam. Little more. Not even well-written blathering spam, which is worse.

Forgetting the above post, there will never be such a thing as a perfect source. There will always be compromises. I am confident that fifty years from now, regardless of what is going on with computer audio and vinyl (perhaps virtual reality sound, as absurd as that may be), the debate will continue along pretty much the same lines as ever. Pick the compromises that suit you and don't let someone else tell you that their preferred compromises are correct and that yours are less correct.

This is why those that love single ended flea-watt tube amps and high efficiency horns have every right to claim bona fide discovery of  audio nirvana without condescension from those that think state of the art means uber-high watt amps and the likes of Wilson or YG Acoustics. And I believe this is why ultimately, J. Gordon Holt and Harry Pearson got/have it wrong. If you want reality, go to a real performance. If you want the convenience of music reproduction at one in the afternoon while you are only wearing your underwear (as an illustrative example only), choose your compromise(s).

craigrutten's picture

Like the LDSers say: conversion distorts.

Analogue sounds better because there are no conversions in the ENTIRE chain… oh, there can be if one uses digital amplification.  Whereas, digital uses conversioning everywhere.

P.S. Hearing is NOT subjective (we hear accurately, i.e. in high-fidelity), what we choose to listen to is not necessarily natural.  That misconception is why most people are never pleased with their choice of audio reproduction equipment, mainly the loudspeaker system.  Oh, there is an easy way to select a very accurate and much more satisfying speaker.

earwaxxer's picture

This is the issue of 'credibility'. Not everyones opinion is credible. It takes some work. It requires specifics. That requires research and testing. It requires comparisons between 'house sounds' of various brands and pieces of equipment that most in the 'know' are familiar with. Its based on experience not biases. That gives you credibility.  Not sure why Steve is writing for 'Audiophile' because he doesnt do any of that. He has, in the past, used inferior equipment to form his 'opinions'. He is clearly biased toward the 'antique' end of equipement. That stuff was good, at the time it was good. Its not now. Sorry. Long hair and a forum to express your opinion doesnt give you credibility. 

aarondoo7's picture

All I know after 40 years of chasing "music" in my home is that my Rega/Glider gives me more pleasure than my Marantz KI Pearl SACD player. Even tapes of records sound better than digital on my Teac 8030S deck. Am I deaf? I don't think so. It would be much easier to go the download route but I've tried that also and didn't like it.

rockoqatsi's picture

Dunno about that, but it's your experience not mine.

I've only recently rediscovered my Dad's old direct-drive Technics (older than me @27yrs, and certainly not cutting edge technology). Listening to the same album with the same amp stages & cables, my PC's Lynx card—which is one of the best soundcards any amount of money can buy—easily bested the turntable in terms of clarity and resolution of detail. But the turntable punched sound into the room with more dynamism and life. The difference was electrifying. (Picture watching an orgy in 4K vs. being up to your eyeballs in it.)

Having no background in physics or psychoacoustics to rationally explain my own subjective experience, the first poster's explanation seems the most plausible to me. Hotter voltage trim on the source could help pump some dynamism into the presentation (I've tried), but that can't make up for sloppy or ringing transients.

Detail is relatively easy to get nowadays it seems, but the results are all too often flat-chested. (No problem if that's what you like.) Give me a DAC that does the detail thing and does the life thing better than say... a Caliburn—at a fly's fart of a fraction of the price—and that'll probably be the bestselling piece of kit this hobby has known.

John Atkinson's picture

earwaxxer wrote:
Not sure why Steve is writing for 'Audiophile'...

What's "Audiophile"?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

rockoqatsi's picture

*just died* Hilarious.

gmgraves2's picture

Believe me, Mr. Guttenberg, accuracy is indeed the answer, but unless you have access to quality recording equipment, and acess to talent who will let you record them, you likely have never heard accuracy from a commercial recording. They don't make recordings to be accurate, the industry makes recordings to sell. And believe it or not, these are totally different concepts -if not completely mutually exclusive! This means that the record companies have to juggle a whole list of often conflicting requirements in order to get a commercial recording onto the market. These requirements seldom (if ever) include accuracy on that list, and depending upon the type of music, the term might not even have much (if any) meaning. These days, for instance, most pop recordings are made purposely with little or no dynamic range - even though wide dynamic range is a longsuit of digital recording and playback. The music itself is compressed and limited as it's transferred to the final delivery medium (CD, MP3, High-Res download, whatever) so that it's allways loud, all the time. Is this accuracy? No. Other things are done to the music as well on it's way from microphone to your speaker system and none of it is designed to be "accurate" to anything other than the marketer's vision for a salable product. Let's be honest here, as audiophiles, we are small potatoes. Nobody cares to cater to us because we don't represent the average music customer in any way.

Even lables that pretend to cater to us really don't. That's because they too sell most of their products to people who are listening to the recordings they sell on Bose "Wave" radios or car stereos. 

On the other hand, I recently attended a local Hi-Fi show in my part of the country and I took with me a recording that I made of a university jazz "big band". The recording was made in a good hall with a single, high-quality professional stereo microphone arranged in a simple X-Y configuration. I recorded the band to a Direct Stream Digital recorder (Direct Stream Digital or DSD is the format used for SACD) that was hardly bigger than a pack of cigarettes, but the copy I took to the show was burned on my computer as a plain, old "red book" CD. No signal processing was used, no eq, no compression, no nothin'!

I played the disc in a number of rooms on some of the best equipment now available. Everywhere I played this disc, people came up to me wanting to know where they could obtain a copy of it. The guy "officiating" in the Y-G Acoustics suite tried to steal the disc (in jest, of course), and in a ballroom where the latest Wilson Alexandria speakers were being driven by VTL Siegfried II amps, the assembled listeners were dumbfounded at the realism (I was taken aback too - I've never heard such realistic reproduction - especially the way the Alexandrias loaded that big ballroom!). 

The bottom line is that it is very possible to get CDs to "do" accurate and real. You just won't get that accuracy and realism from commercial recordings.

rockoqatsi's picture

"The recording was made in a good hall with a single, high-quality professional stereo microphone arranged in a simple X-Y configuration."

AIX Records does the same thing, with as little "mastering" as possible, and you're right, the results are astonishing. Yours and their activities are unique in the industry, however, and the conversation (I believe) was not about the quality of most studio mastering – which you've already opined has nothing at all to do with realism – but the fact that turntables and digital sources do their jobs differently. And given the same material fed through both kinds of source components, in many cases, the difference is great enough to divide the personal tastes of one group as opposed to the other.

gmgraves2's picture

My point was simply that how are we going to get accuracy from any source when accuracy is not the goal of the people making the recordings in the first place! CD could be nigh perfect, but given the sound of the "master" after the engineers and producers finish futzing with it, the customer would never know it, no matter what format it's delivered to him/her on. 

carz's picture


Can you share with me what is the brand and model of the high-quality professional stereo microphone and Direct Stream Digital recorder you used ?  Also what other ancillary equipment did you use, like power supply ....etc


OneMic's picture

To address earwaxxer; I think that Steve has very a credible opinion about what he likes; I assume he knows himself reasonably well.  But how informed his opinion is can be debated: it is nice to know he likes vinyl and vintage equipment but what would really be interesting is to dig deeper and know why.  There are very real differences to the sound of both and they can be explained through rational physics and not just psychobabble.  

I would venture to say that vinyl is prefered sonically for two major reasons: 1. Time correct impluse responses  2. Harmonic distortion signatures 

I believed I touched on 1 a bit in my last post, but a time correct impluse response is one of the major reasons things sound "bloody real".  The pre and post ringing of signals by oversampling sigma-delta D/A converters (99% of what is used today) is easily heard, fatiguing, and is often refered to as a sharpness or "digititus". 

2. The harmonic distortion signatures of either are very different.  A turntable with its vibrating stylis will produce the 2nd and 3rd harmonic and almost no higher harmonics; this mirrors how the ear hears, is not as offensive, and is called monotonicity.  Were the high feedback oversampling digital players are exactly the opposite producing very high order odd harmonic distortion (5th,7th,9th).  This distortion is especially nasty to the ears; the farther away the harmonic the exponentially more disturbing it is.  Very simple and exaggerrated example: a 5% 2nd harmonic would sound like 5^2= 25% distortion were a 5% 7th harmonic would sound like 5^7=78,125% distortion.  

Based on these very real effects I find it misguided at best to call CD more accurate.  If you ignore how the ear processes harmonic distortion (exponentially not linearly), and distortions in the time domain and only focus on a fuler flat frequency response (not how the ear hears by the way) then it would appear that CDs are more accurate.  

As FSonicSmith said before, audio seems to be a great set of compromises, and oversampling sigma delta digital seems to have made every compromise to maximize only the frequency domain leaving the other aspects of sound very wanting.  


P.S.  Mr. Atkinson I like the measurements you do in this magazine and but would loveto see them more accurately correlate the how people hear and not microphones: e.g. Fletcher-Munson curves and harmonic distortion weighting. 

stereodoc40's picture

This is a critical time for the audio business, and this editor's comments are a step in the wrong direction.  Audio was exciting in the 70's, with improvements in turntables, reliable and powerful amplification were becoming affordable.  Every teenager I knew looked forward to affording a great system.

Enter the CD 1984, and suddently we were told that this was as good as it gets so get used to it.  The general buying public went to 1000 dollar rack systems, and audiophiles went off to find the holy grail.  Along the way we found 50 year old amplification systems meant for WW II battleships, Tubes everywhere, black disks, cable lifters, 10,000 dollar interconnects and cables, 1000 dollar power cables, 2000 dollary digital interconnects, upsampling and oversamplng to name a few.  We basically looked like a bunch of cooks with too much money and time.  Well, we werent' crazy in that we new what sound we were looking for, we were just misled by the industry, and some authors in this magazine.

I will paraphrase Mr. Atkninson when he said the future is digital, it just won't be spinning disks.  30 years later, we have storage devices and digital chips that are capable of incredible fidelity.  The technology has caught up to the theory of digital audio.  This is the future, and although I love my LPs (TNT Aries 3, DV mark5 arm, DV XV1 cartridge, and Manley Chinook)  few people of the current generation are going to set up this type of rig.

Did you see the olympics with athletes wearing 300 dollar headphones listening to MP3 audio?  People are ready again for great sound, and this magazine should lead them with devices such the in line DAC from their Mac to their headphones.  The next step would be an afforadable set of speakers, and an integrated amp that docks their i phone.

KRC2556's picture

Funny-- I noticed the same thing when I bought an HDTV. Really unsatisfying, as all the depth, warmth, character and videality (and musicality) of the old cathode ray format was swept away by the harsh  digital image. I threw out my HDTV (Panasonic 55") and dragged my 150 lb. Sony Trinitron (circa 1995) up from the basement. They really knew how to make TVs in 1995! Beats my HDTV hands down, and I really prefer the mono to the stereo every day of the week.

Bob Rapoport's picture

With all due respect to the posters and author, each format (tape, vinyl, disc) is a storage media with a finite capacity for bandwidth and dynamic range, requiring compression to fit the content on the media.  Vinyl albums could hold 45 minutes of music, about 12-14 songs, but could not reach the bandwidth extremes of 20 Hz and 20 Khz or hit the dynamic range of the studio master recording, about 120 dB.  The RIAA phono curve electronically injects the bass and treble on vinyl records but the dynamic range is compressed to 60 dB, far below the level of a live musical event.  

CD improved on that tremendously, extending the bandwidth to 20 Hz-20 Khz and increasing the dynamic range to 90 dB, the best in the history of recorded sound.  However, even the CD required compression of the dynamics, and is the reason most of you are dissatisfied.  No matter how much power you throw at your system, the source content cannot deliver the dynamics of a live perforamance.  No amount of re-clocking or upsampling can increase the dynamics of a CD, they are bound by the Redbook standard.

Now comes Blu-ray, the storage media with no need for compression.  With its 50 Gb capacity for uncompressed content, we finally have a source that is equal to the studio master, bit for bit identical.  You need a system capable of reaching 120 dB dynamic range and if you do , you are in for a special treat.  

The record labels quickly realized that this great new format would put identical copies of the original master recordings on the street to be copied, increasing the piracy they have fought long and hard to control.  They created a special new protocol to control the content, beginning the age of DRM (digital rights management).  The courts upheld their right to do this.  In order to hear the bit for bit identical copy of the original studio master, a 2 way communication between the source and your amplifier, a digital handshake, is required to confirm a secure digital throughput.  This is only available via HDMI, a single cable that can carry uncompressed HD video and 8 channels of uncompressed audio that cant be recorded.   The DMCA of 1998 made all this possible.

To those who have not adopted Blu-ray for music, you dont realize what you are missing.  If you follow the new rules, you could be listening the holy grail of high fidelity, the studio master recording.  The world's greatest artists are on Blu-ray; Adele Live at Royal Albert Hall, Sade, Robert Plant, Sting, Stevie Wonder, U2, Paul Simon, Madonna, Diana Krall, Lee Ritenour, Dave Matthews, Phil Collins, the list goes on and on.  

Classical music is also on Blu-ray, a new experience entirely when you can see the conductor's face, hands, and eyes as he communicates with his musicans.  You see them up close too, on stage with them, seeing the emotional context of their music for the first time.  Its so compelling and profound, words cannot do it justice, it will make you cry.

Read the comments of those who have adopted Blu-ray on the Amazon Top 600 Blu-ray concerts, I am not alone.  If you want your system to inspire awe and wonder again, you need to step up to Blu-ray, resistance is futile once you do.



FSonicSmith's picture

Read the comments of those who have adopted Blu-ray on the Amazon Top 600 Blu-ray concerts, I am not alone.  If you want your system to inspire awe and wonder again, you need to step up to Blu-ray, resistance is futile once you do.



Wow. Resistance is futile. The future is here by means of Blue Ray and HDMI. Who knew? This an an audio discussion, not one of HT and video. "Resistance is futile" seems to allude to medieval conquest or rape, moreso than being a rational discussion of sound reproduction. Seriously, do you mean to tell us that all compromises of digital to analogue conversion are forgotten by means of BR's greater data storage and bandwidth? Do you mean to tell us that DRM was the real limiting factor all along to realistic and pleasing digital sound reproduction, and not the high order odd harmonic distortion described by OneMic? Who knew????

mrplankton2u's picture

Where have you heard this kind of B.S. before - " I can't quite put it into words or describe it, but I like this better..." or "...the difference can't be measured but there's definitely a difference because I can hear it..."

Whenever you hear or read something like that, your B.S. detector, if you have a functioning one, should have its analog meter pegged. We now live in a technological era where devices can reliably detect and record sights and sounds that are beyond human capability to perceive or discern. If a human can sense a particular aspect of sight or sound - it CAN be measured. Whether anyone feels that particular aspect is worth measuring is a completely different matter. Inevitably though, with articles like this, the subject matter shifts to an individual's "impression" rather than a recollection or recall of a particular aspect. Obviously, everyone's impression or interpretation of stimuli is likely to be as unique as their DNA. So let's be clear about what the author is trying to suggest here - that his impression of the analog approach is that it is superior Perhaps the pops, clicks, wow, and flutter put him in a better mood. One can only speculate as to the actual reason for his diatribe which typical for the genre, is long on proclamation and very short on revealing conditions and facts that would allow someone to duplicate his "findings". And what sort of implication does this have for the rest of us or the digital industry at large - ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

I stopped listening to and buying analog back in the early 80's when I discovered an accurate new media format whose fidelity didn't deteriorate after the 15th or twentieth time it was played. The drawbacks to analog, contrary to all of the alleged drawbacks of digital, are in fact audible and in fact measureable. For the majority of us, that is all we need to know - we don't have to invent problems in our head to support our nostaligic aspirations.

John Atkinson's picture

mrplankton2u wrote:
If a human can sense a particular aspect of sight or sound - it CAN be measured.

Sorry, that is not correct, according to modern perceptual science. What we, as listeners, describe when we listen to music, are internal constructs stimulated mostly but not entirely by the soundwaves that reach our ears. While we can measure the properties of the soundwaves, the relationship between the properties of the soundwaves and the state of our internal constructs is both complex and non-linear.

The late Richard Heyser wrote a lot on this in the 1970s and 1980s and I tried to build on that foundation in my Richard Heyser Memorial Lecture that I was invited to present to the Audio Engineering Society in October 2011.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture

I think you're confusing properties of the soundwaves themselves (in essence, how well a media stores and a system reproduces those properties) with human perception of those properties. As I said previously, perception is as unique as the DNA of the listener - there's no point in travelling down that road since it leads one into a circular argument. 

You said "we can measure the properties of soundwaves that reach our ears". Essentially you are agreeing with me. However, what your sentence is missing is the following:


"we can measure the properties of soundwaves that reach our ears....TO A HIGHER DEGREE OF PRECISION THAN OUR AUDITORY SYSTEM IS CAPABLE OF DISCERNING"

Clearly, you of all people should know that we can measure non lineariities of phase and amplitude and the presence of harmonics at levels and at frequencies that the human auditory system is incapable of reliably discerning. The problem I have with poorly thought out articles is the leap from that which can be measured to the "impression" one obtains from a particular experience or aspect of the sound. The obvious error is in attributing most or all of our perceptions to unproven, unsupported, and alleged differences in the system - or in this case the combination of the media transport mechanism and the rest of the system. The philosophy should be : ALL ASSERTIONS THAT BLAME THE SYSTEM OR MEDIA FOR A PERCEIVED FAULT OR INADEQUACY SHOULD BE CONSIDERED SUSPECT OR FALSE UNTIL PROVEN BY MEASURMENT AND A REPEATABLE EXPERIMENT. 

It's easy to hide behind B.S. associated with unsubstantiated claims pertaining to "perception". It happens all the time in the "high end" audio business. How else would "power conditioners" and multi thousand dollar speaker cables find a sucker...ahem... I mean market?

FSonicSmith's picture

If a human can sense a particular aspect of sight or sound - it CAN be measured.

I LOVE seeing this. Why? Because it proves we are not just setting up straw men type arguments. There is actually a large contingent of otherwise intelligent and rational people who believe this! I would suggest that Mr. Plankton (I presume if he wre a medical doctor his name would be different) confer with an opthalmologist and see if he/she thinks that every known aspect of human vision is susceptable to measurement and do the same with an audiologist with extensive knowledge of pycho-acoustics. I have no doubt that the majority of them, if the question were posed properly, would admit that not all aspects of human vision and sound perception of capable of being accurately measured. Yes, we agree on something. The debate rages on. 

mrplankton2u's picture

You said above:

" not all aspects of human vision and sound perception of capable of being accurately measured."

Let me make this perfectly clear. I said that sound and all it's aspects (after all it's just a collection of low pressure accoustic waves) can be more precisely and reliably measured by current measuring equipment than by the human auditory system. I said nothing about "accurately measuring...all aspects of human vision and sound perception". If you  read what I stated carefully, you'd note that I admitted that human  perception of sound is as unique as our DNA.  I'm talking about what the human auditory system can detect That's pretty much a "go - no go" proposition. Either you can hear a tone at a given frequency or you can't.  Whether cymbals have "more air" or not - that's clearly a matter of impression or peception since literally speaking - there is no "air" there. Invariably,, these special perceptions involve inadequate or illogical description or explanation as if they are intended not to be further analyzed and held up to scientific scrutiny.

The problem I have and I think most other "intelligent" people have is the automatic connection between perceived flaws and the equipment reproducing the sound. In my personal experience, the flaws tend to be with the neurotic individual whose brain is doing the "perceiving" - not the equipment when different equipment measures almost identically but the listener proclaims a "dramatic" difference.

mrplankton2u's picture


You said above:

" not all aspects of human vision and sound perception of capable of being accurately measured."

Let me make this perfectly clear. I said that sound and all it's aspects (after all it's just a collection of low pressure accoustic waves) can be more precisely and reliably measured by current measuring equipment than by the human auditory system. I said nothing about "accurately measuring...all aspects of human vision and sound perception". If you  read what I stated carefully, you'd note that I admitted that human  perception of sound is as unique as our DNA.  I'm talking about what the human auditory system can detect That's pretty much a "go - no go" proposition. Either you can hear a tone at a given frequency or you can't.  Whether cymbals have "more air" or not - that's clearly a matter of impression or peception since literally speaking - there is no "air" there. Invariably,, these special perceptions involve inadequate or illogical description or explanation as if they are intended not to be further analyzed and held up to scientific scrutiny. 


JohnnyR's picture

"There is actually a large contingent of otherwise intelligent and rational people who believe this!"

I gather then that you are not included in neither of the two groups.

So tired of reading "There is so much that we can hear that can't be measured!"

I call bull shit. All that statement does is give fraudulent people the ideas to market "magic bowls", $20,000 cables and (add tweek of the month here) for the rich gullible to buy. Of course if you can't hear an "improvement" then there's obviously something "wrong" with you, or so goes the tired arguement.

If cables, power cords or "magic bowls" really made a difference then Stereophile would be doing some indepth tests that include measurements. Since they don't, we can conclude that it's all just a sham.Can't we? I'm asking you Mr Atkinson.

Vinyl sounds good the first few plays then it gets worn and has ticks and pops, who needs that? I think people tend to romanticise old equipment as being "better" like we love looking at 1950's era cars but who wants to drive one of those lumbering dinosaurs?

Fix the modern fiasco of compressing the sound , the so call "Loudness Wars" and enjoy the music. The future is coming and you will be left behind.


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