The 2011 Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture: "Where Did the Negative Frequencies Go?"

In the summer of 2011, Stereophile's long-time editor in chief, John Atkinson, was invited by the Technical Council of the Audio Engineering Society to give the Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York, October 21, 2011.

The AES website notes that the Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture series was established in May 1999 by the AES Technical Council, the Board of Governors, and the Richard Heyser Scholarship Fund to honor the extensive contribution to the Society by this outstanding man, widely known for his ability to communicate new and complex technical ideas with great clarity and patience. The Heyser Series is an endowment for lectures that will bring to AES conventions eminent individuals in audio engineering and related fields.

With thanks to the AES Technical Council for their permission, the preprint of John Atkinson's lecture is presented here.—Ed.

Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture: "Where Did the Negative Frequencies Go?"—John Atkinson, Editor, Stereophile magazine

"Even a cursory read of the academic literature suggests that in audio, all that matters has been investigated and ranked accordingly. But his 40-year career in music performing, record engineering and production, audio reviewing, and editing audio magazines leads John Atkinson to believe that some things might be taken too much for granted. The title of his lecture is a metaphor: all real numbers have two roots, yet we routinely discard the negative root on the grounds that it has no significance in reality. Perhaps some of things we discard as audio engineers bear further examination when it comes to the perception of music. This lecture will offer no real answers, but will perhaps allow some interesting questions to develop."


Essential reading for the informed audiophile: the AES anthology of the late Richard Heyser's writings

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honor to have been invited to present this evening's lecture in memory of the late Richard Heyser. Audio theorist, engineer, reviewer, scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, inventor of Time Delay Spectrometry, and Audio Engineering Society Silver Medal recipient, Dick was a man I was privileged to have met just the once, at an AES meeting in London in March 1986. His comments that night gave me much to ponder in the years ahead. I was also in the audience for the presentation of his final two papers to the AES, given by telephone at the fall 1986 AES Convention in Los Angeles, from his hospital bed. I had not realized until that evening that his illness was terminal.

My wife got to know Dick well when they both worked for Audio magazine; she remembers going round a Consumer Electronics Show with him. Before entering each exhibitor's suite, Dick would cover up his name badge: "That way they won't know who I am," he said with his usual modesty, "and I will hear the system as it really is, not how they want 'Richard Heyser' to hear it."

It is also an honor to follow in the footsteps of such visionaries as Ray Dolby, recording engineer Phil Ramone, futurist Ray Kurzweil, mathematicians Manfred Schroeder and Stanley Lipshitz, film-sound pioneer and editor Walter Murch, Andy Moorer of Sonic Solutions and Adobe, Roger Lagadec, Kees Schouhamer Imminck (who developed the optical data-reading technology used in the CD), Karlheinz Brandenburg of MP3 fame, and acoustician Leo Beranek.

When Robert Schulein of the AES Technical Council e-mailed me last summer to invite me to give this lecture, I was sure that a mistake had been made. The gentlemen above invented the future. By contrast, I am just a storyteller; worse, I am a teller of other people's tales, including tales told by some of the people above.

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," Laurie Anderson was once supposed to have said, and to be an audio journalist is not too different. However, as a generalist in a world of intense specialization, I think I can dance a step sufficiently varied to cast some interesting shadows.

I am sure that some of the questions I will ask in the next 50 minutes or so have already been answered, perhaps even by one or more of the people in this room. Nothing I will say is either original or new. Much of it has been examined in articles I have written and speeches I have given over the past decades. However, it is unlikely that everything will have ever been grouped together in the same presentation before. And, of course, given the large amount of ground I will be covering, I am well aware that I am skating over crevasses of deeper understanding. So I beg forgiveness for the inevitable generalizations.

Early Days
I had a schizophrenic education. On the one hand, I was an academic overachiever in the sciences. On the other, music meant more to me than any other interest at school, and I continued playing bass guitar in bands, first while I kept my nose to the scientific grindstone at university, and later when I took a job in scientific research.

I started out working, in a government laboratory, on the development of LEDs. This is my ID card at the lab—long hair was mandatory for government workers at the end of the 1960s, of course.

One of my tasks was to grow my own junctions, using a slice of a zone-purified n-doped gallium phosphide crystal and depositing a layer of p-doped material on it with a vapor-epitaxy oven. I would then cleave the material into individual dies and make transistors from them under a stereo microscope. I would characterize the charge-carrier mobility by measuring the Hall Effect with an enormous magnet—I once stuck my hand in the magnet but felt nothing, despite all the ions in my nerves presumably pressing against one side. I later worked for a mineral-processing laboratory, where I learned to pan for gold, among other skills.

But even as I began slowly climbing the scientific ladder, music pulled even more strongly, and I resigned from the lab in July 1972 to join a band that had just been signed to Warner Bros., and was to make an album at Abbey Road Studio and then embark on a tour of America. Well, we made the album, but our manager did a runner with the advance from Warners and the LP was never released. One memory I have of Abbey Road was this young tape op who, one lunchtime when the producer and engineer were at lunch, sat at the console and did a superb mix of one of our songs.

This slide is a montage of two photos I took in Abbey Road's Studio 3—you can see that the tape op sitting by the 16-track Studer machine was a youthful Alan Parsons!

For the next four years I played with other bands, toured, and made other albums, but it eventually became clear that I would need a steadier source of income, and in September 1976 I joined the British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review as an editorial assistant. At a magazine devoted to audio equipment and recordings, I felt as if the scientific and musical sides of my brain could finally coalesce. And working on audio magazines is what I have done ever since.

As I said, I am a generalist in a world of specialists. The problem with being a generalist is the vast amount of information published in every field. It is impossible to stay current. Back when the Scientific Method was a radical new idea, and science was the preserve of wealthy gentleman amateurs, it was just about possible for a single person to know everything. But those days are long gone . . . one group of researchers reckon that 1.3 million articles were published in scientific journals in 2006 alone.

I am also old enough that my education in electronics and audio was exclusively based on tubes. Even the logic circuits I constructed at school used tubes! But looking back, I think there was one experience that foreshadowed my career as an audio reviewer. For one of my bachelor's degree final exams, I was handed a black box with two terminals and had to spend an afternoon determining what it was. (If I recall correctly, it was a Zener diode in series with a resistor.) That experience is echoed every day in my endeavors to characterize the performance of the audio components reviewed in Stereophile—every product, be it speaker, amplifier, CD player, is fundamentally a black box with input and output terminals. All I have to do is ask the question "What does it do?" And remember that testing a product is not just a case of pressing "F9" on the Audio Precision; you are faced with trying to get into the head of the designer and asking, Why did he do it this way? What is the trade-off the designer has felt worthwhile? (There are always trade-offs.) And why?

Concours d'elegance
I am addicted to elegant ideas. When I first realized that the square root of negative 1, i, could be visualized as meaning a rotation of 90° into a second dimension of what was hitherto a one-dimensional number line, it was a moment of satori. In the one-dimensional world of numbers, the concept of the square root of negative 1 is meaningless. But by adding a new dimension, you enter a new, rich reality where i does have meaning.

But it didn't take me long to realize that elegance is not always equivalent to truth. As a teenager, I thought that the hypothesis of the Static Universe propounded by Fred Hoyle, along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi (whose passing significance I'll mention later), was supremely elegant. (And it didn't hurt that, as a science-fiction fanatic, I was familiar with Hoyle's fiction.) Hoyle's idea was that, as the universe expands, it causes new matter to be created, if I remember correctly, at the rate of one hydrogen atom per century in a volume "equal to the Empire State Building," so that if you took a series of snapshots of the universe, one every billion years, they would all be identical. Of course, as soon as the cosmic microwave background was discovered, Hoyle was proved completely wrong. (This is ironic, as Hoyle had invented the term "Big Bang Theory" to disparage what turned out to be the correct theory.) But the Big Bang Theory means that the universe had a beginning and will have an end, which strikes me as inelegant in the extreme.


A glass of what by rights should be a gas at room temperature

I am also fascinated by things that don't seem to fit. For example, when I first studied the Periodic Table of the Elements, it struck me as very strange that water is a liquid at normal temperature and pressure. If all you knew were the properties of its constituents—two of the lightest elements in the Periodic Table—you would expect water to be a gas like hydrogen sulfide, but less dense and less smelly.

But water obstinately isn't a gas, and we all take for granted that it isn't. In fact, our lives depend on it not being a gas. It takes a deeper knowledge of the properties of water to understand why it doesn't fit.

It is the combination of elegance and apparent anomalies that I will be talking about in this lecture. Which brings me to an explanation of its title:

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COMMENTS
JohnnyR's picture

......blind testing mentioned by a person that doesn't believe in doing them. Aren't they "too difficult" according to yourself? Wait......nevermind just don't answer that because I know it will end up with you Mr Atkinson making some EXCUSE as to why you can't do blind tests for the magazine when it comes to reviewing products. ZzzzzzzzzzZzzzzz.

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
Sure is a lot of blind testing mentioned by a person that doesn't believe in doing them.

A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest, eh? In the 15,000 words of this preprint, there are just a few paragraphs devoted to a discussion of blind testing.

JohnnyR wrote:
Aren't they "too difficult" according to yourself?

As I say, I took part in my first blind test 35 years ago and since then have been involved in well over a 100 such tests, as listener, proctor, or organizer. My opinion on their efficacy and how difficult it is to get valid results and not false negatives - ie reporting that no difference could be heard when a small but real audible difference exists - was formed as the result of that experience.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

In other words JohnnyR, Mr Atkinson DID find excuses not to use blind testing but found them worthwhile enough to mention them in his Heyser speech funnily enough.

JohnnyR's picture

A. Join a band as a second rate bass player

B. Fail to get a record contract

C.Pretend he's an electrical engineer

D.Get an offer to ruin.....ermm I meant run Stereophile

E. Proceed to ruin........ermmmmm excuse me......run Stereophile like Hitler would.

F. Spend his time talking online instead of actually doing any real work.

G. Make excuss about his busy schedule and why he can't do DBTs

H Profit!!!

Regadude's picture

Johnny makes plywood boxes in his mother's basement, and then claims he is a speaker expert.

Trolls audio websites. 

 

That is all.

ChrisS's picture

JRusskie seems to have become a failed audio (and DBT) expert in one easy step...

 

A. Failed...

dalethorn's picture

Hitler? I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Ariel Bitran's picture

also, brings both of these to mind:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

ChrisS's picture

There it is, again...

ChrisS's picture

I think a synapse just exploded...

dalethorn's picture

I asked a question of Harman Testing Lab in the Computer Audiophile forum, and post #11 is the answer, which I thought was perfect. i.e., let the testee control the switch, so whatever adjustment time they need they can accomodate.

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f12-headphones-and-speakers/behind-har...

Other observation: The comments in this Stereophile article about the noise floating free of the recording due apparently to having a higher playback bandwith - that made my day.

On R.C. Heyser: His description of the 1971 Sylmar quake, hearing a low-frequency "tone" prior to the shaking, got him started on comparing earthquakes and woofers and low-frequency playback in rooms, and he got beat up on a lot for those writings. But having been involved with both, those observations of his were like gold in the bank. Saved me lots of money.

Regadude's picture

Aren't you the dude who "tested" the Shure SRH 940 headphones and claimed they were almost as good as the 800HDs from Sennheiser?

I own the SRH940s. I was somewhat willing to believe you, but when I saw that your source was an Ipod, I just flicked your review in the trash.

You chose a 200$ source to test 325$ and 1500$ headphones?  And you believe your results mean something?

 

no

dalethorn's picture

My review of the 940, agreed upon by more than 95 percent of respondents, was vetted with specific music tracks listed in the review and subsequent comments, using ipods alone, ipods with analog amps, and desktop DACs and amps. Some of the naysayers are either impatient or just grumpy and disagreeable, which the comments in this Stereophile article perfectly illustrate.

Regadude's picture

How nice of you to call people who question your methodology grumpy, disagreable, etc. I question your methodology because it makes no sense to test 325$ headphones with an ipod. It makes even less sense to test 1500$ headphones with an ipod...

I actually listened to the Shure SRH940 and HD800 today, using my ipod Nano. You are correct, they both sound almost the same. They both sound like shit!

I know from experience that these headphones really shine with a good source, and especially, proper amplification. As good as the Shure is (I own them), it is no match for the HD800 when both are hooked up to decent equipment.

Your test is like testing the acceleration of a Ferrari and a Prius in your 12' driveway. You won't get much better results from the Ferrari in such a limited distance.

As for the 95% who agree with you, what gear did they use (ipod)? Were those 95% SRH940 owners and fanboys? 

dalethorn's picture

Saying "they both sound like shit" when one of those is a revered $1500 headphone of great pedigree and popularity among actual audiophiles is telling of your judgement. I would suggest taking a deep breath, pick a headphone and some music tracks you like, then tune out the matrix and just enjoy your music. You'll be less grumpy that way.

Regadude's picture

Don't try and hide behind my words! They both sound like shit through an ipod! What a weasel you are. I did not say the 800HD sounded like shit... BUT IT SOUNDED LIKE SHIT THROUGH AN IPOD. You rigged your test, Dale. 

Again, you use insults...

 

dalethorn's picture

A long time ago one person on a big audio site challenged people like you to be more specific instead of throwing words like s**t around. There were just two persons who offered test tracks with which to compare those headphones, but everyone else (like you) just threw out expletives, and a couple members even made serious threats. Now I have over 30 years experience comparing headphones like the Stax and Sennheiser series, and quite a bit of time invested with the Audio Engineering Society as well as reading Stereophile magazine, so even if nobody in the world were to agree with my conclusions, I'm certainly qualified to test and evaluate these devices. I'd suggest you refrain from purely ranting with words like s**t and offer specific testable facts, or just go away.

This article may help you:

http://dalethorn.com/Headphone_Ipod_Versus_Amp.txt

dalethorn's picture

BTW, and speaking of Prius and Ferrari, you may be one of the better off who don't mind paying $1500 for a headphone and then shelling out $2000 for a headphone amp. But let's pretend for a moment that you have to pinch pennies to get those luxurious goods, so when you finally have them you really appreciate what you have. In this latter case, were you to stumble across an ipod touch or iphone of recent manufacture, with the new Earpods ($29 purchased variety only) being driven by the Dirac DSP player, and had an opportunity to listen at length, it might make you ill to realize what you got for your $3500.

Regadude's picture

My headphone amp is a whopping 400$ (CI Audio VHP 2).

I do pinch pennies. The VHP 2 and the Shure 940 are mine.The Sennsheiser 800HD I borrowed from a friend.

Stop trying to cloud the issue with non relavant issues.

Regadude's picture

How about we let Stereophile test both headphones! First through an ipod, then with decent equipment!

Both headphones sound similar through an ipod.

Plug them into a receiver, they sound less like shit.

Plug them into a decent headphone amp, and they both sound MUCH BETTER. BUT the Sennsheiser pulls away and wipes the floor with the Shure.

Buy yourself a CI Audio headphone amp (the one I use), or any other decent headphone amp Dale... Before buying a 2500$ DAC to install on an ipod.

DUH...........................

GeorgeHolland's picture

The continuing saga of ChrisS being a troll and all around noncontributing poster. Classy act there ChrisS.

Mostly what I got from Mr Atkinson's article was the amount of photos of himself rather than Mr Heyser. I suppose a memorial lecture should be all about the presenter and how he sees fit to turn it into reasons why Stereophile does what it does regarding testing and the lack there of.

"Yes, what you think you are hearing might by dismissed as being imagination, but as the ghost of Professor Dumbledore says in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, "Of course it's all happening in your head, Harry Potter, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Oh I see now. Stereophile's philosophy is based upon a ficticious Harry Potter character who spouts that what we hear is real.I'll be sure to let those people being treated for such voices in their heads that all is well and medication is not necessary.

"Footnote 2: For a long time, I've felt that the difference between an "objectivist" and a "subjectivist" is that the latter has had, at one time in his or her life, a mentor who could show them what to listen for. Raymond was just one of the many from whom I learned what to listen for."

Well if only that was true. Your readers tend to all be subjectivsts who aren't trained what to listen to but blindly ( I made a pun there since blind testing is not wanted at Stereophile) believe whatever they think they hear as the truth when in fact measuremnts will show that either they heard nothing related to the measurements or perhaps it's Dumbledore once more in their heads, make believe or wishful hearing.

All in all I found your presentation 90% about yourself and Stereophile and reasons why you defend subjective listening and gloss over things like cables and doing serous testing and throwing in various quotes and ambiguous stories barely related to the subect you were supposed to be talking about, unless that subject was muddling the understanding of Stereophile and telling everyone your own personal history instead of Mr Heyser's.

"Third, one well-known skeptic sitting in the audience tonight criticized my abstract a few weeks back on the grounds that I am just offering "hypotheses about stuff that might be just to stir the pot, while offering no real explanations."

Class act there Mr Atkinson, speak out and criticise someone you don't like or agree with in the audience who then has no opportunity to speak up and address the audience themselves. Very childish and immature.I already see how you do the same on here. "My way or the highway"

JohnnyR is once more sadly correct, Blind testing is not and wil not be used by Stereophile. Just because you Mr Atkinson, know how to push a few buttons to measure speakers, does not make you even close to the same league as Mr Heyser was. He furthered the cause of objectivity and made Audo magazine the best audio magizine there ever was. The Audio Critic is a very close second. Mr Aczel used to be one of the worst subjectivists around untill he admitted to being such and saw the light and spoke out against foolish subjective reviews. Testing will always be the most important part of audio magazines. Simply letting reviewers spout off about "blacker backgrounds" "lifted veils" or other such nonsense belittles both the reader and the so called reviewer not to mention the product under "test". Truth in testing is what Mr Heyser strove for not some silly review about rainbow foil, magic bowls or pebbles.

John Atkinson's picture

George Holland wrote:
Mostly what I got from Mr Atkinson's article was the amount of photos of himself rather than Mr Heyser. I suppose a memorial lecture should be all about the presenter and how he sees fit to turn it into reasons why Stereophile does what it does regarding testing and the lack there of. I found your presentation 90% about yourself and Stereophile...throwing in various quotes and ambiguous stories barely related to the subect you were supposed to be talking about, unless that subject was muddling the understanding of Stereophile and telling everyone your own personal history instead of Mr Heyser's.

You have misunderstood the nature of the lecture, GeorgeHolland. The Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lectures are not intended to be _about_ Dick Heyser but instead are offered to honor his memory. The invitation for me to be the October 2011 lecturer clearly stated that I was free to choose any subject I felt appropriate; my triple career as a musician/audio engineer/audio editor and the conclusions I have formed as a result of my 4 decades' experience in those careers were felt by the AES Technical Council members to be an eminently suitable subject. 

George Holland wrote:
Class act there Mr Atkinson, speak out and criticise someone you don't like or agree with in the audience who then has no opportunity to speak up and address the audience themselves. Very childish and immature.

The skeptic in question had emailed me before the lecture to let me know he would be in the audience and would take an active part in the anticipated Q&A session. I included this mention in the preprint to give him the necessary opening. As it turned out, he didn't attend, but I saw no reason to delete the point he made.

George Holland wrote:
Just because you Mr Atkinson, know how to push a few buttons to measure speakers, does not make you even close to the same league as Mr Heyser was.

I agree. As you can tell from my discussions of Dick Heyser's writing and thoughts in the preprint, I have an enormous amount of respect for what he achieved. I have never claimed to be his equal, nor would I. But again I must emphasize that the AES Heyser lectures are not intended to be _about_ Dick Heyser. That is your misunderstanding, I am afraid.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Rolli666's picture

I am not sure as to why a person would even want to respond to these posts. Some problems really are better ignored as to invoke the spirit of go away.  I for one appreciated this lecture for what it is thank you.

John Atkinson's picture

Rolli666 wrote:
I for one appreciated this lecture for what it is thank you.

Appreciate your comment. It is rare that a magazine writer has the opportunity to gather all his thoughts in one place and I owe a debt of thanks to the Audio Engineering Society for inviting me to do so.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

 

ChrisS's picture

Whoa! There goes another synapse! Now they're both brain dead... I duelled extensively with JRusskie re: blind testing on the Forums and I daresay, he shot himself many times with his own arguments.

Saga? Can't wait for the movie version!

Sorry, Ariel... I'll try not to let it happen again.

Dunadan's picture

...which is a valuable insight, I think, from this article that Mr. Atkinson has generously preprinted. His stories--which, though I am not a longtime reader, I presume also reflect the history of Stereophile--mirror the tensions found in the philosophy of science between "reality" and "perception", and the question of whether our observations are truly disinterested or if our minds shape how and what we see (or hear). And, really, what exactly does a blind test resolve? That the reviewer likes one piece of equipment over another, presumably without factoring in aesthetics or cost? But "liking" one thing better than another is still a subjective judgment, and who's to say YOU would share that judgment? Never mind the problem of translating sounds heard by another into words on the magazine's page and then back again into the sounds heard by the reader when he or she auditions the gear. Or the issue of whether sound quality can be adequately described by a series of measurements, any more than colour can be described strictly in terms of wavelength, or consciousness in terms of vibrating atoms in your brain. That's not to say these things aren't significant, but to say that they add up to the sum of our human experience is absurd.

Thanks for a reflective and enjoyable article (at least in my mind).

GeorgeHolland's picture

The purpose of blind testing is soley to see if you can hear a difference between two units. After all the subjective rants of "oh this lifted several veils of crud from the liquid sound" or "I heard a definite improvement" I find it sad that Sterophile keeps saying that DBT or even SBT are not a valid way to test those claims. Either you can hear a difference or you can't yet those that claim they do shy away from proving that fact with a blind test. Afaid they might be shown to be wrong is my opinion, so Stereophile allows them to go merrily along in their own self delusions while spending way too much money on sham products.

ChrisS's picture

In a properly set up DBT, let's say for two amplifiers, what exactly will the listener be listening for?

 

(And what if the lamb heard a difference, but not the shepherd boy?)

GeorgeHolland's picture

Are you seriously so dense that you can't figure it out for yourself? Perhaps that's why you depend upon Stereophile to tell you what to buy?

http://home.provide.net/~djcarlst/abx.htm

http://www.matrixhifi.com/contenedor_ppec_eng.htm

Read and learn.

ChrisS's picture

So Georgie,

If the lamb can hear that Amp A can make the test system sing in a range of 10hz-60khz, but the shepherd boy can't hear in that range so can't tell the difference between Amp A and Amp B, which amp should the shepherd boy buy?

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