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

I haven't seen one iota of explanation from yourself yet as to why both of us and Harman Kardon and the other links George posted to are wrong. Still waiting ChrisSy.

ChrisS's picture

Has HK hired you guys as DBT consultants?

 

Hey JRusskie,

Can you answer this one?

If A=B and C=B, then A=?

If you pass the test, then perhaps someone will hire you... But you and Georgie might have to fight over the job.

JohnnyR's picture

"i think THESE are the sort of differences between individuals that make DBT difficult: everyone hears differently. there is no absolute sound."

The sole purpose of DBT is to see if the person listening can distinguish between A and B. If they can't then for all practical purposes there is no difference in the sound from A and B. You and ChrisSy seem to think it's all about what the person "likes". It's a straight forward test method and "likes" has nothing to do with it.

Please explain to us all how Harman Kardon manages to use DBT all the time and do it well? I will be awaiting your reply Ariel.

ChrisS's picture

So every household has a Harman Kardon product? And you and Georgie have living rooms that look like anechoic chambers? No fireplaces, of course....

ChrisS's picture

Hearing a difference between a Harman Kardon product and another product in a anechoic chamber means what to you, Georgie and JRusskie?

Do you know that Ford makes the best trucks in the world?

ChrisS's picture

Are you sure I didn't say 'licks". You know maybe tasting an audio product will yield just as useful results in a DBT.

ChrisS's picture

JRusskie,

Now run out to your nearest Boris' Convenience store and get yourself a can each of Pepsi (do you even have Pepsi in the Former-USSR?) and Coca-Cola and set up your own Pepsi (or whatever passes for cola in Russia) Challenge.

Wiki has a nice explanation of how to do a DBT...

Once you've done your very own Peps(k)i Challenge, please send us your conclusion. We're curious...

The next step now is to get everyone in your subsidized housing project to participate in your Pepski Challenge.

Gather up that data, compare it your own conclusion and let us know how useful that information is.

I'm sure you'll enjoy the challenge of your doing your very own DBT's! (You won't even have to ask Harman Kardon to use their anechoic chamber!)

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
The sole purpose of DBT is to see if the person listening can distinguish between A and B. If they can't then for all practical purposes there is no difference in the sound from A and B.

And that's the problem with these tests. If a formal blind test gives results that are indistinguishable from what would be given by chance, formal statistical analysis tells us that this result does _not_ "prove" there was no difference in the stimulus being tested, only that if there _was_ a difference, it was _not_ detectable under the conditions of the test. No more general conclusion can be drawn from the results. And as I have said, it is very difficult to arrange so that those conditions don't themselves become interfering variables. Even the fact that it is a test at all can be an interfering variable, as I explain in this lecture preprint.

JohnnyR wrote:
Please explain to us all how Harman Kardon manages to use DBT all the time and do it well?

I have visited Harman's facility in Northridge and their blind testing set-up is impressive. They have worked hard to eliminate interfering variables and their testing is time- and resource-consuming and painstaking. Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almots always performed in mono. And despite the rigor of their testing, you still have anomalous results, like the Mark Levinson No.53 amplifier, which was designed with such testing but fared poorly in the Stereophile review.

While formal blind tests are prone to false negative results - not detecting a difference when one exists - sighted listening is prone to false positives, ie, it detects a difference when none exists or perhaps exaggerates the degree of difference. As neither methodology is perfect, we go with the one that is manageable with our resources. We therefore offer our opinions for readers to reject or accept in the context of their own experience and I believe Stereophile does  a better job of that than any other review magazine or webzine.

If you are uncomfortable with that policy, then you should not read the magazine. And if I remember correctly, JohnnyR, you admitted in earlier discussions on this sute that you neither subscribe to Stereophile, nor do you buy the magazine on the newsstand. So why should anyone pay attention to your opinions on how the magazine conducts itself?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

So you are saying that if in a DBT the listeners could NOT tell a difference between two amps using music of their own choice then that doesn't prove the amps sound alike?  Funny stuff there Atkinson. For one who thinks you should trust your ears to evaluate components you just bashed the ONE single TRUE way to test by USING YOUR OWN EARS in a DBT.

"And that's the problem with these tests. If a formal blind test gives results that are indistinguishable from what would be given by chance, formal statistical analysis tells us that this result does _not_ "prove" there was no difference in the stimulus being tested, only that if there _was_ a difference, it was _not_ detectable under the conditions of the test."

Your own words are saying that "if there was a difference it was not detectable under the conditions of the test"........oh you mean like letting the listener use the music of their own choice and switch back and forth endless times between two amps and then guess wrongly enough times so that they can't tell which one was which? LMAO if that's not proof that both amps sound alike then what sort of test WOULD prove that they do?  Come on Atkinson you just don't like DBTs because they would show up so many components that people think sound "oh so better than the rest"

Opinions from you and your reviewers are the Gospel now folks. No need to test anything really just trust good ol'JA and his flunkies. Yay.

"If you are uncomfortable with that policy, then you should not read the magazine. And if I remember correctly, JohnnyR, you admitted in earlier discussions on this sute that you neither subscribe to Stereophile, nor do you buy the magazine on the newsstand. So why should anyone pay attention to your opinions on how the magazine conducts itself?"

Oh just maybe because  a lot of people care for this little thing called the TRUTH? When magazines like your's take liberties with the truth by having shoddy reviews instead of in depth testing, then it's everyone's and anyone's responsibility to speak up when crappy falsehoods are published and the readers are supposed to take it all on faith. That's why. I for one do not take your opinions on anything audio related as worthwhile at all for the simple reasons that you show so much promise when you measure speakers but fail to even bother with the snakeoli products that you let slide under the radar yet let your reviewers give them glowing reviews sans any testing what so ever. Maybe that's the sighted listening bias you just spoke about yet you fail to even try with those type of products to get to the real TRUTH.

ChrisS's picture

JRusskie,

If you like Harman Kardon marketing, but you're not sure if Ford makes the best trucks in the world, then get yourself an F-150 and whatever truck you used to rumble across Afghanistan with, do your DBT (just like  the Pepski Challenge) and let us know what you come up with...

You are marketing TRUTH now? How pure is it?

I know some construction workers who might be interested...

ChrisS's picture

JRusskie, Just looking at your response to John's post and comparing word-for-word what John wrote and what you think he says, there's such a huge world of difference!! There's a war in your head!

[Flame deleted by John Atkinson].

GeorgeHolland's picture

"Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almots always performed in mono."

Well Mr Atkinson the reasoning behind testing speakers in mono is to eliminate the dreaded comb filter affect that would otherwise show up if a stereo pair were auditioned and the listener moved their head even a couple of inces. I'm surprised you didn't mention that fact but then again you think DBTs are hard to do, so if you don't know how to do them then indeed they are hard to do. *Chuckle*  Any DBT done should be auditoned is such a manner. The rest of your "excuses" for not doing them is the same old same old from you, nothing surprising there.

ChrisS's picture

So Georgie Porgie,

Let's say JRusskie is DBT'ing a $1500 speaker and a $500 speaker and can't hear a difference, and you are DBT'ing a $4500 speaker and a $4000 speaker and you happen to have enough working neurons to hear a difference... Which set of speakers should the ex-shepherd construction worker buy?

John Atkinson's picture

GeorgeHolland wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
Even so, they have to make compromises. Blind testing of loudspeakers, for example, is almost always performed in mono.

Well Mr Atkinson the reasoning behind testing speakers in mono is to eliminate the dreaded comb filter affect that would otherwise show up if a stereo pair were auditioned and the listener moved their head even a couple of [inches].

That is a consideration, of course, but in my opinion a minor one. As I had understood from Floyd Toole back in the day, the additional complexity required  of  Harman's physical speaker shuffling apparatus to do blind speaker testing in stereo was not justified by the results, ie, they felt that the stereo performance could be predicted from the mono results.

I don't agree with that, but more importantly, this illustrates the thesis offered in my lecture, that when you move the testing situation a step away from how the product is going to be used, you can't be sure that the assumptions you make haven't invalidated the test. As I write in the abstract to the lecture, "perhaps some of things we discard as audio engineers bear further examination when it comes to the perception of music."

BTW, I am still waiting for you to acknowledge that the criticism you made of my lecture, that it was not about Richard Heyser, was incorrect.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture

More excuses?  I see what Johnny meant. You are never wrong. I am pretty sure Haram Kardon knows what they are doing. Please address any criticisms to them not me.

I am afraid that comb filtering IS a big deal. That would explain why cables "sound" different. It's not the cable but the listener changing where their head is between "testing"

You will be waiting a long time for any ackowledgement about your "lecture". Stop being the primadonna already.

Regadude's picture

Georgie wrote:

"Stop being the primadonna already."

Look in the mirror and repeat those words!!!! laugh

ChrisS's picture

So how does one differentiate speakers that sound differently, amplifiers that sound differently, pre-amps, turntables, tonearms, cartridges, DAC's, etc., if a turn of one's head makes that much difference?

Where's your reliability, Georgie? Doesn't science depend on reliability?

JohnnyR's picture

I can see what George is up against in here with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee tag teaming and showing their ignorance.

http://www.ethanwiner.com/believe.html

Golly look what he meant.I think Ethan was banned from here ages ago for showing up Fearless Leader and his cronies and out right showing how REAL science works. BWAHAHAHAHAHAH loser boys.

Regadude's picture
John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
http://www.audioholics.com/news/editorials/diy-loudspeakers

Just bookmarking the link for future reference.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

......when you start doing a single DBT or even a SBT then you can talk about the "truth". Have you EVER designed and built your own speakers? Nahhhhhhhh you are too lazy or too "busy". Still finding plenty of time though to post online all the time though strangely enough.cheekyTill then you aren't an engineer so take your own advice and don't comment on speaker design anymore.

If you are going to save the link then please also save this link where discussion about it unfolded.

http://forums.audioholics.com/forums/loudspeakers/83412-diy-loudspeakers...

As you can see the original post was just one of many OPINIONS about the topic that is if you bother to read it at all. There are various OPINIONS about the topic and notice just how many of the so called "hobbyists" ended up being professional speaker builders. If you just pick and choose certain OPINIONS from the thread then you are guilty of leaving out facts.

For starters read the sixth post down by Jinjuku regarding Jeff's post that pretty much sums up where DIY has progressed.

ChrisS's picture

Not real science either...

GeorgeHolland's picture

Frick and Frack strike again. Regadude and ChrisS always come up with strawman replies and ignore the links posted."Not real science "? How pompus can you get? Mr Winer measured the effects of comb filtering, what did you measure ChrisS the length of your nose when you typed that reply? You dismiss anything people link to yet show us nothing in return. Regadude, posting opinions isn't real science just so you both understand. Now run along lil boys and study real hard, maybe in another 20 years you might be able to hold your own in a discussion.

ChrisS's picture

Has Winer's results been verified?

Did you know that Harman Kardon makes the best audio products in the world? And Ford makes the best trucks, right?

JohnnyR's picture

Or is that above your abilities like thinking?

Go ahead, put on a pink or white noise source and move your head about and tell me the sound doesn't change. You won't bother so forget it ChrisSy.laugh

ChrisS's picture

When moving a microphone while recording a person's voice, the sound changes. Did the voice change?

GeorgeHolland's picture

You never answer a question , you just put forth silly questions of your own. That's what people do when they don't know or are scared to try.

Moving a microphone while recording a person's voice? If that's how you do things then no wonder you don't know what Johnny was talking about. Yes the sound changes as recorded by the microphone so what?  Genius.angle

ChrisS's picture

I'll answer you this one... You and JRusskie always answer your own questions that you pose to everyone in these discussions. There's no need to provide any answer to you. As well, your attitudes and limited knowledge of the application of research methodology make civil and thoughtful discourse impossible.

So my questions to you and JRusskie are formed to reveal how each of you think whenever you provide a response.

You provide enough information for me to say that I find the "best" use of my time in these discussions is to make fun of you and JRusskie.

Ariel Bitran's picture

makes some sense of the whole darn thing.

Regadude's picture

The only duo that strikes here George, is you and Johnny. You both STRIKE OUT!

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