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
bernardperu's picture
Why would you read Stereophile anyway?

JhonnyR

 

If Stereophile has the principle of not doing DBT and for you doing so is a matter of principle why oh earth would you even care to read Stereophile? Your statement above suggests you have very extensive knowledge of the content of Stereophile's articles. So you keep reading stereophile's reviews knowing they are irremediably flawed?? How perverse is this?

 

The real question lies on your double blind tested hatred. 

 

Whatever your answer is I will have to assume that your hatred is a broken record and it will just go on.

GeorgeHolland's picture
He probably reads them as I

He probably reads them as I do for the laughs.smiley

JohnnyR's picture
You Didn't Comment..........

......on your error filled post above so why should I comment on your assumptions? If you wish to worship Fearless Leader then by all means bow down and do so. I myself prefer to ask questions and be skeptical about his "methods" and the reason "why" he doesn't test ALL items under review.

John Atkinson's picture
You're Welcome

Andreasmaaan wrote:
It's a pity that some proponents of DBT as the only valid methodology have used the comments thread here to launch personal attacks against JA.

Indeed. I am not sure why I have become a lightning rod for these audio skeptics. Perhaps it is because it is a matter of religious belief on their part - having had extensive experience of blind testing, I rejected it and thus became a heretic in their eyes. Or perhaps it is just our courtesy in allowing them the space on this website to express themselves.

Andreasmaaan wrote:
JA does measure every piece of gear his reviewers review - a practice which ensures that the opinions of the reviewers are grounded in objective data, or otherwise as the case may be.

As my reviewers do not see the measurements until after they have written the review, I take my hat off to them.

Andreasmaaan wrote:
To cut what is risking becoming a lengthy expression of indignation short: thank-you JA for a wise and thought-provoking read.

You're welcome and my thanks to everyone else who appreciated the preprint. It was an honor to have been invited by the Audio Engineering Society to give this lecture - it's not often that you get the opportunity to look back over a 4-decade career!

A Happy New Year to everyone who surfs this site.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Ahhhhhhhhhh Typical Atkinson Answers

You ignore the errors and just plow along blissfully gobbling up the unwarranted praise.

"JA does measure every piece of gear his reviewers review"

As I pointed out above, along with other errors on the part of Andreasmaaan,you do NOT test every piece of gear your reviewers review, but then you pretended that you do in your response. Only certain items are tested by you. Please get your own facts straight if that's even possible for you to do so.

Regadude's picture
Johnny brand speakers

Johnny, I wish you a great new year 2013, in which you sell 10 times more of your home made speakers than in 2012. 

Since you sold zero of your speakers in 2012, you need to sell 10 X 0=0 speakers in 2013 to meet this objective. Maybe you can hire George Holland as your director of marketing and sales... 

Get cracking, you have only got 364 days left to sell your quota...

JohnnyR's picture
Happy 2013 Raghead

[flames deleted by John Atkinson]

Unlike yourself Raghead, I will be DESIGNING and BUILDING my own speakers and learning. You do know that word "learning"? Hmmmm maybe you stopped after age 10. You on the other hand will be on here *yawning* and acting the fool and spending your money on Stereophile reviewed crapola.yes

Regadude's picture
So only your speakers are good?

So according to you Johnny, everything Stereophile reviews is crapola?! There is not one good piece of equipment that has been reviewed by Stereophile? Hundreds of reviews, not one good product?

But you, in your basement, build quality speakers... 

I have challenged you before (as well as George) to name your gear. What kind of gear merits the Johnny seal of approval? 

As always, you always ignore my challenge (George chickened out to). It seems you can only complain, but cannot even provide a list of your gear. 

I guess ever seeing pictures of your "famous" speakers is also out of the question. 

All talk and no action. 

Regadude's picture
Johnny the pussy

So Johnny, where are your speakers pics and specs?

In your imagination.... [flame deleted by JA]

GeorgeHolland's picture
Johnny never offered to show

Johnny never offered to show you anything other than his backside which I think is approriate considering the childish actions of yourself.What does it matter what our audio components are? Anything we mention would be ridiculed by yourself no doubt. Sorry but I'm not playing your silly game. Good God grow up and act like a man for once will you? angry

John Atkinson's picture
Getting Facts Straight

JohnnyR wrote:
As I pointed out above . . . you do NOT test every piece of gear your reviewers review, but then you pretended that you do in your response. Only certain items are tested by you. Please get your own facts straight if that's even possible for you to do so.

Out of morbid curiosity, I looked at the past 15 issues of Stereophile - we published 98 full reviews and follow-up reviews. Of those 98 reviews, 83 were accompanied with a full set of measurements, or 84.5%. So even if not every review includes measurements, the vast majority do, which supports Andreasmaaan's point.

I have explained to you before, in other comment threads, why we do not publish measurements of analog playback components, which is due to lack of resources. I have also explained to you why we do not publish measurements of tweaks, which is that it it is difficult to determine exactly what to measure. I don't see any reason to reopen those discussions, but that you continue to be fixated on these two issues and continue to raise them is sad.

And, as I have warned you, JohnnyR, I am continuing to delete comments from you, and others, that are nothing more than flames aimed at other readers.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Get Out Your Dictionary

"Reviews" means just that, any item reviewed by your staff. If you think "tweaks" don't qualify then they should be labled as "Opinions" not a review.angle All of those full reviews you speak of were what speakers, amps, preamps, cd transposrts and the like?

Yeah I know why you don't test tweaks, that would involve you using those horrible SBT or DBT. That's a really nice system you have set up. "We don't believe in DBTs or do them or can't afford to do them"......"We don't know what to test on the tweaks"..........add the two up and you get "We don't have to show that tweaks actually do anything other than what our "reviewer" subjectivly alludes to in their sighted biased listening using their golden ears"......EXCUSES Mr Atkinson plain and simple. no

Once more I ask you to read and comment about this link:

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

You seem to think DIY can't do anything right in your previous post in answer to Raghead. Insulting intelligent people that actually build better speakers than the status quo can produce is beyond being pompus in your case.THAT is what's SAD.

Don't you have some real work to be doing instead of being on the forums? I thought that was Ariel's job. Let him earn his pay.

ChrisS's picture
Circle Game

JRusskie,

Look up "fixation" and "perseveration" in your dictionary. "Absolute truths" regarding audio products seems to exist only in your basement and in your head.

John Atkinson's picture
What?

JohnnyR wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
I looked at the past 15 issues of Stereophile - we published 98 full reviews and follow-up reviews. Of those 98 reviews, 83 were accompanied with a full set of measurements, or 84.5%. So even if not every review includes measurements, the vast majority do, which supports Andreasmaaan's point.

"Reviews" means just that, any item reviewed by your staff. If you think "tweaks" don't qualify then they should be labled as "Opinions" not a review.angle

I am not sure what you mean. You were objecting to Andreasmaan's statement that Stereophile accompanies its reviews with measurements as not being true. I offered the analysis above to show that he was correct.

JohnnyR wrote:
Once more I ask you to read and comment about this link:

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

You need to consult with your fellow traveler GeorgeHolland, who criticized me about linking to other sites :-)

JohnnyR wrote:
You seem to think DIY can't do anything right in your previous post in answer to [Regadude.] Insulting intelligent people that actually build better speakers than the status quo can produce is beyond being pompus in your case.THAT is what's SAD.

With respect, you are arguing with the voices in your head here. I haven't written anything about DIY speaker designers not being able to do "anything right." What I have said is that a DIY designer, like yourself, doesn't subject his loudpeakers to the scrutiny of a disinterested marketplace, something professional designers do as a matter of course. So the question whether or not DIY designs are superior to commercial designs isn't put under independent scrutiny. It remains unsupported conjecture, as far as I am concerned.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
Mr Atkinson, you could 

Mr Atkinson, you could  compare DIY against manufactured speakers but of course you won't. Might upset those that can't make good speakers and I'm not talking about the DIY cheeky

Johnny plainly stated that "tweaks" are reviewed in your magazine and online yet they aren't tested, hence you don't test every component under review. You have a reading comprehension problem? How many components reviewed by Jason Serinus have been tested? uh huh, right.

So now you wuss out about commenting on links? That proves you had nothing to say in the first place about it so you shouldn't have opened your mouth.Cop out time for Mr Atkinson.

The only unsupported conjecture on here are your abilities to print honest reviews. Your ability to avoid testing  alot of audio components is well known by now. Very impressive spinning you do on here.wink

John Atkinson's picture
Reading Comprehension

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Mr Atkinson, you could  compare DIY against manufactured speakers but of course you won't. Might upset those that can't make good speakers and I'm not talking about the DIY cheeky

Back in the early 1990s, Stereophile's Corey Greenberg was one of the judges for a DIY loudpeaker competition in San Francisco. There were 2 winning designs and as part of the prize, those 2 speakers were subject to a full set of measurements in Stereophile, published in the March 1992 issue. The speakers' measured performance was good but not great and certainly didn't embarass professional designers.

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Johnny plainly stated that "tweaks" are reviewed in your magazine and online yet they aren't tested, hence you don't test every component under review. You have a reading comprehension problem?

I don't believe so. JohnnyR was wrong, in that we very rarely publish full reviews of tweak products. Of the 98 reviews published in the magazine January 2012 through March 2013, there was just one review of a "tweak," Robert Deutsch on the HiFi Tuning Supreme Fuses in May 2012. ( I don't count the AudioQuest power strip reviewed by Kal Rubinson's review in December 2012 as Kal didn't make any comment on its sound quality, only on its utllity.)

GeorgeHolland wrote:
How many components reviewed by Jason Serinus have been tested? uh huh, right.

The correct answer is none. But that doesn't support JohnnyR's case either, as Jason's reviews are published on the website Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, which has no connection with Stereophile. I hardly believe I am obliged to support reviews of products in competing publications with measurements in Stereophile.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Wow Nostalgia Time Kids

"Back in the early 1990s, Stereophile's Corey Greenberg was one of the judges for a DIY loudpeaker competition in San Francisco. There were 2 winning designs and as part of the prize, those 2 speakers were subject to a full set of measurements in Stereophile, published in the March 1992 issue. The speakers' measured performance was good but not great and certainly didn't embarass professional designers."

Golly "only" 20 years ago and as we all know, nothing new has happened since then to make speaker design any better (Insert BIG sarcasm face here) cheeky Talk about a lame example Atkinson.

Yeah yeah, "full reviews" whatever, Plenty of "little revews" though all the freakin time and all they are , are OPINIONS but you know what? You let your reviewers get away with murdering the intergrity of the audio world with their stupid banter about  "blacker backgrounds,lifted veils and HUGE improvements in the sound" without them having to justify their claims, Pretty slick there pal.

Oh and Jason Serinus "reviews" as posted about the recent RMAF isn't connected to Stereophile? Give us all a break, Your EXCUSES are even lamer this time than usual.

Yep typical Fearless Leader goobley gook. Did you major in Universisty in the double speak of Orwell's 1984? If not then you are gulity of plagiarizing the concept.

John Atkinson's picture
Not making sense

JohnnyR wrote:
Golly "only" 20 years ago and as we all know, nothing new has happened since then to make speaker design any better...

Again you are arguing with the voices in your head, JohnnyR. Of course a lot has happened in the past 20 years, especially the advent of low-cost measuring equipment. But you're missing my point, which is, as I wrote earlier today, that a DIY designer doesn't subject his loudpeakers to the scrutiny of a disinterested marketplace, something professional designers do as a matter of course. You have repeatedy claimed that your speakers are as good as if not better than commercial designs. However, unlike engineers like Kevin Voecks, Paul Barton, Richard Vandersteen, Jeff Joseph, etc, your ability to pay your mortgage and feed your family doesn't depend on your skill as a speaker designer. Their's does, and it makes a difference.

Look, if you seriously believe your speaker designs are fully competitve with commercial designs, email me your measurements. I'll get back to you with my interpretation of what they mean, assuming they are as comprehensive as what I publish with every Stereophile speaker review. Put up or shut up.

JohnnyR wrote:
Yeah yeah, "full reviews" whatever, Plenty of "little revews" though all the freakin time and all they are , are OPINIONS but you know what? You let your reviewers get away with murdering the intergrity of the audio world with their stupid banter about  "blacker backgrounds,lifted veils and HUGE improvements in the sound" without them having to justify their claim...

You're not making sense. "Andreasmaaan" was discussing reviews in the magazine being accompanied by measurements. I was discussing reviews in the magazine being accompanied by measurements. You seem to be discussing something that exists only in your mind. And unlike Professor Dumbledore's quote, that doesn't mean it's real :-)

JohnnyR wrote:
Oh and Jason Serinus "reviews" as posted about the recent RMAF isn't connected to Stereophile?

That was a show report. No-one other than yourself equates a magazine's coverage of a show with its formal equipment reviews. Are you seriously suggesting that magazines shouldn't publish show reports without including a full set of measurement data for each room they report on? Really? There isn't an audio magazine or website that does that.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
BLAH BLAH BLAH

Go have another pink drink Fearless Leader.

Me let YOU interpet my frequency response? Don't make me LAUGH. You can't even interpept Wilson't ragged ass frequency response laugh

[usual flames deleted by John Atkinson]

John Atkinson's picture
Making my point

JohnnyR wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:

Look, if you seriously believe your speaker designs are fully competitve
with commercial designs, email me your measurements. I'll get back to
you with my interpretation of what they mean, assuming they are as
comprehensive as what I publish with every Stereophile speaker review.

Me let YOU interpet my frequency response? Don't make me LAUGH.

You make my point for me, JohnnyR. It was a serious offer on my part. Professional loudspeaker designers send out their products for review and for the public scrutiny of possible customers. Amateur speaker designers, such as yourself, are often afraid to let anyone else judge their work.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophilee

Regadude's picture
There you go

I have been challenging Johnny tp provide pictures and or the specs of his speakers. He has never met my challenge.

Now the editor of Stereophile offers to look over his data. Johnny again makes up excuses to avoid providing any information on his heavenly speakers.

Big talker...

bernardperu's picture
Contamination

Dear Jon,

What should have been an enlightening discussion of your great lecture has been contaminated by ill-conceived comments. Some individuals have posted comments that have created an environment of nastiness. 

I would seriously urge you to start deleting ill-conceived comments from now on, whether they use flamable language or not. Some people are just turned on by the flames, but others aren't. And those others would much rather focus on the joy of engaging in the music and exchanges related to it.

You do not run a state-owned site but a private one that is likely to become a lot less lucrative (in all senses) if such nasty comments are to become visible.

I am not even pointing out names and we all know who I am talking about.

I am just giving you feedback that comes from an avid reader of Stereophile online. 

Finally, the correction of my use of English was mentioned by one of these individuals. Please allow me to say that English is my second language and it is oxidized. Sorry about that. 

Thanks!

 

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