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Buddha
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Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Aloha,

I got a topic that's been buzzin' round in my head longer than DUP's hatred of Chord amps - harmonics, overtones, and sound reproduction.

The set up:

When you create a sound, what gets propagated and what we hear is more than just the sound that the instrument made.

We are taught that a sound at a given frequency creates more sounds at frequencies that are multiples of the frequency of the first sound, and overtones get created that may actually differ from instrument to instrument.

So, a 100Hz tone would generate "fundamental" harmonics at 200, 400, 800, 1600, and so-on Hz.

The order for harmonics is that the actual tone is the first harmonic, and the second harmonic becomes the first overtone.

So, what makes it to the microphone is more than what you'd think was the original tone, and is one reason people think that sound reproduction above 20,000Hz may be important...

Overtones are kind of like harmonics that do not occur at such evenly distributed frequencies.

To quote Wikipedia: "Not all overtones are necessarily harmonics, or exact multiples of the fundamental frequency. Some musical instruments produce overtones that are sharper or flatter than harmonics. The sharpness or flatness of their overtones is one of the elements that contributes to their sound; this also has the effect of making their waveforms not perfectly periodic."

OK, now comes the hi-fi conundrum for me:

When we take what had been the original sound heard by the microphone during the recording and try to recreate that event on our home systems, we start creating harmonics of harmonics and harmonics of overtones that were never intended to be part of the sound.

Your speaker reproduces the original signal, but is also responsible for creating extra harmonics of the original harmonics and overtones that never existed!

(Say you have a flute note that created an original note a 400Hz. You'd have harmonics at 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12,800Hz; and overtones at odd intervals depending on the note or how hard the note was blown. Hypothetically, say 430Hz for just one of the overtones.

OK, now you want your speakers to create this melange of sounds, but when your speaker creates those tones, you create more harmonics and overtones!

So, that hypothetical 430Hx overtone now creates harmonics at the typical ratio of tone to harmonics, and those sounds were NEVER part of the original sound.)

Your speaker doesn't know that they were just harmonics, and now you get harmonics of harmonics!

No matter how good your system is, all it will ever do is create falsely exaggerated harmonic textures and add harmonics of overtones that are totally artifactual.

In theory, there is no way to ever faithfully recreate the sound of the original performance.

It seems to me that we must be listening to way too many harmonics.

What a drag!

How the heck can reproduced sound ever sound right when it will never be able to actually reproduce just the sounds that the microphone heard?

_____________________

On a related note, does electronic gear create harmonics of the frequencies of the sounds it passes? I've heard answers both ways.

Like, does a preamp create harmonics of the tones that go through it?

You'd think after a few trips through the chain, all we would get is a big harmonic smear.

Is it happy hour yet?

CECE
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

That's why....Great electronics, have slew rates of 800V/uS, freq responses out past 500,000Hz down to 0. Hmmmm what is teh slew rate for a 475,000 CHORD? Of coruse I've heard from soem, anything past whatever slew rate is not necessary. Well along with stupendous slew rates my amps/pre amps, Slew like cray, they sound open ALIVE, REAL....it's part of the good WATTS, needed to move GOOD air from LEGACY FOCUS/WHISPER. Bill Dudleston talks about it, he is right on the money, move more air, less distortion. With AVA electronics, smooth, FAST, powerful. I don't need no stinkin' under performing over[priced CHORD, nor a $90,000 TT. What's coming next month in TT world, is Mickey gonna find the latest BEST, at $130,000 without arm, that's another $25K. does a rotary phone sound better than a touch tone?

Monty
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I know what you are doing, Buddha. I'm NOT buying a pair of headphones and that is final!

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Aloha, Buddha,
I think your post, which is very interesting, points up the importance of the "art" element in the art and science of designing all equipment, especially speakers. It is no accident, to me, that all the great equipment designers frequently attend live acoustic events and bring those memories back to the garage. They do more listening and less measuring and plotting. Anyone could design a perfect speaker, in terms of measured performance, and it would most likely sound like crap, partly from the reasons you mention and partly from room interface problems. Great designers factor all this in when they LISTEN. Also, this abstract, theoretical analysis of harmonics doesn't include the phenomenon of masking. Many of these spuriae cancel each other out, which partially explains why second-harmonic generating tube amps, which "graph" terribly with test tones, sound so good creating real music. We end up hearing surprisingly true timbres, not some harmonic mishmash, because the designers have made so many adjustments by "ear" and not by the numbers. William Blake, my favorite mad poet, said, "In a year of Dearth, bring out Number, Weight, and Measure," in his critique of the abstract science of Bacon, Newton, and Locke. W.B. Yeats, another of my favorites, critiques his own overly rational "side," saying "...he seeks in book or manuscript what he shall never find." Overly "scientific" types who design the equipment for playing back the art we all love, music, tend to stop with the measurements, and the result is never as good as those who finish their products by ear. That's why Mr. DUP is having so much trouble with his slew rates, heat sinks, and power supplies -- they are just numbers (hell, Fords probably measure better than Ferraris, too). It's amazing that so much equipment DOES sound so close to "live," isn't it? I'll have that drink now, too (but I just double-bogied the 18th hole at Griffith Park, shooting 74 instead of par, so I need booze AND some tunes!). Cheers and happy listening, Clifton.

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Yo, Monty,
I got a couple pair I'll sell you cheap. If you put honey in the ear cups they make good ant and roach traps. Cheers, Clifton

Buddha
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

74!

My best round was 63. I didn't do that well on the back nine, though.

In any given week of listening, I vacillate between critical evaluation and utter appreciative amazement that this stuff can do any of the stuff it does.

Same with chicks.

_____________________________
_____________________________

I hadn't thought about the cancelling out part.

I guess hi fi is like a bumble bee, according to the laws of physics it shouldn't work at all.

Monty
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I guess it is like reversing polarity on one of your speakers and then facing them toward each other, only a lot more subtle.

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Yo, Buddha -- Chicks? Read "She, Being just Brand New" by E.E. Cummings. That's the best I can do. I am nearer the end of life's great road than (I assume) you are, and I know now exactly what I knew about women when I first turned onto the freeway. Nothing. At least the knobs on a stereo approximate their designed function, unlike (ahem) those on other units I have test driven. Trial and error hasn't worked so far, but I'm damned if I'm gonna quit now. I loved the bumblebee figure, when applied to our pursuit -- nothing should work, but somehow it does, and it keeps getting better. Amazing. I forgot to mention an important aspect of the "harmonics-generating-harmonics" conundrum: the mentality we bring to the experience. When we are receptive, everything sounds better. When irritable, for any reason, nothing sounds tolerable. Apparently, one of the most important conundrum-resolving devices out there is the space between out ears. Golf? If Tiger can only hit it straight 60% of the time, what chance do I have? I guess that about covers it. Urp. Happy tunes, Clifton.

Jeff Wong
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Buddha - I've often thought about this myself and also wonder how many harmonics/cancellations we've missed out on with the CD brick wall cut off. I suspect there are subtle things that ultrasonics may do to the body that have a bearing on hearing.

I grow weary of DUP's nearly incoherent, typo-ridden, monomaniacal posts, but am grateful for Clifton's cogent replies that help balance things out.

Since you guys are into golf, you might find this book I illustrated of some interest which just came out this month:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0740757067/sr=8-1/qid=1142991962/ref=sr_1_1/103-6009980-0372664?%5Fencoding=UTF8

ohfourohnine
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I second your assessment of DUP vs. Clifton. Regarding the book of golf humor, I'd laugh, but I'm only a 6. Guys who double bogey the last to finish 2 over probably take their game a little more seriously.

Can't resist asking the ultimate collector. Did you buy one or more copies of the new Madonna two record set on shocking pink vinyl?

Buddha
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I got a copy on the way...if we ever meet, you gotta autograph it!

I played golf about ten times. Long enough to establish "Buddha par."

For a par four hole, "Buddha par" is on the green in four, and in the hole in four more.

I was the happiest guy on the course.

What they really ought to do is raise par on every hole by one stroke.

_____________________________

Now, disc golf, that's my passion!

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Jeff! You're famous! A published caracaturist! I'm gonna buy the book and send it to you for an autograph. My average score is on the cusp of 80: on a good day, I shoot 75-78, and on a bad day I curse my way to 85+. About once every 20 or so rounds, I get a chance to shoot par. You know, the ball hits a rake in the bunker and caroms to within 4 feet, and you make birdie instead of the bogie you deserved. About 8 years ago, I started going to the range 3 times a week and hitting a small bucket with my right hand in my pocket (I'm a right handed player, so my left side is the "front," or target, side). About two months later, I was suddenly 40 yards longer off the tee and 8-10 shots lower per round. Now, I struggle to shoot in the mid-70's, hoping for another 5 strokes to scratch. It is rare for me to actually have a chance to par #18 and shoot a par 72 -- I have actually done it about a dozen times over the last 3 years. I can't remember what this has to do with audio, but, for Buddha, I can vaguely recall what it has to do with chicks. Something about holes and traps. Help me out, Buddha, it has been awhile!! Anyway, there is a great piece about "euphonic distortion" in the April mag, but the guy who wrote it had to go so far away from reality to reach his conclusions that I nodded off. Something about needing to use synthesized pseudo-music to get a control for his test. Might as well use a rubber lady to get a control for...now, THAT would get me censored. Cheers and happy listening. Clifton

Jeff Wong
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I'll be happy to sign it for both of you. It'll be interesting to see if you find you match any of the various types of golfers depicted in the book. I've only golfed on a real course once, and left lots of divots. I loved driving the cart. I've putted very well on an artificial indoor practice green.

In Allen Wright's book, The SuperCables Cookbook, there's a great interview with Robert Fulton where they talk about the need for special cables. They tell a story about a baboon (they can hear up to 75kHz) and testing a new driver. The new driver was flat to 80kHz at 115dB. At first, the baboon would get hit with bursts up to 75kHz and get the message. Then one day, he was being hit with a complex 10kHz complex wave and began to get sick. The baboon turned his head back and forth and eventually got sick and stopped responding. They put an ECG on his brain and saw he was receiving the info. Then the wire was tested - 55 degrees phase shift at 40kHz and 95 at 80kHz. The baboon was only hearing a little bit here and some there, sort of like a doppler effect. It turned out to be related to phase shifts due to the cable that was being used and how harmonics beat together. The wire was redone to within 1 degree 90kHz (the old cable, lamp cord, was almost 100 degrees shifted at 150kHz, nearly 280 degrees) and the baboon no longer got sick.

Fulton went on, using a bass clarinet playing a single note as an example. Measured on a fast storage oscilloscope, there were repeatable harmonics at 18kHz and 24kHz, but the initial transient was at 48kHz! You can't hear 48kHz, but, you can probably hear the 6kHz produced when the 18kHz and 24kHz beat together.

Cheapskate - I haven't seen the Madonna coloured vinyl LP set. I'm not a diehard fan, though I have to admit to having purchased some of her limited edition CDs for the interesting packaging. I'll take a peek next time I'm at a shop, but there are other records higher on my list of wants. I did recently score an Elvis Costello holy grail type LP recently though.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I think one of the reasons JA's recordings are so great is that he captures as much as he can. It is more than just harmonic content I believe.

I remember the first CD players and jitter was not really a gleam in anyone's eye, but linearity was a big deal as we started to see abnormalities in the playback level in some players at the -70db level...hardly accurate playback. The issue would also rear it ugly head during the earliest digital recordings as recorded low level linearity would be a problem as well.

When you think of the low level these harmonics are at the linearity has to play some part...at least to me. Also, recording wise we are also dealing with microphones picking up (or trying) to pick up the reflected energy that also must have some harmonics of their own at reduced level. This is "the room" we hear on playback. This is where great omni's come into play. The figure 8 mics JA's has are to die for.

One thing for sure his CDs are more afforcable then his mics. I can't wait to hear is first DSD release.

The inherent noise level of the mic is critical as well. Most great mics have around -10db of self noise, but all too many approach -15db or more. When JA records from further away and needs more gain that noise floor is raised as well.

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Buddha, that ain't golf -- that's foreplay! Heh,heh. No wonder the women love you...it takes you forever to score! I'm gonna order Jeff's book today. Can't wait to see what I look like. I HAVE lost a few overtones (2nd harmonics, I believe) from my hair. I hope Jeff didn't leave out us bald-headed old coots. Cheers, Clifton

Buddha
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Wow, Jeff, that was a cool look into cable!

Why is it again that people claim cables can't behave differently?

I'm going to go look for that book.

Cable seems like a great place for some DIY fiddling.

Do any reviewers measure things like phase shift in cable reviews?

Off the top off my head, I can't even recall impedance, inductance, or any measurements.

Kal Rubinson
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Jeff related someone saying: "They put an ECG on his brain and saw he was receiving the info." I doubt that. First, it is likely an EEG. Second, the interpretation of cortical evoked potentials requires statistical correlation which is far from trivial. Even today, not trivial.

Kal

Jeff Wong
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Kal - I'm sure you would know more about this than most - ECG is mentioned in the cable book, perhaps erroneously, although I recall that the author says something about transcribing the interview... so, maybe Fulton misspoke?

Buddha - it's a neat little spiralbound book with cable recipes of varying complexity:

http://www.vacuumstate.com/cables.htm

Here are a couple of reviews:

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/cablecookbook.htm

http://www.tnt-audio.com/books/cable_cookbook_e.html

I think I bought mine (along with the 2nd edition of The Tube Preamp CookBook) back in 1997 and don't regret the purchases.

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Jim, I agree with you about the high quality of JA's recordings -- with only one exception: I hated the collection of Beethoven Sonatas. The acoustics of the room were probably at fault, though. The recording, to my ears, lacked space to the sides (width of soundstage) and sounded like the piano was coming from the bottom of a deep well. Kind of "dead" sounding. Everything was clear and grainless, as are his other recordings, and timbres seemed right, but the space seemed wrong to me. Also, I thought Silverman's playing (even though all the notes were "right," as you would expect from a pianist of his caliber) was uninspired and cautious, even bland. This latter, of course, has nothing to do with JA's recording techniques. With Beethoven, you have to let 'er rip. I'm used to Ashkenazy, Richter, and Brendel, and Silverman just couldn't get my pulse going. I loved "Rendezvous," as perfectly executed a CD as you're going to find, and I can't wait to get the Michelson performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, since I already have the older performance he included with some of the Musical Fidelity gear. I believe JA's more recent recording is DSD, on SACD. Do you have it? I don't know if it is a remastering of the older one or a new performance. Cheers, Clifton

gkc
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

Jeff, your post about the baboon is very interesting. I don't know about torturing the poor thing with test tones, though...I suppose Madonna recordings might have done even more damage, though. Maybe JA could hire two of them to do some double-blind testing. My experience with cable-switching is limited. I started with Tara Labs, back in the mid-'90's, when I first ventured away from zip-cord and the stock interconnect that always came in the amplifier or CD player box. I couldn't hear much difference, except the sound was more delicate and refined in the soft passages of music. I tried the Audio Quest Lapis "x3" and noticed some timbral changes toward neutrality -- a more natural bass -- and a subjective increase in dramatic contrasts (louder fortes and softer pianos), which I assume has something to do with lower noise. I bought the AQ "Sterling" speaker cables and simply heard MORE sound, more drama. From the perspective of a layman music lover, one who knows nothing about the science of cables, it seems to me now that cable differences are simply a matter of more or less: more sound getting through the "good" cables, a more restricted feeling from the mediocre or poor designs. When I see cable reviews that say "cable X is bright and shouldn't be used with bright systems," while "cable Y is mellow," I am quite skeptical -- all I hear is "more" or "less" music. Period. I recently bought some hideously expensive ($900 per half-meter) Synergistic interconnects, and they sound no different from my old AQ Lapis x3's. I have heard systems with $15,000 worth of Nordost and felt those cables sounded no different from Kimbers at 1/10 the cost. Same thing with AC chords: more music = good. Period. Baboons or no, I think a lot of this is snake oil. But there are SOME differences in terms of music "drama" that I am able to identify. Cheers, Clifton.

Monty
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I think the single most obvious strength of the Lapis cable is its superior imaging. The cable design, as opposed to the material, would account for this excellent characteristic, I suspect.

The Tara cables seem to have a grip on timbral accuracy over frequency extension. I haven't tried the Decade yet, but it is on my short list of eventual aquisitions.

The lessons I've learned with cable experimentation have probably taught me more about gear than listening to the gear itself.

Have you ever seen the commercial on television where the couple walks into an architectural firm and slaps a Kohler faucet on the guys desk and says, "We want you to design a house around this." Well, that's me. At some point, I'm going to walk into a Hi-Fi joint with interconnects and speaker cable in hand and say, "I want the gear that will make this stuff sound right."

Naturally, the better cables simply get out of the way and let your hear the music. Or, unfortunately, they let you hear things about your gear that you would rather be oblivious to. In some cases, it's better to cable down rather than up.

commsysman
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

I have built and tested interconnect cables from silver, teflon, coaxial cables, shielded dual-conductor, etc, etc. and tested them in the lab with actual audio equipment as a load and with various plausible resitances, capactances, and inductances involved as a load, for over 20 years, using highly sophisticated network analyzers.
I can tell you that phase shift is absolutely not an issue at audio frequencies with realistic loads if you are talking about unbalanced interconnects (speakers are a whole different high-current can of worms).
Also, silver and "high-purity copper" are absolute "snake oil" for interconnects...it is ridiculous to make claims for improved sonic performance due to them. Beware of anyone who makes these claims; they are either duped or intent on duping you (I can hear the howls of the religious fanatics who paid $900 for their cables now...).
Also, with the exception of some very extreme load conditions and very long unbalanced cables (3 meters plus), realistic capacitances, resistances, and inductances are not an issue either (phono cartridge loads excepted).
The sole issue I have been able to correlate with audible cable differences is the grounding scheme employed in the circuit design of the equipment connected and the physical and electrical shielding schemes used in the cables, and how that interacts with the electrical noise environment of the equipment.
All sort of inaudible (and hard to measure in the real world because most test equipment is an intrusive load) nasties can exist in the conductors of the typical (unbalanced) interconnect, and they can and will MASK THE SIGNAL AND CORRUPT IT without being audible themselves, much in the way that too much inaudible 100khz tape bias can make a tape recording distorted for no obvious reason, or ultrasonic oscillations between amplifier and speaker can make a power amplifier distort and mysteriously overheat.
This masking of the signal due to ultrasonic and RF effects is the only thing that causes sonic differences to be observed in cables, in my opinion. I have never isolated any other effect or parameter that is significant in my research, except for the dielectric effect of seriously corroded cheap RCA connectors.
There has been more pseudo-science blithered about this subject than I can believe. I think most of it is simply from manufacturers trying to justify ridiculous prices for their cables, and who knows if they really believe their garbage...but it IS garbage nonetheless.
But I can tell you for sure that silver, high-purity copper, capacitance, inductance, and resistance, are NOT NOT NOT a significant part of any issue when the sonic characteristics of cables are different from each other in combinations with certain equipment. The possible values of these parameters in the real world do not create issues at audible frequencies.It is absolutely not a problem to prove that these do NOT make any difference in the sonic quality of interconnects; I have done it repeatedly in laboratory and listening tests, which agree with each other.

The issues raised by the grounding schemes of the equipment are numerous and pretty technical, but suffice it to say that they are problematical when an unbalanced interconnect is used, because there can be no absolute ground on a shield that is required to carry a signal also. Put an absolute ground on both ends of a shield, and it cannot carry the return signal, so there is no circuit for the signal (unless you have two conductors separate from the shield itself).
That is exactly why unbalanced interconnects are so problematical, and balanced interconnects have no problems whatsoever.

commsysman
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Re: Harmonics, Overtones, and Hi-Fi Gear...

There is so much incomplete description of technique and vagueness about procedures in your desciption of the so-called baboon experiment that it is impossible to know whether any valid results were obtained. You get an "F" for descriptive accuracy and scientific validity (or is it the "scientists" ? who do?).

Hmmm..."the wire was tested"??? Now was that the ECG wire... (ECG is ELECTROCARDIOGRAM, by the way...??), the speaker wire, or some interconnect in the chain of equipment(a 55 degree phase shift in the interconnects is hardly possible, given the high impedances normally involved in interconnecting the equipment setup, which you totally fail to describe in any case)...it might be nice to have some idea which "wire" you are talking about...just for starters...along with a dozen or so other major facts that are misssing here???

And exactly how WAS this nebulous "wire" tested?

And in what WAY was the "10khz wave" complex..??..there are only a few thousand possiblities. This is rather a significant factual matter that you utterly fail to define or describe in any way.

The whole description you give is a muddle of conflicting and incomplete statements, with an improbable outcome that would require some scientific proof, rather than the vague nonsense you are incompletely describing. This sounds like either an urban fable or self-serving horse-patooties to me.

It's pretty obvious you have never prepared a scientific report or become familiar with scientific procedures, or you would not be making all of these vague, unsupported statements followed by a dubious conclusion that we should somehow presumably accept as valid...whew.

Sounds like it belongs on the front page of the "National Enquirer" though...maybe you should talk to them.

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