If someone came to you and gave you the choice between a totally tunable system able to make any sound you wanted or the best of the best component mix, which would you choose?This hobby has two worlds that sometimes are housed in the same home and yet could not be more different from each other.
What makes the stock world different from the tweak world? First thing is the stock world implements design into the system that is something other than sound. The question is do these things hurt the sound?
We don't talk a lot about the kit, but this was the beginning of high end and when you think about our garrage hobby it's still the case with maybe a prettier face on it. Over the years we have made the audiophile hobby into a beautiful piece of visual art, but as this hobby progresses there is one problem that has never been completely addressed. In other hobbies and with other types of products we usually don't have a bunch of parts and pieces that need to be put together to work. The car comes prepackaged, so does the boat, but as you get more involved in any hobby you find that you have to play a part in the outcome of performance. In high end audio your also dealing with something that is quite unusual the "audio signal", "electromagnetics" and "soundwaves". Your sound is totally dependant on your environment and the electricity that flows from a power plant. When you first got turned on to this hobby it was about walking into a room somewhere, a store or friends, and the room was filled with music. The more you got into it the more you started to identify with something we call the soundstage. You sit in a room and it feels like the performers are playing around you, or you are watching them in your minds stage. You joined a hobby that is making sound visual. The better the stage the more you see the engineered recording come to life. There's really nothing like it.
I was much like anyone else pulled into it. So much so that I became an artist, engineer, store owner and high end audio designer. Getting in the new product every month was one of the funnest times of my life. That was until the sound hit the wall. My personal wall started when running sound for the Atlanta Symphony and came home to a soundstage that was tiny compared to the real deal, or recording in Miami and going to my store or sitting in the control room and hearing something that sounded like a boxed in version of the recording instead of what was being done at the studio. Something is happening between the live room and the playback that is keeping the "whole picture", "the absolute sound" from coming through. This became my quest for life and "the soundstage" became everything. I went to every show and visited as many experts as I could, had products made for me and owned almost every stock product on the planet, at least enough to tell me there was a problem. The problem was I realized that this hobby was trying to package something as if it was to be unpacked, plugged in, then played giving the whole picture of the recording. I spent every dime I had going down this road, and read every word. Still the hobby never grew into "real". It got really expensive and really pretty, but not real. I wanted to hear a soundstage like I heard when I walked into a room full of music. Everytime I visited a reviewers or hobbiest home I kept thinking why is this so small, and why are these guys talking about this as if it were "the real thing"? I kept hearing this same basic audiophile box everywhere I went, and heard some of the greatest talk and read some of the greatest writting, but it wasn't until I started to break out of the stock shell before I heard what I was hunting for. After I heard it, I began working on a path, a method, to make this a reality, something that was repeatable, and something that was predictable. My journey in no time started to take me out of the mainstream mainly because of two issues. Stock was not going to get there, and every environment was completely unique and needed to be treated as an individually unique setup. How unique is the scary part, and how many are really going to do what it takes to hear "the absolute sound" is a marketing question that may never get answered.
My starting place is here though. If you are listening to your system with two speakers in the room and not hearing the entire room, and outside the room fill up with front to back, side to side, and a far over head soundstage, you are not hearing the whole recording. Fact is there are people who say that the average audiophile is maybe hearing 10% of the music content. I would call this outrageous if I hadn't hear this for myself and been experiencing it for 20 some years now. Is this a line? Ask the people who are also listening to it. Many who when hearing it for the first time had to wonder what was wrong. Why is this so different from the sound and soundstage that is being pushed by the hobbies leaders? My answer is and always has been the same. Because the hobby's leaders are listening to stock and have no reference other than what they been exposed to.
Early on in the beginning of RoomTune I enjoyed hanging out with some of the reviewers and exploring the beginning of an expanding soundstage. The memory of Tom Miiller making his famous breakfast sandwich as we got ready for a day of listening still puts a smile on my face :) . We were right there at the beginning of a "revolution". A time of breaking out of the box, making the room into a component. I can remember thinking "well they got it now" "time to move to the next step". The next step setting the equipment free, but I made a mistake. I thought that by tuning stock equipment I would be able to tune the vibrations allowing the signal to pass through giving more of the signal. It did indeed work with many components and speakers but I didn't count on one thing. If the speaker or component was over built it was going to close in the sound even further, instead of opening up the harmonics it instead would squeeze them. Rats! Still indroducing clamping and tuning was pretty successful except that the weirdest thing happened in this hobby of reproducing music. For some really odd reason the industry decided to move away from the way musical instruments were built and moved toward the way army tanks were. The theory was born that if something vibrates it will distort. Even though this completely flies in the face of music creation from a scientific and practical view, the boat anchor age was born. You would have thought that as with all other industries becoming more efficient by going less mass and instruments themselves being designed to vibrate on purpose not to distort, that high end audio would have followed this natural progression, but the industry took a completely "away from music and science" approach. When I sat at TuneVilla and reviewed these products for myself I was in shock. The soundstage with 80% of high end audio shrunk a good 25%. What was worst was that it seemed like no one was paying attention. Bigger was better, heavier, more mass, much higher price tag, killing the rooms sound, all the things you would have thought should be outlawed for music sake became the norm. Shaking my head I had to step away and take a look at what was happening. What I found changed the way I viewed the hobby ever since.
It's painful when you see something happen that you know is going to have to come all the way back and head the opposite direction to advance, but these types of things I guess have to take place in order for people to explore what works and what doesn't. There's also the whole ego thing to deal with and that may be the toughest hurdle to jump. Saying that though is not so tough for me cause I've listened to both sides very closely now for many years and can see that if not now, then later the direction change will happen. How the writters and designers deal with this is up to them, but as components and speakers become more like musical instruments you will see some huge open doors for the industry.
High end audio has always needed to be more of a participant sport than just plug and play and no matter how many dollars you throw at a guitar or piano or audiophile system your going to have to tune it before music comes out. You can rant and rave all you want but if you want more than basic sound that is playing in the typical high end audiophile box you are going to have to break a few eggs and get cooking.