In the October 1994 Stereophile (Vol.17 No.10, p.39), I discussed my experiences with the DTS audio data-reduction code/decode switch box, which, briefly, is a two-channel box that makes use of the algorithm DTS has proposed for their version of discrete multichannel sound for laserdiscs.
Room acoustics, and their importance, may not be subjects which we ponder daily here at Stereophile, but they are never far from our consciousness. Two recent events served to spotlight them yet again: the setting-up of our first-ever panel listening test of moderately priced loudspeakers (Vol.14 No.7), and a letter from a reader requesting advice on room problems. Both reminded us---if a reminder was needed---that although the perfect room does not exist, there are things that can be done to make the most of even an admittedly difficult situation. That reader's letter, in particular, brought home the fact that we cannot really discuss this subject too often. It's easy to forget that comments made here months (or years) ago are beyond the experience of newer readers. A new audiophile's most frequent mistake is to overlook the significance of his or her listening room, while the experienced listener will too often take the room for granted.
Because I'm suspicious of just twiddling knobs to make the sound "nice," I didn't rely solely on my ears when I used the Z-Systems rdp-1 that I review elsewhere in this issue for speaker and room contouring. Instead, I used the ETF speaker/room-analysis software from Acoustisoft to help me manipulate the equalizer properly. This program can measure the first-arrival, on-axis speaker response, as well as the room response with its early and late reflections and its resonances.
In 1977, just as I was about to take my first faltering steps in hi-fi journalism, the UK's Hi-Fi News ran two articles, translated from French originals by Jean Hiraga, that seemed to me and many others to turn the audio world we knew upside down. The second of them, "Can We Hear Connecting Wires?" was published in the August issue and is the better remembered because it introduced many English-speaking audiophiles to the contention that cables can sound different. The earlier article, published in the March issue, was less earthshaking but still an eyebrow-raiser of considerable force. Simply titled "Amplifier Musicality," it was a response to the word musicality being increasingly used in subjectivist circles to describe the perceived performance of amplifiers and other audio components. It was implicit that musicality was a quality not captured by conventional measurement procedures—a lack of correlation that Hiraga's article sought to address.
Because loudspeakers interact with the acoustics of the room in which they are used, optimizing their positions within that room pays major dividends. Inexpensive speakers, optimally set up, may well outperform more expensive models just plonked down willy-nilly.
Why, in loudspeaker reviews, is impedance measured (assuming that the magazine in question bothers to measure anything)? Generally, for one principal reason only: to establish whether the speaker presents an "easy" or a "difficult" load to its partnering amplifier. In the design context, much more information can be extracted from a graph of speaker impedance vs frequency—such as details of the bass alignment, and indications of internal or structural resonances that can be difficult to identify by acoustical measurements. But for a magazine audience, the principal interest in a loudspeaker's load impedance lies in gaining some indication of its compatibility with a given amplifier.
I recently scoured my shelves and came up with the following list of must-read books for stereophiles, all of which are in print and should be available from specialist bookshops or from the suppliers mentioned in the text. Books marked with an asterisk (*), though too technical for the general reader, will be found rewarding by those who have a good grasp of mathematics and who want to delve deep. Reading the books in the first "general" section of the list will enable readers to understand just about everything that appears in Stereophile, but all the books listed contain between their covers untold treasures.
As Hans Christian Oersted, the Danish physicist and founder of electrodynamics, discovered in 1819, an electric current passed through a wire generates a magnetic field. Place that wire close to a permanent magnet and the interaction of the two fields will generate a force. That, in two sentences, summarizes the operating principle of the motor that energizes every moving-coil drive-unit in millions of loudspeakers worldwide. It sounds simple, but—like everything in audio—it isn't.
When sociologists tell us America is a highly mobile society, they don't just mean we do lot of driving. What they mean is, we do a lot of moving. The good old three-generation family homestead, immortalized in nostalgia TV and literature, is a thing of the past. According to census information, almost 20% of America's population changes its address every year. Of course, it's usually a different 20% every year, but pulling up roots and moving---to a bigger house, a better neighborhood or a nicer city, not to mention a place where your employer decides to transfer you---is almost as commonplace across the US of A as marriage, divorce, and unbridled greed.
Until recently, all problems in digital audio systems were blamed on either the analog/digital converters (ADCs) used in mastering or the digital/analog converters (DACs) needed for playback (footnote 1). As the performance of both ADCs and DACs improved, however, a previously unrecognized mechanism for distortion was unmasked: jitter. As we shall see, jitter—or, more correctly, word-clock jitter—can be a significant limitation in the technical and sonic performance of digital audio systems (footnote 2).
Jitter is not what digital sound quality induces in the listener; rather it is the instability in the clock signal that controls exactly when the analog waveform is sampled in the original A/D conversion, or when the digital word input into a DAC results in an analog voltage being produced at the chip's output. "So what?" is the response of digital advocates, "As long as a digital one is recognized as a one and a digital zero as a zero, then how can there be any difference in sound?" goes their argument, normally culminating in a fervently expressed "Bits is bits!"
Editor's Introduction: In 2013, lossy compression is everywherewithout lossy codecs like MP3, Dolby Digital, DTS, A2DP, AAC, apt-X, and Ogg Vorbis, there would be no Web audio services like Spotify or Pandora, no multichannel soundtracks on DVD, no Bluetooth audio, no DAB and HDradio, no Sirius/XM, and no iTunes, to quote the commercial successes and no Napster, MiniDisc, or DCC, to quote the failures. Despite their potential for damage to the music, the convenience and sometimes drastic reduction in audio file size have made lossy codecs ubiquitous in the 21st century. Stereophile covered the development of lossy compression; following is an article from more than two decades ago warning of the sonic dangers.Editor
This series of articles was initially written (in slightly different form), as a paper presented at the 103rd Audio Engineering Society Convention, New York, September 1997. The preprint, "Loudspeakers: What Measurements Can Tell Us—And What They Can't Tell Us!," AES Preprint 4608, is available from the AES, 60 East 42nd Street, Room 2520, New York, NY 10165-0075. The AES internet site, offers a secure transaction page for credit-card orders.
This series of articles is based on a paper presented at the 103rd Audio Engineering Society Convention, New York, September 1997. The preprint, "Loudspeakers: What Measurements Can Tell Us—And What They Can't Tell Us!," AES Preprint 4608, is available from the AES, 60 East 42nd Street, Room 2520, New York, NY 10165-0075. The AES internet site, www.aes.org, offers a secure transaction page for credit-card orders.