Editor's Note: The matter of whether—and if so, how—speaker cables and interconnects can affect the sound of an audio system has vexed the audiophile community since Jean Hiraga, Robert Fulton, and others first made us aware of the subject in the mid-1970s. Most of the arguments since then have involved a great deal of heat but not much light. Back in August 1985, Professor Malcolm Omar Hawksford Ph.D (of the UK's University of Essex and a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society) wrote an article for the British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review, of which I was then Editor, in which he examined AC signal transmission from first principles. Among his conclusions was the indication that there is an optimal conductor diameter for audio-signal transmission, something that I imagined might lead to something of a conciliation between the two sides in the debate. Or at least when a skeptic proclaimed that "The Laws of Physics" don't allow for cables to affect audio performance, it could be gently pointed out to him or her that "The Laws of Physics" predict exactly the opposite.
The fundamental object of the invention is to provide...the listener a realistic impression that the intelligence is being communicated to him over two acoustic paths in the same manner as he experiences in listening to everyday acoustic intercourse....—Blumlein, et al, British Patent #394,325, issued June 14, 1933
The Compact Disc clearly hasn't read the script. At a time when, in the autumn of its commercial life, the format is supposed to be stepping aside to allow younger blood to succeed it, CD has instead in recent years enjoyed something of a revival in audiophile opinion. While SACD and DVD-Audio, rather strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage, are doing more plain fretting than anything, the best in CD sound quality has improved sufficiently for some to question whether we need the new media at all.
Editor's Note: This article is now only available as an Audio Engineering Society preprint, under the title "The Role of Critical Listening in Evaluating Audio Equipment Quality," preprint number 3176. The price is $4.00 for AES members, and $5.00 for non-members; it can be ordered (currently on paper only, not as a downloadable pdf) by entering the number in the appropriate field on the preprint search page at the AES website.
Tweaks have acquired a bad reputation in certain sectors of the audio world, probably with some justification. Warming the cartridge to exactly the right temperature, suspending cables from the ceiling (but not with cotton string; it sounds grainy and dry), stroking CD cases with a "magic" brush, drinking "polarized" (or is it de-polarized?) water before a listening session---gimme a break!
The Question of Bass: J. Gordon Holt A few issues back, in Vol.9 No.3, I used "As We See It" to clarify what Stereophile writers have in mind when they use the term "transparency" in equipment reports. This time, I'll do the same thing for the performance parameters of bass reproduction.
There was a time, as recently as 40 years ago, when frequencies below 100Hz were considered extreme lows, and reproduction below 50Hz was about as common as the unicorn. From our present technological perch, it's too easy to smirk condescendingly at such primitive conditions. But just so you're able to sympathize with the plight of these disadvantaged audiophiles, I should tell you that there were two perfectly good reasons for this parlous state of affairs. First of all, program material at that time was devoid of deep bass; not because it was removed during disc mastering but simply because there wasn't any to begin with. The professional tape recorders of the day featured a frequency response of 5015kHz, ±2dBjust about on a par with the frequency performance capability of a cheap 1988 cassette tape deck.
One of the great imponderables in hi-fi is how much the vibrations of a dynamic loudspeaker's cabinet walls contribute to its overall sound quality. Studies by William Stevens in the mid-1970s showed that, with some speakers, the acoustic output of the enclosure could be almost as much as that from the drive-units. Since then, responsible speaker designers have worked hard either to damp cabinet vibrations or to shift them to higher frequencies where their effect on the music will be less deleterious.
What is the angular separation of your loudspeakers as viewed from your favorite chair? Whatever your answer, it's wrong. Of course I don't mean that it's a factually incorrect answer, just that any single value of subtended angle cannot be ideal for all recordings.
Although I still haven't been able to listen to the Cary Audio Design 805 single-ended tube monoblocks that Stereophile praised so highly a year ago (Vol.17 No.1, p.104), I've recently auditioned many other tubed single-ended designs. Undeniably, a good SE design has a distinctive quality of harmony and atmosphere in the midrange that reaches well beyond the average attainment of its solid-state brethren.
Pick an expletive—one you would normally use to express deep intellectual frustration—but don't vocalize it. Hold it in reserve for a few minutes, letting it simmer to concentrate its intensity. I'll tell you when to let rip.
If you missed Part 1 of this article (Stereophile, January 2005), or it has faded in your memory, here's a résumé. (Readers who recall Part 1 with crystalline clarity, please skip to paragraph four.) The accurate measuring of loudspeakers requires that the measurements be taken in a reflection-free environment. Traditionally, this has meant that the speaker be placed atop a tall pole outdoors or in an anechoic chamber. Both of these options are hedged around with unwelcome implications of cost and practicality. To overcome these and allow quasi-anechoic measurements to be performed in normal, reverberant rooms, time-windowed measurement methods were developed that allow the user to analyze only that portion of the speaker's impulse response that arrives at the microphone ahead of the first room reflection. MLSSA from DRA Labs is the best-known measurement system to work on this principle, and both John Atkinson and I use it in the course of preparing our loudspeaker reviews.