Looked at from one viewpoint, DVD-Audio and SACD appear to be exercises in sheer profligacy. In the case of DVD-A, why provide a maximum bandwidth almost five times what is conventionally taken to be the audible frequency range, and couple it to a dynamic-range capability far in excess of that achievable by the microphones used to record the sound? In the case of SACD, why provide a potential bandwidth in excess of 1.4MHz, only to fill more than 95% of it with quantization noise?
In the world of digital audio, jitter has been a focus of audiophile attention for well over a decade. It is blamed for many of the sonic ills of which CD and other digital media have been accused. But here's a puzzle: The major source of frequency intermodulation distortion in audio systems—the loudspeaker—has largely escaped such withering inquiry. Why?
Much as I like the prospect of being able to grunt a heartfelt Je ne regrette rien immediately before expiring, I know there will be too many what-ifs and wish-I-hadn'ts to make that even remotely possible. But here is one missed opportunity that won't flash before me, because John Atkinson has granted me a second chance.
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.
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.
When the brief flowering of quadraphonics began in the early 1970s, I was still at school. As a nascent but impecunious audiophile, I therefore had a ringside seat at the audio industry's first attempt to go multichannel—and, even for the disinterested onlooker, it wasn't a pretty spectacle.
The audio diaspora is split on the subject of bass. Some audiophiles—surely the majority—consider the reproduction of low frequencies purely in terms of the weight and drama it adds to sounds with significant bass content. Others—the generalists—take a much wider view of the significance of extended bass response, noting that an audio system's ubiquitous high-pass filters are unusual in Nature and suggesting that this is one of the factors that separate, at the fundamental level, live sound from its poorer reproduced cousin. When John Atkinson wrote on this subject more than 10 years ago (Stereophile, November 1995, "As We See It"), he quoted a memorable line by Kal Rubinson that encapsulates this latter view: "Something in Nature abhors a capacitor."