Audio Observations

"If the midrange isn't right, nothing else matters." Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt's decades-old observation of the musical importance of the midrange has become a truism cast in stone. Gordon's other famous observation, "The better the sound, the worse the measurements," was made only partially in jest.

In JGH's great tradition of condensing profound audio wisdom into simple aphorisms, I humbly offer my own and others' observations of the audio world at large.

A sonic improvement is meaningful only if it has musical significance.

Soft, warm, and rolled-off is less objectionable than thin, hard, and bright.

It's more fun to get fabulous performance from a moderately priced system than to get good sound from an expensive system.

Etch is not resolution.

Lack of detail is not musicality.

It takes ten years from the time a bizarre tweak is reported to the discovery of the scientific evidence explaining that tweak.

The least reliable audio specification: the power output ratings of single-ended tubed amplifiers.

The second least reliable audio specification: loudspeaker sensitivity.

The type of error introduced by an audio system is more important than the magnitude of an error.

If the first watt of a power amplifier isn't good, why would you want 199 more of them?

The most powerful tweak of all—loudspeaker placement—is free.

It's easier to listen past something missing from the music than to ignore artifacts added to the music.

The easiest thing in the world to do is play an LP record incorrectly.

One member of the household always wants the loudspeakers closer to the back wall than does the other member.

There's no substitute for the services of a skilled and caring dealer.

The less you think about the sound, the more you enjoy the music.

A great product will survive an unfairly negative review.

New audio formats sound bad for the first 10 years.

If you can hear your subwoofer, it's set too high.

Shop for a dealer, not for equipment.

Home Theater makes the general public consider, for the first time, correct loudspeaker placement and the spatial aspects of reproduced sound.

Your system sounds better with the lights off.

Not enough bass is better than too much bass.

Accuracy and musicality are not mutually exclusive.

Data compression is bad for music.

If a product sounds better, it is better.

Your system is most likely to fail—or start sounding bad—just before your friends arrive for a listening session.

Listening and setup skills are more valuable than a big bank account in achieving good sound.

If a dealer turns on a giant tubed power amplifier from a distance with a broomstick while shielding his face, question the reliability of that product.

A carefully chosen and well-set-up system of moderate price will always outperform a more expensive, less carefully chosen and set-up system.

Never be polite about a system's sound quality; if the sound is bad, say so.

Have replacement tubes on hand before the ones in service fail.

A more judicious hand on the volume control will involve your significant other in music listening.

The more involved your significant other in music listening, the greater your annual upgrade budget.

Music listening is an essential part of human existence; Home Theater is fun.

If the signal isn't good at the beginning of the chain, nothing downstream can ever make it better.

Being able to walk behind your equipment rack is a big advantage.

The listening room is another component in the playback chain.

Match your loudspeakers' bass output to your room size.

The resurgence in tubed audio electronics has nothing to do with nostalgia and everything to do with music.

A hi-fi system is a vehicle for discovering the world of music.

Critical listening is hard work.

Matching levels between components under audition greatly increases the accuracy and reliability of the listening observations.

Digital audio has come a long way in the past 10 years—and it still has a long way to go.

A small loudspeaker probably sounds better than a similarly priced large loudspeaker.

If you can feel a loudspeaker's cabinet vibrating, the cabinet is coloring the sound.

Measurements can't predict sound quality, but they are indicators of how well—or how poorly—the product was engineered.

Being an audiophile shouldn't prevent you from enjoying music anytime and anywhere—even when reproduced by a clock radio.

Horrifying thought: Hi-Fi may one day become a chip in a personal computer.

Reproducing the lowermost octave correctly is very expensive.

The more transparent the playback system, the closer you get to the musical message.

Some industry veterans believe we are 95% of the way toward reproducing live music. Others think we're only 5% of the way.—Robert Harley