How important is it for you to know exactly what is happening with your audio system and room?

A friend recently explained that he favors "chance and luck when choosing components." Do <I>you</I> think a little unexplained audio mystery a good thing? Do you like to carefully study the physics of your room and the technology behind the components, or do you prefer to go with your instinct for good sound?

How important is it for you to know exactly what is happening with your audio system and room?
Very important: I like to know exactly what is happening
36% (50 votes)
Somewhat important: I like to get the general idea
31% (44 votes)
I'm ambivalent: just want it to sound good
24% (33 votes)
I prefer a little mystery: don't want to analyze it too much
6% (8 votes)
I like a lot of mystery: don't care to know anything about it
0% (0 votes)
4% (5 votes)
Total votes: 140

Edward Scott's picture

If something sounds good, I like to know why it sounds good. I think it's very important to know the acoustics of my own room and to know how different things affect it, because the more I know about what a certain change will do, the more I can focus only on those things that have the greatest probability of sounding good. The more optimized my room is, the better the sound I get, and the more involved I feel in the music. In terms of equipment, auditioning is, of course, always a must, but if you know as much as possible about what you're auditioning, you can greatly cut down the number of auditions you have to do. The technology behind equipment is not as important to most people; it is to me simply because I'm interested, but one could argue that's beside the point as far as sound quality and musical enjoyment are concerned. My point, basically: Know your room, and know what it is doing, and I think you will undoubtedly have a greater chance of success than if you rely on "mystery" and hope you end up with good sound.

Woody Battle's picture

If I make a mistake on a $5000 purchase, it will take several years for me to recover and try again. I want as little risk as possible in my big purchases.

Colin Robertson's picture

I like to make sense of things, and know what is the driving force behind them, especially when it comes to audio. Once I understand why something sounds the way it does, I can pick up on so much more, and understand how certain things affect the sound. For example, after I know what kinds of things can color the midrange of various speaker types, I can hear much more quickly the flaws of a midrage driver (or panel...). This is half the fun of hi-fi to me (being an anal audiophile); music is the other half.

Chris Kantack's picture

One of the reasons I subscribe to Stereophile (and not to some of the other audiophile magazines), is because of the inclusion of John Atkinson's measurements. There is enough psuedoscience as it is in the high-end. We need more science and less "art" if we are to continue to make real progress in achieving further improvements in system sound.

Bubba in SF's picture

Okay, so a room is hard or soft. It needs carpeting or not. If you have one speaker near a corner and the other on an open wall, put more stuff (stuffed chair) by the one on the open wall. Balance your amp, speaker, CDand LP sounds and just listen to the music. Solid-state is crisp and tubes are warm. Class-A is one sound and Class-A/B is another. If you want mystery, watch PBS. What the hell is unexplained audio mystery anyway? Oh, I know, it's reviewing equipment people could never afford and saying what a bargain it is. It's local symphonies going broke because audiophiles are stuck at home trying to get their sound systems to sound like a symphony instead of actually finding out by going to a concert. What is the median age of your subscribers? If it's in the 50s they are going deaf and don't even know it. You have a lot of audio mysteries. I'd rather just listen to the music.

Paul J.  Stiles Mtn.View, CA's picture

I want to know EXACTLY what is going on IF I WNANT TO KNOW. In other words, don't tell me, just let me know how to find out what is going on. Inquiring minds want to know. Especially if you are raving about some megabuck interconnects or someting!!!

Daniel Emerson's picture

If, when I push my Hi-Fi's buttons, it pushes mine right back, then everything's for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

Rich Andrews's picture

You would be amazed of how much time one can save and the huge improvements accomplished with the application of just a little science.

Stephen Curling's picture

By definition, there is no such thing as perfect, therefore there will always be some amount of the unknown. The object is to get the unknown down to something the user is willing to tolerate.

KJ's picture

How should I improve things if I didn't know what's wrong and why? Life is too short to be fooling around with voodoo.

Tony P., Washington, DC's picture

If it sounds good, it is good Duke Ellington

Al Marcy's picture

I like to play with my audio toys. Then I play music and my mind wanders off and forgets about them.

Nodaker's picture

I need to know what my room sounds like in order to pick the proper components. Bright room, darker components, and vice versa. Room treatments are a must either way, and you can make very effective ones on your own, no need to pay the megabucks some companies charge. That is just stupid money spent, unless of course, you have the stupid money.

Al Earz's picture

I don't want to lose focus on the fact that this all started with the love of music and a form of relaxation. Adding the stress of what is the exact science of room, equipment, and electronic wizardry detracts from the enjoyment. However I do want to tweek the best possible sound with the ingredients at hand.

Randy's picture

While I feel confident adjusting the acoustics of my room with various tube traps and Argent room lenses and feel that I know what these devices are doing, I feel much less confidence in my knowledge of electronics.

Gerald Neily's picture

Just want it to sound good. I hate "critical listening" because, for me, it takes away from enjoyment of the music. I don't think "mystery" is the right word anyway, because it suggests that there is an ultimate answer and I'm not sure there is. But I'm glad Stereophile writers (most of them anyway) are working hard to resolve the mystery, just in case it's there, so I don't have to. All I really know is that recordings are an illusion, and obviously not reality, but some illusions are much better than others.

Mike Agee's picture

A technical understanding of the interrelationships among components, the room, and the music helps overcome the inherent handicap that comes from not always being able to audition equipment in the home. I have found that, while the technical knowledge is fun and no hardship to acquire, it also brings up as many questions as it answers, so the mystery remains an intriguing element of the process. Because sound is paramount, I am finding more and more that being technically informed allows me to match components in relatively subtle, but very sonically rewrding ways.

Definitely Maybe's picture

Helpful for subwoofer placement and sould levels for surround speakers in multichannel setups.

Barry Willis's picture

After system setup and room tweaking, I forget about "what's happening with my system" and sink into what's happening with the music.

audio-sleuth's picture

At first I thought this was the dumbist question you've asked. Do some people really think audio goes beyond physics and if you have a miss-match between components a small animal sacrifice will fix it? But once I gave it some thought I realized this was my chance to bring out my biggest grip with Stereophile. You seem afraid to let readers know if a speaker will work with a tube amp. Even though it's a simple thing to determine. HOW FLAT IS THE IMPEDANCE! Thats it, OK. You would think that stereophile, who actually measures this would say if a speaker has a BENIGN IMPEDANCE or not. Of course that might mean giving tube amps for review to reviewers with appropriate speakers to play them on. It might also show who is clueless and uses a miss-matched reference system, heaven forbid. Would it also piss off all those "watts are cheap" speaker designers who don't want to lose any sales? I mean for once give your readers something they can really use to help make a informed purchase. Not what kind of merlot a amp sounds like.

Eric Moss's picture

Does your friend pick doctors that favor chance and luck when treating diseases? Of course not. Admittedly, one can more easily recover from a poor cable pick, but why waste the money and not get anything for it? If your system and room are pretty good already, then trying one's luck doesn't have a big downside. If not, then luck won't help much, especially if your budget is less than infinite. It is hard to know *exactly* why something bad (or good) is happening , but it must be more frustrating to not know how to fix it. Maybe reliance on luck is why the cable business is so big?

paulr's picture

Either you don't know exactly what's happening, or you've deluded yourself into thinking you know exactly what's happening. Curiousity is great, but past a certain point all it serves is to fuel the pseudoscienc/audio marketing industry.

Tube obsessed's picture

I think knowing the physics and some minimal calculations can help identify and minimize some room deficiencies. However, the final tweaking can only be done by ear. I build much of my own equipment and am therefore obsessed with the technology behind the components. The circuits and parts can be endlessly tweaked. Commercially made gear can be improved significantly by putting in better quality parts, tweaking bias points, upgrading power supplies. The fun never ends. As with room effects, final tweaking necessarily relies upon one's ears.

Isiah Johnson's picture

Someone once said "Knowledge is power." It's always a good thing to know what is going on rather than leaving things to chance. It puts you in control.

Glenn Bennett's picture

In our previous house the sound system was in an enclosed living room and the only opening was a doorway. Lots of echo and boom and very poor sound. I hated it. In our current house the system is in a new room addition and one whole end opens into the next room and the sound is open, clean and just wonderful. Some things really do matter.

Pierre Gauthier's picture

What kind of question is that? I always want to know , but the fact is that we rarely know what's comming up.Here's the proof;SACD,DVD-A,BETAMAX,DVI,HDMI,etc,ctc,ctc,is there anything else to say......

Anonymous's picture

I'm always learning more information everyday!

martin's picture

As long as it is reproduceable and not dependent on some certain phase of moon, I'm well.

Rob Gold's picture

There are two very different things going on here. One is my love of and need for music, and as often as not this is served by car stereos, clock radios, etc. The other is my audio hobby: the tech, the gear, the theory, and the pure visceral pleasure of the sound. It's wonderful when these two things merge, but not necessary to my enjoyment of either.

Paul J.  Stiles, MtnView, CA's picture

Whatever I buy, I have to find out how, and how well, it works.