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johnny p.
johnny p.'s picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Aug 3 2011 - 4:50pm
Vintage Audio - is it "more musical ?"

Stereophile's Art Dudley has been criticized for raving audio components that don't measure up in the lab. But as we have seen, it's not just the (new) items in Art's world that are controversial, he's also listening to - and liking - audio components from the mid 20th-century.

Art may like the sound of (new) equipment that measures poorly - he certainly wouldn't be the first. What I take issue with is Art's love of *vintage* audio's sound. In a recent piece, he made it appear that old audio can rival - or even surpass - the performance of today's best gear.

If Art is tube-rolling and modifying old equipment (and it looks like he is) then he might be partially correct. But from what I've seen, today's equipment is across-the-board better than the past. Turntables, phono cartridges and tubed / solid-state gear never sounded better. A common understanding among audiophiles is that tubed equipment began improving after the advent of high-quality transistor gear in the 1970's. In the decades that followed, tube's thermionic noise would disappear, etc.

Where Art *could* be right is with loudspeakers. There's no doubt that horns of yesteryear had greater speed, inner-detail and dynamic range than their competition - even to this day. The problem is that these early horns were loaded with coloration - probably from reflections in the cavity and/or materials used in design.

Then, the compression-horn that Art mentioned (Western Electric's, from 1946) had a cone woofer. Mating a compression driver with a cone woofer is a challenge in today's world - but it must have been even *more* difficult in the 1940s. The speed of today's woofers (alone) justifies their mating with horns - even if they're still not a perfect match. Finally, if the horn only went down to 1200Hz, that means a cone was needed to cover the lower half of the midrange. If you're wondering what this sounded like - let's just say that cones did not sound good in 1946.

Nevertheless, Art is on to something if he investigates horns. They have come a *long way* since the 1940s - with much of the gains made in the past 10-15 years. But Art has spent much of the past decade listening to "full-range" drivers. You wonder what took him so long - I look forward to his comments........

JoeE SP9
JoeE SP9's picture
Last seen: 4 days 12 hours ago
Joined: Oct 31 2005 - 6:02pm
More musical?

IMO vintage is simply vintage. Whether something is more musical is not in any way related to its age.  

tmsorosk's picture
Last seen: 2 years 1 month ago
Joined: Dec 5 2010 - 12:34pm

I've been reading Arts columns since the Listener days and have mostly enjoyed his style of writing. But it's quite apparent that he likes to be the odd man out, nothing wrong with that. I've found his vintage articles interesting, I even went out and heard the same piece of equipment he reviewed once. I didn't hear the magic he spoke of, mostly what i heard was over coloration and limited frequency extention. Maybe if ones been listening to this type of gear long enough it becomes your reference and all others sound wrong.

In the end the only thing that really matters is hearing something you like, and we all seem to like something different.  

JIMV's picture
Last seen: 1 week 4 days ago
Joined: Jan 31 2008 - 1:46pm
I just took 'more musical' to

I just took 'more musical' to mean more colored in ways the writer liked. Nothing wrong with that. It is like the conceit that modestly priced vinyl rigs are more musical than similarly priced digital. 'Musical' is simpy pleasant distortion. Just keep it in mind when new gear is reviewed using the same term.

jgossman's picture
Last seen: 10 months 1 week ago
Joined: Aug 18 2011 - 6:21am
RE Musical - JimV
JIMV wrote:

I just took 'more musical' to mean more colored in ways the writer liked. Nothing wrong with that. It is like the conceit that modestly priced vinyl rigs are more musical than similarly priced digital. 'Musical' is simpy pleasant distortion. Just keep it in mind when new gear is reviewed using the same term.

Not only could I not agree less, I'd have to question the basic tenet of your argument.  The fact is, as JA could verify, part of what has changed in the objective side of the business is that we have learned to measure more types of distortion and compare them to what and how the ear hears.  (Audiology really is a REAL science) And so valves and FET's, for example may produce slightly more THD, however the type, frequency range and magnitude are more consistant with the "distortions" of sound reflections in nature.  The long and short of the science is simply that.

Meanwhile, the things that tubes do well, provided a minimum quality coupling device, capacitor or transformer, those being electrical sensitivity, voltage linearity, and how FAST vs how MUCH, current is delivered, they do VERY well.  And so comparitively, transistors (not always, but often) just simply sound dead and lifeless. 

Lamont Sanford
Lamont Sanford's picture
Last seen: 4 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: Mar 31 2006 - 8:32pm
Tubes suck

If tubes are so great how come we don't see the tube testers in the grocery stores anymore?

TheOctavist's picture
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: Nov 24 2011 - 8:39pm
because tubes are unreliable,

because tubes are unreliable, expensive to design around(to get the same level of performance that even the cheapest of cheap SS has) and terribly inconsistent.


SS sounds "bland and lifeless" LOL! we've got a live one here, boys.  call the nurse.  


gossman, tubes dont "have a sound".  that is a myth.  they can sound transparent, or terribly colored, depending on the circuits that uses them.


you take tube a and put it in two different circuits, you are going to get two different sound results....depending heavily on the design and output transformer, etc.

neither tubes nor transistors have "a sound" on their own.   but transistors are better performers electronically.

it is no wonder these silly myths(cables, 180 gram vinyl, analog better than digital, so on , etc) get spread... audiophiles spout opinion as fact without taking time to screen what they say based on the data....


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