You, too, can listen like a pro!

Photo of Bob's mastering room courtesy of Mary Kent, photographer

I've written before in this space that to me the most wondrous aspect of our avocation (apart from the music) is the way it exists at the intersection of logic and emotion, of science and art. The equipment we use is made by engineers applying scientific principles, yet its goal is to deliver sensual pleasure. Both viewpoints are valid.

A few engineers embody both approaches. MBL's Jürgen Reis recently told Stereophile that he starts by optimizing a design objectively—getting the technical part right. Then he voices by ear. Alta Audio's Michael Levy recently told me that he refuses to use a certain technique that would make his speakers measure better because it would make them sound less like live music. Thus do art and science interact within the audio industry's design laboratories.

When end users—audiophiles—evaluate a system, our main criterion is its ability to convey the music's message. I believe this is nearly universal; indeed, I struggle to imagine a valid criterion other than this. Many of us, though, also want to make sure a product gets the engineering part right, which is why Stereophile publishes measurements alongside its subjective reviews.

It's instructive to consider how different things would be for end-user audiophiles if we approached hi-fi the same way audio professionals do—and here I mean both the engineers who develop our equipment and those who record, mix, and master our music. If we listened like they do, the experience would be different in many subtle ways and a few unsubtle ones—to wit:

We'd spend at least some of our time listening to one speaker only. Years ago, someone realized that listening in stereo complicates loudspeaker assessment. Listening to just one speaker—no stereo, no spatial effects—makes it easier to figure out what's going on sonically.

The one-speaker approach is supported by research showing that, generally, loudspeakers preferred in single-speaker tests are also preferred in stereo. And yet—let's face it—the experience is impoverished compared to stereo listening in a good room. Apart from a handful of mono enthusiasts, few people listen this way for pleasure.

We'd listen without sidewall reflections. At home and in ordinary rooms, this usually means walls with sound-absorbing or sound-diffusing panels. Among audiophiles, it's practically dogma that sidewall reflections are bad, but the issue isn't clear-cut. In his book Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms, Third Edition—Kal Rubinson reviewed the first edition in Stereophile—Floyd Toole writes about the problems with the "phantom center image" produced by stereo loudspeakers, arguing persuasively for adding a third speaker in the middle (but where's the fun in that?).

Counterintuitively, such problems are mitigated by sidewall reflections (footnote 1). Sidewall reflections can also improve speech intelligibility (footnote 2), and we all know they can expand the soundstage under appropriate conditions.

This is related to a broader point. For all its many virtues, two-channel stereo is flawed. There isn't enough information from two channels to provide a proper reverberant musical experience. Stereo needs assistance from the room. Sidewalls help create a feeling of envelopment.

And yet: Mixing and mastering engineers have long worked to avoid sidewall reflections. Mastering studios are often built with a "reflection-free zone" at the sweet spot so that the engineer can hear precisely what's on the recording, with no enrichment.

People developing audio hardware have also been known to eliminate first reflections. In a JAES article from 1979—also cited by Toole—a group of Yamaha engineers reported that when evaluating the sonic performance of products they were developing, they listened without sidewall reflections. But when listening for pleasure, they listened with reflections. It sounded better.

We'd listen very loud. Every recording—especially of acoustic music—has a volume level at which it sounds most real. That is not the level mastering engineers listen at, or not usually. Their goal is to hear as much of what's in the recording as possible, so they turn it up.

In his book Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science, mastering engineer (and Stereophile contributor) Bob Katz (who, by the way, prefers working sans reflections) proposes an approach he calls "calibrated mastering." In a studio so equipped, a –20dBFS pink-noise signal produces a level of 83dB (one channel) or 86dB (uncorrelated 2-channel) at the listening position; this level, Katz says, is "forte" in music. That may not seem that loud, but try it. I find it aggressively loud.

To be clear, this is not the level Katz proposes working at. For mastering work, he turns the volume down from there, by 6dB for source material with a wide dynamic range or by 14dB for music that's more compressed—more squeezed toward maximum volume. While much of the music would then be softer than that –20dBFS, peak levels would be 20dB louder. In a small listening room, that's loud (footnote 3).

We'd listen to the same music, over and over. For critical listening, you don't want surprise; you want familiarity. That means listening to the same, familiar, diagnostic tracks repeatedly. One fav, for the tests mentioned in Toole's book, is "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman—a good song the first several hundred times you hear it.

What does this prove? Just that listening for maximum information retrieval and listening for pleasure are two very different things. Yes, you, too, can listen like a pro—just don't expect to enjoy the music as much.—Jim Austin

Footnote 1: See Shirley, et al., JAES Vol.55, p.852.

Footnote 2: See, for example,

Footnote 3: A curious fact: Perceived loudness depends on room size, even at the same SPL—but my listening room is quite large.

Old Audiophile's picture

"The equipment we use is made by engineers applying scientific principles, yet its goal is to deliver sensual pleasure."

That's about as succinct and eloquent a definition of what being an audiophile is all about! Thanks, Jim!

Ortofan's picture

... for a given piece of sound reproduction equipment to be assessed to sound "right" subjectively, then some aspect(s) of its measured performance must be "wrong" objectively?

Are we to understand that is it then impossible for a product which "gets the engineering part right" to also "convey the music's message"?

Does the proverbial "straight wire with gain" instead need to be bent in some fashion to enable enjoyment of the music?

Jim Austin's picture

The message--not implied--is that listening for maximum information and listening for pleasure are in general quite distinct activities. I address the issues you raise--does an analytical approach by engineers lead to an optimally engaging experience for audiophiles?--in next month's AWSI.

Jim Austin, Editor

Jack L's picture

..... much of what's in the recording as possible, so they turn it up."quoted J Austin

Yes. I got a friend recording engineer who wants to make sure the music he recorded can be played back loud & clear in FULL details. Musical quality to him is of second priority. So technicality always comes first.

Jack L

Anton's picture

I have an acquaintance who works in a vinyl pressing plant. he wants to make sure the pressing turn out physically/technically perfect. Musical quality to him is of second priority. So technicality always comes first.

I agree that in some places along the line, musicality necessarily takes a backseat.

Ortofan's picture

... what is your definition of an "optimally engaging experience for audiophiles."

Will it, perhaps, include a recipe for what JA1 termed "second harmonic sauce" and, maybe, a list of recommended complementary wines?

I once worked with a colleague who was always striving to improve what he termed the "detail retrieval capability" of his audio system. Presumably, he was intent on listening for maximum information. One wonders if he was ever listening for pleasure?
Are the two necessarily mutually exclusive?

JBLMVBC's picture

"listening for maximum information and listening for pleasure are in general quite distinct activities."
Why should that be an antinomy? When I attend a live performance, I do enjoy real full information which I expect to be recreated as much as possible when I listen on my high dynamics, extremely precise active 4 ways JBL pro system. Voices are simply so real...Thus the precision contributes to the "live" recreation impression.
Besides, I have to say that it is a bit ironic that Stereophile would log reviews after reviews of excruciatingly micro details from high end six figure $ products and their evolution MkII and why one should splurge another $20k to get it and that suddenly maximum information would become an antinomy of listening pleasure...

drblank's picture

attention to the room's acoustics. Some will argue that the room can be responsible for 50% of what we hear, so if the room isn't treated properly, which most rooms aren't, then our perception of what we're listening to is distorted.

Not only is the room dimensions important, but so is using the right room treatment the right amount and the right placement is all critical to that end result in listening experience.

For a 2 channel experience, the major difference between what an engineer would want in their studio would be different than what an "audiophile" might want in their home. The difference? In a mutually optimal conditions, the RT60 reverberation times. Engineers typically want a lower RT60 and the audiophile will probably prefer a little longer reverberation times to have more "life". A taller, wider and deeper soundstage where we are listening to the presentation of the instruments. That's why mastering rooms tend to be treated differently than a control room used for tracking and mix down.

I have RARELY seen any audiophile product review reviewed in a room that really had proper room treatment to address all of the inherent problems associated with a room that waa not designed specifically for listening to music. Most homes have rooms for living in, not for serious music listening..

JHL's picture

...essential features of the Proper Listening Environment are the very well treated room and the very lively room. Both are required for excellent sound, say experts.

JHL's picture

...right is the only right that matters. Logically then, 'objective wrong' is either a construct or an oversight of said engineering, i.e., 'getting the engineering right' is yet to be and probably never will be a complete formulation. Ditto 'bent', which is rhetorical.

Obviously definitions matter when such constructs are applied. In other words, they are no less abstract than 'subjectively right' in the first place.

The difference between subjectivity and objectivity as they apply to serious sound reproduction is that they are generally reversed. The fact audio is not objectively predictable is not the ear's deficiency. It is engineering's natural state of affairs.

Ortofan's picture

... philosophical question posed in this magazine over three decades ago - and evidently still not resolved - by (the late) David Hafler: "Should an amplifier be pleasant sounding, or should it be accurate even if accuracy is not as pleasant?"

JHL's picture

...reply is that the better sounding amplifier is the better sounding amplifier, where "better" is defined as more truthful of the original performance.

False dichotomies and begged questions generally revolve around constructs involving only colored but musical components on one hand and accurate but unpleasant components on the other. This is a needlessly polarized, argumentative point but a common one when there are few such handy categories in nature.

The true philosophical question is whether we can accept what I alluded, which is that only the ear can be objective to the truthful sound while apparently the laboratory - or some laboratories - has yet, as the sciences generally go, to define, catalog, sort, and rank all phenomenon.

Accuracy is bandied about as if it were an item on a menu for just for the more enlightened choices. It isn't. It's an abstract, rhetorical presumption with no reliable or comprehensive or completed place in the work, which may explain why so many accurate components fail to be musically connected and convincing.

We assume we know enough to predict complex sound from what are apparently basic phenomena.

Jack L's picture to enable enjoyment of the music?" quoted Ortofan.

Any audio amps with gain generate harmonic, intermodulation & phase distortions. They are already "bent in some fashion" - "Bent wire with gain" !!

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... the residual levels of any harmonic, intermodulation and/or phase distortions generated by the Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier?

JHL's picture the objectivist claiming to have the entire audible spectrum of behaviors identified, cataloged, sorted, and ranked by experience?

Put another way, if/when/while an amplifier other than any currently in vogue objectivist darling sounds better than it per your example, where better means more musically connected and truthful, are you saying you know why that is and are prepared to so demonstrate, or are assertions that only residual typical distortion is audible and therefore responsible all there is to signal amplification?

Or is that obsolete 80's saw just something for online work?

CG's picture

Ain't that the truth?

I am surprised that more hasn't been made of this:

Ortofan's picture

... design and produce an amplifier that is "musically connected and truthful", how would you accomplish that task?

Tube vs. solid-state, or some combination?
What circuit topology?
Linear or switching power supply?
Which type of power transformer?
Any preferred suppliers for active devices and passive components?
Surface-mount vs. through-hole packages?
Point-to-point connections or PCB construction?
Does the type of solder matter?
Should the chassis be copper plated?

What outgoing quality tests are to be performed to ensure that each and every amp exhibits that special "musically connected and truthful" sound quality?

JHL's picture

...a circuit designer, but my qualifications running more to assessing the authenticity of reproduced sound (apparently with an expanding minor in exploding random comment thread fallacy) I suppose I'd first naturally expect to know why you deflected from analyzing the flaws in your running inquisition - where you can't identify what sounds like what and technically why - and instead assume I'm qualified to design components, and that to do so *I* possess this hierarchy. I don't make objectivist claims, you do, or you challenge everyone else to prove your negative.

I just know good sound when I hear it, that being the very achievable goal tens or hundreds of thousands of us reach all the time.

What is that hierarchy of sound quality and authenticity, Ortofan, or if you prefer, of musical connectedness and truth? You're the keeper of objectivity. Or are those descriptors not allowed for a human pursuit of a human reaction to the reproduced sound of music, a human phenomenon.

Your question reminds me of a bystander expecting that before a trip to the doctor a third party get a degree in the field of treatment.

Jack L's picture

...truthful.." quoted Ortofan.

No more "suppose" for me, my friend.

I've design/built/upgraded audio components as my leisure hobby for deacdes, thanks to my addicted love for classical music, supplemented by my electrical/electronic engineering background & over 2 decades hands-on experience in the affliated industries.

I would call it 'Total Involvement', extremely gratifying & fulfilling for my body & soul!

To answer yr questions:

I only use triode vaccum tubes to build my audio amps: phonostages, linestages (both active & PASSIVE, latter being my first priority solely for sonic reason), & power amps.

Why? Tehcnically, triode tubes are the only LINEAR active devices available todate. exhibiting full set of linear signal transfer curves. Other vacuum tubes: pentodes, tetrodes & bipolar junction devices, ie: transistors, FETs, op-amps (built of many bipolar junction devices & tons feedbacks loops), ALL exhibit NONlinear singal transfer curves with 'kinks' or 'knees' to limit signal swing. Sonically, triode sounds the best above all.

Circuit design:
(1) single ended Class A only WITHOUT any negative feedback loops throughout. Best sounding.
(2) mininum count of active signal stages. Active signal devices generate undue harmonic, intermoduation & phase distortion. Less acive stage count will generate less distortions & therefore better the sound.

With the above most critical design establised, safeguarding minumum distortion to the music signals, the choice of costly quality parts/components, e.g. output transformer for power amps, power transformers, capacitors, resistors, volume controls etc etc, are only icing on the cake. Please note active signal devices are always the most critical to the music transmission. Parts are only sideburners !

I only use cheap parts to build this premap except for the triode tubes: 50-year-old Telefunken for RIAA stage & UK Mulard for the line stage.

FYI, my MM cartridge all triode phono-preaamp was design/built very simple many years back: only 2 active stages. Probably simplest phono-preamp design in the world. It is made up of one single active stage with one single PASSIVE RIAA EQ loop, followed by one single active linestage, incorporated with a signal bypass switch to bypass the entire active linestage - to make it a PASSIVE linestage.

The passive mode is for high level signal programme sources: CD, tape deck, DAD etc etc.

I also added a dedicated subwoofer signal output for my 3 active subwoofers.

I always challenge myself to achieve higher levels. I managed to build this 2-stage phono-preamp in a small off-the-shelf plastic equipment box: 2.5" wide, 4.5" high & 7.5" long. Probably the most compact phonostage+linestage in the world. See my signature logo up there. No jokes !

Believe it or not, this 2-stage phono-preamp can drive direct my power amps (one home-brew & one commercial brandname) - NO sweat !

It plays my 1,000+ stereo LPs like a chime: so OPEN, so transparent, & so micro-detailed yet so engaging & being-there. So enjoyable !!!

Listening is believing

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... 50-year-old tubes that seem critical to the design of your amps?
In what quantity would you be able to produce those amps?
What outgoing quality control tests would be performed on them?

JHL's picture

...are not a proper audiophile until you release details of the muffler on your generator. The one you use to ensure musical bliss during power outages.

How any self-respecting listener can take himself seriously with that racket in the background escapes me. Why who do you think you are coming in here.

Ortofan's picture

... a Tesla Powerwall.
No generator, so no muffler needed.

Just blissful silence in the background during any power outages - until the chainsaws come out to clear the fallen trees and limbs.

JHL's picture

...we *finally* have the beginnings of the sacred papers on sound. Do likewise or perish.

Jack L's picture


First off, are you inquiring me as a manufacturer, an audio store rep or as an audiophile ???

Why you keep on asking me how many amps I can "produce" ???

In case you have eyes that can't read properly, I tell you here again though I posted it many times in Stereophile forums.
I am a HOBBY DIYer of audios for decades strictly for my classical music enjoyment as I don't need to build & to sell audios to make a living.

FYI, I make much much easier monies in the money markets: funds & stocks. Just give you an example: I've acquired some Best Buy common shares many years back, gaining invidends for USD37/share. Today NOW it is at USD121/share! Say I've got 1,000 shares in hand: how many Benchmark LA4 needed to be "produced" & sold to make such money ???
Play smart, bud.

How many times have I posted here that bench measurement data are irrelevant to what our ears/brain percieve with technical backups. Simply because they measured the wrong thing. Listen smart !!!

The problem is so many just don't have enough music audition experience to trust what they listen & rely on the technical data/sale pitches to choose what they intend to buy. God bless!

Listenig, not measuring, is believing

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... a one-off amplifier as a DIY project, using active devices made sometime around the middle of the previous century, I'm curious if you could design (as a commercial product to be produced in some significant volume) an amplifier (preferably solid-state) that would meet your personal standard for sound quality using parts that are in current production and readily available today?

Likewise, if, as you claim, your personal standard for sound quality can't be assessed with test signals and test equipment, then how would you determine that each of those amplifiers being produced performs up to your personal standard?

Again, if the quality control process requires that each amplifier must be listened to prior to shipment, then how many amps can you listen to per day? Do you have to perform the listening test personally, or can you delegate that task?
Do the amps have to be burned in before being subjected to the listening test and, if so, for what period of time?

Jack L's picture

......produced performs up to your personal standard?"quoted Ortofan.


First off, I am addicted to classical music, not to building amps for sale. I design/build audio amps for my own use, simply because I am yet to be impressed by any commercial brandnamed production: excellent specs yet soundig so so.

The only brandname power amp so far impressed me most vs any other makes/models is the USD125,000 Audio Note Japan: 'Kegon': silver loaded 17W+17W single-ended Class A all triode stereo TUBE power amp.
Believe it or not, this extremely expensive amp used cheapie power tubes from China. If vintage Western Electric power tubes were used instead, it would surely even sound much much better !!!!

That's why I've used 50-year-young Telefunken triode tubes for my phonostages. Vintage tubes like old wines - older costs more. Dedicated to connoisseurs who can appreciate their value. You know how much my vintage Telefunken tubes cost? Mine are not the top top notch ones, which easily asked for USD1,000 each assuming they were still available. 4 of them could worth one Benchmark LA4 !!

Surely I'd NOT spend such USD125,000 big bucks to acquire an amp. I know the amp technology enough to get the best of it without wrecking my wallet.

Play smart ! So using the same design concept, I design/build my amps ALL triode - single-ended Class A, zip negative feedback loop throughout!

Sorry, I am yet to audition any solidstate amps that come close to LIVE performance like a fine tube amp. As I said here many times, soldstate amps employ solid state active devices: bipolar junction devices, e.g. transistors, FETs,& op-amps, which are NONlinear. Only triodes are truly fully linear ! This is physics.

All manufactures produce audio amps etc etc, basing on specification. How they will sound is the consumers' own business. They are legally unbound.

For many audio fans who buy HIFI for the sake of having HiFi rather than music enjoyment, & go by the specifications & sales pitch, God bless.

Listening, not specification, is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

......being subjected to the listening test?" quoted Ortofan


Yes. subjectively amps, solid or tube, would sound 'normal' after burned in. For how long, ask the manufacturers' advice.

If it is brandnew from the factory, it would take many days to run in to arrive its 'normal' sound quality.

Even for my tube power amps which already used for many years, I would not play them until after min. a couple of hours powe on.

Jack L

Jack L's picture



I only use lead-free SILVER solder wires.

Why? Silver is the only metal on this planet with highest electrical & thermal conductivity. Excellent choice for soldering electronics.

Besides being healthy to my lungs, silver solder wires get lower melting point for perfect & shiny true-contact joints.

It is costly more but it worths every penny !

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Please don't put yr words in my mouth. I never claim such. Thanks.

Whatever "excellence in measurement" get very very little relevance, if any at all, to our subjective perception. Electronic counter measurements shows strictly how much distortions generated by an audio amp using simple static test signals which are NOT, repeat, not, the complex dynamic music signals (comprising high orders of harmonics) which an audio amp is designed to handle.

Apple to orange comparision ! Our ear/brain music perception of music is some toally different way from electronic counter measurements.

Don't take for granted an audio amp measured next to zero distortions would sound better than another measured 100 times higher. Paying big bucks to acquire an amp measured "zero" distortion does not warrant better sound to our ears !!!!!

Again, quoting Daniel Cheever's Masters Thesis, a triode tube power amp without any loop negtive feedback. measured 10% THD sounded better than a solidstate power amp of much more output power with loop negative feedback, measured 0.5%. This latter was vertified true by another party usng ABX double blind tests.

Our ears/brain pereceived music differently.

The problem is many audio fans put specifications over & above what they listen. For obvious reasons: they don't trust their ears due to
lacking live/reproduced music experience. Or they want to own an audio system for saking of owning it rather for the true love of music !!!

Whenever I audition any audio, I never ask what make, what specs what pricing upfront, I just listen unitl I like the sound before I start asking questions.

How many times I walked in & walked out audio shows in a few minutes
quietly when I found the sound there not acceptable !!

Jack L

Ortofan's picture

... whatever factors contribute to the "better" sound quality of your ideal amplifier, then how could you reliably produce it with any consistency in any substantial volume?
Would you have to listen to each and every unit prior to shipment to ensure that it exhibits that "better" sound quality?
If so, how much time would that listening test require and how many units could you check per day?
What would happen if you were to develop some medical condition that compromised your hearing ability?
If necessary, could you delegate that task to someone else and still be assured that they would be capable of identifying the same "better" sound quality as do you?

This question was posed earlier, but you neglected to respond to it.
If, as you suggest, "simple static test signals" are inadequate to reveal the audible performance of an amplifier, then what sort of test signal would meet your criteria for a "complex dynamic music signal (comprising high orders of harmonics)"?
Would a square wave be sufficiently "complex"? It contains a fundamental frequency plus a series of higher order harmonics.
If not, what about the TIM test signal, which combines a square wave with sine wave?
Also, define what you mean by a "dynamic" test signal?

Jack L's picture


Answer to yr question: Music signals are ideally & logically the "dynamic" signals to test any audio amps which are built for amplifying music signals.

So how come since day one decades back, the audio industries have established standard test method using sincewaves & squarewaves for testing audio amps production instead of music signals ?????

The simple reason is till todate the electronic counter measurement technology still fails to use music signal as objective performance test of audio amps. No other more efficient & practical choice available yet.

But Why? When computer technology has already achieved AI today !!

Answer to yr question: can squarewaves be used to substitute realtime dynamic music signals to test audios?
The answer is NO! Squarewaves is mathematically equivalent to the sum of the sinewave + a serie no. of odd mulitple frequency of the basic sinewave at diminishing amplitude. Very different from the harmonic formation of dynamic music signals.

Check up the music waveform of an music instrument vs squarewave waveform of the same frequency. They all look different.
Sonically, a squarewave sounds terrible vs real music signals. So how can sinewaves & squarewaves can provide true test performance of an amp under test ???

Like showing us consumers apples but selling orange instead !!
The bench tests only show data totally irrelavant to what our ears going to receive !!!

So logical way to overcome such audio dilemma is to use our own ears to test out any audio equipment which are design/built for our ears to listen anyway. Simple, straight-forward & true.

The issue is NOT every audio fan got enough music audition experience to qualify which model of audio components sound best to their ears. They need to get advice from knowledgable source, e.g. subjective sonic reports from reputable audio journals like Stereophile.

Listening, not measuring alone, is believing

Jack L

RichT's picture

I produce and mix my own music and use a mastering engineer. I guess I have two main aims when I’m mixing. One is to make everything sound as clear, real, balanced and open as possible. The other is to maximise the emotional impact of the music. In practice, the two go hand in hand. It’s not possible to achieve maximum musicality until all the clarity etc issues are sorted, and also I find that emotional impact starts to emerge naturally when the technical issues are getting resolved. This is simply because technical issues distract from the music. So I think it’s hard to make a clear distinction between the two things. Musicality is the overriding aim though. I can’t speak for others, but that’s my experience.

Edit: The main difference between listening as a producer and a consumer is that as a producer I am listening to unfinished music and I’m thinking: what’s not right here? What do I need to do to make it better?

georgehifi's picture

I've got friends like this they listen but don't get into the "music" like they used to. You go around what used to be a "eyes closed audio nights" in the past, and now it just turns out to be a massive knob fiddling fest.
Maybe like this bloke they just fiddle with their knob/s incessantly, dissecting and reconstructing, their main focal point is the screen between the speakers with the graph, which they all have, it's sad to watch.

Cheers George

thatguy's picture

They need to have support groups for that. I've been there in the past where the thinking that 'maybe it could be better' drove me to not enjoy the music. The fun of tweaking and upgrading gets overshadowed by always wondering 'would it be better if I changed this or that?'.

I blamed youtube and forum reviews because every new component or capacitor or wire or... made someones system sound amazing beyond belief and I wanted mine to sound that amazing too.

jimtavegia's picture

I am sure I could appreciate it if I heard music played their, but I would be missing so much of what those speakers are presenting it would be a sad experience for me. I am often reminding younger folks to turn it down when listening on their headphones to save their hearing for later in life. The only way to turn down the noise from my military experience was to not be there.

I would love to know the brand counts of all the mastering engineers and the speakers they are using. I know, an impossible task. If I don't own the speakers the mastering engineer is using, I am not going to hear what he thought the disc should sound like. Like in the the review of JVS and the Yamaha amp, there is no way I could hear the differences he heard and all those little details that mattered to him. Heck, my power is not even as well conditioned as his.

tonykaz's picture

Recorded or 'Live' music is a mood-altering drug.

Stereo seems rather secondary to 'Quality of Life' that Music builds, I'll even suggest that most sound we hear is Mono in nature. I know my Mom's singing voice at breakfast seemed a reverberant mono and my older brother's constant Trumpet practice was a painful mono. phew!

I have to say, Mr. Austin, your Stereophile contributions shower us readers with a certain profound honesty that seems remarkably absent in today's media. I'm searching for an intellectually honest equivalent elsewhere but only find disappointing misdirections.

Thank you,

Tony in Venice

ps. Bob Katz has one hell of a Florida Music System, doesn't he?

Doctor Fine's picture

My own main room is designed both for mastering and for listening pleasure.
Well, the "relaxed" seats are further back in the far-field and wall reflection is noticeable at this distance.
It gives the sound a clear trumpet like clarity as the energy is intense and the location of instruments in the soundfield is packed tighter and in three dimensional relief.
I use this for mastering ONLY to ascertain the precise "center of energy" of the "Phantom Channel."
At this distance the center "pops" out ONLY when the balance is set to the center of energy on the recording.

For mastering I move forward, out of the influence of nearby walls and somewhat between near field direct energy (pre reflections) and mid field "sense of scale."
Close enough to hear only the signal, yet far enough back to hear the "big picture."

So yes, it is possible to make your room dual purpose.
And intoxicating is an understatement.

Timbo in Oz's picture

Unless we have 'pretty much removed the room' from the equation - we are just kidding ourselves. 96, 97, 98, 99 .....

QUAD 63s do that except not quite deep enough in the bass.

So I'll be using HP filtered restored 63s plus four 'SWARM'ed DIY subs, each individually Eq'd 1/3rd octave. And heaps of power per sub. 1st order HP to the 63s and 3rd LP on the subs. @. ? 150 Hz.

Maybe later I'll save up enough to buy a Dspeaker single box room/spkr DSP box. Then I can have 'in-time' as well.

Doctor Fine's picture

You can tell a room is designed for mastering if it sounds like a big pair of nearfield monitors---but full size---NOT a desktop true nearfield rig.
The sound, in other words, will not pick up extraneous reflection and mud that colors the original signal coming off the performance.
And it will be big enough in size to envelop the engineer and allow for decisions about "scale" and "size" unlike a desktop mini-nearfield rig that is simply "too close" to tell what is going on in the "big picture."
The typical mastering room probably has extensive tuning and may even have extensive sound deadening anti-reflective material slathered on the walls and ceiling and floor.
Or not.
I have built mastering grade rooms that look deceptively clean and free from sound deadening material---yet when seated at the "chair" your attention is dominated by pre-first-reflection "clean" sound.
As for ultimate sound quality----a pro may well be using very expensive home audio products to reveal every nuance of quality---OR he may just need the room and rig to let him do his job---and not care all that much as to whether things sound GREAT, or simply sound ACCURATE enough to get his job done.
So this entire article is a bit of a red herring and a straw man argument.
Mastering rooms MAY or MAY NOT have great "fun" audio quality.
But a mastering room will always play back an accurate picture of what is on the recording.
Now as to WHY would a consumer want to have a dose of "room sound" added to his playback---that depends.
I have heard playback rooms that punched up the clarity of the soundfield by helping reconstruct the sound of a "FUN" recording room---perhaps by adding controlled directivity reflections simulating a nice "recording hall."
The famous listening concert halls of Europe frequently overlay their sonic structure on every artist that plays the room.
And your own HiFi can do the same---if that tickles you.
In my own main room the seating is movable.
Sit BACK deeper in the room and you pick up an interesting "warmth" and "underlining" of the audio which gives clear directional soundfield specificity---the "center" is stronger than life and the "spread" is wider than life---thus creating a very 3-Dimensional soundfield beyond what is on the recording.
If you move forward and remove wall reflection in that room---you hear what an engineer hears.
The sound is less colored---but also somewhat less "fun" to hear as the soundfield is not punched up when you hear it in the mastering chair.
In my experience it helps to recognize your options and proceed accordingly.
The room can ADD good things occasionally.
OR you can build the room to pro no-reflective standards using high quality high end electronics and speakers---and have both a clear picture AND great tone---if that floats your boat.
And the two types of listening position are both fascinating.