"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you. Always keep in mind that without basic test equipment, subjective opinions will reign unchallenged. With test equipment, universal facts and truths are exposed.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"

Feb. 2018
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What is the truth behind audiophile 'facts'?

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  • What is the truth behind audiophile 'facts'?

    Post copied from this thread:
    Hi Nikolas,

    Get the SHL5s - you know you want to The amplifier you already own should have plenty of power to drive them, and your cables are more than likely just fine.

    As an aside, I think the class A attraction people have is, at least in part, a matter of linguistics: People want a "class A" amplifier because, to the layman, it carries connotations such as "first class", "of the highest order", "purest form of amplification" etc.

    It's also a matter of taking one physical aspect of class A amps - heat - as a sign of their inherent sonic superiority; the fact that they run hot gives them superior "warmth", "power", "involvement". You can feel the amp working hard when you put your hand on the burning hot chassis. It's similar to when people say silver cables yield a "bright" sound - they are confusing the physical properties of the object with its sonic performance. As we all know, silver is brighter in colour than copper.

  • #2
    What is the truth behind audiophile 'facts'?

    The consumer audio industry is built upon certainties. Certainties that amplifier model or technology A sounds more dynamic, sweeter, involving etc. than that amp. B. Certainties that certain DACs sound more musical than others. Certainties about cable sound, analogue v. digital and above all, certainties that under uncontrolled listening sessions months apart, minute differences between event A and even B can be recalled and ascribed to the equipment in use with utter conviction.

    How many of these beliefs are made tongue in check with no real expectation that they will be taken seriously? How many are enthusiastically pumped-up by those who could make a profit from the belief? Why is the consumer so easily influenced? Why doesn't best value for money, long term reliability and service back-up feature more prominently in the audiophile industry? Will audio heretics be flogged until they admit that cables do sound different? Do they actually sound different under controlled tests? Do marketeers breed upon the audiophile's basic insecurities to coerce him into believing that he is missing something?

    How many of these beliefs would withstand close scrutiny and cross-examination in the International Court of Audio?

    How many physicists, musicians or women are audiophiles? Why?


    • #3
      An appeal for common sense

      I think we need to be upfront about motives so that it's clear where we all stand.

      If I am honest with myself, it's clear from today's perspective that as a teenager forty+ years ago, discovering the world of audio equipment (rather than reproduced music) was a lifeline at a turbulent time in my life. It's fortuitous that the amplifier brands that I empathised with then were not the newly arriving brushed aluminium Japanese units with their big flashy meters and knobs and switches, but solid British models from Leak, Ferrograph, QUAD, Rogers and Radford, none of whom survived as independent operations. It's doubly fortuitous that at such an formative age I was a behind the scenes Saturday boy helper at the local BBC station and that brought me into contact with BBC monitor speakers. So the combination of solid, reliable, science-based electronics and loudspeakers designed as capital equipment with the entire focus on performance not marketing, entirely fulfilled my scientific curiosity and emotional needs - and still does. That's our opening position.

      This formative experience, which locked me in by my mid teens, is absolutely unique in the audio industry, and indeed, in today's security conscious world, it is inconceivable that a youngster will ever again have the sort of access-all-areas that I was privileged to have. That world has long gone.

      Applying this the audio market of today, we can see that there are really two types of self-confessed 'audiophiles' - an awkward word. The first is one who, just like me in the early years of my hobby, was exceedingly interested in minutia, where upgrading from an SME 3009 to 3009 Series 2 had to be done, or from a V15II cartridge to a V15III (the best audio upgrade I ever made) whether I could really afford it or not. This audio buyer reads WhichHiFi from cover to cover, absorbs all the star ratings and arrives at the audio store with the magazine under the arm and a crystal clear focus on certain models and cannot be reasoned with. Music is primarily an audio test signal. There is nothing we here on HUG can (or should) say to open this consumer's mind to being more objective, to taking the advice of the dealer, to setting aside accumulated preconceptions and to placing music as the priority over equipment. In simple, blunt language, that hardened audiophile is gripped in an emotional positive feedback loop. These audio fanatics rarely if ever attend live concerts- they say live sound does not convey the essential intimacy of a reproduced performance at home on the fine gear. I got out of this loop about thirty years ago.

      The second, larger group of serious audio equipment purchasers are those who recognise good sound from exposure to concerts, playing instruments of from good home audio systems. They do not read the audio magazines, and occasional visits to specialist audio dealers can leave them feeling alienated and inadequate. They know what the end result should sound like, but have no awareness of technology, brands, prices or compatibility and room issues. A really good dealer, like hif_dave here, will go out of his way to nurture such a flicker of interest because he has the time and people skills. It can be a lifelong journey when the dealer and the consumer trust each other.

      These two groups of audio equipment buyers are not isolated from each other - unfortunately. The would-be audiophile very soon finds that the dedicated audiophile is only too willing to share his rich but highly personal experience with anyone who will listen. And who will listen more attentively that the new boy? And this sole point is where we on HUG become concerned. As I said, serious audiophilia is an psychological state where the ownership of fine audio equipment is fulfilling a deeply rooted emotional need which, necessarily, is extremely personal to that individual. Something about owning equipment A - the price, colour, shape, weight, glow, materials, glitter, brand association, users endorsements, whatever - deeply resonates with its owner. Such a locked-in empathy cannot be rationalised by us on the outside. If the absolute truth is that under whatever laboratory controlled test you care to devise, audio interconnect cables all sound the same, we are collectively wasting our breath trying to persuade the serious audiophile of that truth. So we shouldn't waste that breath. Let them be.

      The frustration for us here is that dedicated audiophile cannot recognise and separate his deep personal needs and satisfaction with a piece of equipment from a more general endorsement that may be appropriate for others. He cannot see, and hence cannot appreciate, that equipment featuring diamonds gemstones appeals to him on a deep emotional level as a statement of wealth, security, longevity, romance. To another, diamonds may be associated with ostentatiousness, lost loves, broken promises, debt.

      We seem to have expended a vast amount of energy here trying to cancel audiophile myths. Clearly, not one word has had any (or even should have any) influence over the complex needs of the dedicated audiophile: they walk their own path. But is it fair that unsubstantiated endorsements, which at best can only be specific to the originator, are, through the pages of HUG, given an extra breath of oxygen to continue their journey into folklore and audiophile myth influencing the new buyer?

      All we implore is: please use common sense in scrutinising everything you read concerned with audio (and music) even here. We will do our best to flush-out the truth so that you can make the best purchase decision for your own situation.

      My recommendation: Consider not only your immediate (emotional) equipment needs but also what happens in six months, a year or three when it breaks down and you need service. Do some research and establish the service facilities behind the brand (if any), how reasonable their costs are and whether they see their service department as a profit centre. How likely is that brand to be around in ten years time? These issues will in time become much more relevant than some fabled audiophile advantage.
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK


      • #4
        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
        Music is primarily an audio test signal.
        That's a gem to remember!


        • #5
          Frightening away the music lover by audiophilia

          I'm afraid that typical audiophiles would never be as sensible as this, hence the proliferation of once very expensive (overpriced?) gear on the used market for a fraction of their cost new. These people have as fixed attitudes as so-called pure "objectivists," their belief and acceptance of things that put "normal" music lovers off the industry seemingly total.

          I got into trouble last week elsewhere for suggesting that a newish and not expensive product which "needed" 72 to 100 hours of "burn-in" may not be as well designed as its burgeoning reputation would suggest. I appreciate that some components (fancy small signal capacitors for example) may take a short while to "form" properly, but 100 hours????? One of my detractors was quite happy to accept that some of the gear he likes can apparently take 500 hours plus to "burn in" fully - that's a year's use for many.....

          I hope I'm correct in this, but reproduced music at home is very much an emotional experience and suspension of disbelief, since the musicians that made the music aren't there in front of you. One has to make up the missing bits. In terms of equipment, this can bring in all sorts of hopelessly outdated but "blingy" valve gear, acres of exquisitely brushed and finished aluminium and cables of the finest materials, with total ignorance over standard cables and gear often used (with care admittedly) in the studio. I'm pulled in two directions right now, since I see both sides, but am now unable to reconcile the two extremes, my leanings now heavily on the cynical and more objective side of the "audiophool" arguments..

          As for amplifier topology, the quality of output transistors available in the UK is now so much better than in the 1970's I understand, that Class B designs can now be made with absolutely no issues at all, the crossover and other distortions all but banished into the low noise floor. Class A is solid state these days really more a selling point for some I believe, and in the case of one manufacturer I can think of, an excuse to alter the signal fed it into a soft-toned mush - in my opinion obviously...


          • #6
            A denial of reality

            Originally posted by DSRANCE View Post
            ... typical audiophiles ... have as fixed attitudes as so-called pure "objectivists," their belief and acceptance of things that put "normal" music lovers off the industry seemingly total.

            I got into trouble last week elsewhere for suggesting that a newish and not expensive product which "needed" 72 to 100 hours of "burn-in" ... I appreciate that some components (fancy small signal capacitors for example) may take a short while to "form" properly, but 100 hours????? One of my detractors was quite happy to accept that some of the gear he likes can apparently take 500 hours plus to "burn in" fully - that's a year's use for many.....
            Noted David. It's healthy to be able to see the debate from both sides as you do.

            That business about 'burn-in' simply cannot be balanced with the reality of our audio memory. I demonstrated only yesterday here that our auditory system is honed by evolution for making split-second, life or death, flee or fight decisions. Music, in evolutionary terms, is a complete irrelevance to the development of our auditory sense. Claims that any human can detect change in audio quality over events separated by 100 hours+ is clearly delusional. There is no other rational explanation. Well no, I suppose one should say that such an individual could have such a freak audio sensitivity that they should be hiring their services to the audio industry as a very highly remunerated consultant. There again, you have - as indeed I have - assumed that such a comment be taken on face value as so many of the audiophile recommendations that spurt forth are. It is much more likely to be a comment by a mendacious individual who enjoys a reaction, and that has been achieved.

            When common sense is applied followed by the words "prove it" so much utter claptrap vaporises.

            Do we have a generation of audio consumers for whom life is so comfortable, money and free time is so plentiful and common sense so absent that they willingly allow themselves to be led by the nose to the cash machine for the latest, newest gear? It seems so! If only the hard core audiophile could be encouraged to appreciate that what is a rave 'must have' for him, simply cannot be applied a universal 'must have' for the rest of humanity. If the music lover wishes to maximise the long-term emotional value from an investment in audio equipment he should apply due diligence to external well-intentioned guidance and remember that his requirements are absolutely unique and that one size cannot fit all.

            Is there any provable truth in any belief held by hardened audiophiles? It's worrying isn't it.
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK


            • #7
              The rich audiophile and "foo" magic

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              Is there any provable truth in any belief held by hardened audiophiles? It's worrying isn't it.
              I expect there to be some things with foundation in science that we may not have got our hands and ears around yet, but you Alan have seen far more of the more outlandish aspects than I, having travelled all over the world and experienced things way beyond my audio-sensibilities.

              I suspect the "thing" for us to do is to keep an open mind to both established and proved facts, while always seeking ways of "pushing the envelope" if we can (How I hate these terms...) without straying into blind alleys...

              Do that many audio people really buy into this "Foo stuff?" these days? The prices of much of it is so outlandish it must only be the seriously well-off who can indulge in such things?


              • #8
                Talisman marketing and true improvements

                I hold it to be true that every change to any part of an audio system has an effect on the sound quality, but the degree of that change is the crucial determinant in whether or not to pursue measurement of it, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

                Every component in an amplifier must ring mechanically, and also electrically, each at some frequency and some magnitude, but the significances to the human hearing system must be the criteria used in determining whether any investigation, measurement, and attempt at elimination should be pursued. Science is the key.

                However the use of the word 'Audiophile' seems to be entirely a negative one in discussions here, and I don't know what specifically the word is defined to mean; I had regarded myself as such, but only in the sense that I love good reproduction of music, and am thrilled at hearing a better rendition of it.

                I abhor the use in marketing of misleading pseudo information which in essence results in conning people to buy products based on false belief systems; sophism, which is unfortunately uniquitous.

                As a personality type, and this may seem rather obsessive-compulsive to many, I constantly analyse my performance at everything I do, every task I complete, so that I may see trends in my performances, and change my approach to improve myself. I have taken many scientific models and adopted/adapted them into my personal life; (S/N), wheat/chaff, baby/bath water, to improve all aspects of living, and monitoring the monitoring, and cross checking are constant.

                This of course I apply to my Hi-Fi system, and as with recent changes to amplification, I have checked, and multiply checked that these changes have produced an improvement which is verifyable. Today, whilst working and concentrating on it whilst R2 was playing in the background, I heard chords (or partials) on Fleetwood Mac's Songbird which I have never ever heard before. This, with many other examples in the last few months, provides confidence that my decisions have been valid.

                This perception is possibly the only area of disagreement I have with views expressed on this site; those in which it is asserted that differences can only be heard when comparison is immediate or very close in time. However I agree with this when differences are extremely small.

                I can see how, and empathise to an extent with those who form a relationship with objects which is more than utilitarian for psychological reasons; people adorn their houses with art, and often of little merit artistically, but that is not what it is there for. Often items become icons for internal belief systems, for example, talismans for sportsmen, a crucifix for God, but the exploitation of this tendency by marketing psychologists to form 'brand loyalty' and ultimately a school of belief, is an obscenity.


                • #9
                  The perfect post ...

                  Originally posted by Pharos View Post
                  I hold it to be true that every change to any part of an audio system has an effect on the sound quality, but the degree of that change is the crucial determinant in whether or not to pursue measurement of it, both qualitatively and quantitatively....However the use of the word 'Audiophile' seems to be entirely a negative one in discussions here, and I don't know what specifically the word is defined to mean; I had regarded myself as such, but only in the sense that I love good reproduction of music, and am thrilled at hearing a better rendition of it. I abhor the use in marketing of misleading pseudo information which in essence results in conning people to buy products based on false belief systems; sophism, which is unfortunately uniquitous. As a personality type, and this may seem rather obsessive-compulsive to many, I constantly analyse my performance at everything I do, every task I complete...
                  Well, there is an honest chap.

                  It must seem that I am some sort of killjoy, which is very far from the truth. I strongly believe in consumer democracy: the right to but what one wants when one wants providing it doesn't harm other people. The issue is that many of our type of readers and owners admit to being both inexperienced in the selection of audio equipment and uncertain of technical parameters, plus are confused by contradictory advice from audio magazines, friends and on-line forums. That's a very uncomfortable mental place to be. That's puts the enquirer in a subordinate position. I don't like the feel of that at all. We at HUG have a duty of care to protect the least experienced and worldly wise audio buyer; the hardened audiophile can take care of himself.

                  Posted today is an excellent example of the very sort of contribution that I'm proud to see here. It's open, balanced, pragmatic, makes good sense and would be very foolish to ignore ...

                  Originally posted by kencohen View Post
                  Hi Nikolas. First, about Harbeth, I have 32 year old Harbeths which still sound very good. I'm considering SHL5's because they sound dramatically better, and a new amp, here are my thoughts.

                  Choose the speakers first, take them home and get your listening room set up - personally I've found that the speakers and the room acoustics make a much bigger difference to your ears than an upgraded amp. Next in line would be the turntable (especially the tone arm) and the cartridge, which can provide a huge improvement to LPs. And if you don't own a record washer, and don't want to do this manually, buy one, clean vinyl alone can bring out parts of the music you never noticed before.

                  Get these things right first. Then if you still feel the sound could be better, listen to a good AB amp. See if the dealer will lend you the amp to take home so you can hear it with your equipment, you'll quickly find out how extensive an improvement in the sound you're getting for your money. You might even decide you don't need a new amp, especially with the Harbeths. If you're still not satisfied, then you can try a class A amp. For me the cost difference alone was enough to rule out a Class A, never mind the heat, low power output (assuming you dont want to spend five figures) and huge power consumption. As for crossover distortion in an AB, the well designed ones minimize this. Look into the NAD 375CBEE for instance. Or possibly the Anthem 225, Marantz PM6004, Onkyo A9070. And remember , it's all about the music. Marketers are selling dreams, not reality.
                  I like that post because it suggests a plan of attack, it proposes alternatives, it is frank about the negatives, and it is open ended - no firm conclusions that amp X 'blows away' amp Y. It makes it clear that the buyer is going to have to do some legwork himself, to reach his own conclusions; to find a combination of price/performance/size/styling that match his personal needs. That is a scientific methodology. I also appreciate that, as is clearly stated, the technically weakest links in the audio chain are by far any element that has moving parts responsible for sound generation: microphones, pick-up cartridges/tonearm/turntable, loudspeakers.

                  So what about all those other parts of the audio chain that are static, with no moving parts. For example, the amplifier or audio cables. Surely they have audio personalities? If you trawl the internet you will find one hundred voices that agree with the view that these static components are capable of bringing a night-and-day transformation to an audio system, and one or two voices who say that components devoid of moving parts are, under controlled conditions, virtually or actually indistinguishable. It would take a superhuman to resist going with the flow when at every turn he hears the similar reinforcing rhetoric that X is the best cable or Y the finest amplifier.

                  Let's move the clock forward from today, the dark ages of audio, to some point in the future, say the year 2050. Let's not speculate about how audio is delivered to our homes (almost certainly by direct injection into the brain) but look at technical progress overall for recognisable audio components we are familiar with today. Electro-mechanical microphones, turntables, tonearms and loudspeakers will still be around. They will still be being reinvented, because there is an infinite number of variables in EM equipment and every generation of designer will find some novel way of combining weight, friction, speed and damping. But what of the static parts of the system? Let's assume, as a theoretical position, that by 2050 it has been accepted that the static components (amps, cables, stands, isolators, tuning crystals etc.) only have a personality under uncontrolled conditions, and that under controlled conditions these differences disappear. As a result, by 2050 there are just a handful of makers still producing and they were selling on the basis of styling, size, power, features, after-care; nobody asked about sound quality because by then, it is appreciated that fabled sound-quality is not a selling feature.

                  Given that scenario, a future audiophile from 2050, stumbling across a pile of late 20th/early 21st century hi-fi magazines at a Sunday morning hoverbike boot fair, would be confused by what he read. He's recognise from reviews of turntables and cartridges and speakers the very same sort of issues that a designer of 2050 faces, how to balance the physical forces for a good sound. But he's be very surprised to read page after page extolling the virtues of design after design of rigid, non-moving, non-mechanical components. From his future (hypothetical) perspective where these components are accepted as near identical under controlled conditions, it would read like page after page of fiction, millions of words based on - what? - emotion? And he'd wonder how one man's emotional attachment to a piece of static hardware could inspire and motivate legions of others into blind consumption.

                  2050 is a date I picked at random. But no-doubt, it could be any date.

                  As I say, absolutely nothing will shake the hardened audiophile from his beliefs. We have proved that. But as I believe that such focused person is unlikely to find the Harbeth product emotionally attractive, my concern is merely to inhibit wild recommendations from those non-customers influencing real Harbeth users into 'system envy'. There is far too much dissatisfaction in our modern lives already without applying more emotional blackmail.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK


                  • #10
                    Tricks of the brain - compression

                    Originally posted by Pharos View Post
                    Today, whilst working and concentrating on it whilst R2 was playing in the background, I heard chords (or partials) on Fleetwood Mac's Songbird which I have never ever heard before. This, with many other examples in the last few months, provides confidence that my decisions have been valid.
                    Hi Pharos,

                    A lot of thought-provoking thoughts in that message. But this extract caught my attention: as someone who knows a fair bit about how R2 is played out, I'm not sure if it's completely valid to say that your new amplifier is responsible for the effect you describe; as you might already know, Radio 2 is, in common with virtually all radio today, heavily processed before distribution to the transmitter sites.

                    For each radio network, there are "Optimods" in the basement of Broadcasting House for the various feeds - FM, DAB, digital TV - and these are all set differently. These Optimods are multi-band dynamic range processors (aka "compressors") that have been set up in a specific way to give the required "house sound" - and also to help overcome operator error to some extent. The result is pleasant enough for a casual listener in non-ideal situations using non-hi-fi equipment - and of course that's the majority of the Radio 2 audience - but audio heard on the radio really does bear little resemblance to the original CD that was fed into the computerised playout system some 10+ years ago.

                    In other words, if you noticed something new in a well-known recording, it might be because the compressor effectively "brought it up in the mix". Multi-band compressors are able to do this because they handle different ranges of frequencies differently.

                    All that said, I frequently notice new things in old favourites, and this has little to do with the kit (my system has been static for 10 years now), but everything to do with me. Ignoring the mechanical parts which are always getting worse with the passing of time, the brain is an astonishing thing and plays all sorts of tricks, including subconsciously shifting its focus. Sometimes a lyric that has been incomprehensible suddenly leaps out at me, and I wonder at how I'd never managed to not understand it before. Sometimes I clearly hear all the components of a multi-track vocal that I hadn't even noticed was multi-tracked before. Occasionally complete instruments appear! I can only assume that every time I'd listened previously, other parts drew my attention. We evolved to have incredibly selective hearing that is especially acute in the midrange where most speech information is, and is able to accurately locate sounds of a transient nature so that we knew to run away from the twig that was just broken by that predator.

                    The fact that we are surprised by recordings - especially when they are in the background - is just a facet of how our brain processes sound at a sub-sub-subconscious level. And is why we can only trust our ears to a limited extent when doing comparisons - a lot of the differences I've heard in the past have been non-existent in reality; it was just my limited attention span playing tricks!

                    All the best,



                    • #11
                      Why does today's BBC sound so harsh?

                      Thanks for that Mark, a set of feelings I regularly experience myself - no wonder I'm confused when dealing with subjectivists who haven't yet found this out.............

                      I should like to ask though - WHY does the BBC allow such hideous noises to come from their radio broadcasts? The compression, even on a half decent portable, let alone headphones or a HiFi, is pretty darned well killing the music being played. The presenters on Radio 2 recently also sound sibilant as if they were "recorded" with Dolby and played back without and the radio 4 programmes I regularly listen to in the car, often sound strained these days - bring back vintage valve compression in my opinion..

                      Sorry to drift off topic, but it's something I wanted to get off my chest - I hope you all will understand


                      • #12
                        The facts about processed audio - essential for the masses

                        Hi Dave,

                        I only wish I knew!

                        Sadly I have no say in such matters - I'm only an engineer. You might not be surprised to hear that I've often asked questions about this; to no avail. I can't discover who decided on the Optimod settings, when, and why exactly, and the only "fact" I hear regularly is that the precise settings of all the various processors are only known to a small number of people. Apparently our commercial rivals would love to know how to sound as bad!

                        I suppose we could say that these decisions were made pragmatically, based on surveys of the bulk of the listening habits, and as I alluded to previously, the overwhelming majority of listeners do listen in very poor situations: cars, mono transistor radios, DAB portables, on flatscreen TVs via Freeview (yes, really!), via their laptop loudspeakers, etc. I've put those in approximate order of quality, by the way, as many vintage transistors radios sound surprisingly agreeable (currently I'm listening to Radio 3 on a Hacker VHF Herald).

                        And given that an awfully large number of people consume music via an iPod dock, their best quality audio experiences might well be in the car! So yes, the processors were almost certainly set based on the outcome of these studies - the views of people like us would have been "lost in the noise", sadly.

                        I can see both sides. For example, Radio 3 can sound absolutely superb on a hi-fi as they still operate studios expertly and only employ minimal compression at certain times of the day. By contrast, Classic FM is obviously compressed on FM, and isn't so satisfying on a hi-fi. But in a car, the situation is reversed - with Radio 3, I'm constantly adjusting the volume control as I drive, whereas Classic FM is more suited to that noisy environment. Interestingly, Classic FM isn't compressed on DAB, so people have the choice - but listening on DAB is more revealing of the operational practices they employ. For example, every single track they store on their playout system is "normalised" as it is copied from the CD - not an awful practice for rock&pop, but for classic music with a much wider dynamic range this means that there is often an uncomfortable jump in level between opening and slow movements on complete works.

                        Ultimately, there is no substitute for skilled operators, but these people cost money, and simple economic arguments will always win. But even on a (decent) transistor radio, the differences in quality between Radio 3 and Classic FM are readily noticeable.

                        Of course, Radio 1 is an extreme example, where the BBC has to compete for market share within a certain demographic, and the commercial alternatives are also heavily compressed. Not to mention the recordings, which of course are subject to the current "Loudness Wars". I'm pretty sure all this started back in the 1980s, when people like Capital FM used processors to make their output sound louder - and back in those days lots of people used analogue receivers, especially in cars, so would interpret a louder signal as a stronger one. As soon as the competition realised this, they copied. So you compress more. So do they. The result is dozens of radio stations with almost zero dynamic range. And perhaps bizarrely, some of the most vocal complaints about hyper-compression came from Metallica fans (just Google "Death Magnetic loudness war"). No-doubt that's been covered on here already...

                        But station processing is just one side of the coin...

                        Unfortunately, presenters are close-mic'd, which gives a very unnatural sound. Why? Because its an easy way to mitigate poor studio acoustics - many modern studios are glass boxes filled with hard, reflective surfaces including large flat-screen monitors. Decent acoustic design costs serious money, and doesn't look as good to the untrained observer (not forgetting that "visualisation" is a current buzz-word in radio). Furthermore, many presenters use boxes to process their voices with EQ and compression - presumably set by their producers. Ever noticed how different they sound when doing live events? That's part of the reason.

                        For those of you who made recordings from the radio in years gone by, please treasure them. It's hard to imagine things improving until I become DG!




                        • #13
                          BBC 'house sound' and concern for Users

                          Hello Mark,
                          I was aware of compression being used of course, but I am not privy to any precise info on it or of Optimod settings or usage; you make a valid point about the possibility of gain variation affecting what I heard. I am reminded of Dolby noise reduction raising certain frequency bands' levels which could of course increase a particular instrument's level. I am also aware of the enormous variability of the brain's functioning.

                          One of the experiences I had a couple of weeks ago, and which was very surprising, and which I think confirms the improvement, was that I heard a song which I have never previously understood a word of, and now heard every word clearly.

                          I am convinced, regrettably, that the BBC spends much money on psychological research, probably to determine the 'tailoring' of what you describe as 'house sound', but also to adopt a certain stance and resultant significance to its particular audience profiles.

                          I find I am constantly annoyed by certain advertising announcements, notably on R2 in which the tone is one of a parent patronising a child who has had a minor mishap, and there are also those narrators who speak like the villains in James Bond films, talking to Bond with a contemptuous, condescending and disdainful manner.

                          Why a neutral tone, such as that of a lecturer imparting information to a student whilst expressing respect cannot be used, I can only assume to be to manipulate the audience, and I find this disrespectful.

                          Alan, I have seen hardened audiophiles shaken from their beliefs, in fact I have done so to subjectivist audiophiles. (We still do not have an agreed definition of this word; is it a derisory condemnatory word describing subjectivists of illusory beliefs, or a description of those who love good sound?)

                          Your expressed concern for your customers, and also your wish to guide them from folly is admirable, this contrasts with many businessmen who will callously guide customers into fallacious views; I am reminded of estate agents and car servicing personnel.

                          I cannot see why you conclude that it "must seem that I am some sort of killjoy", surely your expressed motives of concern for your customers contraindicate that.


                          • #14
                            The audiophile and his perception by musicians ....

                            Originally posted by HUG-1 View Post
                            How many physicists, musicians or women are audiophiles? Why?
                            Not many, I would think. I will say a couple of things about musicians vs audiophilia. Musicians are very seldom audiophiles, in my experience, having spent quite a lot of time around both experimental, pop/rock and jazz musicians. Very rarely does the subject of hi-fi come up. They talk about music all the time, and they often discuss how records sound, but then it's the sound of the recording that is discussed, with the implication that the quality of the production can be heard no matter what playback system is used.

                            The typical musician has a modest system, but spends a lot of time and money researching and buying other peoples music and going to concerts. Audiophiles are universally frowned upon in the music world (by performers and producers) - the stereotype being a middle aged man comparing his newly bought Anniversary Edition of "Dark Side of the Moon" (a perennial favourite among hard core audiophiles) with his 25 other versions of the same record. Most musicians see their hi-fi system as a tool for music playback - it is a means to an end. Perhaps surprisingly, this is also my experience with really dedicated record collectors: It is obviously more tempting to buy a hundred new records than getting a more powerful amplifier or, god forbid, exotic speaker cables.


                            • #15
                              A shrine to The God of Audio

                              Your post Regalins very much confirms my experience, and in many areas and circumstances.

                              I know of one ex Sales Director of a company that stated that he thought all audiophiles were "nutters", and my own dealings with companies which sell professional sound equipment is that they regard audiophiles as an extremist tendency, the professionals paying scant regard to home reproduction equipment.

                              All of my own equipment is second hand and shows signs of usage and age, but it functions correctly and this has saved me money. By contrast, some would have inferior quality equipment that was new, their bias being more towards a super clean and pristine appearing shrine. Some audiophiles' homes have a dedicated music room in which the equipment end strongly resembles the preacher's end of a church in its shrine like presentation.

                              My own second hand equipment has been criticised by my neighbour because "It is second hand though", despite the important design aspects of it being up to, or even better than original specification.