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post #1 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 07:33 AM - Thread Starter
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Writing about AV-related topics inevitably leads me to shows where high-end audio gear is on display and available to audition. As I listen to more and more sound systems, there's one thought that keeps coming back to me: High-end audio has outlived its usefulness.

 

When I first became aware of hi-fi—as an eight-year-old child living in Athens, Greece—Pink Floyd had just released The Wall on a vinyl double LP. I remember the distinct difference between listening to that album on a stereo hi-fi system—a pair of full-sized 3-way Acoustic Research AR-11 speakers and a Technics receiver—versus the sound made by the Philips record player console my grandparents had in their living room. My favorite track was "Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)."

 

A few years later, Brown University accepted my mother's application to attend graduate school, so we moved from Greece to Providence, RI just as the 1980s began. One of the first things she did was purchase a nice stereo. It was a pair of EPI 100 2-way speakers connected to a 40-watt/channel Technics receiver and an Audio-Technica turntable. That combo later became my first stereo system when my mother gave it to me; it ultimately lasted a decade and a half. That system became the reference with which I judged every future upgrade.

 

My first speakers were EPI 100s - photo from audiocircuit.com

 

By the late 1980s, I had started reading Stereophile magazine. I loved John Atkinson's speaker reviews; I was sure that one day I would own a pair of Stereophile-rated speakers and either a Krell or Crown amp. Those were my primary parameters for my future system, but I also wanted speakers capable of very deep bass reproduction and a good CD player.

 

Krell's KSA250 amp was my dream amplifier back in the early 1990s - photo from stereophile.com

 

I befriended the staff at two local hi-fi stores: Stereo Discount Center and Ocean State Audio. Stereo Discount Center was all about mainstream gear, so-called mid-fi, and featured Sony ES, Yamaha, Denon, and Adcom electronics, among others. When it came to speakers, B&W was the main brand along with Paradigm, but the store also sold some speakers from a now-defunct Canadian company called Image. Ocean State Audio was strictly high-end and featured a lot of Krell gear. The store's owner—Bruce Kutin—was extraordinarily accommodating considering I was just a kid with no hope of affording a $100,000 stereo system. It didn't seem to matter; Bruce was glad to swap a pair of ProAC towers for a pair of Apogee Studio Grands to see how they sounded playing Enya, Sly & Robbie, and The Orb.

 

Apogee Studio Grand speakers were notoriously tough to drive

 

Ultimately, I spent my money at Stereo Discount Center. I settled for a system based on a pair of Sony TAN-77ES amps running in monoblock mode. For my speakers, I chose a pair of Image Concept 200s—2-way towers that earned a class C rating from Stereophile. To quote John Atkinson's review, "This speaker offers the deepest bass per dollar of any in this price class." No upgrade ever made as much impact on me than those Concept 200s—they sounded amazing for their time. 

 

I used to have a two-stack of Sony TAN-77ES amps - photo from flickr by mastercontrolmedia

 

That system, the most minimal I've ever owned, consisted of Sony's legendary CDP-X7ESD CD player connected to the twin amps with a pair of Monster interconnects. It was a great system, augmented by a pair of B&W Acoustitune subwoofers—one per channel.

 

Inside Sony's ridiculously overbuilt CDP-X7ESD CD player - photo from phxaudiotape.com

 

Within a couple of years of procuring that stereo, I made a fateful decision and bought a Yamaha DSP-E300 standalone surround processor along with a pair of B&W bookshelf speakers. Bam! The sense total envelopment in a soundfield hooked me immediately. I bought a VHS Hi-Fi VCR shortly thereafter—I remember watching Aliens at home and the thrill of hearing sound effects come from behind my head. I also discovered the joys of listening to music in surround, which I enjoy to this day. I'm not a 2-channel purist by any stretch of the imagination, and that shift represented a clear break from the high-end dogma of 2-channel minimalism.

 

Yamaha's DSP-E300 surround processor/amplifier forever changed how I listen to audio

 

I was having fun in surround-sound world, but I'd still go visit Bruce at Ocean State Audio and listen to the high-end stuff. I always left impressed by how his systems had that little bit of extra refinement, but I also marveled at how my own system seemed to handle deep bass better than anything Bruce was able to put together. On one day I'll never forget, I told him that a whole part of a Sly & Robbie bass line was inaudible. His response? "It must be imaginary bass if this system isn't reproducing it." That particular system consisted of a pair of Apogee Studio Grand speakers with integrated subs, plus all-Krell electronics.

 

Sly & Robbie, masters of imaginary bass

 

Bruce's comment still bugs me to this day, even though over 20 years have passed. However, the circumstances that led to it are even more prevalent now. The threshold where the law of diminishing returns kicks in is so low these days, it makes we wonder what the purpose of high-end hi-fi is anymore—aside from maximizing profits. Is the rationale for owning a Krell (or similar) amp similar to owning a Rolex, to show off engineering bling from a bygone era? Is there another, better justification to pay extra for engineering artistry?

 

Now, I power my DIY subwoofers with a Crown Xti-2002 amplifier. A Pioneer Elite SC-55 receiver produces more than enough juice to run my ridiculously cheap and good-sounding Behringer B215XL speakers. My Xti-2002 performs so well, I end up wondering what—if any—benefit I would gain from spending 20 times as much on a high-end amp from McIntosh, Pass Labs, Krell, Mark Levinson, Dan D'Agostino, TAD, or many others.

 

My current system contains no high-end amps, cables, or speakers; nevertheless, it sounds just as good as far more expensive gear

 

My ears are open to sonic revelations—I'm on the road listening to elite stereo and home-theater sound systems all the time. The more I hear, the more I conclude that pro audio is way ahead of the curve versus high-end hi-fi. In fact, high-end consumer-oriented audio gear is starting to look more and more like overpriced pro gear, especially with the adoption of balanced XLR interconnects and (gasp) the use of fans instead of heat sinks.

 

Here's a stereo-typical high-end audio system. Yes, I have a sense of humor.

 

Technology is a great equalizer. The transition from analog to digital audio has had many ramifications, but the main one is simple and obvious—it's incredibly cheap and relatively easy to perform essentially perfect digital-to-analog conversions and vice versa. A $99 Blu-ray player is all the transport you need to feed studio-quality uncompressed audio to a receiver that outperforms even the very best gear from the 1990s. It's a great time to be an audiophile on a budget. For example, last night I listened to Dark Side of the Moon presented in 5.1 surround, from the DSoTM Ultimate Immersion Blu-Ray box set. It beat every 2-channel mix of the album that I have ever heard, and that includes vinyl as well as CDs on six-figure stereo systems.

 

However, this ubiquity of quality brought about by the digital revolution has resulted in a backlash—the resurgence of vinyl records. This time around, record collecting is all about boutique labels and 180-gram, deep-groove, limited-edition pressings on virgin vinyl. Putting aside that high-resolution digital audio is superior to vinyl in just about every performance category—with vinyl, it still costs a fortune to put together a truly great-performing stereo system. That serves the interests of both the dealers and the consumers in the high end who are looking for bragging rights. I won't deny that vinyl can sound excellent, but it cannot ever hope to beat high-resolution digital audio in terms of distortion, dynamic range, and frequency response. Similarly, a Rolex pocket watch cannot hope to beat the iPhone in terms of accuracy or utility—but it certainly costs more.

 

A pair of these Wilson Maxx3 speakers, VTL Siegfried Series II amps, and Transparent Opus MM2 speaker cables costs $100,000 altogether. You'll still need a source, a preamp, and interconnects.

 

I'm left thinking that high-end audio is obsolete. However, for audiophiles, the future looks much brighter than the past or even the present. The hi-fi landscape is dramatically different today versus even a decade ago. High-resolution audio is available online from multiple sources, and iTunes tracks come extremely close to CD quality. It's possible to get fantastic stereo sound—I'd even say audiophile sound—from a $250 pair of speakers connected to a $20 amplifier using a smartphone for the sound source. I know, because I have exactly such a system in my kitchen—a pair of Pioneer SP-FS52 towers connected to a Lepai LP2020+ amplifier with a retired iPhone acting as the source. In many ways, it sounds almost as good as my system from two decades ago—one that cost and weighed over ten times as much!

 

This little Lepai 20 watt/channel stereo amplifier sounds great and costs under $20 - photo from CNET

 

Then there's the case of Monster. Last year, I bought a pair of Monster Clarity HD speakers on clearance. I considered them a ripoff at the original MSRP of $700, but they currently sell for around $300, a price point where they are a bargain. They are self-powered 2-way bookshelf speakers that happen to sound good despite the fact they use inexpensive, off-the-shelf components—something I discovered when I opened one up and Googled the part number of the woofer, which Parts Express sells for $18 each. That Monster managed to take such an affordable driver and make it sound so good further reinforces the notion that even mass-produced audio components can perform exceptionally well.

 

This Peerless 5-1/4" driver—used in Monster's Clarity HD One Speakers—sounds great despite its low cost

 

As an audiophile who's seen the evolution of audio from a stack of 45s playing from a giant piece of wooden furniture to today's wireless, all-digital systems, I'm more optimistic than ever that the golden era of audio is ahead of us. However, I do not believe that high-end hi-fi has a significant role to play in that future.

 

$2 million for an amplifier? The Pivetta Opera Only amp delivers 160,000 watts of power - photo from whathifi

 

I want to hear your opinions on this topic. What direction will high-end audio take? What is the most promising technology for audiophiles? And most importantly, do you think high-end audio is obsolete?

 

 


 

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post #2 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 07:58 AM
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thanks for sharing your audio history.


I bought some cheap headphones from a guy who sells expensive audio stuff. I only had contact with him over mail and there was one phonecall.

The impression that i've got out of that is that selling expensive audio stuff is like selling someone a luxury car with a lot of bling bling (and there is lots of convincing involved). There is Always a market for that.

http://www.senseofmusic.nl/categorie/Luidsprekers/53
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post #3 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post


I'm left thinking that high-end audio is obsolete. However, for audiophiles, the future looks much brighter than the past or even the present. The hi-fi landscape is dramatically different today versus even a decade ago. High-resolution audio is available online from multiple sources, and iTunes tracks come extremely close to CD quality. It's possible to get fantastic stereo sound—I'd even say audiophile sound—from a $250 pair of speakers connected to a $20 amplifier using a smartphone for the sound source. I know, because I have exactly such a system in my kitchen—a pair of Pioneer SP-FS52 towers connected to a Lepai LP2020+ amplifier with a retired iPhone acting as the source. In many ways, it sounds almost as good as my system from two decades ago—one that cost and weighed over ten times as much!

Then there's the case of Monster. Last year, I bought a pair of Monster Clarity HD speakers on clearance. They are self-powered 2-way bookshelf speakers that happen to sound good despite the fact they use inexpensive, off-the-shelf components—something I discovered when I opened one up and Googled the part number of the woofer, which Parts Express sells for $17 each. That Monster managed to take such affordable components and make it sound so good further reinforces the notion that even mass-produced audio components can perform exceptionally well.

As an audiophile who's seen the evolution of audio from a stack of 45s playing from a giant piece of wooden furniture to today's wireless, all-digital systems, I'm more optimistic than ever that the golden era of audio is ahead of us. However, I do not believe that high-end hi-fi has a significant role to play in that future.

I want to hear your opinions on this topic. What direction will high-end audio take? What is the most promising technology for audiophiles? And most importantly, do you think high-end audio is obsolete?

Agreed. I think that the history of audio will characterize what we currently call high end audio as a boomer affectation, and say that it was diminished to a tiny niche by high quality portable audio as a standard feature of ubiquitous digital appliances, a role that is currently filled by smartphones.
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post #4 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 08:06 AM - Thread Starter
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thanks for sharing your audio history.


I bought some cheap headphones from a guy who sells expensive audio stuff. I only had contact with him over mail and there was one phonecall.

The impression that i've got out of that is that selling expensive audio stuff is like selling someone a luxury car with a lot of bling bling (and there is lots of convincing involved). There is Always a market for that.

http://www.senseofmusic.nl/categorie/Luidsprekers/53

 

I bought my first Grado's back in the early 1990s from Bruce at Ocean State Audio, he told me those SR-80s would allow me to have a small taste of high-end sound. The Grados were very good headphones, but he made it sound like they would be a revelation, that there would be no going back. To this day Sony is my headphone brand of choice—not Grado—even though I've owned more than a few other Grados over the years.

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post #5 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 09:58 AM
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Really enjoyed this. Thank you.
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post #6 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 10:09 AM
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I have built and owned audio gear since about 1960.

My first "hi-fi" was an Eico 20-watt tube amplifier with a Klipschorn speaker; both were built from kits they sold then. Not too bad for 1960.

I have been through many many systems since then, attempting to get nicer more realistic sound and incrementally improve without straining my modest budget or causing a divorce.

I had a Karman-kardon A500 tube integrated amp for many years with Wharfedale W70D speakers, then in 1980 graduated to Polk RTA12 studio monitors with a NAD 3020 amplifier.

After that, I found Vandersteen 2 and 3 and 3A speakers and various Audio Research preamps with AUDIRE amplifiers, and now I have a Audio Research LS26 preamp and Musical Fidelity M6PRX power amp driving the Vandersteen Treos. I guess the replacement cost of my current gear would be around $25,000, which is nothing compared to many high-end systems, but a lot for a retired college prof. I didn't spend it all at once though; it took years...lol. I spent more than that for my Prius all at once.


It would be really fun to put our systems side-by-side and see what we think. I naturally think mine is probably better, but listening would be the only way to tell. biggrin.gif

I have listened to many many expensive systems over the years to try to get something that sounds better than what I have; 99% of that highly-rated gear does NOT sound as good to me.

The few things that may sound a tiny bit better would seem to cost 5 or 10 times as much, so I am holding onto what I have for now.

This is the first system I have ever had that will actually reproduce the dynamics and power of a concert piano from pianissimo to FFFF with total realism and sonic purity and no sense of strain, and that is one of my key criteria (among others).



BTW- I think that when Sony and Phillips came up with the CD standard in 1980 or so, they didn't realize the challenges it created. The road has been long and hard and millions of CD players really sucked for 30 years. Good DACs were NOT cheap or easy to design for players.

As far as I am concerned, the OPPO BDP-95 was the first CD player to achieve a really high level of fidelity from CDs for under $5000. I love mine.

I had the Ayre C5 before it, and it cost $6000. The OPPO BDP-95 and 105 have made most $2000+ CD players obsolete IMO, and they are incredible bargains.

I still have the first CD I ever bought, Delos CD4001, Joe Williams "Nothin but the Blues" (1981) and it sounds wonderful on the BDP-95. Those who blamed the early CDs for bad sound quality were mostly WRONG! It was the crappy DACs in the CD players, not the CDs (for the most part). Out of my 1400 CDs, I would only identify 50 or less as having poor-quality sound, and the reasons for those being crappy vary widely. My 60 years worth of LPs is another whole bag; about half are very good or better, but that gets into a lot of recording and quality issues.

I love your concrete-block speaker stands; they are my favorite (but I need no stands with my current speakers). Low cost and maximum mass!


I guess my answer to the question is; when my ears quit working or I quit loving music, maybe it will become irrelevant or obsolete to ME, but not before. wink.gif
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post #7 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 10:30 AM
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Interesting premise, and one that I've thought about as well (I write CD reviews--and other misc articles--for Audioholics). It seems as though the younger generation has been brought up on MP3s, but then I'm amazed at the LP "backlash" (not even I would spend $20+ on 45 RPM pressings of classic albums--and I have over 200 albums, most of them fusion jazz). I guess it boils down to choice: seems as though we have more choice today than we did when I was a kid (70's), both from a $$ perspective as well as a QoS (Quality of Sound) perspective.

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post #8 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 10:54 AM
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Excellent post. It summarizes much of what I have been thinking over the past decade. The digital revolution and the law of diminishing returns have truly changed the landscape. I have no affinity towards vinyl, tube amps, or any of those things. I still buy CD's, but I rip them to FLAC and listen to it from my gaming computer via HDMI to a Denon AVR. From there, I run it to a 5.1 SVS system. Having listened to high end audio at the few stores that remain, I feel that any upgrade would be just for the last few percent worth of improvement.

I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.
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post #9 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by stuup1dmofo View Post

Excellent post. It summarizes much of what I have been thinking over the past decade. The digital revolution and the law of diminishing returns have truly changed the landscape. I have no affinity towards vinyl, tube amps, or any of those things. I still buy CD's, but I rip them to FLAC and listen to it from my gaming computer via HDMI to a Denon AVR. From there, I run it to a 5.1 SVS system. Having listened to high end audio at the few stores that remain, I feel that any upgrade would be just for the last few percent worth of improvement.

I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.

You would lose that bet.

The average DAC on a motherboard is 16-bit CD-quality audio and is usually pretty good, up to where it leaves and goes out.

The DAC in a cheap CD player or smartphone can easily be demonstrated to be very inferior in performance and has poor resolution.

The high-quality SABRE DACs in the OPPO BDP-95 and -105 are the precise reason they sound so good.

P.S.- There are very few audio stores anywhere that have demo rooms suitable to properly demonstrate good high-end equipment. Their acoustics tend to be terrible and most of the guys that work there haven't a clue. It's a sad state of affairs.
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post #10 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 11:18 AM
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I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.

I hope you don't REALLY believe that! I'd ask your age, but I expect the question would be taken the wrong way wink.gif
One of the pieces of this puzzle is: we can't expect a generation raised on iPods and Playstations to have experienced the virtues of "high-end" audio--digital OR analog rolleyes.gif
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post #11 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 11:32 AM
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Blasphemy smile.gif

I have followed a similar trajectory but I'm happy to report I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

I had many high end system thought the years
The picture of the Apogee Grands almost makes we weep. Out of all the speakers I have ever owned I miss these the most. Likely nostalgia. I bet if heard them today I'd be crushed.

Thinking about this it largely comes down to a significant lifestyle and technology changes.

When I was a bachelor my combined living room & dinning served as the perfect space for a big 2-channel rig.
This was before home theater, multi-room audio and automation existed.

Upon getting married my very understanding bride and I moved to a new home. Here we built a dedicated but dual purpose room primarily for audio then video.

When the kids started appearing the 1st thing to go was the turntable. After one multi-thousand dollar cartridge was ruined my listening to vinyl was indefinitely put on hold.
Then the speakers went after a couple diamond tweeters getting shattered.
Mind you these were not my kids but friends and family.
Mine were taught at a very young age that nothing was off limits and this is our stuff and we should keep it nice so we can enjoy it.
We also didn't make a big deal about it. What do you do when some says don't do it?

Along with the kids came a significant reduction in personal time.
Time was now spent with the young clan watching family movies.
Home theater was now in full swing.
More high-end stuff disappeared.

Now the worm starts to turn.
Several years ago we needed more space as the kids multiplied.
We built a new bigger home.
With the expanded space we built a dedicated theater that could also double as a listening environment.
As the kids got older a high end system began coming together.
But before it was complete the direction changed to solely focus on a theater experience.
Limited dispersion speakers built into a baffle wall behind the screen and wall panels sound great for movies and just OK for music.

Fast forward several years.
My kids are now old enough to begin to enjoy listening to music.
I know some see all the digital streaming services as the devil. At least they are listening to a lot more music. I also believe this to be a potential gateway for a desire for higher quality audio.
The plan or should I say my hidden agenda is to get them to be conscious of audio and video quality.
All are fairly accomplished pianists with my oldest obsessed with also playing the guitar.
So much so that he gave up his XBOX One for a new guitar-that is certainly a huge win.

I have bought them all reasonably high quality headphones and B&W A7s speaker/airplay for their bedrooms.
They also use Airplay to listen to music through the installed speakers around the house both indoors and out.

A turntable arrives and records come out of storage.
It took awhile but my two oldest are rapidly getting into listening to my record collection in the theater and on my modest 2-channel system.

Then I upgraded the main audio/video system in the hearth room using the wonderful Wisdom Insight speakers.
Everyone noticed the massive improvements.

My next and and final phase of my plan is to change out the speakers in the theater for a Wisdom Sage system.
Its one of the only systems I have heard that is capable of delivery both movies and a music performances at the highest levels.
If you have not heard these you should they are stunning.
Along with the swap will come all new amps.
I think I'm set with a pre-amp/processor and sources.

As they say what is old eventually becomes new again.
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post #12 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 11:50 AM
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I think high end audio became obsolete 20 years ago. Unfortunately, neither the industry nor the audiophiles have figured that out. Eventually we will be able to bury it.
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post #13 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 12:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stuup1dmofo View Post

Excellent post. It summarizes much of what I have been thinking over the past decade. The digital revolution and the law of diminishing returns have truly changed the landscape. I have no affinity towards vinyl, tube amps, or any of those things. I still buy CD's, but I rip them to FLAC and listen to it from my gaming computer via HDMI to a Denon AVR. From there, I run it to a 5.1 SVS system. Having listened to high end audio at the few stores that remain, I feel that any upgrade would be just for the last few percent worth of improvement.

I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.

Depends whether you base your opinions on measurements or conventional audiophile listening tests, or science-based listening tests.

It is axiomatic that everything measures different, even each of the two channels of a high end power amp. I wrote that in another thread just lately and somebody posted a inspection test sheet that came with a very expensive, highly regarded high end power amp. The L & R channels were clearly different! The lesson is that measurable differences have to be informed by listening tests. If you base your opinions on science based listening tests your opinions will gravitate towards lessened concern over amplifiers and DACs.

Conventional audiophile listening tests are scientifically speaking absolutely guaranteed to leave the listeners with the impression that there were audible differences even when the two pieces of equipment being compared are in fact the same piece of equipment. One cause of this is the time delay and inconvenience of switching listening between the two pieces of equipment. This is usually done by means of cable swapping. Any equipment comparison is strongly dependent on our memories for small details related to hearing, which is known to be far less than perfect and increasingly flawed as the time delays exceed a few seconds. Another cause is the near universal avoidance of precise level matching which is easy enough to do with inexpensive test equipment, but still is hardly ever done. Music sounds different as its volume changes, pure and simple. Another cause is the fact that few audiophile listening tests allow people to audition the equipment with the exact same passage of music right down the the second. The sound of music can change quite rapidly, and create the impression that the sound quality is changing.

Science-based listening tests, also called Double Blind Listening Tests, DBTs or ABX tests address all of the problems mentioned above. But they take some technical competence and intentionality to run, so the results of this kind of testing does not grow on the proverbial trees.

The fact of the matter is that the *right* choice of a chip that costs from $5 to 25 dollars can seal the deal on a high end component in the minds of many audiophiles. The whole deal might be worth $500 or even thousands of dollars so buying the "right" chip is a minor expense compared to the whole deal. In fact some of these chips have wonderful measurements. The nitty-gritty is that we listen to these things with speakers and in rooms that have far, far worse performance if we were to measure them and compare them. Bottom line is that DAC chip price performance has improved markedly over the years and shouldn't be a big concern.
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post #14 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 01:43 PM
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One of the pieces of this puzzle is: we can't expect a generation raised on iPods and Playstations to have experienced the virtues of "high-end" audio--digital OR analog
I (and I'll be a fair number of others here) bought my first audio system as a teenager in the 70s.

A kid listening to iTunes downloads on an iPod today is hearing much better audio quality than I ever did at that age.

So stuff the age-related snobbery, please.

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post #15 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 01:52 PM
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I think movie and TV surround sound is getting more and more people interested in good audio, even though it's far easier and more affordable than it was a few decades ago for stereo.

The built-in DAC in a lot of stuff isn't that good, but you can buy a really good one for $99 that's USB powered. It also helps to move the signal farther in digital form before decoding, due to the possibility of interference and poor connections at many points in the stream- this helps clarity and audio quality even for highly compressed applications, like Skype headsets that are USB and have a built-in DAC and ADC.
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post #16 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by stuup1dmofo View Post

I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.
Oh sure for example I had a poster who was arguing if the headphones were extremely efficient that there was absolutely no difference between a analog connection to a laptop or smartphone, compared to a headphone amp/DAC.

Quickly found a example of audio performance is more then simply hearing inaudible differences in frequency response and amplification.
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Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

I'm not sure how they derive the S/N ratio of a digital output, as that is totally different to the S/N ratio of an analog output.

Anyhow, here is a quick measurement of the headphone output of my MacBook Pro versus the the analogue loopback of the ULN-2 which I used for the measurement. These shouldn't be taken as professional measurements, just as a comparison. The measurements were done at around -6dB. I think a 20-40 dB difference in the amount of distortion at the levels shown is significant enough.

LL
LL

To answer the OPs question though: You can do better than the analogue output of a Mac by a considerable margin. I haven't compared DACs with the TU-882R, but I'd say a basically decent DAC would benefit it.
Look at the differences between distortion levels straight out of the MacBook Pro and a low noise external amp.

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post #17 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 01:59 PM
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I think high end audio became obsolete 20 years ago. Unfortunately, neither the industry nor the audiophiles have figured that out. Eventually we will be able to bury it.
This is about the time where you saw a transition from larger 3 or 4 way speakers to small enclosures with little speakers that supposedly had equivalent frequency response. Just missing one aspect to make sound loud you need to move air, can't do that with these miniature speakers to the same loudness levels smile.gif.

Interesting enough you also had a transition to more specialized high-end local installers and dealers, and a exodus of the local HiFi shops.

Good was the fact that direct to internet vendors came into their own now. Many examples of various speakers companions that will now ship directly to you, cut out the middle man mark up in pricing. smile.gif

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post #18 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 02:06 PM
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I think the big thing now vs even 10 years ago is the amount of info we can access. People are able to make a more informed decision vs listening to a salesman. Although it may have a negative impact on B&M stores selling the gear, it's a win for consumers in every way.
We can all make informed decisions based on more actual facts instead of word of mouth. I'm 35 now and when I was in my mid teens, I fully remember my brother in law ( who still sells mac, sim audio. etc) gear was making over 100K a year selling it! Cables, power cords, this and that. He had 2" around pure copper speaker cables on his own system that were into the 5K range, cryo treated blah blah blah. He still has some Mac gear but for the most part, his theater is DIY and power by pro audio QSC amps. He now has 2 jobs because he doesn't make a ton selling high end audio, since not many are buying anymore. He says the internet ruined everything lol.

I've heard systems that we well over 500K and sounded lousy. I've done audyssey pro calibrations on theaters where people have completely switched out their high end stuff for DIY or similar and it sounds/measure so much better, you'd be hard pressed to wonder how it's possible someone sold them the HI-FI stuff in the first place. How many of the younger generation, even my generation are into high end audio? I personally don't know 1. I have a full JTR system as well as as many DIY subs that IO can cram into my room, all powered by ICE amps for the speakers and pro amps for the subs. I've had to date, 81 people over for auditions in the last 6 years and I've even gotten a standing ovation (with included slow clap lol) and my system costs less than some guys pre-amps/amps/processor/speakers that came over to hear it....... heck any one of them could cost more than my entire system!!

I had a set of Paradigm S8's that I paid 7K for at the time, they were great speakers, I loved them.... until I got a set of JTR T12's (my first HE type speaker) I had a head to head, with the S8's being put up for sale within the hour.... Yes, IMO they were that much better in my HT, the S8's didn't stand a chance and the T12's were under 3K at the time.

IMO there will always be a niche for high end audio but it's getting smaller by the year for sure.

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post #19 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post

I'm left thinking that high-end audio is obsolete. However, for audiophiles, the future looks much brighter than the past or even the present. The hi-fi landscape is dramatically different today versus even a decade ago. High-resolution audio is available online from multiple sources, and iTunes tracks come extremely close to CD quality. It's possible to get fantastic stereo sound—I'd even say audiophile sound—from a $250 pair of speakers connected to a $20 amplifier using a smartphone for the sound source. I know, because I have exactly such a system in my kitchen—a pair of Pioneer SP-FS52 towers connected to a Lepai LP2020+ amplifier with a retired iPhone acting as the source. In many ways, it sounds almost as good as my system from two decades ago—one that cost and weighed over ten times as much!

Then there's the case of Monster. Last year, I bought a pair of Monster Clarity HD speakers on clearance. They are self-powered 2-way bookshelf speakers that happen to sound good despite the fact they use inexpensive, off-the-shelf components—something I discovered when I opened one up and Googled the part number of the woofer, which Parts Express sells for $17 each. That Monster managed to take such affordable components and make it sound so good further reinforces the notion that even mass-produced audio components can perform exceptionally well.

As an audiophile who's seen the evolution of audio from a stack of 45s playing from a giant piece of wooden furniture to today's wireless, all-digital systems, I'm more optimistic than ever that the golden era of audio is ahead of us. However, I do not believe that high-end hi-fi has a significant role to play in that future.

I want to hear your opinions on this topic. What direction will high-end audio take? What is the most promising technology for audiophiles? And most importantly, do you think high-end audio is obsolete?
Portable high resolution audio is the next big trendsetter. Look at a Apple store (not that I am picking favorites, just a example) for example, as each year has progressed I noticed a big uptick on higher end headphones being sold, be it in ear, on ear, or over hear. The amount to choose from is quite enlarged from just a couple of years ago.

Now you have this rumor that they will finally start selling CD quality or better digital downloads in a couple of months. It mainly because of this billboard article report. The source of this rumor is from robertmusic.blogspot. If it true about the "For several years, Apple have been insisting that labels provide files for iTunes in 24 bit format - preferably 96k or 192k sampling rate. So they have undeniably the biggest catalog of hi-res audio in the world." then this could be the genesis of a who new marketplace for all those people that don't think of anything spending $300 on Beats headphones. For me I think Apple is very guilty of destroying the high resolution audio marketplace with iTunes digital downloads, but now that there is so much competition from other digital streaming and download sources the whole market could reinvent itself with this marketing direction and suddenly all those portable/desktop high resolution audio products you saw being shown at CES 2014 become very relevant. cool.gif
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post #20 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 02:39 PM
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Blind faith has been at the heart of much atrocity in man's history.
Audiophilia is a harmless expression of this basic human flaw.
I say, just leave them be.

.
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post #21 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by DavidK442 View Post

Blind faith has been at the heart of much atrocity in man's history.
Audiophilia is a harmless expression of this basic human flaw.
I say, just leave them be.

Haha, good one! biggrin.gif
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post #22 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:17 PM
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Now you have this rumor that they will finally start selling CD quality or better digital downloads in a couple of months. It mainly because of this billboard article report.
...which makes no mention of Apple even considering such a thing.
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The source of this rumor is from robertmusic.blogspot.
There's a reason "You heard it here first": He just made it up.

It would be both pointless and self-destructive for Apple to offer higher-res downloads. They sell hardware. If they increase file size, they decrease the effective capacity of their devices. Ain't gonna happen. (They did it once, from 128 kbps to 256 kbps, but that offered a meaningful increase in sound quality.)

What Apple might do (and the Billboard article actually hints at this, at least) is launch a subscription service, so you can pay by the month to hear whatever music you select. IOW, they would compete with the paid version of Spotify.
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post #23 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:19 PM
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Blind faith has been at the heart of much atrocity in man's history.
Audiophilia is a harmless expression of this basic human flaw.
I say, just leave them be.
A good general policy. However, there are newbie lurkers around, so it's important to point out at least occasionally which emperors have no clothes.

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #24 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:19 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by commsysman View Post


You would lose that bet.

The average DAC on a motherboard is 16-bit CD-quality audio and is usually pretty good, up to where it leaves and goes out.

The DAC in a cheap CD player or smartphone can easily be demonstrated to be very inferior in performance and has poor resolution.

The high-quality SABRE DACs in the OPPO BDP-95 and -105 are the precise reason they sound so good.

P.S.- There are very few audio stores anywhere that have demo rooms suitable to properly demonstrate good high-end equipment. Their acoustics tend to be terrible and most of the guys that work there haven't a clue. It's a sad state of affairs.

 

Poor resolution as in not 16/44? Just curious. Besides, most receivers decode at least 24/96 so the DAC argument is basically moot for home audio. How about the DAC in a nice smartphone? My Galaxy S4 sounds great as do the numerous iPhones that have collected over time.

 

Oppo is not what I'd call high-end, at least not in the context of this article. In fact Oppo is a perfect example of a company that makes products that achieve the kind of quality that calls into question the need for high-end players like the Krell Evolution 555 ($15,000) or the McIntosh MVP891 ($5500).


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post #25 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:22 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post


...which makes no mention of Apple even considering such a thing.
There's a reason "You heard it here first": He just made it up.

It would be both pointless and self-destructive for Apple to offer higher-res downloads. They sell hardware. If they increase file size, they decrease the effective capacity of their devices. Ain't gonna happen. (They did it once, from 128 kbps to 256 kbps, but that offered a meaningful increase in sound quality.)

What Apple might do (and the Billboard article actually hints at this, at least) is launch a subscription service, so you can pay by the month to hear whatever music you select. IOW, they would compete with the paid version of Spotify.

 

This rumor has a lot of traction:

http://www.macrumors.com/2014/04/10/high-definition-itunes-music-downloads/

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post #26 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:23 PM
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Poor resolution as in not 16/44? Just curious. Besides, most receivers decode at least 24/96 so the DAC argument is basically moot for home audio.
+1.

BTW, by "poor resolution," he means, "not the right brand names."
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How about the DAC in a nice smartphone? My Galaxy S4 sounds great as do the numerous iPhones that have collected over time.
Bingo. The way to improve your mobile audio experience is to buy better 'phones.

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post #27 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:25 PM
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Great post, Imagic.

Back in the days, there definitely were very audible differences between amplifiers and sources, especially in the more reasonable priced units that was affordable.
Today it is possible to achieve audibly transparent performance for very little money - a fact that is supported by controlled listening tests and also measurements of technical performance compared to the limits of what is possible to hear.

The problem with 'high-end' is the continued chasing of increased performance when there is no longer any real improvements to gain, yet still there are many other things that can be improved if better sound actually was the goal.

This forum is one of few places where I read about experiences and improvements and solutions that really makes a difference for the sound.
It is a source for inspiration when I design and build things.

Bass is a good example of audiophile failure.
For many audiophiles bass definition equals no bass - the lowest frequencies are often non-existent, and the bass level is often too low, causing a total loss of physical impact and excitement.
I think this is one cause why normal people don't see the point in having a decent audio set-up, they conclude that they probably don't have good enough ears to hear the claimed difference, because it does not sound good to them, it does not bring excitement, and they certainly do not want to hear the Norah Jones album over and over again.

For high-end audio, branding is the most important, then there is physical appearance, then comes price.
Sound quality is number 4 down the list, and with the right presentation, a high price-tag and the branding in place, you can get away with much.

But when I pull out some tracks from Flashbulb, or perhaps Halloweener from the Dub King, then it all falls apart, as the reality of physics wins in the end.
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post #28 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnAV View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by stuup1dmofo View Post

I'm willing to bet that the average DAC on a motherboard, smartphone, or any other source is just as good as the most high end component.
Oh sure for example I had a poster who was arguing if the headphones were extremely efficient that there was absolutely no difference between a analog connection to a laptop or smartphone, compared to a headphone amp/DAC.

Quickly found a example of audio performance is more then simply hearing inaudible differences in frequency response and amplification.

Right. BTW amplification isn't an important difference because of the near-universal presence of volume controls which adjust amplification in accordance with user preferences.

Just to clarify things, due to the mathematics of signal properties and analysis there are 4 possible kinds of differences in audio system sound quality:

(1) Linear distortion - IOW things like frequency response and phase response errors.
(2) Nonlinear distoriton - IOW things like THD, IM, jitter etc.
(3) Noise - IOW the addition of random interference usually due to thermal noise
(4) Interfering signals - IOW hum, whistles and other unwanted sounds that are definite and not random
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

I'm not sure how they derive the S/N ratio of a digital output, as that is totally different to the S/N ratio of an analog output.

Anyhow, here is a quick measurement of the headphone output of my MacBook Pro versus the the analogue loopback of the ULN-2 which I used for the measurement. These shouldn't be taken as professional measurements, just as a comparison. The measurements were done at around -6dB. I think a 20-40 dB difference in the amount of distortion at the levels shown is significant enough.

LL
LL

The significance of a difference in noise level is highly dependent on the louder of the two noise levels. A 20 dB difference in noise level is very audible if the louder noise is only 20 dB down, but it is not audible if the louder noise is 80 dB or more down. Furthermore FFTs of noise floors such as the ones shown here (created by means of a FFT analysis are) difficult to interpret because they are dependent on the number of points that were used which is not stated. Every time twice as many points are used in the analysis, the noise floors shown move down 3 dB.
Quote:
To answer the OPs question though: You can do better than the analogue output of a Mac by a considerable margin. I haven't compared DACs with the TU-882R, but I'd say a basically decent DAC would benefit it.

Since the analysis above didn't point out the obvious ambiguities in the report, any related conclusions are themselves questionable.
Quote:
Look at the differences between distortion levels straight out of the MacBook Pro and a low noise external amp.

In order to do that we'd need much more data. Noise floors and nonlinear distortion are measured by very different means and all we have is an poorly-described report about noise floors. Normally I tell people to run The Audio Rightmark program which does run a fairly comprehensive suite of tests, but it is a Windows program, not a Mac program. It could probably be used on PC virtual machine running under the MAC OS, but that mode of operation would need to be benchmarked and confirmed first.
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post #29 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:39 PM
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post #30 of 1759 Old 04-13-2014, 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by commsysman View Post

You would lose that bet.

The average DAC on a motherboard is 16-bit CD-quality audio and is usually pretty good, up to where it leaves and goes out.

The DAC in a cheap CD player or smartphone can easily be demonstrated to be very inferior in performance and has poor resolution.

The high-quality SABRE DACs in the OPPO BDP-95 and -105 are the precise reason they sound so good.

P.S.- There are very few audio stores anywhere that have demo rooms suitable to properly demonstrate good high-end equipment. Their acoustics tend to be terrible and most of the guys that work there haven't a clue. It's a sad state of affairs.

I'm pretty positive most modern motherboards offer up to 24bit audio. The most common onboard audio chip is a realtek ALC892 or similar and it does offer 24bit audio.

Besides, I don't listen to music off of my onboard DAC, I run it from my video card via HDMI to my Denon AVR 3311 and let it decode from there.

As for the high quality DACs you speak of, funny how there are so few double blind tests in which people can tell the difference between a cheap dac and an expensive one when all other factors are equal isn't it?
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