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Is it all bull**** now?

I haven't visited a "hi-fi" shop in a long time, so I'd like to know if my experience was the new norm.  I wanted to see and hear a rather unusual and uncommon loudspeaker.  There is a dealer about an hour away that was having an open house and demo that included these, so we made a day of it and went to see them.

First, the dealer didn't have the second-from-the-top model that I really wanted to see, so we listened to the third-down model.  It was  interesting, but it turned out the "demo" wasn't really the speakers.  The dealer wanted to demo the power conditioning system, including the mechanical grounding discs to prop everything else.  I wanted to ask some technical information about the speakers, especially how they managed distortion in their rather radical omnidirectional driver system.  He informed me that there was no distortion--because of the $32,000 insulation-biased cable system.  That and the power conditioner, of course.   

So is this how it's going to be?  I'm not that likely to buy the speakers anyway--they're quite expensive--but I could.  But there's no chance at all if I can't have a rational discussion with the supposed experts.  I don't expect them to be unbiased and I can deal with normal salesmanship and opinions, but this seems like if you want anything to do with high-end, you have to join the cult and drink the kool-aid. 

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #1
On my last foray into the "hi-fi" world, I had a good idea of what I wanted and auditioned several pairs of candidates in a dealer's. Nothing in a controlled fashion and I had to try and ignore the BS. When the selected pair was delivered, I also had to ignore the advice about them needing a fair while to "burn in". Nothing was actually said at the time but I caught some puzzled looks at my speaker cables (ordinary, solid copper "mains" cable). I also replaced an amp and CD player not so long ago but I just selected what met my needs, based on specs & features and bought them unseen - I'm not disappointed and didn't sell any organs to fund them.

In short, yes, it's probably "normal". I remember walking out of a hi-fi store some years ago when the spotty-youth of a salesman was trying to sell me some "directional" speaker cable. I gave up and walked out when he wouldn't concede that cables carrying AC cannot possibly work if they're directional. How can you make a sensible purchase in a store that supports such drivel?

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #2
  I wanted to ask some technical information about the speakers, especially how they managed distortion in their rather radical omnidirectional driver system.  He informed me that there was no distortion--because of the $32,000 insulation-biased cable system.  That and the power conditioner, of course.   

For only $9999 I could give your speaker cables a treatment that eliminates all distortion as well. You can even keep the bolt cutter afterwards, should the distortion return.
“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”
- Donald Trump, May 2017

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #3
Last time I was in my local "high end" store I was told I couldn't listen to a CD I'd brought because the owner was tired of it. I was auditioning a $15k pair of speakers. Haven't been back.

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #4
Yes, it's all BS now. Or at least, typical audiophile nonsense is all BS now. It was always mostly BS, but sound reproduction technology has gotten so good now that basic "prosumer"-grade speakers will sound as clear as the most expensive snake oil you can possibly find. Your average clock radio still sounds like crap, of course, but any believably-priced speakers from a respectable brand intended for use in a home audio system are going to sound as good as any 1980's ceiling-height hi-fi speaker stack. That doesn't leave much room for audiophile brands to make genuinely better products anymore, so nowadays they try to sell you cachet, prestige, and bragging rights instead.

After college I lived with my father for a few years while I saved money working at my first job. He's a music hobbyist, with a silent PC dedicated to running Pro Tools to record his music, and a set of JBL self-correcting studio monitors to play it back on. I was blown away by how good they sounded. When I moved out, I dropped $2000 on my own set -- two tweeter/woofers and one subwoofer -- and I still have them with no regrets. They have a special microphone that plugs into the left-front speaker; you connect the microphone, position it where you plan to sit, then press a calibration button on the front of the speaker and run out of the room. The speakers make a series of very loud BWOOOOP! sounds, as they "ring-out" the room to detect resonant and muted frequencies caused by the size and shape of the room as well as the positioning of the furniture, and then they generate an EQ map from those measurements. The effect is subtle, but the bass is noticeably less boomy and the midrange doesn't have any weird peaks at specific frequencies when playing loud music.

The studio monitors are each self-amplified and have a variety of inputs -- TLS, XLR, and S/PDIF. They also have a set of proprietary interconnects that use shielded Ethernet cables, so they can coordinate between each other. I play FLAC files on my computer, with the audio signal transmitted to my TV via a HDMI cable, then I send the TV's TOSlink digital audio output to a converter box made by Audio Authority. That box converts the TOSlink signal to S/PDIF and sends it on to the speakers, where it is finally converted to analog inside the speaker housing by the built-in amplifier. You can't get a cleaner signal than that, not even with $32,000 insulation-biased audio cables, whatever the hell those are. :D (if anyone's wondering, I went into the hidden setup menu on my TV to disable all pre-processing of the digital audio signal.)

With this setup I can use the same speakers to listen to music, watch movies, listen to my vintage(?) Onkyo Hi-MD player, and I have a patch cable hanging out in case anyone wants to plug in their iPod. (I don't actually have any friends, but at least the option is there, in case anyone ever decides to willingly inflict my presence on themselves.)

Some people say studio monitors sound flat, but the last time I checked, THAT'S THE POINT. They reproduce sound as accurately as possible, with no "color" or "depth" or "emotion" added to it, so I hear what the recording engineer heard, and what the musician wanted me to hear. If I feel the need, I can always adjust the EQ on my music player, but thus far the only adjustments I've made to the EQ are to compensate for the human ear's normal sensitivity to different frequencies. (I was pleasantly surprised a few years ago when I looked up a sensitivity map of human hearing, and I realized it looked exactly like my EQ map, flipped upside-down.)

So that's my suggestion -- skip all the audiophile BS and buy the same equipment that actual music professionals use. They listen to the same tracks over and over more times in a year than most of us will in our entire lives.

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #5
SONY bull**** with it's SACD format.

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #6
Some people say studio monitors sound flat, but the last time I checked, THAT'S THE POINT. They reproduce sound as accurately as possible, with no "color" or "depth" or "emotion" added to it, so I hear what the recording engineer heard, and what the musician wanted me to hear.

I wonder why a recording engineer wouldn't rather use a tool that magnifies errors so they can be detected (and diagnosed) immediately.
“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”
- Donald Trump, May 2017

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #7
MiniDSP is doing some worthwhile stuff IMO: Their headphone measurement jig and matching DSP-equipped headphone amp allowed me to achieve frequency response approximating that proposed by Harman Int'l, and I like what I hear! Let's just say that the combination of a bit of crossfeed combined with equalization has spoiled me.

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #8
I wonder why a recording engineer wouldn't rather use a tool that magnifies errors so they can be detected (and diagnosed) immediately.

Because errors that are close to be non-intrusive (for most assumed listeners) take time to be removed. And in the field time is money so they leave it to the mastering engineer who will probably have suitable tools to remove noise, distortions, etc.

I as a mastering engineer will master on neutral gear and test on non-neutral gear after I'm done. Noise usually is one of the more lesser concerns for me (unless it's very loud). I usually look for a balanced frequency response (respective to music genre), dynamics a smaller speaker can handle and good mono compatibility.
marlene-d.blogspot.com

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #9
I love watching youtube vids of these total 'audiophile' snobs all fapping over these obscure systems that cost more than a house and take up a whole godammn room.

Then the only demo track they seem to play is some shitty old horn or string music from the Stone Age.

Its total bullshit. A good set of studio monitors, good tower or bookshelf speakers will accurately reproduce any god damn sound you want.

Im pretty sure that some of these insane systems are designed only to perfectly reproduce that shitty old horn demo track and if fed something good, will be total useless.
Hi-Fi: Audio Technica AT-LP5 Turntable | Cambridge Audio CXC CD Transport | 851N DAC/Streamer | 851W Pre-amp | 840W Power-amp | Cerwin Vega XLS215 Speakers

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #10
Quote
I as a mastering engineer will master on neutral gear and test on non-neutral gear after I'm done. Noise usually is one of the more lesser concerns for me (unless it's very loud). I usually look for a balanced frequency response (respective to music genre), dynamics a smaller speaker can handle and good mono compatibility.

Do you master for vinyl?  If so, are there additional considerations?

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #11
I usually look for a balanced frequency response (respective to music genre), dynamics a smaller speaker can handle and good mono compatibility.
I was going to ask what you mastered...then saw your sig link. Checking out...
Loudspeaker manufacturer



Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #14
I was going to ask what you mastered...then saw your sig link. Checking out...

Don't bother looking for stuff I've done. Beside private mastering I have just four official credits. This is one of them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WHirqCvvLI
Nice score, my kind of stuff thanks.
I would think "depth" was very much part of the original 3D soundfield, thus critical for a semblance of perceptual recreation. Even with lowly frontal stereo. YMMV.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #15
I wanted to ask some technical information about the speakers, especially how they managed distortion in their rather radical omnidirectional driver system. 
MBL? What sort of "distortion" management?
Loudspeaker manufacturer


Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #17
I'm new here, so I guess when you press "quote" then "post"....it does so!

Yes!  MBL Radialstrahler.  I don't mean a separate "distortion management system", just how they designed the drivers.  I saw a video of how they are assembled, but not any theory info.  It's not obvious to me that those drivers are anything close to linear in their response and I've no idea what the breakup modes would be.  I'm pretty sure I could build drivers that looked like those....and sounded very bad.  I've even thought that the large driver (not present on the unit we saw) could be sort of an acoustic suspension, if it was internally sealed.  What do you know about them?

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #18
Yes!  MBL Radialstrahler.
Ok. A dealer won't know nor have the techncal understanding for those sort of details, so unsurprising the answer was nonsense.
Most dealers are themselves audiophiles, so they know nonsense, not engineering details.

I don't mean a separate "distortion management system", just how they designed the drivers.  I saw a video of how they are assembled, but not any theory info.  It's not obvious to me that those drivers are anything close to linear in their response and I've no idea what the breakup modes would be.
Well, the proof is in the pudding, there are both impedance and FR measurements to suggest that they are fairly linear and well engineered, despite the "audiophile grade" pricing. I design speakers and see nothing of concern.
If you haven't already, I would suggest a quick read http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-loudspeaker-specifications-are.html of what actually matters regarding data.
How did they sound? I suspect the claim above about studio monitor "depth" was not applicable here. I know a dealer here and have heard MBL competently set up on many occasions. They sound pretty darn good to me. YMMV.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #19
Nice score, my kind of stuff thanks.
I would think "depth" was very much part of the original 3D soundfield, thus critical for a semblance of perceptual recreation. Even with lowly frontal stereo. YMMV.

Well, Dennis Sands mixed it (Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, etc.), he always prefers this sound (varies from composer to composer). The whole soundfield favoured the left channel, I attempted to correct it. The "3D spatiality" was a little too strong for my taste but the composer told me to leave it alone (he paid extra money for a mix by Sands), even though some stuff (like reverb) might cancel itself out because of phase distortions. On the other hand, both of us tested it on a variety of playback devices (car, kitchen, several headphones, surround, bigger stereo system, soundbar) and didn't find any problems. In the end, I didn't do that much; I altered dynamics, changed the frequency response with an EQ (the bass wasn't audible before) to make it a little more "charming" and limited peaks a bit. I gave the composer three versions to choose from, he chose the 2nd while I would have used the third. But I'm happy with the result nonetheless.
marlene-d.blogspot.com

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #20
... Then the only demo track they seem to play is some shitty old horn or string music from the Stone Age.  ...

And... Hotel California

AAAaaaaarrrrrgh!

(I think I used to enjoy that song before I met audiophiles)
The most important audio cables are the ones in the brain

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #21
ajinfla;

I'll skip the quoting...

Nonsense?  Yes.  And a bad sales tactic, IMO (for the speakers anyway).  He could have said "I dunno.  They're German, and they're smart, I'm sure they got it right.  No idea how, though."   But cables? :o

Thanks for the read.  I agree with the conclusions, especially #3, which is relevant here.   I realize I wasn't clear--I was referring to the nonlinear distortion in the driver, not the overall response of the speaker.  I am assuming that you don't design or build drivers--correct me if I'm wrong--but as you likely know, drivers have been carefully developed and engineered over many years to have a linear, undistorted response.  Making sure voice coils are either completely underhung or overhung, designing the magnet for a uniform field, using a surround with appropriate qualities, using drivers in frequency ranges that avoid breakup modes, etc etc.  If you designed your own driver from scratch and weren't aware of all these issues, you'd likely make a bad product. 

The design of the big pumpkin on the MBLs uses aluminum strips, flexed and then "filled" with rubbery pieces glued in.  You've never seen an aluminum spring, have you?  There's a reason!  Every conventional speaker has a spring force that returns the cone (or equivalent) to the center position.  It's only on midrange and lower drivers that you can demonstrate this with your fingers, but on the MBLs, the big pumpkin goes down to about 100 Hz.  I'm wondering what the spring force is and if it is linear.

As far as the sound, these were the smaller models (116?) not the 101.  So the radial drivers only go down to 650 Hz, the remainder is handled by ported drivers on each side.  They had a spacious, omnidirectional sound, of course.  You could walk around and even behind or between them and they sounded good and the music was kind of all around you.  I found the midbass consistently unpleasant and boomy, however.  This was a demo in a listening room, so I would have expected them to be at their best, but I'm probably wrong about that too! 

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #22
Thanks for the read.  I agree with the conclusions, especially #3, which is relevant here. 

The design of the big pumpkin on the MBLs uses aluminum strips, flexed and then "filled" with rubbery pieces glued in.  You've never seen an aluminum spring, have you?  There's a reason!  Every conventional speaker has a spring force that returns the cone (or equivalent) to the center position.  It's only on midrange and lower drivers that you can demonstrate this with your fingers, but on the MBLs, the big pumpkin goes down to about 100 Hz.  I'm wondering what the spring force is and if it is linear.
Well, you are free to speculate about stuff that doesn't matter much if any, but for me, it's the stuff that does matter, as in #1:
Quote
1.  The perception of loudspeaker sound quality is dominated by linear distortions, which can be accurately quantified and predicted using a set of comprehensive anechoic frequency response measurements (see my previous posting here)
The data we have shows a rather uniform polar is expected.

That's actually remarkably uniform. Passive speaker too, a touch of DSP eq would make things even smoother. I think that's rather impressive engineering, not much else out there that can generate such a uniform field.
I've also done the Harman training (coupled with 40 yrs of speaker building, Klippel training, etc), so I'm not too shabby at detecting resonances. The MBLs do ok. Whatever your concern is about theoretical  "aluminum springs" etc, I don't share them, as I'm only concerned with what matters most audibly. Again, the MBLs are certainly "audiophile" priced, but in a rarity, there is actually some clever engineering going on. Yes they are going to be sold by folks who sell a lot of unadulterated nonsense also.

I found the midbass consistently unpleasant and boomy, however.  This was a demo in a listening room, so I would have expected them to be at their best, but I'm probably wrong about that too! 
Yes, that would be my only quibble, I find the bass quality to be sub-par to terrible, but that is true for about 95% of speakers (which are also ported boxes in rooms), for my tastes.
Unfortunately 30k cables won't solve that, but I'm sure he sells "traps" too.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #23
Quote
Well, you are free to speculate about stuff that doesn't matter much if any, but for me, it's the stuff that does matter, as in #1:

OK, you misunderstand me a bit.  I'm not speculating, I'm curious.  I'm starting from the assumption that they DID solve this problem of driver linearity and I'd like to understand it a little bit, just like we do regular drivers.  And I'd gently point out that perhaps the reason you don't have to worry about it is that conventional driver technology is fairly mature.  I think you have to go pretty far down the scale nowadays to find a truly badly misdesigned driver product--do you agree? 

Are your speaker designs not conventional ported?  I have AR and have for years... 

Re: Is it all bull**** now?

Reply #24
I think you have to go pretty far down the scale nowadays to find a truly badly misdesigned driver product--do you agree? 
Yes. Or hear something amiss with the unconventional stuff like the MBL, that might suggest non-linearities.
The question of how they addressed non-linear distortion with their radial drivers would be an ask MBL engineer question, not a audiophile dealer.

Are your speaker designs not conventional ported?
No.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

 
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