Zehn Gebote



To those of you who thought I was dead and bu­ried-sor­ry to burst your bub­b­le. To those of you who wish I were dead and bu­ried-sor­ry but you’ll have to put up with me for a while lon­ger. Ha ha. Yes, I have been away from play­ing an ac­tive role in the audio in­dus­try for a num­ber of years but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been out of touch. Not by a long shot. As a mat­ter of fact, I’ve used this time-span to be­co­me even more in tune with va­rious as­pects of the arts and sci­en­ces of audio main­ly be­cau­se I haven’t had the bur­den of run­ning a com­pa­ny. To be sure, I’m pro­bab­ly going to tick off a lot of peop­le by ran­ting and ra­ving but hope­ful­ly this will have a po­si­ti­ve ef­fect ra­ther than the op­po­si­te. The re­a­son for this is very sim­ple. I’m not going to live long en­ough to be able to see all of my ideas and con­cepts hap­pen. I don’t have en­ough time and I sure don’t have en­ough money. So my ad­vice to those di­let­tan­tes out there is sim­ple-don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Se­veral of my fri­ends have con­vin­ced me (fi­nal­ly) that I should make my ideas known so they don’t get bu­ried with me. I have re­sis­ted for many years but fi­nal­ly, I’ve de­ci­ded to give in.

Lest any of you think that I’m being ego­centric or nar­cis­sis­ti­cal, I can as­su­re you that my 40 some years of ex­pe­ri­ence gives me some ex­per­ti­se in mat­ters audio and I’m wil­ling to share this in­sight-free of char­ge-at least here in these pages. The in­for­ma­ti­on pre­sen­ted here is meant to be in­for­ma­ti­ve if not so­mew­hat dog­ma­tic. Cer­tain facts should be self-evi­dent howe­ver this is not al­ways the case.

Chap­ter 1: Human Hea­ring: How Do We Re­al­ly Hear?

First of all, we hear in ste­reo but only be­cau­se we have two ears and there is a time/phase dif­fe­rence bet­ween our ears. This time dif­fe­rence is first used to per­cei­ve DI­REC­TION. It is ab­so­lu­tely man­da­to­ry for us to know WHERE a sound comes from. Next in the chain is am­pli­tu­de or per­cei­ved loud­ness. This tells us ba­si­cal­ly how close or how far away a sound ori­gi­na­tes from. This is also aided by se­con­da­ry re­flec­tions. Un­for­t­u­n­a­te­ly, when we are bey­ond the zone of par­al­lax, our di­rec­tio­na­li­ty sense can be lost. Fi­nal­ly, after the di­rec­tion and the dis­tan­ce comes RE­CO­GNI­TI­ON. These are the three basic ele­ments in human hea­ring. The third one, re­co­gni­ti­on, is howe­ver, a pa­ra­dox. For ex­amp­le, if one were born and rai­sed in a cave for the first 20 years of life with ab­so­lu­tely zero ex­po­sure to the outs­ide world, then all sounds no mat­ter what would be to­tal­ly for­eign and un­re­co­gniz­able. Ano­ther ex­amp­le of this would be if one of your high school pals, whom you haven’t spo­ken to in over 30 years were to sud­den­ly call you on the phone and play the guess who this is game, you pro­bab­ly wouldn’t know who it is. But as you keep tal­king, litt­le tin­ges of re­co­gni­ti­on start creeping into your brain alt­hough you still can’t place the per­son. Fi­nal­ly, the per­son tells you who it is and all of a sud­den total me­mo­ries take over and flood your brain. Three days later, this same per­son again calls you and you in­stan­ta­neous­ly re­co­gni­ze the voice.

What this all boils down to is me­mo­ry re­ten­ti­on. And the same re­la­ti­ve pheno­me­non goes for sight as well. From the day you are born, your brain au­to­ma­ti­cal­ly stores all sound and sight in its me­mo­ry banks. This is what re­co­gni­ti­on is all about. This is pro­bab­ly why ever­yo­ne’s per­cep­ti­on of things is slight­ly dif­fe­rent than the next per­son. We may re­cei­ve quite si­mi­lar sti­mu­li howe­ver, our per­cep­ti­ons and in­ter­pre­ta­ti­ons may be to­tal­ly dif­fe­rent. Also, due to the phy­si­cal dif­fe­ren­ces and cha­rac­ter of our eyes and ear ca­nals, our per­cep­ti­ons can be of a dif­fe­rent na­tu­re for the same set of events. This is why some peop­le claim to hear cer­tain things while others can’t. This is es­pe­cial­ly bad when we are dea­ling with a sound sys­tem where we DON’T have our vi­si­on working for us. Ima­gi­ne yours­elf in a club or at a con­cert, etc. where the extra­neous noi­ses con­sist of clin­king glas­ses, rust­ling clo­thing, air con­di­tio­ners, snee­zing, tal­king, coughing, etc. Ba­si­cal­ly, due to the human cock­tail party ef­fect we can tune out most of this in­ter­fe­rence and hone in on ex­act­ly what we want to con­cen­tra­te on. Can you pic­tu­re yours­elf try­ing to do this at home where your wife or mo­ther, etc. is doing the dis­hes with all of the clin­king and you prac­tical­ly go nuts be­cau­se of the noise in­ter­fe­rence? This is be­cau­se your ears are working MUCH har­der than nor­mal be­cau­se you don’t have your vi­si­on. This is pro­bab­ly why blind peop­le are ac­credi­ted with ha­ving much more sen­si­ti­ve hea­ring than nor­mal peop­le. What does this tell you? Pure and sim­ple by de­fault, you are way too over-cri­ti­cal be­cau­se of the lack of other sen­ses. Plain and sim­ple: you are not in the real world. You have crea­ted a fan­ta­sy world of sound, and any im­per­fec­tions are going to be ma­gni­fied all out of pro­por­ti­on to rea­li­ty. It’s bad en­ough that the ent­i­re con­cept of sound as we know it is mo­nu­men­tal­ly fla­wed, yet our sen­ses ac­tual­ly make things worse. It is ab­so­lu­tely as­to­nis­hing that we can get any en­joy­ment at all out of our ste­reo sys­tems.

One last litt­le tid­bit, if I may. It’s Super Bowl Sun­day. So­me­time be­fo­re game time, you turn on your great big super pro­jec­tion screen TV and in­stant­ly, a huge puff of smoke ari­ses and the whole thing goes dead. Do you think that you’re going to find a re­pair­man under these cir­cum­stan­ces on this day? Not a chan­ce. So, you grab maybe your wife’s litt­le 9 inch or so black and white TV that she lugs around the house while doing hou­se­work. This TV has this puny litt­le screen and a puny litt­le 2 inch spea­ker that sounds ab­so­lu­tely ter­ri­b­le. But, when it comes game time, your AC­CEP­TAN­CE LEVEL goes to 100% be­cau­se it’s live and it’s hap­pe­ning right now. The awful qua­li­ty fac­tor is to­tal­ly dis­re­gar­ded under the cir­cum­stan­ces. Nice to have both eyes and ears going for us. En­ough Said.

The pro­blem with sound sys­tems is very sim­ple. There is no sci­en­ti­fic way that true ho­lo­gra­phic pre­sen­ta­ti­on is ever going to hap­pen. It just can’t be for a lot of re­a­sons of which I will delve into as we get on with this se­ries. Can we get clo­ser to the real thing? Ab­so­lu­tely! Do I have some of these an­s­wers? You bet. But to be trut­h­ful and ho­nest, I don’t think we will ever get past about 50% ac­cep­tan­ce level. At least not in our life­time. Be­si­des, as long as the wife claims the li­ving room as her ha­bi­tat, we will al­ways be in a di­lem­ma.

Chap­ter 2: The Ste­reo Equa­ti­on:
Cor­rect For­mat, Or Im­pos­si­ble Sci­ence?

To be sure, the ste­reo equa­ti­on, or for­mu­la if you wish, is NOT made up of just L(left) & R(right). There are a multi­tu­de of di­rec­tio­nal paths, or vec­tors, that make up the ent­i­re pan­ora­ma across the sound-sta­ge. In ad­di­ti­on, the worst thing about this si­tua­ti­on is that there is NO cen­ter, which is the MOST im­portant thing. If you think about it, al­most all of the im­portant in­for­ma­ti­on ge­ne­ral­ly clus­ters toward the cen­ter. In the pre­sent for­mat, the only way that cen­ter in­for­ma­ti­on is ob­tai­ned is by re­pro­du­cing half of the power, -3db, in each spea­ker. In all cases, any in­for­ma­ti­on must al­ge­brai­cal­ly add up to 100% of the re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve power in an acoustic sense. It is the­re­fo­re, very ob­vious to see that even small body mo­ve­ments can cause large shifts of ima­ging. That is where the phra­se sweet spot or “forceps on the head comes from. This of cour­se is ab­so­lu­tely un­ac­cep­ta­ble from my point of view. That’s why I lis­ten pre­do­mi­na­te­ly to head­pho­nes.

By de­fault, the ste­reo for­mu­la must also con­tain a cross-cou­p­led error com­po­nent in order to work at all. This is un­for­t­u­n­a­te­ly, the Achil­les heel of the con­cept. Re­cor­ding en­gi­neers have been batt­ling this di­sea­se from day one. From the re­cor­ding side of things, it is a lo­sing batt­le be­cau­se for the most part, there is no so­lu­ti­on. And to think that the in­dus­try is now going to try to move towards Mul­ti-chan­nel re­cor­ding. Give me a break. They can’t even get 2 chan­nel cor­rect. I see ano­ther de­ba­cle co­m­ing just like the Quad-sound fias­co of the 70’s. Of cour­se there are two parts to this puz­zle. One is the ali­gn­ment vec­tors and the other is pre­sence” of which I will ad­dress in a later chap­ter. For the mo­ment, all you as a con­su­mer can do is to (1), ele­va­te your spea­kers off the floor, pre­fe­r­a­b­ly above ear level and (2) angle (toe in) them in­wards so that the image cros­ses so­mew­hat in front of your head (about 1 foot). Also, sub­woo­fers should al­ways be lo­ca­ted to ma­xi­mi­ze the wa­ve­length, pre­fe­r­a­b­ly in the cor­ner fa­c­ing dia­go­nal­ly. There is a so­lu­ti­on co­m­ing for the vec­tor pro­blem. It’s cal­led the TRI­N­AU­RAL PRO­CES­SOR. It will be avail­able short­ly and I’m sure that your audio life will be chan­ged fo­re­ver.

Chap­ter 3: Loud­spea­kers & Acoustics:
Why The Whole Thing Sucks

The pro­blem with most loud­spea­ker de­si­gners is that they seem to want to re­si­de to­tal­ly in the sci­en­ti­fic arena and they are ab­so­lu­tely to­tal­ly igno­rant of the real world ne­ces­si­ties re­gar­ding acoustics and human hea­ring. When I go to trade shows, etc., I usual­ly avoid at all costs try­ing to lis­ten to spea­kers. Usual­ly, my ears are raped over and over again and I have long since given up try­ing to ex­plain why loud­spea­kers as we cur­rent­ly know them can­not pos­si­bly pro­vi­de rea­lis­tic sound. My words fall on deaf ears, pun in­ten­ded. Once in a great while, I find so­me­thing worthw­hi­le but this is ex­cee­dingly rare. A few years ago I was in­vi­ted into Keith John­son’s pri­va­te sho­w­ing at CES and for me, who hates most all spea­kers, was as­to­un­ded with what I heard. What I want to know is, when are these things going to be on the mar­ket. Also, I heard re­cent­ly, a pair of spea­kers from AEC which were ex­cep­tio­nal­ly good. And they were not their top of the line eit­her. When in doubt, one can al­ways fall back on the ve­nerable Quad ELS-63’s if you can live with the acoustic li­mi­ta­ti­ons.

This sec­tion is not meant to be a re­com­men­da­ti­on plat­form for spea­ker de­si­gners so let me stop here. There are others of cour­se, such as Arnie Nu­dell’s re­cent mid-pri­ced spea­kers which show pro­mi­se as well as the full set of Mag­gies-en­ough said. I have often sta­ted that the ap­p­li­ca­ti­on sci­ence and the math be­hind loud­spea­ker de­sign is ba­si­cal­ly fla­wed. This is so be­cau­se Ste­reo DOES NOT EXIST IN THE REAL WORLD. But since we can­not have any kind of MONO re­pro­duc­tion sys­tem, there is ob­vious­ly a hor­ren­dous con­flict going on. On the one hand, spea­ker de­si­gners try to use the sci­ence in crea­ting what they per­cei­ve as the per­fect MONO re­pro­du­cer. But cle­ar­ly this makes ab­so­lu­tely no sense if our en­vi­ron­ment de­man­ds a mi­ni­mum of two re­pro­du­cers. I have re­pea­ted­ly told peop­le that things like flat fre­quen­cy re­s­pon­se, low dis­tor­ti­on, etc. are NOT of first order im­port­an­ce. They are only of se­cond order im­port­an­ce. I once heard a loud­spea­ker sys­tem (to be un­named) which pro­du­ced vir­tual­ly per­fect squa­re waves, had in­credi­b­ly low dis­tor­ti­on, etc. It was ab­so­lu­tely one of the worst things I ever heard and I wan­ted to run screa­m­ing out of the room. When I tried to ex­plain to the de­si­gner what I was tal­king about, he was to­tal­ly mif­fed and dumb­foun­ded and just didn’t get it. The ego un­for­t­u­n­a­te­ly pro­tects our be­lief sys­tem(s) re­gard­less of whe­ther they are right or wrong.

Re­gar­ding acoustics, things of first order im­port­an­ce are time of ar­ri­val of all fre­quen­cies bet­ween ap­pro­xi­mate­ly 200Hz and 20,000Hz. In ad­di­ti­on, the ra­dia­ti­on angle must also be con­stant bet­ween these same fre­quen­cies and in my opi­ni­on should lie in the area of 1 ½ ra­di­ans, or about 80 de­grees. When and only when these two things are ac­com­plis­hed (no mean feat, by the way) then fre­quen­cy re­s­pon­se, dis­tor­ti­on, etc. can be worked on. Why are these things ne­cessa­ry? Un­der­stand that in ANY mu­si­cal per­for­mance whe­ther in a club, a thea­ter, or at a con­cert, etc. all PRI­MA­RY sound(s) come from the front. THERE IS NO REAR. Of cour­se, re­flec­tions will play a part in the acoustic en­vi­ron­ment but, these are only after the fact. Crea­ting a de­cent field in your li­ving room is not an easy task. But bear the fol­lo­wing in mind. The sour­ce is ge­ne­ral­ly as good as you get to start with. The other weak links in the chain are the Ste­reo For­mat its­elf (dis­cus­sed el­sew­he­re), the room, and the spea­kers. Your elec­tro­nics re­al­ly only play a minor role in the grea­ter sche­me of things. Ob­vious­ly, there is not a whole lot that one can do to their lis­ten­ing area other than ab­sorp­ti­on at high fre­quen­cies and pos­si­bly woo­fer lo­ca­ti­on to smooth over the ei­gen­to­nes at low fre­quen­cies.

One final thought is in order. Dick Se­quer­ra and Keith John­son, where are you. In the last se­veral years I have only heard three loud­spea­kers that came close to pro­vi­ding what I be­lie­ve is a true sense of qua­si-rea­li­ty. That is to say that I came very close to being im­mer­sed into the mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence as if I were al­most there. The first was re­cent­ly when I heard AEC’s la­test mid-pri­ced spea­ker. The se­cond was a few years ago at a CES show where Dick Se­quer­ra had his se­cond ver­si­on of the lar­ger me­tro­no­mes play­ing. I must admit that these were ab­so­lu­tely the fi­nest spea­kers that I ever ex­pe­ri­en­ced in my life to that date. Sadly, he never pur­sued ma­nu­fac­tu­ring them: the world’s loss. Fi­nal­ly, two or three years ago, Keith John­son in­vi­ted both mys­elf and Bas­com King into his pri­va­te lis­ten­ing room next to his dis­play room. I have to tell you all that this was an ex­pe­ri­ence to beat all. Not­hing I have ever heard on this pla­net comes as close to rea­li­ty as what I heard that day. Of cour­se, he was play­ing his own re­cor­dings but, it still was un­can­ny. Keith, are you lis­ten­ing (no pun in­ten­ded).

Chap­ter 4: Cir­cuit De­sign:
True Sci­ence, Or Pure Gob­b­le­dy­gook?

Cir­cuit de­sign like all other as­pects of life has evol­ved in stag­ge­ring pro­por­ti­ons over the years. I am of cour­se tal­king about solid state and not tubes. Trut­h­ful­ly, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done with tubes that hasn’t al­re­a­dy been done. I know I’m going to take some heat for that state­ment but the facts speak for them­sel­ves. Solid state cir­cui­try on the other hand still has a long way to go. Iro­ni­cal­ly, for the most part, new solid state cir­cuit de­signs came to a scree­ching halt about 18 years ago, just when I got out of the busi­ness. Is this an ar­ro­gant state­ment or what. Cri­ti­ci­ze me if you must but, I do be­lie­ve that I know what I’m tal­king about. There has been ab­so­lu­tely not­hing new and sho­cking since I did the full dif­fe­ren­ti­al-full com­ple­men­ta­ry cir­cuits at Sumo. And in a lot of ways, the in­dus­try has ac­tual­ly gone back­wards re­gar­ding cir­cuit de­sign. The truth of the mat­ter is very sim­ple in that ever­yo­ne CAN­NOT be king of the moun­tain. When I left the de­sign arena, ever­y­thing see­med to come to a grin­ding halt. Sure, the pri­cing struc­tu­re of today’s pro­ducts has gone as­tro­no­mi­cal. And if that’s not bad en­ough, you are not get­ting anyw­he­re near as much for your money. What I’m tal­king about is preamps with NO phono sta­ges or tone con­trols or fil­ters or other ne­cessa­ry func­tions. And you are forced to pay me­ga­bucks for these in­sults. I think it is cri­mi­nal. I will never make a preamp wi­thout these ab­so­lu­tely ne­cessa­ry fea­tures. The LP is NOT dead. And CD’s still have a migh­ty long way to go be­fo­re they even come close to the mu­si­ca­li­ty of re­cor­ds.

When I con­cei­ved the full com­ple­men­ta­ry cir­cui­try in 1972 I felt at the time that this was the final an­s­wer to the solid state jigsaw puz­zle. I was only half right. Yes the phi­lo­so­phy is cor­rect howe­ver, the im­ple­men­ta­ti­on is what re­al­ly counts. It has taken me al­most 30 years to re­al­ly un­der­stand the re­la­ti­ons­hips in­vol­ved in full com­ple­men­ta­ry cir­cuits. Some things that at first glan­ce seem na­tu­ral­ly right and cor­rect are found later to be not so right. For ex­amp­le, split­ting the po­si­ti­ve and ne­ga­ti­ve hal­ves of the si­gnal into two se­pa­ra­te am­pli­fy­ing chains and then try­ing to merge them back to­ge­ther at the out­put stage rai­sed a can of worms. The re­a­son is sim­ple: the two se­pa­ra­te am­pli­fy­ing chains are NOT com­ple­men­ta­ry. They may be close but-no cigar. What is nee­ded is a new look at each in­di­vi­du­al part of the chain and its re­spec­tive coun­ter­part. This is a new mode of thin­king about this pro­blem and fi­nal­ly I can say that re­sults have been achie­ved. The new Amp­zil­la2000 is the first am­pli­fier using this chan­ge of phi­lo­so­phy. I’m sure that others will look at this new style of cir­cui­try and like my pre­vious work, I’m sure it will be ex­ten­si­ve­ly co­pied. It will be up to me to re­main ahead of the pack. There will be a much more ex­ten­si­ve tu­to­ri­al on these new con­cepts at a later date.

Need­less to say, the Amp­zil­la 2000 cir­cuit de­sign is a ra­di­cal de­par­tu­re from all pre­vious thin­king. First of all, the input stage its­elf, while being an in­te­gral part of the over­all feed­back struc­tu­re, is ne­ver­the­l­ess, a push-pull com­ple­men­ta­ry feed­back struc­tu­re on its own while being in­te­gra­ted into the main feed­back loop its­elf. What this does is to aid in cor­rec­ting some of the open loop ma­la­dies BE­FO­RE they ar­ri­ve at the out­put stage the­re­fo­re les­se­ning the need for the over­all feed­back to work as hard. This is si­gni­fi­cant be­cau­se the in­nards of the cir­cuit can now be pro­bed and the re­sults are si­gni­fi­cant­ly dif­fe­rent than all pre­vious am­pli­fier to­po­lo­gies. What I’m say­ing is that now we can go IN­SI­DE the loop and ac­tual­ly mea­su­re the per­for­mance of the am­pli­fier as a li­ne­ar func­tion whe­re­as in the past, all we saw was the over­all cor­rec­tion wa­ve­form. More on this in the white paper to fol­low. This is of cour­se only a first step in my new thin­king. I firm­ly be­lie­ve that today’s cir­cuit de­si­gners need to get off their collec­tive duffs and start thin­king about these kinds of theo­ries. Am I to do all the work for them?

Chap­ter 5: FM Tech­no­lo­gy: Can It Re­al­ly Be Ac­cep­ta­ble?

It should come as no sur­pri­se that im­pro­ve­ments in FM tech­no­lo­gy have been very slow in co­m­ing over the de­ca­des. Part of this may be due to the be­lief on the part of FM de­sign en­gi­neers of why bo­ther when the sta­ti­ons are never going to im­pro­ve the qua­li­ty of their broad­casts. Ac­tual­ly, this is a clas­sic chi­cken and egg syn­dro­me. Again, what is nee­ded here is some new blood or at the very least some new thin­king. The first ques­ti­on to ask is; Is it pos­si­ble to have any im­pro­ve­ments in the en­t­er­pri­se? The an­s­wer is of cour­se, ab­so­lu­tely. But first, it will never hap­pen until we get rid of the old fud­dy-dud­dys at the NAB. They are li­ving in the stone age. Se­cond­ly, the FCC is equal­ly to blame be­cau­se it is of the same mind-set. Or should I say mind­less set. First­ly, I have a pa­tent on a ra­di­cal­ly new IF tech­no­lo­gy that would allow FM re­cep­ti­on to achie­ve S/N ra­ti­os in ex­cess of 100 dB’s. Yes you read right. Also, my new sys­tem will pro­du­ce IN STE­REO, a dis­tor­ti­on fac­tor of less than .01%. Yes, you read that right too. In ad­di­ti­on, and I might add wi­thout my new sys­tem, con­ven­tio­nal tu­ners could achie­ve a S/N dif­fe­rence (that is bet­ween mono and ste­reo) of 3-4 dB’s, with a litt­le ef­fort. The pre­vai­ling phi­lo­so­phy which has been around since the ad­op­ti­on of FM ste­reo is that there must be an au­to­ma­tic S/N pe­nal­ty of around 20-22 dB’s. The truth is that this is pure hog-wa­sh. It just ain’t so. I rou­ti­nely achie­ve a 3-4 Db dif­fe­rence when I up­grade my Char­lie’s. In other words, I get around 84 to 86 Db S/N in mono and around 81 to 83 Db in Ste­reo. It can be done. Yes, there is a se­cret to it. But it is achieva­ble.

Get­ting back to the dis­cus­sion at hand, there are tech­ni­ques that could be ea­si­ly ad­op­ted that would allow sta­ti­ons to main­tain their co­ver­age yet still put me­cha­nisms in place that would allow TRUE dy­na­mic range to be res­to­red at the re­cei­ver end. As a mat­ter of fact, this wouldn’t even re­qui­re any rules chan­ges by eit­her the FCC or the NAB. All that would be re­qui­red would be that the set ma­nu­fac­tu­rers meet with the sta­ti­ons and broad­cast equip­ment ma­nu­fac­tu­rers to work out a so­lu­ti­on that is so ob­vious, that it sta­res me in the face. Why doesn’t an­yo­ne else see it. Well, that ques­ti­on has an ob­vious an­s­wer. Fo­rest and trees, etc. And as far as where we are hea­ded, with di­gi­tal broad­casts, I see a real de­ba­cle co­m­ing. I can see no way on earth where the new di­gi­tal spec­trum, which oc­cu­p­ies the EXACT SAME SPEC­TRUM AS THE CUR­RENT FM SI­GNAL, can be any­thing but a di­sas­ter wait­ing to hap­pen. Wi­thout the be­ne­fit of true mul­ti­plex­ing, which the new sys­tem is NOT, two ob­jects CAN­NOT oc­cu­py the same space at the same time — PE­RI­OD. So, we’ll have to wait on this one. But don’t be sur­pri­sed that if all of a sud­den one day, your ba­re­ly ac­cep­ta­ble FM si­gnal turns to pure mush and gar­ba­ge. You read it here first.

Chap­ter 6: Num­bers, Num­bers, Num­bers:
What Fal­la­cies Belie

Over the last 8 de­ca­des or so, the most tre­men­dous mi­sun­der­stan­ding in audio mea­su­re­ments has been with us. We have al­lo­wed our­sel­ves to be con­stant­ly foo­led by tech­ni­ques that are worth­less and mea­ningless. They have foo­led us into a false sense of rea­li­ty. The truth is that dis­tor­ti­on mea­su­re­ments as has been the com­mon prac­tice, are worth­less be­cau­se of mis­in­ter­pre­ta­ti­on. I will at­tempt to ex­plain the truth in all of this so you can grasp a truer and ful­ler un­der­stan­ding of what the num­bers truly mean. First of all, with pre­sent in­stru­ments, the mea­su­re­ment of dis­tor­ti­on does not pro­du­ce anyw­he­re near a cor­re­la­ti­ve re­sult, which would com­pa­re the rea­dings with what we would hear or per­cei­ve acousti­cal­ly. It is a well known fact that the curve of human hea­ring is NOT li­ne­ar. For ex­amp­le, in order to make a given sound ap­pe­ar twice as loud, it takes 10 TIMES more am­pli­fier power into the loud­spea­ker. To make a sound ap­pe­ar 4 times as loud, it takes 100 TIMES more am­pli­fier power. To make a sound ap­pe­ar 8 times lou­der, it takes 1000 TIMES more am­pli­fier power. The­re­fo­re, how does this re­la­te to our dis­tor­ti­on mea­su­re­ments? An ex­amp­le is in order. Let us say that we are tes­ting an am­pli­fier and just for the sake of ar­gu­ment, this amp is pro­du­cing 1% dis­tor­ti­on at a cer­tain power level, say 1 watt. That is, the dis­tor­ti­on meter is sho­w­ing a rea­ding of 1%. This is equi­va­lent to –40dB’s. Howe­ver, this is where the pa­ra­dox be­gins. Under these cir­cum­stan­ces, the 1% dis­tor­ti­on rea­ding is equi­va­lent to 100 MI­CRO­WATTS of power. This is an equi­va­lent power level which is 10,000 TIMES below the 1 watt level. Re­mem­ber that here, we are dea­ling with the TRUE dis­tor­ti­on pro­duct as op­po­sed to just the vol­ta­ge mea­su­re­ment. But we know that the hea­ring ratio of –40dB’s is only 16 times. What this re­al­ly means is that the TRUE dis­tor­ti­on pro­duct is re­al­ly 6.25% and NOT 1%. In a se­cond ex­amp­le let us say that the dis­tor­ti­on at the afo­re­men­tio­ned 1 watt level is mea­su­ring .01% which is con­side­red today to be ex­cep­tio­nal­ly good per­for­mance. The cha­rac­ter of the dis­tor­ti­on aside, let’s limit our dis­cus­sion here me­rely to the num­bers. In this case the dis­tor­ti­on pro­duct would be –80dB’s or a level of 10 NA­NO­WATTS. This is a power ratio of 100 MIL­LI­ON TO ONE. You might think that this is in­si­gni­fi­cant but hold on. Things are not as they seem. The acoustic dif­fe­rence of –80dB’s is a ratio of 256 to 1. This cor­re­sponds to a true dis­tor­ti­on PRO­DUCT of .39%. This is a far cry from .01% which is what the dis­tor­ti­on meter is tel­ling us. What this boils down to is this. Our hea­ring sen­si­ti­vi­ty is vast­ly more acute than most peop­le rea­li­ze. This may be an an­s­wer as to why va­rious peop­le can claim to hear dif­fe­ren­ces in pro­ducts that other­wi­se might be con­side­red as in­au­di­b­le. I am of the be­lief that a new stan­dard in audio mea­su­re­ments is nee­ded to re­flect this hea­ring acu­ten­ess. Is an­yo­ne out there lis­ten­ing?

Chap­ter 7: What Di­gi­tal Re­vo­lu­ti­on? Give My Ears A Break

When I de­ci­ded to eva­lua­te CD’s way back around 1983, I was not pre­pa­red for how bad these things were going to sound. And I mean BAD. My ears were to­tal­ly raped. I was very ca­re­ful in that I only purcha­sed CD’s where I had the re­cord album to com­pa­re with. Gran­ted, that didn’t make for a large collec­tion, but I heard what I (didn’t need) heard. It was just plain awful. Of cour­se, a great deal of this bad sound was due to the alia­sing right at the input to the A/D con­ver­ters. Ob­vious­ly there were vir­tual­ly no clicks and pops and the S/N ratio was far bet­ter than phono re­cor­dings. Howe­ver, the sound was flat, with hard­ly any di­men­si­on. Sort of loo­king at a photo ins­tead of a true 3-di­men­sio­nal pre­sen­ta­ti­on. Also, there was a ste­ri­li­ty to the sound qua­li­ty ma­king it al­most ro­bo­tic ins­tead of mu­si­cal. The lush­ness that I have al­ways en­joy­ed was gone. In its place was a me­cha­ni­cal mons­ter. Things have im­pro­ved dra­ma­ti­cal­ly over the years howe­ver, it AIN’T there yet. Far from it. The over­load pro­blems don’t seem to be a pro­blem any­mo­re and of cour­se the dy­na­mic range is ex­cep­tio­nal­ly good. But the dry­ness, lack of depth and over­all ge­ne­ral blasé‘ are still there. Since I am not a di­gi­tal ex­pert, I can only com­ment here on what I hear and for the most part, I’m going to stick with my re­cor­ds. I only wrote this to put my two cents worth into the forum which is going to con­ti­nue for some time to come.

Chap­ter 8: Pre­sence: The Real Mis­sing Link

I have saved this tid­bit, alt­hough it re­al­ly isn’t a tid­bit, for last be­cau­se it is pro­bab­ly wi­thout a doubt the most dif­fi­cult si­tua­ti­on to solve if it can ever be sol­ved. As sta­ted many times be­fo­re, ste­reo is for the most part an il­lu­si­on at best. The real ques­ti­on be­co­mes, how can we im­pro­ve this il­lu­si­on so that it gets clo­ser to rea­li­ty. In a real world si­tua­ti­on, your ear-brain link needs to do NO work. If it’s real, it’s re­al-pe­ri­od. The fur­ther away from rea­li­ty the more the ear-brain link has to fill in all of the mis­sing, or should we say in­cor­rect, in­for­ma­ti­on. Ob­vious­ly, the grea­ter the dis­pa­ri­ty of in­for­ma­ti­on, the har­der it is to achie­ve this human cor­rec­tion fac­tor.

When I go to a live event, I like to sit right there in front. This is my pre­fer­red lis­ten­ing po­si­ti­on. I have howe­ver, se­veral fri­ends who like to sit way back far away from the event. It doesn’t mat­ter that I couldn’t do that. That is their pre­fe­rence. Now, in order to sa­tis­fy both si­tua­ti­ons, how does the re­cor­ding en­gi­neer set up the mikes? Big di­lem­ma. It be­co­mes pain­f­ul­ly ob­vious that this is a lo­se-lo­se si­tua­ti­on. In ad­di­ti­on, this pro­blem CAN­NOT be sol­ved by the use of the vo­lu­me con­trol be­cau­se it is a pro­blem most­ly of time ra­ther than loud­ness.

The use of pro­ces­sors to crea­te hall ef­fects is for the most part a joke. The time pro­blems still exist on first ar­ri­val in­for­ma­ti­on. There are some very exo­tic mi­cro­pho­ne tech­ni­ques that can be used to help, but not cure, the pro­blem so­mew­hat. I have yet never met a re­cor­ding en­gi­neer that wasn’t like a pri­ma-Don­na in these mat­ters in­as­much as they aren’t in­te­rested in outs­ide gui­dance. They think they know it all. Why then do most re­cor­dings sound so bad re­la­ti­ve to this si­tua­ti­on.

There are also other much more ef­fec­tive tech­ni­ques that could be used that would dra­ma­ti­cal­ly im­pro­ve this si­tua­ti­on. These other me­thods would in­vol­ve a sub­stan­ti­al en­gi­nee­ring de­ve­lop­ment pro­gram but that shouldn’t mat­ter if the end ju­s­ti­fies the means. Again, no in­te­rest anyw­he­re. To be sure, there is no amount of elec­tro­nic giz­mo-ing that will solve this pro­blem be­cau­se it in­vol­ves real time cor­rec­tion. This is a real ago­ni­zing si­tua­ti­on for me be­cau­se I know how to achie­ve these things and I can as­su­re you that the re­sults would be ab­so­lu­tely spec­ta­cu­lar. But we have an in­dus­try that is mired in a quag­mi­re of 1950’s style thin­king and can’t seem to get out of the hole. Sure, the qua­li­ty of com­po­n­ents and de­vices has been dra­ma­ti­cal­ly im­pro­ved but, so what. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an equal im­pro­ve­ment in the rea­li­ty of the pre­sen­ta­ti­on?

You may all be thin­king that I’m tal­king just a bunch of gib­be­rish here, but I think that most of you out there no how se­rious I am about mat­ters audio. So until the right sup­port si­tua­ti­on comes along with some po­ckets de­eper than mine, we’ll all just have to wait on a hope, a wish, and a pray­er, that so­me­day so­meo­ne will re­co­gni­ze ex­act­ly what I’m say­ing here and de­ci­de to do so­me­thing about it.