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Amplification for B&W 600/CM series

 

New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 1
Registered: Nov-12
Hi folks,

I have access to unbelievably discounted D&M pricing that I want to utilize to purchase a HiFi setup that I otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. After listening to many speakers, I fell in love with B&W 684s and CM1s (also liked CM8s, but they're probably too expensive for now). Now I'm trying to figure out if I can power them cost effectively. (I've read on this forum they are a challenge to power).

In particular, I'm wondering if the Marantz PM8004 will pack enough juice to bring the speakers to life for 2-channel music. If not, alternatives are: 1) stepping up to the PM15S2B-Limited (a real stretch financially) or 2)considering other speakers with a warm, relaxed presenation (suggestions welcome). Non-D&M amps are probabl out of the running as I get 50% D&M.

Other info: Source will be a new Marantz UD5007. Room is modest sized apartment living room (maybe 12x15x8 ft). Listening volumes are generally moderate (urban apartment, thin walls). Musical tastes are classical, jazz, and downtempo electronic (e.g., Sigur Ros, Portishead).

Advice much appreciated...

J
 

New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 2
Registered: Nov-12
I've been thinking about this a little more and I think the crux of my question is...

Which option is likely to get be better sound today, and also which is more "upgradable"
1) Buy PM8004 amp for $500. This leaves up to ~$2K for speakers, so I could stretch for CM8s or comfortably afford CM1s or 684s. Can this amp sufficiently power the CM1s, let alone the towers?
2) Buy PM15S2B for $1250. This leaves ~$1K for speakers. I could buy 684s or CM1s. Would a realistic upgrade path be swapping for CM8s and moving the CM1s to rear surround (powered by a Marantz SR6007 receiver, w/ the front powered by the 15S2B in "p direct in" mode)?

In either case, are there other, better suited speakers I should be hearing? And sorry for excessive posting, this is going to be a big purchase for me and I'm excited (and anxious to get it right)...
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17538
Registered: May-04
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With any of the currrent B&W speaker line up, I would always opt for the heftiest amp I could afford. Without hearing the combination, I wouldn't think a $500 amp balances the system when paired with a $2k speaker. In general, I would put the larger amount into the amp and buy lower priced speakers. A high quality amp will sound like a high quality amp even with less expensive speakers unless there is a serious flaw in the speaker. A less expensive amp will sound very much like a less expensive amp when paired with speakers with higher resolving power.


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New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 3
Registered: Nov-12
Thanks Jan -- I was hoping you'd weigh in. I've seen your replies on other posts and you clearly have a lot of knowledge.

To be clear, the PM8004 is $1K MSRP and the 15S2 is $2500 (I'm basically getting 50% off list). So I'd think the 8004 is pretty decent. I'm just trying to understand if a $2.5K amp makes sense for the rig I'm planning to spend the next few years building (or if it's overkill). Is there anyone who has happened to hear both amps? Is the "reference series" 15S2B really worth the additional $1500?

Anyhow, sounds like what I'm hearing is take advantage of your deal on the better amp, and buy upgrade the speakers over time (since there's no special pricing)?

Are there other speakers that might pair better with the Marantz that I should listen to before I make the decision.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17540
Registered: May-04
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The Reference series from Marantz contains "upgraded" and "audiophile" internal components. Items such as standard issue cables, connectors, resistors and caps have been replaced with "better" cables, connectors, resistors and caps. Whether you'll notice a sonic inprovement is not something I can predict. I do think higher grarde parts make for higher grade sound quality, but that certainly depends on how you listen to music and whether you have certain criteria beyond just "tight bass, clear mids and clean highs". If your priorities in music are not attuned to the values which are affected by caps, resistors and cables, then you're less likely to say one amp is superior to the other. On the other hand, once you've grown accustomed to higher quality music playback, there's the possibility you'll begin to notice when it's missing from other systems. But that is what the reference series offers, music reproduction more similar to high end gear than to Marantz's mass market line.

I have to say the difference in price is not worth the difference in features if that's all you would be buying in the more costly amp. Too many features are used simply to sell to the less well informed client who feels more is better. No, better is better and features are just features. If you get the feeling you're paying more for geegaws, then don't spend the money. I've only read one review of the Marantz reference amps and, unfortunately, the reviewer was not someone I'd trust so far as saying I always agree with their opinion enough to blindly spend money. But, if it matters to you, that reviewer did prefer the sound of the reference gear.

Here I tend to fall back on my ol' standby, buy the amp that weighs the most for the number of watts quoted. It's the power supply that will give you those watts - and it is especially the ps which will provide the amperage required by the typical B&W - and "good" watts come from heavy power supplies in an average class AB, push/pull, solid state, integrated amp like the Marantz.

http://www.avguide.com/review/marantz-pm8004-integrated-amplifier-tas-220

As I mentioned, I don't happen to think there is an "overkill" amp for any speaker if you have specific goals in mind. I've played $5k amps through "decent" $300 speakers and been bowled over by the music. A truly high quality amp simply takes hold of any speaker and outputs very clean music with great accuracy and detail to what is on the source disc. The quality of the speaker matters, of course,you can't get great sound from cheapo computer speakers. But given a modestly priced speaker from a high end manufacturer, I'd much prefer to listen to a $2k amp driving some $300 speakers than the other way around. It's that power supply in the amp that makes things work and when you cut the budget for the amp - and particularly when you're considering more difficult to drive speakers like most of the B&W's - you'll hear the amp straining to control the speakers. Higher quality resistors and caps won't matter to that issue. It's the power supply that counts when speakers play rough. Maybe you will not notice the improvement at first if you are unaware of what the system is delivering but this will be evident as you get accustomed to those things that make music more than just bass, mids and highs. This has been a common complaint for decades when someone skimps on the amp and pours money into the speakers. The higher quality speaker does what a higher quality speaker is meant to do and it simply reveals what is coming in from the amp. If the amp is even slightly strained by the load of the speakers and the power supply cannot move volts and amps in sufficient numbers with sufficient speed, the speaker begins to drive the amp instead of the other way around. That's not good sound or good music.

Now, the alternative is to buy lesser speakers or, at the very least, speakers which are more kind to an amplifier. A high impedance load across the frequency band (8 Ohms and above without severe dips beneath that figure) with fairly simple crossovers - or none at all - and somewhat higher than average electrical sensivity will get you a speaker that doesn't stress any amp. Good amps willl still sound like good amps with such a speaker but lesser amps will not tend to sound so much like lesser amps.

Things is, not many speaker designers build such speakers. The generic rule for most speaker builders is "watts is cheap" and so they build speakers that are less than kind to the amp. There is a rather committed market for very low wattage tube amps out there and the speakers which would work with those amps would be ideal for any amp.

See if this makes sense to you; http://www.decware.com/paper49.htm

The Decware speakers can run on a two watt amp and still fill a room. They're a little expensive but read the article and see if you get the idea of what makes a speaker an easy load or a difficult load. Omega makes easy to drive speakers; http://www.omegaloudspeakers.com/ as does Brines; http://brinesacoustics.com/

These speakers have a somewhat different, more "straight ahead" sound than the B&W's. Some people like them, some don't. Read a bit and see what you think and then, if you are interested, just do some on line research. Otherwise, suggesting speakers is something that's just impossible to do. A speaker is going to sound like your room and any speaker will sound different in one room vs another. So you really have to just listen and have a few basic priorities that you feel make for a truly musical reproduction system. Concentrate on the music and not the hifi. Quite often what impresses you in a store will wear on you at home.


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Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17541
Registered: May-04
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http://www.ecoustics.com/electronics/forum/home-audio/628565.html
 

New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 4
Registered: Nov-12
Jan -- Thanks for all this information. It's all super helpful and interesting.

One of your points is really sticking with me: "A truly high quality amp simply takes hold of any speaker.... I'd much prefer to listen to a $2k amp driving some $300 speakers than the other way around."

I translate that into: Buy the best amp you can afford now, and upgrade your speakers over time as my tastes change, budget grows, and ears refine. Is that correct?

I guess the follow up question is: are either/both of the amps in question good enough for me to do that?

I did a little additional research and learned that the PM8004 weighs 27 pounds and the PM15s2B Limited weighs 41 pounds. At this point in my audiophile development, I'm less interested in the higher quality caps/cables/etc and more interested in current. Assuming the better caps and internal wires don't contribute 20 pounds, it sounds like the 15S2 could have a much improved power supply. According to the article below: "For the PM-15S2 L special attention has been given not only to the sound, but also the ability to drive speakers easily. The key factor for the power supply, the heart of any amp, is not only power, but speed as well.... By using Marantz customised block capacitors with 2x 20.000µF and a special inner construction, we're able to achieve both at once!"

http://www.whathifi.com/news/live-from-the-denonmarantz-showcase-in-london

Frankly, I'm not 100% sure what that means, but it sounds like this baby could drive the 600/CM B&Ws with ease. While the PM8004 seemed to be well regarded in the review you included in your post, I'm still it wouldn't be enough to drive the 684s (or CM8s I might decide to hold out for). While I recognize that part of the fun of this hobby is constantly learning about new gear and fantasizing about how it could sound in one's own living room, I like to avoid the immediate desire to upgrade that seems to accompany most of the major decisions I make. I want to build a system that is the end all be all for me (and afterward focus more on room treatment and growing my CD collection again). The $2500 question is: will the PM8004 be that amp, or is it going to leave me hungry? Is even the PM15S2 going to leave me hungry?

I bet the 8004 is a great amp... but I can't help but wonder if I should just spring for the 15S2 while I have the chance to grab it for 50% off. Frankly, I think part of me is turning to this forum in search of justification for making the (somewhat financially irresponsible) decision to buy the better amp.

I also have growing concerns about my source? I'll hypothetically be hooking up a $600 universal disc player to a $2500 amp and $1000 speakers (initially, and eventually better ones). Am I blowing too much of my budget on a single component just because I'm getting a deal deal, or is this how you patiently building a great system piece by piece (rather than a mediocre system all at once)?

While I appreciate the idea of checking out the Omega and Brines speakers, their reputed sound/style doesn't seem my taste. I think I might have my heart set on the B&Ws. (I also really like B&W yellow kevlar... and the CM series overall look...) I've heard good things about Dynaudios (the 2/6 and a soft dome tweeter seem like they would help produce a warm sound) and Monitor Audio Golds but don't they both have a reputation of being hard to drive too....

Decisions decisions... I appreciate your wisdom in advance.

J
 

New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 5
Registered: Nov-12
I did a little more research comparing the spec sheets of the two amps and learned the following:
PM8004 is rated 70W into 8 Ohms and 100W into 4 Ohms. 100/70 = 1.426
PM15S2 is rated 90W into 8 Ohms and 140W into 4 Ohms. 140/90 = 1.556

Based on some of the things I learned here, I believe this would be a good thing in favor of the 15S2B, because it means that it has greater â€úreserve current capabilityâ€Ě and is therefore capable of working harder when necessary to drive speakers at their minimum impedance (3.0 Ohms in the case of both the B&W CM8 and 684s). Am I interpreting that correctly? Or is it really just some meaningless spec (I’m becoming pretty jaded regarding the usefulness of audio specs)?

http://hometoys.com/emagazine.php?url=/htinews/feb04/articles/polk/impedence.htm

http://us.marantz.com/DocumentMaster/US/PM8004_U_EN_UG_v00.pdf

http://us.marantz.com/DocumentMaster/US/PM-15S2_UN_EN_UG_v00_Updated.pdf
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17542
Registered: May-04
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There are no universally correct answers in audio other than the sole purpose of an any audio component or speaker is to receate music as you perceive it. That "answer" asks many more questions which immediately take us down a pathway which soon asks us to determine; left or right, up or down, easy or rough, short or long, scenic or efficient, etc. All of which says we must first ask, what is music? And, how do I perceive it?

Those questions are rather deep in meaning, have involved much of the cognitive science's attention over the last half century and cannot be completely answered by anyone other than a single listener who has "perceived music". Surely two people can sit side by side while enjoying a specific performance and both can walk away with extremely dissimilar opinions regarding what they have just experienced. Where does that leave us when we ask for advice from the other listener?

Are bits just bits and are all bits perfect? The objectivist says "yes" to both while the subjectivist asks, "Why would they be?" One media player claims bit perfect transmission of a data stream comprised of 1's and 0's while another suggests "bit perfect" is just the start of getting music right and those bits must arrive at their destination both on time and in time. For, above all else, music is a temporal experience - we know music exists both in time - the length of the performance - and is played in time - a time signature for the performance. Music has rules which, even when bent by the modern jazz artist or avant garde composer, demand the performer and the listener are still playing within the overall rules and limitations of the game. When any of those rules or temporal values of music are disturbed by the reproduction equipment, we as listeners experience dissonance between what we know to exist, what we expect to exist and what does exist. The confusion at times is astounding when a cheap as mud OEM AM radio in a car can "sound like music" more so than a $5k audio system. We can sit at a stoploight and tap our fingers to a song we've never before heard and yet we find our home system lacking in the ability to pull us into the music's intent. Should that experience be your own, what do you do? Sit in your car and listen to AM radio? Or, change the system in your home? But, wasn't your home system just fine when you first hooked it all up? Shouldn't most people be more than happy with a $5k investment in audio gear? Maybe you should have just donated your money to the refugee effort and forgotten all about audio. Which refugee effort? Take your pick, they are all over and they all need assistance. So, then, when is enough audio gear actually enough audio gear?



I can no more explain that to you than I can describe the sound of a Stradivarius cello. Both are someone's personal perception and, therefore, cannot be shared with or dictated to another person. Will you be happy with your amplifier purchase? I don't know. I do know audio is a game that few people become satisfied playing the first time out. Whatever you purchase the first time, if you want to be happy, you must immediately after your purchase shut yourself off from all those sources and all those voices who are trying to tell you there is always something better out there. You must do that and you must concentrate only on the system's ability to reproduce music if you are to be even remotely content with what you own.

Cutting through a lot of the BS that exists on this forum (and a good bit of it my own), the advice I tried to give to many of my clients when I was selling boils down to a simple rule. Buy a system of components which together perform as a "music system". Do not buy a system comprised of components and speakers which function solely as an "audio system". I can absolutely guarantee you that any audio component you buy today will be superceded by some other audio component that is available tomorrow. Any component which does a credible "soundstage" this morning will be improved upon by another component which does soundstage in a slightly different manner this afternoon. Any component that outputs "XXX" amount of current will be defeated in the current wars by this time next week. While paying attention to certain numbers is important to a successful combination of components and speakers, those numbers have very little to do with what is required of any component or speaker to recreate good music. So, yes, pay attention to the numbers and, no, the numbers are all BS intended to deceive you.

Different is not better, better is better. And that remains the single rule you must imprint on your mind when shopping for a music reproduction system. If you are buying a component because you feel it will "do something" better, you'll always find another component which does it better still - or, at the very least, different than what you already own. The consumer audio market is very good at "selling the sizzle". You can't eat "sizzle", you can only eat the steak which creates the sizzle.



This can turn into a very long post if I try to answer every question in detail or cover all the bases at once. It's been almost a decade since I joined this forum and began giving the same advice to each questioner. So it is all here if you have the patience to look for it. Lately, I have tried to do the shorthand of simply suggesting that anyone buying audio gear remember its primary purpose is to recreate music in your home in a way that is both pleasing and emotionally involving to you, the listener. That is what music is all about in the final cut and that should be all you're concerned with when buying music reproduction gear. It's not a food processor with five different blades and twelve speeds that can chop, dice, slice and puree. It's not a universal tool with attachments that fit all jobs and all comers. If you piece together a system that is full of excellent components but they do not get out of the way of the music, you've accomplished very little and probably wasted a lot of money in the process.

To reach the point where you can piece together components which get out of the way of the music - in other words, be "transparent" to the source - and allow you pleasure from the music, you first must determine what about music is of importance to you - because I cannot tell you what you will value in music. Those values which are important to you in music are called "priorities". The music system you piece together must individually all share those same priorities if you are to have a "synergistic" system with the one goal of making music accessible to you as the highest priority. You develop musical priorities by listening to music and examining what about music appeals to you. Forget about the hifi system and concentrate on the music. "Music" is not about "tight bass, clear mids and clean highs". I understand your situation but music is not about what sort of deal you can get on some sort of component. If those values are the extent of your desire for a music system, then you will very likely buy an audio system instead. And you will find yourself being constantly frustrated by the next great piece of gear which is claimed to do "tighter bass, clearer mids and cleaner highs". And, there you go, you're on the audio merry go'round.

You will need to determine which values of music please you, which are relevant to the music and which are only relevant to how an audio system portrays itself. Then select which values you are willing to trade off for another more desireable value. Because, above all else, audio is a process of trade offs. If I give you this, I will take away that - and possibly something else just to make myself happy too. Therefore, your priorities must be rather firmly entrenched in your mind before you set out to find your last ever music system. If that takes a few steps to reach, you're not alone. Few of us understand what is in an audio system's reproduction of music until that value is either removed or improved upon. Remove a previously unnoticed noise from the reproduction and suddenly we are extremely aware of that noise being present when we go back to our old system. Remove a noise and make a nuance available for us to perceive and suddenly we want that nuance because nuance is music, music is nuance and noise is just the stuff the hifi does. Audio is a shell game. It is a game of moving forward, no one would sell anything new if all the old stuff was perfect. And it is a game of realizing what you have in front of you and not focussing on what you don't. I use (among others) 50 year old tube amps in my main system because they present music as I perceive it in a live setting. I listen to quite a few "historical recordings" made before the days of stereo, multi-channel, multi-track, a dozen mics on the drum kit became common in the recording industry. I enjoy the music so it's not about having a "simplified" recording that I'm after. Too many audio buyers fall into the trap of buying music that makes their system "sound good" and then only listening to those recordings so thay can hear the audio system they selected. Doing so they miss out on a lot of very nice music that would be appealing to them if only the system made it so. The answer, IMO, is buy the equipment which is always capable of making the music appealing in some way to your priorities.

What I listen to as far as music is concerned reminds me that the equipment built before multi-channel, multi-track, dozens of mic's became the norm for recording, and before some audio know it all began telling me I had to have a component which did "soundstage" in a manner which they found pleasing, audio designers and recording engineers had only one thing to do - get the music right. When you strip out all of the other values which are tied into our thinking about modern audio gear, we are left with getting the music right. If you simply apply that sort of thinking to your purchase of audio gear, you stand a good chance you will be content that what you have purchased can reproduce music in a way that has not changed in hundreds of years. Music has always been a temporal thing. Music has always served the purpose of communication. Music has always been made for an audience of listeners who respond to the temporal and communicative priorities of the performer. Soundstage, imaging, "tight bass" etc, all came later with the advent of audio and the rise of the audio press. That means "audio" is constantly moving and evolving while "music" is both constant and universal. Which is the easier target to hit? The one that is always moving? Or, the one that is constant and consistent?


Therefore, Josh, to wrap this up, you need to establish what your musical priorities are, itemize them into "desirables", "less desirables" and "only pertains to the audio gear" and then go audition some music systems. That, unfortunately, isn't what you have set out to do nor is it what you came here to find out. But that has for decades been my advice to clients in the exact same position as you find yourself. If you are unfamiliar with the character of live music, go listen before you spend money. If you know the sound of music, don't tie it to the color of the driver or the material of a tweeter. If you know what is important to you when it comes to enjoying music, apply that to the music system you are compiling and proceed with confidence that what you will have is a high quality music system and not just another audio system that will be outdated by next month's magazines.



Can you tell me right now what your musical priorities consist of? What is important to you in music?







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Gold Member
Username: Magfan

USA

Post Number: 2952
Registered: Oct-07
Impedance is a poor way to judge if a speaker is or is NOT a 'bad load'.

http://www.sonicdesign.se/amptest.htm

One other measurable to look at is phase angle......Amplifiers may or may NOT like to work into Capacitors or Inductors. Both are elements called 'reactive'. Worst case scenario for any amplifier, and a true test of power supply and output device stability would be when a a speaker has an impedance minima at the same / near frequency to where the phase angle is very high to a highly reactive speaker load.

One company measures an amplifiers ability to work into these real world loads.
If your less expensive Marantz actually works better into such wacky loads, it would end up being the better buy, other sonic attributes being equal. More power into a resistor doesn't necessarily equate to more power into 'real world' speaker loads.
Manufacturers seldom advertise such data, since most consumers are ill equipped to evaluate it.

http://www.audiograph.se/Downloads/PowerCube_12p_brochure_complete.pdf
 

New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 6
Registered: Nov-12
I apologize for the late response -- it was busy with family around Thanksgiving. And speaking of thanks, I really appreciate your thoughtful responses to my question.

Jan, you raised a really great point regarding building a system that is built based on my musical priorities. Enjoying my music more is, after all, the point of all this right? While it's hard to put those into words, it doesn't involve many of the buzzwords of the audio press. One of my favorite recordings is Beethoven's Archduke Trio preformed by Rubinstein, Heifetz, and Feuermann. It sounds like it was recorded in a tin can, but there's no denying the musicality of the recording.

The point is, I'm going to do more of what I should have done from the beginning: spend the next few weeks or even months listening to everything every local audio dealer has within my budget to assemble the most musical system to my ears (though perhaps not the most technically perfect one). Perhaps I'll end up right where I startedâ€"I did listen to the Marantz components and B&W speakers and loved what I heardâ€"but I’m going to give everything a 2nd 3rd and 4th look with a different mindset.

I know many a poster asks an initial question or two while assembling a system and never returns, but I intend to stick around. There is a lot to be learned by reading this forum, and hopefully I’ll be able to continue to that too as I continue to learn how to refine a sound system that is synergistic with my musical priorities.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17557
Registered: May-04
.

"Too many audio buyers fall into the trap of buying music that makes their system 'sound good' and then only listening to those recordings so thay can hear the audio system they selected. Doing so they miss out on a lot of very nice music that would be appealing to them if only the system made it so. The answer, IMO, is buy the equipment which is always capable of making the music appealing in some way to your priorities."



One word of caution, Josh, be wary of anyone who tries to tell you their system is "accurate" when it does not involve you in the music. "Accuracy" tends to be used as a weapon in audio. You might find a few people who will, in effect, reprimand you if you say their system isn't musically interesting. They will insist "Accuracy" is what you must desire since after all it is what they desire. Beware of the audio salesperson who insists their values must be your values. They do not have your best interests at heart.

Do not allow anyone to tell you what you must desire from an audio system. Keep in mind the stated purpose of an audio component - to bring music into your room - and use that as your guiding principle. Now, if you are studying a specific artist or a particular style of music and you need a specific lens through which to view the music, possibly a highly "accurate" system which is capable of revealing extreme details of the music might be of value. Most of us simply listen to music and, therefore, we spend more time enjoying music than tearing it apart while taking notes. For instance, while I listen for the nuances of a performer's style and the communicative talents they share with their fellow performers, I do so while I am enjoying the performance. For me, those values are the music. Those values are what set one performer apart from another and one performance apart from another. If all performers and all performances were identical, I would only need on album to hear it all. Obviously, that's not the case so I require a high quality audio system which enables me to understand how each performer approaches and executes their own unique "style".

One test of an audio system I have comes down to how easily I can walk away from it. If I am not inclined to pull out another disc and then another disc and then ... and give another listen before i shut everything down and go on about my day or night, then I find that system - or component - or speaker to be of little value to me. Just as I would find any live performance I could easily walk away from to be less than valuable to me.


"Accurate", "analytical" and "cool" are often synonymous values in audio. If those are priorities you come to value, don't let me talk you out of them. But I will warn you many dealers will use the former adjective and not speak of those remaining values. They will make you feel as though your priorities are all wrong when you say you are not looking for an analytical system when they are inisting they are offering an accurate system. Ignore them. These are your priorities you are establishing, not their's.

If your Rubinstein, Heifetz, and Feuermann recording exemplifies "musicality" - and again, during that time in recording history, capturing the musical event was the prime motivation - keep your headings pointed toward a system which is not so much "accurate" as it is "transparent" to the source. If music exists in the recording - and there are some recordings which simply lack this quality - then music is what you should be experiencing from any system through which that signal is sent.



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New member
Username: Wintershade

Post Number: 7
Registered: Nov-12
I'll definitely will keep that in mind.

And to your point--On some level, I feel like the only way to truly evaluate the "accuracy" of a recording and its playback is the audience present at the time of the musical performance. How am I to know if my system is accurately reproducing an event at which I wasn't present? The best my system can do is recreate what I IMAGINE the event to have been.

I suppose if I were pressed to choose a word, my most valued musical priority is "engaging." Does the music draw me in, force me to attention at the edge of my seat? Does it emotionally involve me? That's what I'll be listening to, and I'll report back with what I find. Hopefully it will be useful or of interest to some.

And thanks for the guidance Jan. Super helpful.

J
 

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 17558
Registered: May-04
.


"How am I to know if my system is accurately reproducing an event at which I wasn't present?"




I've heard this question for decades. Of course you can know whether your system is reproducing an event as it originally occurred. First, you'll need to establish which recordings are reference quality and which are not. Only a small handful of the recordings in your library will have sonics and musical values which can be used to measure the performance of your system. You'll need to have some of your priorities in mind when you make the decision which recordings best portray music as you understand it.

If you listen to classical music, then you should be interested in values such as timbre and tone to name just a few. A classical listener has more than likely spent some amount of time taking in unamplified, acoustic instruments and the quality of a system's/component's reproduction of an orchestral instrument should be relatively easy to catgeorize as appealing or not. Adding an edge or glare will be a simple matter of eliminating that component or speaker. - remembering that a system is only as strong as its weakest link and relying on a competent sales staff to assist you in weeding out which component might be the offensive one. Listen to one speaker/component rather than rapidly switching between several and one piece of music for a few moments and only ever change one thing at any time to keep from being confused.

An overly soft and diffuse presence and tone or a slowing or slurring of the momentum of the performance would likely also get a speaker/component taken off your list. So begin with the larger values with which you can most easily cut through the competiton for your dollar. You did not need to be present at the performance to know whether the recording engineers captured the overall "sound" of a symphony orchestra as you perceive a symphony orchestra. In fact, even if you had been in the audience of the performance, your ears would not have been positioned where the microphones were placed, you would not have been in the recording studio itself or the mastering studio where significant alterations can be made to the values of a recording. I have several recordings made in local Dallas venues with which I am familiar and I can say I recognize the "sound" of the space and the musicians performing in that space. Some of these recordings capture quite faithfully the values I perceive in those venues while some are tilted in some way to somewhat shift the emphasis of the recording's character. With those recordings I can easily adjust my sense of what is "correct" (not "accurate") and what is a realistic representation of a performance in that space. Using recordings made in other locations I can shift my knowledge of "this" venue to "that" venue and make mental adjustments which take into account just how well the engineers captured the sound of live music. The selection of specific microphones and their placement along with the monitoring equipment will all have some affect on the recording's "accuracy" so I'm not really aiming for "accuracy" as my goal. Add in the personal priorities of the numerous engineers who will leave their sonic fingerprint on the recording and there is no way to judge "accuracy" IMO even if you had been at the performance. My answer to that is to not use "accuracy" as your main goal. Rather, aim for transparency to the source which can accept the inevitable shifts of a "house sound" which is consistent, say, with a particular label's recordings.

If you know a DG recording tends to be somewhat "bright" and a Telarc recording trends toward "ripe" while a Philips recording is characteristically "wide" and "deep", listening for accuracy from a dozen recordings, all with their own personality, will be an exercise in frustration. Sort of like the puzzles where you are being asked to find what is different between several pictures. A high quality reproduction system, by its very nature, will demonstrate not the similarities in dissimilar recordings but their actual varations away from each other. Recognizing each recording will have its own personality, you should be using those recordings which as a group best reflect your perceptions of reality and then "bracketing" your equipment selections through those perceptions. Therefore, find the recordings which you feel best show off what occurs in a symphonic performance and use those to find equipment which is transparent to those qualites as displayed in your selection of recordings.


If you listen to pop, rock or any genre of music which is relying on amplification, you will need to take into account other values. The argument has long ago been decided as to whether amplified music is an acceptable source for auditioning high end audio. Musicians are musicians no matter what instrument they choose for themself. There are values which relate strictly to how an individual performer will approach their instrument and their performance and those are values which are musically consistent across genres. Use those values as guides to which system is the most honest in its presentation of music.

When I was selling I had two rather simple guidelines I would use to assist a client who listened exclusively to amplified music. The first was to keep recordings of well known performers in my demonstration pieces. Years ago, I always had a recording of Elvis and Sinatra because these were performers who everyone had heard and had probably heard in a sufficient number of presentations - TV, radio, movies, live, etc. - that, no matter whether they listened to Elvis or Sinatra at home, they were familiar with "how" their voices should "sound". What I was actually asking the customer to do was to listen for the values of a human voice since this is a sound we are intimately familiar with. We come into contact with this instrument dozens of times in any one day and we all should have a rather good idea of how a voice presents. Too chesty, too thin, too nasal or too pinched are all qualities we can cut through when we hear them being presented by an audio system. Yes, I take into account the use of a microphone and that a performer such as Sinatra learned how to use a microphone in a far different manner than, say, Mick Jagger. But those are values which should be left for the last stages of refining your selections. At first, simply ask yourself whether the voice appears to be natural and realistic, not "clear" and made to stand out from the other instruments. Clarity and "presence" are things an equipment or speaker manufacturer can manipulate with a very small adjustment to frequency response. One piece of advice which has been consistent in audio is to select the component or speaker which least impresses you in the showroom. The rationale behind this is that we understand a designer can manipulate the response of their product in such a way that it tends to "jump out at the listener" in a crowded demonstration room. Buying that component or that speaker is more likely to result in that component or speaker always jumping out at you, even when there are no other products for comparison. Such a design will eventually wear on you because you will always be hearing the product and those values which make a particular recording or artist interesting will become lost in that component's/speaker's character constantly over-riding everything else.

So the first lesson is not to make comparisons against other equipment. Make your comparisons against those values you have in your head which represent real music being performed. Take your time with the music, do not switch rapidly between components or speakers since it is far too easy to judge using values which are only relevant in the demonstration room. When listening, simply ask yourself, "Does this sound convincing?"

The other "rule" I advised my clients to accept stems from that first rule. Music as experienced by Western listeners has been a rather stable art form for the last 2k years. The same number of steps in the musical scale and the same relationships between chords and time signatures have been in use for our entire lifetime. If then you are listening for musical values and not those values which are relevant only to the equipment, IMO you stand a far better chance of selecting a system which will be true to the music.

A musician develops their "style" which operates within the confines of both the rules of music - for example, a minor third affects the listener in a different way than does a major third - and in the ways which make that performer unlike all other performers. Your initial question of any audition then should be whether the system/component is allowing the essential rules of music to be portrayed with honesty and integrity to the performance. Artists in performance with one another communicate with one another, does the system allow you to dial in to those communications? Can you perceive the ways in which one artist plays behind the beat while others play on the beat? Is it possible to detect how the performers manipulate time and tone? B.B. King bends a string in a way which is unique to B.B. King. How is B.B. King's Gibson 345 different than Buddy Guy's Fender Stratocaster? Heifetz had a rhythmic peculiarity which set his performances apart. What is the rhythmic value of B.B. King's performance style? Rubenstein played with a dynamic power which established his "sound". Billie Holiday's voice was plaintive while Ella Fitzgerald's was strong and forward leaning. Music is temporal, we expect a certain time keeping from the musicians and while the style of one performer might be to play with those temporal values, the system must allow the listener the ability to establish "correct time" in order to make sense of how the performer is altering time. Once again, your emphasis is on the music and how the music is created. It is not on the component or speaker per se. What sets one performer's "style" in your mind? Does the system become transparent to those things which make one performer unlike another? IMO if you keep the music as your focus and do not allow yourself to be distracted by the "hifi artifacts"; the soundstage, the imaging, the depth, whether the performers occupy a "palpable space" or whether the images in the soundstage appear to exist beyond the edges of the speakers, etc., etc., etc., you will be very successful at selecting those components and speakers which will both portray the music well and allow the system to act in a way which does not draw attention to the fact you are listening through a system.


Finally, after you've made your selections, keep in mind your system will only sound as good as the room in which it sits. Placement and set up of the system and the room can be responsible for as much as 90% of what you get out of your system. If you simply plunk your equipment and speakers where they fit, you will not get out of the system what you've put into selecting the system. Any speaker will sound somewhat different if you place it in another room or just in another location within the same room. Once you've decided on your system come back and we can discuss how to best achieve the musical values you paid for.





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