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Are we fooling ourselves?

Gaz37

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Sep 23, 2014
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The more I read/learn about this hobby the more I'm beginning to think we're all deluding ourselves.

I;ve been thinking logically about things that are discussed on this forum and many of them make no sense whatsoever.

Soundstage - It isn't really there at all, it's an illusion created by our imaginations, all we are listening to is sound coming from two boxes this is an inescapable fact, therefore it could be argued that those with better imaginations hear better soundstaging, or at least think they do.

Cables (of any kind and any price) are long pieces of wire with a plug at each end yet we think they can effect different aspects of musical presentation, This appears to have no rules though, for example a thick cable isn't neccessarily more bassy than a thin one in the same way as a large speaker is to a small speaker. For cables' effect on soundstage see the point above. They can apparently also effect transparency- what exactly is transparency?

One that I heard for the first time today is the polar response and balance of a speaker in relation to its position in relation to a wall, a speaker is a box containing two drivers, a crossover, some wires & some damping. Think logically about how any of these components can be tuned or adjusted to compensate for a wall alongside the box. If we were to accept that this is possible it stands to reason that the speakers would have to be "sided" if the right hand speaker were to be placed close to a wall to its left it would sound terrible and vice versa.

Any thoughts on this?
 

jmjones

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Mar 8, 2009
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Er, let's see.

1. Find a piece of music where the sound transfers from one speaker to the other and tell me there is no soundstage. At its simplest try a few "extreme stereo" versions. Dark Side of the Moon is an example. Use headphones. It's an illusion, but it's a good one.

2. Granted. Not sure cables make a great deal of difference once you get past a certain point, which in my case was bellwire (where it made a big difference in my case)

3. Try speaking into a corner and see if you can hear a difference as you approach. Other people will give you a better idea of the science behind it. For speakers it's probably more a debate for front and rear ported in most cases, although there are some "handed" speakers if you want to try the idea.
 

jjbomber

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Dec 22, 2006
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Gaz37 said:
The more I read/learn about this hobby the more I'm beginning to think we're all deluding ourselves.

Any thoughts on this?
That's all hobbies. Who in their right mind thinks a vintage car is better than a new one? Does anyone think a caravan is more comfortable than a hotel? Do golfers really think they'll play like a professional if they have the latest clubs? No, no, no. It's all a bit of fun. Every hobby is about people deluding themselves, that's the fun of it.
 

Gaz37

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Sep 23, 2014
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Soundstage, however convincing the illusion, just is not here, we imagine it - fact. Yes when music transfers left to right it may sound as though it's actually travelling across the room but it isn't, you think it is. If something is an illusion created by the brains' interpretation it stands to reason that different brains will interpret things differently.

Speaking into a corner - Yes of course your voice sounds different, the point is could you speak into a corner but make your voice sound as though it is coming from an open space? If you can't then you can be damned sure a speaker designer can't do it with inflexible materials and electronics.
 

Gray

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Nov 27, 2015
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I'd just finished watching an old Tomorrows World when I saw this post.

Some will remember watching this live:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUZP6AHUzx8

(copy / paste necessary if link not blue)

Play from 14:51 through your speakers for a bit of fun.

If it's imagination, then I reckon we're all imagining pretty much the same thing here.

It's just our brains constructing an aural picture out of actual audible clues that's all, it's what we do (well)
 

Sorreltiger

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Apr 22, 2008
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None of the musicians (in a variety of genres) that I know are much bothered about expensive hi-fi. I suspect that's because the live experience of a band, a chamber ensemble or an orchestra in a bar or a concert hall doesn't have much to do with the hi-fi experience of soundstages and the like, enjoyable though that may be.
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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Gaz37 said:
Soundstage, however convincing the illusion, just is not here, we imagine it - fact. Yes when music transfers left to right it may sound as though it's actually travelling across the room but it isn't, you think it is. If something is an illusion created by the brains' interpretation it stands to reason that different brains will interpret things differently.
Sound mixers in studios use two speakers to place instruments, and to create a space, which is what our systems are recreating at home. Some do it better than others. Without them, you're listening to mono, and the only sense of soundstage you're getting from that is the ambient information of the recording.

Speaking into a corner - Yes of course your voice sounds different, the point is could you speak into a corner but make your voice sound as though it is coming from an open space? If you can't then you can be damned sure a speaker designer can't do it with inflexible materials and electronics.
Theres one of you - there's two speakers. You'd need to use reflection to "throw" your voice somewhere else. Speakers can use phase to "move" a sound outside of the soundstage they create between them. And they have reflections to help.

I have albums that I have been used to for some time, but played on more recent systems, I've noticed more ambient information, or certain sounds being moved around the soundstage as they're produced. I can list a few albums for you to try out if you like...

Are you suggesting soundstage is placebo?!
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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Gaz37 said:
Soundstage - It isn't really there at all, it's an illusion created by our imaginations, all we are listening to is sound coming from two boxes this is an inescapable fact, therefore it could be argued that those with better imaginations hear better soundstaging, or at least think they do.
As I stated above, sound mixers produce a sound field when mixing albums.

Cables (of any kind and any price) are long pieces of wire with a plug at each end yet we think they can effect different aspects of musical presentation, This appears to have no rules though, for example a thick cable isn't neccessarily more bassy than a thin one in the same way as a large speaker is to a small speaker. For cables' effect on soundstage see the point above. They can apparently also effect transparency- what exactly is transparency?
Transparency, for me, is when the system gets completely out of the way of the sound - you can't hear that the sound field is coming from two boxes, and the soundstage isn't flat - it's three dimensional.

One that I heard for the first time today is the polar response and balance of a speaker in relation to its position in relation to a wall, a speaker is a box containing two drivers, a crossover, some wires & some damping. Think logically about how any of these components can be tuned or adjusted to compensate for a wall alongside the box. If we were to accept that this is possible it stands to reason that the speakers would have to be "sided" if the right hand speaker were to be placed close to a wall to its left it would sound terrible and vice versa.
I don't know how they do it, but some do. Ken Kreisler did with his Quattro speaker range, which was designed so that you heard less reflected sound and more of the direct sound. Amphion do with their speakers, using their Waveguide technology. This can easily be heard in my room - large-ish, fairly reflective at the moment, and many speakers I out on you can hear the higher frequencies are being exaggerated by the bare walls. Put the Amphions on, and they don't do it. I was stunned the first time I heard this, but it works.
 

davedotco

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Apr 24, 2013
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Reality, the world as it is, is percieved through our senses, we all see, taste and hear differently. This explains why a hi-fi sounds great to one person and not to another, why some find a woman (or man) sexy and others do not. It is just the way it is.

To make sense of this we measure and evaluate the real world using repeatable, physical methods of observation and measurement to understand it, that is called science. Similarly, whilst a single person's subjective evaluation can be pretty much anything, evaluating the results from a group gives us a very good idea of how most people see things.

Getting back to hi-fi, as explained, some speakers are designed to be placed in a quite specific position, during the Linn/Naim era, designs like the Kan, Sara, IBL and SBL were all designed to go tight to a wall as indeed are some modern models such as the Neat Iota or Chebby's Audionotes. Similarly many speakers are designed to be used in free space, in effect about 3ft from any boundary, these are the extremes of speaker designs in terms of polar response.

Loudspeaker companies realised that such extremes would severely limit the appeal of their products so they now fudge the issue by building speakers that fit between these extremes in an attempt to make them appealing to more users. The result of course is that many speakers are neither one thing nor another, resulting in the huge number of threads an this and other fora about bass response and speaker positioning and the whole thing is now a very hit and miss affair.
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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davedotco said:
Loudspeaker companies realised that such extremes would severely limit the appeal of their products so they now fudge the issue by building speakers that fit between these extremes in an attempt to make them appealing to more users. The result of course is that many speakers are neither one thing nor another, resulting in the huge number of threads an this and other fora about bass response and speaker positioning and the whole thing is now a very hit and miss affair.
I think they should all design for boundary use and be done with it. That's what the majority either wants, or more importantly, needs.
 

chebby

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Jun 2, 2008
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davidf said:
I think they should all design for boundary use and be done with it. That's what the majority either wants, or more importantly, needs.
I spent over twenty years paying for the space in our house and I am not best pleased if a loudspeaker gets too 'greedy' (or needy) about the amount of real-estate it demands.

Having up to a metre behind them (and to both sides) means up to 2x2 square metres free space taken out of our lounge for these wooden 'squatters'!
 

Frank Harvey

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chebby said:
I spent over twenty years paying for the space in our house and I am not best pleased if a loudspeaker gets too 'greedy' (or needy) about the amount of real-estate it demands.

Having up to a metre behind them (and to both sides) means up to 2x2 square metres free space taken out of our lounge for these wooden 'squatters'!
I think this is one of the many things that scares people off getting into quality audio. They see photos online from the obsessives and high end shows in Europe and see huge speakers a third of the way into the room, sewage pipe sized cables, and huge racks (not that type) that look like scaffolding. They're told that the speakers they like sound best a metre away from the back wall (which is how they were demonstrated), and that they need to spend the same amount on cable to get the best out of them, and then a monstrously huge amp to top things off. Is it any wonder this is a dying hobby? It's all well and good if you have a dedicated (spare) room to put this sort of system, but the majority of people have to put this in their living space, and take up valueable real estate that most people just don't have. This is why soundbars and Denon DM40s are popular. Small doesn't have to mean entry level though. It doesn't have to mean acceptable quality. It doesn't have to mean compromise. There are products out there that work far better in the average room than many award winners, and many other products that people think they should be buying because buying anything smaller means they're missing out on something. there are solutions, and this is one thing I am trying to address with what I'm doing.

There's a speaker I would love to bring back into production, as it'd be perfect for today's needs, and still sounds great even now.
 

davedotco

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Apr 24, 2013
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Speakers designed for a boundary position tend (broad brush strokes here) to be spatially flat and 2 dimensional. They do not create the soundstage and dissapear in the way that speakers in free space do and a lot of enthusiasts do not like that.

Having lived with a setup that had the speakers a third of the way into the room and a listening position close to the room centre, I can assure you that the 'hi-fi' experience is exceptional.

Enthusiasts love that kind of performance, but the compromises required to get it are too much for most and the small size and solid construction of most british homes does not help either.

My own (active) speakers have bass shelving controls that allow me to vary the bass output to adjust to positioning and some of the newer Dynaudio models adjust using DSP.
 

insider9

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Sep 20, 2016
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Gaz37 said:
Soundstage - It isn't really there at all, it's an illusion created by our imaginations, all we are listening to is sound coming from two boxes this is an inescapable fact, therefore it could be argued that those with better imaginations hear better soundstaging, or at least think they do. 
I think soundstage has more to do with your system, room and recording itself rather than imagination. I'm not sure whether having better or worse imagination makes any difference at all.

Soundstaging/imaging is what I like about hifi. The infinite ability to transport me to different places and recreate the venue. Whether it's a smoky New York club, a recording studio in London, pub in Stockholm, stadium in Rio or an opera house in Milan. The way each venue sounds the atmosphere of a recording. How you can place vocals and instruments and listen to individual performances as well as the whole piece.

For me it's one of the things that make hifi what it is.
 

Frank Harvey

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wilro15 said:
Who says its a dying hobby?
Just from a general point of view, and I'm referring to hi-fi systems, rather than general audio products like portable stuff and wireless speakers etc. Compared to back in the 70s and 80s, it is definitely dying (although back then, there was less hobbies vying for our time).

I believe it can come back to the masses though, but it needs to be done in the right way, and avoid the pitfalls the AV industry has created for itself.
 

jmjones

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Mar 8, 2009
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Hi Gazza,

Maybe I should have been clearer, although I think we are largely in agreement.

On the soundstage bit, you have to determine exactly what you mean. Try two microphones recording a passing car. Turn them into stereo speakers playing it back and it will play back the sound you would expect. It sounds like a passing car, including the Doppler effect as it moves away. Your brain is not imagining anything, it's interpreting sound as normal. Close mike a voice, it sounds like it's up close. Move away from the mike, it sounds far away. Split the balance of an instrument, you can make it sound like it's part way across the stereo span. Take an early Beatles stereo track, and you can make them whizz about, left to right and back again. It's an illusion. Do I believe in some magical suspension of instruments in the ether? No I don't.

On the voice bit, we are in violent agreement. As you back a speaker into a corner, they can't beat the laws of physics. The only point I was making was that front or no ports may do better in corners (says the man with his rear-ported speakers right in the corners!)
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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davedotco said:
Speakers designed for a boundary position tend (broad brush strokes here) to be spatially flat and 2 dimensional. They do not create the soundstage and dissapear in the way that speakers in free space do and a lot of enthusiasts do not like that.

Having lived with a setup that had the speakers a third of the way into the room and a listening position close to the room centre, I can assure you that the 'hi-fi' experience is exceptional.

Enthusiasts love that kind of performance, but the compromises required to get it are too much for most and the small size and solid construction of most british homes does not help either.

My own (active) speakers have bass shelving controls that allow me to vary the bass output to adjust to positioning and some of the newer Dynaudio models adjust using DSP.
I fully agree with you Dave, and I fully accept that space around the spaker allows it to perform to its best. I also acknowledge that moving any speaker - even if it has been designed to work against a wall - worsens the sound, and I've said that many times here on this forum and others. But some compromises cannot be overcome - some people have to have their speakers against the wall, or very near, and some people just don't have room for multiple box systems. Rather than ignoring that fact, speaker companies should be trying to work with it to try and overcome it the best they can. More than likely it would mean reverting back to sealed boxes, which wouldn't be an issue nowadays with Class D amps being relatively common (and probably more common in the not too distant future).

Good results can be had near boundaries though, as I've certainly had my sshare of speakers at home that have sunded fine, and far from "flat".
 

Andrewjvt

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Jun 18, 2014
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davidf said:
wilro15 said:
Who says its a dying hobby?
Just from a general point of view, and I'm referring to hi-fi systems, rather than general audio products like portable stuff and wireless speakers etc. Compared to back in the 70s and 80s, it is definitely dying (although back then, there was less hobbies vying for our time). 

I believe it can come back to the masses though, but it needs to be done in the right way, and avoid the pitfalls the AV industry has created for itself.
Howzit David

What are the pitfalls the av market created?

Regards
 

davedotco

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Apr 24, 2013
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davidf said:
davedotco said:
Speakers designed for a boundary position tend (broad brush strokes here) to be spatially flat and 2 dimensional. They do not create the soundstage and dissapear in the way that speakers in free space do and a lot of enthusiasts do not like that.

Having lived with a setup that had the speakers a third of the way into the room and a listening position close to the room centre, I can assure you that the 'hi-fi' experience is exceptional.

Enthusiasts love that kind of performance, but the compromises required to get it are too much for most and the small size and solid construction of most british homes does not help either.

My own (active) speakers have bass shelving controls that allow me to vary the bass output to adjust to positioning and some of the newer Dynaudio models adjust using DSP.
I fully agree with you Dave, and I fully accept that space around the spaker allows it to perform to its best. I also acknowledge that moving any speaker - even if it has been designed to work against a wall - worsens the sound, and I've said that many times here on this forum and others. But some compromises cannot be overcome - some people have to have their speakers against the wall, or very near, and some people just don't have room for multiple box systems. Rather than ignoring that fact, speaker companies should be trying to work with it to try and overcome it the best they can. More than likely it would mean reverting back to sealed boxes, which wouldn't be an issue nowadays with Class D amps being relatively common (and probably more common in the not too distant future).

Good results can be had near boundaries though, as I've certainly had my sshare of speakers at home that have sunded fine, and far from "flat".
As mentioned earlier, during the Linn/Naim era, the speakers were designed to go tight to the wall, IBLs, SBLs, Kans etc and even third party designs like the MS20 and HB1s. This kind of setup did suit a lot of people but it became commonplace for owners, those looking to upgrade anyway, to look for what they often described as a more 'out of the box' experience.

My retail experience is now a good few years out of date, but I recall confusing the hell out of classic Linn/Naim type owners by playing, say, Sonus Faber Electors with entry level ARC amplification which gave them a very, very different experience.
 

Gaz37

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Sep 23, 2014
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jmjones said:
Hi Gazza,

Maybe I should have been clearer, although I think we are largely in agreement.

On the soundstage bit, you have to determine exactly what you mean. Try two microphones recording a passing car. Turn them into stereo speakers playing it back and it will play back the sound you would expect. It sounds like a passing car, including the Doppler effect as it moves away. Your brain is not imagining anything,
This highlights what I mean.

In real life the car moves from left to right as does the sound it creates.

In the playback of the recording the signal starts in the left speaker then fades from left to right creating the impression that something is moving.

The sound of the car cannot come from anywhere further to the left than the left speaker as that is the starting point of the playback, nor can it go further to the right than the right speaker. Making something appear to move horizontally is impossible and forward and backward can only be achieved by increasing volume.

When I read about people thinking that they can "walk into the 3D soundstage" I'm never sure whether I envy their blissful ignorance or pity their gullibility
 

Frank Harvey

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Jun 27, 2008
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Andrewjvt said:
Howzit David

What are the pitfalls the av market created?

Regards
Just the mind set of new products every year, and generally being virtually the same, except for one superfluous feature that very few will benefit from. This just devalues a product after 6 months, because after that period of time, most just wait for discontinued products at knock down prices. You can buy a £2k receiver as soon as it's released, but the nearer you get to the next new models - which are guaranteed to come 12 months later - the less and less they're worth. And if you've had it for 3 years, you're lucky to get £500. Hi-fi doesn't suffer from that because products have a longer shelf life and are generally more reliable.
 

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