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Audibly transparent

WinterRacer

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Jan 14, 2009
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Apologies if this has already been covered.

A believe this is a good definition of audible transparency:

"Ethan Winer, an acoustics expert, states that gear passing all these criteria will not contribute any audible sound of its own and in fact sound the same as any other gear passing the same criteria.

- Frequency Response: 20 hz to 20 Khz +/- 0.1 dB
- Distortion: At least 100 dB (0.001%) below the music while others consider 80 dB (0.01%) to be sufficient and Ethan’s own tests confirm that.
- Noise: At least 100 dB below the music
- Time Based Errors – In the digital world this is jitter and the 100 dB rule applies for jitter components."

I agree with this definition, and believe it is the only sensible goal of hi-fi. Clearly, this has to apply at your chosen listening level, e.g., when your amp starts clipping it will no longer be audibly transparent.

Speakers are the component furthest from being audibly transparent, which is why many people recommend spending most of your budget on them.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with personal preference, people differ in their tolerance to different types of distortion.

BTW, to me'system matching' (beyond basic compatibility) is about adding one kind of distortion to another to mask each components shortcomings, e.g., using bandwidth distortion to mask IM distortion around a speaker's crossover.
 

drummerman

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Jan 18, 2008
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Interesting. Agree, Speaker (Driver and Port) distortion can certainly be higher than anything from anywhere else in the chain, particularely badly designed (tube) amplifiers aside perhaps.

An increase of 0.01 percent increase in amplifier distortion will not make a huge difference but there are those that argue that anything wrong further back will have a multiplied adverse effect further upfront.

High jitter does probably affect how we hear something though I think the judge is still out there on just how much is to much. There can't be to little though that much is for sure and most modern, technically sound digital sources have cleaned their act up. - Marantz'es CD63kI still has a following today. I believe this is partly because the player has more jitter than usual giving it this etheral and larger sound, well at least compared to some others. I dont have measurements of the player at hand but remember having read about it a long time ago. Someone may prove differently.

The problem is that often people dislike 'transparent' equipment which is usually the kind that measures well. Anything that introduces distortion/noise/jitter into the signal can not be described as transparent.

regards
 

BigH

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Dec 29, 2012
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drummerman said:
The problem is that often people dislike 'transparent' equipment which is usually the kind that measures well. Anything that introduces distortion/noise/jitter into the signal can not be described as transparent.

regards
If the system is transparent then surely you are hearing the music in its most pure form or is the recording process and format that changes that?
 

WinterRacer

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drummerman said:
...

There can't be too little though that much is for sure and most modern, technically sound digital sources have cleaned their act up.

...

The problem is that often people dislike 'transparent' equipment which is usually the kind that measures well. Anything that introduces distortion/noise/jitter into the signal can not be described as transparent.

regards
Appreciate your thoughts.

Regarding "too little distortion", the point is that beyond a certain point (defined above), improvements are completely inaudible. I believe DACs fall into this category, for example.

On people not liking 'transparent' equipment, I humbly disagree. IMO, you want a piano to sound like a piano, not one with some added distortion. I think people have somehow come to associate 'transparent' with overly bright or harsh kit, e.g, kit with bandwidth or IM distortion. Not sure why though.
 

WinterRacer

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BigH said:
If the system is transparent then surely you are hearing the music in its most pure form...
Exactly! You're hearing the recording without anything added or removed. Unfortunately, a completely end-to-end transparent system isn't available (yet).
 

BigH

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Dec 29, 2012
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[/quote]Appreciate your thoughts.

Regarding "too little distortion", the point is that beyond a certain point (defined above), improvements are completely inaudible. I believe DACs fall into this category, for example.

On people not liking 'transparent' equipment, I humbly disagree. IMO, you want a piano to sound like a piano, not one with some added distortion. I think people have somehow come to associate 'transparent' with overly bright or harsh kit, e.g, kit with bandwidth or IM distortion. Not sure why though.[/quote]

I think part of the problem is vinyl did sound warmer than cds which are cleaner/sharper etc. so people I think are trying to get a similar sound to vinyl. But I have to say some cds do sound harsh/bright and others are fine.
 

WinterRacer

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BigH said:
Also what does jitter do to the sound?
Below a certain level it doesn't result in data errors and can be considered completely inaudible. Above that, errors can be detected and corrected. Above that, it adds non-harmonic distortion, I.e., distortion that is not related to the harmonic content of the music.

Blind tests have been conducted that have shown no subjects detected jitter of 250ns and only 25% could detect jitter at 500ns.

My view is that any decent digital system such as a CD player digital out or network streaming device will sound exactly like every other one - unless the manufacturer has added deliberate distortion.
 

drummerman

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WinterRacer said:
BigH said:
If the system is transparent then surely you are hearing the music in its most pure form...
Exactly! You're hearing the recording without anything added or removed. Unfortunately, a completely end-to-end transparent system isn't available (yet).
Which is also the flip side of the coin. There are so many badly recorded tunes out there I can't blame anybody for not always wanting to hear what the recording engineer wanted you to hear. - You miss out on the well made stuff of course. Basically, we can't win.

regards
 

WinterRacer

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BigH said:
I think part of the problem is vinyl did sound warmer than cds which are cleaner/sharper etc. so people I think are trying to get a similar sound to vinyl. But I have to say some cds do sound harsh/bright and others are fine.
That's a mastering problem, nothing inherent in digital. I guess engineers didn't always adapt their mixes for digital systems that lacked the distortions of most record players.
 

WinterRacer

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drummerman said:
Which is also the flip side of the coin. There are so many badly recorded tunes out there I can't blame anybody for not always wanting to hear what the recording engineer wanted you to hear. - You miss out on the well made stuff of course. Basically, we can't win.

regards
I still believe a system capable of audible transparency must be the goal, however one with DSP for when you disagree with the recording engineer.
 

drummerman

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WinterRacer said:
drummerman said:
Which is also the flip side of the coin. There are so many badly recorded tunes out there I can't blame anybody for not always wanting to hear what the recording engineer wanted you to hear. - You miss out on the well made stuff of course. Basically, we can't win.

regards
I still believe a system capable of audible transparency must be the goal, however one with DSP for when you disagree with the recording engineer.
I certainly err that way these days. Perhaps partly because my high frequency hearing is getting worse with age so I am less affected by that range and have to compensate for it so anything which overtly smooths those I find now dull. - However, I have in the past been fairly fond of some even order harmonics and appreciate why some folks like that. - I had some John Shearne amps which sounded lovely. Problem was, everything sounded lovely, sometimes to lovely almost syrupy and even a valve amplifier I had later was more ... neutral.

regards
 

Covenanter

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Jul 20, 2012
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WinterRacer said:
drummerman said:
...

There can't be too little though that much is for sure and most modern, technically sound digital sources have cleaned their act up.

...

The problem is that often people dislike 'transparent' equipment which is usually the kind that measures well. Anything that introduces distortion/noise/jitter into the signal can not be described as transparent.

regards
Appreciate your thoughts.

Regarding "too little distortion", the point is that beyond a certain point (defined above), improvements are completely inaudible. I believe DACs fall into this category, for example.

On people not liking 'transparent' equipment, I humbly disagree. IMO, you want a piano to sound like a piano, not one with some added distortion. I think people have somehow come to associate 'transparent' with overly bright or harsh kit, e.g, kit with bandwidth or IM distortion. Not sure why though.
Be careful I've been slagged off on this forum for suggesting that I knew what a piano should sound like.


Chris
 

drummerman

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Understand where Winteracer is coming from. I believe he uses AVI's new 40 which is probably more transparent or technically adept than many other options out there.

However, even over on HDD, there are people that would like a little bit more 'warmth' (distortion) than their equipment has on occasions. A certain irish person recently has changed the mid/bass drivers on his ADM's to gain some body, furthermore, he has recently started a thread on 'warmth' ...

regards
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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WinterRacer said:
I still believe a system capable of audible transparency must be the goal, however one with DSP for when you disagree with the recording engineer.
For me, enjoyment is the goal......but that's personal.
 

drummerman

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I think Winteracer has hit the nail on the head with his previous comment on 'transparency with DSP' for occasions when you dont agree with the sound engineer.

Anything with some sort of tone control by whatever means and a 'source direct' or bypass is probably the way to go and should cover most occasions.

regards
 

chebby

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Jun 2, 2008
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'Transparent' is just another failed word in the lexicon of attempts to describe what is fundamentally indescribable. (Like 'natural', 'neutral', 'organic', 'warm', etc.)

It's a sense like sight and smell. Describe differences between greens on a colour chart and the variety of greens of springtime that you experience during a walk in the woods. Describe the colour of an old oak table in bright sunlight. The wood contains too many shades/hues and has too many reflected colours to just call it 'brown'. Describe the smell of leather without reference to leather. On top of this there all the personal associations and memories that forests, leather, old furniture etc. will have for you (just you) that cannot be conveyed adequately to another. Even artists and poets can only hope to try and communicate their impressions in any meaningful way. (They can't do yours. Although good ones can evoke or 'trigger' your own feelings and memories, they can't actually know that that will happen or put words to them.)

It's the same with hi-fi replaying recorded music. Someone who has heard a lot of their music collection live at concerts will have different impressions and memories and personal experiences than someone who has only ever heard music from stereos, radios, TVs etc. Their requirements of a system will differ. One experience is no more 'valid' than the other. We can't judge what the music from those people's systems will evoke in them. The concert goer is not more 'qualified' to choose a system for the other person or vice versa. However, they will have fundamentally differing musical 'triggers' when it comes to selecting a system they like. (As would someone who is actually a musician.)

Measurement merely goes as far as to tell you how well the component measures against tests accepted by the industry to demonstrate some degree of technical 'competence' and/or fitness for purpose, electrical safety and so on.

For every system described by it's owner as 'transparent' (or 'natural', 'organic', 'musical', 'smooth', 'fast' or whatever) there will be another person who finds it the opposite. (And I guarantee that will include any system whether active or not and whether costing £45 or £45,000.)

Back in the radiogram days people would say 'it has a nice tone' and would buy it, if it was the right price and suited their other furniture.

'It has a nice tone' says just as much to me as 'transparent'. (Ok it says more to me because I grew up in that era and know what it meant and how highly 'a nice tone' was valued.)

I'm rambling so thats it. Stopped now.
 

Overdose

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Feb 8, 2008
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chebby said:
'Transparent' is just another failed word in the lexicon of attempts to describe what is fundamentally indescribable. (Like 'natural', neutral', 'organic', 'warm', etc.)
I get your point about personal choice and wholeheartedly agree, however I do believe that 'transparent' is a valid term if used in the right context to describe a lack of obscuritites or to put it another way, lack of distortion.

It just so happens that transparency can be used in visual and aural contexts, but the visual context is perhaps more literal.

The other adjectives listed are a little more vague and not really anything other than an attempt to describe a sound in words. They are not quantifiable.
 

WinterRacer

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Jan 14, 2009
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Only four parameters are needed to define everything that affects audio quality: Noise, frequency response, distortion, and time-based errors. "Transparent" just means that all these parameters are below defined levels.

Didn't J. Gordon Holt say something about the idea that making pleasing rather than accurate kit was what destroyed the high end?
 

WinterRacer

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Jan 14, 2009
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Thanks Craig, that's the article I was thinking of.

One point I think is important, I believe accurate kit is pleasing kit. The idea that it isn't I find very strange.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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I prefer the quote from Nelson Pass - "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgement. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers are for those who do not."

These two quotes nicely highlight the two diverging opinions, as to what is most important when buying a hifi system.....and there is no right or wrong, only what brings maximum joy to the owner.
 
T

the record spot

Guest
drummerman said:
Understand where Winteracer is coming from. I believe he uses AVI's new 40 which is probably more transparent or technically adept than many other options out there.

However, even over on HDD, there are people that would like a little bit more 'warmth' (distortion) than their equipment has on occasions. A certain irish person recently has changed the mid/bass drivers on his ADM's to gain some body, furthermore, he has recently started a thread on 'warmth' ...

regards
Yes, vastly chucklesom, still banging the same old drum too. Bless...
 

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