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Sunday, 16 December 2007

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All that vinyl — a shame to chuck it. So let's not do that. MP3 is a very handy format, though.

Great Sunday Sermon! I think that audio and photography share many common traits; for some it's all about the equipment, for some it's the end result, and others enjoy the process. My biggest disappointment with high end audio has been the significant increase in prices. But so far, only by entering the high end can you get closer to the emotion of music; mass market can play the notes, but can't bring you the feeling. I think the same is true in photography. A print in front of you will bring you closer to what the artist intended than any reproduction will, no matter how well done the reproduction.

Mike,

I have two kids, a senior and a freshman, they live by the Mp3, they know no other format. I have a decent system, decent amp, killer pair of old BW speakers (true love). My older son had a party a few months ago. He was getting things ready and was setting up a little music system, iPod hooked into a little mini stereo and some tiny, cracker jack speakers.

I went downstairs to my studio and grabbed my amp and my speakers, hauled them upstairs and hooked them up. told him to go get a few real CDs. We put one on, an early Beck record of theirs, cranked it up. Both sons just moved back and stood there speechless, slack jawed, bug-eyed. It was cool to watch. Then I pulled out a decently re-mastered CD of The White Album, Beatles...we cranked that thing up and they were hypnotized, awesome.

They had never really spent a moment standing in front of a decent system. I used to, and still do, sit down in front of my speaks and just space on the sound of a well recorded record. One of the sweetest recordings in my life is the original recording of Old Man by Neil Young, I'll sit and watch that song come out of the speaks ten times in a row.

There are many parallels with photography and recording that apply, both digital and analog.

Magnetic tape, when pushed to its max and carefully saturated, has a natural sort of compression, nothing like it when you push it to its limit. I've always felt that it was very similar to the way I expose and process film. It can absorb careful clipping and sound great. Try that with digital recording...the clip of a digital recording is a very UGLY sound. You can't push it without serious compression...it's why you hear so much freakin' compression on modern recordings..the high end just gets mutilated unless they compress the crap out things...Personally, I'm very sensitive to over compressed sound waves...it bugs me in the most soul-stabbing way. I can pick it up immediately. I can't even listen to the radio any more because the radio signals are SO heavily compressed, squashed, and then every single frequency becomes just l o u d. No dynamic, no subtlety, no grace.

It's exactly the same thing with digital photography vs. film...look at those halos around a street light in a night shot, IMO, they usually look drawn on with a magic marker....any high, highlight transition to a step or two down, awful. It's the exact same thing as digital clip in an audio recording....digital has no grace in that sort of transition, it's plain horrible. the curve flattens and explodes. Film can deal with this stuff much more naturally...Many more parallels. Got to go shovel snow...it was a beautiful night last night, mini-blizzard.

That's all.

That's a nice article Mike.

Although I never stretched to the ruinously high end of audio (too poor after buying Hasselblad lenses!) I've had a few good audio systems in my time. I have an electronics background, so firmly disbelieve in $15000 connectors, but I can hear the differences a well engineered audiophile system brings to the table.

My epiphany in Audio has taken place this year. I've never played a musical instrument before, but decided in March to buy an electric guitar. I bought a good one, am taking lessons and a month ago bought a decent (valve and vintage speaker, old style spring reverb) amp. Although I'm not much of a player, it sounds wonderful and will never be bettered by audiophile gear - this is the true source, not a reproduction.

I've also bought a firewire digital in/out box, a D to A and some powered monitor speakers, which sound great.

So here is the secret to your audiophilia, and desire to 'downsize'. Recognise that musicians aren't generally rich, and the music an audiophile is trying to reproduce for $50000 has probably been through a $100 stomp box, and a $20 interconnect.

Buy the same gear as them! I'm running my computer (a regular Mac, using iTunes and lossless files) into a musician quality D to A (a Benchmark DAC1) and then into regular small powered studio monitors (some Genelecs). Sound is fantastic!

Even better - actually play music. It's a lot more fun than just listening, and firing up a tube combo amp to play guitar through just can't be beaten!

Mike,

You can have your cake and eat it too. No need to get rid of the old rig, just get a decent USB or Firewire audio interface with some decent outputs on it and feed the signal into your amp. I bought a Mac Mini expressly to serve as my "music" computer and it sits on the audio rack in the living room next to the other components. The other nice thing is that if you hook a decent LCD up to it it can show off your photography as a kind of continual, slow changing slide show.

On a secondary note, I've found that stereo stores with used equipment (in a large city) can be a gold mine for finding gems at cut-rate prices. Lots of people upgrading from nice (not too) old stereo equipment to multi-channel surround systems for watching their DVDs. You can pick up nice stereo amps and preamps, turntables, tape decks (and now with the mp3, even CD players) for a song (pun intended).

Great topic, and one very dear to me. Re your go-foward plan ...

I have had a fair amount of hifi gear over the years, and I hung on to as much of it as possible. I like to repurpose it: lately my "big rig" has primarily become the sound system for my home-theatre setup. Once in a while I use it to listen to a particularly good CD, but I too am normally found parked in front of my computer. There I have repurposed a pair of old Boston Acoustics A40 bookshelves along with a receiver and I feed MP3 streams to it. Much better than the crummy little "powered PC speakers". But it's generally used for background, or concentration, listening.

BTW: if/when you go hunting for powered speakers, be sure and check into what musicians are using for their home studios. The small powered near-field monitor speakers from companies like M-Audio, Yamaha, Mackie, Yorkville Sound and the like are vastly better than the "PC gamer" mass market speakers. The only problem with this category is that they are designed to be neutral, so you won't tend to find the kind of "character" you find in typical home speakers (eg "warmth", "bottom heaviness", etc.), so you may need to touch your tone controls a bit to better suit your tastes.

My own take on this is along the same lines as Andy Booth's. I play the trombone, guitar, and a few other instruments, and my wife's a serious pianist--nothing better than making music with your own body and an instrument, and before I spend too much money on playback equipment, I think of how many live performances I could attend for those same dollars.

That said, the audiophile impulse, when it's not obsessed with gear, is about hearing great performances of the past, and I can sympathize with that desire. At the same time, like Andy, I know that excellent recording studio gear is not as ridiculously priced as "audiophile" gear and is less associated with mystical properties. Doesn't it make sense that the best way to listen to a recording would be the way the recording engineer heard it when it was mixed and mastered? So I like my $100 Sony MD-7506 headphones that I've recorded with for listening, and for powered monitors, biamped Genelec 1030A's are perfect for my modest sized listening space. I bought the Genelecs second hand for around $1300 (not cheap, but not absurd either) from no less than Digidesign, which makes the software that most professional recording studios use, and if they're good enough for them...

We never seem to find the time to do things properly in this 21st century - hearing music while sat at the computer is not the same thing as sitting down in front of the hi-fi speakers and LISTENING to music.

Cheers, Robin

Interesting article - and take this with a grain of salt from someone who's never paid over $350 for a stereo: I have listened to expensive systems and yes one does feel a certain something, but I can't agree with statements like 'only by entering the high end can you get closer to the emotion of music.' From where I stand (in the cheap seats) it seems that I'm the one listening to the music, and you're the one listening to the equipment. The feeling and emotion comes from the music's writers and performers, not the tubes and wires.

The difference between porn and sex? No, I'm afraid it's still just porn. Playing music: that's the sex.

Just an update on my Amazon order- received this today.
Hello from Amazon.com.

We're writing about the order you placed on November 09 2007 21:43 PST
(Order# 105-8289231-8752208). Unfortunately, we are unable to ship the item(s) as soon as we expected and need to provide you with a new estimate of when the item(s) may be delivered:

Robert Adams (Photographer) "Robert Adams: Beauty In Photography"
[Paperback]
Estimated arrival date: 01/28/2008 - 02/22/2008

If there are other items in your order, they'll be shipped according to the delivery estimates listed in the order details in Your Account (www.amazon.com/your-account).

If you still want us to ship the items when they do become available (though they may arrive later than expected) please visit this address to approve the delay:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/css/summary/edit.html/?useCase=approve&orderID=105-8289231-8752208

If we are able to get the items before January 15 2008, we will ship them to you.

By approving the new delivery estimate, you are letting us know that
you still want the item(s) though they may arrive later than expected.
If there are other items in your order, they will ship according to the
delivery estimates listed in the order details in Your Account
(http://www.amazon.com/your-account).

We apologize for the inconvenience caused by this delay.

*****
WHY WAS THE DELIVERY ESTIMATE CHANGED?
While we do our best to adhere to these estimates, our inventory is constantly
changing based on information we receive directly from our suppliers. Occasionally,
unexpected fluctuations in supply or changes in release dates for new products will
add time to our original availability estimate.

I used to have audiophile leanings - ie I spent far more than I should on hi-fi, the hi-fi was set up first with every move and the (minimal) furniture set up around it. Then came a wife (introduced TV) and kids, now teenage.

With a small house and 3 teenage kids, the biggest problem for me was to find the time and quiet to listen to the hi fi (without headphones). I would occasionally given an hour or so to play, but overall I just didn't bother. The hi fi was replaced with an AV amp and speakers, and basically I stopped listening.

And then I got an MP3 player. Now I can (and do!) listen to my music any time/ any place.

I know it not as good as a proper system (but then, a good hi-fi is still quite a remove from a live performance anyway), but I get to listen to so much more music now - and that's really what matters ... just as taking pictures is so much more important than buying camera equipment.

And here's an unexpected bonus - I stopped listening to the system and started listening to the music.

Audiophiles suffer from the aural equivalent of pixel peeping to the extent that the quality of recording and reproduction becomes more important than the actual music.

An mp3 got me back on track (sorry!)

I've been an audiophile since the late 60s and over the years I have spent a considerable sum on hi-fi stuff, although, truth be told, I have manged for the most part to acquire some serious stuff by swapping photography for hi-fi gear - to be precise, doing advert photos for highend stores in exchange for equipment.

That said, I have to disagree with many of the "listening to the system and not listening to the music" comments. For me, it has always been about the music - the rythmn and pace, detail and range, expansive soundstage that only high end equipment can deliver.

That said, properly matched equipment from the low end of the high end can yield some astonishing results. Yes, you need to spend a considerable amount of time listening to and for the differences that specific equipment brings to the music, but, once you put together nicely matched neutral components, the equipment just 'disappears' and the music is what emerges.

Sort of like, in photography, when you've got the equipment that's right for you and your intentions, it just 'disappears' when you're out picturing.

My sister hates me. Well, not really, but in one way she says she does. I am not an "audiophile", but I do like quality and I did use to be an audio engineer for a while. (in radio) Not $10K amps, but certainly a $1K one.

So why does she hate me? Well growing up with me and my brother she came to appreciate above average sound quality and while all her friends are perfectly happy with they 150 euro mini stereos, my sister just can't get herself to buy anything like that whenever some component needs replacing.

I think once people really sit down and listen, they do appreciate it. I thought I might have a hard time explaining to my wife we really did need to spend $1500 on the new speakers for the house. Now that is not the kind of money I wouldn't get away with in any case, but once she came with me to several dealers and listened to this type of speaker, she truly understood it and very quickly became aware of the subtle differences between the ones we listened to. Luckily, it turned out our taste in sound was very close too.

But how people can truly believe their stereo will sound better with a $13,400 AC cable is and will always be beyond me. (heck, even anything more than a $5 lead is retarded) And no, I am not making this up: http://www.ilikejam.dsl.pipex.com/audiophile.htm

Bas,
A wife who shares your taste in speakers?! Now that really *is* a match made in heaven!

Mike J.

Audiophiles!

I have questions. I'm not, by the way, an audiophile. I have some good equipment, but digital is just easy; CD's in a dusty workshop work better than records. I recognize that analog is a very mature medium, digital not so. Digital also seems to be dumbing down the sound; less information in an hour of music than more. But, isn't the potential of digital that it could also go in the other way?. Instead of 700 MB's of info, you've put 5 GB's of info for that two hours of music? A DVD size CD so to speak. Not that I could hear it, but I see how digital is advancing in imaging; and this would not need to be industrial. Programs like Garageband, the computer, disk dupilcators, all make it seem as possible as iMovie productions appearring at SunDance.

Just asking.

Bron

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