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Sunday, 27 October 2019


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Hey Mike, loving this theme. Working in the field of design, I recently had a project to correct all of Lagostina's packaging here in Canada. (My team didn't create the artwork)

When the brand manager asked me why it was all so difficult I explained to her how press printing works and all the variables in the process when printing at different facilities in China.

A couple of the suggestions involved simplifying the color and taking care with images of cookware when prepping for print because Pressman can correct for one issue and throw off another, if they all correct for a different problem they see on press you will get a very different set of results back... Some too warm, some too cool, some too dark and some to light etc.

I explained that any of these issues could have arisen because the Pressman might have been staring at his phone, the project coloration before this one, any shifts in photo color, or what might jump out to him as a problem while he is working on your project.

Reading some of the replies to the last post would have you believe noone is special, and yet we celebrate fractions of a second differences in running 100m.

I have a close friend who has always been into astronomy, he challenged me one particularly clear evening to mark out as many stars in a constellation as I could see with my naked eye. After making them on some paper he consulted his book and claimed 2 of the stars I had marked didn't count because I couldn't possibly have seen them as their brightness was too low. Despite my protests that I could still see them, he refused to budge, I explained to him how they were consistently there... How could I have marked them in the correct spot if I couldn't see them??

For some odd reason we accept exceptionality when paired with Fame, but rarely when it is stood right in front of us. Personally I celebrate it.

I first heard the LS3/5a at a HiFi show in Harrogate, around 1980, and was stunned by the stereo imaging in particular.

However, I prefer a little more bass for my main speakers, so have had a pair of Spendor BC1s from new. Both bass drivers went after two or three years, (a known fault with early units), but Spendor sent me replacements to fit at cost price.

I was actually intending to buy some small KEF reference monitors, but spying the Spendors unwisely asked to listen to them. I was sold, even though they cost twice as much as the KEFs and very few speakers I have ever heard have come close.

“Enjoy the music”… or … Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.

Your mention of the time needed to assess a new piece of audio equipment reminds me of the time needed to make the most of a new set of pictures. I need to tinker and ponder…tinker and ponder. I’m doing this now with some pictures of wild horses I shot in late September. This particular set is taking a little longer than usual because of some odd colors in the scene and because of an unexpected opportunity where I left my shutter speed set too slow. I see something buried in these shots so now I need to find a way to make the blur work for me and learn more about B&W conversion…neither of which is in my wheelhouse. I will never have an amazing palette or “golden ears” but I know my work and it can still take some time to get something I’m happy with.

This idea of heightened senses and amazing abilities being both a blessing and a curse reminds me of the “lure of the animal”. Those who possess the kavorka walk a thin line. :-)

At an age where golden ears have turned to lead, augmented only by a nice pair of Phonak hearing aids, I have to admit that it's a relief to no longer care about the nuances.

Ears were never, in my adult life, golden anyway. Too much abuse from USAF jet engines, followed by noisy factory environments.

You have an uncanny knack of reading my mind and my interests. This time it's 'do I fuss about my ancient but lovely Yamaha NS1000's or satisfy my tinkering urge with a home build?' (The latter).
The story of the development of the BBC LS3/5A (and why it is so called) is fascinating and I think testament to the role of the BBC in audio engineering. If you search for Falcon Acoustics you'll see they offer 'The only genuine' version. At an eye-watering price.

Mike, you misunderstand the nature of double-blind ABX testing: Switch as often or as infrequently as you wish. Take all the time you need to appreciate the subtlest nuances of the sound.

But levels must be precisely matched between the components being compared. The gold standard for this is to get within 0.1 dB, but per Stereo Review's Larry Klein, you can do this by ear, and the way you know when you've got it is when you can no longer perceive differences!

You can be a scientifically-minded enthusiast and still enjoy vinyl and vacuum tubes, but more for the simple enjoyment of fine hardware and rituals rather than some imaginary sonic qualities.

May I recommend downloading PDFs of The Audio Critic while they're still available :


[I know all about The Audio Critic. --Mike]

Hear, hear! (Or should that be See, See?)

While I appreciate double-blind testing in theory, in practice, I am skeptical, as it necessarily adds at least one more variable to the equation and this, potentially, at least, has the ability to skew the results.

Personally, I'm not sure I would recognize the "Leica glow" even if I somehow tripped over it, but I am absolutely confident I can consistently identify photos taken with my favorite Contax lenses, the imaging characteristics of which I have come to know very, very well over the years.

BTW, I chuckled at your anecdote about Dick Schnaus and his LS3/5As, as we apparently followed similar paths through the world of high-end audio. Back in the late 70s / early 80s -- it was so long ago, I now forget the exact date -- a pair of Rogers LS3/5As (and a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones) were my gateway speakers into high-end audio.

Of course, being the inveterate tinkerer with all things electrical and mechanical that I am, I ended up modifying them in several ways to improve their performance and eventually added a dedicated pair of Satterberg subwoofers to fill-out the bottom end.

But I never felt an urge to replace them with another speaker, which certainly says something, and I lived with them quite happily for several years. (Until I heard a pair of Stax F-81 electrostatic speakers, that is, and was absolutely gobsmacked by their performance, but I digress...)

From there, my path through high-end audio took some interesting turns, including becoming a part-time mailorder retailer with my friend Jeffrey, and later, a tour of duty as Technical Director of The Absolute Sound magazine, where I spent a lot of time listening to and tinkering with HP's big reference system, as well as almost all of the other audio components that passed through his system while I worked for him.

Fast forward more than 30 years (and also many tens of thousands of dollars spent on audio equipment, sometimes foolishly) and here I am today, once again listening to music through an LS3/5A and Satterberg woofer speaker combo.

Although I'm presently powering them with a relatively modest solid-state integrated amplifier and CD player, I've recently been thinking of digging my vintage Lux 3045 amps, ARC SP-11 MkII preamp, and Goldmund Studio / T3F turntable and arm out of storage and upping my game a bit.

Either that or I should finally acknowledge reality and sell all my vintage reference gear, because these days, my interest in audio -- as opposed to listening to music -- is such that I am no longer willing or able to dedicate a room to housing it nor am I willing to put forth the time and effort necessary to continually tweak and tune it so it always performs at its best.

How the mighty fall, eh?


"levels must be precisely matched " Jeff's point is extremely pertinent to audio. I used to have a part-time job selling audio equipment back in the 1970s. The store had a listening room set up so we could switch between sets of speakers. Customers consistently preferred whichever speakers were loudest.


[That's hilarious. And teach them what a type river is...those distracted me for several years after I learned what the heck they are. (Note to those among the visually sensitive who don't know...don't look it up.) --Mike]

I have just been reading the link that has very kindly been provided.

Warning! I have been involved with, (and still am), over the years, in millions of pounds worth of clinical trials. Very many have been double-blinded randomised controlled trials.

My postgraduate students at the medical school are soon to send me their research protocols, which will go for ethical approval, etc..

So, I have some idea, (but am always learning!). Mike, you are not mistaken. The methodology I have seen for audio "double-blind tests", is simmply lamentable. In fact, at the end of a Cochrane review, I remember writing that I did not recommend any further clinical trial as the intervention, (based on numbers-needed-to-treat), was simply not worth doing.

And that is what my very objective head concludes about "double-blinded" audio tests.

My son-in-law, who until recently owned a major recording studio in Los Angeles, apparently has golden ears. He and a similarly endowed friend would listen to a stereo set-up and move around the room, talking about the different aspects of the sound in different places.

What always baffled me about this is that what you hear is not what the audience, or even the orchestra, hears at a performance or in a recording studio. So what's the point? You're hearing a high-definition sound of something that doesn't exist "live," but only mediated through wires. The same people will spend a fortune on high-quality vinyl records and incredibly expensive turntables, which really do nothing but add noise to a clean recording (a clean recording of something that doesn't exist live) in order for it to sound, what, more live? All of these things, including stuff like wine tastings to parse out subtle differences between, say, Sonoma and Napa merlots, or trying create Leica glow, or finding the perfect combination of mid-century modern furniture for their apartments, or neckties that chime with their eye color, strike me as activities by people who have too much time on their hands and too little life to live.

If the speakers were out of phase then you really don't need 'golden ears' to hear that: speakers wired out of phase have very, very obvious changes in effective bass response (really: in any frequency where the wavelength is relatively long compared to the distance between the speakers or between the speakers and you).

'Ask any of Stereophile's or The Absolute Sound's reviewing staff whether they agree with me here. I'll bet they will.'

Of course they will: that's how they make their living. In my neck of the woods that's called a 'conflict of interest'.

There's a lot of lens connoisseurship that can be learned by paying attention and observing. And when some level of understanding lens behavior is reached, demands can get tougher. For example, I think most bokeh tests I see are poor and do not reflect well on my real world usage. But it goes the other way too: many websites are overly obsessed about minutiae that is relevant only for a small group of users. Recent I bought a lens and was concerned about color fringing of various kinds due to tests on the net and when I used the lens I concluded that fringing doesn't occur in normal circumstances and is not excessive beyond normal circumstances. I could only conclude that others had tested the worst case and failed to compare to similar lenses (and failed to do software correction?)

In the end, we need to listen to the music and look at the image. I just saw a photo by Werner Bischof that had too much vignetting and was quite blurry, yet was captivating in its mood. In both music and photos the overall balance matters more than performance in one specific benchmark.

I have had my 2-watt (you read that correctly - TWO WATT) SET for a little over a year now. My listening sessions have been intermittent, but not because it's not just a stellar little amp that punches above its weight (it is) - it's just my lifestyle, events, etc.

It took several months for the amp to "break in", but gradually I was able to really recognize its character and figure out the pairing of other components. I swapped out speakers more than once and the current choice are two pair of "stacked" Advents. Even those took many hours of play for me to "understand" them.

Lately I've done some tube rolling, and had I not had the time and experience with the other components, I wouldn't be able to identify the subtle (or not so subtle) changes that introduced.

I don't think I've reached audio nirvana yet (my budget, or lack thereof may ultimately preclude that,) but the point is that living with components is really critical, especially for those of us whose ears may be silver, not golden.

Cool, we get to chat about audio. I had the Rogers LS3/5a's in house for a couple of weeks back when they first became the "big thing" in audio – back in 1980. While they were neutral and clean-sounding, I found them to be inefficient, there was effectively no bass below about 100 Hz or so, and they had a rather anemic presentation for producing even moderately lifelike SPLs when listening in a regular-sized room. They clearly were what they were designed to be: near-field monitors for use in a BBC broadcasting truck. I found my Large Advents to be much for fit for purpose for my needs at the time, and while not as transparent, they were just as neutral and more suitable for real-world listening. And they had some pretty good bass, too.

Interestingly, after a decade of listening to big Dynaudio☨ floor standers, I recently succumbed to an exemplar of the British "School of Audio Design" when I scored a pair a LNIB pair of Harbeth* 40th Anniversary 30.2s at a considerable savings off retail.

So, after all these years of modern Danish design, I'm back to listening to rather a pair of non-descript brown boxes again.

And, very happy, I might add. Here's my 30.2 'Beths in book-matched Silver Eucalyptus on Resonant Woods stands. They're perfect for my small townhome with mid-powered Conrad-Johnson tube gear. Life is good.

• – Harbeth has been on a major roll ever since the launch of their 40th Anniversary series for all models: P3ESR, C7ES, 30.2, SHL5+ and 40.2, both to rave reviews across the product line, and, much to the surprise of Harbeth's principal owner, Alan Shaw, notably exceeding their sales projections.

☨ – I have still the big Dyns; they're too good to ever part with.

Well said.
The kerning I get. But I've realised that I should not be ashamed or disappointed that I have only a Pretty Good palate in terms of audio, or food, or color balance. It does not at all hinder my enjoyment of good music or food or pictures.

One of favourite things that some audiophiles believe is that speaker or power cables need to be "burned in". Somehow they magically sound better after using them for some time. And if you don't use the cables for sometime they loose those magical properties. Oh and cables also become directional. Uh yeah, sure.




How about a pair of 12 foot speaker cables for $40000? Go here can click on the drop down. https://www.musicdirect.com/cables/AudioQuest-Dragon-Zero-Speaker-Cables

You may need some speaker elevators to get your cables off of the floor. These are made with an FEP coating so you know they must be good!

How in the world can you wire a preamp out of phase?

[I believe it was a phase-inverting preamp. I don't recall the details, sorry. --Mike]

At some point in the audio quality chase, it might be cheaper to hire the band to come over and entertain you. :)

But hey, I enjoyed going to sound rooms to listen to different set-ups as much as anyone. What's not to like.

@ Tim Bradshaw:

I have been out of the high-end audio industry for almost three decades, so it's entirely possible things have changed, but I am confident that no audio reviewer makes their living from audio reviewing.

(The only possible exception I can think of is the late Enid Lumley, but she lived such a frugal/impoverished lifestyle that, if anything, audio reviewing was affirmatively harmful to her finances and in no way benefited her financially. She almost certainly would have made more money working a minimum-wage job.)

FYI, the primary compensation for most reviewers is the ability to purchase equipment directly from manufacturers as an "industry accommodation," which usually meant dealer cost or sometimes slightly less than dealer cost.

Which isn't to suggest this isn't the basis of a different conflict of interest, of course, but most magazines -- including TAS and the one I later published -- required reviewers to keep any equipment bought this way for at least a year and when they did sell it, they could not sell it for a profit.

Mike, from a very special, “golden ears” person: https://www.mksoundus.com/products/mps2510p-studio-monitor

In the audio realm, the concept of "golden ears" has been tested and disproven.

This may be because it is not hard to make gear so good, or changes so tiny, that the differences are way below any human threshold of hearing.


["Has been tested and disproven" is a technique of propaganda. Simply say "that idea has been discredited" and an entity can get its followers to not think or experience or investigate for themselves, which is propaganda's goal.

And by the way, my tests have always proven it--my hearing has tested well above average for my age group most of my life. When I was young it was plotted as a straight line across the very top of the graph. --Mike]

Hey, that makes sense to me, and usually audiophile stuff doesn't, even though I appreciate nice sound. I don't have golden ears. Maybe brass. I rely on the recommendations of others, and need someone who can recommend good, modestly priced stuff, so that's what I search for if shopping.

Speaking of music, was it you who recommended Band Camp? I've been delighted with their iPhone app, discovering all sorts of music I can't find on Spotify, much of it quite high quality, with full albums free for streaming in most cases. Already purchased few things.

We have a custom builder here in town who builds cool portable systems out of old luggage, with custom wood frames inside. I have it on my list. Heard a small one in the store and my brass ears thought the sound was excellent...


John Camp's comment speaks my mind perfectly. There's no harm (and perhaps a great deal of pleasure) in any of the attitudes and behaviors you describe but the benefits seem so subjective, individual and quasi-mystical that I personally don't see the point. Fortunately, I don't need to.

My pleasure, Mike. A whole post from my own comment: Nirvana! I managed to get off the whole audiophile bandwagon when I moved to Melbourne (Oz) in the late 1980s, which had (and has) enough live music with sufficient variety to meet my eclectic tastes. I quite enjoy listening to my mixed and matched older speakers / newer amps, etc, playing with them, and very occasionally buying a new toy. But when the bug for "better" hits, I just go listen to live music. Because I've never had the desire to be a musician (fortunately, because I have limited ability and less talent), problem solved. It doesn't work for photography, though. Although I enjoy consuming other's prints/images and do so, I have a creative itch to scratch.

There haven't been any females commenting on this post.

[And until now, no one named Graeme. --Mike]

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