Questions and Answers about High End Audio
Why High End Audio vs. Big box Store?
High End dealers generally give much more personalized service. They tailor the product to your needs, help you pick the most revealing connectors based on your system, even come and install the unit with a choice of wire, allowing you to pick the best connectors for your tastes. They will even help you solve room acoustics problems, enabling you to get the best out your system. Often a simple wire upgrade can avoid you having to spend more money on equipment. High end equipment is generally designed for a long service life and often can be upgraded, unlike big box products with a limited service life.
I thought tube equipment died with the dinosaurs. Why is it still around?
Tube equipment has been around for many years and has continued to be developed. The old 50’s tube look and sound is long gone. Today’s equipment is highly sophisticated and technologically advanced, and often uses modern versions of the older tubes. In fact, many reviewers consider tubes to be the gold standard against which transistors are judged.
What is the difference between tube sound and transistors?
High End transistor amps and preamps generally have a very detailed and clean sound, with lots of depth and clarity. The same can be said for tube amps and preamps, with the exception that there is more warmth and solidity in the music. Technically, the difference comes in how both treat the harmonics in music. Transistors by nature tend to emphasize odd ordered harmonics (which are not found in music or nature) and tubes emphasize even ordered harmonics (which are found in music and nature). Your ear hears this as solidity, warmth, and smoothness. Transistors are worry free and maintenance free by nature. Tubes do require care and maintenance, some amps require bias adjustments. On the plus side for tubes, they are electrically bullet proof-things that would destroy a transistor amp wouldn’t even be noticed by a tube amp. Also tubes can be changed out to tweak the sound of a unit to better match the listeners’ tastes.
Why separate cd players, preamps, and amps?
Separate units enable a listener to refine his or her system to a much greater degree than all-in-one units allow. The main reason for this is that all-in-one units by nature have many compromises that do not exist in separate units. Also the technology of preamps and amps change much more slowly than that of cd players, ipods, and even turntables. Most of my customers only change preamps and amps once every 10 or so years.
Aren’t turntables extinct?
Turntables are still considered by many audiophiles to be their best source for music. Again this technology, although old, has continued to be developed in Europe and Japan and is technologically now highly advanced. The advent of new rare earth magnets, carbon fiber, and other materials has revolutionized turntables. A turntable also has a wider frequency range that cd’s , ipods, and mp3 files, and it has been discovered that this is critical to accurate reproduction of pianos, cymbals, violin, mandolin, and other high frequency instruments. For those of you into figures, the ipod, mp3, and cd have a frequency range of 20Hz to 20000Hz, a turntable can reproduce 5Hz to 50000Hz.
Aren’t cd players becoming obsolete?
A look around the record store can answer that question. Cd’s are a clean source for data retrieval. Downloaded files can have minor flaws and corruptions that will show on a clean, detailed sound system. High end cd players need all the data they can get to accurately reproduce music, and the more flaws, the more you hear it in the music. High end units are famous for showing all of the flaws in the recording process, as well as the incredible feeling of a caf’, the audience, and the warmth and realism of the music when the recording is done well.
Why is wire so important?
Wire is defined by the following terms: Speaker wire (Speaker Interfaces), interconnects, and other specialized connectors. Speaker wire: Speaker wire is critically important to the sound of a system. Ordinary wire sounds okay and is cheap, but critically masks the highs and lows, and sometimes even the midrange. Technically the reasons are legion, but regular cheap wire is a poor audio conductor. Wire needs bandwidth, and cheap wire doesn’t have it. I often bring several different high end wires to a customer to audition in their system as one will really sing and the others will not. Speaker wire is system dependent and many should be tried to get the best fit. Interconnects: These are the wires that connect different components together in a system. The manufacturer supplied interconnects are usually inexpensive and of limited bandwidth. High end interconnects can sharpen detail, depth, and focus of the music, and as importantly extend the extreme lows and highs normally lost with inexpensive connectors. They also provide better electrical connections. Again, this is something that should be auditioned in a system to find the best combination.
What are integrated amps?
Think of the old receivers of the 70’s and 80’s. These are an integrated amp with a tuner built in. Integrated amps are gaining in popularity, especially in Europe. A high end unit can be as good as separates and cost less money. They start at around 50w per channel, and can go up to 200W per channel. Many are what is known as dual mono design, and offer superb clarity, deep level detail, and imaging normally associated with separates costing much more.
What are hybrid integrated amps?
Hybrid integrated amps generally have a tube preamp with a solid state transistor amp. Typically they are dual mono design as well. Dual mono means that each side of the amp has its own transformer. The advantage to this design is that you get the warmth and solidity of tubes with the simplicity of transistors. It also cuts down the odd harmonic problem I mentioned earlier about transistors. This type of amp also allows some flexibility in modifying the sound to fit the listener’s tastes.
What is the advantage of analog over digital?
Analog reproduction is the old method of reproducing music. Digital is much newer, and does offer a lot more flexibility in the creation of the music. Analog has its main advantage in that all of a note is present, not lots of little bits as in digital. Also it has been discovered that to properly reproduce a note all of the high frequency harmonics (some extend to 45000Hz) must be present, and most digital reproductions do not have this capability. One also gets into the odd ordered harmonic issue as well when using transistors. Finally, analog can reproduce a level of depth not yet found in digital.
Why use AC Line Conditioners?
The standard electrical supply in your home or apartment is generally full of noise and hash. This noise is caused by your TV, refrigerator, Air Conditioner, Heater, etc. You hear it in your music as edginess and noise, and occasional pops and snaps. AC Line conditioners and high end power cords can filter out this noise, making your music sound smooth and much clearer. Also most AC power conditioners provide a level of Surge Protection to help save your equipment if there is a power company burp.
What are electrostatic speakers?
Electrostatic speakers are very different in how they reproduce sound from a conventional speaker. They use a thin mylar diaphragm mounted between two grids (stators). The charge of the stators varies thus moving the diaphragm between them. The advantage of this design is that the mylar has very little mass and can move very fast, much faster than a conventional speaker, with very little distortion. Much inner detail can be revealed that will be lost on a conventional speaker. Also electrostatic speakers spread sound in a circle around the speaker making the image huge compared to regular speakers. For you specification freaks, electrostats typically have distortion levels at concert levels in the .25% range across most frequencies, while conventional speakers will be in the 1% to 6% range.