A call for more scientific hi-fi reviews

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M

Merefield

Guest
My 17 yr old (!) hifi i bought in my student days has finally given up and i'm in the enviable position of buying a new hifi with a budget which far exceeds that when i did my B.Eng.

So now i'm naturally reading the vast coverage of equipment in magazines and on the net.

But now I'm personally sick of reading all the rubbish in the popular hi-fi press with their flowery, subjective language and almost total lack of scientific precision.

For systems that produce electrical outputs which lend themselves very well to technical analysis i am shocked at how little effort is taken to properly test equipment. Its quite shocking how bad hifi reviews generally are. They read more like fluffy wine tasting reports! What the heck are "Timing" and "Detail"?? ROFL!!

Now i would hazard a guess that the industry likes this because where formats rarely change (How old is the CD??) and since the technology is fairly mature, it suits the manufacturers to leave an element of doubt in your mind that you might actually benefit from upgrading regularly. Whereas i suspect a very good amp made 5-10 years ago is probably still up there with the very best.

It clearly makes some sense to buy a more expensive amp to get better power transistors that can cope with bigger loads and more current, and a more expensive speaker set with higher quality materials.

But PLEASE - how much better can a good CD player be. Can a 1000 quid player REALLY sound better than a 300 pound one??? Where's the scientific proof?

So i'm keen to buy a 3 piece, vanilla stereo, CD, amp and speaker combination, but how much should i spend beyond which i get little benefit?


Discuss....
 

overkill

Distinguished Member
If you don't know what timing and detail are, I suggest you buy a midi or micro system. They play music, they have large overblown (oops a non technical word) bass, lack precise detail (apart from the very best) and yet sound fine to the vast (90%) of the hifi buying public. Ok?

If you want a system that sounds good, then, alas, you might have to take onboard some of the 'jibberish'. ;)

Yes, a £1,000 CD player can sound a lot better than a £300 CD player because it can produce more detail (you know, the fiddly bits in the background) and has better 'timing' so the stereo image is more 3D.

Hope that helps. :D

Right, what's your budget, what do you need (ie integrated, pre-power, CD player, CD recorder, Cassette deck, Tuner, speakers?), what do you like to listen to? The budget is critical, but indicate whether you can stretch it. As for the music you like this too is critical, as believe it or not, hifi all sounds different in it's presentation (oops, another non technical term!) and as such you don't want to end up with something that makes your ears bleed if you prefer a laid back sound (sorry I just can't help it........ :D).

When you've provided the above people can then wade in with some help!
 
M

Merefield

Guest
Right, what's your budget, what do you need (ie integrated, pre-power, CD player, CD recorder, Cassette deck, Tuner, speakers?), what do you like to listen to? The budget is critical, but indicate whether you can stretch it. As for the music you like this too is critical, as believe it or not, hifi all sounds different in it's presentation (oops, another non technical term!) and as such you don't want to end up with something that makes your ears bleed if you prefer a laid back sound (sorry I just can't help it........ :D).

When you've provided the above people can then wade in with some help!

Thanks for the response.

I want as true a reproduction of the original recording as possible.

Budget is max 1500 but would prefer to spend less if its unnecessary.

I would prefer just a single, integrated amp, but open to suggestions.

Other than that, just a CD player and a pair of speakers.

Will mainly use it for listening to Jazz, but there is the odd party where i need it to cope with music of a more thumping variety :) And there are times when i like to listen to a good rock band! In summary, an all rounder i guess (whatever that means!)

The room its in is a large one with high ceilings in an open plan configuration. The floor is carpeted. The speakers wont unfortunately get to be in perfectly symmetrical positions and their placement relative to the wall will be slightly different and one wall will be plasterboard, whilst the other brick. They can be floor standing.

I remember listening to a CD recording of Fast Car on a very high end Linn system many years ago and would really love to have a hifi that brought the artist into your very room like that system was able to do. Close your eyes and she was there, right in front of you, honest! It was eye opening how good a CD could sound. But within that budget could you even approach that?
 

Scott_Mac

Distinguished Member
Sounds ideal for an Arcam Solo with Dynaudio Audience 42 speakers... one box amp/cd/dab radio and some stunning speakers....
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
But PLEASE - how much better can a good CD player be. Can a 1000 quid player REALLY sound better than a 300 pound one??? Where's the scientific proof?

Discuss....


Scientific research using double-blind A-B-X testing, shows no evidence of audible differences between Compact Disc players, (apart perhaps from one or two very early ones). That is entirely consistent with what we would expect from the engineering measurements.

As to the subjectivist terms “timing” and “detail”, I have absolutely no idea what these are supposed to mean as no-one has, to my knowledge, ever offered a comprehensible description or made any attempt to associate them with measurable physical parameters.


Alan
 

Londondecca

Active Member
Over the years there has been a large amount of papers written on various aspects of HiFi, the AES is a good starting point. However, the difficulty with HiFi is there is no one single truth or solution, there are lots of equipment which have very nice figures ie THD but sound mediocre and some which have terrible stats but sound really nice eg Quad ELS's. Of course it is not quite this simple

The other issues which to my mind dramatically influence the sound is firstly the room acoustics and secondly your ears/brain interprets sound in a way which is unique to you.

I fully support your views that a good 10 year old amp will still sound great and in a mature market manufactures and retails will always need to sell new equipment otherwise the market will collapse.

It is entirely possible to produce a first class system without spending large sums of money but it takes time to build such a system
 

phil t

Well-known Member
But now I'm personally sick of reading all the rubbish in the popular hi-fi press with their flowery, subjective language and almost total lack of scientific precision.

Merefield, we’re all so different in our likes and dislikes. Science is so black and white. To say there is no difference because two bits of kit that measure identically is rubbish. Can I quantify that statement, no? If YOU can’t hear the difference between a £350 cdp and a £1000 cdp, then save your money and buy the cheaper one. If you can afford the more expensive bit of kit and YOU think it sounds better, then buy it. No one can tell you what to buy; they can only tell you their likes and dislikes. Always audition, and trust your ears.

:)
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
. Always audition, and trust your ears.


Unfortunately it is not possible to “trust your ears” in practical auditioning situations.

Measurements and scientific tests both conclude that all Compact Disc players should sound the same. That they do not appear to do that for some people merely demonstrates that the human ear / brain system is quite easily fooled by influences such as appearance, cost, reputation, kudos, time of day, state of health etc. etc.

That is why strict scientific tests are essential to get at the truth. Those asking for advice should be given the scientific evidence. If they then choose to ignore it, that is up to them.


Alan
 
J

JollyJeweller

Guest
very high end Linn system

Isn't that a contradiction in terms?:rolleyes:

Clearly we all hear music differently and you cannot review HiFis based on "scientific" data.
Knowing that my speakers have a response of xxHz and are sensitive to - 93db does not help me one bit.
Knowing that the reviewers *think* it has excellent PRaT *may* make me want to audition it.

Buying kit based on scientific numbers will only disappoint.
Spend a few weeks/months listening.

PS, no offence to Linn owners meant...Bank Holiday joke!
 

phil t

Well-known Member
Measurements and scientific tests both conclude that all Compact Disc players should sound the same. That they do not appear to do that for some people merely demonstrates that the human ear / brain system is quite easily fooled by influences such as appearance, cost, reputation, kudos, time of day, state of health etc. etc.

Alan

Alan, for several years I hankered after a Naim cdp (5x was the model I think). At the time the Cyrus 8 was also getting rave reviews in the HiFi press. I was dead set on one or the other, there were no other contenders. Using what you’ve just said, I should now be the proud owner of either a Naim or Cyrus cdp. When it came to audition day(s) I found that the identically priced and not raved about (in the popular HiFi press) Musical Fidelity A3.2 was the machine I eventually bought.

:)
 

digisocialist

Standard Member
I want as true a reproduction of the original recording as possible.

To throw in my 2 pence worth.. go analogue. You could buy an analogue system (Turntable, Valve Amps, Speakers) and get what you want (as denoted above) for much less than you could on any half decent digital playback system. You could pay lots of money for a digital system to get to the true reproduction of the original recording, so save time and energy and buy a record player (you're gonna need an amp and speakers anyway whichever route, so just replace the source)... plus you can save money on CD's by buying cheap LP's. You have to put up with lots of added noise, but that's only in the gaps the zero's and one's fill up on CD's anyway. And to carry on with the scientific theme, just remember that although you are bipolar, you're essentially analogue at neuron level... your gene's are more in tune with that than any artificial construct you may find in the modern world.

Now I run for cover ;)
 

Cable Monkey

Well-known Member
Merefield, there is no short cut here. If you are going to sit down and listen to hifi, that is how you should choose it. Any shortlisting should only really be done on the basis of available budget and people should approach the experience with an open mind. Reviews are no use to you even if they have distortion, SNR and crosstalk figures included to the nearest 0.0001. You still might not like the end result.;)

Alan Mac, I am a victim of the mass delusion of being able to distinguish between some cd players. I also prescribe to the view that the truth is in the listening experience, not in the figures. I am comfortable with that.:)
 

karkus30

Banned
They used to do all these scientific tests once over. I can remember a time when every hifi magazine tried to outdo each other with pages of graphs and measurements devoted to accurate measuring and you needed a degree to understand it all. It was quicker to whip straight to the conclusion. But it was even better to go down your nearest dealers and after putting up with a few days of being looked down on from the hifi guru, choose the bloody thing yourself.

I dont believe that we can really measure and compare in a scientific way. Sure, you can measure the signal that comes out of the amplifier, but then it goes into the speakers, from the speaker it gets acted upon by room acoustics and from then on by your ears which attempt to turn it into a signal that your brain can understand (and each of us understand the signal in a totaly unique way). Where in that process would measurements be helpful ?

Alan mac feels that we cannot trust our ears and I say it's the only thing we can trust.
 

davee

Active Member
Dont even raise the issue of different sounding interconnects etc..:devil:
 

Jaap74

Standard Member
I understand what the OP is saying though, words such as :

transparency
dynamics
timing
accuracy
authority
insightfulness
drive
refinement
agility

are sometimes less than helpful when reading a review....... they just sound like overlapping descriptions for somebody like me.....

I started reading hi fi / home cinema magazines only in the last 6 months and I thought one DVD or CD player was pretty much as good as the next (excluding one you may buy at Asda or Tesco for £30 of course)..... it's all 1's & 0's etc....

I'm sure that's not the case but in a recent mag I read they had a £30,000 CD player system that made a £10,000 system sound "mechanical and crude by comparison"........ where does it end ? :confused:

then theres equipment racks and £90 power chords to consider...... a nice rack for sure but after market power chords ?? maybe if i was a rich man !!
 

Knightshade

Active Member
Unfortunately it is not possible to “trust your ears” in practical auditioning situations.

Measurements and scientific tests both conclude that all Compact Disc players should sound the same. That they do not appear to do that for some people merely demonstrates that the human ear / brain system is quite easily fooled by influences such as appearance, cost, reputation, kudos, time of day, state of health etc. etc.

That is why strict scientific tests are essential to get at the truth. Those asking for advice should be given the scientific evidence. If they then choose to ignore it, that is up to them.


Alan
You could proof to yourself that there are differences by playing a test CD (A CD test track which produces different frequencies) this would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that not all players are equal CD. The better the CDP the more frequencies you hear, it only really applies to the lower frequencies (unless your a bat) but with good enough speakers and amplification it's quite easy to hear what the players can and can't produce.
 

Cable Monkey

Well-known Member
I understand what the OP is saying though, words such as :

transparency
dynamics
timing
accuracy
authority
insightfulness
drive
refinement
agility

are sometimes less than helpful when reading a review....... they just sound like overlapping descriptions for somebody like me.....

I started reading hi fi / home cinema magazines only in the last 6 months and I thought one DVD or CD player was pretty much as good as the next (excluding one you may buy at Asda or Tesco for £30 of course)..... it's all 1's & 0's etc....

I'm sure that's not the case but in a recent mag I read they had a £30,000 CD player system that made a £10,000 system sound "mechanical and crude by comparison"........ where does it end ? :confused:
It only ends when peoples willingness to spend ends. I won't pass judgement on them because in a world where children are paid £1.50 a day to work in mines dug by amateur miners what I have spent on my systems might be considered equally obscene.
Incidentally, if you ever get the chance, take a look at the digital out of a number of different CD players. 1's and 0's should be all the same, but they certainly look different!
 

ak_47_boy

Standard Member
I am the same way, i like to see the science behind hi-fi.

IMO:

Audiophile's sometimes use words such as timing, speed, etc. Some do make sense since for example a transistor can have a slow switching speed or speakers can be highly capacitive thus causing slow changes. Other times their is a string or ridiculous words that make no sense. Generally if you can't make sense of it out in 2 seconds its [email protected]#$ and requires no further concern. As soon as i read "insightfulness" i don't care to read anymore.

Mains cables make ZERO difference in sound quality AS LONG as they are properly sized. I make my own mains cables, i use nice and thick, stranded, flexible, mil spec wire with hospital grade connectors. Not because it sounds better, because it's higher quality and i can't stand loose poorly made crap. I shield my mains because it CAN in fact induce a current on signal cables and cause hum. Same with interconnects.

All cryogenic processes are BS. Don't bother, just stay away from cyro stuff it makes no difference.

Power filters can be helpfully, isolation can help eliminate mains noise but is not critical. Regulation can help if you live in a place where the line fluctuates more than 10 volts. EMF filter is a good idea, RF frequencies can screw with digital.

Tubes just sound better, i haven't bothered to find out why. Most seam to think its the second harmonic distortion.

If you have a external DAC i don't care how crappy your CD player is you are going to get the same 1's and 0's out. I would only buy a expense CD player if i did not have a DAC. You might as well put the money into a good external DAC, a external DAC can be used with multiple sources.

I personally try to keep everything as analogue. Analogue is by nature a much better format for audio information.

Good speakers are just good speakers.

Nothing should cost more than $1000 except speakers. A £30,000 CD player tells me that their was at least a years engineering behind it and £10,000 in materials per player. This is of course impossible, i would say a single person designed it in a week or two and their is £400 of materials in it. Then they try to sell it for £30,000. But hey, if the guy that made it in his basement sells a few for that much every year he is a happy person.
 

Londondecca

Active Member
The language used to describe HiFi equipment might not appeal to everyone but how else should it be done.

I see similar words describing musical performances. When someones voice is described as 'rich' should we really say the lower resonance of the voice produced a clear biological harmonic distortion or when a musician plays 'from the heart' are they really saying their deviation from an ultra strict rhythm was interpreted by the audience as a acceptable variation
 

Jaap74

Standard Member
The language used to describe HiFi equipment might not appeal to everyone but how else should it be done.

I see similar words describing musical performances. When someones voice is described as 'rich' should we really say the lower resonance of the voice produced a clear biological harmonic distortion or when a musician plays 'from the heart' are they really saying their deviation from an ultra strict rhythm was interpreted by the audience as a acceptable variation

point taken but what's the difference between dynamics & agility for example ? it's all a bit flowery............
 

digisocialist

Standard Member
..and let's just throw in some conjecture.

Descriptive words, particularly emotive signifiers provide characterisation and narrative, in a more commonly understood language than a specialised one like a technological one.. It may be that the 'poetic' language so much attributed to analogue reviews (you know, the organic, the natural) is psychologically more endearing in general and tricks us into believing that we have the natural affinity with analogue sounds; whereas the more prosaic language of the technological may provide us with a sense of reassurance (confidence in the science) but this is surely a trick too as the reassurance is only in a material plane, not a spiritual one.

Personally, I'm a believer in analogue (as per my previous post) and whether I'm believing through a poetic semiology or not, this for me is no different from enjoying music on hallucinogens or not... it's all about mood.

But there's a danger here of the debate becoming one of semantics and not product recommendation. Why? Because as has been said countless times before, the debate between subjectivists and objectivists will be with us until time ends. No single internet forum thread (not even this one) will change that...and so in the time you have, have some fun. Above all just buy whatever sounds and feels right to you now (only way to do that is to go and listen to some systems; listen to friends systems, listen to systems in specialist hi-fi shops, listen to systems in high street stores and just go with what sounds right)...it might not sound the same to you tomorrow but that might just as well apply to a 50k system...as I say it's all about mood (unless you want durability, portability, flexibility.... it could go on couldn't it).:D
 

nuttyboyz

Active Member
Alan mac feels that we cannot trust our ears and I say it's the only thing we can trust.


Me too,I wish that all CD players etc sounded the same,it would have saved me alot of money,I hear differences,yes,level matched in volume,true it may not be worth the price difference,but I trust my ears,my delusions,and think blind testing does indeed have it's place,but I don't think any machine can measure,soundstage width,depth,space around instruments etc,they can only measure so much.
 

phil t

Well-known Member
I started reading hi fi / home cinema magazines only in the last 6 months and I thought one DVD or CD player was pretty much as good as the next (excluding one you may buy at Asda or Tesco for £30 of course)..... it's all 1's & 0's etc....

I'm sure that's not the case but in a recent mag I read they had a £30,000 CD player system that made a £10,000 system sound "mechanical and crude by comparison"........ where does it end ?

Just out of interest, if all CD players were “as good as the next”, why should a £30 machine from a supermarket sound any different?

Does a £5 bottle of Australian Merlot taste the same as a £50 bottle of Australian Merlot? It’s just wine after all.

:)
 

Alan Mac

Well-known Member
You could proof to yourself that there are differences by playing a test CD (A CD test track which produces different frequencies) this would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that not all players are equal CD. The better the CDP the more frequencies you hear, it only really applies to the lower frequencies (unless your a bat) but with good enough speakers and amplification it's quite easy to hear what the players can and can't produce.

Have you ever measured the frequency response of a Compact Disc player?

If you had you would know that they all have a near-constant amplitude-versus-frequency response over the entire audio-frequency range (20 Hz to 20 kHz).

For most practical purposes the output from a test CD is good enough to act as an analogue test signal generator. It really is that good.


Alan
 

overkill

Distinguished Member
You could proof to yourself that there are differences by playing a test CD (A CD test track which produces different frequencies) this would prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that not all players are equal CD. The better the CDP the more frequencies you hear, it only really applies to the lower frequencies (unless your a bat) but with good enough speakers and amplification it's quite easy to hear what the players can and can't produce.
Exactly. I have no axe to grind, I gave up selling hifi years ago, and listening tests (blind or otherwise) can indeed reveal what is, or is not a good CD player. Since each manufacturer builds in their own 'sonic signature' it's impossible not to pick one from another, even with blind listening.

I would agree that unlike analogue, there aren't massive sonic improvements with CD as price goes skywards, but there are, with good partnering equipment, ever improving levels of stereo image and detail. If you can't hear those little details (a cymbal here, a guitar part there), well, then don't bother buying and stick with a cheaper model.

Agree with Karkus tbh. Your ears should decide not what's 'scientifically proven'. If we'd all taken the 'only buy if it's got impressive specs' approach then some of the greatest bit of hifi would never have been bought.............. as stats have been proven to lie. ;)

Back on track, the OP needs to take his budget, some discs he knows well (and some he doesn't) and get down to his nearest dealer - having rung them with his sonic preferences first.
 
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