Does the cancellation of high frequencies lead to better sounding music?

Discussion in 'Computer Components' started by markshanks, Aug 10, 2004.

  1. markshanks

    markshanks
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    Hi there,

    I think I have made a surprising discovery which I haven't heard anywhere else, but does seem to make some sense. I would appreciate people's opinions.

    In terms of the background, I recently purchased a RME Digi 96/8 to replace my soundblaster live! card for CD playback, based on the stellar reviews I have read about the RME card and the problem with the soundblaster resampling all output to 48 kHz.

    As you can imagine, I was quite excited while hooking the new RME card up. However, the results weren't what I expected when I first played a CD through it following the installation. It was clear that there were much greater dynamics now, as well as a better stage and detail in the music. In short, it was a massive improvement in sound quality. However, at the same time, I didn't actually like the sound. Indeed, to listen to the music was tiring and perhaps even painful. Seriously, it simply wasn't fun to listen to music anymore and I wanted to switch it off rather than continue to listen to it.

    I tended to blame it on the notion that while the music was definitely more accurate, it was also not as musical. It tended to sound very harsh, but I wasn't sure what really causes harshness in sound. I looked up the internet and couldn't really find the issue dealt with satisfactorily either, but I did come across one web posting from another forum that suggested you should reduce the upper frequency ranges if music is sounding too harsh. Therefore, since I was playing the music through foobar2000, I installed the equalizer plugin and began by simply reducing the highest frequency slider (20kHz) to the minimum position (-20dB).

    The difference was amazing!! There was no audible difference in the music, but at the same time, it no longer sounded tiring or painful at all - and of course sounded fantastic because of the increased dynamics and detail. What I think has happened is that without the equalizer, the music was producing some high frequencies that were actually irritating (think of someone scrapping their nails on a blackboard - but wasn't continuous so you couldn't specifically recognize it). This has been somewhat of a revelation for me as because, before I had this experience, I would have always said that you want to play all frequencies to make the music as accurate as possible. However, now I think that the very high frequencies don't improve the sound and should be eliminated, ie, would such high frequency sounds ever sound good? And of course this is easy to do with a digital playback system as the high frequencies can be eliminated digitally before the digital to analog conversion, eliminating undesirable effects of using an analog equalizer.

    It then seems to me that such a phenomenon could explain the observation that is made with hi-fi where a better hi-fi is more "accurate" but people say that they find it less musical or prefer the sound of a low-fi player. It isn't that low-fi is better - obviously poorer dynamics and detail are worse - but a better hi-fi has greater potential to reproduce higher frequencies that can be irritable and disturbing. Could this also be the explanation as to why Branxx preferred the rme digi 96/8 over the Lynx, ie, the Lynx reproduced the recording better but this included the high frequencies as well? Also, CD players have been criticised as being harsher and less warm or musical than LPs. Again, is this because CD players can produce the high frequencies better - which is actually bad?

    What do other people think? Do people already reduce the very high frequencies and think that what I am saying is common knowledge? Or have people simply not tried the effect of reducing the high frequencies, particularly in hi-fi's that don't sound very "musical"?

    Cheers.
     
  2. Urotsukidoji

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    Everyones room has a very different frequency response. Whats your room like?
     
  3. Branxx

    Branxx
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    markshanks ,

    Very good post and it goes to the hart of what exactly high fidelity is supposed to achieve?

    If it should have a literal meaning than as you said many CD would be unpleasant to listen and I would blame poor production and mastering stages.

    On the other hand maybe hi-fi should be something that sounds pleasant (with the all difficulties in defining this term that is so subjective).

    Most of the people would start training their listening habits on low/medium quality equipment and in-car hi-fi and over time this for them will be how the music is suppose to sound. If subsequently they introduce, as you have done, a very precise piece of audio equipment, the familiar sound becomes quite different.

    Do you retrain or stick to what you like?

    You are right to look to equalisation and other audio filtering techniques to alter the original sound to your liking. Fortunately this is only possible if you are staring from the highest quality possible and than scaling down to acceptable parameters. It wouldn’t work in opposite direction.
     
  4. mjn

    mjn
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    the only time for me, when less treble is better, is at concerts, when the treble can be a tad harsh.
     
  5. drummerjohn

    drummerjohn
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    Back in the early eighties (showing my age) I remember a blind fold test was done by a HiFi magazine.

    They placed a blind folded "HiFi" boffin in a room opposite another room with only a open doorway between them.

    First, a professional violinist played in the room opposite.

    Then they played a HiFI recording on "top notch" HiFi kit of the same piece of music.

    The Hifi boffin was asked his preference - he went for the 2nd - completely unaware of this be a live to recorded comparison.

    When he was told the 1st was a proper violin he stated it sounded way too harsh.

    Now it was a simple, but I think, enlightening test. Yes, the test had flaws.

    But....

    HiFi is in the ear of the beholder - its that simple.

    MARKSHANKS - I think you would aclimatise to the sound. In a few weeks/months you would no doubt look back at what you had and think "this is dull and unexciting"..
     
  6. markshanks

    markshanks
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    Thanks for your responses.

    In terms of the room characteristics, it is a typical bedroom with the speakers located against one wall. It doesn't have any hard surfaces if that is what you are getting at. The floor is carpeted and the wall is wood. However, the speakers I am using are Acoustic Research M2's that are renowned for already being bright in the treble. I liked the sound of them with a standard CD player (Denon DCD-615) but they became too harsh with the new RME digi soundcard before I used foobar to reduce the very high frequencies. Perhaps I should also mention that when I installed the new soundcard I also installed a new, much more upmarket cable between it and the receiver, so maybe that had an effect as well. It should be emphasized though that I am VERY happy with the sound of the system now, and what I was getting at in my post was that if the system wasn't so harsh I wouldn't have tried to find a solution which made me believe that the very high frequencies are bad no matter what. Instead I would have just put up with it and not realized how reducing the high frequencies could be important.

    A couple of you mentioned retraining to get used to the new sound. I wouldn't deny that maybe my unhappiness with the sound was simply due to unfamiliarity and I would, over time, get used to it and even prefer it. However, as I alluded to, maybe the high frequencies are bad no matter what and no amount of experience would lead to a preference for frequencies that really are unpleasant? It would be like saying that over time you could learn to like jabbing yourself with a needle, or that pain would become desirable - this may be true for masochists but probably not for most people.

    I should also emphasize that when I am talking about the very high frequencies I am not talking about simply the treble control. If I turn down the treble control on the receiver it does reduce the unpleastness a bit, but it also really dulls the music and makes it sound awful - since the treble reduces much more than the very high frequencies.

    Fascinating about the comparison between the live performer and the hi-fi reproduction. Again, it might not be that surprising that the reproduction is the one that is preferred if the hi-fi boffin was much more used to this sound than a real performance. However, the fact that the real violin sounded much too harsh suggests that real performances can have undesirable aspects that we would want to reduce. While I place a high value on music reproduction being accurate, I value accuracy as I think this makes you feel more in touch with the music, ie, particularly with vocals you feel much closer to the performer and are more likely to feel the emotions they are trying to convey through their voice. Reducing the very high frequencies may not affect the accuracy of voices though. The unpleasantness of the high frequencies tended to be associated with drums and symbols in the music. Hence, perhaps by reducing the very high frequencies you can retain the accuracy of voice reproduction but eliminate the aspects of other instruments that can make a performance irritating.

    I'd still be interested in anyone else's impressions after trying to reduce the very high frequencies on their hi-fi's, particularly if they think it sounds too bright at present.
     
  7. MikeTV

    MikeTV
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    I am not entirely surprised by your findings. In a good showroom, you can often notice very different musical characteristics, even with quite expensive speakers and equipment. I'd expect that the more you pay, the smaller the differences would become, but it doesn't seem to follow. Similarly, a set of speakers may sound entirely different at home, as to how they sounded in the store, due to room characteristics, including the physical size of the room, and speaker positions. IMHO, the speakers are arguably the most important component with respect to sound characteristics (but there are many other factors, including personal preferences). Smaller speakers are often great at high frequencies and weak for mid-range/low frequencies. Small rooms are more prone to high frequency reflections, and sometimes low frequency booming.

    Compensating for all these factors using an equalizer is not uncommon (that's what they are for). Although this can cure some problems, equalizers can also lead to a loss of definition or authenticity. As I see it, it's a bit like turning down the colour on a TV, because the greens are wrong - but what about the blue and red?

    I've come to the opinion that there isn't really much of a science to it - it's just a case of experimenting, listening, and trusting your instinct, to get the maximum benefit from your equipment and surroundings.

    I did try the test myself, and felt it was lacking something (but that could be imagined, and my speakers are a bit flat). But if it works for you...
     
  8. Daneel

    Daneel
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    I think some manufacturers do this as standard (Meridian?). Not to extremes of -20 dB though, just a little so that there is a difference.
     
  9. Lostinapc

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    you say you bought a new lead between your pc and your amp, this could be having a huge affect on what you're listening to.
    I upgraded my lead a few years back on a soundblaster. On the previous lead I'd put the sound onto "pop" mode quite often as it had a bit of an echo and was a bit fuller in the bass. when i did the same with the new lead the sound was literally awful to hear and i found that the new lead already did a similar affect and could carry the subtler sounds better.
     

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