It ain't the specs you're listening to......

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Helicon, Jan 13, 2008.

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  1. Helicon

    Helicon
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    Not sure if the mods will allow this one, but let's see......

    Seeing as quite a few threads end up in heated debates, particularly about cables and amps not making any differences at all, and how the differences we hear are all in our heads etc etc, i'd like to start a discussion thread about these various linked topics where the few who think they know about this stuff can 'chat' about it without fear of the thread closing because it's what the thread is all about!

    So as i've said, amps DO make a difference. Why do i think they make a difference? I know what i've heard:

    1/ I've compared an MF and Quad power amp (similar price), and the difference was eye opening. The Quad's midrange hung the MF's out to dry, even though it wasn't as extended when it came to the frequency extremes.

    2/ Owning a pair of KEF Reference 104.2's, i blindly purchased a Krell 5 power amp to use for AV purposes. It couldn't control the bass, slow, dull thuds. Change to a Bryston power amp and all of a sudden the speakers had kick behind them. And so they should.

    There's many more, but those two stand out for me - no, they're not blind tests, but the fact that i didn't want to like the Bryston because i couldn't afford it, removed any possible 'placebo' effect. In fact, if i really wanted to be impressed by anything, it was the Krell amp.

    A customer rang the other day saying they had a pair of KEF Reference 2's. After they told me what amplifier they had, a £250 10 year old Denon, i described to her exactly the sort of sound she was getting, before her amplifier blew up......she seemed stunned that i knew. The point is that i know how an amp of that budget will make those speakers sound. How would i know that? Experience. Something you learn from hearing yourself.

    According to some, amps working at normals levels display no differing characteristics. Firstly i'd like to see a blind test between a Quad, MF, Naim and Cyrus system (through the same speakers). These systems all have their own sonic signature, and as far as i'm concerned would be identifiable. And secondly, just to prove a point on a huge scale, i'd like to see a blind test between a Pioneer A109 amplifier (£120) and a Bryston pre/power (£thousands) both driving a pair of KEF Reference 4.2's (i know them well, but all high-end speakers will show the difference).

    Anybody agree or disagree? Comments or experiences? (except for GBH, he's banned....only joking :))
     
  2. cosmicma

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    i think amplifier difference is probably one of the most noticable things within a system

    saying that speakers from different manufactures make a world of difference too. i find when choosing a set of speakers you must like the character of the speaker regardless of the rest of the components because no matter what amp / cd player etc.. this is the one thing that is not going to change.

    strange you didn't like the krell because the Kef reference model 4's are supposed to come alive when paired with Krell ( dunno will let you know when i can afford one )

    as far as i'm concerned there is a difference between different amps , different interconnects , cd players , amps etc.. iv'e tried various over the years and have heard differences
     
  3. Caralfa

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    I basically agree with Helicon, with one proviso. Having been 'inti HiFi since pre Stereo days in 50's as far as 'Specs' are concerned any manufacturers Specs are only as good as they last. So much equipment is made with what appears very high specifications, however how much of that equipent can still meet that original specification a couple of months later, let alone a couple of years later?
    All equipment and componants used in it change and therefore spec changes too. It's the rate of change that is the key and how it changes. Also some manufacturers are very conservative when quoting specifications and others are not !
     
  4. Mark.Yudkin

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    I agree that the amp and speakers make the biggest difference, and that pairing the amp to the speakers can be extremely difficult, especially with awkward speakers like mine (see sig) or even worse like the Martin Logan Summits (a great speaker with a horrible impedance characteristic). The speakers I used prior to the ESLs were KEF 104aB's; my son is now using them.

    My recent experience auditioning an expensive Krell SACD system into Martin Logan ESLs is such that I would not try Krell again, so singling out Krell as being unable to control the KEF's doesn't really surprise me.
     
  5. nuttyboyz

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    Amps do make a difference, I think it is absurd to think they don't, the effect they have on the sound is quite marked, the amount of times I have read forum experts saying spend all your money on speakers amazes me, yes the speaker room interaction is vital, but also the sound character of a amplifier, listen to a class D module amplifier, then listen to a Tripath chipped based amplifier, the sound is completely different, all amps sound the same:suicide:
     
  6. alexs2

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    So long as the thread remains good-natured and sensible,then I've no problems with it.

    The only reason that so many other similar threads have been closed is either when they reach obsolescence,or more often the "debate" becomes nasty.

    Anyway...my views.....I agree,amplifiers can make a huge difference to the sound,whether or not it is to do with the amp's design(SET/transistor etc etc)it's internal components or the way it interacts with a given set of speakers,but they dont all sound the same.

    There is no way that my Krells sound the same as my Cary,or WADs or Quad II into the same speakers at equivalent volumes.
     
  7. Scott_Mac

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    I'd love to.... having done similar and as you correctly say noticed a difference it's an eye opening experience, however the caveat of the speaker choice could cause confusion for some. Quad, MF and Cyrus through MA speakers would probably be quite nice, i'd need medical attention after putting them on the end of Naim though (*slight exaggeration*)
     
  8. bart2k8

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    I agree also. Through experiance I feel people have been upgrading or getting rid of the wrong piece of kit because they are sounding crap. Changing a speaker cos it aint sounding well doesn't always mean its the speaker. A proper amp could bring them to life so imo its a tread carefully situation
     
  9. Helicon

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    Why do you say that?

    Agreed. Many people when upgrading change the speakers because they think bigger and better speakers are going to get them a better sound. To a point they're correct, but with the speaker out of the amps class, they're in for a lot of added drawbacks. Most people would be better off getting a better amp, as a lot of smaller budget speakers can sound amazing with an amp out of their class.

    Having heard god knows how many amps over my 30 years of interest in hi-fi, i do find it unbelievable that some people can blindly preach that amps make no difference at all. Did these people never hear the overly soft, warm and smooth Arcam Alpha 9 amps? Tell me they sound the same as a Cyrus 6vs!

    I can understand people maybe not hearing a difference between amps of a similar price, or maybe two similar sounding amps. And some people listen to what i call the 'initial sound' - the main bulk of the sound thats presented directly in front of them - the voice, the main instruments etc - but the rest of everything else that's going on doesn't seem to register with them, they can't listen 'into' the mix. Think of it like comparing DVD and Blu-Ray - close up things on DVD look fine, but the background is very vague - on Blu-Ray, the background is as clear as the foreground, so you're aware of much more going on - a more complete picture - am i making any sense?
     
  10. per-Sony-fied

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    Whether we really understand what makes an amplifier sound the way it does & the suggestion that specs are so good these days that an amp ought sound the same as another as it's so easy to reach these specification targets even on relatively low budget equipment may ring true from what designers understand about the whole audio subject, not just technical knowhow but from what our ears can resolve & hear.

    When you come to hear different amps in the SAME system they without a doubt sound wildly different, yes enough difference to not be blind prejudice to one product(forget about listening levels). I've tried several amps in my system (ATC,Krell,Naim,Denson,Bryston,Chord & a couple of others) & each clearly had there own character & resolving power. Some worked reasonably well, others in particular the ATC while a brilliant amp just did not gell at all, had a really bad dull balance.

    I do agree with bart2k8 a good amp can bring a speaker to life but in the same vein some speakers just do not respond well to changes in the signal path & hence speakers can easily be at fault.
     
  11. per-Sony-fied

    per-Sony-fied
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    Yes I understand what you are saying. It's all this which makes up a pleasurable involving listen. There are a lot of people out there tho' whom just hear a sound, the voices, instruments as you say but don't think about the nuances, depth, the finger flicking of frets on (guitar) strings etc which all make up the whole picture (as in Blu-Ray) of a musical performance which gets you closer to that "real" performance.

    (err didn't you just say all that, but in a different way? :rolleyes:)
     
  12. Helicon

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    Yeah, but more long winded :)
     
  13. bart2k8

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    Another thing to consider is that Most expensive doesn't mean best either. IMO a carefully selected budget system costing £500 can sound the same and sometimes better than a system thats cost £5000, but thrown together cos they look good. Its the same with anything though, imo Tesco own brand baked beans taste exactly the same as Heinz but people tend to buy heinz cos they look better in the cupboard. Another tread carefully senario I think
     
  14. Mark.Yudkin

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    Now I'm going to throw a spanner into the works (and extend my previous post). I will contend that the difference between the sound of properly made power amps capable of driving the load imposed by a particular speaker is minimal in comparison with the sound quality differences in speakers. A power amp that cannot handle the speaker will sound poor - yes - but that's not the same as saying it has an inherently different sound.

    What is most important in a power amp is that it is matched to the speaker. Get that wrong and you'll have problems. Get it right, and frankly, which power amp you use has only a very small effect on the total sound stage, and you'd then be better of improving the speakers as you get a far better improvement for the money. Until you reach a point, that is, where all improvements are minimal (probably around £4000 for a (single) speaker or monoblock).
     
  15. Scott_Mac

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    Because based on my experience the combo sounds incredibly bright and forward and not pleasant.... some may mistake it for detailed, to me it was harsh, sibilant and just not pretty at all.
     
  16. alexs2

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    This is the old thing of system synergy as well as careful selection,and is very true.

    It's easy to spend thousands and get a system that can sound awful,but whilst it can be more difficult to spend lot less and do a LOT better,it can be done.
    Many of us waste large amounts of cash by spending in haste.
     
  17. Caralfa

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    How much mioney do people spend on listening to 'live' music at concerts, opera,jazz clubs etc and do those same people then try to reproduce in their own home what they have heard live or do they then just look for a sound that they like listening to but is nothing like the 'live' sound that they heard.
    During my past 50+ years interest in Hi Fi I have foud that the latter situation is in the majority.
     
  18. bart2k8

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    I agree. The sound I get out of my system at the moment is only important to me. I'm more than happy with it and don't care what anyone else has to say about it. I enjoy it, and thats what matters
     
  19. Resonance

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    This is a interesting subject and worthy of sensible/serious debate so I hope the thread doesn't go down hill and get closed too early.

    I would agree with your assumption it's not the spec for these reasons:

    1. Amplifier specs are not complete enough to be able to truly tell the differences between them,
    2. Even if the spec were compete, people generally would not be able to interpret what a particular spec would mean in their system. I certainly don't claim to understand all the details.
    3. Since amp and speaker performance are related to each other, what people should really be looking for is combined amp/speaker spec. In other words, how will the combination of a particular amp and speakers together affect the sound.

    If I were to try to relate sound to real world charateristics & amp spec it might look something like this:

    1. Does the amp make all frequencies sound equally loud or does it emphasise certain portions = frequnecy response. Most amps are fairly similar here.

    2. Does it make the music sound realistic = does it have low distortion, whether this is from simple harmonics through to nasties such as cross-over distortion as in most transitor amps. In most specs I've seen distortion is lumped under one number. Yet distortion from valves many people believe sounds OK, whilst transistor distortion most people would class as sounding horrible.

    3. Does it drive my speakers well and sound 'fast' = can it deliver plenty of current when required (particularly as most speakers do not have flat impedance responses) and does it have a high damping factor (ie is the amp going to help make fast bass by dissipating stored energy in the speaker).

    4. Is the amp going to create a good sound stage = is there going to be a good balance of all of the above between left and right, and without crosstalk between the 2 channels.

    So this is perhaps an oversimplification of complex interactions between amps and speakers, but even so, for most amps there is nowhere near enough information available to be able to make an informed decision from the spec alone.
     
  20. per-Sony-fied

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    I can't say I actually spend lots of dosh on traveling to concerts (average 3 or 4/year) but over the years they have mounted to a fair few. I do after visiting a concert compare my Hi-Fi to my memory of that night. Of course unless you have a identical live recording, recorded well from that venue then direct correlation is difficult if not pointless. However I do listen to tones of voices, bass articulation etc to see how correct it actually sounds.

    Today I smile, yesterday I frowned. I doubt in the true notion of things it really is that accurate as I have heard better, nuances & inner detail that I believe is missing but don't come home upset about it like I used to.

    I'm pretty sure many would not like my system, I know a mate has different tastes whom while not a bass nut does like a system that leans towards fullsome bass that paints it's picture on everything that's played. I guess you could call him one whom just likes a good sound they he likes to hear it...... no different to me just different goals.
     
  21. Helicon

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    Maybe, as mentioned in the thread that spawned this one, your brain was actually manufacturing the sound, and you never heard it at all...... :D

    Which combination was this? I find the modern Naim stuff to be more listener friendly than their earlier stuff say from about 2000 and before.

    Somebody else mentioned what i thought was quite true in another thread. Most hi-fi systems cannot reproduce faithfully real live music, so buying a system that gets as much of the LP or CD as possible is the next best thing.

    Having said that, i have managed to reproduce a couple of albums a little more like the bands live performance - how? With careful use of some of Yamaha's DSP modes.....it really can work.


    It is interesting to see that the only people who have replied to this thread so far are those that know amps make a difference. Those that join in other innocent threads to preach the 'proven' words of mad old professors seem to stay away from threads specifically about the subject. If you started a thread about whether it'd be worth buying amp a or b with speakers c, they'd be in like a shot cutting and pasting links to experiments they've not actually witnessed themselves..... :)
     
  22. bart2k8

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    The problem I feel with a lot of people is they get too involved and concerned about the physics of hi fi. When buying they delve way too deep into the technology of the component instead of focusing on the most important part of it. -" What it sounds like " Another thing I feel is people are too dependant on magazine reviews and buy on their say. Total waste of time if you ask me cos every component from cd player to the speakers to the cabling you use sound different in different listening environments
     
  23. Helicon

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    This what most people tend to ignore when buying AV amps and speaker packages, and then go on to wonder why their music sounds pants. They're more interested in what deal they can get, more than what actually sounds good together.

    After reading Ian-R's post, it occurred to me that most live performances, when recorded, are subjected to mixing. This is the first thing that changes the sound of that performance. The second is the venue itself. It's different to your living room in almost every way. The live venue was much bigger, didn't have a nagging wife, 2.4 screaming children, a smelly dog, wallpaper, curtains and clay ducks on the wall. This is one reason why i am all for multi channel music systems, as they should convey the atmosphere and acoustics of the original much better than a 2 channel CD. This is why i mentioned Yamaha's DSP modes in my previous post.

    Just as an example, having grown up in the 80's, i have been to see Level 42 many times, and love their live Physical Presence album. The problem is, the recordings as dull as Rory Bremner. By careful and subtle use of either any of a number of DSP venues (the Yamaha ones are real venues), the recording is brought to life and much more engaging. Try it, you might be suprised.



    I have always heard a bigger difference at home than at work when it comes to components and cables - i've rarely heard many differences at work with cables, but at home it's a different story, probably because i know my system and those differences stand out much more.

    It is unbelievable how many people buy on magazines say so. The reviewer probably only spent a day or two with it, and couldn't put forward a valid opinion if his life depended on it. I was going to quote an example, but i'm sure i don't need to do that as this has been happening for the last 10/15 years. I remember the early What Hi-Fi?'s from the early 80's. The letters page where people asked for recommendations for their system problems were quite different to todays. Back then, ALL of the replies were different......
     
  24. Helicon

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    Ian, whenever these subjects are brought up (usually by those trying to spread the word of the 'snake oil' brigade), people like myself tend to confront them, things get a little heated, then the mods step in and close. I opened this thread specifically so that we can discuss them, and so that i don't take 10/15 mins typing out a response only to find the thread has been closed.....:mad:!!

    Mod comment...bait removed.
     
  25. bart2k8

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  26. matt78

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    I think that synergy is probably the single most important thing of all in a system. Too many people advise that changing speakers is the cure-all answer to every hi-fi problem when better improvements could be effected by upgrading the amp or source. If equipment doesn't work well together, a different pair of speakers is unlikely to correct the fundamental issues within a system unless luck strikes and the user accidentally moves from a poor amp-speaker combination to one that just happens to work well with their particular sources, music, and room acoustics.

    The hi-fi mag inspired purchases bemuse me as well. What I can't understand is their propensity for advising the same small selection of systems over and over again. Furthermore, it seems that one-make combinations of CD player and amp get recommended far more frequently than they did in the 80s and early 90s. There is just no variety. I've found my own satisfaction in mixing and matching, using a source (Sony SCD-XA1200ES) which is completely unmentiond in any of the hi-fi press with an amp (NAD C325BEE) that has won some accolades but tends to get sidelined by Cambridge Audio and Marantz in the reviews these days. To me, one-make combos rarely give the best performance - changing from a NAD c521BEE cd player to the (admittedly more expensive) Sony brought about significant improvements in every area of my system's performance, and I've experienced something similar every time I've moved away from a one-make set-up.

    The amplifier is fundamental to a system. Its what drives AND controls the speaker's drive units and is crucial to a system's overall sound. Neither should the source be overlooked. The old 'garbage in garbage out' adage has faded away somewhat in recent years but still, IMHO, carries a great deal of truth and is to be ignored at peril whether using CD, vinyl or any other source.
     
  27. RugbyAl

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    Exactly, I had an earlier Naim combo, NAC93 NAP90/3 (olive cases) driving a pair of B&W P4s. I 'upgraded' the amps to the later 112X 150X combination but then found the sound less engaging than before. There was just not as much PRAT (pace rhythm and timing) as before, a combination of the typical safe B&W sound with a more neutral sounding amp. Sure the new amps were more detailed, but they just did'nt work for me. I have just replaced the B&Ws with a pair of MA GS10s (with a mj acoustics sub) and WOW what a transformation.... detail, PRAT and the sound is not as bright as I was warned it would be. :) Sure this is no 'quiet night in with a log fire' type of sound, its engaging and above all fun. Amps certainly sound different to me.

    Aso, I have been using my AV amp upstairs for nearly a year as a plain stereo amp driven by the analogue outputs from a pioneer dvd player. Speakers are a pair of B&W DM303s. The system was never used for anything more than back ground music. Recently following redecoration of my lounge I have been able to set up my AV system so I took my AV amp downstairs. To replace it I dug my old Ion Obolisk 3 amp out of the loft (cost approx £360 about 18 years ago), this is a purist 30 watt design which I bought in preference to a Naim Nait at the time. At the same time I added a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic to the DVD player (a real treasure trove is my loft!). Again, a huge improvement to the sound. Was this this a genuine improvement or just a placebo effect? Lets put it this way, when my wife come home and walked upstairs with some 'background music' playing (without knowing what I had done....) she excalimed "That sounds way better, I hope you have'nt been spending yet more money on that rediculous hobby of yours!" :rolleyes:
     
  28. inicholson

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    I've never read a spec sheet in my life. Couldn't care less the wattage of my amp or frequency response of my speakers; I just want to hear music.

    I don't bother trying to get a system that sounds like a concert. Most concerts (rock, etc.) are played through a PA system. i don't want a PA system in my house! Classical concerts have no PA but every concert hall, conductor, orchestra, performance, etc. makes a difference. The best demo I ever had of this was sitting in on a rehearsal at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. I don't know if they still allow this but it's a great experience - ask at your local concert hall. The orchestra and choir performed a few bars, conductor stopped them, made a few suggesations and then they played again but this time it sounded so much better! It gave me an insight into why conductors can make so much money. I reckon a good conductor is worth more than a decent hi-fi.

    As to amps. I sat in with with my Dad when he bought his first Hi-fi nearly 20 years ago. We listened to 2 turntables (Rega planar 2 and 3). I heard a minor difference, I wouldn't say either was better than the other, just different. Dad and the salesman went on about how much better the 3 was! Then we compared Rotel and Creek amps. To my ears the creek blew away the Rotel. Dad and the salesman agreed that the difference was minor but maybe the Creek just had an edge!

    Having been indoctrinated by Hamish at the Sound Organisation in York in the mid-80s I don't really listen for how clear the treble is or which has the lowest bass, etc. I just listen to the timing and follow the tune. If it's easy the system plays music, if it isn't then the system doens't play music - it might still be hi-fi though! So I guess I wasn't listening for what my Dad and the salesman were. Did it make a difference? If the budget had been tighter he'd have bought the Planar 2 and a Rotel amp. I'd have bough the Planar 2 and a Creek! Both sounded good but did different things. He thought the turntable was the biggest factor, on that occassion I thought the amp made a bigger difference.
     
  29. bart2k8

    bart2k8

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  30. GW43

    GW43
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    I think most people would agree with that statement.

    However, where arguements like this start to go downhill is when people get too obsessed with the wrong things.

    There are measurements, and the rest are opinions...
     
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