Why Good Audio Equipment Sounds Bad

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
No matter how much money you spend on audio equipment, the sound quality you'll achieve will be nothing like the artist or director intended.

The reason that even the best audio equipment rarely provides good sound quality is because of the impact of the acoustics of the rooms they are used in.

If you have ever moved a hifi from one room to another you will know what a huge difference the listening room makes. If not, think of how different a car sounds in a garage, on the open road, or driving through a tunnel and you'll start to appreciate how important acoustics are.

In the world of hifi and home cinema, where everyone is looking to just sell you equipment, most people perpetuate the myth that all that is required to reproduce sound accurately is good equipment. This post is one of six that will explain why this in unscientific nonsense and will provide some recommendations on what is really required to reproduce sound accurately.

The Professional Approach to Audio

Where sound quality is really critical, such as recording studios and concert halls, more time and money will be spent on the design of the room than the choice of audio equipment that will be used.

As a result amplifiers and speakers that are much cheaper than many hifi alternatives will provide far better results.

The HiFi Myth

When you read about audio equipment or visit a hifi shop the critical issue of acoustics is almost never discussed. Magazines exist to sell magazines. Hifi shops exist to sell hifi, so there is little interest and virtually no knowledge in this critical part of any audio system.

Could it be that people who design concert venues and recording studios are wasting their time? Or is it more likely that customers looking to buy the best hifi and home cinemas are not getting the whole truth?

The reality of sound reproduction is that as long as sound waves interact with their environment, accurate sound quality cannot be achieved in any room without addressing the massive impact that your room's acoustics will have.

How Much Difference Do Acoustics Make?

In most rooms when you sit just 1.5m from a loudspeaker, you will hear more reflected sound from the room than direct sound from the speaker. Most people sit 3-5m from their loudspeakers so what is heard at the listening position has far more to do with the reflections that the room creates than minor differences between the components they are using.

With a stereo system the room accounts for at least 50% of what you hear. In a home cinema with more speakers (that are often poorly located), the room accounts for more than 60% of what you hear.

As a result a well designed system in a good room will easily outperform far more costly equipment in a room with poor acoustics.

What Factors Affect Acoustics?

The study of acoustics is a very complex science, but some of the basics are easy to understand. Anything that the sound waves in your room come in contact with will affect the sound of your system. The size of the room, location of seating and equipment and the nature of the internal surfaces and furniture will all have a huge affect on how your equipment sounds.

In the same way that organ pipes of different lengths produce different notes, the dimensions of your room will mean that certain frequencies will
be greatly exaggerated

Reducing Acoustic Problems

If you are serious about finding the best system for your money or upgrading your existing audio equipment, take a tip from the professionals and learn about room acoustics or find someone who is truly expert in this area to help with your system design.

Fancy cables, mains conditioners and power supplies simply cannot help rectify the fundamental compromises that the acoustics of any room will create.

There are 3 proven methods of reducing acoustic problems - these are:

Room Design and Treatment
Room Friendly Speaker Systems
Room Correction

If you are considering buying a good hifi or home cinema and the dealer involved doesn't raise the issue of your room's acoustics along with logical, practical methods for minimising their affects, I'd suggest you find another dealer.

The benefits of all these systems are used routinely in the professional world and are all based on sound scientific principals.

If you found this post helpful you may be interested in some of the other topics I've posted on:
- Professional Recommendations for Surround Sound Design
- The Benefits of Room-Friendly Speakers
- Acoustic Room Design
- Why You Need Room Correction
- The Result of Professional System Design
 
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Wow. I'm already blown away by my system and find it sounds great, but after reading this, I realise I've not heard a thing yet :).

I've stalled sorting this out, will have to get working on it.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
If you want to see and hear just how good a home cinema can get, you should take the opportunity to visit Nigel's cinema in London. He is hosting 2 more free demonstration days for Forum members before the property goes on the market. I've traveled round the world looking at the very best home cinemas for over 25 years and I've never heard anything of this quality before.

Here the link where you can book a place Gecko home cinema – forum days | Page 71 | AVForums

Here is some of the feedback from Forum members who have visited:-

“The depth of thought that has gone into every aspect of the home design is brilliant. It’s an audio and visual treat”

“The wall of sound was beyond what words can describe. You have to experience what a Steinway Lyngdorf home cinema set up can do. The clarity at such amazing volume levels was stunning”

“I’m absolutely lost for words”

“The classical tracks were simply stunning. The clarity, dynamics, and sheer impact were astonishing but it’s the detail and realism of the instruments that is truly special. I sat there with my eyes closed and my spine tingling in sonic heaven”

“I would say that that is the best £100k ever spent on a home cinema”

“The cinema room has to be seen to be believed. Attention to detail is first class. You could almost believe the band or orchestra were actually in the room with you!”

“The Steinway system easily out performs a commercial cinema. The bass from Tron was earth shattering. I'm surprised my fillings didn't come loose!

“Nothing draws attention to itself, other than the sheer quality of the installation - the bass isn't overbearing, the treble isn't too bright or wearing, the visuals are crystal clear... Even after a couple of hours of film there was no listening fatigue whatsoever…. it was just 'right'.

“A quite epic room”

“The Steinway Lyngdorf system gets better each time I hear it. It just gets everything right.”

“It’s shocking that more home cinema professional installers and reviewers don't put the Steinways on the pedestal they deserve”

“I can only echo what has been said - a totally silent sound floor, inky blacked out walls that disappear and perfect audio clarity. With unbelievable volume and a vast spacious soundstage it’s basically everything you could ever possibly want from a cinema and then some.”

“Simply an amazing set up; stunningly thought out and put together.”

“I struggle to see how it can get any better!

“The combination of silenced Sony 4k projector (being in the adjacent room behind a slightly expensive piece of glass), screen and electrically adjustable borders means that picture quality is excellent with pretty much pitch black around it. The 7.4-channel Steinway Model S fits right in in terms of looks, quality and sonic performance, and the eight 12" subs - can easily make you wonder whether there's an actual earthquake.”

“Not only did it sound incredible but the visuals from the Sony 4K projector were stunning.”

“This really is an inspiration showing what can be achieved by doing things right from the start, without pandering to expensive room acoustic treatments or many other "musts" which apparently aren't musts at all!?

“The introduction to the film Bolt was completely insane. Insert your own expletive xxx. The impact from the subs is exceptional. Well, just about everything the SL system does is exceptional. Couple that performance with the meticulously detailed room and you are in AV nirvana, it’s as simple as that.”

“A 4K projector and content in a silenced, blacked out room with a massive SL system makes this probably one of, if not the best cinema in the world at this moment in time?”

“I can't say enough just how good this system is.”

“Nigel's attention to detail is amazing. Whoever buys the place can be confident that it's built as well as it could possibly be and that sitting in the cinema will just make the stress of any day melt away”
“I don't know what else to say, other than if you get a chance to experience it do go along and see for yourself, I really don't know how it could get any better!! “


“I have never heard music reproduced by any system like that before. Simply stunning.”

“Makes normal systems pale into insignificance. This is a top end system that sets a very high benchmark of Everest proportions”


“If you have the budget this is a no brainer choice. The room is simply incredible. It spoils you for anything else. How such small speakers go so loud defies the laws of physics.”

“What blew me away, literally, was the music reproduction. I can honestly say that I have never ever heard any system reproduce music like that.”

“I have been into home cinema for 20 years now and have heard some stunning setups in my time. I can assure all that this is the best cinema I have ever experienced period.”

“I just can't get over how visceral an experience you get from the SL system, the clarity and chest thumping/trouser flapping/hair parting you are presented with and yet it is not at all fatiguing.”


“The sound from his setup is mind blowing. I’ve never heard anything so powerful and so clear. You could feel your insides rattling with the thundering bass on the movies. On the music dems, every instrument was crystal clear and the acoustic guitar at the end of Tubular Bells was incredible…. it felt like you were actually there.”

“This cinema is not just about organ bruising bass, the clarity and definition this system can produce is jaw droppingly good.”


And finally from the review in Home Cinema Choice, December 2013 by Editor Mark Craven

“I was blown away…….astonishing performance”

“Full range performance with breath taking scale, dynamism and accuracy”

“The scale of the soundstage and the finesse of the higher frequencies proved astonishing”

“Astonishingly potent”
 

Member 116841

Distinguished Member
No matter how much money you spend on audio equipment, the sound quality you'll achieve will be nothing like the artist or director intended.

The reason that even the best audio equipment rarely provides good sound quality is because of the impact of the acoustics of the rooms they are used in.
"Rarely provides good sound quality" is bit of a stretch. Firstly, define "good". I'd say that's a step up above mediocre. The best audio equipment will provide something more than "good" in all but the most evil of rooms.

If you have ever moved a hifi from one room to another you will know what a huge difference the listening room makes. If not, think of how different a car sounds in a garage, on the open road, or driving through a tunnel and you'll start to appreciate how important acoustics are.
Many people like the sound of their car when they're driving through tunnels - they can actually hear it - something they can't do on the open road. It all comes down to preferences.

In the world of hifi and home cinema, where everyone is looking to just sell you equipment, most people perpetuate the myth that all that is required to reproduce sound accurately is good equipment.
Yes! Evil is out there! Trust no one! Scaremongering.

The Professional Approach to Audio
Where sound quality is really critical, such as recording studios and concert halls, more time and money will be spent on the design of the room than the choice of audio equipment that will be used.
What percentage of studios use EQ in their monitoring rooms?

The HiFi Myth
When you read about audio equipment or visit a hifi shop the critical issue of acoustics is almost never discussed. Magazines exist to sell magazines. Hifi shops exist to sell hifi, so there is little interest and virtually no knowledge in this critical part of any audio system.
If you mentioned room acoustics and associated solutions to everyone who walked through the door of a hi-fi shop, the majority would walk back out, thinking you're trying to extract extra money from them.

Could it be that people who design concert venues and recording studios are wasting their time?
What studios do to the rooms where instruments are recorded, the average listener at home wouldn't even mention to their other half, let alone entertain trying it out. requirements in studios are a little different to home - a studio has to get it right. Or at least they should do anyway. Although, judging by some of the train wrecks that studios put out on a regular basis, maybe you should be preaching to them - you can't polish a turd.

How Much Difference Do Acoustics Make?
In most rooms when you sit just 1.5m from a loudspeaker, you will hear more reflected sound from the room than direct sound from the speaker.
Well that depends on how reflective their room is, so a blanket statement like this is just another scaremongering technique.

Most people sit 3-5m from their loudspeakers so what is heard at the listening position has far more to do with the reflections that the room creates than minor differences between the components they are using.
What hits you first is the direct sound from the loudspeakers. What delays you get after that point depends on room furnishings. And better quality equipment will still make a difference - you make it sound like all equipment will sound the same if you sit 3m from them speaker.

I'm surprised this has been made a sticky given that it comes from an AA - firstly, the reply promotes the AA involved, and secondly it basically speaks negatively of many other AAs, something that the AA in question does on a regular basis in as many other threads as possible.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
5 years ago the AVForum shot a number of videos of me talking about why good audio equipment doesn’t guarantee good sound.

At the time most of the talk on the Forum was about product A being better than product B, however almost nothing was being said about the biggest obstacle to good home audio – the acoustics of the room.

The videos and the Forum in general have done a superb job of raising this critical issue that is typically ignored by those who sell hifi and home cinemas.

Room design and treatment, acoustics and room correction are now a hot topic of conversation here and even the casual visitor will realise that this is something that needs looking at if they want to be sure of great sound.

A recent thread started by a very well-known and respected Forum member who had a high end system made up of a list of “best in class” equipment provided an excellent opportunity for me to show how just buying the best is no guarantee of quality.

From the photos I saw of his system on the Forum I could tell that I could create much better music and surround in his room using cheaper equipment. I said what I’d recommend and why and then set the system up in the clients home. You can read his response to my efforts here.

High end music and movie sitting room install | AVForums

The problem is that a really good cinema or hifi needs a mix of skills. Retailers recommend new equipment, acoustic companies recommend more treatment, acousticians recommend room design, calibrators recommend calibration.

The truth is there is no magic bullet to good audio and a mix of all these skills is necessary.

The problem is finding all the skills in one place and this is what Gecko offers and is probably why we are so busy.
 

Member 116841

Distinguished Member
I answer forum member's questions on here, and if I feel there is something blatantly wrong with their system, I'll point it out. Much of the time, they're limited in various ways, and their systems are a result of budget and circumstance.

I've replied in this thread to point out your continued scaremongering and constant slagging off of the hi-fi industry. Just take the title - "why good audio equipment sounds bad" - that generalisation just says it all.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
99% of high end hifi systems will give highly innacurate sound. This isnt a matter of opinion but something that is easily measurable.

This is why, unlike yourself, the AVForum obviously felt the video was relevant.

Home cinema systems have lots of ways of reducing acoustic problems. The vast majority of HiFi systems do not have any way of minimising these issues. Again this isn't a matter of opinion but measurable fact.

Do you would have suggestions as to how you would upgrade Richards systems or not?
 

Member 116841

Distinguished Member
99% of high end hifi systems will give highly innacurate sound. This isnt a matter of opinion but something that is easily measurable.
Like many of your promotional tactics, that's an incorrect statement. Many high end, and even mid priced and budget hi-fi products will give highly accurate sound - the room is then the final factor that affects our perception of what we are hearing. What is coming out of those products - including the speakers - is fine, otherwise they wouldn't have measured well in a lab or anechoic booth.

I fully appreciate that electronic room EQ (despite varying capabilities) is an invisible way to address major room issues. Heavy room treatment is just a no no for the majority unless a dedicated room is an option.

Home cinema systems have lots of ways of reducing acoustic problems. The vast majority of HiFi systems do not have any way of minimising these issues. Again this isn't a matter of opinion but measurable fact.
Another incorrect statement. Hi-Fi systems can have just as many ways to combat acoustic problems as AV systems, but it just isn't something that has been accepted as the norm in hi-fi at the moment. There may be a number of reasons for that - I'm guessing cost is a major one (developing software or licensing someone else's, adding ADC and DAC converters with extra inputs), and also the effect on the integrity of the signal of possibly unnecessary A-D then D-A conversions. Also, many DACs sound very similar, regardless of price, and there's only a handful out there that can really claim to be top quality, and stand out against other products. Chord Electronics are an example of this. So a manufacturer either has to buy off the shelf DACs or develop their own and try and take on then best.

Having said that, more and more products are appearing that are designed for the hi-fi market. Devialet's extremely flexible digital amplifiers are certainly pointers to the future of digital hi-fi, and will very soon include room EQ. Classe's CP800 pre-amplifier (and the Devialet's mentioned above) has a host of options with regards to adding one or two subs to a two channel system, and includes bass management (including crossover slopes) to allow sub/sat systems or hi-fi systems based around small standmount speakers. DSpeaker's Antimode Dual Core allows EQ'ing of a full range pair of speakers, with or without a sub or two - very flexible. It can also be used as a pre-amplifier in a hi-fi system too, with analogue (balanced and unbalanced) and digital inputs. Just add suitable power amplifier or active speakers. I believe Parasound also has an analogue hi-fi pre-amplifier allowing flexibility for sub/sat systems to be used.

One problem with including room EQ in a product is the possibility of it being used incorrectly. The microphone can only measure what it hears, so is open to being "tricked" by the effects of the room on the speaker's output - it doesn't know what the speaker sounds like - so it can't properly remove the effects of the room on the speaker. To do this, the software would need to know exactly how that speaker performs.

Do you would have suggestions as to how you would upgrade Richards systems or not?
No, because despite your generous discounts to a long term friend, he has no more money to improve his system. But despite your claims, the system and the way it works isn't an exclusive thing. I think once digital amplifiers become a standard (I think they're just beginning to mature now, particularly with models from Cyrus, Devialet and Classe), the next step will be room EQ, as well as various other possibilities while the signal is in the digital domain.

I also want to make a point I made in another thread. Accurate sound in the home has never really been the goal of the majority. Since the dawn of hi-fi, people have been listening to vinyl, valve and Class A amps, and various iterations of speakers from boxes to panels. Room EQ was unheard of back then. That is how it has been for many, many decades, and I can't see that many people adopting better accuracy in the home, as most people choose products based on how they sound to them. I've heard comments from numerous people about systems they've heard that are more accurate - many people don't like it. I've played people systems that are more accurate (with or without room EQ), and very few people have actually said, "that's exactly what I want). Many people want a bit of warmth or smoothness, whether that is part of what the electronics are doing or what the room is providing. Not everyone wants to recreate the sound of a live gig in their living room either. Not everyone wants to hang their speakers on the wall - some people want something that is a bit of furniture as well - and there are some beautiful loudspeakers out there, which some people would rather spend £5000 on than a sub/sat system.

Reference vs a preference. Reference is a preference.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
People don’t want good equipment; they want good sound in their rooms.

Hifi shops don’t raise the embarrassing issue that systems will almost certainly sound and measure very differently in the clients home than in their dem rooms.

Thanks to Forums like this, clients are becoming better informed about what is really required to recreate sound accurately and realising they can’t find it in their local hifi shops.

In spite of you spending hours on lengthy replies, you have still been unable to suggest a specific system that would do what his current system will. This is clearly because you are unable to.
 

Member 116841

Distinguished Member
People don’t want good equipment; they want good sound in their rooms.
I agree people want good sound, but they're not going to achieve that with an Alba mini system in a perfect room. People do want good sound - part way to achieving that is good equipment.

Hifi shops don’t raise the embarrassing issue that systems will almost certainly sound and measure very differently in the clients home than in their dem rooms.
Absolute nonsense. Very rarely will the issue of the client's room not come up. Dealers demo rooms are nothing special. They're not purpose built to cheat and get the ultimate sound quality of of products. I can't think of a single product I have heard in any demo room that doesn't sound better at home in a normal situation. Many people who have awkward rooms tend to audition products in their own rooms, as they are fully aware that different rooms have different effects on speakers. I will usually find out as much about their room as possible, asking about room size, wall construction, floor type, listening position in the room and in relation to the speakers, as well as the sort of sound they're trying to achieve, before recommending any speakers for them - there's no "one size fits all" solution for everyone, and as mentioned, people have their preferences. As you've probably not set foot in a hi-fi store recently (maybe not even a decade or two), I doubt you are in the best position to make these various claims against (all) other retailers. I agree there's some cowboys out there, but you'll find good and bad in every other industry.

Thanks to Forums like this, clients are becoming better informed about what is really required to recreate sound accurately and realising they can’t find it in their local hifi shops.
More nonsense. If businesses are going out of business, it's not because they don't dabble in room acoustics - it's because they're not catering for their market properly. You can't please everyone, despite some places that think they can.

Forum members, if they so wish, can choose to learn much of what they need to kno about almost any subject from the various facts and opinions presented on this or any forum to further their knowledge. Even individuals with an internet connection who aren't members of any forum can learn anything they need to know in the same way with a bit of googling.

In spite of you spending hours on lengthy replies, you have still been unable to suggest a specific system that would do what his current system will. This is clearly because you are unable to.
You are clearly unable to read. I gave a perfectly good reason why I'm not going to in my last post.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
Most of my clients do a considerable amount of research before they contact me. As they are well informed they realise that if they want to reproduce the same sound they hear here, in their home, then some form of room correction is essential.

Room correction is a critical feature of almost every surround system. Most hifi systems do not have it which is why their performance varies so much from room to room and is measurably and sonically nothing like live music.

If you could recommend how you would have upgraded Richards’s systems to give the same results I did, I’m sure there would be lots of interest.
 

Member 116841

Distinguished Member
Room correction is a critical feature of almost every surround system. Most hifi systems do not have it which is why their performance varies so much from room to room and is measurably and sonically nothing like live music.
I disagree it is a critical feature. To achieve the goal of a flatter response, yes it is. But a flat response doesnt guarantee audio nirvana.

Room EQ is no more a necessity than multiple speakers, subwoofers, HD pictures etc etc. To enjoy a movie soundtrack, we only need to hear it in conjunction with the picture - Chinatown is enjoyable on a mono 14" CRT TV. I'm guessing many reading this will have no idea what Chinatown is, as it is a dialogue based drama/thriller. Put your demo discs away for a weekend and watch some real films.

As for sounding like live music - nothing sounds like live music, as it is virtually impossible to recreate the real dynamics produced by various instruments. On the whole, loudspeakers are poor substitutes for the real thing.

If you could recommend how you would have upgraded Richards’s systems to give the same results I did, I’m sure there would be lots of interest.
If you're so desparate for an answer - I would've said wait until more is known about Atmos and DTS:X, until there are more speaker options available, and for when there's a decent amount of software out there to audition with. How's that for not taking a penny off him?
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
The most important thing the client was looking for was an improvement to the stereo performance, so your suggestion completely misses the his brief.

When people are made aware of what a huge difference room correction can make to stereo or surround sound performance and this is demonstrated, they want it.

Do you do this for your customers?

If so what room correction do you demonstrate in you high end stereo systems?
 

mattkhan

Distinguished Member
If I may intrude on your private debate for a moment....

I disagree it is a critical feature. To achieve the goal of a flatter response, yes it is. But a flat response doesnt guarantee audio nirvana.
a smoother, not flatter, response is consistently shown to be preferred. Both from the in room response and from the speakers themselves. It's unarguably a good target to have once you remove the preference of specific individuals for some particular coloration of the sound. If you put all the pieces together, that make up good sound, then the probability that you will enjoy good sound will go up. Are you arguing against that *in principle* or just about its relative merits?

Room EQ is no more a necessity than multiple speakers, subwoofers, HD pictures etc etc. To enjoy a movie soundtrack, we only need to hear it in conjunction with the picture - Chinatown is enjoyable on a mono 14" CRT TV. I'm guessing many reading this will have no idea what Chinatown is, as it is a dialogue based drama/thriller. Put your demo discs away for a weekend and watch some real films.
a subjective assessment of the artistic merit of particular content is irrelevant in this discussion. If someone likes a terrible brainless action film then that's a perfectly valid choice for that individual & there are great films with bad soundtracks & terrible films with great soundtracks (and everything in between). What difference does that make to the pursuit of high quality audio?
 

ellisr63

Standard Member
I believe the room is the most important part of the system and is the part that is usually overlooked. When we built our HT we tried to make the room sound as good as we could with our budget system.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
David-if you think that no hifi sounds like live music you should read the enclosed.

The Steinway Lyngdorf Model D music system was put on stage next to live pianists in a concert hall and played to an auduince familar with the venue and classical music. They had to ask the pianists to leave the stage becuase people didnt believe they were listening to the hifi.
 

Attachments

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Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
Here is article which shows that even the most discerning listners cannot tell the difference between the live performance and the Steinway Lyngdorf Model D music system.

The A/B comparision between the live performance and the music system was held in front of over 500 hundred experienced classical music lovers in a Concert Hall.....

"At times, the two pianists would also play in unison with the Model D recording and during the
rehearsal even Professor Natalia of the Moscow Conservatory of Music could not tell the difference between the live concert and the recording coming from the Music System."

The system was set up the same day the presentation was made and the comparion was made with a Steinway & Sons Model D piano - one of the most demnading of instruments to reproduce.
 

Attachments

  • Russia Piano V Steinway Audio.pdf
    486.4 KB · Views: 34

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