OUTING AUDIO ENGINEERING ORTHODOXY
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"Audio engineers....not courageous enough to embrace paradox"
                Dr. Gizmo

"Music is a meaningless noise, unless it touches a receiving mind"
                               Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)


Be a Beacon
of Beaudacity

OUTING THE AUDIO INDUSTRY’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Like millions of others, you have been bombarded with advertisements and audio reviews that claim .0005% distortion, or "60 watts of perfect power", or "better than perfect...distortionless circuit". Of course you would think that 1% distortion is better than 4% distortion because less distortion is always better, and of course 60 watts will play a loudspeaker much louder than 10 watts. Right? No, very wrong, and it is soooooo wrong that I have repeatedly asserted, in my writings, that the classic model of audio engineering, the intellectual foundation upon which the entire audio industry is built is exactly like the Communist party....a brilliantly consistent idea that has no relationship to reality: a completely dysfunctional idea. And let me go further and assert that this model exists for only one reason: to help sell audio equipment at the lowest IQ level possible. And I have gone further to claim that the reason that the audio arts haven’t advanced at a more rapid rate is because its core ethos is obsolete, and incomplete. Can I turn the hot poker a little harder? The reason that digital audio has been a series of artistic snafus, and not yet delivered on its promises, is because the conventional model of audio engineering is blind to its problems....in the same way Communism is blind to democracy, individual initiative and the profit motive.

"Audio engineering science" is about as scientific as Cindy Crawford’s belly button, and is based on measuring steady state noise with test equipment which is about as close to our experience of music as my tear is to Niagra Falls. Real music passing through an audio system is a series of very complex harmonic shock waves. These tests assume that measuring steady state noise distortion has some clear correlation to how the device we are testing will distort a music signal. Of course not one "audio engineer- scientist" has ever attempted to conduct a correlation test between noise/distortion tests and musical perception; one that would test the validity of their noise tests, and for a good reason. The conventional model of audio testing is akin to saying that we are going to measure the quality of the taste of this wine by measuring its color with this spectrometer, because we think that color is somehow related to taste quality, but we can’t be sure.

I can also comfortably assert that there are more meaningful tests of audio gear, but they would be much more informative, terrify consumers and end the sale of audio equipment, because all of the "romance" of low distortion would evaporate.

I will repeat this theme over and over again...the audio tests you read in magazines are hype, hoopla, nonsense, intellectually insulting, artistically dishonest, and designed to make you believe that there is some relationship between steady state noise distortion testing and perceived musical quality. It is marketing hype of the worst kind, and all people who uses these tests to sell you "stuff" will eventually spend eternity in boom box hell listening to rap music CDs that are skipping for all of eternity...as their punishment.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MEASURE MUSIC QUALITY: Let me explain this dilemma very simply: Can we measure love? The answer is obviously NO, because the experience exists only within the soul of the human who experiences it. It does not exist, as a concrete reality, independent and outside the human who is experiencing this emotion. You can’t weigh or measure it, yet there is no doubt in your being when you are experiencing it, and it is the most concrete thing you have ever experienced, when it is present, and there is never any doubt about it. I can attach measuring devices to you that measures the electrical energy in your brain or your heart beat, that will clearly indicate you are now in advanced state of arousal, but this test equipment would get the same results if you were watching an NFL game or watching a boxing match, and these tests can not discriminate between your thrill at a touchdown or an orgasm.

 

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Copyright© 2004      Meta-Gizmo.com and Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg      All rights reserved.
All the material contained within the above articles may not be reproduced without his express permission.

 

 

So how do we make measurements of musical quality, when music is exactly the same type of experience as love? Music has no independent existence outside of our being. There is no music out there; it is only in our body and soul. You can’t buy a pound of it, or objectively say, "this is a better quality music experience than that", and no test equipment can every fathom the deep emotional experience you are having with your favorite music, or the differences in the music quality associated with different equipment.

The judgment of music quality is also determined by culture, both on the micro and macro level. The sound of the Japanese language, the taste of their food, art and music have a profound effect on their judgments of music quality. The same is true for you, and on the micro level, your experience of music is totally and completely unique, which is why what pushes your "musical ecstasy button" is so different than your friends. So who is the authority on music pleasure.

( NOTE...I can’t make a scientific case for the superiority of tube circuits, but can only suggest that there is generations of folk wisdom that should be studied. My job is akin to convincing you that fine French Champagne is better than the bubbly stuff made in New Jersey)

This fact, that music quality is unmeasurable, is known by every audio company and every audio engineer, and has been true since the beginning of the audio arts almost one hundred years ago, but..... how do we sell these toys to men if we can’t use numbers to describe goodness, like batting average or RBIs, or 38-22-34? Men need numbers as a guide to making decisions! That’s right dudes, those distortion numbers used in those audio tests are used, not because they describe the quality of music that a circuit or speaker can create, but to help sell you equipment.

Let me get you deeper into the bogusity of the audio engineering model: FACT: the only way to measure the quality of an amplifier is to measure it when it is connected to a loudspeaker which is making music....not on a test bench with a resistor. Problem is that the acoustic environment, the room, that this equipment is tested in is as an important determinant of quality as the amplifier and speaker. Have you ever seen an audio review that measures the electrical performance of an amplifier doing its intended work, which is being connected to a loudspeaker in a real living space, so together that they can convert electrical energy into mechanical energy? Never, and for a good reason..... it is impossible.

Let me repeat: You have never seen an amplifier evaluation while the amplifier was making music while it is attached to a speaker, because how do you isolate the contribution that each is making to the judgment of music quality....because the room, the speaker, and the amplifier are a wholey one unity; they are an organic totally interdependent electro-mechanical system.

The model audio testing that you see in magazines is akin to evaluating a car’s driving performance while it is standing still in a parking lot. If an amplifier’s job is to amplifier music then the only way to evaluate its performance is when it is making music and is attached to a speaker in a room. But again, and again.... how do we separate the contribution to the sound quality that the speaker, or the room is making? And how do we know the quality of the input signal? If that wasn’t daunting enough, as your system is being played all of its electrical characteristics and interaction is changing because as the voice coils get hot, and as the components warm up...everything shifts. Get me some Prozac.

CALL A SPADE A SPADE: In the end the judgments about music quality are judgments about PLEASURE, which is a word that is taboo in audio engineering. Pleasure is terrifying to any audio engineer because it doesn’t exist in their world. It can’t because it can’t be measured. What a fabulous paradox: we listen to music for pleasure, and we all want to know what audio gear will give us the greatest pleasure, yet audio engineering can’t measure the quality of the very reason that audio gear exists...and again.... are too intellectual frail to admit this paradox.

When we add back in your totally unique experience of music, what do all of these test figures tell you? The answer is SQUAT, NADA, ZIP, ZERO. But more importantly. WHY HAVEN’T THE LIMITATION OF ALL OF THESE TEST BEEN COMMUNICATED CLEARLY TO YOU LIKE THE WARNING ON A PACK OF CIGARETTES?

That is why when I am elected President I will pass a law that will make mandatory a warning which will appear in all audio advertising:

ALERT! NO ONE HAS EVER MEASURED THE MUSIC QUALITY OF ANY AUDIO DEVICE. THE NOISE MEASUREMENT FIGURES APPEARING IN THIS ADVERTISEMENT ARE IRRELEVANT AND HAVE NO RELATIONSHIP TO MUSIC QUALITY.

Does that mean that all measurement is useless. Absolutely NOT. The best way to look at these measurement tests is as "warning sign posts". For example: When ever you see a loudspeaker impedance measurement chart that starts to dip below 8 ohms you are looking at trouble, and when it dips to 2 ohms a red flashing light should go off in your head. This type of speaker is to be avoided.

You will note in tube amplifier measurements that they can not test as well as transistor amps because transistor amps are designed to test well, and not to sound good, and anyone can apply enough feedback to a circuit to cancel distortion with the byproduct of turdy sound.

The most sophisticated test equipment are valuable tools for the audio designer in the same way your computer is valuable tool for word processing. An audio engineer must use these sophisticated test tools for measurement during the design process, but never believe for one moment that lower distortion figures automatically equate to a higher quality music experience. I have been in the most sophisticated audio laboratories of the biggest audio companies, who have consistently designed, in spite of their vast technical research resources, very mediocre sounding equipment. And remember this....Owning the best musical instruments doesn’t make you a great musician.

Designing audio circuits has always and will always be an art, which is why the Japanese audiomaniacs love tube electronics. They trust their sense of musical beauty, and, to be sure they use their oscilloscopes, but they are not naive enough to believe that the picture on the screen of the squiggley line is telling them about the quality music they will experience.

THE ZEN CHALLENGE AND SOLUTION

If you are taking a journey and don’t have a compass you will get lost, and with the search for musical ecstasy you must have an internal compass, and it is your whole-istic being, and not any deep intellectual process. It is just the opposite...it is process deep in your body and soul. It is time to turn off your head and surrender to your physical longings.

If you don’t know, no explanation is possible, and if you know no explanation is necessary. This is the truth about music, and creating a music system. You can buy all of the audio gizmos in the world and not achieve musical ecstasy in your living room. You can buy all of the equipment that has the best "tests" and connect them and create the worst sound mish mash.

Which is why I suggest listenING carefully to real instruments. Listen carefully to the human voice. Spend time walking in the woods just listening. If you live in a city, go to street corner and close your eyes and just listen.

A REMINDER: Reading every sex and love making manual doesn’t make anyone into a great lover. Being smart has nothing to do with our capacity to experience ecstasy.

Buy the simplest, least expensive tube audio system, and be sure that the speakers have the right electrical characteristics...and start the process of opening your heart to the mystery of music. Your heart is the best and only audio critic.

 

Back to The Triode Guild               Back to Meta-Gizmo   

e-mail Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg: drgizmo@meta-gizmo.com

Copyright© 2004      Meta-Gizmo.com and Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg      All rights reserved.
All the material contained within the above articles may not be reproduced without his express permission.