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Building a high quality audio system [video] (youtube.com)
113 points by brudgers 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments

Well, I'll take that guy's system over mine for sure.


For those unfamiliar with the hobby I'd like to mention something, however: you can have an objectively very good system for not too much money.

The research of (among others) Dr. Floyd Toole (formerly of Harman International) makes a very persuasive case that the "best" audio system is simply one that reproduces the input signal accurately, both on- and off-axis. There's no secret sauce, really. It's all in the measurements.

This can be achieved rather affordably. Monitors from JBL (a Harman company) and Kali (former Harman engineers) such as the JBL 305/306/308 and competing models from Kali were built around these principles and accomplish this starting at prices of several hundred $USD.

While formerly "audiophiles" were associated with snake oil and unlimited budgets, there are growing legions of those who subscribe to a more objectivist take on the hobby.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com (I have no affiliation) is one place to find such reviews and discussions.

I'm not an expert but have been in the hobby for a while and would be happy to answer questions if anybody's had interest in the hobby but hasn't known where/how to get started.

The snake oil victims really turned me off conversing with other hi fi hobbyists. Pseudo-science about cables, ethernet hubs for audio, utter nonsense about jitter. Endless arguments about blind testing and the "your ears aren't good enough to appreciate the sound that I can hear" sniffery and veiled snobbery. The insufferable Stereophile magazine and the nonsense it continues to peddle. Horrifying.

Yeah, I've always loved music and good audio, but I pretty much gave up on the hobby for a decade or two because the main sources of information (i.e. industry magazines) were so absurdly pseudo-science. But, as the grandparent of this post points out, there has been a real renaissance of information and discussion on the internet that isn't bought and paid for by snake oil salesmen and it's the best time ever to get a great audio system for little money.

A bunch of Chinese companies (Topping, etc.) have actually jumped on the objectivist bandwagon are cranking out (relatively) inexpensive DACs, amps, etc. that are world-leading in measured performance (at any price).

Like everything internet, the 'objectivist' audiophile world can be a bit of an echo chamber, but real progress is being made towards non-trivial questions like how one should measure the performance of headphones and speakers, what the ideal actually is, and what deviations from that ideal make the most difference.

Yeah it's a real golden era for the hobby, if you ask me. By my reckoning one can have an objectively excellent system for a small/medium residential room for well under $700. The primary difference between that a more capable system would be the horsepower required to achieve the desired SPL levels in larger spaces and/or reproduce recorded material with a large dynamic range.

Even casual consumer gear is getting better these days. A lot of these little home speakers (HomePod mini, etc) put out some pretty reasonable sound: tonally correct, low distortion, etc. The objectivist approach is trickling up as well as down.

    but real progress is being made towards 
    non-trivial questions like how one should 
    measure the performance of headphones and 
    speakers, what the ideal actually is, and 
    what deviations from that ideal make the 
    most difference. 
Amen. If anything, the objectivist community might actually veer too far into objectivity at this point, lol. Lots of nitpicking over small differences that show up in measurements but are certainly inaudible.

I think the next frontier is a stronger correlation between measurements and listener preference/audibility. We know that better-measuring gear sounds better. But the correlation between better measurements and listener preference is far from linear.

> the main sources of information (i.e. industry magazines) were so absurdly pseudo-science.

This is true of almost any industry magazine that does reviews. It's all trash, gamed, manipulated, paid for.

The bike magazines are utter trash, with everyone mocking phrases like "horizontally compliant, vertically stiff" which used to be a given for carbon frame bike reviews, and keep shouting about efficiency in "power transfer." I wish I were joking when i say these idiots used to claim that the soles of your cycling shoes were not "transferring" power "efficiently." It's now easy to buy a bike that weighs less than the bikes run in the TdF (which has a minimum weight limit for safety/reliability.)

PC hardware, especially cooling stuff? Trash. Reviews will claim x degrees temperature reduction but not tell you the room temperature or humidity, or even noise level. Reviews are heavily, heavily 'paid for' in that companies just send hardware free to reviewers and if they don't say nice things, they stop getting hardware for free which kills them off pretty rapidly.

Photography magazines, same thing. They don't tell you that all their reviews are all based off gear provided to them that has been likely hand-assembled very carefully, and extensively tweaked and calibrated for the press circuit. The $500 lens you buy off the shelf a year later? Nowhere near the QA went into it than did the lens that was shipped to Photography Wank Magazine. Not a single photography magazine blind-purchases their gear retail. Not a single one looks at more than one sample.

Car reviews? It's all a focus on performance and looks, and nothing to little about repairability, reliability, depreciation. They wax poetic about all sorts of subjective bullshit about a brand or model. I'm a car guy. It's a bunch of steel and rubber and aluminum, made to a price for a particular market segment. Car manufactures have been caught specifically setting up cars for particular auto reviewers; most famously, Top Gear caught Ferrari specifically modifying their cars for Top Gear's test track and putting much stickier, expensive tires on. Ferrari responded by refusing to provide review cars to Top Gear, and when TG found private owners to loan them cars...prohibiting owners from allowing any Top Gear staff to use their car for a review. If you were found out, Ferrari would ban you from buying a Ferrari, or just not give you the normal priority for new models.

Tech companies are now getting caught cheapening their hardware right after reviews come out and early retail sales. Most commonly with SSDs; they make a really sweet SSD model with a great controller/DRAM/flash chips and then a month or two later quietly switch out the controller, use less/no DRAM, use lower grade flash, etc.

The bullshit generation has shifted to "creators" - people who make videos telling a 'story' about the 'experience' and kinda sorta reviewing the product, but they have little or no qualification to objectively review the item in question. So you have guys who are tech youtubers reviewing electric cars but they don't know shit about cars, tech reviewers reviewing bicycles and bicycle products they don't know shit about, etc. PR firms specifically seek out reviewers who aren't experts in a particular product category or industry because they don't know what to look for or how something compares to what else is on the market.

Not even stuff from supposedly reputable reviewers is trustworthy anymore. Wirecutter, now bought by the NY Times? Every time I've trusted their reviews, the product I ended up with turned out to have glaringly obvious flaws the somehow expert panel of reviewers didn't notice or mention. They're also in the habit of comparing very old products they've owned and used for ages against new stuff, and recommending buying the old product. For example: their vacuum cleaner review recommends a Miele vacuum they've had for years. If you read the Amazon reviews, you see plain as day comments talking about how the model is no longer made in country X but country Y to a much lower cost, and the new models are junk that fall apart/fail like crazy.

Another example: I bought a set of sheets recommended by Wirecutter. They were garbage, fell apart rapidly. Reading the comments later on the store website, I see drumroll please they clearly changed the sheets - people saying the manufacturer had clearly changed suppliers or something.

Another example: a set of bluetooth earbuds. The Wirecutter review neglected to mention that the proprietary charge connector adapter hadn't been available for over a year, which meant your $150 headphones were "totalled" by losing a $20 piece of plastic. It also neglected to mention that powering them up played a booming theme song, and any event triggered a voice actor shouting things like "HEADPHONES CONNECTED!" or "BATTERY LOW!" in your ears, genuinely startling if you're listening to some quiet meditative music. The volume of these effects did not match the set volume for the headset and if you looked in the forums - people had been BEGGING the company to do something about it for YEARS. Which they did not, despite bragging about how their smartphone app should be installed because it could do firmware updates.

Your description of reality is accurate, and reality just sucks in this case.

    Photography magazines, same thing. They don't tell you that 
    all their reviews are all based off gear provided to them 
    that has been likely hand-assembled very carefully
The obvious answer is for reviewers to purchase their own products outright at retail, like Consumer Reports always did. A lot of outlets do this, but it's often impractical.

Some amateur reviewers rely on samples sent/lent to them by fans. Lots of audio equipment, watch, and car reviewers do this to name a few I'm familiar with.

Of course that can also lead to the opposite problem. Instead of getting above-spec, hand-picked models from the manufacturer they may wind up with products that perform worse than the typical sample.

One "middle ground" that works is some companies will ship review copies to reviewers straight from Amazon. I've received review products in this manner. Not perfect, but at least they weren't handpicked by the mfr.

    Another example: I bought a set of sheets 
    recommended by Wirecutter. They were garbage, 
    fell apart rapidly. Reading the comments later 
    on the store website, I see drumroll please 
    they clearly changed the sheets - people 
    saying the manufacturer had clearly changed 
    suppliers or something.
Wirecutter makes a pretty decent effort to update their reviews when information like this comes in, but yeah -- I wish they were more proactive about this.

It's tough to know what the answer is. It seems impractical for a reviewer to continually re-buy every product they've ever reviewed every N months to check for quality issues. Crowdsourcing it and monitoring recent user reviews from Amazon etc seems like the only remotely viable option, but still a massive timesink.

    Every time I've trusted their reviews, the product 
    I ended up with turned out to have glaringly obvious 
    flaws the somehow expert panel of reviewers didn't 
    notice or mention
I can't say I've shared your experience. I've bought dozens of things based on their recommendations. Far from perfect but I have a generally high opinion of them.

    Car reviews? It's all a focus on performance and 
    looks, and nothing to little about repairability, 
    reliability, depreciation. 
I have to cut the auto mags a little slack here. How could a reviewer know about the reliability of a new car? You've got to put 50-100K miles on a car before you can even really assess that. That's like 100+ days of heavy driving. And even then, your sample size is one. So not even useful. You'd have to buy a fleet of the vehicle in question and have dozens of reviewers putting serious miles on them. I don't think that's something new-car reviewers could even tackle, so it's better that they stick to what they can do.

It's been a while since I've read them, but Motor Trend and Car & Driver always did long-term reliability updates. Admittedly it was only for a subset of the vehicles they reviewed.

Car & Driver was a great magazine, sometimes tough to get down under and two thirds of the cars were unobtainable here, but the level of journalism was great. Kinda lost the appetite for car magazines when the fun cars got sold for kiddie haulers and I realised a lot of the magazines I was reading were full of wankery arounds seconds to 60 when all I wanted to know was miles to breakdown.

Same here. It's why I avoided the hobby for years and years.

Those magazines like Stereophile were caught in an unavoidable spiral. They were reliant on advertising dollars from the snake-oil peddlers.

The good news is, you would not be alone in the hobby these days - there's a really robust segment of the hobby who holds that snake oil stuff in utter contempt. AudioScienceReview is a good objectivist community; NYT/Wirecutter's audio coverage is commendably reality-based, and so on.

They have to balance things like audio being delivered by streaming mp3s from phones to a tv's built in speakers. Something I encountered at a party, equally horrifying.

Too many people measure the quality of their audio by how much bass comes out of their oddly shaped bluetooth speakers and are excited about the built-in light show it provides.

It's understandable that people want wireless control. When most software is proprietary/web-based, the easiest local solution is streaming mp3s via bluetooth.

Harman regularly runs sales on the Studio 5 series and Infinity Reference series at practically give-away prices. And there has been almost no shortage during the pandemic either. They must've built thousands of these and have them all in a huge warehouse in Kentucky.

I mean it's ridiculous. I purchased these for $700/pair earlier this year and now they are on sale for $600/pair:


They just had the R253 on sale for $300/pair last week but they sold through them all (for now):


The Spinorama data from ASR and other sources is online here:


Another site that collects these charts:


Finally, measuring subwoofers is a separate endeavor:


Collected in this Google Sheet:


$100 off a $700 pair of speakers is not "practically give-away prices."

Normal price on the Studio 580 is $700 each. They are a very good value at $700/pair and an even more exceptional value at $600/pair. Free shipping. Try in your home for 30 days and send them back to Harman on their dime if you don’t like them. The R253 at $300/pair is an even crazier value.

When Harman has these lines of speakers on sale at 50-62% off you simply won’t find a nicer speaker at that price, especially once you factor in that Harman allows for 30-day in-home evals and free returns.

this has been a priceless set of reads/links tyvm

As it happens, tonight j was researching upgrades to my motorcycle’s audio system and learning things about frequency response, crossover, headroom, etc. Here are the questions I have yet to answer:

1. Will using a higher power amp with higher power and somewhat higher quality speakers give me more clarity of sound? I don’t care for loud as much as being able to hear the music.

2. Is there any point in installing a subwoofer on a motorcycle? The reason I ask is that it seems as though in order to properly install and integrate a sub you need a housing for it that won’t resonate with it or make any sounds of movement, creaking, etc. That seems rather impossible where you might normally install it: fiberglass saddlebags or the trunk/tour pack. Also, won’t the engine and exhaust noise simply drown out the bass?

3. If no sub, then how long should frequencies on a 2 component speaker go? I have a choice of 60-80Hz as the lower limit.

4. Can non-marine grade speakers be made waterproof on the output side?

5. The amp I have says it strongly prefers RCA/line input over speaker level high input. Why is that? Also, my stock radio doesn’t have line level output. Should I get an external high level to line level adapter or try the one built into the amp?

Will any of this compare to my Bose QC35s?

1) it will give you clarity at a louder level

2) thats kinda personal, I would say no. Subs also benefit from the enclosed car. I guess anything is possible though. Plus your on a motorcycle, its going to travel a lot more.

3) you're overthinking it, you're on a motorcycle

4) not that i'm aware of, but I don't really know, i'm sure it's possible.

5) Hi level is more prone to pick up interference. I don't quite understand the second part, hi level is radio output to the speaker. Don't really understand that part either

6?) sound quality? No you're on a motorcycle. Wearing them instead? I feel like there are other reasons you shouldn't

Thanks! What I meant in 5: my receiver can output to speakers only. My amp can accept line level or speaker level input, but says it prefers line level. Would I get better results by connecting the speaker level receiver output directly to the amp or is it better to instead get a separate preamp to bring receiver output to line level then connect that to the amp.

I think I will try the former first.

Oh no, its only worth converting if you are picking up interference. If you avoid runs near power sources you should be ok. Its also worth checking your grounds first if you do pick some up

Your best audio on a motorcyle will be with "In Ear Monitors" and a personal audio player (like a phone or ipod).

These will have the benefit of also reducing wind and engine noises.

But will come with a safety issue.

    Will using a higher power amp with higher 
    power and somewhat higher quality speakers 
    give me more clarity of sound?
Vast simplification, but: amplifiers sound more or less equally good until pushed to their limits, at which point they distort and sound bad. A 3W amp played at low volumes won't sound any better or worse than a 3,000W amp at equally low levels.

Small differences in wattage between amplifiers can be ignored.

To sound twice as loud to the human ear, you need 10x the amplifier power. Literally. Like a lot of our sensory organs the ears function on a more or less logarithmic scale. Or, you can use more sensitive speakers.

This is for indoor use, but you can play around with the numbers here to get an idea of the difference that amplifier output and speaker sensitivity make when it comes to actual sound pressure levels: http://myhometheater.homestead.com/splcalculator.html

Perhaps even more importantly, manufacturers lie liberally about the power produced by their amplifiers. Car audio is especially bad about this. They advertise a "3,000W" amp -- but it generally only produces this power for a millisecond and it does so at ridiculously high distortion levels.

This guy tests audio amps, typically car audio amps, and can tell you their actual output: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGW-qPM8-xJE4-uSLA5BAGQ

     Is there any point in installing a subwoofer on a motorcycle? 
I don't have any experience with motorcycle audio whatsoever, but it takes a LOT of power and BIG speakers to produce bass in open spaces. A 12" subwoofer that is deafening in a car or living room won't sound loud in an open field. I suspect a motorcycle would be closer to the latter.

But, I guess just research what others have done with their bikes.

    If no sub, then how long should frequencies on a 2 component 
    speaker go? I have a choice of 60-80Hz as the lower limit.
Neither is very deep. It's just hard to make bass in open spaces. The lowest string on a bass guitar with standard tuning is about 40hz, though most music is mastered to sound good on speakers that don't go that deep.

    Can non-marine grade speakers be made waterproof on the output side?
That sounds impossible to me. To be waterproof you need a completely sealed enclosure and that rules out most speakers. Most non-weather proof speakers have ports (air holes) because it's the only way they can produce bass from a small size. But some sealed speakers have passive radiators instead of ports which accomplish the same thing.

    Will any of this compare to my Bose QC35s? 
Not even close.

The first point you make is really answering the question I was trying to ask, so thanks girl the efficient mind reading!

I am happy with the current volume but clarity and taking out some of the “tin” out of the sound would be nice. I am looking at going from a 15W RMS per channel to 75W (amp was tested by a YouTuber to actually give about 89W before distortion kicks in), going into 100W RMS/200W peak speakers that do 60-20k Hz wit sensitivity of 91 dB. The speakers will also go from 5.25” to 6.5” so hoping that’ll give them a less compressed sound.

But sounds like I should be just riding in the Bose headphones anyways :)

Have you factored in how much energy your alternator can produce?

Yeah the JBL 305 is a kickass powered monitor, esp for the price. Pair that with a preamp and some rca -> trs cables and you’ve got a seriously good sounding setup.

I have a question. Do amps matter? As long as it is not clipping and it is designed to not color the sound.

Yes and no.

A competently designed and implemented amp should be indistinguishable from any other competently designed and implemented amp in their operating ranges.

Not all amps are competently designed and implemented. Price is not a good indication; there are very cheap well-made amps and very expensive lousy amps, and vice-versa.

Here's a fairly recent comparison of two amps specifically chosen to highlight differences:


The frequency response delta graph shows differences of 5dB at many different ranges; an average person can reliably hear 3dB differences without training.

That said, the vast majority of speakers have frequency responses with much larger swings than many amps, and much higher distortion.

Thank you. Interesting read.

> JBL 305

You mean LSR305? Have those sitting on my desk.

305P Mk ii, its current iteration (LSR305 was discontinued a few years back):


Nice. With speakers that cheap being so good you wonder why you need more.

I have a pair. They are indeed really nice. The built-in amplifier is pretty wimpy though - they don't get very loud at all.

I have the 306P from the newer mk2 lineup and I agree. You only need/want more if you want deep bass or big output/dynamics.

As a data point, I've recently hooked up the LSR310S (subwoofer) to my LSR305P mk2's. It definitely makes for a very positive difference when listening to music and watching movies.

(setting up a much cheaper 7.1 system using these as the foundation components now :>)

Well, one man's snake oil is another man's hobby, or whatever. I am not there with him, but I kind of understand a little. I inherited a collection of rare jazz and classical 78's from my favorite uncle when I was 15 (1973), he was a DJ at a radio station at a liberal arts college. He was my favorite uncle because when everyone else at a family reunion was arguing about fords vs. chevy or whatever, he and I would be off talking about Jazz, Blues, Rock, and all kinds of things. I have treasured them, he also willed me his vintage Victrola. I have not played most of them to preserve them. I have been experimenting and working on how to record them without harming them for years and I think I am almost there. Optics is no good, I have tried that, but this is real vinyl and there is a reactivity and response of the material that optics does not capture. I have developed what I call a software defined turntable that uses an FPGA to dynamically select equalization and control the speed, which varies during recordings.

Sorry, I am rambling. My point is, some of us are kooks, I guess. But, here is the thing, music can do that to a person. And other emotions. Never judge someone why they are obsessed, just enjoy the wonder of it.

I love that guy, good for him, enjoy my fellow traveler, enjoy.

Hmm, I thought 78s were made from pretty strong stuff, and that the needle was the wearing part when playing those old discs? Why would you worry about harming them when playing?

Modern vinyl, I understand is softer and will wear with repeated plays but the old 78s should hold up much much better?

Is he an Instagrammer?

The ultimate system was probably the one in the screening room at Dolby Labs on Potero in San Francisco. The entire room was supported on anti-vibration mounts, isolated from the rest of the structure by an air gap. Outside that was a foot of acoustic insulation. The speakers are built into big chambers in the walls hidden by grille cloth screens. There's a control and projection room at the back. You didn't even see the system. Which is the point. The equipment should not distract from the show.

The room also had good enough acoustics that a speaker didn't need amplification to address 90 people.

I was there once for a demo of spatial audio for video games. We could hear the enemies sneaking up behind us. They had full hemisphere speaker coverage.

The room wasn't particularly luxurious. It was a working facility for the industry.

Dolby has since moved to a larger facility and built a new, larger screening room. I haven't seen that one.

All the room effort is a good point. This guy's listening room appears to be an acoustically odd shape with a lot of hard, echoy surfaces. The room acoustics likely dominate any benefits he hears after the first $5,000.

That said, I suspect he has more fun building the room than anything.

The guy's room seems pretty good acoustically.

The main thing is avoiding resonances / room modes. These will cause peaks and nulls in the frequency response that cannot be fixed with EQ. The primary way to do this is to avoid right angles; it looks like he has largely done this. In a more typical room where right angles are a fact of life, furnishings and bass traps can help with this.

The (lack of) sound absorption is kind of a tricky issue to discuss in a brief manner.

On an objective level w.r.t to room interactions, this guy's seating area is closer to the speakers than the side walls. That makes this a nearfield arrangement, meaning that the direct sound from the speakers will be greater in magnitude than reflected sound from the walls. This alone will minimize the effect of reflections.

On a subjective level w.r.t. room interactions, somewhat counterintuitively the goal for enjoyable listening is not to create a purely anechoic room totally free from room effects: this sounds unnatural and essentially just recreates a headphones listening experience. One can save a lot of money by strapping on a pair of headphones if that's what's desired. The human brain is, frankly, rather amazing at doing its own "room correction" and hearing through room issues anyway, as long as they're not massive peaks and nulls.

I'd pay some decent money for time in that room! Maybe not a lot of money. But some.

    The entire room is supported on anti-vibration 
    mounts, isolated from the rest of the structure 
    by an air gap. Outside that is a foot of acoustic
Tangentially: the noise floor in a "normal" residential room is one reason why technically inferior formats such as vinyl records continue to be enjoyed by many. By the numbers, vinyl is objectively inferior to many digital formats. However, the average residential room has a noise floor of something like 30-40dB anyway. So, under normal listening conditions, vinyl tends to sound quite good compared to modern technology.

(edit) This could have been phrased better. What I meant was: when you look at "the specs", vinyl is vastly inferior to CD-quality digital audio. However, real world listening conditions render many of these advantages moot. For example, vinyl has a higher noise floor than CD audio - but this and other "flaws" of vinyl are essentially rendered moot thanks to real world listening/playback conditions that mask them.

I don't understand, how does vinyl improve the noise floor issue?

I probably could have phrased that better.

What I mean is:

- vinyl is technically inferior to CD-quality digital audio, by a longshot

- one reason among others is: vinyl's noise floor is higher than CD-quality digital audio

- however, the "disadvantages" of vinyl are somewhat mooted by real-world listening and playback conditions. for example: the approx. 30-40dB noise floor present in many residential rooms. that environmental noise floor is going to mask a lot of vinyl's flaws, rendering them somewhat irrelevant in the real world.

Vinyl's noise floor is heavily rumble-centric. We can't hear that as easily and when we do we can hear through it very easily. Also, our hearing's evolved to hear past intrusive transients like crackle or leaf rustling, so in every sense the noise floor of vinyl is incredibly deceptive.

    Vinyl's noise floor is heavily rumble-centric. 
Yup. Additionally, this roughly correlates with the noise floor in a "typical" room. The walls themselves do a great job of attenuating high-frequency noise from outside the room. The outside noise that does penetrate into a closed room will be in the lower frequencies.

    Also, our hearing's evolved to hear past intrusive 
    transients like crackle or leaf rustling, so in 
    every sense the noise floor of vinyl is incredibly 
Very well put.

I'd never considered this angle, but in a way a higher noise floor could be an advantage. If the noise on the recording medium drowns out traffic noise, the fridge, the heater, etc. it could make for a more immersive listening experience.

Hahaha. I don't think it quite works that way. Although, maybe it's because I bought an $25,000 audiophile dishwasher.

Say more? It would sound worse in a more acoustically refined setting because the noise in a vinyl playback would be more evident?

My initial post wasn't phrased very well; my apologies. I edited it for (hopefully) increased clarity.

You are absolutely correct. In an acoustically refined setting such as this (or, with a nice pair of headphones) the differences between vinyl and digital would be more obvious.

However, in a more typical residential setting with background noise and non-ideal acoustics the differences are masked and mooted to a large extent.

Thanks. I am puzzling about this because of the experience of visiting a friend's this weekend, playing records on his turntable. Old records, low end turntable and speakers, but bizarrely the listening experience was strikingly better- more engaging, transporting, interesting- than my higher end digital setup. The records were noisy, to be sure, but it was almost that I could hear through the noise to actual musicians playing actual instruments. Like the cocktail party effect, my brain was more engaged by the experience of listening. Makes me wonder if adding noise to a digital system would for some use cases improve the experience.

Much of the unreality of modern recordings is collateral damage from the loudness wars.[1] For noisy environments like cars and for casual listening, lots of dynamic range compression helps. Most recordings are made for that market.

You can get more dynamic range from the hardware than most listening environments support. This is a problem for serious music. Even for serious loud rock music.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

To add to this -- vinyl and CDs/digital always have at least some mastering differences, and often are completely different. If the vinyl edition has better mastering choices, it can sound better than the digital edition. But if the digital had equal or better mastering choices, it will sound better than the vinyl and will retain that through generations of direct copying.

That's a nice room too for work with lasers to make holograms, the long exposure means vibration will kill the image.

> We could hear the enemies sneaking up behind us.

Consumer audio is getting really good at spatial audio. Like, surprisingly good. I just got a sub-$500 television, and haven't hooked a soundbar up yet (just using TV audio). I was watching a movie with a scene in a cabin in the woods (not that one), and I was sitting by my window with my back to it. I started hearing birds chirping and wind blowing outside behind me, but when I looked out the window all was still. I realized it was the "outside the cabin" audio in that scene. My mind was absolutely blown.

I'd be curious to see the typical rate of hearing degradation due to age graphed against typical income growth with age that would be required to support systems of this standard. Audiophiles are synonymous with diminishing returns, but I wonder if that is even more acute with age of the listener. Super cool nonetheless.

An excellent question.

Hearing obviously (almost always) worsens with age, but it's not a linear degradation across the entire range of hearing, like adding random static noise to an entire television image. You can often still hear many/most frequencies very well even when experiencing moderate hearing loss.

Moderate hearing loss is almost always more severe in the higher frequencies a.k.a. treble. For example I'm in my 40s, and my hearing's starting to become crap above 8khz.

Meanwhile, the fundamental frequency of most musical content is quite a bit lower in the frequency range. The highest fundamental frequency of a standard piano with standard tuning is around 4khz, and most notes are an octave or five below that; "middle C" is usually defined as 262hz.

So, still plenty to enjoy even if one's hearing is no longer pristine.

    typical rate of hearing degradation due to age graphed
    against typical income growth with age
This correlation is not lost on speaker manufacturers. A lot of pricey speakers add (at least) a few extra dB of treble.

None of the manufacturers will admit it, of course, but you can't convince me otherwise: I've always been certain this is an attempt to appeal to the degraded hearing capabilities of their aging+affluent customers.

That's precisely right, I figure the crossover would be somewhere between 30 and 40. Babies (and dogs) would be quite happy though.

This isn’t a documentary about hi-if equipment. It’s a story about this man’s obsession. The sacrifices and guilt now realized. Nearing the end of his life with a terminal illness — it’s the reflection at the end that causes pause. How are your obsessions impacting you? Are they tearing you away from your family or friends? Are you happy with those choices made?

This guy's system and the room are true works of art. Part of me wants to criticize the extravagance of it, but he's clearly having a good time, and it really looks like fun!

Off topic, but man the out of focus shots bugged me. I don't know what they were shooting with, but obviously some care went into it. The shots of him sitting in the chair were framed alright, lighting was good, low aperture for a nice depth of field and... focus was on the chair in the center of the frame, making his face a blurry mess :(

If you don't have an hour to watch, here's a summary:


Funeral home vibes in this man's house. But nice system.

World's Second Best Speakers!


DIY option.

This guy needs to write a book about audio engineering.

He probably doesn't know much about it. Otherwise he'd buy a much simpler system akin to the ones studios use to record and mix the records. Given that he doesn't need the mixing console (which can be quite expensive), he could get a SOTA set up for well under $100K, and it'd likely sound much better. That includes acoustic treatments, but not "silver speaker wire". Copper works just fine.

If you want to read "the" book on sound reproduction, this is rather indisputably it:


The book is backed by quite a few decades of research and controlled listening experiments with trained and untrained listeners. It really is authoritative.

Dr. Toole is also very generous with his time on various audio forums and YouTube channels. So by all indications, you are also supporting a pretty decent human being.

It's a truly great book. Also a great sales pitch for Harman products.

when the house is the loud?speaker:


There is an absolute fortune worth of clocks in that room.

...and mostly in the DACs I'd wager.

Move 2 feet on either side and there goes the entire premise of all these high fidelity amplifiers and drivers. I see absolutely zero sound proofing. At this point this guy should be building an anachoic chamber, I only kid slighly.

The more I learn about hi-fi, the more bullshit I hear. There is no nice way to put this.

Stories like this aren't representative of reality.

Obviously, when you coverage such as this, it tends to focus on outlandish examples such as this guy who has poured an absolute fortune into his stereo system.

It's the same way with any hobby. If somebody has two cats, it's not news. If they have fifty cats, it's news. Those kinds of cat owners obviously exist but they are on the fringe. Replace "cats" with "cars" or "guitars" or any other thing you like.

There is a growing trend of objectivism in the audio hobby. Performance can be measured in objective ways and it turns out that generally speaking, it's all just signal reproduction and the more accurately you do this, the better it sounds. An objectively well-performing system can be put together for just a few hundred USD at retail prices.

Also, the top-end of live performance has moved up. Whether it's the amazing line array designs for huge gigs, or Funktion One intensely loud horn-loaded designs, we get very impressive results these days.

This is one reason audio quality is experiencing a renaissance. If you have a club system that will CLEANLY hit 120 dB on transient peaks and you've got it cranked up and there's space in the mix, it's easy to hear where 16 bit audio leaves off (and mp3 is completely not to be thought of, a real bozo move).

Mind you, you've got to mix and master stuff correctly to use that to full effect, but some do :)

    If you have a club system that will CLEANLY 
    hit 120 dB on transient peaks 
A very underrated aspect of audio reproduction.

I've got a big ol' pair of 3-way "monkey coffin" speakers in my garage as a secondary system. Horn tweeters, 15" woofers. Frequency response is smooth through the vocal range but overall, kind of a mess. Manfacturer cleams 95dB/watt efficiency which is probably somewhat of a lie, but they do get punishingly loud with very little power and will happily take a few hundred watts' worth of juice.

Generally I am an objectivist and in many ways this system objectively sucks. And yet, it's a blast to listen to. While not hitting 120dB, it can actually sort of begin to approximate the dynamic range of live instruments like drums. Something that simply can't be achieved without serious firepower.

    Mind you, you've got to mix and master 
    stuff correctly to use that to full 
    effect, but some do :) 
Amen. This is actually where I basically... hit my personal end of the road when it came to buying audio equipment.

My setups aren't extravagant or expensive, and there is some room for audible improvement, but basically I was hitting the limits of: my listening room, my ears, and like you said -- the recorded material itself. Very little recorded material outside of the classical realm is recorded and mastered in a way that would IMO reward further investment in my systems.

Depends on what kinds of genres you enjoy. It's real tough to find rock/pop/mainstream/big-room/etc. music that'll make sense with big dynamics, anymore. Especially 'loud' genres have been overloudenated for decades and it's tough to put that genie back in the bottle.

If you're interested in house or techno music, though, there are entire genres/artists that leave a lot of space, and those would sound incredible in your garage :)

There's a guy who's got a blog post calling out 'what nobody tells you and admits about Funktion One', which, he says, is that they sound bad when there's 'a lot going on in the midrange', which he calls 'resolution'. And his example, which is his own stuff, is fine but the dynamics are real bad and everything's a clogged up mess that doesn't ever budge from 'full volume'. I've got a mixing system that's known-good at being able to resolve what's really in a mix, and it can both resolve 'very dense layers of midrange' and the kind of open, transient-heavy stuff that works on Funktion One. And he's got another, very different, example of stuff suited to the expensive high-dynamics speakers, and that sounds utterly different and also fantastic on my speakers… and great on the Funktion Ones, and most likely in your garage.

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