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What matters re: audible differences in sound quality?
sawdin
post Jan 3 2013, 17:23
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Although I’m sure this information exists in various threads and on other sites, I haven’t found a site/thread that is up-to-date and includes a good overview. Thus, can you either point me to some threads/sites and/or verify if the following information is accurate? Of course, if it is not accurate, please do correct and supply appropriate links. Thanks!

In regards to audible differences in sound quality:


What Matters:
Speakers and Headphones
Room Acoustics (if not using headphones)
Length and shielding of certain types of cables, and whether cables meet required specs for the given task (e.g., does USB cable meet USB specs).
For tube amps and/or pre-amps, different tubes will alter the sound.


What doesn’t matter:
As long as relevant specs are met (e.g., USB cable meets relevant specs for USB 2.0 or 3.0; HDMI cables have appropriate features for specific usage, etc.), there is not any audible difference in SQ between inexpensive cables/speaker wires and 'audiophile' cables.


What Might Matter:
DACS (clock/jitter issues)

Hi-Rez recordings (have heard rumors, but have not been able to verify that the Boston Audio Society’s double-blind tests that resulted in the release of the well-known “Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback” paper were faulty because a high resolution master was not actually used. Also see: "24/192 Music Downloads...and why they make no sense"

USB cables should separate the signal ground from power ground and shield the signal and power connections from each other. For example: iFi Micro Gemini USB cable


Cable Length Questions:
I believe it is accepted that maximum cable run is relevant in regards to digital signals. Recommended lengths:
USB max length is 5 meters
Coax (S/PDIF) is 10 meters.
Cat5/6 ethernet is ~50 meters.

However, I am not sure about the following:
*Digital Audio Cables should be at least 1 or 1.5 meters b/c internal "reflections" can develop, which will increase jitter.
[Edit] FWIW, Just spoke with Blue Jeans Cable, and they said if you can 'hear' the jitter, you have bigger problems than cables; thus get what you need, whether 3 feet or 1.5 meters.

*Some claim that USB cables should also be at least 1.5 meters as well, while others claim they should be as short as possible.

TIA...don't want to waste money, though I might purchase Blue Jean Cables instead of Monoprice or C2G with the thought that although they may not sound any different, they are less likely to break, have loose connectors, etc.

This post has been edited by sawdin: Jan 3 2013, 17:46
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saratoga
post Jan 3 2013, 17:31
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Spend money on headphones and speakers. Most of the rest of those things don't matter.
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Hotsoup
post Jan 3 2013, 17:48
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Would it be fair to add quality of replay source's mastering/recording production under "What Matters"? Doesn't a loud CD sound terrible on great speakers too? Interesting, I'd been kind of piecing together a hierarchy like this in my head for a while and was wondering if anyone here had broken it down but I hadn't bothered searching yet. huh.gif
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Canar
post Jan 3 2013, 17:54
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Is there a single case of "clocks/jitter" being audible? I was pretty certain the answer to that is "no".


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krabapple
post Jan 3 2013, 18:02
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 11:23) *
Hi-Rez recordings (have heard rumors, but have not been able to verify that the Boston Audio Society’s double-blind tests that resulted in the release of the well-known “Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback” paper were faulty because a high resolution master was not actually used.



The audition samples included both SACDs/DVD-As sourced from 'high resolution masters' (i.e., purely digital recordings of high sample rate/bit depth) and SACDs/DVD-As that were sourced from analog tapes (which audiophiles seem to consider 'high res' enough when used as sources for their precious vinyl releases... but apparently not good enough this time).

Another important point is that participants, who included self-professed audiophiles and recording professionals, were allowed to use their own 'revealing' audition samples too. This does not seem to have resulted in any better performance.

So I would be skeptical of the wounded-ego caterwauling of 'audiophiles' about this so-called issue.

This post has been edited by krabapple: Jan 3 2013, 18:03
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DVDdoug
post Jan 3 2013, 19:45
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Ethan Winer has a web page with some good information.

There are some other things that can sometimes matter, such as amplifier power, noise, distortion and frequency response. My home theater system with surround sound and huge speakers (including a pair of 15" subwoofers) sounds a LOT better than my portable boom box. wink.gif

With a (resonably good) digital source and modern electronics, distortion and frequency response are usually better than human hearing. But, if you have an analog source (vinyl records or tape), these can be big issues. Noise can be an issue with amplifiers.

Once the signal hits the speakers/headphones, every speaker/headphone has audible differences in frequency response. And of course, speakers & amplifiers can distort if over-driven.

QUOTE
For tube amps and/or pre-amps, different tubes will alter the sound.
A good tube amplifier can sound just as good as a modern solid state amplifier. It just costs 5 - 10 times as much to build an equivalent tube amp. So, by using 1950's technology, you can end-up with something that sounds just as good as a modern amplifier, at a higher cost and with less energy efficiency! biggrin.gif I assume McIntosh tube amps have no sound of their own, and sound identical to any good solid state amp.

It IS possible to build a tube amp that's immune to normal tube variations. Tubes do vary, and their characteristics change as they age. In my opinion, it's a poor design if changing tubes (or aging tubes) changes the sound (assuming the tube has not "worn-out", died, or is otherwise out-of-spec). If you ship an amp, and the specs change after a few weeks or a few months... It might get better, or it might get worse depending on how the tubes age... The manufacturer has no idea how the amp sounds, and that's just very poor engineering!

But, some tubes amps are designed to have a "tube sound", and sometimes changing to a different brand tube will change the sound. For example, guitar amplifiers are not designed to be "hi-fi". The guitar amp/cabinet are part of the overall instrument sound. A Marshall amp sounds different from a Fender amp, and that's intentional. Guitar players often prefer tube amps, and they often like the way tube amps sound when driven into distortion.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jan 3 2013, 19:58
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Ethan Winer
post Jan 3 2013, 20:29
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 11:23) *
can you either point me to some threads/sites and/or verify if the following information is accurate?


Doug linked to an article on my web site that offers a better way to list what matters and what doesn't. It's not that tubes or DACs or wires etc matter or not. What's important are how the known audio parameters such as frequency response and distortion are affected, and by how much.

--Ethan


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ktf
post Jan 3 2013, 20:37
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 17:23) *
What Matters:

You might need to add output impedance. While these are generally very low for power amps, they can be quite high when using headphones on outputs of devices. For example, line outs of PCs (which are often used to feed headphones) or even headphone amps (like the Behringer MICROAMP HA400) have high output impedances. (that Behringer is 80 ohms) If you connect a 50 Ohm headphone to that, which' impedance might vary considerably (like 60 to 300 ohm), some frequencies can be boosted and others can be damped just because 80 ohm in series 60 ohm gives a different voltage distribution than 80 ohm in series with 300 ohm. In the latter case, the headphone gets a much larger share.

QUOTE
What doesn’t matter:
As long as relevant specs are met (e.g., USB cable meets relevant specs for USB 2.0 or 3.0; HDMI cables have appropriate features for specific usage, etc.), there is not any audible difference in SQ between inexpensive cables/speaker wires and 'audiophile' cables.

Well, there are some issues with cable thicknesses and lengths. For example, if you have 10 meters of 1.5mm˛ of cable (which is actually 20 meters, as you need two wires) you get a series resistance of 0.2 ohm. This might not seem much, but it lowers the damping factor of the system a lot: with 4 ohm speakers, you won't get any lower then 20, no matter which amp you choose.

So you probably shouldn't use 10 meters of 1.5mm˛ cable with 4 ohm speakers, but it is not clear what 'relevant spec' we are talking about here, particularly because damping factors seem to be shrouded in mystery and the need for high damping factors depends on the speakers you are using.

But indeed, you don't need very expensive cables to fix this, just thicker ones.


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sawdin
post Jan 3 2013, 20:55
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QUOTE (krabapple @ Jan 3 2013, 12:02) *
QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 11:23) *
Hi-Rez recordings (have heard rumors, but have not been able to verify that the Boston Audio Society’s double-blind tests that resulted in the release of the well-known “Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback” paper were faulty because a high resolution master was not actually used.



The audition samples included both SACDs/DVD-As sourced from 'high resolution masters' (i.e., purely digital recordings of high sample rate/bit depth) and SACDs/DVD-As that were sourced from analog tapes (which audiophiles seem to consider 'high res' enough when used as sources for their precious vinyl releases... but apparently not good enough this time).

Another important point is that participants, who included self-professed audiophiles and recording professionals, were allowed to use their own 'revealing' audition samples too. This does not seem to have resulted in any better performance.

So I would be skeptical of the wounded-ego caterwauling of 'audiophiles' about this so-called issue.


Thanks for the reply...what I had read made it sound as if the sample that was supposedly hi-rez was, in fact, not hi-rez. That is quite different than your explanation. Gee, I wonder if the post I read was 'intentionally misleading', lol
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sawdin
post Jan 3 2013, 21:03
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Jan 3 2013, 13:45) *
Ethan Winer has a web page with some good information.

There are some other things that can sometimes matter, such as amplifier power, noise, distortion and frequency response. My home theater system with surround sound and huge speakers (including a pair of 15" subwoofers) sounds a LOT better than my portable boom box. wink.gif

With a (resonably good) digital source and modern electronics, distortion and frequency response are usually better than human hearing. But, if you have an analog source (vinyl records or tape), these can be big issues. Noise can be an issue with amplifiers.

Once the signal hits the speakers/headphones, every speaker/headphone has audible differences in frequency response. And of course, speakers & amplifiers can distort if over-driven.

QUOTE
For tube amps and/or pre-amps, different tubes will alter the sound.
A good tube amplifier can sound just as good as a modern solid state amplifier. It just costs 5 - 10 times as much to build an equivalent tube amp. So, by using 1950's technology, you can end-up with something that sounds just as good as a modern amplifier, at a higher cost and with less energy efficiency! biggrin.gif I assume McIntosh tube amps have no sound of their own, and sound identical to any good solid state amp.

It IS possible to build a tube amp that's immune to normal tube variations. Tubes do vary, and their characteristics change as they age. In my opinion, it's a poor design if changing tubes (or aging tubes) changes the sound (assuming the tube has not "worn-out", died, or is otherwise out-of-spec). If you ship an amp, and the specs change after a few weeks or a few months... It might get better, or it might get worse depending on how the tubes age... The manufacturer has no idea how the amp sounds, and that's just very poor engineering!

But, some tubes amps are designed to have a "tube sound", and sometimes changing to a different brand tube will change the sound. For example, guitar amplifiers are not designed to be "hi-fi". The guitar amp/cabinet are part of the overall instrument sound. A Marshall amp sounds different from a Fender amp, and that's intentional. Guitar players often prefer tube amps, and they often like the way tube amps sound when driven into distortion.


Thanks for the reply...I should have been more clear in noting that if one wanted to 'change the sound' of a tube-amp, they could do so by changing tubes. Just as one can change the sound of a given system by using DSP, a parametric equalizer, etc. Though I imagine some would consider using DSP or an equalizer as barbaric, whereas 'tube-rolling' is esoteric!
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sawdin
post Jan 3 2013, 21:10
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QUOTE (Ethan Winer @ Jan 3 2013, 14:29) *
QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 11:23) *
can you either point me to some threads/sites and/or verify if the following information is accurate?


Doug linked to an article on my web site that offers a better way to list what matters and what doesn't. It's not that tubes or DACs or wires etc matter or not. What's important are how the known audio parameters such as frequency response and distortion are affected, and by how much.

--Ethan


Thank you....I look forward to reviewing your web site.
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krabapple
post Jan 3 2013, 23:14
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 3 2013, 14:55) *
Thanks for the reply...what I had read made it sound as if the sample that was supposedly hi-rez was, in fact, not hi-rez. That is quite different than your explanation. Gee, I wonder if the post I read was 'intentionally misleading', lol



You can read more of the details of the DSD vs Redbook experiment here, including a list of the most commonly used recordings:

http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/explanation.htm
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DVDdoug
post Jan 4 2013, 00:11
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QUOTE
I should have been more clear in noting that if one wanted to 'change the sound' of a tube-amp, they could do so by changing tubes.
Maybe... But, ONLY in a poorly designed amp. Or, if the tube is defective, out-of-spec, worn out, or simply the wrong tube-type.

In a good amp, if you replace the tube with the correct type, things like slight gain differences, etc., should make absolutely no difference in the sound. For example, a A properly designed amplifier won't have more gain just because a tube happens to have more gain. All tubes have variations (transistors & op-amps have variations too), and the only way a manufacturer can guarantee the specs is to design the circuit so that these variations don't affect performance (or so that normal variations in components have very-very slight effects). And, it's really not a hard thing to do... Engineers do that kind of stuff every day!
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jan 4 2013, 18:03
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QUOTE (Canar @ Jan 3 2013, 11:54) *
Is there a single case of "clocks/jitter" being audible? I was pretty certain the answer to that is "no".


Other than broken, misused or maladjusted equipment, lab experiments and demonstrations, I am unaware of any reliable listening tests that have been positive due to the presence of jitter in digital gear.

The jitter in analog recordings and playback and recording gear is generally many orders of magnitude greater than that in digital gear and often easy to detect.

This post has been edited by Arnold B. Krueger: Jan 4 2013, 18:04
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