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What Every Audiophile Should Know and Never Forget
By Peter Aczel
Editor and Publisher
If you don't know the ground rules--and you won't find them in the tweako magazines, you'll play a losing game.
All of the following could be proved in court before a jury of degreed professionals--Physicists, Electrical Engineers, Acousticians, University Professors, Researchers in major electronics laboratories.
What is the number one determinant of sound quality in an audio system?
The recording you are playing, without the slightest doubt. The recording microphones, acoustical conditions, and engineering decisions at the recording site introduce much greater sonic variability than any hardware component in a half decent playback system. Buy well-recorded CDs.
What is the number two determinant?
The speaker system, again without the slightest doubt. Even the finest loudspeakers exhibit small irregularities in frequency response, the smaller the better but always audible. Significant differences in f³ (bass cutoff frequency), efficiency, power handling, distortion, wave launch geometry, and other characteristics result in easily distinguishable sonic signatures from model to model. This is a subject worth studying.
What is next in importance?
The listening room. So important, in fact, that it is hardly distinguishable from the quality of the speaker system itself. It would probably be more accurate to say that the speakers, the room, and the placement of the speakers within the room constitute a single system second in importance only to the program material.
What about the amplifier?
Vastly exaggerated in importance by the audiophile press and high-end audio dealers. In controlled double-blind listening tests, no one has ever (yes, ever!) heard a difference between two amplifiers with high input impedance, low output impedance, flat response, low distortion, and low noise, when operated at precisely matched levels (±0.1 dB) and not clipped. Of course, the larger your room and the less efficient your speakers, the more watts you need to avoid clipping.
What about the preamp, CD player, and other line-level electronics?
As long as they meet the fairly exacting specifications expected these days--and most of them do--they will sound the same, regardless of price. That does not mean, of course, that some are not far superior in measured performance (well below the threshold of audibility) and construction quality.
How important are wires and cables?
No more important than the wiring inside your electronics and speakers, over which you have absolutely no control. Speaker cables and interconnects that cost thousands of dollars are a shameless fraud. Radio Shack's reasonably priced top-of-the-line cables are good enough for anyone.
Where do vacuum tubes come in?
Nowhere, unless you are a tweako cultist. There is nothing in audio electronics that cannot be done better with solid-state devices than vacuum tubes. (Maybe--just maybe--the RF stage of an FM tuner is an exception.) Yes, there exists some very nice tube equipment, but the solid-state stuff is better, cheaper, and more reliable. As someone on the Internet said, 'tubes are for boobs'.
A man's ambition must be mighty small
To write his name on a toilet wall.
A tweak's ambition is smaller yet
To post a dumb message on the Internet.
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