Archive for June, 2011

Why it Matters

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

      Did you hear that? It’s the sound of groans responding to my previous blog: Mis-mixed Audio Concepts. I also heard, as I debated the use of active vs passive equalization, “Ed it doesn’t matter,” “Nobody cares about this audiophile stuff.” Well, it does matter. You should care.

      The current AV market has too many AV pros chasing fewer and fewer customers. In addition, the U.S. economy will get worse before we see better days. Therefore, you must now engage even more expertise to compete and survive. The good news is many of your competitors do not understand the potential to be gained from understanding an issue such as active vs passive equalization.

      Let’s reset the stage. Active equalization is the use of electronics to solve acoustical problems. Alternatively, passive equalization (no active electronics) utilizes room dimensions, speaker/listener placement, sound proofing, as well as acoustical absorption and diffusion. The passive path is a cure, while the active course is a sedative. Choosing the appropriate remedy requires careful diagnosis of your customer’s desires and their limitations.

      Choose active equalization if passive solutions are not feasible. This is illustrated by clients that object to speakers and electronics within view. Consider smaller, hidden, or in-wall/ceiling speaker systems with active electronic equalization. This includes options such as THX processing. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the active approach masks acoustical distortion with electronic distortion. Yet in this situation, it can minimize the audible compromise.

      On the other hand, if a customer is passionate about their music – if they appreciate the elegance and performance of superior speaker systems and electronics – then the passive solution is the better choice. It removes or minimizes the source of the distortion. The result is a more accurate reproduction of the artist’s intent.

      Although demonstrating a concern to choose the appropriate remedy supports a perception of expertise, it is the implementation that seals the deal. I recently met with an AV expert and my friend, Steve Mounkes. Steve can walk into almost any AV situation and improve it. He leaves folks scratching their head asking, “How did he do that?” I’ll tell you how.

      In addition to the choice of the remedy, Steve’s implementation is much as physician in surgery. These are his surgical tools:

– A solid understanding of audio and video basics.

– A disciplined implementation of high performance A/V principles.

– A dash of genuine passion for music and film.

     My free on-line handbook provides the first two tools. Neither involves rocket science. But the high performance step is a commitment to the ‘disciplined implementation’. I’m counting on you to provide the dash of passion.

      Keep in mind, that all rooms and customers have compromising AV issues. The goal is to minimize the compromise, and squeeze out the potential performance. That’s what Steve does.

      I’m not just speaking to dealers and their staffs. This includes manufactures and the sales reps of mid-fi product. You can squeeze significant improvement from modest AV electronics and speakers systems. The difference produces impressive demonstrable results. Your competition won’t have a clue how you did it.

      I heard that. Someone asked, “Ed, who cares?” Folks with crammed shelves of CD’s, records, video discs – they care. Consumers who buy better wine, luxury vehicles, other affluent life enhancing products and services – they care too.

      Thrive while competitors survive. Deliver more goose bumps per minute. Establish a reputation for delivering jaw dropping performance. Exceed your customer’s expectations, and generate their referrals. Join me in my quest to save the world from poor fidelity.

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Mis-mixed Audio Concepts

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

     The following quote is a negative response to my criticism of using active equalization in a high fidelity audio system.  It’s from an audio engineer of impressive credentials.   His his remarks were written in a comment area at HomeTheater.com.

     He stated, ““If audiophiles were able to actually view the results of EQ…… on legitimate test equipment ………  90% of the mythology that drives most of (their) business models would evaporate rapidly.””

     He also offered this snide remark regarding high fidelity cable to illustrate the ‘mythology’

““…I have a rare pair of $20,000 two meter speaker cables available …to anyone who needs them . They’re made of a revolutionary material I’’ve cleverly named Cu (copper) Life changing – trust me!””

     A clever response indeed.  This kind of noise has dogged high fidelity audio since its inception.  Is our engineer simply narrow minded or is there a financial motive lurking?  It may be an ample dose of both.  If your livelihood is derived from active equalization, that might narrow your bandwidth view of the audio landscape. It doesn’’t have to.  But in this case, I suspect it did.

     Michael Fremer of musicangle.com and Stereophile said these guys claim we can’t hear what we hear because “…”(we) are not as accurate as some stupid test equipment that someone is using to try to prove to you that you don’t hear what you hear.””  Well, we hear just fine.

     The balanced of this blog is limited to the issue of equalization.  If you’re interested, my view on high fidelity interconnects and speaker cable can be found at this link: In the Defense of Snake Oil

     I once had this EQ conversation over lunch with a commercial audio friend.  I did not and do not dispute his and other AV pro’s ability to provide complex room EQ solutions.  They do some cool stuff.  I simply maintained that, in a high fidelity audio setting, the passive correction of acoustical problems is a better choice than active electronic correction.   By the time our bill for lunch had arrived, he had agreed that we were really on the same page.  I hope you do too.

     Here’’s the problem.  Many AV pros have mis-mixed two basic audio concepts.  Studio and stage AV professionals produce the artist’s music.  Their implementation of active equalization is as the use of a paint brush by a landscape artist. I applaud their work.  However, the goal of a high fidelity AV pro is to reproduce the result of that work, the artist’’s intent. We are talking about two entirely different endeavors: reproduction vs production.

     The output of a high fidelity audio system component is identical to the input. Well, that’’s the goal.  Any measurable or audible  difference is distortion.  If an amplifier distorts the audio signal, replace it with an amplifier that does not.  If a speaker system cannot accurately reproduce the music, it should be returned to the speaker drawing board.  Don’’t replace the speaker if a preamplifier is the distorting system component.  Likewise, if the room acoustics distort the reproduced audio, the acoustics should be corrected —–  not accurate high fidelity components.

     If active equalization is placed in the path of high fidelity audio components, it will change the output from the input: distortion. This type of equalization attempts to mask distortion with distortion.  It may look good on legitimate test equipment.  But it does not pass the test of the human ear and brain.

     Passive equalization avoids this dilemma. Passive solutions engage manageable room dimensions, careful speaker and listener placement, sound proofing, plus a dose of acoustical absorption and diffusion.  This tactic will generate a more accurate reproduction of the artist’s intent.

     Don’t get me wrong.  There is a place for active equalization in audio reproduction.  Car audio is an example.  It can create a much more desirable car audio system.  Small room-boundary-distorted in-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems are another case.  Their sound can surely be improved with active equalization.  But car audio and in-wall speaker systems are not of high fidelity caliber.

     I do not believe that our contentious narrow minded engineer is a bad guy.  It’’s just easier to turn a knob on an active equalizer than to apply and install passive acoustical solutions.  On the other hand, he may have simply been misinformed by his legitimate test equipment.

(Next Blog: Why It Matters.)

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