Attributions

May 25, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Knowing what attributes are important and why can be valuable.

For example, if we understand that AC voltage regulation is beneficial to performance, it behooves us to know why. Otherwise, we might take that info at face value and implement the wrong system. Case in point, there was a period of time when a few companies built long term voltage regulators that were purported to help sound quality—motorized variacs or multi-tap step/up down transformers. While these indeed regulated the voltage they sounded worse than not having them in the system.

That’s the problem with a thin understanding.

What this ignores is the deeper understanding of voltage regulation. In order to improve performance it must be dynamic (instantaneous).  And here’s where things can get confusing. With few exceptions, it doesn’t much matter whether a piece of audio equipment is being fed 115 volts or 120 volts. What does matter—the underlying area of importance—is the source impedance. The lower the better.

Dynamic regulation lowers source impedance while slow AVR (automatic voltage regulation) increases source impedance.

Both regulate but one helps while the other hurts.

But this isn’t a rant about lower source impedance. It is about attributions. We attribute better sound to voltage regulation, not because the ultimate voltage level matters, but because a specific type of voltage regulation has the secondary benefit of lower source impedance and it is lower source impedance that matters.

We attribute better sound to voltage regulation but it behooves us to dig a little deeper into why.

Without a deeper understanding of what that ultimately means, we might easily be led astray.

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19 comments on “Attributions”

  1. It is naive to think that audio manufacturers are not aware of the impact of incoming mains on their products, and many have designed them to take account of problems and limitations of incoming power. This has been going on for decades, with increasing efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As streaming has matured over the last 15 years the impact of clean power has come into sharper focus and many devices have internal power cleaning and/or linear power supplies.

  2. **paulsquirrel**
    Thank you for the link to the ‘cocktail party-effect’ theories that you posted for me
    a couple of ‘Paul’s Posts’ ago.
    Interesting stuff; however, I don’t believe that it applies uniformly to all human beings.
    Many intellectuals study phenomena, sometimes for their whole lives, & then make
    the glaring error of believing that what they have found, for themselves, will apply
    to everyone equally on the planet.

    1. “And have you ever wanted something so badly
      That it possesses your body & your soul,
      Through the night & through the day
      Until you finally get it!
      And then you realize that it wasn’t what you wanted after all.
      And then those selfsame sickly little thoughts
      Now go & attach themselves to something new
      And the whole Goddamn thing starts all over again.
      Well, I’ve been crushing the symptoms but I can’t locate the cause.” – Matt Johnson

      Well Mat, the “cause” is called ‘the upgrade itch’ 🙂

  3. While I find it disturbing that there are so many people in this niche population of “audiophiles” or what ever we want to call ourselves who are not willing to put in any real effort in understanding the why of many audio attributes (particularly those in digital audio ) that impact SQ, I do understand why they do not put in any effort.

    For just about everyone, including those in this niche population, listening to music ( live or recorded ) is considered entertainment and thus it is to be enjoyed without much effort.

    If your listening to live music you must put in the effort of getting to the venue where the music is being played which can require a minor of major effort ( I know someone who flew to London just to here the Stones play ). Of course, if you are rich enough to be able to pay the musicians to come to your location to play the above does not apply.

    When it comes to listening to recorded music the overwhelming majority of people are simply plug and play. This tendency to reduce the effort required to play recorded music has only increased as technology makes it easier and easier to do so. Consider that in a span of about 100 years we have gone from having to wind up a Victrola record player to asking “Alexa” to play the Stones.

    Even in a niche population that professes to value better SQ there are fewer and fewer who are willing to dig a little deeper to understand what is really going on.

  4. Power is a conundrum for audio afficionados, although you have the correct AC voltage how do you know what source impedance you have? Surely long feeds from the pole mounted (or otherwise) external stepdown transformer would affect it.
    Is there a way to measure it rather than see the room lights dim under very poor regulation when you switch on that monster power amplifier 😉
    Oh and the word behooves come up twice – I love it as it always reminds me of The Sidestep from Dollies movie The little whorehouse on the prairie 🙂

  5. There are critical, informed listeners and there are casual, uninformed listeners. The majority of people are the latter. They are just fine watching a movie in which a bride is walking down the aisle in a large church while Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” is butchered on a cheap organ synthesizer with fake-sounding reverb by a keyboardist who can’t read sheet music and accidentally gets some of the chords right, rather than played on the church’s magnificent pipe organ by a classically trained organist following Mendelssohn’s exquisite actual score. This atrocity works fine for comedies, because the music poorly executed on a synthesized Hammond B3 adds to the humor for people who know the difference.

  6. Should I be using the 4 ohm setting on my receiver instead of the 8 ohm setting. Would it sound better? Or would it damage my 8 ohm speakers? Does it matter? Common sense suggests the 8 ohm setting. I ask only because this suggestion was made on the ana-dialog YouTube site.

    1. sharaf,
      You wont know if the 4ohm tap will sound better than the 8ohm tap to you
      until you connect it up to your loudspeakers & listen to the resulting sound.

    1. It is actually pretty easy. We simply place a series resistor at the output of a Power Plant and inject a signal, then measure what happens. From that we can easily calculate the impedance.

  7. Who in our community knows the first audio design engineers who discovered that very low output impedance power supplies was a giant step in improving the sound quality of audio electronics for our listening enjoyment?

    1. Bear aka Owsley Stanley founded Alembic in 1969 along with Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner. They were some of the first design engineers to focus on purifying the signal path with a mantra of low impedance yielding a transparent musical sound.

      Though their work was primarily grounded in Pro Sound, several of their circuit design concepts and innovations found their way into high-end audio applications.

  8. What I find “disturbing” (“annoying” is a better word) is that there are people who ask other people what sounds best. Like asking the chef in a retaurant what vegetable tastes best.
    Use your ears. They are there for a reason.
    The speaker you think sounds best, is the best speaker for YOU.
    Maybe not for your neighbor. He might think otherwise, but that’s not your problem.

  9. Today’s post reminds me of poor Michael Fremer who installed a generator that automatically cuts in and supplies electricity in the event of a power outage. Unfortunateyl, it ruined the SQ of his carefully curated rig.
    Had he merely invested in a gas powered portable generator and learned how to properly connect it in an
    emergency, he would have avoided enormous headaches and expense. And his vegetables still would have remained frozen.

    1. Longplayer,

      Hard to say poor Michael. I’m waiting to hear how the regens / or conditioners he was going to try work out.

      Also hard to beat an automated system that just kicks in when the power is out. When I had a good gas generator it was pain to remember to keep gasoline on hand. Especially enough for 1 – 2 weeks. Now when I travel (or am at home) everything is automated and I don’t have to worry. So depending on the situation it’s what works best for the individual.

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