Audio Renaissance

August 25, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

According to Wikipedia, the Renaissance is a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by an effort to revive and surpass ideas and achievements of classical antiquity. It occurred after the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages and was associated with great social change.

What of an audio renaissance reviving the period in history where great ideas, efforts, and achievements in service of furthering the state-of-the-art in musical reproduction for the home reigned supreme? A fresh new era where new names and fresh blood replace the venerable Marantz, Harman, Lansing, Berliner, Klipsch, and Scott (to name a few).

In thinking about this it occurs to me we've had cycles of renaissances all along. Bursts of technological milestones and breakthroughs that have, without question, affected social change on a scale unimaginable in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Think of stereo systems in cars. In-ear speakers fed by invisible music sources. Machines that can access millions of tracks of music with only a voice command from the listener.

I cannot put my finger on it but to me it feels like we are on the cusp of yet another surge of amazing wonders just around the corner.

What's your view?

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41 comments on “Audio Renaissance”

  1. I'm an audio-enthusiast dinosaur who is very happy with his current home-audio set-up.
    I really can't be too bothered with spending insane amounts of money to see if I can
    improve the sound of my home-audio rig by roughly 8%...the Law of Diminishing Returns.
    Today I split up my loudspeaker wires (cables) & put spacers that keep the hot (+) & the
    return (-) wires at least two to two & a half inches apart & the upgrade in sound quality
    was quite astounding.
    There are some cheap tweaks available that make a helluva difference in SQ 😉 😀

      1. Hi Ned,
        I'm not using shielded, that's maybe why there's such a difference.
        Although, shielded or not, if two wires are running internally in a casing of plain insulation, right next to each other, then there will be some electrical/magnetic interaction.

    1. Tell me more, FR. You sliced the sheathing that encased the hot and return legs of your speaker cable? Then how did you achieve spacing them out? Was this a flexible solution so that the speaker cable can bend around furniture? And did you also use some sort of cable lifters? What gauge wire are you using? Was this originally a brand-name cable, or a home brew that you started with? Color me curious.

      1. Lp,
        You have my e-mail address...just send me an e-mail &
        then I can post you the newsletter & pictures that I sent to
        everyone else who wanted to know more about this topic.
        Cheers,
        Martin

    2. I was surprised by your hearing a difference by separating the two cables. I just recently purchased a small roll of Vintage Western Electric 10ga. Tinned copper made in the 50’s. I made a set of 8 foot speaker cables, buy laying them together and wrapping them with nylon expandable sleeving and using pure copper banana plugs. Because of your post, I’m thinking of separating them using plug wire separators, and rewrapping each one.

      1. Hello RC,
        No one is more surprised than I.
        Especially since I have been using 1.5mm dia. solid core copper wire as loudspeaker
        wire for nearly 28 years now & I was in Hi-Fi retail for 22 years (1988 - 2010)
        I will listen with the 'spaced' wires for a month & then swap back to a second set of identical leads that I have from when I was bi-wiring my previous loudspeakers,
        just to make sure that I'm not imagining this aural phenomenon.
        However, the difference, to me, is very noticeable after two days of listening.

  2. On first sight it seems to me the renaissance of cassette stays cassette, the one of R2R continues there, the analog media renaissance doesn’t happen on DSD for the masses but stays on LP‘s, tube virtues don’t seem to have their renaissance in solid state, and streaming was a new thing generally.

    It looks like the audio renaissance nowadays rather is a revival and reflection on old „values“ 😉

    Maybe the feeling of something waiting around the corner rather is the perception of a need.

    1. People are used to getting all excited about the next best thing that's
      just around the corner, even if it's not that good...it's called 'Marketing'.

  3. In the world of audio, the names of many stalwarts have stood the test of time. In reality the home audio 2 channel “boom” is only about 65 years old. When you put things in that perspective it shines a light on a lot of the attitudes and beliefs we read in various audio posts and forums. Maybe the baby boom of audio has already happened….

    The one thing that seems to drive the masses is convenience. It could be argued the only way cd’s took off was because of convenience and durability. Sound quality was a bonus.

    That CD is giving way to music services and streaming as more of the ‘standard’.

    If we’re on the cusp of any technological break through it is likely it will have to do with complete automation of the mundane human tasks that are preformed daily.

  4. I don’t wish to be disagreeable but it would be boring if I just said yes. It’s been said before that you are a positive person Paul and it would be wonderful if we could look forward to a new audio breakthrough but I don’t see anything on the horizon to make me think like that. To be hopeful, that last paragraph could be used at anytime, we’re always on the cusp of something.

    The last big change was streaming, manufacturers of the hardware must be rubbing their hands together, but no huge improvement in sound quality. Assembling a basic stereo system is complicated enough for the fastidious audiophile (actually fastidious is a given) but streaming introduces a raft of variables, and therefore potential problems, outside our control.

    The rate of technological change generally increases with time but it’s notoriously difficult to predict the future. Something unexpected invariably crops up to disrupt the vision.

    When man first landed on the moon it was thought we were on the cusp of a new era of space travel, Mars would be next. At the time I doubt anyone would have believed it would be over fifty years before a return was planned.

    One of the definitions of cusp is the pointed end where two curves meet, for example either horn of a crescent moon. Horn. Where have we heard that before, could we now be introduced to some cusp speakers. 😉

    https://youtu.be/ldQpRMegYc0

      1. Hippy Renaissance may be around the corner again...
        The Eastern world, it is explodin'
        Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
        You're old enough to kill but not for votin'
        You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin'?
        And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin'
        But you tell me
        Over and over and over again, my friend
        How you don't believe
        We're on the eve of destruction...

    1. I am pretty sure that the evolution of conventional stereo components (analog amps/preamps, passive loudspeakers) has reached its cusp/culmination point already some decades ago - why else is there a renaissance of vacuum tube based circuits? When I started my audio voyage studio equipment represented the benchmark and top tier level of sound quality - high-end was just a clever marketing definition for the luxury segment of consumer audio. A real (non pseudo) innovation concerning sound quality will be found in near future in active loudspeaker designs (always a proven concept for top tier studio monitors) with sophisticated DSP! And Paul McGowan will soon see the huge advantages of digital sound optimization having already seen the advantage of mixing his DSD recordings in DXD! 🙂 By the way: my second stereo system already features active loudspeakers having the amp and the DSP based preamp in external boxes!

  5. Digital was a foundational change, but changes like that could only come about from companies like Sony with the capital $ to do everything from R&D to delivery of products. Everyone after that is riding the ecosystem setup by the power companies needed to pull it off. Digital onset and the the advent of the internet set the foundations for new capabilities.

    Apple utilized those new digital and internet capabilities to create the only true audio renaissance of recent time. They made music truly portable, fathered music library management software, created digital “stores” where you could purchase albums or single songs, cloud music storage, music streaming, playlists, created music compression schemes to make things work with technology of the time, developed user friendly music playback interfaces for portable devices, etc.

    The ripple effects (good & bad) of their changes allow artists to record and sell music without record companies, create royalty wars for music artists, changed the majority of mainstream music listening to headphones, started the migration away from physical music, playlist/genre listening vs. full album listening, etc.

    That scale of change is worthy of being considered a renaissance. I’m not sure when a music related change of that magnitude is coming again.

  6. At 76 years of age with a reasonably credible music system and much less income, making new purchases it’s not an option so I will more than likely remain an Audio Dinosaur. I believe that a reasonable percentage of us who post here feel any different than me unless they have the ‘Coin’ in their senior years to move forward with the newest audio technology.

    I’m thankful that I have a quality system right now and that I’m moving forward with DSD downloads and thinking about DXD. But, my particular situation has nothing to do with technology constantly moving forward and I’m still interested in all of the new ideas that all of the audio design companies are discovering.

    When you speak of Renaissance, I think of a Renaissance Fair or the Medici Dynasty. In the final analysis I can only say “Time passes, things change“…JD Souther

  7. Imagine the future, where every piece of recorded music is available at the wave of a hand or the spoken word. Music appears to emanate from everywhere and from nowhere to be seen. Close your eyes and you are in a concert stadium, small bistro, or symphony hall. When you turn your head or walk, original sources and echoes realistically track your movements. Software algorithms are so advanced, no human tuning by the user is required. Penultimate audio reproduction has been achieved!

    Like an classic episode of the Twilight Zone, is this an audiophile’s heaven or hell?

  8. Hi-end Audio has always been a very tiny market. It's even smaller today, where people make buying decisions based on "wanting something good." There was a time when audiophiles weren't people who bought their audio systems the same way they bought their luxury cars. They were more like the backyard mechanic who loved to tinker with his 20 year old Triumph TR4. Now it's just guys with a lot of disposable income arguing over speaker wire and claiming the purity of playing "vinyls."

    One of the biggest marketing problems for a hi-end manufacturer is not the other products they compete with, but rather the sizable used market of gear. Today's power amps have to compete with the hi-end amps of 20, 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years ago. Have you seen what a Marantz 9 pair goes for these days?! That exotic Rowland Research amp from 25 years ago is still a very good amp. PS Audio has to compete with PS Audio from 15 years ago and more.

    Today's $20,000 wonder is tomorrow's $12,000 white elephant.

    1. My 20+ year old Audio Research
      VT-100 Mk III Still sounds incredibly good to my ear driving by Maggie 3.6 R’s which I’ve done several of my own modifications over the years and my system still sound very musical to me. Would I love to swap it out with BHK mono blocks? Absolutely! Unfortunately they are out of my price range. If you search for a used model of my amplifier it’s almost impossible to find one online because a lot of owners of this amp feel the same way I do. I would love to go for a D-150 which is a true classic but the price is out of my range even in used condition.

      I’m happy with what I’ve done over the many decades I’ve been an audiophile with my decisions concerning the upgrading of my system and my hunger for MORE is waning. It’s all about the music now.

  9. 1. How about inserting a chip in the brain that would allow a person to network with each other and listen to music and and communicate over the net only heard in the brain.
    2. How about prices $$ being one tenth of what they are today so the masses can enjoy what only a few experience...

  10. The difference between, on the one hand, Marantz, Harman, Lansing, Berliner, Klipsch, and Scott, and on the other hand, Plato and Aristotle (the two central characters in the picture posted by Paul), is that the former are consumer brands little known outside of the USA that are here-today-gone-tomorrow in historical terms, and the latter were philosophers whose ideas shaped large parts of global civilisation for much of the last 2,500 years.

    Of course nothing is quite as it seems, as Plato can equally be identified as Leonardo and St Thomas. An interesting compelling theory arises from the inkpot. This fresco is in the Vatican equivalent of the Oval Office where all important Papal documents were signed. The guy front-centre, is Michaelangelo posing as Heraclitus, who it is said believed the world was made of fire, with no permanence, in a state of constant flux, every moment temporal like water flowing down a river. The fact that the inkpot looks like it's just about to fall on the floor illustrates that idea of impermanence.

    Renaissance art was replete with symbolism, and the idea of symbolising impermanence is a room designed for signing Papal decrees (the model of permanence) is incredibly subversive. And let's not forget that the Papacy took a very dim view of science.

    So when it comes to audio, I'm with Raphael and Heraclitus, nothing is sealed in stone (or, more accurately, sealing wax) like a Papal decree. If things don't change on a regular basis it would be a big surprise, and they only flow in one direction. That's what I have against DSD; not that it might possibly sound better (I have no opinion), but that it had it's chance and failed.

    On the more conventional basis, a painting of a bunch of philosophers symbolised truth through reason, which in audio terms is not a bad idea.

  11. To me a renaissance means a return of enlightenment. The renaissance in Europe followed the dark ages when new ideas and new thinking were diminished. Society came out of the dark and into the light. Society has been in the light ever since then. As to audio for the masses, as mentioned in earlier comment, that is just a byproduct of two technical advances in the second half of the 1900's. First, the miniaturization computing power such that today home computers have as much computing power as the mainframes that I used in graduate school the 1970's. Second, a method of linking computers together so that scientist could share large amounts of data was seized upon by commercial entities and it became the internet where everyone in the world has access to everyone else.

    As to serious home audio, there was a minor renaissance when the companies you mentioned ( Marantz, et al ) took out of the age of console audio furniture into the age of separate components connected by exposed wires.

    1. That’s correct, indeed, but also most trivial. During a live event you determine where to set the focus of listening. Listening to a more or less processed and mixed recording you are forced to listen through the focus of attention set by the mixing engineer! 🙂

      1. In a live performance, everybody listening is breathing together and this includes the performers. I've found this even includes people listening to broadcasts. It's like we are all tuned into something happening in the world.

        1. That’s interesting…do you think we can differentiate a recorded live broadcast from an actual live broadcast? Or would you agree that if someone told us, a live recording played on the radio was a live broadcast, we can’t differentiate?

          I at least would agree that we listen differently to a live playback if we know (or are told) it’s really live in this moment.

  12. YES! In particular, the advance of technology enables the death of 2 channel dogma. This religious doctrine is a fiction based on 90 years of bad science, with selection bias in experiments, measurements, theory, and praxis.

    Auditory scientists DO agree that spatial perception is based on 'inter-aural level differences' (IALD), 'inter-aural timing differences' (IATD), and 'head related transfer function' (HRTF). These are rarely listed with WEIGHTING. In well-developed hearing (daily exposure to acoustic music or un-polluted sounds of Nature from birth through age 19), IALD (mixed music) is less than 1% of stereo information - and yet it is the primary modality of 'stereo' production. IATD, what you get from a 'near-coincident mic pair' (NCP) is more like 10%. Some 'audiophile' labels still record with near coincident microphones, but not pop*, rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass, folk, nor even classical 'major labels' like DGG, Sony, and Decca. Mixed and mastered multi-mono tracks are FAKE stereo, a learned delusion.

    Then there are all the other whiz-bang recording methods: various flavors of quadrophonic, ITU 5.1 surround, Dolby and DTS up to 32 channels, ambisonics, ambiophonics, AR, VR, digital spatialization, wavefield synthesis, immersive sound, and dozens of trademarked would-be replacements for 2 channel media.

    We have the channels! Storage and transmssion of data is cheap, so why not embrace the system that has been theorized for almost as long as Blumlein's invention: one speaker for each voice and instrument?

    That way you can create PHYSICAL spatialization by placing the speakers where the musicians and singers stand and sit, and activate the other 89% of stereo information: HRTF.

    You don't have to believe me - try the 'one ear test'. Put on a blindfold, plug one ear with a solid earplug, like they use for target shooting; and then have someone walk around the room talking. You will hear approximately where they are in relation to the room boundaries, whether they are looking at you or away, which direction they are moving, etc - with ONE EAR. This proves the myth of two channel stereo.

    The second myth is engaged by all the software supposed to represent HRTF - binaural, virtual reality, etc. They acknowledge that everyone has different ears, but they assume that the sound wave travelling to the inner ear is a scalar quantity - that the pressure is uniform at any point in time. It is not. The two membranes and three bones that transmit the sound to the cochlea have three dimensional movements, and project a two dimensional encoding of three dimensional vector information onto the basilar membrane, where active sensors convert it into massively parallel neural impulses feeding over a second of echoic memory with a time resolution of better than 3 microseconds.

    Those funny shaped cartilage structures on the sides of your head are highly evolved DIRECTIONAL PHASE ENCODERS. The modify the waveform of arriving as a function of the direction of arrival, which is then used to triangulate the room reflections and locate the sound source and map the room boundaries simultaneously. Two speakers can't created the right angle and time of arrival of these room reflections for any position other than where the speakers are located, so this spatial information is contradictory to the information of the IALD and IATD in the recording.

    After hundreds of hours 'breaking in' ears to the artificial sound field mixing the IALD and possibly IATD in the recording with the HRTF of the speaker locations, the brain constructs an interpretation with an imaginary spatiality. This is going to be different for every room, speaker, speaker location, and recording so there will never be consensus. The only consistent point I have found in reviews of "pin-point imaging" is they were all small speakers with drivers symmetrically mounted in rectangular, sharp-edged baffles, which create treble diffraction lobes; and most 'audiophiles' have bare walls to the left, right and behind their speakers, which create comb filtering. So apparently comb filtered diffraction lobes are the key factor in the illusion of 2 chanel"imaging". This could aid in the math of speaker design, room design and speaker setup!

    * Bruce Swedien's famous recordings of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Bad" utilized a mic and track pair for every capture, so they were mixed, but incorporated IATD and physical spatialization (room reverb and panning)

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