Audiophile rating system

September 11, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

While answering a customer’s question about matching amps to speakers an old memory popped into my head. The industry’s effort to craft an audiophile rating system.

It was a few decades ago but back then the idea seemed promising. Within the audiophile community, we’d set up a rating system for sound quality to insulate us from the overzealous performance claims of mass market consumer audio companies. Perhaps it would be on some sort of sliding scale or points system, whatever. It really didn’t matter how the metrics worked, just that there would be some agreed upon standard of performance. Once that was decided then manufacturers could submit their products to a listening panel for review. That panel would then rate the product to be “audiophile approved” or not. This rating could apply to equipment and recordings as well.

The purpose of this rating system was simple: a means to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you go online and read the descriptions of power amplifiers, for example, everything from a $19.95 20-watt amp to actually decent sounding products all claim to be “high-performance” or “audiophile grade”. Clearly that is not true nor will it ever be true.

So, how’s a customer suppose to decide if an amplifier, CD player, preamp, recording, or loudspeaker meets some sort of minimum standard of performance? What might be helpful is a stamp of approval similar to a Michelin Star system but without the gradations. Just approved or not approved. Simple.

In the end, the idea was abandoned because of manufacturer infighting. Who would make these judgments? Who would maintain them? Wouldn’t members of the review board wield too much power over the industry? Would there be an appeals process? What if bribery got involved?

My arguments were on the flipside. Perhaps manufacturers that wanted to be approved but weren’t could be given a ratings sheet letting them know where they fell down: poor FR, flat imaging, 2-dimensional sound, too bright, too this or not enough of that. Then, their engineers could upgrade the product until it met with approval. Bingo! Better sales, better sound. Win, win.

But no, that was too hard, too political and so let’s just all pull our protective turtle shells around us and hope it gets better on its own.

We are sometimes our own worst enemy. The idea of an honest audiophile rating system would be a huge help to prospective buyers wading through the morass of bad recordings, claims and counterclaims. Instead, we got nothin’.

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42 comments on “Audiophile rating system”

  1. Gramophone Magazine published a table of specifications for the generally available hifi products. There was a table for amplifiers, speakers etc. That was in the late 1960’s so far as I recall. For amplifiers there were about 15 or 20 specifications, including price. In those days people made objective decisions.

    No one will ever pay any attention to some sort of subjective “standard”, not least because a lot of people think that a lot of what these guys write is BS anyway, in the pocket of their advertisers etc.

    There is one rating system – the consumer’s chargecard.

    What it says is that brands like Pioneer, Yamaha and Onkyo make the best value for money and most desirable products. If they didn’t they wouldn’t sell billions of dollars of products to millions of happy customers every year at prices that “high-end” manufacturers distain, because they don’t have the same economies of manufacturing and distribution. I can imagine their CEO’s response to some high-end cartel to such a plan – “when your sales reach 10% of ours, then you might think about telling us what to do, and we’ll still ignore you until your sales are more than ours”.

    I’m off to Amazon to buy a JBL bluetooth soundbox for my younger son, who’s off to university next week. All the kids have them and they have a “back to school” promotion. The best one is about $400. My wife has a $100 unit for her therapy studio. JBL is owned by the Harman Group, that also owns Harmon-Kardon, AKG, Mark Levinson, Revel and Infinity, and other brands. Mass-market and high-end. So would the high-end brand managers participate in a scheme with the intention of blunting the greater part of their owner’s revenues?

    The premise is that there should be one standard. There isn’t. Like many products, there are different expectations based on price. I’m sure Harman’s brands have marketing that make contradictory claims as they are aimed at different markets that don’t overlap. The JBL boombox may be the best speaker in the world to someone who has $500 to spend, which for a Revel customer wouldn’t pay for a speaker cable.

    We do have indexes of high quality recordings. Andrew Everard, Audio Editor of Gramophone produced a special High Definition Digital edition for Gramophone a few months ago. He explained HD, recommended a small range of components, but most of the issue was of quality recordings, mostly Editors Choice items from previous editions. I listened to most of them.

  2. What about establishing first a scoring system concerning the hearing abilities of the reviewers, Paul? 🙂 Here you only need a most simple single driver pair of headphones with near perfect step response.

  3. I think it funny that it even got started in the first place. Something like that is doomed to fail in advance, for the reasons stated, and others. My guess is that many would say it needs to be differentially balanced to be considered, yet a lot of great sounding gear is single ended.

    Drawing boxes like this tends to impead new technology. As an example, the first CD players were horrible sounding, not because the idea was flawed, but because the technology was in its infancy. Computer audio is another example. Would something like Apple HomePod make it, or the original iPod & iTunes?

    The best attempt at this that I have seen is THX certification for home theater, which is a list of minimal requirements that are more black & white.

  4. I cannot believe our host is serious today.
    “flat imaging, 2-dimensional sound, too bright, too this or not enough of that”
    A lot of completely subjective judgements. I heard people judge completely differently about these qualities at numerous audio shows and at dealer shops. Too bright for some, is transparent and open for others. Just the right amount of bass is too boomy for others. And so on.
    And with those criteria a “jury” of wise men (women ?) would decide what device is good or not good ?
    Human beings with their own subjective perceptions, not better than mine.
    I’ll make my own judgements and separate the wheat from the chaff myself.
    Audiophile rating system ? Bad idea.

  5. Hi Paul,
    I totally agree you and Mr. Squirrel that in order to obtain some objectivity on a subjective matter such as audio reviewing, the FIRST requirement should be that all audio reviewers wishing to have credibility obtain at least a yearly hearing test and post their respective results. That is not hard to accomplish, I obtain yearly hearing tests at my local Costco they are relatively inexpensive and allow me to compare the results going back decades when my employer mandated them. I have NEVER read a review form ANY audio reviewer concerning their relative hearing threshold / frequency capability. I am reminded of the phase “if one wishes to talk the talk, then walk the walk”. I would be happy to post the results of my latest hearing test, “I ain’t proud… or tired” I think Arlo illustrated that better.
    I remember a “scoring” system back in the day mandated by the FTC concerning amplifier power specifications. At the time there was no standard concerning what a manufacturer could claim vs reality into a specific loudspeaker load impedance. It was not perfect nor still is “RMS power” .. really? At least it leveled the “playing field” and was something the average consumer could work with. I am not a fan of legislation, perhaps the FTC should give the audio industry another glance at some of the relative unverifiable claims advertised.
    Today it seems science and scientific endeavors are lost on quite a few audio manufacturers, claims of this and that are substantiated by reviewers of questionable authority, credentials and financial affiliations. Those matters should also be revealed in any “objective” review. Yeah, I stepped on the proverbial land mine there but it needs to be said. As a music lover that happens to have the proverbial “Boat or Harley Davidson” trans-mutated into an audio system, I get all kinds of questions concerning “what should I purchase?”, the average consumer is not stupid or ignorant, they see for themselves the “elitist” attitude of unfortunately a few audio retailers and run away. Perhaps one of the reasons the “brick and mortars” are becoming extinct. My basic answer to them is trust your own ears and respect your wallet. It really makes me sad when I illustrate many audio “miracle claims” are in the same classification as the latest diet fad. I get it, it’s a mature market, claims must be made to get attention but not at the expense of prospective customers, they WILL eventually see the dichotomy. It’s too bad but expecting honesty in audio is almost like expecting honesty in.. OK, no more land mines. It’s cool to see companies like yours trying to make a difference, I just hope you have a windmill on your property to practice tilting on.
    IMHO, in order for our hobby to get passed on as opposed to passed by is to accept that we are ALL music lovers and what we listen through is trivial (another land mine, darn it). When I was a kid, I had a 9 transistor radio and was totally cool with it. You can’t imagine how much joy it gave me and concerning what equipment folks listen to now as long as they know there are alternatives and are happy with what they have. Who are we as Boat or Harley owners to judge them? It’s the MUSIC that matters first… right ?

    1. ‘I remember a “scoring” system back in the day mandated by the FTC concerning amplifier power specifications.’

      Yes. That was a big deal for various years and then sort of faded away. It was far from perfect in audiophile terms but at least it seemed to scuttle for a while many specious 1000 watt amplifier power claims.

      Was it rescinded? Or is it simply not enforced? Which leads to the question of whether it was ever actually enforced by FTC actions against manufacturers.

      It was, by the way, promulgated at least in part to a silly IHF amplifier measuring standard that I seem to recall focused on the output stage alone and allowed hooking it up to a standardized power supply of some sort rather than using the amplifier’s own power supply.

      1. At CES not too many years ago the idea of a High Definition Audio tag or consortium or some such popped up. This was in the early heyday of HDTV when “HD” was the new advertising buzz. I recall seeing hair cutters offering HD clips, paint companies putting out HD colors, and so forth. The HD Audio thing didn’t go far as an organized effort, probably for the same sorts of reasons Paul mentioned regarding “audiophile grade” or maybe it was the same thing.

    2. I’m very happy to see that readers have recognized the importance of a listeners hearing sensitivity. I doubt that a string of listeners will show the same hearing thresholds or the same
      Responses when subjected to Supra threshold signals!

      However the main issue is as follows:
      After you get a hearing exam at Costco do you get a Costco Hot Dog? It is MHO that the best meal in So Florida is The Costco
      Hot Dog! But wait- if you use regular mustard vs deli mustard the taste will change- but not for the worse- like tubes vs solid state!

      I’m off to Costco for The Dog!!!

      LARRY

  6. A grading system for Audio (and video?) hardware is a pretty good idea. But like most good ideas someone will step in to abuse it, leaving us right back where we started. A friend recently asked me about some outrageous power/distortion claims made for a pair of $60.00 computer speakers: “How can they do that?” … “It’s pretty simple; they lie.”

    But somewhat surprisingly, the reviews on Amazon and it’s cousins do seem to provide at least a rudimentary sorting process. Four stars is not always better than three … but if you read through and discard the angry reviews and maybe some of the overly gushing ones, sticking with the reviews that try to convey an honest appraisal of the product, they can be a big help in making your decisions. (Even if you aren’t going to buy from Amazon et al)

    A couple of years ago I broke the rules and bought a pair of speakers online (Fluance SX-6) based on several well written reviews and without ever hearing them in advance. I got lucky and they’re a pretty decent set of speakers for under $200 (Canadian). But in the end they are $200 speakers and would only be positively reviewed by people who are impressed by $200 speakers.

    I had about the same experience with “China Amps”, those little miniaturised chip amplifiers that run off of SMPS power bricks normally associated with laptop computers. I’ve played around with half a dozen of them, purchased on strength of good reviews and they were very impressive, given that they tend to cost less than $100 each. But in the end they are sub-$100 amplifiers.

    The catch is always “for the price”… They’re good speakers — for the price. That’s a good amp — for the price. But this is always true of everything, the price always matters. Of course a $2,000 amp is going to run the wheels right off of a $75.00 amp. The same may not always be true of speakers but price is an indicator there as well.

    Perhaps what we need is not a single review panel that somehow assesses these units and grades them on some mysterious criterion. Maybe what we need is for more of us to get online and start reviewing products and posting detailed reviews … Let people make up their own minds based on the price and our years of experience and advice.

    1. “four stars is not always better than three … but if you read through and discard the angry reviews and maybe some of the overly gushing ones and stick with the reviews that try to convey and honest appraisal of the product, they can be a big help in making your decisions. ”

      When I’m checking online reviews for anything, I generally pay the most attention to 3 star reviews.

      1. Actually, I would suggest you avoid the star ratings entirely.

        Look at the content of the review. I’ve written some 5 star reviews of cheap products based on their function/price and in other cases I’ve taken products and rated them with 2 or 3 stars because they don’t measure up to their price points.

    2. “Of course a $2,000 amp is going to run the wheels right off of a $75.00 amp.”

      But what if the $2000 amp is really just the $75amp in a fancy milled aluminum case with magic parts and a page of marketing BS to go with it?

      Many $2000 amps from garage audiophile shops are just that!

      1. In that case, your review should say so.

        I recently reviewed a NAS device that I was planning to use as a music and movie server. When setting it up the thing got hot enough to worry me and the fan inside started sounding like a 747 warming up. It was an $800 device that simply wasn’t up to the standards I’ve come to expect from that company … and I said so.

        And yes … there is a huge pile of absolute garbage out there that claims “audiophile quality”… we should take the chance to call BS on those claims.

        That’s kind of the point of reviews… to steer people onto the good stuff and warn them off the bad stuff.

  7. I find Stereophile’s recommended components helpful. I hope they will always provide measurements for their reviews. I especially value the simulated speaker response curves for amps and jitter measurements for digital components. The subjective
    portions are always to some degree positive and rather predictable.

  8. Paul, great minds must think alike. Just the other day, in one of my columns, I mentioned the fictitious Bleckley-Appleton Scale which would be a scale on which we could agree, and say “That stereo is between a 4-5 on the BA scale”.
    Of course it was a figment of my imagination (I did mention that a serious skin rash called “Bleckley’s Rot” might be related, as no one really knew who either Bleckley or Appleton were.)

  9. All your answers are fair, articulate, interesting and some even clarifying and borderline bright; but my question to all of you is as follow: What do we have now for the regular Joe as a point of reference? Nothing. Some systems are awesome, some are crap; but all of them carry the audiophile grade badge.

  10. While I believe that you Paul, thought this could be good for both consumers and manufacturers, there are too many variables to make an idea like this work.
    First, you have to find a group of experienced listeners, willing to work full time just to get it going. Then try to find 3, 5, or more listeners to agree on what is good, compared to great.
    I think I am about the 7th to reply and so far we have had 7 different opinions on whether this could work. Trust your ears, but we need the hearing tests of reviewers. We know that some of the best listeners in the business are older and don’t test well, but give accurate evaluations.
    For the newcomer the prices on some gear scares them away. While those of us that have been into the gear, because we were the “music lovers” who wanted the best sound know that the entry level is plentiful and much better than 45 years ago.
    Big name companies like Yamaha, and Steven’s other examples don’t sell more because they are better, but because of availability and name recognition.
    If I was tasked with attracting new customers, that would become the audiophiles of the future, I would look for a way to compare the junk they buy to similar priced entry level gear. Maybe find a way to get examples of these better sounding systems into college dorms. Once they hear the difference and find out it doesn’t cost much more, you will have some interest. When you hear that everyone has a Sprout, they will want a Sprout, not a Bluetooth sound box. Someone should, rather than organize a rating system, band together to create a booklet with lots of pictures that would give students some knowledge on high fidelity, on a budget.
    Stereophile can review a bunch of entry level products, and you will still have some idiot writing in complaining about the high cost of reviewed products. We have to break down those false barriers.

  11. What is going to be assessed; a total system or individual components? I have read enough reviews to know that amp X is better with speaker W than speaker V, The converse holds true, the assessment of a speaker varies according to the amp used. I discretely refrain from mentioning the cabling! Since few audiophile setups are identical I wonder how anything other than a rather coarse grading could be made for system components.

  12. Not exactly. Over the past couple of decades we have a lot more press coverage of individual products and a lot more high-end audio shows, albeit a lot fewer brick and mortar display of components, but even that is starting to turn around–at least in my town.
    Cheers,

  13. You had to know today’s post was going hit the ‘hot button’ for responses.

    What I think would be helpful is for manufacturers to inform what equipment is used for playback when the product is finalized. Anyone in this forum has a good idea of what PS Audio uses for speakers – amps – interconnects – power conditioning- room set-up and source material.

    It’s certainly not easy to find that info for most other manufacturers.

    But then again PS Audio is not like the rest, and is one of the few who is going to have a complete line of products starting with recording and ending with the playback.

    That being said how nice do PSA’s products ‘play with others’?

    Maybe an idea is to start a level list. Say a Sprout with a pair of Kef’s to start and an inexpensive network player or DAC
    What the next step? Sprout – Kef’s and stellar Dac ? Then an upgrade of power cords and interconnects? Then upgrade the speakers to something the Sprout can still drive or upgrade the amp and then find speakers?

    You all get the idea…
    We kind of all know where it starts… Does it ever end? I haven’t found an unbiased publication or source dedicated to help people make decisions as their tastes and wallets grow?

    Is the future going to be an immersive all senses included experience? Not for me it’s not. 2 channel and good enjoyable sound I can build upon is what I want at this point in my life.

  14. While a rating system of some sort is an admirable idea I suspect it would be impossible to keep it “clean”, and that corruption, bribery, and favoritism would rule the day.
    This is borne out by how much shenanigans goes on the reviewing community, even by highly respected “professional” reviewers. These days I only trust reviewers who say: “this is just my opinion, based on my system context, and your results may vary”, Michael Fremer is pretty good at emphasizing saying this.

    How could an “objective” rating system exist, based on “subjective” experiences? Unfortunately assigning an objective rating to a subjective experience just seems fraught with peril.

  15. What can one say? Other than component quality?

    Take your system.. Give it to another person. Let them play with it for a year.

    Go listen to how he has it set up. Can sound entirely different.

  16. I rate high fidelity sound systems by how well they achieve their original goal, convincing listeners that they can recreate a reasonably accurate facsimile of the most valuable music heard live using a process that requires correctly identifying all of the variables and engineering them to sufficient perfection in the entire recording and playback chain so that the end result meets that goal. I judge on a scale of 0 to 100 where 0 represents even a casual listener’s ability to know immediately that he or she is listening to a recording and not the real thing and 100 fooling the most experienced listeners of live music practically every time. IMO the state of the art of the industry is now and always was at 0 by that rating criteria. In short, it still all sounds like canned music even if it’s coming from different cans.

  17. ” poor FR, flat imaging, 2-dimensional sound, too bright, too this or not enough of that. Then, their engineers could upgrade the product until it met with approval. Bingo! Better sales, better sound. Win, win.”

    These are not measurable attributes. These are personal listening preferences. How can attributes like this be engineered? Magic wire and capacitors?

    Such a rating system is seriously flawed and inherently corrupt. Who determines who is qualified to sit on this panel? As we are working with audiophiles here, we already know that professional engineering, acoustic, and industry awarded music talent are not qualified. The panel would consist of the same audiophile magazine reviewers, many of whom have zero qualification on either the engineering or music creation side. In that respect such a rating system already exists, The Absolute Sound, 6Moons, etc. Fortunately these rags have only a cult following and are hardly recognized as an official standard.

    Sorry but I just see such a proposed standard just another scam to mask mediocre engineering with voodoo and fairy dust. Never mind what the device measures. You can forget about blind listening tests either. It will as always come down to the product lacking some magic capacitor or too small a power transformer and the panel will outright reject it as a true audiophile product!

    1. I think you are right. The audio engineers I’ve met are so focused on one tree or a few trees that they are clueless about the forest. Not only don’t they understand the forest they don’t even recognize that it exists as a synergy, an interdependent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. They’d sell you a perfect rain forest if they had one to plant in Northern Canada or Siberia and tell you how wonderful it is. You are right, in my experience they are not qualified. Ask someone who might be, an experienced live concert goer who listens to unamplified music and question him if he knows of any sound system that produces the same sound he pays $100 or $200 a ticket to hear. Don’t be surprised if he laughs.

      1. Even more telling, ask a person who plays acoustic music on stages for >$100 per seat if they have ever been fooled by speakers. They may never speak to you again, because you are crazy.

        Or if they have played avant garde music in New York, they just may say “There is this place called Spectrum…”

      2. I used to think that too. No electronics can ever reproduce a live set…

        But then… Some years back I went to a tech expo here in Canada. At the McIntosh booth they had a live band playing. The sound was pretty good considering the noise from other exhibits and we all enjoyed some pretty good jazz. At the end of the first set, the sales reps came out and made their pitches for the new models. Then a second set of the live band. In the middle of the set, the band just put down their instruments and walked off the stage while the music continued playing. We’d been listening to McIntosh’s demo system for at least the second set, maybe all the way through.

        There may have been a “tell” in there someplace… but most of us in that listening group were totally taken in.

  18. Two problems right off the bat with a rating system as suggested:

    1) Different types of listeners. I’ve noticed two camps over the years – those that focus on “sound effects” first (“neutral” tonality, staging, detail, prat, etc.) and those that focus first on accurate (warm) tonality/timbre. These differences in reviews and forums all the time, and they are not just a matter of training and experience and whatever else, but have genetic components.

    2) What sounds two-dimensional, flat, etc. on one system, may sound very different on another.

  19. I know it is late in the day and this is “maybe” a bit off topic but has to do with ratings. Seems that Harman International, located in Novi, MI, is hosting “A Survey and Analysis of Consumer and Professional Headphones Based on Their Objective and Subjective Performances” on September 18 as part of the Audio Engineering Society of Detroit meeting.

    They have rated and tested 156 brands of consumer and professional headphones. It will be interesting to see what they say about these. I cannot attend unfortunately but have a friend who works in the auto industry and he will be there to gather up material for me. Anyone else who lives up that way ought to stop in, it does not seem that this is a closed meeting but not sure.

    1. I went to this seminar a couple of years ago in New York, invited by AES and in the then new Harman showroom. It was led by the man himself, Dr. Sean Olive who was the President of the AES and the recently promoted Director of Research at Harman.

      I told him about my project designing speakers for Classical musicians because they hear differently, and he told me that musicians scored the lowest on his hearing training program that measures listener frequency response. THIS IS MAJOR CLUE.

      How can it be that the people with far and away the most experience listening to live music have worse frequency discrimination than the average public, audiophiles and audio engineers? Because frequency response doesn’t matter!

      If you are listening to acoustic music in a tight practice or rehearsal room the frequency response will be all over the place from acoustic comb filtering; and if you need to listen to music coming from random systems in random rooms from random producers and still hear what was played and what it means, you have to be able to compensate for fr variations.

      OTOH, if you don’t know what music sounds like and you only listen to fake stereo (mixed & panned), then frequency response is one of the few absolutes you can hang on to. This is why studios and PA systems “correct” sound with equalizers and the Harman hearing training uses parametric EQ to sensitize listeners to fr variations, even though it MANGLES phase. Systems that are flat in the frequency domain are almost always whacked in the time domain, because it costs too much to do both. (Oh the trade-offs!).

      1. The Detroit version of the seminar is also conducted by Sean Olive, so, it must a travelling tale of the same thing you attended. My friend who told me about it and plans to attend worked at a couple of the major auto companies over the years and was on various teams that integrated audio into the instrument panels, many years before the 11+ speaker systems of today. They were trying to find a way to use the headliner of the vehicles to reproduce the sound with a flat panel to save space in the cars. I heard some prototypes and , meh, was unimpressed. They are trying to resurrect the concept from what I understand.

        There have been so many advancements in the past couple of years in headphones and I am now guessing they did this study some time back and probably have not updated it with modern phones, so, to me it’s a set of dated results and would be suspect because of that. They are engineers, after all, and it’s all about the measurements (I am not dissing on engineers, it’s just a fact that’s how they think).

        I try to get my friend to take an out-of-the-way route from my house to his functions in my town for instance, because I know they are faster overall, but he balks and fights me because the measured distance is longer so it can’t be more efficient.

      2. So my friend went to this seminar last night, they did not provide any handout materials but lots of slides about the lack of correlation between headphones that actually sound good and the price. The point they were trying to make is you don’t have to spend astronomical sums of money to get a good sounding headphone. They thought $300-$400 would be satisfactory. They listed some of the headphones they used in the study but not the entire 156.

        They did point out that 34% of all the tested headphones were Harman brands. At the end of the program according to my friend someone asked what the highest rated headphone was per their testing and wouldn’t you know it it is the AKG 700 wireless which just gets released today LOL.

        I also did not realize until I did a little more searching this morning that Harman is a subsidiary of Samsung. Not that it matters I just found that interesting.

        1. Floyd Toole and his followers are trying to make audio scientific. What they miss is that audiology experiments for the last 85 years keep making the same huge scientific errors: they model hearing as if it were a machine and they are choosing test subjects whose hearing was limited by audio!

          If you don’t know how hearing works, or how well it works when audio is not utilized for its development, then you have no valid criteria for testing audio. Ironically, their concept of “trained” and “experienced” listener gets in the way of any real advancement. Musicians know what music sounds like better than anyone, they should be testing audio systems, particularly individuals who rarely if ever listen to audio.

          Musicians’ criteria for sound quality have divergent parameters.

  20. Absolute audiophile standard is impossible, because ears have break-in. Further, most of the aural break-in is hard wired by your teenage years. In the same way that most adults learning a second language never achieve native fluency, if you do not immerse in live, UNMIXED music BEFORE YOU TURN THIRTEEN, you will probably never know what music really sounds like. This is because the neural circuits which differentiate phonemes of speech and music slow growth rate as your hormones shift out of childhood.

    The two channel stereo illusion is learned. If all the music you hear is reproduction coming from one speaker, two “stereo” speakers, six “surround ” speakers, headphones or a two channel PA system, that becomes your perceptual definition of music. Further, this is the condition of people used for the experiments determining the capability of human hearing for the last 85 years! This may be the largest selection bias in the history of science.

    Every audiophile, reviewer, critic and engineer is wired and programmed to the specific set of distortions in the systems of their early years. There is no way of resolving the East Coast – West Coast or analog vs. digital debates, any more than Professor Henry Higgens could produce an universal English accent throughout the Empire.

    SO, break the vicious cycle and get your children musical instruments and lessons. (This is cheaper than a system upgrade!) Then you will have opportunity to hear lots of live practice, a reason to attend lots of concerts and improve your hearing and musical appreciation. Live UNMIXED music is the only standard.

  21. Since the demise of brick and mortar stores the audio magazines are the only sources available to the vast majority of people unless one happens to live in a metropolitan city. Even here one has to be careful because of the great amount of hyperbole in use in the magazines. Blatant abuse of the perfectly legitimate and very descriptive term High-Fidelity resulted in the loss of credibility of the term. Hand held tinny sounding garbage was labelled Hi-Fi. In fact the term would have gone far in keeping the prices in check. Fidelity would have been the deciding factor not ego. One has to limit oneself to the exact component one is looking for, read as many reviews from well established credible sources (forget the internet gurus) read between the lines and not fall for words which sound good but really mean something quite the opposite. As for a system which will be acceptable to all. Forget it. To much money and self interest is involved. Six figure turntables, five figure CD players. Go figure. Will they stand for a system which tells them that their product sounds no better than something costing a tenth. The term High End appears to be the driving force behind this insanity. But that is life. We have to live with it. But we do not have to embrace it. Sooner or late sanity will prevail. Regards.

    1. This is a vicious circle where people grow neural circuits to decode music with both specific and general distortions of their audio systems and recordings.

      The truth is not working its way to the surface, it is getting buried by increasing digital processing of recordings, degrading distribution media like Internet streaming, cheapening of playback gear, increasing noise pollution and devolving acoustics.

  22. Concerning a “hi fidelity scoring standard” that audio enthusiasts might consider using. It would have to be something that would be relatively easily understood without attributes better applied to wine, cheese or some such. The loudspeaker and the room it plays into should be the primary interest of anyone pursuing quality reproduction of anything remotely approaching a “live” musical event in their home. In comparison, audio electronics and associated peripherals are a secondary consideration.
    Perhaps using a differential measurement system might work as a “audio scoring” system for the experienced and inquiring audio consumer. Using a differential measuring system like Audio Diffmaker could be a possible start in such an endeavor at least where audio electronics and peripherals are concerned. One could evaluate the db difference from the measuring source and attribute a numerical “value” based on the deviation. Whether that value would be considered high fidelity would be up for objective consideration, at the very least it might provide a baseline that most folks could work with. Peter Walker, decades ago used a similar differential nulling system to evaluate his designs with somewhat modest success.
    What I am referring to might only apply to audio electronics and peripherals. Loudspeakers, the respective rooms they play into and how folks with different hearing / frequency thresholds perceive them might be another issue. I would hope those issues could be included and addressed as well. Your thoughts?

    http://libinst.com/Audio%20DiffMaker.htm

    1. As a user of MLS/Fourier based software, it is a good tool for working on frequency response variations; but it is too clumsy to draw a complete picture of the three dimensional radiation pattern of a speaker or the three dimensional resonances in a room. The amount of time to measure phase response at 20KHz to buildup and decay times at 20Hz, cepstral response at all angles, echo time and angle vectors is daunting and requires a calibrated 3 axis crane, turntable and gimble.

      Ears do it instantly. I can solve a room faster by walking around talking and clapping. The problem is for most rooms the answer is architectural modifications.

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