Control vs. convenience

August 4, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

There’s a constant battle going on inside me over two fundamental urges: control or convenience. On the one hand, I want to place myself in a position of control over life’s simple variables like dialing in the exact time and temperature of morning toast or setting the thermostat to suit my immediate needs. On the other hand, it’s great to just push a button and have things perfect without intervention.

Those same urges conflict me when it comes to stereo systems too. Do I want the perfect stereo experience at the push of a button, or would I prefer to control every aspect according to my moods and whims?

Here’s what I’ve figured out. The answer depends on a set of unknown variables that change from day to day. Some days I want to roll my sleeves up and control and perfect every aspect of the musical experience: the perfect volume, the adjusted seating height, a little lower on the lights, activate CleanWave on the PowerPlant between every track. Other days I am just thankful everything’s working up to snuff and I can close my eyes and enjoy.

I am not sure how to predict which side of me wants to run the system on any given day. But I can suggest it’s awfully nice to be in a position to choose one or the other depending on my mood.

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15 comments on “Control vs. convenience”

  1. I find the less things I have to fiddle with the better it all is. Years ago we had a Bass and Treble knob to twiddle with, then graphic equalisers that got bigger and BIGGER. Then we had this thing called ‘Direct’ that was a way of taking all that out of the equation. I often find I spend ages fiddling about with settings only to come back to ‘Direct’ Choices can be a nightmare sometimes….

  2. “We value less those experiences that come to easily”.

    Be it cooking a gourmet meal or driving a sports car with a manual gearbox, work and involvement enhance the experience.

    After a hard day however a good restaurant and a taxi ride are very welcome.

  3. I too found that I gave up on equalization and stayed in direct mode because, although some albums benefited from being tweaked, the majority did not and having to reset for them was a nuisance. I can imagine that when everything is computerized and DSP’d that having individual equalization profiles which you could craft for each album (or even track) would be handy.

    1. That would seem the logical extension of this. I was going to ask Paul how the AN’s are controlled. Do I have to get up, or can it be changed from the Chair?

      My concern is that every time I’ve used some form of DSP, I end up liking it better without. Not saying it can’t/won’t get to the point it’s undetectable, but meanwhile color me skeptical.

  4. I agree to most, that fiddling with various recordings is mostly not done and we usually go straight. But once matching to room and equipment is essential.

    After that most of the time the glass of wine is much more important than midbass 😉

  5. I have a tubed preamp. One attraction to it is that you have subtle control some aspects of the sound. One matched tube pair type is more rich sounding, one pair more detailed, one better bass, etc. I picked up 10 or so NOS pairs from the 50s and spent weeks sifting through them. I thought I would change them in and out every now and again with changes in my mood. What I found is that I now listen to my favorite tube and have a “graveyard” of tubes.

    I like the ability to tailor the sound, but once it’s tailored to my liking it never changes. For a while I had my room lights on my remote. One push of the button, and the stereo was on and the lights at 33 percent. After that, enjoy the music. I’m definitely in the “perfect stereo at the push of a button” camp.

  6. After I take the initial time to set up my system, from that point forward I just want to turn it on and listen. If I have to do all this fiddling around it becomes like work. Perhaps it means I am missing something but I will take my chances. I do find that my day-to-day mood can dictate how loudly I might want to listen, but that’s about it.

  7. As the user of a system that doesn’t even need switching on, as it will detect almost anything thrown at it, wake up and play, my life is as simple as can be and is an audiophile’s worst nightmare. All I have to play with is volume and turning the sub on and off (both from the remote). Of course it has been like that with mid-fi like Sonos for years. It is increasingly the case with high fidelity, although the audiophiles’ desire to mix brands and own multiple boxes makes such control impossible. So it’s your own fault.

    1. …. “mix brands and own multiple boxes makes such control impossible ……”

      It is truly impossible, when you do not know how to do it.

  8. First off , Kudos to Aeroaudio , I love your response !

    Personally, I enjoy the micromanagement ( or micro-tweaking ? ) of my system depending on what source I am selecting. Most are just adjusting volume and occasionally playing with my PSA DAC filters, but now Paul has thrown the ” activate CleanWave on the PowerPlant between every track” out there, so now I’m going to have to see how that affects the results . Every track ? Really ?

    I guess that makes me a “control” freak .

    Happy listening to all !


  9. Engineering is about control. We define situations we want to happen a certain way when we want them to happen and we want to prevent other situations from happening. So the first problem is to define what you want to happen and not happen and then to come up with plans to make it happen. Then you build it and test it. We want to turn an electric light on and off. Do we want to control its brightness also? Do we want to throw a switch on a table lamp? throw a switch on a wall? push a remote control button on a plug in or wireless remote control? Control it over a smart phone? Have it turn on and off at certain times or when it is dark or light outside? Do we want to use a voice command or hand gesture? Do we want light systems to dim or brighten depending on how much outside light comes in?

    Control systems can be manual, semi automated or fully automated. They can be used to control other systems. A building automation system monitors and controls many aspects of a building and building systems. If it’s too hot it turns up the air conditioning system. Too cold and it adjusts the heating system. During working hours it turns the lights on. After hours it turns lights off. If someone works after hours the control system can be overridden. Computers increase the power of control systems. Artificial intelligence or AI are computer systems that are programmed to learn from experience and then reprogram themselves.

    When we hand over control to a control system we are giving up sovereignty of ourselves to machines. Often with very complex systems this is necessary because machines can monitor and make adjustments to more things, make them faster, and with more precision than humans can. Robots are run by control systems. How do we prevent them from killing us? That’s not an easy question and when we build robots that fight wars like soldiers or act as police where does losing control over them become dangerous? What happens when your self driving car malfunctions while it is driving you somewhere. Can you overrride it to adjust the throttle, brakes, and steering wheel or are you helpless to crash into something. What if you never learned how to drive even if you could switch to manual control? These are matters of life and death. Several years ago an Airbus plane took off from Laguardia Airport in New York City. A flock of birds entered an engine and the plane could no longer control itself. Airbus philosophy puts its trust mostly in the machine’s automated control system. The experienced pilot had a great deal of difficulty taking control manually as the automated system was deliberately made difficult to override. He managed luckily to take control and land in the Hudson River where the passengers were quickly rescued by tugboats. In a Boeing plane he’d have had no problem overriding the system because the design philosophy is to ultimately put full control in the pilot’s hands if he wants it, an entirely different point of view.

    Reality is that automated systems are increasingly going to take over our lives. In fact our bodies have countless automated systems built into them, When they fail we get sick. The 5G internet of things is going to connect everything to everything else. Security is a big concern. How do you prevent unintended or malicious control from accessing your own systems? How do you prevent a foreign country from hacking into your electrical power grid and shutting it down? How do you prevent your neighbor who is a computer geek from turning off your stereo system because it is too loud or he doesn’t like your music? As systems become more complex, their integration makes them increasingly vulnerable to cascade failures. This is what happens when a single element like a transformer or feeder cable fails resulting in an entire regional power grid going down. How do you eliminate those vulnerabilities? How do you even identify them?

    If Star Trek was so smart why does Kirk have to tell Scotty to beam him aboard and why does Scotty have to operate all those switches to do it? The aliens are much smarter.

  10. >>>>> But I can suggest it’s awfully nice to be in a position to choose one or the other depending on my mood.<<<<<<

    Its awfully nice to be able to afford it…… The rich can lose contact with the average music lover. The ones who dance. I remember when music moved me on a small Magnovox tube TT with attached speakers. Today its considered junk. But it moved me more than what I hear today. Something is wrong with priorities when we lose track of what matters. Can they be automatically reset?

  11. Like the post says it all depends on one’s mood which of course depends on one’s physical and mental state. On days when one is physically and mentally exhausted one goes for convenience. On days when one is bright, bushy tailed and brimming with energy being in control comes naturally. This does not apply to those who are too passive to feel in control. When one is in control the sound is exactly as one wants it to be and when in a passive mood the sound is nice but the amount of involvement is of a lesser degree. One is here and the sound is there and that’s about it. Of course this does not apply to people whose systems have only one thing that they can control and that is the volume control. Regards.

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