Enhanced or held back?

September 27, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

If we make a change for the better to our room or equipment, one that gets us closer to the music, was it achieved by a fundamental change or by the removal of existing obstacles?

When I first asked myself that question my immediate answer was semantics. What’s the difference if we achieve better by removing obstacles or improving performance?

I believe it’s more than semantics. In fact, I think it may be at the core of what we do.

Lowering distortion might be viewed as removing an obstacle while improving the slew rate probably qualifies as an enhancement. Both work to improve performance, each in a different way.

Perhaps another way to look at this would be the difference between removing obscuring veils vs. improving dynamics. Or, for a more common metaphor, the difference between cleaning a room vs. redecorating. One makes better what is while the other addresses fundamental weakness.

Lumped together they become more difficult to focus the engineer’s efforts.

Viewed as separate tasks we clear away misconceptions and arrive at a clearer path towards better performance.

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39 comments on “Enhanced or held back?”

  1. Michael Fremer’s room comes to my mind.
    How many more ‘obstacles’ can he possibly
    add to that listening room of his.

    I can definitely attest to the fact that 500w/ch (& 100amps, peak to peak)
    will definitely give you better dynamics 🙂

    1. What’s the typical voltage and amperage of house circuits in Great Britain, Steven? And do audiophiles typically run a heavier gage wire over there when they install a dedicated line?
      Over here (USA) we run 120V with 15A circuits in the wall. Audiophiles typically run 20A or 30A dedicated lines.

      1. We have 230v and legally it has to be ±10%. My single phase was higher, my 3-phase is lower, but both are stable. 3-phase is extremely stable.

        I have a new supply from the street, 300A 3-phase. The thickest feed is for my car charger, next my new induction hob gets a 32A feed. We use ring mains and most other circuits use 6A cable. My audio system has a direct feed using Neotech NEP-4003 UP-OFC Copper Silver plated Mains Cable that is rated at 27A, which is 26A more than I need. For my AV and modem I ran Belden 19364 dedicated lines.

          1. Basically, 300A 240v used to be an industrial level supply, now it is becoming required for domestic as it enables you to charge cars and heat using electric, as well as power modern kitchens that can draw massive power.

            Both mains cables have shielding and a drain cable. The Neotech is higher rated and a better construction. Belden is fine for a modem and a low power TV.

  2. In most cases, we don’t enhance, we remove. To my knowledge, there isn’t a potentiometer in the universe that adds to a signal, it attenuates. In turning up the volume, we are really removing attenuation. By putting up defractors and absorbers in a listening space, we aren’t adding, we are removing.

    Selective removing may be perceived as enhancing, but that’s because the modification is more desirable than the original for that particular application.

    A well-trimmed bone-in rib-eye steak is an enhancement to the side of beef from which it was removed.

    1. Valid points SoundDoc.

      It’s a matter of perspective. From the view of the signal any “hoop it has to deal with, or bump it has to navigate” along the way until it turns into an acoustic wave can be considered some form of impediment and ideally impediments should be removed.

      From the point of the ear, once the acoustic waves are propagating, additions to an empty room may become necessary as we don’t like the way the environment sounds to us when it’s a ‘blank slate’. Or to put it another way, when the room is in it’s naked natural unaltered form.

    2. Just to remind those that have forgotten, no cable ever added anything. Some may lose less signal, and some may pick up less external noise than others, but they never improved a single note.

      1. About a year ago I decided to change the speaker cables since they were very stiff and difficult to manage!
        So I purchased mew wire of same gauge installed them and the difference was apparent towards the poorer side!
        I put back the stiff cables and the difference was audible to me as well as a witness!
        True “story”
        BTW looking for a new integrated amp
        And several British Blends pop up
        Arcam AB
        Iota D
        Cyrus D

        The presentation of “specs” is inconsistent and vague and no hifi shops to audition! Especially the acceptable range of power that a speaker will use. Ranges from 20-120dBSPL are common- what does one select? The worst is that I understand watts/dB/impedance etc!
        Aside from that some amps ,such as Rega ,are analogue input only! If I could hear the difference?

        1. I know exactly what you mean Larry.
          I can’t get past the 1.5mm dia. solid core wire
          to my loudspeakers that I’ve been using since 1993.
          I haven’t ‘heard’ anything that sounds better.

        2. My speaker cables are wafer thin, go under a rug and you can’t see them. For most domestic uses a 2.5mm2 conductor should be plenty, I don’t get the idea of mega-thick cables other than to bump up the price. Flat cables are rather different, they are basically designed for noise rejection, with ultra-low impedance and high capacitance managed by a network.

          There is a new retro A/B integrated recently announced, Exposure 3510. These have been popular for almost 50 years. Very good quality and plenty of power. Superb value in the UK (£2,250), not so good in the USA ($4,000). Superb write-up in November 2021 HiFi News. The Rega Aetheos is very similar, a little more expensive.

      2. You are probably correct Steven (and I do enjoy your posts and have learnt much from them) But all I can say on cables when I put in my Transparent Audio ones speaker and rca the sound (to me ) was much better than the Nordost and Van den Hul previously used at around the same price second hand and have stuck with them since with happiness

        1. My main dealer sells mainly Transparent Audio speaker cables, but not to me. I use Townshend Isolda, been around for decades. I used Nordost a long time ago, for about 10 years, also because they were flat, but a little bright. Good for electrostatics because of ultra-low impedance.

          1. Hi Steven yes I know your dealer I have their emails but it was the first place I got a Hi Fi system from in the early 90s when they had a shop in Peterborough which I miss now I am back into Hi Fi I bought a pre and power Conrad Johnson from them and how I wish I had kept them now but sold them when I decided to into Colnago bikes. Yes the Townshend Isolda are good in fact Max gave me a set for my Supertweeters when I bought them off them several years ago.

      3. You are right, cables never add anything except noise and distortion. They all subtract in various ways, often non-linearly. A treble-tilted upstream component may be successfully mitigated by a downstream cable that subdues the treble frequencies and effects a more neutral bass/treble balance. A neutral-sounding cable, on the other hand, may be preferred in a system with all neutral-sounding components.

    1. “Immanual Kant was a real pissant who was rarely stable,
      Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table.
      David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel
      And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
      There’s nothing Neitzche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the raising of the wrist,
      Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

      John Stewart Mill, of his free will, on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
      Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whiskey every day.
      Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
      Hobbes was fond of his dram
      And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, ‘I drink therefore I am’.

      Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
      A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed!”

      1. That is extremely good Fat Rat at least I understood that some of the posts lose me in context but if one doesnt read them every day as I do then I would learn nothing. There is a lot of complexity in our hobby.

  3. I know I repeat myself, but it just fits the topic:

    Isn’t enabling a bigger dynamic range the removal of obscuring veils while the dynamic capability of gear within a given dynamic range is improving dynamics (well, unless we define any improvement as removal of veils)? I think most would agree, that the latter is way more relevant in practice (but the biggest possible dynamic range is certainly always very welcome).

    Funnily enough Ken Kessler’s article in Copper is just one of the examples of ultra high end scene discussions, where still often not really more than tape or vinyl (this really quite limited technology) is debated as the leading source quality. Why? IMO because the veil this technology still removes is more relevant than the dynamic veil, digital technology removes.

    But anyway the veil/improvement discussion seems academic. What practically matters most, is essential. I tend to put everything in the “removing veil” category. Fuses, cabling, enabled dynamics, bigger dynamic range, better gear in general.

    1. Good morning Jazznut!
      I think Mr. David Woo said this already.
      But I will take it in another direction by asking this question.
      Wouldn’t a P15 or a P20 give you cleaner power while at the same time, increasing the dynamics of your sound system?

      1. Indeed a regenerator is a special case. In a standard situation it improves by replacing a suboptimal basis with a regenerated one. This then is also cleaner than the one before, but not because it’s cleaned, but replaced more or less and so improved.

        1. Good afternoon Jazznut!
          What you said in your comment, is kind of what I thought.
          But as of right now, I have a technical question about those power plants.
          Are they strong enough to be able to plug all fully tubed tube amps in to them?
          I have one tube amp that draws nearly 300 watts out of any outlet I plug it in to.
          I also have three vintage all tube stereo receivers.
          They draw about anywhere between 225 and 240 watts each from an outlet.
          That’s why I ask the technical question I asked.

          1. John, My guess is you need the P15 power plant. You can call PS Audio at 1-800-PSAUDI0, which is 772-8346 and discuss what you need with one of their people.

            1. Good afternoon Tony!
              Thanks man!
              I did call PS Audio.
              Kevin Jackson answered the phone.
              I told him about both my concerns, and my audio needs.
              He made the suggestion of the P15 to me.
              This is probley overkill, but I think the P20 mite be the best fit for me.
              Sure the thing cost 10000USD, but two of them, will serve me, really well.
              The only problem that I have with any of the power plants, is how to control them.
              They’re all touch screen baste.
              Which means, I’ll have to ask my wife to operate them for me.
              Paul, if you have a work around for this problem, I’d sure love to hear it!
              I can’t see at all.
              This is the reason why I would have to ask my wife to operate them for me.
              I wish they all had physical buttons on them.

              1. John, How many systems do you have in your house? You have one amp and three receivers. Are you going to run all of these at the same time? Practically all power output tubes have a heater in them that heats the cathode hot enough that it emits electrons. Thus when you plug them in they draw 200 to 400 watts as soon as you turn them on. Think of them as 25 W to 50 W light bulbs. Under use their power draw does not change much. You do not need a P20, a P15 is overkill already. Relax, listen to Kevin and get a P15.

                1. Good morning Tony!
                  What I’m looking to do later on down the road, is upgrade the sound system in my bed room.
                  Sooner or later, I’m going to replace one of those receivers with a Vac Amp Signature 200IQ power amp.
                  And because of the fact that I want to cut records on myself, a Tube Tech channel strip, and a Manley Massive Passive Equalizer, and lots of condenser and ribbon microphones plugged in to all tube preamps.
                  That’s why I said P20 for in there.
                  But in here, I will replace the JVC receiver with a Mcintosh tube preamp.
                  I will rework my speakers so that I can quod amp them.
                  But I am looking to either go with four stereo tube amps or ait mono block tube amps.
                  And also, an active all tube four way crossover.
                  If I tried to plug all that in to a P15, that mite blow out the output devices in that P15.
                  But with the P20, I won’t have that to worry about.

  4. Great post Paul,

    What you said in the post coincides with my recent addition P15 to my system.

    What I liked about the regenerator isn’t that I hear more of everything, but it is the fact that cleaner power makes my system disappear even more, so I hear much less of my gear but more of the music/sound, and the perceived “at ease” and “effortlessness”.


  5. Paul, This just seems like semantics and world play to me. If I buy a “better” phono preamp that has 10 dB lower noise than my existing one I do not care if you want to call it removing an obstacle, improving performance or a fundamental change. If it makes the music sound better it is good and that is what I want. The only thing I care about is cost versus benefit. I do not want to spend $10K on really expensive cables that make a slight difference, but I will spend $20K on speakers that really make a difference.

  6. Off topic. Not a complaint, just for ‘infotainment’.
    About two hours ago I had an email advising me of a reply to one of my posts from BillK. Not that unusual, but this related to the ‘Hard Wired’ topic from September 4th. Love it. Perhaps a bit of echo, reverberation or delayed reflection in the system, or was it just ‘held back’.

  7. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is money, not knowledge with some people.

    I know if I had half a million dollars to spend on an entire loud speaker set up I could be the toast of the town. 😉

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