High jumping

July 5, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

If I believe something to be correct it’s easy for me to jump to a conclusion that matches that belief.

On the other hand, if an observation doesn’t match my belief, I don’t jump anywhere near as high or quickly.

In fact, it takes a great deal of energy to jump in the opposite direction.

It’s more like swimming upstream.

Let me give you an example. I believed for years in the superiority of servo woofers. The greatest systems I had ever heard had servo-driven bass. And the logic behind a servo control just makes sense: any quality of woofer and enclosure can be made near-perfect by the addition of active feedback.

At the time, every subwoofer I’d ever heard without servo control sounded wimpy and flabby while the opposite was true with those properly controlled.

The first crack in the dam occurred with a Velodyne servo woofer. Ugh. Constrained, tight-assed, uninvolving, amusical.

Turns out it’s possible to design the musical life out of a product if you’re intention is more theater than music.

The final straw was when Darren Myers and Chris Brunhaver cornered me into letting down my guard long enough to hear a very different viewpoint. That servo control limits what’s possible in reproducing the impact and musical dynamics of music.

Turns out that while a servo system can indeed turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse (average performance woofer into a real performer), it cannot compete with a purpose-designed state-of-the-art woofer like the one Chris designed for the aspen FR30.

It’s easy to jump to the conclusions that reinforce our beliefs.

It’s a lot harder to reverse course in the face of being proven wrong.

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15 comments on “High jumping”

  1. And now that you removed the servo’d sub drivers & the whole servo system in the IRSV’s
    last year & replaced them with the non-servo’d 12″ Dayton’s, it’s a shame that they are just
    sitting there…idle 🙁
    For some audiophiles over 60yo jumping to conclusions is the only exercise that they get
    …isn’t that right ‘Richtea’? 😉

    Personally I never did the servo thang; I never found the need to go down that track.
    Paul just showing us that no matter how old you are, your ears will always tell you
    what sounds better.

    1. Haha. I sort of screamed internally when I read the title and first line of today’s post. The perfect opportunity for that comment but felt I had to resist after having posted at least twice before, so thanks for doing it for me. Of course we mustn’t forget that other important form of exercise for the over 60’s, running through my mind.

  2. I’m not into bass. Lifetime expenditure on subwoofers is £1,250. Two units, one left here carried home by a chap by bus, the other left in a skip. My speakers, however, have active bass correction done by the amplifier and it can be dialled up or down, or on/off, from the remote control. Currently the software has algorithms available for over 1,000 different speaker models. I always have it switched on at 100% because it really works well.

  3. I think that’s human.

    But I also think there’s a way for us to make such jumps easier or to keep them low:

    Avoid to form quick fixed opinions based on only few or potentially the wrong examples which just confirm your initial thought or half-logic assumptions about a topic.

    Try to curb your enthusiasm and decision-making urge until you have gained a comprehensive picture of opinions and experiences (both your own and those of others).

    Continue to question things also past your temporary decision making.

    But I also know as managers we often have to make quick decisions and tend to look better if we stay with them for a while.

    I think a critical view on wrong decisions should not only spot their immediate impact (which might be quite low in many cases), but also the amount of time they lasted unchanged due to ignorance or hybris.

  4. Paul, You have done it again. Another play on words.

    I am sure you realize there is such a thing as actual high jumping. I know this because I was a high jumper on my HS track team. Now that I am old, bald, fat and have a bad left knee ( the one that I used to high jump ) I find it hard to believe I could ever high jump.

    I do have an REL G1 subwoofer in my video system. I bought the unit about 10 years ago and I cannot remember if it is servo controlled or not. I will have to go read up on it.

    I cannot imagine that I would have ever thought of mentioning high jumping and subwoofers in the same posting.

        1. Yes, and one became two. I think a sub underpins the whole musical experience. There’s a lot of useful information on the REL website about this, at least there used to be, I haven’t checked lately. Like much in hi-fi it’s one of those things that you read about but don’t really believe until you experience it yourself.

  5. Paul, a good story. – wasn’t the “No Tube stance” a very similar story?

    The point being… being open to new ideas and ways of doing things is how we keep growing.

    In some ways your rant(s) about the inflexibility of recording engineers sounds eerily similar to what your servo woofer stance was.

    If it’s a matter of preserving the self image by never having waivered from a viewpoint then in some circles that is considered stoic… but also an easy way to be left behind…

  6. Dear Paul,

    “. . . being proven wrong.”

    Were you “wrong” originally? Or have your subjective preferences about what you seek from a bass reproduction system simply evolved or changed over time?

    Thank you.

    With warmest regards,


  7. Good post today. I would have a hard time trading in the IRS for FR-30 servo or no servo. I have never owned any servo subs but always dreamed about a 15″ Velodyne in my early years and never did get one. I have always thought good bass was essential in a system and cringe at these smaller woofers. Sometime in the 80’s larger woofers were abandoned for 6″ woofers. I think the wife factor had a lot to do with it this. most kick drums are much larger than 6 inches and trying to get a woofer to reproduce the lower notes may be asking too much. I am still impressed at engineering attempts to make better bass in a smaller cabinet. Kef had coupled cavity on 107’s and other models. I believe they had 2 woofers mounted totally inside and facing each other attached by a rod. Similar to band pass subs for car subs. Of course speaker replacement must be difficult to say the least.

  8. I’m with Paul and all those who favor passive woofers, with “purpose designed” drivers installed in large cabinets that have generous volumes capable of developing deep bass.

  9. Agreed Paul, there is no need for servo controls in todays woofers, especially woofers 12″ and less . A lot of older vintage woofers didn’t need them either.

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