Just what is essential?

September 13, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

In Sunday’s post I asked what your favorite tweaks are. Lots of great answer coming in and we shall discuss some of the more noteworthy of them.

In the meantime, I would ask the question of what is essential? What constitutes a tweak, and what has come to be required?

Some tweaks are so pervasive they become institutionalized as a part of the landscape. Stereo itself might qualify. After all, the switch from mono to stereo started out as a tweak, enjoyed by only a handful at the time.

If stereo is now institutionalized what of speaker placement? Is it a tweak or a necessity? Has setup become so ingrained in us that we no longer view it as a tweak? I can certainly remember back to the days of mono systems where speaker placement was decided out of convenience, not sound quality considerations.

We could even go so far as to ask about separates themselves. Are separates a tweak or essential? After all, music comes out of a clock radio too.

In my world there are a certain essential group of components required to setup a sound system that meets a minimum expectation. And I think this is where we’ll start looking for essentials.

What’s your expectations in a music system?

Tomorrow we’ll look at defining expectations and then the essentials needed to realize them.

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11 comments on “Just what is essential?”

  1. If high fidelity aims to reproduce the sound recorded and mixed in the studio it is mandatory to mimic the speaker placement and the resulting combfiltering and room acoustics the sound engineer based his ideas on. Dealers tend to argue that only the listening angle of 60 degrees would be crucial. They conceal the complexity of room acoustics and the professional (mandatory) standards for (active) speakers and reverberation time in the studios. Thus speaker placement never ever can be regarded as a tweak. The correct placement and room acoustics is the foundation of high fidelity. Everything else is just user defined sound fighting the room for getting annoying room effects and combfiltering minimized.

  2. How does a audio chain normally look like?
    First, you need a sound source.
    Then you need a device that amplifies the generally small signal to a level that a system for the generation of longitudinal waves can be driven.
    All choices and changes to this system are either upgrades or tweaks without consideration of the quality of sound.
    Keeping this in mind it absolutely possible that any upgrade or tweak can harm the quality of reproduction or if you have luck improve it.
    Compare your upgrades and tweaks with salt and pepper.
    For a good meal you got to have the right amount of it.
    Less can be worse as well as too much can.

    Regards

  3. I consider a tweek to be something I do myself, that I cannot buy as an audio product. For instance, if I try something like different cables, a power conditioner, the LANRover, small resonators I stick to chips on the circuit board, maple platforms, etc. it is not a tweek. It is a product, intended for audio, that either works in your system or does not work.

    If I alter an audio product by changing an internal component, then that is a modification vs a tweek. If I build my own version of an existing audio product, it is DIY.

    1. I think a tweak is a component not being intended by the manufacturer to be part of the product. (Ex-)changing or modifying parts or components or module of a given circuit or product should be named tuning!

  4. Ok, if we wanna go this way..
    Just as in life only a few things are essential.
    In life food, water, clothes, a roof. All the rest is luxury. We have that luxury, about 4 billion people not.
    In audio you only need a simple radio or it’s modern equivalent, a streaming device.
    With built-in speakers. Or, if you wanna go very luxurious, a pair of (very) small speakers.
    Most of the listening nowadays is done via a cellphone with music stored on it. Sounds good enough for most.
    All the rest is luxury, almost decadence. You know, the stuff we audiophiles all indulge in.
    But for the rest of the population (98%) it’s a strange, incomprehensible world.
    So what is esssential ?
    For most people almost nothing. For us crazy audiophiles 😀 almost everything.

  5. IMHO: Essential is getting whatever system I have at the time to sound as natural as possible. especially with SS.

    It begins with providing a clean electrical signal; 20 amp dedicated line/power conditioning + all components being deferentially balanced (PMc made me aware of that a decade+ ago), followed by vibration control, and speaker placement

    Recently, I inserted 2 Machina Dynamica Tru Tone Duplex Covers, which are passive devices. They look like simple duplex child protectors with a sheet of copper over them (but I know hm well enough now that magic is involved). Can’t even begin to tell you how much they cleaned up the whole background tapestry, immediately noticed they removed a veil over background brass and horns. This also benefited the high frequencies, providing a more natural sound

  6. Here’s more of my perspective looking through the other end of the telescope. IMO the first and most important essential is to have a goal. Without a specific goal all you do is wander around. The more goals there are and the more complex and stringent they are the more difficult to achieve all of them simultaneously.

    Not having a goal is like wandering around in the dark. You don’t know what direction you are going in and you don’t even know why you are moving in any specific direction. All you can do is stumble around. Oh I love that 1000 watt amplifier, it will sound great with my Klipschorns. I’ll try not to deafen myself. And that 3.5 watt SET will sound magnificent with my Maggies…..if I sit two inches away from them.

    IMO an essential is to be able to get reasonably consistent and predictable results for your equipment in your room with your recordings. Room treatments like absorbers, reflectors, diffusers can only go so far. Recording techniques and results are all over the map. Therefore well designed sound systems must be able to adapt to these variables. Unfortunately the notion that less is more heads in exactly the opposite direction. So called “room correction” doesn’t work well at all for technical reasons.

    Why do audiophiles need tweaks? Because they want to fix the shortcomings the equipment designers hadn’t considered or bothered with. There must be a lot of that because there seems to be a relatively small but insatiable niche market for these tweaks. I know a guy who bought up a warehouse filled with bankrupt stock of green felt tip pens. He sells them at a huge discount. But you’d better hurry. Even in unopened plastic the ink only lasts so long before it dries out. I keep one by the phone to take messages. That’s about all they’re really good for, writing stuff down.

  7. This is more a comment on your question methodology than it is a direct response to your initiating query. By using adjectives in your questions (i.e. what is essential? or what is new?) the conversation immediately gets bogged down because of the essential subjective nature of the question itself. Suggestion: Remove adjectives from your questions. Instead of asking what is essential, for example, ask what components are required to fill your most basic needs? On the previous “new” question, I personally would be interested in discussing what inventions have contributed to modern sound systems. That could lead to a whole discussion on Bell Labs, Western Electric and on and on. That is much more interesting than finding out that one person’s “new” is different from any other.

  8. In answer to the question as to what are the expectations from a sound system, in my case they are, a sound that is full, present, rich, vibrant,with great impact, sweet and musical as the real thing with a bite but no irritating edge, that separates the real from the distant put your feet up and relax type, with the overall impression of being in the presence of the performance. Looking forward to tomorrows post. Regards.

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