Magnifiers

January 5, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

When the fine print's too small we put on a pair of magnifiers so we can better see the writing.

I wonder if we might define what we in high-end audio strive for as being similar?

Instead of magnifying lenses, we turn to better equipment.

Better equipment has the power of great magnification. It allows us to look deeper into the music, to find more inner detail, to hear more about what's going on in a recording.

Speakers with greater resolution, amps with improved clarity.

In a way, it reminds me of better magnification, of wiping clean a smudged pair of eyeglasses.

How well do your magnifiers work?

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59 comments on “Magnifiers”

  1. In theory yes, however the recording has to also be of a high quality, otherwise your magnificent magnifier will also 'look deeper' into the faults in the recording & they will become more audible.

    1. That’s true, but strangely I have found that on some recordings which I’d thought were rather average sound better on decent equipment. Goodness knows why. Maybe the magnification is digging down deep and extracting more of the good stuff?

      1. "Esperanto Anyone?" 😉
        Interestingly the way the DAC in my 'SA-12 SE' converts the digital information through a DSD stage before it converts to analogue, it does appear to clean-up the sound, not by a lot but by a noticeable amount.

    2. A Yogi Berra classic line…

      “It’s déjà vu all over again“

      I guess by now we should consider it a given that the source material is a major factor in so many of these audio topics.

    3. I seem to have a slightly different (perhaps more forgiving) philosophy regarding an audio system compared to what I always read about. 'The absolute sound' to me is to reproduce the recording, not the original performance. I want to hear what the artist has put out, with all of the effects, sounds and artifacts from the recording. To me, the recording is the piece of art that I am observing, and I want my system to reveal everything there, 'as the artist intended'.

      1. Deki,
        I don't think that the recording artist intended 'tape hiss' or
        conversely a lack of high frequency content or a certain
        'dullness of sound', which you can get from some bad recordings.

        1. Hey FR, if that's what's on the recording, then that's what I want to hear. If the recording was put out without HF energy and tape hiss, it's all part of the recording and we may or may not like it. To me, no different from uninspired music or lyrics, all part of the experience of the particular track/album. Sometimes lo-fi recording is part of the music and if it adds to the context of the song, then great. I like to hear all the detail, helps me to appreciate everything about the music and it's production.

          1. That may well be what you want to hear & you've got no
            argument from me on that point, since audio is subjective.
            However, I'm not so sure that it is "as (what) the artist intended."
            Why would an artist want their music poorly recorded?

  2. and is the 24-bit re-creation by X2HD of Jazz at the Pawnshop any better than my 16-bit version off the tape original?
    Sure is.
    Please explain.

  3. I was having a look on a popular UK forum on a thread of people's system changes in 2021. Lots of traditional products and some older classics, like the Radford STA25, a classic 1960s valve amplifier that is back in production. A few new DACs (Chord, dCS, RME, Denafrips) purchased last year. Hardly a mention of cables, thankfully, except for one chap who kept the UK cable business going single-handed. Lots of Linn and Naim still being tweaked and lots of Rega. General impression is mostly of playing safe and tried and tested products, and quite a bit of good budget streaming going on.

    1. Sounds like the old cliche of the British audio folks:
      No gimmicks like cabling or power line care, a lot of fiddling and tweaking of rather old or basic, rather integrated or half size equipment and reserved buying readiness. If so, then French as far as not British, but always with the focus on PRAT, explicitly not full range. Tweaking and tweak accessory budget can easily double the basic cost of the setup and can be way too high compared to what would be achievable with other upgrades 😉

      1. I think that's an extremely accurate description, and probably explains why British audiophiles probably take any claims of groundbreaking new products with a pinch of salt and a long view. We have our fair share of innovative new businesses like iFi, Innuos, others for sure, and a lot of old ones doing much the same thing for decades with incremental improvements. Even some of the old dogs like Rega can bring out new world-class products like the P8 and P10, based on decades of product development.

        It is a little unfair to say the UK market ignores power line management. Our approach is different. Balanced mains transformers had a god run. Naim have been making external 24v power supplies for their components for 30+ years. Conditioners (and regeneration) have been made by UK brands Sounds Fantastic, Isotek and Isol-8 since before PS Audio got involved.

        But cables? Really not a lot of love for them over here.

        Plus you could probably buy half of Texas for the price of a one-bedroom flat in Central London, so audio is not going to be a priority to youngsters and the oldies are still enjoying their Tannoys and valves.

        1. 😉
          Yes I agree, with lacking „power line care“ I meant what comes before the power supply. I didn’t observe the British were quite involved except more recently. But for sure equipment tuning with add. PSU units was extremely present.

          1. I bought my Sounds Fanstatic mains cleaner 20 years ago and still have it. They've been making them since the 1970s. IsoTek was formed in the 1980s and I bought one of their hugely popular EVO3 Aquarius conditioners when I bought my first streaming system in 2009. I don't know how many PSA regenerators have been sold in the UK, but I couldn't give mine away and ended up selling it to someone in Germany for loose change. Our mains power is subject to the same regulations as the rest of Europe as well as British Standards, I seem to have much lower mains impedance (0.13 ohms) than Mr Fremer (0.44 ohms), even after having his mates fix it, and of course I suspect over here we use much less power-hungry audio than in the USA. Personally, I have a brand new 3 x100A mains supply, enough power for a small factory, and a dedicated, shielded mains feed to my audio system.

            Overall, I suspect most UK audiophiles like to try new stuff and swap it with their audiophile mates, without breaking the bank, for the fun of it, rather some religious quest for musical truth.

            1. It’s not that I don’t respect British Hi-Fi 😉

              Especially in the era of US Hi-Fi with large speakers using shabby cabinets, cheap drivers, sounding full range but boomy and amps having power but quite nothing else, a well setup Linn gear transported more of the essence of music (at least for British room measures).

              Living Voice today builds some of the musically most fascinating sounding speakers imo and Tannoy for many (I personally didn’t have the chance to really explore them yet) is still the way to go. For British amps (except for some tubes) on such a level I’d have to think a little longer 😉

              1. I should have owned a pair of Living Voice OBX, because I had a 300b-Xls valve amplifier from Art Audio that was made for them. In fact Kevin Scott tweaks the Art Audio amps himself. For those not in the know, LV are probably the best value high sensitivity speakers being made anywhere.

                Besides thinking most audio issues were solved long ago and most products are more of the same, a lot of UK audio is exported (or designed in the UK and shipped globally from China). So it has to be affordable and extremely good value, as the customers do not have the income/wealth of USA buyers. I suspect this is much the same across most of the EU.

  4. Even if you have speakers with greater resolution and amps with improved clarity, they will of themselves virtually have no impact on the inner detail or for the listener to be able to hear more about what’s going on in a recording without other ingredients. The quality of the source recording and the reproduced audio signal has to be of commensurate quality relative to the connected speakers and amps.

  5. “Speakers with greater resolution, amps with improved clarity.
    In a way, it reminds me of better magnification, of wiping clean a smudged pair of eyeglasses.”

    Experience can make one think tweaks (isolation / coupling, power, and the like) as fitting todays analogy better. Sort of like a little correction for the small print.

    As FR points out “magnifying” above a certain level can show more faults with what ever system you have. To the point where it’s all detail and you loose the ‘musicality’

    Or to put it another way, as you zoom in you can loose the ‘big picture’. Enough so that you may only see one letter at a time, or ink bleed into the paper, or pixels on the kindle.

    Or is todays post really a self observation being applied to the aging 2 channel population?
    Or is todays post an observation the BHK 600’s and FR30’s have revealed more than what Paul has heard in the past?

    1. Am I already an aged audiophile with my 37 years ols/ young? 😉

      In the last years I heard lots of different versions of different albums (pressings, cuts, masterings). The difference was sometimes huge (for example Steely Dan's well known Aja, which I had on budget CD reissue, UHQCD from Japan, as an actual vinyl reissue and original US pressing). The difference were heard by me und my Not so listening experienced music listening buddies on my system, but also on the average rigs of my friends. So I tend to Fat Rat's opinion, that the source matters more, than the playback system.

      1. Hey Baster,

        Only you can define your audiophile age. Chronologically you’re approaching the 1/2 way point 😉

        I have no issues with the statements that the recorded source is / should be the defining point for what you hear at the end. Have you ever heard a system that presents your favorite recordings in a new, different, and maybe better light? If so, why was that different system better? If not, then there’s no need to ever consider anything else over what you have now.

        1. Thanks for your reply.
          I must admit, that my personal system is the best I heard to date. Given the fact that I haven't visited the only (and by far very expensive) audio dealer in my hometown (for not getting pitty about my system 😀 ) I have no idea whatelse to expect. All the changes I made in the last years brought me forward. I don't know if another streamer/DAC or amplifier would blow me away (it certainly would). But as we already mentioned here on the forum many times: the different parts of the chain have to work together. Today I'm happy with it. But a new phono stage will be purchased this year and (who knows) one day I will perhaps change speakers etc. I'm glad, that I actually have a good wife acceptance factor, though every change has to be made prudently (don't know, if you understand, what I mean).

          1. So Baster,

            If you’re picking up changes and moving forward with your current set-up then I would say you’re on the absolute correct track. One step at a time…. A good WAF is a plus. As far as being prudent, I know exactly what you mean. I didn’t and don’t mean to imply otherwise.

            I was lucky enough to have the opportunities when I was younger, and even now, to listen to many different set-ups and many different price points. That gave / gives perspective into my home system and where I wanted to go with it. The home set-up for me has been (still is) a long continuous evolution of enjoyment. IMO that’s what it should be all about. So keep smiling 😀 and enjoying.

            1. Thank you Mike, that's kind.

              Each time I listen to my fathers setup with his old GDR-hifi gear, that he's so proud of (and that to me sounds horrible), I'm glad having the choice nowadays. American amp/ CD-player/ tapedeck/ turntable/ phono pre and japanese speakers/ phono cartridge plus british streamer/DAC and british subwoofer. I'm glad, that there are no limitations (in the given price range) anymore.

            2. Once again Mike, we followed the same path. Not lately though. Who has the chance to locate an audio salon to listen to new equipment so we can judge our home systems abilities and the direction of audio reproduction?

              1. Not only all that Neil, in this age of internet only sales, who do you bounce ideas, thoughts and impressions off of? The one whatever you happen to be doing an in home trial with? The delivery guy? It’s a different time that requires a completely different approach. I’m sorta glad I’m just old enough to be considered a geezer 😉

                1. My only issue is that I have always been nearsighted and was able to read off the head of a pin. I’m 75 years old, feel like I’m feel like I‘m 50 at most and act like I’m 30.

                  I still work one or two days a week with many young beautiful women down in South Florida and they love when I come into the office because I guess my young essence and accumulated wisdom attracts them to me. Especially when my employer and childhood friend who is a year younger than me looks like he’s ready to die. I’m not talking about sexual relationships here but we do go out on occasion at night just to have a good time and they don’t feel uncomfortable with me being part of their group, in fact they enjoy it… Lucky me It makes me feel good to know that I still got it. We were supposed to go to Joe’s Stone Crab until omicron reared it’s ugly head. Hopefully it will die out and will get a chance to go before the Crab season is over.

    2. More recently I caught PM referring to a BHK-650...
      Could it be that when tested, the BHK-600 actually pushed out 650 watts??
      Ask Paul - 'PRaT vs Fidelity' (Jan 2) at 4:06

  6. The other day I was about to toss a new amp out the window until this morning when I heard a recording that saved the day. The recording was terrific- all sounded great!
    A “ revealing “ system can be a big problem!

      1. Now that’s progress.
        It’s amazing what a good recording will
        Provide acoustically. I just revamped all my gear for “peanuts” and it sounds terrific as long as the source is good!
        Can’t believe how much I’ve spent for relatively little difference in the past!
        Since I’m spending more time at home due to uptick in virus, music becomes
        Very important!
        It’s amazing how the nonsense we hear in the audio domain also exists in the information on virus from “leaders”
        In govt. we have been triple vaccinated
        But ………..
        Stay safe

    1. Can’t Wait to listen to music this am since tinnitus is gone?
      Why?
      My system has been upgraded
      Perchance it’s the new 12 gauge neurons I’ve installed !

    2. Always remember that larryo2. It’s more than likely that your system is not to blame when you feel like taking a component and tossing it out the window.

  7. Can’t Wait to listen to music this am since tinnitus is gone?
    Why?
    My system has been upgraded
    Perchance it’s the new 12 gauge neurons I’ve installed !

  8. I expect my gear to deliver the highest resolution that one can reasonably expect.

    With streaming, life is much easier nowadays. If I don’t like the recording or mastering…. I skip it. Not that they are always bad, but with some works I want to sit in the orchestra, with some I like to be the audience at a distance, with others I wish to stand next to the clavicord. It varies.

    If I do like it, but want to create a specific sound balance, I use the corresponding voicing options of my Lyngdorf, which can easily be made by oneself as well.

    When recording and resolution (the RAW) is to my liking, I make my own JPG. So, people, ‘go fully digital with good resolution and take the lead yourself’.

  9. Taking this metaphor a little further, are “rose-colored glasses” the equivalent of speakers that make bad recordings sound better?

    Perhaps new stronger prescription glasses are not always a good thing, especially when you have to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning. 😉

  10. I got given a little JBL Bluetooth speaker for Xmas. I couldn't get it to pair up correctly, so I decided to check the enclosed user manual. In order to fit the instructions in ten different languages onto a single piece of folder paper, the manufacturer had determined to use a microscopically tiny typeface. I had to resort to a magnifying glass. I actually have two magnifying glasses, and I found that I needed the more powerful of the two. Poring over the microfilm instruction manual I felt oddly like Sherlock Holmes. I should have been sporting a deerstalker and chomping on a Meerschaum pipe. When I finally found the appropriate section, it read "For pairing with a Bluetooth source, consult our on-line FAQ".

        1. Hey Neil,

          At first blink, I didn't understand your reference so I had to look him up. I didn't realize that he came up with "D'oh!" way before did Homer Simpson.

          Thanks for the enlightenment! 🙂

          1. Well, now I’m dating myself. I forgot about Homer Simpson. Yes, Jimmy Finlayson was really famous from being in so many Laurel and Hardy movies. He was almost a regular, A really great character actor.

    1. Isn’t that the worst Richard? This is where we are headed as we get older and corporations decide that they won’t even spare a piece of paper where the fonts are large enough for us to read and then to add insult to injury, we get sent to an online BS Website where we have to comb through a myriad of topics just to get a simple system up and running.

      BTW… Sherlock Holmes loved his Church Warden Pipe as well as his his Meerscham lined Pipe.

      1. LOL! You know what's actually the worst? When you find that the reason you couldn't make the Bluetooth connection in the first place was that all along you had been trying to connect to your daughter's nonexistent Bluetooth speaker that you had used last summer and was still in the computer's memory. She'd bought me one of my own as a Xmas pressy, and I'd carelessly assumed it was the same model because it looked the same!!

        Oh, and I never did manage to find that on-line FAQ page!

        1. Things are getting so complicated and it’s hard to remember every step that you need to take when you try to integrate a component into a larger system that has been in use. You really need to put your thinking cap on before you begin to try to integrate anything now. I have the same exact problems. ROON Has made promises to have voice communications with their company for several years now but they know it’s a lie and we know it’s a lie. What they want to do is put everything down on the Internet and have you go through the ‘corn maze’ to try to get to finish line.

          I think we need to rise up and take hostages 🙂

          Now that the Internet has taken over we are at the mercy of these corporate masters. I don’t know if there’s anything that we will ever be able to do to get them to understand that it’s their merchandise and our money.

          1. My Dad was the Ladies' shoe buyer for the most successful retail shoe chain in the UK in the 70's and 80's. He had a unique perspective which nobody else in the business followed. He recognized that while customers young and old loved looking at the latest fashions which therefore had to fill the storefront windows, only young girls ever bought those fashions, and they were hugely unreliable customers. You ended up with piles of unsellable overstock at the end of every season. My Dad realized that his best customers were what he called his "middle-aged ladies". They bought better quality shoes, and could be relied on as repeat customers. And anything that was left over at the end of the season could go straight back on the shelves again next year. So most of his turnover came from the fashion lines, but most of the profit came from his "middle-aged ladies".

            I wish I could say that us middle-aged men were where the most reliable profit came from in the modern tech industry, but it's not so. I just traded my 10 year old iPhone 5S in for a new SE model, which I intend to last me for the next 10 years. My new Bluetooth speaker is the first I've ever owned, and I didn't even buy it myself. I don't think, for these companies, I represent a demographic of any commercial relevance whatsoever.

            1. IMHO I’m not sure if that’s what online corporate America is thinking. I used to be in the retail business in holistic pet supplies and that cost or age boundaries. Nevertheless, in 2008 when there was a recession and I was going through divorce proceedings there’s not much a person can do but put up the good fight.

              Internet companies have it all their way now and there are very few that give a damn about their customers. I tried to get Verizon wireless to give me a senior discount and you can’t even speak to a representative on the phone anymore when they used to have rooms filled with or telephone reps. T-Mobile was smarter and they offered a unlimited useage 55+ plan for $50 a month no additional charges or tax for the rest of my life. Now I’m getting emails from Verizon trying to get me back but still not at $50. They want me to charge two phone lines at $70 a month. It’s all a giant game to them and a the need to satisfying their stockholders.

        2. Now that I’ve stopped laughing ( from the same type of experiences) imagine this….
          Getting in a different rental car every couple of days, only to find out every Bluetooth slot is filled. Then spending the next 15 min or so digging through the glove box to find a manual. Then digging thru your carry on bag to find your reading glasses that aren’t there because you left them at the last place where you needed to read something.

          Thank the gods for usb and some type of phone car play.

          I’ve got a JBL ‘tube’ that is absolutely great in the golf cart. (If remember the cable, I can actually charge the phone at the same time.) It also does a great job at pissing the people in the next hotel room over off. 😀

  11. [Paul:How well do your magnifiers work?]

    Let's see, in these past 9 months of tweaks: new monitors + new monitor cables + optimum room setup arrangement = greater recording clarity + greater inner detail + full system transparency via huge 3D soundstage development!

    For me, my synergistic magnifiers have worked Just Fine!! 😉

  12. When it comes to vision, as we age we typically need magnifiers because our eye lens become less flexible and accommodating. Even when young, it's fun just to look through a telescope or microscope and discover the micro-details we didn't know were there. Beautiful skin is ugly through a microscope. Magnification gets us closer to reality, but we might not like what we see. Same with enhanced hearing of recorded music. Enlarging the image, magnifying the detail, and sharpening the contrast is fun, but you don't necessarily want to see and hear the world that way all the time.

    If I'm going to look through a microscope, I want it to be a stereo microscope, for full 3-D effect. So much more palpable and alive. Same with audio. Gotta be at least stereo. Now if you just want to observe and magnify from a distance through a telescope, stereo isn't of much advantage, except two eyes seeing exactly the same thing is still better than one. I love looking through my binocular telescope. Even with mono audio, two ears are better than one.

  13. when one goes to a live performance it's there and one is there. No effort to listen to fine inner details. The performers are arranged as they plan. No thought of a football sized sound stage, no thought of stage height, no thought of layering, no thought of dead spaces between players so on so forth. It is all there and totally effortless. When a system produces close to such sound then one has achieved his audio dream. One just gets totally lost in the music produced. It is so realistic. It is very possible. all one has to do is not stick to guru's advice to the T. Think outside the box if necessary. Regards.

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