Notes or numbers?

March 20, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Are we as audiophiles more interested in musical notes or measurement numbers?

The quick answer is, of course, musical notes. Yet I doubt few would disagree with the need to have measurement numbers good enough to get the job done.

Great measuring equipment doesn't always sound musical and musically great sounding equipment doesn't always measure well.

The trick, of course, is found in the balance.

*ht: Mark Petersen for the subject

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20 comments on “Notes or numbers?”

    1. The end of the world is off topic. Keep the posts on topic even though they will be vaporized by Putin and nobody will ever The end of the world should be on topic everywhere. Kind of like when you're watching a movie on TV and they interrupt you to warn you that a Tornado is coming your way.

    2. Yea, at the moment I feel a bit guilty when there is tremendous suffering in the Ukraine.
      Significant numbers of women are going back to join their husbands after getting their children to safety.
      Load magazines and belt ammo, cook, patch holes…
      Dillan is giving me flashbacks!

  1. Today’ post didn’t seem to measure up to the criteria of what the early respondents wanted to talk about. ✌️

    Otherwise, todays post just states what pretty much everyone knows.
    It’s what gets argued (expressed) frequently in these parts.

    Maybe the discussions should be about the phrase …..
    “ the need to have measurement numbers good enough to get the job done.”

    What are those measurement numbers? Does everyone’s measurement numbers carry the same weight? Is the talk of standardized minimums when it comes to measurement numbers?

    Maybe most importantly…. How good enough is good enough for getting the job done?

  2. >> The trick, of course, is found in the balance <<

    Truer words were never spoken. Even though I've never used it and don't even understand why it's there, I upgraded the balance control on my pre-amp to one that uses organic biodegradable tin-coated chicken meal as a conductor. Much more odiferous sound stage for sure. Now, just waiting for Paul to say something about volume...

  3. Give Paul a break. He has been traveling all last week, and probably staying up hitting late night music venues, now that COVID has lulled (At least for now).

    So what if today’s post is “Deja vu all over again”. Someone can always hijack today’s post. Not like that has never happened ;-).

  4. As long as we cannot measure or do not know a large part of the really relevant values, it is probably the most sensible thing to ignore the non-relevant values and decide after listening tests.

    In any case, it makes more sense than judging devices purely on the basis of partly non-relevant measured values, as some do who have so purely understood nothing at all.

    Actually, it would be the goal to make the audible measurable, but for such scientific basic work, the topic of audio is certainly too unimportant.

    In fringe areas of what is offered in the high-end audio field, however, one recognizes in part that things already play a major role that are still largely ignored in the mainstream. Just as Jitter/noise was not explored or considered in the digital field for long, but at the end more relevant than all that was considered before. In this era, even listening tests were ignored as part of the enthusiasm for the new found „accuracy“.

  5. "Great measuring equipment doesn’t always sound musical and musically great sounding equipment doesn’t always measure well."

    Measuring equipment was never intended to sound musical. It reports only what it is presented. This is a silly dichotomy. You'ld be just as well to say the brake used to bend the metal for the chassis is not very musical.

    It's a tough position when you out of one side of your mouth say, "we present unquestionable purity with our product" and then argue from the other side, "well, it may measure poor purity, but its musical and that's all that matters..."

    1. Unless your comment was made tongue in cheek, I think you may have misinterpreted Paul's words. I think he was referring to audio equipment that measures well using measuring equipment doesn't always sound musical. I don't think he was referring to the 'sound' of the measuring equipment. 😉

    2. Thanks, Mike but I don't believe Barsley's comment was tongue in cheek. My guess is he believes this.

      And indeed, I think the statement was misunderstood. I was right in the middle of writing a future post on the subject and so I will simply cut and paste.

      "Measuring equipment was never intended to sound musical. It reports only what it is presented."

      The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the output result. Imagine for a moment measurement equipment designed to measure only THD and frequency response. The results are presented without bias. Is what it is regardless of how the final product sounds. The measurements is going to say the unit is fine and when compared to a competing unit with the same measurement results should sound identical.

      Yet they don't.

      Now, imagine we add another aspect to the test. IM distortion (which we previously ignored). One is high, the other low. Now we see why one sounds poorly while the others sounds good.

      We still have the same original measurements that showed us no differences.

  6. Remembering back in the day when synth reproduced instruments with an "identical" measured wave form. As a symphonic musician, I was scared for a minute the artificial would supplant the OG. One listen quieted any fears. Don't get me wrong; synch tech has produced amazing sounds that can be used as musically as any other source, but listening must be the final factor in choosing your bliss. Machine produced data is a good starting point, though, IMHO, to point you in the right direction, and is frequently an indication of quality manufacture. I will glance at measurements in equipment reviews, but am more interested in what reviewers I trust have to say about the sound. (Especially in these days of mail-order audio brides).

    1. You make a good point. And real notes matter most. Yet, while I have always loved George Benson's Breezin' album, the strings sound canned. [I have the Rhino Archives CD.] Yet, I believe they used a 40 piece string section for the sessions. It has always been distracting to have to listen past the strings to get to his sublime guitar licks. Is it an artifact of the 70's time period? Certainly great strings were earlier employed by Sinatra and Nat King Cole, etc. And I love Nelson Riddle's later work with Linda Ronstadt. Bugs me to this day.

  7. Add another dimesion to your listening pleasure >> Odophonics
    Ever heard of the Odophone.

    Really how can we expect a couple of speakers reproduce multiple instruments at the same time?

    Even with the limitations I truely enjoy my PSA equipment, that is all that matters.

  8. Great points, claytonpd and David; even with real strings, one is constrained by the room you are recording in and the equipment doing the pick up. I played in a back-up orchestra for GB in the late seventies, at an indoor stadium in Minneapolis. The cheap pick-ups on our strings made good sound quality a bad joke. For me, realistic, non-fatiguing, massed string or orchestra reproduction is the last word in whether an audio engineer or speaker is truly first class. Hoping I'll find out in August when I get my FR30's.

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