PRaT

November 26, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Most of us are familiar with Pacing, rhythm, and Timing. PRaT for short.

It’s what gets our feet tapping to the music.

Not all equipment promotes PRaT. Some equipment sounds terrific in all respects except PRaT.

I am often asked if when we’re designing new products we consider PRaT as one of the design goals. The answer is a simple yes.

What we realized long ago is that even if you have perfect soundstaging, timbre, frequency response and amazing dynamics, that isn’t everything.

PRaT is how we connect with music with our emotions. And that’s an essential element (or should be) in any design.

So, yes, emotional connection, PRaT…however you wish to express it, it’s all part and parcel of the design process.

Some equipment’s got it.

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63 comments on “PRaT”

  1. Never understood PRAT. Just seems to be a few words cobbled together to say if a system produces an enjoyable sound or not. Never read a review that says a system or component has pace and rhythm but poor timing, good rhythm and timing but poor pace. What would poor pace be? Just a load of gobbledygook. But I agree with Paul and particularly Ted, foot-tapping is as good a way as any to describe enjoyable music reproduction. (How you tap your feet to Janacek or Schoenberg is another matter.)

    1. No need to differentiate, all three the same. It’s just one more thing we can’t touch, see, feel, eat or identify without comparison (which as so often doesn’t mean it’s nonsense).

      After non measurable sound quality effects, cabling and other relevant matters, PRaT is certainly most welcome for anyone on the trip to prove that what he doesn’t understand or experienced, doesn’t exist 😉

    2. Totally agree, especially when discussing anything from a digital source. How can timing or pace be off in a digital device unless the clock is wildly off/broken? This seems like more of a legacy term from the turntable era where you can have small variations in motor speeds that are audible.

      I guess my question back to Paul is – if you’re testing a component and it doesn’t have what you consider good PRAT, what do you change to correct it?

      1. That’s a great question, Karl. It really depends on what the equipment is. If it was a power amplifier, for example, the first thing I would want to know is its step response. Is that what we would expect? Oftebn that’s not right. Or, perhaps there’s the wrong ratio of overall feedback that’s clouding up the presentation. Hard to generalize.

        The thing is once you hear something missing it may take months of work by trial and error to figure out what to do.

  2. Actually, as I remember it from the 70’s, PRaT was marketing terms used by companies like Linn to describe the turntable’s “P” as “pitch” or “pace.” (an attempt to describe wow and flutter) “R” the unambiguous letter for rhythm where over emphasis of the first note of a 4/4 or 3/4 tune is heard, like the conductor will often bring the baton down for this beat. Rhythm awareness can be learned, which is why music teachers encourage pupils to clap in time to music. And “T” for “tune” or better said “timing” where “tune following”, the ability to separate out one instrument from an ensemble and follow its tune alone. Naim dealers made much in their early days of this ‘tune following’ lark, that capacity of a system to allow the listener to pick out the tune being played by any one instrument in an ensemble and follow its tune alone.

    I guess it’s as rational to say, “Pulling harmonics together from a jumbled auditory stream to form a coherent harmonic envelope…” or “The music flows with gusto and verve. It squeezes instrumental images into incredibly palpable outlines.” Says a lot to say actually nothing, just marketing jargon.

  3. Oh no, not PRaT again!

    However, that said, one of the most enjoyable and foot tapping demo’s I can remember was at a small U.K. hi-fi show with a system driven by, shock horror, a valve amp. Unfortunately I can’t recall the make and despite giving it much serious consideration, it’s not a route I ever took.

    1. That’s the audiophile conundrum. I did the valve thing and decided it was a waste of time and then heard a pair of Trilogy 995R 40w triodes driving Sasha DAW and I was bowled over. (The 995R can also be run as 200w Class A/B). I’ve heard a few small Audio Note systems at shows, and at someone’s house, and they can be immensely enjoyable, plus the speakers are pretty and like to sit in corners.

    2. Yes tubes are usually good at it, but it’s not a tube vs. solid state matter generally.

      But e.g. in the past I had very nice, very big, very black, very expensive, very hot running, very well regarded solid state Class A amps. They had many fascinating characteristics, but good PRaT was not one of them.

  4. And it’s especially also a question of the overall system connection (cabling) and dialing in (e.g. subwoofers). Although I technically understand hardly anything of it, I dare to say, that PRaT seems to have a lot to to with phase coherent behavior of components and cabling.

    Anyway, as little as many understand this (I had my problems with it myself many years ago), it’s immediately perceivable once one compares good and bad. It makes a huge difference in the fun with music and understanding music.

    People who tend to chose their cabling as tone controls or just by judging detail retrieval etc., should care for also evaluating how music flows or enables toe tapping with each.

    Good PRaT gets most obvious when everything is dialed in and on a high level. If one then puts in equipment with bad PRaT, everything collapses.

    Recognizing a piece of equipment with good PRaT within a setup with otherwise bad PraT’ing components is a challenge. Better care for it when choosing every single piece.

    1. I fully agree. My guess is that PRaT requires perfect time-aligned integration of bass and subwoofer drivers with the much lighter drivers responsible for the upper frequencies. And only a perfect set-up in an optimized room acoustics will give you this experience. Non-PRaT systems will have just a specific sound not engaging at all. And strange enough: cables matter. I recently had a listening to a Raidho-Aavik system. My favorite track for PRaT is: Thelma Houston’s “I’ve got the music in me”. Starting with the smallest standmount speaker only a Raidho D4.1 with top tier Ansuz power cables gave me the PRaT feeling within the first five seconds of this track. Changing cables PRaT totally collapsed. But I still miss Paul McGowan’s listing of technical parameters to be tuned for getting PRaT.

    2. I haven’t been able to understand how this term is used in the hardware design process except for the fact that their have been practical answers being posted this morning that are enlightening to me from the hardware designers viewpoint.

      If the musician(s) are(is) not in the groove (in sync) with each other during a recording session there’s no PRaT to begin with. I also know that musicians use this exact term to describe this phenomenon. I would prefer not to use this acronym with regard to audio equipment and find a replacement term. Reminds me of the song ‘ Love and Marriage’… ‘ you can’t have one without the other’ ….am I making any sense?

      1. Wasn’t it Ivor of Linn that made a big deal about the term PRaT? Unless he explained exactly what he meant, he could have been wrong to use it in the first place.

        1. Yes, PRaT was something Ivor trained his dealers (and UK reviewers) to talk about. It was a sales point that made Linn turntables easier to sell. Once you tell customers and reviewers that they couldn’t — and shouldn’t — trust their ears to hear the normal things that were testable (like frequency response, noise, rumble, flutter, speed accuracy, etc.) but should trust subconscious emotions that were revealed by toe tapping, you’ve made the placebo effect and expectations paramount. It’s like using a dowsing stick to find water hundreds of feet underground. I call BS.

          1. You really call BS. All of the Linn tables are so highly regarded even the latest ones that I give Ivor credit for this turntable which is been around for quite a long time. I see their ongoing evolution as a constant work in progress

            1. I’m not calling BS on the turntables themselves (I owned one back in the ’80s) or on the progress they’ve made — especially with the tonearms. My Sondek came with an Ittok arm, which I don’t think was very good. I replaced it with an Alphason after a year and heard a substantial improvement. I am calling BS on the concept of toe-tapping and PRaT. They were used as sales tricks and then taken seriously by reviewers.

              I do, however, think that ultimately we seek a positive emotional response from our stereo systems. How we get there is debatable. Ivor was a great salesman and wonderful raconteur. He was also responsible for promoting the idea that the source is important — garbage-in-garbage-out — at a time when most hi-fi enthusiasts were looking at it backwards. He also got us more concerned about turntable isolation. Another important concept: “Linn tight.” I remember after about 6 months of owning the Linn Sondek that I tightened all the screws. I was floored by the change in sound. But did my system have more PRaT afterward as demonstrated by toe tapping? Hmmmmm. I’d say, no.

              1. Now I understand your point. But it seems that what I’ve been termed as PRaT what is that pace rhythm and timing. That’s where I got really confused. The same acronym two different sets of meetings. Are you still own and original SOTA Sapphire with a gram on and a Lyra cartridge. I’m quite happy after all of these years with this combination I have no intention of changing anything with regard to that source of music.

      2. Absolutely! A combo playing boring bar jazz can’t be pimped by a good PRaT’ing equipment setup. What we speak of here is, if the rhythmic finesse of a perfectly playing combo shines through or if it also sounds like boring bar jazz.

        As to how equipment enables good PRaT, I assume it has to transport the signal phase-correct, and all parts of the frequency spectrum time-correct (which can mean in case of e.g. digital equipment, that it should also avoid artifacts badly influencing timing information like jitter does). Resonances and drive’s speed deviations are the equivalent of “jitter” to deduct or avoid in case of e.g. turntables.

  5. From my reading, it happens with super fast rise time. The leading edge of a wave is essential to its perceived tone also to its attack (aka PRaT)

    My American Spectral gear and British NAIM concur, with ultra-wide (megahertz!) bandwidth.

  6. If terms such as PraT or Emotional Connection are going to be bantered about then there has to be plenty of examples of equipment or individual internal components that don’t have those qualities.
    How about direct examples?

    If you have “ perfect soundstaging, timbre, frequency response and amazing dynamics” and that’s not enough, so then you design in “The Emotional Connection or PraT”…. Do you loose the perfection of the other characteristics described? A musical instrument doesn’t
    have an EC or Prat sitting alone in a corner somewhere. Those qualities don’t occur until it is played, and it’s the artist that brings out the EC and PRaT. (Check with Zuill ? )

    It might be kind of nice to have a system with the EC and PRaT already designed in, so that no matter what the recording, the correct EC is already there. (◔_◔)

    The statement of “designed in” alone seems to indicate someone knows exactly what is required to do that. By inference that means that someone knows exactly what these qualities are and what is needed to correct them. Yet “knowing” those qualities they still can’t be described.

    If what is really being eluded to is “tuning by ear” then proudly say that! Some of the most respected brands in the world do things that way. Maybe more time should be spent listening instead of coming up with new Words or phrases for the audio Lexicon. Especially ones that have no real definition.

  7. “Oh no, not PRaT again!”
    “Never understood PRAT”
    “Just a load of gobbledygook”

    Sorry guys I stole your lines. But it’s all true.
    It’s nothing, just a silly phrase, no one knows what it is.
    For some just a silly phase they’re going through.
    Some try to “explain” it : “you feel it when it’s there”.

    A piece of music can have PRaT, not a device made of copper, steel etc. The same nonsense like saying an amplifier is “musical”. A person can be musical, an audio device not.
    So at one point in my hobby I decided not to waste my time anymore with things like this and instead just listen to my favorite music without asking myself : do my devices have PRaT ? Are they “musical”. Ha, the very though of that…
    Long story short : I’m a bit sick of expressions like this.
    And now I’m going to listen to some Miles Davis. That is the real PRaT.

    1. Jb4,

      How could you (we) possibly listen to equipment without a proper PRaT rating? 😀 ✌️

      All these years I thought the purpose of equipment was to get out of the way so that the emotional / PRaT response conveyed by the artists on the recording passed thru with no change. (I know, thinking is the problem.)

      How long before AI is designed in to ensure that both the artist emotions, the listeners emotions, and now the inanimate objects PRaT are manipulated to be ‘correct’. Will that be done through negative feedback such as electrical shock treatments, or some other way?

      1. Mike,
        “How could you (we) possibly listen to equipment without a proper PRaT rating?”
        I can, but you’re probably right, that’s not good.
        So I guess I am the problem and probably a Poor, Reasonless Audio Twerp.
        I should definitely find another hobby, all those years, all those amps (etc.) without PRaT…
        Wasted money 🙁

        1. Jb4,

          Thank you for putting a big smile on my face 😀 your acronym definition was perfect!
          Your sarcasm is even more perfect. Thanks again and a happy rest of your Friday.

    2. Back in the 70’s Linn’s marketing utilized the acronym to state P was pitch or pace (correct platter speed) R in relationship to the same rhythm as the conductor’s baton, and T was tune, where companies like Naim would assert one could identify a single instrument and follow it’s line. It’s now misidentified as timing.

      It would just as correct to say something like, “Pulling harmonics together from a jumbled auditory stream to form a coherent harmonic envelope…” (in effect, it’s nothing more than verbal mishmash)

      1. THERE YA GO!! You just put the last piece of the puzzle together for me. This acronym that Ivor used is not the same as ‘Pace Rhythm and Timing’ according to Ivor’s definition.

    3. jb4, I disagree with you on the musical term and amplifiers. I hope you can agree with me that different amplifiers cause music to sound different. I know this to be true because because about two years ago I switched from two tube mono power amps that produced 140 W each to a solid state stereo power amp that produces 740 W per channel. The sound of music played on my system changed when I made that amplifier change. My system now handles large dynamic range music with no apparent clipping distortion and the bass response is fuller and more controlled. With in our audio community we attribute a “sound” to gear. My amp sounds dynamic and tight in the bass.

      I once had the opportunity to attend a phono cartridge comparison where the cartridges were mounted on identical tonearms and played on the same TT and system. Two of the cartridges were very fine and expensive. They both sounded great, yet they sounded different. When I commented that one was more neutral sounding and the other more musical sounding the other attendees agreed with my assessment. I agree that musical is not as descriptive as doesn’t clip and makes the bass fuller and tighter, yet everyone understood what musical meant when I said it.

      On another occasion I was invited to attend the first demonstration of some very hi-end digital gear at a hi-end dealer in NYC. The system the dealer put together to do the demonstration cost more $300K. I could not find anything wrong with the sound of the music played on the system, however, I described it to myself as sterile. When I later chatted with some of the other attendees one described the sound a dry and another as analytical. When I asked these people if they found it musical they all said no.

      I am a retire Ph.D. physicist. For 30+ years my job was to accurately describe in great detail
      physical phenomenon and have plenty of measurement data to backup my descriptions. Does it please me that when I say a certain cartridge sounds more musical, that I cannot give you a detail explanation backed up by measurements as to what that means? No, of course not. But yet, musical sounding gear exist.

      1. Indeed, there are most expensive audio components claiming to produce the lowest distortions but sounding horribly sterile. I once had equipment from Burmester (808MK3 preamp, 878 power amps) but after having listened to my loudspeakers driven by vacuum tube gear from Unison Reseach (Mystery One preamp, Smart 845 power amps) I was blown away. I couldn’t understand how it is possible that audio manufacturers claiming to design high end Hifi-gear can differ that much in „sound quality“. Having integrated the tube gear my stereo system now sounded musical and had a high degree of PRaT. Maybe the „reference“ music of the designer could explain the huge differences? Dieter Burmester was a lover of electric (!) guitars. 😉

      2. tonyplachy,
        “Musical” means a feeling for music. Based on feelings and emotions people have in their genes.
        Your amplifier (or whatever audio device) does not have feelings and emotions and therefore not a feeling for music, hence the term “musical” is not right.
        What your and my amps can do is sound more natural (whatever that may be), better dynamics etc. etc. But that doesn’t make the amp (more) “musical”.
        You can learn a robot to play the piano (just a matter of programming), but that does not make that robot “musical”.
        And with measurements it has nothing to do. You can’t measure “musical”.
        The piano teacher can’t measure if her pupil is “musical”. But she hears it when it’s there.
        NO music teacher on this planet will ever say about an audio device that it’s “musical”.

        1. jb4, You are right, myself and a lot of other people in the audio community are misusing the term “musical”. Now, given that newscasters, politicians, just about everyone and his brother misuse words in the English language so often that it would be impossible to keep count, do really think that going on a crusade to get the audio community to stop misusing the term musical is going to have any success?

        2. [jb4-NO music teacher on this planet will ever say about an audio device that it’s “musical”.]

          After 25 years of studying classical music, performing on all the wind, string, keyboard and vocal disciplines, earning a music degree then teaching instrumental music, believe qualifies for the right to contradict that statement! 😉

          IMHO, simply any music device, be it a Live performance or a Recorded playback component, that solicits an emotional human response can be called “Musical”! From a small transistor radio to the most expensive audio gear on the planet, the emotional musical experience of each individual is unique and ultimately determines what is/isn’t musical!!

          Now that said as an audiophile, My experience and emotional response to recorded playback music is mostly dependent on the music’s genre and potential live presentation capability of the components that I’m listening to! Have I wanted to shake a leg to the car stereo or the PC’s built-in speakers…Yes! But, I become much more emotionally involved when my Synergistic 2-Channel dedicated home “Stereo” crosses the threshold of “artificial music production” into the magic and suspension-of-disbelief/live-you-are-there realism!

          Do I consider My setup and balanced components, cabling, speakers and room Musical…Yes!! Does it have PRaT, of course! Does it more easily allow foot-tapping, head bobbing, breath catching, eye wandering, goosebumps, spine tingling, Ho..Sh.. moments, YES. Is it faithful to the sounds of the human voice and live acoustical instrumental production in a venue space…Absolutely! 🙂

          Ted

          1. Theo (11:59),
            What can I say ? I was wrong…
            when I said “NO music teacher on this planet will ever say about an audio device that it’s “musical”. There IS one, and that is you.
            But no matter how long and what you studied, you are wrong when you use the word “musical” for an apparatus made of steel etc. The “musical” part is in your head, not in the machine.
            It’s all a matter of language, use the right word/term for the right thing.
            Makes me wonder : are YOU a robot yourself…(with some code lines to mimic emotions) ?
            I think Burmansound used a better term : emotionally engaging.

            1. JB4 (11-26-21 12:40pm),

              Wow, so I am a Unique Individual…Thanks for Noticing (guaranteed, I’m not the only one)!!

              Yes, all sounds, noises, etc. are in our Heads! How we respond to each sound (good-bad-indifferent) is due to our wonderful sense of hearing. I do agree, “emotionally engaging” is a good identifier of what I describe as a response to the human musical art form that we all here enjoy! However IMO, my use of “musical” to describe the sonic qualities of components and that emotional response to reproduced music well fits right in to it’s definition:

              Definition of musical:
              a : Of or relating to music
              b : Having the pleasing harmonious qualities of music : melodious
              c : A personal judgment as to the degree to which reproduced sound resembles live music. Real musical sound is both accurate and euphonic, consonant and dissonant.

              I’ve been called many things, but never a Robot?? Seems we don’t agree and that’s okay! Maybe, I do have a special perspective amongst millions of WW Music Lovers!?!

              Ted

    4. I do feel that a system or component can be musical though. To me it means more emotionally engaging, which is the whole point of music. Many components that are technically inferior are more musical to my ears (I’m a musician as well as an engineer). Vinyl and valve amps come to mind.

    1. Before you adopt that moniker, shouldn’t we ask your wife if you have Pacing, Rhythm and Timing?

      And yes, naturally I am referring to.. umm… DANCING….. uh-huh. wink wink, nudge nudge.

  8. When I listen to Bach’s Cello Suite I’m totally captured by the beauty of the piece and the tones coming from the instrument, but I’ve never wanted to tap my foot to that music. If I hear a pop hit such as Tom Petty’s ( Running down a dream) I want to toe tap right away even if it’s coming from my iPhone. I think the PRaT comes from the content, not the Equiptment.

    1. I believe you are correct. Both pieces of music that you spoke about evoke emotional response but in different ways. The way I hear the Bach Cello Suites is ethereal and Tom Petty is a good example of paced rhythm and timing.

  9. British HiFi manufacturers (Linn in particular) correctly identified what was missing from most HiFi systems. It was a sense of musical coherency that captivates the listener. Most equipment may sound ok but it loses that sense of realism and becomes artificial in character.

    Playback in most systems tends to make musicians sound like they have not rehearsed well enough and they’re failing to achieve good intonation and timing. It make them sound like amateurs rather than professionals at their craft.

    1. I don’t believe that equipment can fix the problem of musicians not being in sync with each other. When you hear a good recording then you know that the pace rhythm and timing of the musicians was wonderful. Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear.

  10. For me, it’s simple. Take any great symphony from the Romantic era. If the symphony as produced by the audio system does not make me start conducting like I’m Manfred Honeck, it doesn’t have the “magic”. Audio Note components are particularly good at turning me into a world- class conductor. So are tube amplifiers. If this doesn’t happen for you, you have my sympathies.

  11. PRaT is what separates a good performance from a mediocre one. It is essential to good, enjoyable and involving music. Go to a live performance and the the Prat is off the reaction is one of boredom. PRaT is what separates a good band from just so so ones. Regards.

    1. I don’t know where you live, but I just realized that Ludovico Einaudi is performing at the Kennedy Center in June of 2022. There are good seats available in the Orchestra section. I just bought mine. I haven’t listened to all 30 of his albums listed on Tidal, but my favorite so far is ( In a time lapse ). Especially the last track ( Burning ). Check it out.

      1. RCramer,
        I am not quite sure the mail (9:23) you sent to me was really meant for me, but anyway, thanks for the tip. (Ludovico Einaudi).
        To answer your question : where I live is about 3800 miles from Washington D.C., so we probably won’t meet at the Kennedy Center next year.
        But I’m certainly gonna listen to some of his music on Qobuz.

  12. As a prog fan PRaT can get pretty complex when you TRY and inevitably fail to tap your foot to rapid and changing time signatures. 6/8 to 9/8 to 13/8 to 4/4 -and that’s just the intro. IQ, Jadis, Frost*, early Genesis – I don’t know how the drummers keep their PRaT. It’s like great literature; You can just listen & enjoy it, sometimes you try to break it down & count it out to identify the time signature of that particular phrase. The combination of challenge interest and great music is a well blended formula for my favourite genre. Just try to reverse engineer the RaT of this track…. Or just enjoy it for the absolutely beautiful piece of music that it is.

    https://youtu.be/f50eyoFQ2eM

    1. Just listened to it – I was unfamiliar with that artist. Wow! Love it! Love it for its melodic beauty and harmonic simplicity, but rhythmic complexity. Must learn it on piano and have my daughter play the guitar part. Listened to it on my phone phone speakers. Foot tapping, head bobbing the entire time! I guess if the music is good enough, the system doesn’t matter. I’ve always felt that way about systems and recordings. Listen to the Rascals “Good Lovin” on any system and it’s hard not to dance. Distortion and dirty panpot crackle everywhere, but so emotionally engaging no matter what the system it’s played on.

  13. JB4 (12:40pm),

    Wow, so I am a Unique Individual…Thanks for Noticing (guaranteed, I’m not the only one)!! 😉

    Yes, all sounds, noises, etc. are in our Heads! How we respond to each sound (good-bad-indifferent) is due to our wonderful sense of hearing. I do agree, “emotionally engaging” is a good identifier of what I describe as a response to the human musical art form that we all here enjoy! However IMO, my use of “musical” to describe that emotional response to reproduced music well fits right in to it’s definition:

    Definition of musical:
    a : of or relating to music
    b : having the pleasing harmonious qualities of music : melodious

    Seems you don’t agree and that’s okay! Maybe (because I’m a robot-a Hal9000), I do have a special perspective amongst millions of WW Music Lovers!?! 🙂

    Ted

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