Pros vs. amateurs

April 24, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

It’s perhaps humbling to remember that for most of the world we audiophiles are not only amateurs but thought to be teetering on the edge of lunacy.

We work hard to make magic from the recordings we want to listen to.

Most pros—folks who make (or hope to make) a living at recording and reproducing music—consider all the hoops and “out there” technology we obsess over to be little more than Tom Foolery.

In their world, speakers and electronics are chosen more on what’s accepted in the industry as the gold standards. Basically, they hope to copy the technical elements of those who have risen to the top of the heap. YouTube is filled with the pros sharing their secrets of favorite equipment. Vintage this. Modern that.

One small glimmer of this making sense is the fact that unlike we lowly amateurs saddled with merely listening to the fruits of their work, they can manipulate sound to make up for deficiencies in equipment.

If their choice of speaker is so bright and harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, they need only EQ the recording to where it sounds alright.

And perhaps that’s the core of it.

We are stuck doing our best to build systems that bring musical pleasure into our homes without benefit of manipulation. Like eating without the advantage of seasoning.

Which is one reason why at Octave Records we build music to sound perfect on the very equipment it will eventually be played back with.

Now, to me, that makes a lot more sense.

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33 comments on “Pros vs. amateurs”

  1. Agreed Paul; it makes perfect (dollars &) sense 😉

    ‘We work hard to pay for the black boxes that we string together with copper wire, which make magic from the recordings that we want to listen to.’

    ‘If their choice of loudspeaker is so bright & harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, then said poor audiophile should first try a vacuum tube amplifier before (s)he tries that window’

    Unfortunately ‘Octave Records’ can do little about all that beautiful recorded music that we love pre August 2021 🙁

    1. Depending on the crossover of the speaker, if it produces an impedance peak at say 3 to 4 kHz a tube amp may brighten the system since the peak would combine with the low damping factor to produce a frequency peak there and most brightness is not treble but upper mid range and due to the damping/impedance interaction I cited.

      1. Possibly, however I was being more general & thinking about the even
        numbered harmonics ‘smoothing’ out some of the brightness & harshness.

  2. I think it needs some dissection of the various implied information between the lines.

    „Pro‘s tend to look down on consumers and high end manufacturers and their obsessions and see them as exaggerated“
    My opinion: that’s correct. On the other side many consumers and manufacturers do it the other way around and see the professional scene as quite clueless regarding what’s achievable with gear and dedication regarding sound quality.

    „Pro‘s tend to prefer vintage or other gear, consumers would tend to avoid from their experience of modern gear sounding better“
    My opinion: correct in several cases I experienced or read of.

    „Pro‘s compensate their non-neutral (e.g. too bright) selection of monitors with EQ‘ing the recording respectively“
    My opinion: that would mean most of the media we buy would sound too dull in this case. While this happens from time to time I’d say this implication is unjustified as generally as it’s stated. It’s maybe true for a quite small percentage.

    „Octave, by using the FR30, cares for a better match of their recordings with various consumer gear, than recordings of others, monitored with typical studio monitors so far“
    My opinion: that’s a very steep claim, as 1) with some care for selecting, we listen to a variety of great and for us „right“ sounding recordings already since decades and 2) Octave‘s recordings sound great, too, but not really so „differently great“ to be able to tell what difference the monitoring equipment makes compared to the recording skill and other contributing factors.

    My summed up opinion:
    Not speaking about bad examples now…in the better studios, monitors are usually designed into the monitoring room, sometimes even in-wall. They are integrated with room acoustical measures. The people who do this will know what they do and they do it in order to get flat frequency response etc. Still studio monitors usually have a more analytical (not equal to bright) character than home speakers, in order to hear into the mix more easily.

    IF the FR30 have an equally suited character for monitoring AND are equally well integrated into the monitoring room, they will deliver the same good results as typical great monitoring environments.

    In my perception the effect of a good monitor speaker on a recording is not a question of how much a monitor fits to the gear recordings are played back with at home, but how much it’s suited for monitoring and how good its integrated into the monitoring room.

  3. A couple things,

    EQ’ing in the recording process is acceptable to most, but not in the playback process. Why is that?

    While ‘building music’ on the the equipment it will be played back on is admirable, what about those that aren’t using that price level of equipment? Does that mean that something the equivalent of the M700’s or lower or something less than a DS DAC won’t sound correct? Are those owners stuck with recordings that are too bright, too dull or too resolving for the equipment? Less than Amateur sound, so to speak? (Like Brushes on a drum or cymbal that sound like a soft constant water fall….) The answer could well be, “you want the most out of our recordings, then you need the equipment it was built on and qualified with”.

    Or is this about exclusive recordings for an exclusive club of equipment owners?

    Maybe in addition to mixing for PSA’s top shelf, and providing multiple formats with downloads, a couple of mixes should be done. Like one for the Stellar series and one for the BHK series. From there the consumer can get what’s best for their system. Limit the download options to one format at a time within those mixes.

  4. Surely you are a professional Paul, you hopefully derive an income from your costly efforts, we are proud of our amateur status. We only and this is not stated lightly, derive pleasure from the contributions made by innovators in our chosen hobby. We are not competitors just customers.

  5. Back in the 70s & 80s, home stereo equalizers were all the rage. I found them to be really helpful in tweaking the sound of my system. They were also easy to change on the fly to at least help make some recordings listenable. It’s a bit odd how any manipulation in at a stereo system has lost favor.

    In current day, there is sophisticated software for room correction that does a decent job of tailoring your system’s equipment to a given environment by adjusting for speaker distances, subwoofer integration, adjusting dips in certain audio bands, etc.

    While I’m not necessarily a fan of doing an ADC, correction processing and DAC, I can imagine many environments where that is actually more beneficial than detractive. In the digital domain, I wish more companies would investigate the MiniDSP SHD topology of room correction happening in the digital domain as a source.

    While my HT processor may not be able to keep up with my 2 channel preamp in certain respects, it is far better at integrating my stereo subwoofers and providing a cohesive listening experience. Additionally, when I use it with Audirvāna as it as a rendering device, I eliminate a USB cable, additional DAC, an interconnect from DAC to preamp, an interconnect from preamp to external crossover and the external crossover itself… adding only an Ethernet connection.

    However, the audio chain with all those extra hoops to go through, and limiting the system owner to positioning and room treatments to optimize a system to an environment, is somehow viewed as more “pristine”.

    I think if the audio industry would lean behind some of the newer technology, providing audio focused solutions utilizing the new capabilities, something special could happen.

    1. Reed,
      I was a fan of EQ units back in the late 70’s/early 80’s
      …until I heard how much distortion they introduced.
      But then I’m not a fan of pre-amps either, if they can be avoided.
      Maybe today’s digital EQs do a better job.

      1. I have three digital EQ’s new in the original boxes. One is the Velodyne SMS-1 subwoofer EQ which I can hook up to 3 Subwoofers in mono. Stereo if I bought two of them. Wish it were a stereo so I didn’t need two.

        The SMS-1 has a spectrum analyzer with saved presets and a calibrated microphone. There are optional accessories for a 7 microphone upgrade to average out the bass in 7 different room locations if you choose to average out the bass instead of the best response in the sweet spot chair. The EQ is amazing in that it has a fixed 6db per octave high pass filter and a variable 6db per octave low pass crossover slope that starts at 6db and can be set all the way to 48db per octave to fine tune to any speaker slope.

        I see no point in an EQ that has no microphone with pink noise and a spectrum analyzer. Are you supposed to fine tune by ear? Good luck with that. If you’re going to introduce an EQ to the circuit it might as well be a high quality EQ component. A simple bass and treble control preset at a specific frequency cannot possibly do the job accurately.

        My other two are EQ’s are Technics SH-8066 models. 12 band per channel with presets, spectrum analyzer, pink noise generator and calibrated microphones.

        I don’t have my subwoofers hooked up and my room is pretty tamed so I’m not using any of my EQ’s at the moment and prefer it that way. My NHT 2.9 speakers are full range down to around 26hz but like most full range speakers there is a steep drop off that still need a subwoofer to fill in otherwise you are down 15db to 20db at 20hz.

        I will eventually utilize my subwoofers. Even if not being used in the audio circuit the EQ’s are nice to have to see whats going on in my speakers and room frequency response so I can change things in the room to improve the sound.

          1. Yep you need to get the room as tame as possible without any EQ so if you do decide to use the EQ for something other than analyzing the speaker and room response you’re using as little EQ alterations as possible. Too much boost can cause a drain on the amplifier. In that case you are probably better off setting the frequency curve on the EQ below 0 db where the peaks of the EQ setting go no higher than 0 db. Of course in that case you’re using more attenuation’s of the 12 bands or so than you might want to use but at least it won’t cause premature amplifier clipping. In the case of the subwoofer EQ like the one I have that allows a 6 db per octave low pass slope all the way to minus 48 db that will definitely save power drain on the amplifier if fully used to minus 48 db or even half of that.

  6. I always thought it was funny that audiophiles spend thousands of dollars on cables, while the recording was made using miles of Belden or Mogami costing a fraction of the price. After traveling through miles of “inferior” cable to make the original recording, how could a few feet of multi-thousand dollar cable in a high end hi-fi system make a noticeable difference? Recording engineers can be obsessive about some things too, microphones and preamps especially, but they’re much less picky about cables than most audiophiles. An engineer will come into a studio and ask what microphones, preamps, and compressors the studio has, but I’ve never seen anyone ask what brand of cable is inside the walls (or inside the console, which can have a couple miles of cable in it).

    “If their choice of speaker is so bright and harsh as to drive a poor audiophile out the window, they need only EQ the recording to where it sounds alright.”

    Actually, this is not true. The studio will EQ the ROOM to tame the excessive brightness of the speakers, not the recording. That applies more to the large soffit mounted monitors though. With NS-10s (and most nearfield monitors actually), they are run flat, no EQ. But the engineers who use them know how the recording should sound through that speaker, and adjust the recording EQ to make it sound that way. They know an NS-10 is far from perfect, and that it’s excessively bright, with little bottom end. If they dulled down their recording and added tons of bass so it would sound flat on an NS-10, they wouldn’t last long in this industry.

    It’s a weird way of working, but most of the recordings you cherish were made that way, on far inferior monitors, power amps, and speaker cables than the ones high end audiophiles use. The recordings still sound great. The recording engineers know how to make it sound good, even on a 4″ Aurotone cube.

    1. In the case of live recordings a transmitter may have been used. Someone recorded the dry single transmitted from Alex Lifeson’s (RUSH) guitar to a receiver and posted it on youtube. It sounded like a 14 year old bussboy playing in his bedroom. I’m not belittling this man’s skill – he is one of the best in his class – but I had to laugh. The over the air signal was sent to electronic synthesizers. Kemper profiler is brought the sound of his amp to life.

  7. As with most generalizations they are based on something, so I am sure there are some ( but certainly not all ) pros and studios that fit Paul’s description. I do, however, also know that there are other pros and studios that care about what they produce. The use microphones that they know sound good, the use a mixing panel that they know gives good results, and they use expensive well made ATC monitors.

    I also know people who are music lovers who have very basic ( non-audiophile ) sound systems ( I am not talking about a smart phone and earbuds ). They never even think about what monitors were used to record, mix and master the music they are listening to. They simply listen to it and enjoy the music.

    People who live in glass houses should be careful about throwing rocks.

  8. I seem to recall years ago reading that Mellencamps “Scarecrow” was mixed to sound good in a Ford pickup truck. Not sure if an engineer actually sat in a truck and gave instructions or not. Now John is talking about the new remix and is marveling at all the buried stuff he now hears-background singers, guitar parts, etc. Don’t know if it is related

  9. A lot of you may not be aware of this, but this is in deed a true story.
    I over heard a live interview that a radio DJ done with Rock Singer Tom Petty.
    What Tom told him was, they would do the mixes in the studio.
    But after that, Tom would take the master disc, and play it back in his car.
    He said that his car stereo system, done a better job of reproducing the music, then the equipment did.
    Go figure this one!

  10. I thought that was a pretty fat pitch but no one is swinging so I’ll do it-Maybe Octave Recordings can build the music to sound good in a Tesla or Range Rover! Thanks everyone, I’ll be here all weekend!

  11. There is an old Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown and Snoopy are playing fetch. After the ball is thrown, Snoopy bipedally shuffles out, picks up the ball in his mouth and shuffles back, all very nonchalant. Upon his return, Snoopy spits the ball up in the air, pivots, and heel kicks it into Charlie Brown’s hands. Charlie Brown comments, ‘Until one sees it again, one tends to forget the difference between the merely talented amateur and the truly expert professional.’ Or words to that effect.

  12. A friend in the industry “we use Yamaha NS10. Because using EQ makes them mastering quality. Although everything is bright because the boss is deaf in the high frequencies”

  13. What is interesting is that, despite all the efforts of sound engineers, the quality that interests the audiophile also gets into a number of recordings. Maybe if the professionals noticed, they would remove it in time.

  14. I for one would not be without my LMS (Loudspeaker Management System). This DSP-based “pro audio” box can perform crossover, EQ (with room correction based on microphone input), time alignment, etc. with great accuracy and precision (won’t drift like any analog system). Creating steep slope crossovers passively at higher power levels with decent accuracy and stability is not for the faint of heart and then they are non-adjustable.

    My general advice is “Don’t Fear the DSP” (or the Reaper). All of my sources benefit from this “magic box” even pure analog from vinyl. The hybrid ‘stats from Roger Sanders require this level of panel EQ (compensates for phase cancellation at lower octave frequencies), steep crossovers and time alignment and I would argue that any loudspeaker would benefit from this king of accuracy and flexibility.

    Adjusting your EQ and general flavor of sound by swapping cables. Now that’s lunacy.

    And as admirable as Paul’s goal is to produce music “designed for PS Audio equipment” there’s a whole lot more music out there to explore that must sound its best on my gear.

  15. One of the reasons musicians use what they use was in their early “pro” years they did not have a lot of money and purchased used equipment. Whatever was popular and sold in the area could be picked up used as many musicians either traded up at a music store or sold to pawn shops.
    Robin Trower was famous for his sound. Trower used a Crybaby with a stick of what he thought was the just-right thickness and taped it in the pedal down position. Today you can buy signature electronics that does with he did with tape and a stick.
    Eddie Van Halen is famous for his (junk) Frankenstein guitar. He cobbled used parts together to find his sound. Today you can pay a lot of money for a signature Frankenstein clone, scratches and all. When the pros make it big they can pretty much afford what they want. Many still like to play or own what was once very affordable gear for the working man. Equipment we now call vintage and is capable of commanding money way beyond the reach of the ordinary working man.

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