Silly Putty

April 21, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

It’s tempting to believe that “reality” is fixed. That what happens to us is just the way it is.

I have a very different view. To me, reality is a story we tell ourselves. A story that helps explain the world around us. Change the story and reality changes with it.

Reality is kind of like Silly Putty. You shape it the way you want. Then, slowly but surely, it deforms over time until you put more energy into reshaping it again.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s imagine your reality is such that no matter what you do or try your system just isn’t as resolving or as musical as you want it to be. I would suggest you can reshape that reality in any number of different ways: new equipment, new media, change of venue.

We know resolving musical systems exist.

What’s to stop you from having the same?

One view says we can’t because of a long list of hurdles. The other view recognizes hurdles can be crossed if we are willing to put out the effort.

What’s holding you back?

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42 comments on “Silly Putty”

  1. Reality vs Truth…interesting concept; maybe this is the basis for fake news.

    Meanwhile…in light of the recent PS Audio – ‘P-12’ analysis/review by ASR
    (Amir) & Paul’s response.
    Plus Paul saying that he will soon publish some FR30 measurements.
    I would implore readers & contributors here to watch this presentation
    regarding, ‘Why You Can’t Trust Audio Measurements’.

    This is exactly why I do not subscribe to measurements ‘after the fact’.
    But rather trust my ears to tell me whether a home-audio component is right for me or not.
    Every idea & revelation mentioned & discussed in the above linked presentation needs to be listened to & understood by those audio enthusiasts & audiophiles who lean heavily towards believing that measurements are the ‘be-all & end-all’ in telling them whether a component is ‘worthy’ of their consideration &/or praise.
    As far as I am concerned…this is serious stuff.

    Please start viewing this video from the 2 minute mark, as the
    first 2 minutes is about thanking financial contributors (patreon).

    1. Reality vs Truth…one you can bend; the other one you can’t.

      “We know resolving musical systems exist”…
      but they are hamstrung by less than perfect recordings.
      The audio ‘chain’, as a whole, must be taken into consideration.

      1. Thanks Neph.
        Yeah, Cameron (‘GoldenSound’) is extremely knowledgeable in
        the field of home-audio, is obviously highly intelligent & no BS.
        Respect! ✌

  2. Hi Paul. Not to get philosophical about this, but I truly believe the biggest hurdle is money. Many people aren’t inclined to change or augment themselves like a silly putty because of all mighty C.A.S.H.
    It is expensive to go every which way in this hobby to experience a wealth of quality difference and I think money is more the cause of that rather than others not being open minded to do so. 😉

    1. I think that for many of us you hit the nail right on the head, especially if we already have equipment of a more than reasonable standard.

      1. Honestly I’m a very open mi fed guy when it comes to this lovely hobby of ours. Right now I’m really into high end headphone set ups and at this point I’m going for very powerful, yet extremely blunt changes to experience bigger differences. I’m going straight for the headphone that is radically tuned different than the ones I already own. I think for the speaker enthusiast, that would equate to buying a whole different set of speakers. 😉
        Anyhow. It is the cash and it is the rationality of how much to spend. 😉

    2. I completely agree. It’s the biggest limitation. I’m limited not so much in capability, but rather limited by priority and sensibility.

      I have settled into a budget I’m willing to spend on system changes, putting “X” amount each month in a dedicated savings account. I’m at the point where I need to do serious investments to make an appreciable system difference.

      The flaw of my past is that I let a bit accumulate, then spend it on equipment or tweaks that are not at a considerable quality difference, but falsely hope they will be. It results in a series of sideways moves, trading one significant strength or weakness for another. The right thing to do is save up a year or so and do a significant speaker upgrade, then again to upgrade preamp/amp, and so on.

      Its difficult to be disciplined enough, as changing stuff is the fun part of the hobby.

      1. Totally agree. Start with speakers then work your way back with amplification / LMS (loudspeaker management system) appropriate for the speakers and then sources. I’m a huge fan of “multiple amps with active/DSP crossover/EQ”. The final “dressing” would be cables, but not a fan of hyper-expensive cables in general. Having said that there are exceptions for some critical cables like the HDMI between my CD transport and DAC. Oddly this one cable seems to offer the most bang for the buck albeit an insane number of bucks (you should see the look I get from friends and family when I mention I spent $750 on a 0.7 meter HDMI cable).

        Best of luck with your audio “journey”. I can be both fun and frustrating, but when you get some things right it’s very satisfying.

        1. When I setup my transport (Oppo 205) and DAC (Bryston DAC-3) , I was told by Bryston that the HDMI cable wasn’t critical for audio. Nevertheless, I got the Nordost Blue Heaven at $350. which was way more than the others I was looking at. Nordost then came out with the even more expensive Heimdall 2 and I considered upgrading. But my extensive research indicated otherwise. The only advantage would be for video use, not audio.

      2. Hi Reed. Yeah you bring up a lot of good points, especially noting….DISCIPLINE! That is a big one and for many people who have invested a good amount of money into the basis of their sound chains usually do go a sideways route with audio tweaks, which sometimes if not researched correctly puts the ‘silly’ into the ‘putty’ if you know what I mean. 😉

    3. Decisions on how to allocate resources in order to satisfy all basic needs and as many wants as possible is the reason why I now experiment on the music making side of the fence – my silly putty. Trying different strings, picks (I’m now using orange Brain Picks from Snarling Dog) and alternate tunings is magnitudes of many orders cheaper and as just as fun if you’re a musician.
      If only I could print money like the US government…

  3. This is word play. I understand what you are trying to tell us but “reality” comes from the word “real”. It means something is real. When something is real it is the truth. Truth is an absolute. The car is red. Unless you are afflicted with color blindness the car is red.

    I think if we used words like belief, opinion, situation, condition, possibility, etc. they would work better to explain what you are trying to tell us.

    A person has a system that is not resolving and no amount of adjustments ( such as more or less toe-in) will make it more resolving. It is also true that this person cannot afford to buy the gear that would give him or her a more resolving system if they pay full retail price for the gear. This person believes they cannot afford the gear because they are not aware of certain possibilities. They can buy demo gear at a discount, some dealers and manufactures offer generous trade-in allowances, there is more risk involved, but there is used gear for sale at one third the price of its full retail price.

    The reality is that there are options that can change their current situation.

    1. SG, I am sorry, but this is what is wrong. Your perception may or may not be correct. If your perception is that the red car ran a red light and thus smashed into the blue car, but a traffic camera video shows that the blue car ran the red light and smashed into the red car, then that is what is true and that is reality.

      We all need to understand that we are not infallible and we are all capable of not perceiving things correctly.

        1. LoL
          I remember the days I tried to jump ramps with my Huffy bicycle. When that did not work well I tried jumping a ravine on the farm. All I can say is – I’m still alive and here to say it did not work well. hahaha

          1. My bad knees are due to high school sports. In the case of my left knee by trying to prove that gravity does not exist doing this crazy thing called high jumping. 😮

  4. “To me, reality is a story we tell ourselves.”
    Ah, yes, the basis for EST training, later to become known as The Forum. Good stuff. 😎

  5. “Truth” and “Facts” are not static as we learn more through scientific discovery and exploration. However, beliefs which include ideas like superstition are the most difficult to pin down and cause lots of consternation because of differing opinions. It seems today if something is repeated often enough (especially on dreaded social media) it takes on the attributes of fact. Very scary indeed.

  6. I think the main issue is whether people want to enjoy listening to music at home or regularly fiddle with their hifi.

    The reality is that there are audio systems that can resolve digital data below the level of audibility for a few hundred $.

    When you have single units that include streamer/DAC/pre-amp or a complete all-in-one with amplifier, and it sounds really as good as you could hope for, why would you change it for a different box of tricks or components?

    Changing speakers is a big thing, which I did 18 months ago as much for cosmetic reasons due to redesigning our house. They were not the latest model, I have no desire for the latest model, and just because new speakers come out (whether FR30 or anything else), it doesn’t mean I have to buy them. To the contrary, from the consumer’s viewpoint, if I have a need for something, it is based solely on the products available at the time.

    Money is a major issue, I suspect for most people, so I’m not going to buy something without a real need and a dealer or home demo.

  7. Not all measurements are relevant to what we hear but some are and to not use them is a waste of information. I saw a friend pick a
    phono cartridge based on a 1KHZ square wave, a frequency curve and a separation curve and he was dead on. I’ve seen him design a speaker on a computer and it end up 95% of what he expected leaving only some fine tuning.

    The point is find and use measurements that work and combine them with the experience in sound we look for after years of experience. Both tools woork. Don’t dismiss either one just because it isn’t perfect.

  8. Philosophically, when you hear what this Paul’s post is really saying, with the analogy of “musical systems” replaced with any other aspect of “Life”, you have the answer and the secret to living. Well said sir.

    1. Thanks, J1. It’s easy to dismiss the relevance of this post by misunderstanding the term reality. Of course, in the physical world there are realities we cannot address: life, death, entropy, gravity, the sun coming up in the morning.

      That was never the intent. The point of the post is about your view of reality. It is a story you tell yourself. If you tell yourself the story that gravity is fake news or that the Earth if flat, and you act upon that story, the consequences could be fatal.

      How we deal with reality, what we consider to be reality, is again, all a story. Imagine for a moment you awoke from amnesia. You had no idea who you were or what you were doing there. Your story would be wiped out.

      This philosophy has to do with setting boundaries. With putting up fences that hold us back or give us permission to move forward.

      It is all a story.

      1. Paul, thank you for extrapolating on how we limit the flow of our realities, reminds me when my wife plays Alan Watts lectures as background instead of music here.. smile, the topic is always fresh. In a short forum post with Ted the other day discussing our shared reality of tinnitus, i posed an alternative view of changing ones “perspective” on the malady to the possibility of focusing attention on the sounds heard within, and accepting our “constant companion” as one aspect of the self. By turning our sense of hearing inward, and sight as well, the gateway to the “reality” of our self is opened. As you explained, we create and limit our infinitely and uniquely created realities, but from the wonderful mental tools of thought. The desire to know who is controlling the mouse is the perspective that leads one to the discovery that our construct of reality should be questioned. Why,, well so that we know our true selves as limitless beings of flowing energy as well as being our mental creations. Some say the gentle repair of this disconnect quite important. One day, would love to hear your take on Beethoven’s process of creativity despite his hearing impediment. Cheers

        1. Thanks. I haven’t given any thought to Beethoven’s plight—talk about a cruel fate—but I imagine he is like we where most of the work is done inside our heads.

          90% of what I create starts as a puzzle in my head and it is there I run scenario after scenario working out the details and imagining what the end result will be and how to get there. Only after that do I go into the physical world and see what happens.

          Maybe Beethoven was the same (well, he would almost have to be because at the EOD we are all the same).

  9. Paying attention to the details and tweaking your system matters, it’s not just having great cables, they need to be clean for them to perform best. The same with all inputs and outputs of your components.

    Cleaning the pots, connections and even the speaker relay switches inside components all matter. Spiking your speakers through the carpet matters.

    It’s not just buying great equipment, you need to properly maintain it or your sound will degrade. You will think you need a new system but in realty your system needs to be fine tuned like a fine instrument.

    Take the time to position your speaker’s in the room for best sound. My speaker’s were 22 inches from the sidewalls. I moved them to 24 inches and it was like magic.

    Don’t give up on your system. Many times you can get it sounding amazing even if it’s not the state of the art. All systems worth their salt have amazing potential. It just needs to be extracted. You can go from crap to great without buying a new component.

    Remember both average and superb musical instruments need to be fine tuned. Paul wrote a book about how to get the most potential out of your system.

    1. “Spiking your speakers through the carpet matters.”…unless
      you find that mounting them on IsoAcoustic – ‘ISO-Pucks’ or
      Townshend Hi-Fi Engineering platforms make your loud-
      speakers sound even better than on spikes or cones
      (& you can afford to splurge on the Townshend stuff) ✌

      1. Definitely on floors where you don’t want holes ruining your expensive hardwood or vinyl floors I agree those are perfect for that. But I don’t see how it can get better than spikes going through the carpet to plywood floors for stability. Paul said himself he would like to use the spikes. Hey whatever works for you, at least it is a tweak and the speaker’s are not just resting on carpet.

      2. Got your email Martin. It probably works great for many application’s. My speaker’s came with cone spikes that need to be used with the stabilizer bars that screw to the bottom of my speaker’s. I don’t think in my set up it would work that great or give me better results. It might or might not. In my case the spikes that came with the speaker’s do a better job than just laying speaker’s on carpet. Now if I were to set the speaker’s up on hardwood floors that I don’t want damaged I would have to use something better than rubber feet and I would give this a try. No doubt mounting speakers the right way improves bass and everything else. Thank for sharing this with me.


      3. You know another thing that is overlooked is the electrical outlet. In some older homes the pressure on the prongs is not so great sometimes to the point where they easily fall out if you nudge the wire. In that case it’s a must to replace it with a new one being careful you use the proper amperage outlet. If the plug isn’t getting the right pressure it degrades the sound. Especially the amplifier.

        1. Different style of mains (outlet) plug & socket here in Australia, but I just squeeze the +ve & the -ve prongs together, or apart, & that makes a
          better, & firmer, contact 🙂

          1. The outlets were so bad in the place I’m living now that bending the prongs had little or no effect. I just replaced it. Easy job and a new outlet is just a dollar or two at Home Depot. Can definitely hear the difference. Bass is fuller with much better highs and the soundstage is deeper and wider.

            1. Understood.
              When I decided to start using high quality power cables, instead of the $7 power cables that the manufacturers supply us with, I automatically replaced the old mains power outlet with a brand new one, so that the metal contacts would have as little oxidisation (oxidization) as possible.

              1. You were smart to do that. My Creek 5350se integrated amplifier for North American 120V came with a detachable heavy duty 3 prong power cable. It is a thick round cable and very heavy. Michael Creek knew the importance of a good power cable. It definitely needed a new outlet.

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