Skill

September 20, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

The company just dropped another bundle of cash on a couple more Audio Precision test suites (each costs in excess of $10,000). We use the less expensive versions for testing our products, and the fanciest ones to help in our equipment designs. But the quality of this advanced test gear is meaningless without the skill required to use it and understand its results. If you don’t know how to boil water, buying an expensive set of cookware won’t make you a better chef.

Truth is, it’s the skill of the artist that creates the art, not the equipment used to craft it. It’s why a growing group of professional photographers have turned to mobile phones for cameras, why some of the best audio designers in the world still rely upon antiquated test gear to design their masterpieces, and many master craftsmen prefer hand tools to machines.

Skills are earned, never bought.

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49 comments on “Skill”

  1. I seem to recall seeing a free movie on an airplane once (I’d never pay to see this kind of junk) where a class of unruly children who are at the bottom of the educational barrel get a new teacher. At first they do their best to send him screaming into the night but somewhere along the line he inspires them and by the end they are so smart they are ready to build a rocket to travel to Mars. In the real world that never happens. It’s pure fantasy. Sometimes I think a lot of people, even smart people forget where Hollywood fantasy ends and the real world begins. Some of them are physicists who IMO based on meeting countless ones are all loonies.

    That said, skill is acquired, honed, and honed some more. It doesn’t come from nowhere. Occasionally there is the child genius (whose child or grandchild isn’t? I’ve met proud grandparents on cruises who show me pictures of their 3 year old grandchildren who can already program a computer.) There would have been no Einstein if there hadn’t been a Newton first. There was a time early in Einstein’s life when he couldn’t count his fingers, when Shakespeare didn’t know the alphabet. I think of knowledge as being built like a building one layer of bricks on another. The skyscraper doesn’t come out full blown, it has to start at the bottom and work its way up. There are self taught people who learn without formal education, who gain insight into things well educated people in their field find difficult or don’t understand at all. These are rare exceptions. Most people learn through formal education. How well that education is engineered by those who create it and how well it is mastered can determine how far and in what direction an individual person can go. Einstein learned Newton before he invented relativity. He understood it. He had to before he could find the flaw in it that made it inconsistent with other knowledge.

    The skill to use instruments only gives you a way to quantify in a particular circumstance what is already understood. If the best answer doesn’t correlate to facts, then measuring what is known so far won’t help. You are not measuring something critical to understanding that is missing. For example, the way audio power amplifiers are measured shows many of them to be practically textbook perfect and virtually identical yet they sound different. Why? Is the measuring equipment wrong? No. The answer is that they are not being measured to reflect the way they are used in the real world. The measurement concept is wrong, inadequate. Devising new meaningful measurements can be very difficult. They have to be valid and relevant. If you don’t have the mental skill to understand what is happening and the flaws in the concept the measurement is based on, you can have the best measuring equipment in the world, use it exactly as intended, and it won’t matter one whit. This is where the high end audio industry is now, perfecting flawed concepts believing that if they just get it right they will achieve their goal. They are so stupid that they can’t understand that they are working with a flawed theory that by itself can’t be made to work. They’re hitting a wall with a sledge hammer and it won’t budge. What do they do? Get a bigger more expensive sledge hammer and it still won’t budge. They are so unskilled in their art that they can’t see that no matter how big and expensive their sledge hammer is, it still won’t budge the wall. Is a 20,000 watt home audio system stupid? You bet it is. That’s why the best these would be geniuses can do sounds like canned music compared to the real thing. They’ve all missed it. They don’t have adequate mental skills. Their knowledge is insufficient to solve the problem they’ve set out to. What do they do instead? Redefine the problem to what they know how to do and then advertise the hell out of it. Pathetic, all of them.

    1. Let me just say that if I were Paul McGowan, and I am clearly not Paul McGowan, that I would ban you from this site for the above reply. It is nothing more than an insult to someone more generous than I. The rest can correct me if I am wrong but most of us left this behavior behind in grade school. – Captain Obvious

      1. A lot of very nice people in this industry with a large tapestry of wrong ideas. Pilot to passengers; ” I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is we are lost. The good news is that we’re making great time.”

        $10,000 speakers. $50,000 speakers. $250,000 speakers. Million dollar speakers. and they all sound like canned music. How long does it take hitting your head against a wall that won’t budge before you stop, stand back, and once your brain clears think…maybe I’m doing something very wrong. I wasn’t the one who said Listening room 1 sounded like canned music (and I don’t care where you go, you’ll hear pretty much the same thing from all of them.) It was Paul who said it after a trip to the Metropolitan Opera House where he heard the real thing. Who am I to argue with Paul. Didn’t his buddy Harry Pearson say trust your ears? I’ll add, don’t believe your own advertising scam.

        1. Indeed, Mark, and I am on board with most of that. It does sound like canned music but the Soundmind solution, perhaps SOTA, is not a commercially viable one. So said the author of the patent, in so many words. If tinkering with what we have available to us is the wrong road, what tools would we use, then, to reproduce sound with more realism at home? A “Plan B” to your invention but marketable. I think most of us do get that current attempts at doing this are far from perfect. Like an umbrella, partially effective and practical, yet leaves the real problem unaddressed.

          1. I guess Mark’s patent can match only with Mark’s own recordings otherwise revealing all faults of the sound engineers not understanding the basics of Mark’s theories! 🙂 A similar effect was apparent with the laser turntable primarily revealing and amplifying all impurities in the grooves!

    2. “Einstein learned Newton before he invented relativity.”

      I thought that Einstein “discovered” relativity, not invented it. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. I’m sure that you know the difference.

      1. He invented a theory. A few years ago the loonies at CERN said they’d measured a particle going faster than the speed of light which would have blown Einstein and their standard model out of the water. Not to be deterred, it was at about the same time they’d announced they were on the verge of proclaiming that they’d discovered the existence of the Higgs Boson. Later they sheepishly admitted that their measurement about finding something traveling faster than light was wrong. It was interesting to me that during the time they believed both to be true, they had no way to reconcile the discrepancy. They didn’t even try. Now forgetting their certifications, accolades, and accomplishments, what do you make of that? What kind of people can believe two contradictory things with equal conviction at the same time? Read George Orwell’s book 1984 for the answer….or just run into a physicist and start asking questions like….is light particles or waves? They’ll tell you yes and yes or…..no and no. Take your pick.

          1. I’ve been reading about atom smashers since I was ten years old. Bevatrons, cyclotrons, and linear accelerators have advanced from the billion electron volt level to the 13 trillion electron volt level. To me, trying to figure out how matter works by smashing particles together is like trying to understand how airplanes fly by staging mid air crashes and seeing what falls out of the sky. They are as clueless in many ways as the audiophiles. For instance, they can’t tell you why like charged particles repel and opposite charged particles attract. See? Clueless. When priests in any area come up with ideas that don’t make sense, I’ll challenge them every which way I can no matter who they are. Look at your government. Look at what they tell you and then the real truth that came out. Crooked incompetent liars all of them. Look at the brilliant economists like Alan Greenspan whose loony ideas bankrupted the largest and strongest economy in human history. Greenspan’s testimony to Congress in 2008 after the crash; “there’s something about markets I don’t understand.” And I thought the British were the champions of understatement.

        1. @Soundmind

          Although I understand a lot of your criticism and I agree to it, there is one big difference between you and me. I would never take my opinion as the absolute truth. The scientists at CERN or any other institution will always check their discoveries again and again. They are their own greatest detractors. This sets them apart from almost every engineer within the audio business who never doubt that their equipment is best worth for money and built with the best skills. Look at your own critic on the YG Acoustic loudspeakers.

          Regards

          1. Another thing that sets them apart Bernd is that their Large Hadron Collider keeps blowing up. It seems it’s almost down for repairs as long as it is operational for research. If like particles repel with a force inverse to the square of their distance apart, then how do they explain stable atomic nucleii where protons are virtually on top of each other? Putting a name on it by calling it “the strong force” doesn’t explain it. Clueless. No doubt about it.

              1. Scientists at CERN say it is possible to create a black hole but not to worry, it will be small, unstable and disappear very quickly. If they can create a black hole and they are wrong about it disappearing, no worry. As it engulfs the entire earth, you’ll never hear about it. When it gets to you it will be painless. One instant you’ll exist, the next pffff, you’re gone.

      1. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and cosmologist hosted a science program called Universe. In one episode he talked about multiple universes, parallel universes like they actually exist although there isn’t one shred of evidence that even suggests they do. It left me wondering where does Star Trek end and Universe begin? Look at that other loony Michio Kaku. He’ll tell you why everything you’ve seen in Star Trek is possible. I was devastated to learn on a program about early television that many NASA scientists were inspired by the TV program “Lost in Space.” That lunacy was about on a par with another TV show “My Mother the Car.”

            1. People ask me if I tweet. No, never. I woof. I’m part wolf. I used to howl at the moon with my dog but she’s gone now and I have to howl for both of us.

              I also don’t instagram or facebook. IMO these are for children. That’s why politicians use them to communicate with voters. About 140 characters is the attention span of the average person. That’s why so many people tweet, they don’t need more than that.

          1. NO! Basically I don’t accept what I don’t understand, what makes no logical sense to me, or flies in the face of facts. I don’t care how many others accept it or who they are. I’m not part of the herd of sheeple. I don’t take anything on blind faith. I make no assumptions and question everything. I march to the sound of my own drum. I wasn’t taught what to think, I was taught HOW to think. And that has made all of the difference.

        1. @Soundmind

          I am pretty sure. that there are a lot of people like Alan Guth and Andrei Linde who understand a lot more about multiverses than you do.

          The multiverse theory is still in its infancy, and some conceptual problems remain to be resolved. But, as Leonard Susskind wrote, “I would bet that at the turn of the 22nd century philosophers and physicists will look nostalgically at the present and recall a golden age in which the narrow provincial 20th century concept of the universe gave way to a bigger better [multiverse] … of mind-boggling proportions.”
          One cannot know everything, although sometimes it seems that you think you do.

          Boy you’re made out of stardust and to stardust you will return one day.

          Regards

          1. bernd, while it is true from ashes to ashes and dust to dust, at the present time I’m alive and I can think critically. How convenient to postulate a theory that might be proven or disproven or still unknown centuries after we are all dead. How can anyone who thinks critically entertain such fantasy or give it credibility when there is no evidence to support it? The world seems to forget where fiction ends and science begins. Some fiction become fact such as submarines. Others like Journey to the Center of the earth are hogwash.

            “Leonard Susskind wrote, “I would bet that at the turn of the 22nd century philosophers and physicists will look nostalgically at the present and recall a golden age in which the narrow provincial 20th century concept of the universe gave way to a bigger better [multiverse] … of mind-boggling proportions.””

            I don’t know or care who he is but if I ever come across any of his writings I’ll be alerted to the fact that he says meaningless stupid things that cannot be proven or disproven unless we learn how to extend our lives a few hundred years to find out.

              1. I remember string theory. After awhile it was hanging by a thread and was replaced with membrane theory. Of course that was made of whole cloth too. I used to be a member of AIP (American Institute of Physics) but stopped paying my dues. I’m sure someone will come up with a plausible explanation of Q-bits which says an electron can have both positive and negative spin numbers at the same time. I’m waiting. I’d like to see how that is reconciled with the Pauli exclusion principle. Well at least one good thing came of it. A guy in Germany figured out how to make absolutely perfect diamonds unlike any found in nature. Of course it’s a secret but I’ll bet the people who cut and polished the stones he made for his bride’s jewelry had never seen anything like it. What does he do with it? He has to introduce holes in the lattice to do his research on Q-bits.

                1. @Soundmind

                  Boy, it is a theory in progress.
                  Keep calm!
                  Go on and study a bit of all shades of Supersymetry, maybe you are the one who finds the explanation of Q-bits.

                  Regards

    3. I’m afraid I have to agree. On a lark I attended a dinner theater Sunday night. ” Smoke on the mountain ” was the entertainment. This was a very small place and consequently no microphones it speakers were needed. Simple music. A couple of guitars, a bango, an upright piano and a bass. People singing of course. I was about 40 feet from the performers.

      No audiophile treasures to be found. No 110 db peaks. No 20 hz’s bass. No imaging to speak of. Left and right mostly.

      But what was to be found was music presented in a way that no Hifi in my 40 years of experience traveling the country and at trade shows, can ever hope to replicate.

      By now I think we are pretty good at making big electrical signals out of small electrical signals. Ones that are not preceptably different. And I suppose our best headphones do a fantastic job of following that signal. But we simply do not have the recording equipment and skills to capture what I heard.

  2. “The skill to use instruments only gives you a way to quantify in a particular circumstance what is already understood”.

    So when’s your album coming out, man? 🙂

    Perhaps you meant, “the skill to write music down on paper”.

    1. A simplified version has already been patented. No one was interested. Only one other person here besides me heard a prototype and that is Paul. He hasn’t said much about it because it violates every notion audiophiles hold as dogma. However, I watched him on his first reaction to it and an almost incredulous look came over him….just before his lower jaw dropped. And I thought that was only a metaphor. After 40 years, I can’t punch a hole in the theory behind it. Believe me I’ve tried.

      1. That’s simply untrue. He has said a number of things about it. One person getting a glimpse of what you’re going for is very far from producing something that actually works in the real world, otherwise you would be his peer.

        Paul is just a very diplomatic and understanding guy.

        Of course, fifty years from now, Soundmind’s work will be the basis of the realistic audio production of the future.

  3. Physicists in colaboration with engineers have built some of the finest instruments.

    Have a look at http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/paranal/ or the https://home.cern/about/experiments/atlas both stand or tools that bring us more wisdom and each discovery take us to new questions which have to be answered.
    Well, maybe there are people without the sense of the beauty that lies in it.
    There is one basic principle that is important for me: Stay curious!

    Regards

    1. Bernd, here’s one you can add, stay skeptical. Everyone’s got something to sell and when you point out its obvious flaws, they dismiss you as not having the expert knowledge to criticize. Their sales pitch becomes their religion and you as a skeptic are a heretic.

          1. That’s better than the opposite extreme, gullibility. Take my sister. She believes every ad on TV. She buys a lot of that junk. One such item was a $60 substance you sprinkled on your food to help you lose weight. It turned out to be nothing more than silica gel, the desiccant you find in porous bags to protect anything that needs to be kept dry. It soaks up water like a sponge and costs next to nothing. It comes in two containers, one has salt added, the other a small bit of sugar to enhance flavor.

            1. So, “gullible” is a word that we use without a second thought but in one of the stranger twists of etymology you will find that it is in neither Webster’s nor the Oxford Unabridged dictionary. No reference, no citation, nothing. Weird. I’ll bet even Paul doesn’t know that.

  4. Hi guys, well I’m a surgeon not an engineer so I can’t be as eloquent as you guys can be with my writing but I can ” Cut through the crap and make a simple statement ” The best measuring device is the almighty human ear and brain attached to it

    1. The human ears and brain hear vectors. The failure of binaural sound played through headphones is proof of that. Electrical engineers think in terms of scalars. I’ll bet at least half of them don’t even know what a vector is. You cannot understand sound or hearing without understanding vectors. Any theory that neglects this critical aspect is wrong.

      1. Whoa! You mean to say that EE’s don’t take high school physics? Breaker 1 – 9. That’s a big null vector, good buddy! In addition, a Trojan is at once a vector for viruses and a barrier. (non-sequitur)

  5. Congratulations on the new acquisitions. It would be interesting to know whether the equipment produced using the older testing equipment is audibly better or worse than the equipment produced using the new testing equipment and if so why ? This will establish whether in this particular case it is progress or simply a reinvention of the wheel. After all superior numbers do not necessarily mean superior sound. For example if the numbers are better but the sound is the same nothing is gained. Very curious to know. Regards.

    1. It’s a good question and there are several relevant answers. First, our older AP equipment in the lab couldn’t measure jitter and that’s important. Second, the majority of new machines we’ve purchased are used in testing finished products once they get produced. We’ve always spent a great deal of time testing as many parameters as possible when we build products – but there’s a limit to what hand testing and calibration can do in a practical sense. With the new AP equipment we get a magnitude more tests at a similar level of speed improvement and eliminate a lot of the guess work a technician has to make.

      Not everyone here is an engineer and our supervisors and techs need to make judgments based on a lot of experience – the AP takes some of the randomness out of it and produces a better product in the end.

      The lab upgrades have been welcome as well.

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