Theory vs. execution

January 10, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

It’s nice to build systems and equipment with hand-wave theories of the perfect this and that but turning that hand wave into something of value is where reality sets in.

Take for example loudspeakers. I constantly get notes about why there should be no such thing as the need to voice a speaker because they should all be perfectly flat. A fine hand-wave theory that’s not technically possible.

Or, another example is a Power Plant. In theory, one could just buy an off-the-shelf double conversion UPS and power their system with that. It’s a LOT cheaper than a power plant and, in theory, it’s the same process of AC power regeneration.

But then comes the execution of that theory. An off-the-shelf UPS uses a class D amplifier at its output. It has a tiny power supply. It has a low-resolution sinewave generator. Its designers did everything they could to cut every unnecessary penny out of the design.

And, if you try it on your equipment you’ll quickly discover you would be better off without it. That straight-out-of-the-wall power is better sounding.

That same theory of power regeneration executed properly with a class AB power amplifier, low impedance output, lowest distortion sinewave, and biggest power supply possible have exactly the opposite results. It can turn your system into a miracle of sound.

The first example of execution was built with a goal of minimal performance at the lowest cost, while the latter was designed for the highest performance at whatever it takes to get there. Same theory, different execution.

Hand wave design vs. the hard work of building something of value.

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15 comments on “Theory vs. execution”

  1. The main purpose of UPS devices, which I use, is to provide continuous power in the event of a mains fault and a controlled power-down if necessary. So they are ideal for computers and servers and for £100 provide safety for certain electronic equipment that you do not get from a £10,000 P20 regenerator. Computers and servers use low levels of switch mode power and UPS devices are designed to meet those needs.

    At the end of the day it’s about companies designing technology and applying it in a range of products that are attractive in price and performance. For example, a UK manufacturer of regenerators and conditioners makes products with a single power output, ideal for people with, say, an all-in-one player in one room and a server/streamer in another.

    1. Thank you for clarifying. I wasn’t sure what the hand-waving thing was about. I thought it was something to do with directing traffic.

      1. Hello Steven n. t. b. c. w. Steven,

        I am a retired Professional Geologist, emeritus if you want to get fancy. Geology has long been labeled a “hand waving” science.

        For a long time, the practice required going out into the field, wilderness is good because people had not mucked things up with all the constructive/destructive things that people do; although, admittedly, rock quarries are useful for exposing things that would otherwise be covered up. We make qualitative observations, write descriptions in robust field notebooks, make hand drawings and diagrams, etc. You know, hand waving stuff. And especially we make maps to show where things are spatially. And we work hard to figure out where things fit in chronologically. All very qualitative and to a degree subjective. But that doesn’t make it wrong. We learn as we go along and eventually have gotten quite good at it, if I do say so. Oh, we make plenty of mistakes, but we are not adverse to tossing bad data and interpretations out when they can be demonstrated to be inaccurate. And even some of these observations can be valuable after you cull the crap. That’s how science works, good science.

        You make your observations, make a hypothesis to try to explain those observations, test and test and test some more. Not infrequently you discover that the hypothesis is flat out wrong and it is discarded (waaah, okay get over it, move on), but sometimes you can salvage parts of it, make modifications. Then gather more observations and test even more. The process is highly re-iterative, but eventually understanding emerges. And then you publish. Over the decades, a substantial amount of good information and interpretation as built up as we struggle toward enlightenment.

        Here in these days of modern times, new tools are becoming available that make this science more qualitative, surveying, first film and now digital photography, systematic test borings and rock cores, seismic surveys, ground penetrating radar, all manner of chemical analyses (which includes various radiometric dating techniques and now genetic analysis), multi-spectral remote sensing, etc., etc. This is all good. But we still highly prize boots-on-the-ground direct observations. Ground truth, as it is called.

        There is a common sentiment that “science doesn’t have all the answers.” To which I reply science doesn’t even have all the questions. And that is what is so much fun about science!

        1. I think I know where you’re coming from. Quite a while ago I read a book about a remarkable chap called William Smith and his map, a very interesting piece of social history as well as geology, given it was published 30 years before Darwin when most people thought the world 4,000 years old.

  2. It is a very difficult topic. When I was working with design of mobile telephony systems we tried to design the optimal system in all aspect, modulation method, access method, encoding/decoding, antenna system, transmitters, MMI aso and the customers liked it- but still 10-15 % chosed the competitors system which was a disaster from the technical point of view. Then I realised that their solution was good enough for the 10-15 % from a users perspective.
    When bandwidth was a problem people accepted compression methods because it was more important to enable listening at all than perfect fidelity. We always have to balance bandwith/ fidelity but with better and better access to bandwidth the need for compression diminsh.
    So the target is moving continously depending on the prerequisites and that is probably that makes it so exciting to work with

  3. I get that power generation is critical, as every component needs it. In an optimal setup, you have 2 circuits. One for amplification & subwoofers in the front and one to the “up front” equipment to the side or back of the room. The decision (since I don’t have unlimited funds) is whether or not I could direct 10K + 7.5K somewhere else and obtain a better bang for the buck improvement. If you look in the PS Audio line, that would be equal to upgrading to the BHK Signature Preamp & BHK Signature 250 Stereo Amplifier. I know, in my system, that I could make huge improvements using those funds elsewhere for component or speaker upgrades.

    In my home theater, I have 3 dedicated 20 amp circuits. I have a separate one for the front, equipment rack and projector. The proximity of these is an issue, as they are physically separated and distant from each other. I would need 3 power generators. The cost of that could be substituted with a new JVC laser projector and top of the line Anthem processor & amplification.

    Power regeneration is something I definitely want, but my system has to get to a much higher level before I could justify it.

  4. “Hand wave design vs. the hard work of building something of value.”

    The hand wave…. “Poof and it was so” lots of marketing and other spins are associated with the hand wave

    Something of value via hard work…. Value is determined in many ways. From a cash perspective, and in the terms of audio, the final sound perspective. It’s up to the consumer to wade through the marketing words, the reviewers words, and all the other opinions that abound to find their personal perspective of value. It’s up to the individual, in many cases, to put in the hard work of proper set-up, electrical infrastructure, and to have a room constructed best suited for the equipment of choice. Or find the proper equipment best suited for the already existing constructed area and existing infrastructure.

  5. I have a UPS alongside of my system, but it’s not for audio. It’s for video and computer connections. When the power blinks, which is many times each week, it takes 10 to 15 minutes for the cable modem and cable tv box to reboot and come back online. The UPS prevents annoying gaps in service.

  6. We tried to develop the ideal system in all aspects, modulation, access, encoding/decoding, antenna system, transmitters, MMI, and the customers liked it- but yet 10-15% picked the competition system which was a technical nightmare. Then I realized their answer was good enough for 10-15% of users.
    When bandwidth was limited, consumers accepted compression methods because accessibility trumped flawless quality. While balancing bandwidth and fidelity is always a challenge, the demand for compression is diminishing.

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