What counts?

December 30, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

I think it was Einstein that said “Everything that can be counted doesn’t necessarily count. Everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

There are so many variables in our stereo systems it’s hard to know which of them matter and which are just there to drive us nuts.

For example, every electronic piece we own radiates unwanted high frequency energy. Some radiate a lot, some only a little. What we can count on is that any product that passes CE certification is at or below a certain level. What we cannot easily know is how important that particular level is to our sound system. We suppose it matters, but the question comes down to how much?

If we thought it was super important (and plenty of folks do) then we would roll up our sleeves and paper the insides of our equipment with EMI blocking materials. (oh the stories I could tell about this). But most of us don’t because while it “counts” there’s a practical side to all this madness.

And it is to the practical side I want to focus on today. The question of what counts really comes down to a matter of practicality. Where to put what energy into making things better.

Some focus on vibration control by spending thousands on footers and platforms while others ignore it entirely. Then there are fuses. And cables. And power. And so on.

So where to turn to? My vote is sticking with the mainstream. The obvious, like power, interconnecting cables, and the quality of the equipment itself. In other words, the most common and accepted points in the system that are universally accepted.

Everything counts. The question always remains, by how much.

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43 comments on “What counts?”

  1. Spot on Paul.
    I hate it when you’re right, because once that’s been established then there’s very little to refute.

    I thought that Einstein said, “Everything that sounds excellent doesn’t necessarily measure well. Everything that measures really, really well doesn’t necessarily sound good.”
    I think that he also may have said, “Don’t buy high-end home audio equipment just because it looks like a stunning piece of art.”

    But I may have misheard him; you know my hearing isn’t so good.

    1. This morning we are in agreement on everything in this comment except I just dont have a direct line to Einstein. You Da Man Martin.

      Wishing a Happy New Year to each and all, especially to you Paul, your family, the entire PS Audio crew and your many friends.

      Best always,
      Neil

  2. Thought I might see you in Constitution Dock, along with the few yachts that made it.

    Still, no point in coming down for the Fifth Test now.

    Crazy world at the moment.

    Take care.

    1. This is really bad for next summer’s ticket sales. No one is going to buy Day 4 tickets in advance, usually a Saturday or Sunday and would normally sell out months before. We were at Edgbaston for Day 4 Eng v NZ last summer, as the match finished inside 20 overs we got a full refund for the day. ECB have a lot to think about.

  3. The power supply module of my first DAC (Museatex BiDAT) did indeed radiate too much inducing heavy hum into my Burmeister 808 preamp which featured for obviously good reasons an external power supply. The only solutions were to either remove the DAC from the rack or to explant its power supply. The latter solution was realized. I always wonder seeing ads showing stereo components stacked upon each other, components which never feature MU metal shielding of the transformers. Consequently I prefer units with battery/ultra caps based power supplies (no need for expensive power cables and power conditioners here!) or start tweaking by adding strong shielding. Every serious designer of a crossover knows how important it is to strategically place the coils/inductors for minimizing the inherent harm!

    1. I sent an email today about that very thing! I refuse to put inductors on the same circuit board, my minimum with any speaker I build puts the inductors at least 8 inches from any other inductor or speaker coil. Overkill? Maybe, but if I can eliminate crosstalk between coils entirely I’ll go the extra mile and do it. Shielding is a good way to go on smaller components, but distance is cheaper and very effective when you’ve got the room.

    1. As the great Philosopher, Radio DJ, composer and currently Major Dude in the movie industry, Robert Kraft said in one of his songs: “All things in moderation, and moderation’s the first to go”. Unfortunately he only made one album which if you can find it is more than Mind blowing, ‘Moodswing’

      These two tracks are for you Martin and all of my good friends in this community, you know who you are: The YouTube videos are not well recorded because the CD is spectacular.

      https://youtu.be/f-UZJueRETc

      https://youtu.be/Bh8-FhcJ-rE

  4. The mainstream is enough to worry about. As part of mainstream, I would include a good sturdy support for equipment, whether it is fancy high tech stands or just big blocks of maple or stone under spiked feet. I make my own supports to save money.

  5. Sticking with the main stream (◔_◔)
    Follow convention – conform. March in step… render a salute…

    A good equipment foundation is required. Once you’ve maximized or reached a plateau with a current set up, then convention says purchase new and start again.

    The vibration isolation – the electrical outlets – even a fuse all made a difference for the better in my set-up. Apparently they couldn’t and can’t…. they don’t count until they are universally accepted. The ‘counting’ can’t happen until some self appointed deity proclaims its to be true.

    The M700’s review required them being put on their own amplifier stands and with Iso Acoustic products under them to reach their potential and claim a spot in the class A category. Apparently that’s not main stream enough or universally accepted.

    One can read every day about cables, power cords, plus all the like, and how they don’t make a difference. Yet they those items are universally accepted as being significant to others who are now classified as main stream?

    In what universe are these edicts from? Maybe it’s better to live in a type of black hole universe where the only things that can get in are passed through a selective filter of acceptance …. Wait! that black hole is pretty much the human condition….

    1. Hey Mike, I definitely agree with what you’re saying with regard to the fuses, isolation products, quality interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, audio quality power outlets and other tweaks like the Magic Brick. You have the ability to carefully take the giant ball of rubber bands that has been created in the audio industry and artfully came up with the best reasons to stray somewhat from the mainstream.

      Happy New Year guy..Neil

      1. Happy New Year Neil.

        I have a hard time summarily rejecting a lot of things off the cuff without giving them the benefit of a reasonable chance. Not a blind jump in with both feet kind of chance, but a cold calculated chance with as little risk as possible.

        It can all matter. It’s the degree of “matters” and the approach to the “matters”, that matter most ✌️ 🙂

        Sometimes when you get off the beaten path you can experience things a lot don’t. Thus they summarily dismiss.

        1. I know exactly what you’re saying after almost 60 years listening to high-quality audio equipment.

          Enid Lumley turned out to be an audio tweak genius. Unless the cost is off-the-wall it’s worth giving some of these querky items some thought and a try. I hardly consider this straying from the path of audio righteousness.

          1. I remember when the whole interconnect and speaker wire thing started. I was a disbeliever at first, especially when I walked in some place and they said you gotta hear this…. A new cable hooked up to a system I probably never heard before with music I didn’t like. What was I hearing?

            As time progressed I became more open minded especially when I could add something and get used to the sound, then take it away. When the take away results in disdain or a loss of enthusiasm to listen, then you know you’re on to something for your situation.

            The only one that has to be convinced is yourself. The bonus comes when others can pick up on it also….

            Tweaks enhance- sometimes surprisingly more than one might think. But they are not a substitute for a solid ‘main stream’ foundation from which to depart.

            1. Nevertheless Mike, I stick to my tried and true quote that I heard many years ago.

              “Use your mind is if it was a parachute… It works a whole lot better when it’s open”

  6. Paul, I noticed you wrote “I think it was Einstein,” which implied you weren’t sure. It didn’t sound like something a theoretical physicist would say, so I looked it up. To give credit where credit is due, it was William Bruce Cameron, not Albert Einstein.

    Here’s the full quote from “Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking” (1963): “It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” https://quoteinvestigator.com/tag/william-bruce-cameron/

  7. On the other hand, when Enid Lumely started writing about AC outlets and power cords, most of us thought she was nuts.

    When it comes to Einstein quotes the best default position is that he never said any of the things he said.

  8. One never hears about judging gear with the exact same piece of recorded music in the same acoustic environment.
    Then there is auditory memory!
    Most of the reviews written are composed with flavored vocabulary and if it was done otherwise I’m am sure it would not be read.
    Also, we seldom hear about the poor quality control and “mediocre “support staff . Much to my chagrin I’ve unfortunately encountered both from what we would deem as a “high end “
    Company. Recently, I sold my audio gear out of frustration with service and no resolve. I’m totally convinced that the “Ven diagram “that represents the interaction of components is more of a scattergram accompanied by a hope that folks like us will be complacent .
    I guess this all is expected since the
    Average reading level of a graduate is at the fifth grade level!

  9. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but first thing I noticed in today’s post was the 2nd word, “think”.
    IMHO it’s better to look it up in Wiki (20 sec.) if you’re not sure about a quote (I am very often not sure)…
    before writing the post 🙂

    1. I am trying to “think before I think” then open my mouth and say something. Most of the time it doesn’t work but I find it very appropriate.

      Happy New Year jb4

    1. Now an abacus is called a calculator. Nevertheless, the abacus will always count as a great move forward in the field of mathematics.

      As for Dracula. I remember Bella Lugosi listening to the wolves in Transylvania and uttering the words: “Children of the night, what music they make”

  10. My experience is that it depends on how close your system is to achieving its full potential. The mainstream is essential to maybe 90% of full potential. Then things that could not be heard before begin to be audible: sound bouncing off the table that sat since the beginning next to your main chair, for example. After those are dealt with, things that made only a small difference emerge as important. For example, my Synergistic Research Atmosphere that made small changes suddenly started making big changes, and another SR device that had been in my room for years now made too much difference. Finally, the unexpected emerges: an sp-dif cable turned out to be interfering with an HDMI cable when both were plugged into my processor. In the end, everything matters. The trick is to train yourself to hear the effect of literally everything in the room.

  11. Paul mentioned here and there, that he has to balance his posts between newbies starting into highend and experienced folks who already know and processed the basics. And for the first half imo they are correct most of the time, so here.

    For the second half of people the simple rule “bother about the obvious, mainstream, equipment -focused things first, mainly or only” usually is not most cost efficient or leading to a certain magic only experienced with more effort than buying boxes.

    Given the mentioned basics are done, fuses were named as an example. I’d say an upgrade of an already great DAC in a basically well planned setup shouldn’t be considered before not all the equipment has audiophile fuses fitted. The difference will roughly be the same for about 1/7th of the price. One also shouldn’t use EMI blocking sheets or think about adding numerous fancy boxes to the DAC as an upgrade, before switching fuses, having an extremely accurate speaker and sub setup etc.

    When partly seeing pictures here with even 100-200k setups with very probably unintentionally asymmetric speaker placement and reading, that they use standard fuses and no or just a roughly integrated sub, while getting constant front end equipment changes consuming endless money, I think that a rough rule like today’s, applied to expensive setups, can limit them extremely while way too much equipment-money is spent on „different“ but not better sound.

    So from a certain equipment quality level on, I see today’s equipment orientated rule misleading and little cost effective to the disadvantage of meaningful set up tweaking details and meaningful smaller equipment tweaks. Before that level I see it being correct.

    1. I’d agree with that, especially the last paragraph. I don’t believe you’ll extract the maximum performance from your system until it has undergone some tweaks. I consider mains, which I still regard as a tweak rather than mainstream, and isolation as the most important. Which to do first is probably best dictated by your location, eg. noisy power company or earthquake zone 😉 The great thing about theses two tweaks is that they can be transferred from one piece of equipment to another, you only need to buy once. Yes, I know, we’ve all heard that one before, but it’s a good theory. I believe you can’t fully appreciate the value and effect until you’ve tried and heard them, the only drawback being results will likely vary for each of us.

    1. Thanks. There’s been no winter here. The last precipitation we had was in August! It’s as dry as a tinderbox and that’s what happened. 100mph winds blew down a powerline and poof! Hundereds of homes just fried. Really sad.

  12. What Counts:

    1. Content
    A. Performance
    B. Audience
    C. Recording acoustics
    D. Minimal miking (one mic per speaker)
    E. Minimal production (no mixing, mastering, EQ, compression, gating, reverb)
    F. Format (DSF)

    2. Architectural Acoustics – appropriate to composers’ and musicians’ intent in capture, diffusive with flat time and frequency response in playback

    3. Speakers
    A. Lowering temporal distortion
    B. Lowering anharmonic distortion
    C. Dynamics
    D. Extended bandwidth (10Hz to 30+KHz)

    4. Electronics
    A. Lowering temporal distortion
    B. Lowering anharmonic distortion
    C. Dynamics
    D. Extended bandwidth (10Hz to 30+KHz)

  13. Speakers. There is one component in the system that produces actual sound, and they all sound different. If you want your system to sound different, focus on speakers, as they are the “voice” of your system.

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