Who’s to say?

May 6, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I remember the first time a worried audiophile came to me for help. It was many years ago at a consumer tradeshow.

The fellow—let’s just call him Ed—was concerned because a system in a room sounded wrong to him. That was particularly upsetting to Ed because he had been assured by the owners of the room that the system was near-perfect. That if he didn’t hear that perfection then something was wrong with him (as opposed to the system).

Ed came to me for help. Would I give a listen and offer an opinion?

We traipsed down the hall, walked into the room, and listened. Ed was right. The sound was aggressive, forward, amusical to a fault. A wall of loud high fidelity.

The owner of the brand spotted me and smiled.

“What’cha think?” he asked.

“Not really my choice of music. Could we try something a bit gentler, perhaps with a vocal?”

Now the fun begins. The vocal was not a lot different than the wall of sound first on offer, but at least it was music I was familiar with. Norah Jones, if memory serves.

“Very revealing,” said I.

That was good enough for us to be given a hall pass to leave.

As Ed and I walked back to our room he asked me, “you found it revealing? So he was right?”

“What did you hear?” I asked.

“It still sounded all wrong. Completely the opposite of your room where the musicians sound live and in the room.”

“Right,” I said. “The last piece he played was very revealing of that fact. I just didn’t want to finish the sentence and make him feel bad.”

In later years I came to understand that brand owner’s idea of great audio was to bring the sound as far forward as possible. That to him, that represented what was right and best and natural.

Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?

If our ultimate goal is to reproduce the sound of live music in our rooms, then ultimately it’s how we each perceive that sound.

Right for him may not be right for me.

Subscribe to Paul's Posts

26 comments on “Who’s to say?”

  1. Indeed, that’s my experience too concerning home (!) audio manufacturers. They have a new idea and want to realize it. And they do the best they can. But they never make serious comparisons with relevant products from other manufacturers nor do they compete in shoot-outs organized by big broadcast studios asking for tenders. Finally these home audio designer can always argue: “That’s your problem!” And there are so many potential problems for home audio: the acoustics of the listening room, the existing audio chain where the new product has to be implemented, an unknown weak link in the audio chain, the mains power supply, the speaker placement, the hearing abilities, etc, etc. In contrast broadcast studios have a listening/monitor room with defined and standardized room acoustics and they simply require “high” fidelity. No esoteric audiophilia.

  2. Agreed…it’s wa-a-ay too subjective to be objectively right or wrong.
    Ed needs to drink a cup of cement & harden-up a bit 😉
    I think that we can all get used to a certain (comfortable) sound from
    the home-audio rigs that we have grown accustomed to over the years
    & when we change our rigs it can take some time to get comfortable to
    the sound again.

    We welcome, with love & great admiration, Caroline Kennedy to
    Australia as the new US Ambassador.
    Conversely, Russia’s WWII victory day celebrations will commence
    on May 9th…seems like an opportune time to nuke Moscow &
    St. Petersburg 😀

  3. **NEWS FLASH**
    The June edition of ‘hi-fi news & Record Review’ magazine (out now) has published
    an absolutely glowing report about the PS Audio – ‘aspen FR30’ floorstanders.
    (Keep smiling Paul 😀 )

    And just for you ‘CtA’ there are some (teaser) lab report measurements that you can
    salivate over.

    1. I have a subscription to HFN&RR, however, I have yet to receive my June issue. Delivery has been erratic here in the US.

      All I can say about today’s post is that when it comes to audio gear and getting the “right” sound is YMMV. 😀

    2. Front cover picture and a glowing review from Andrew Everard (who’s been the audio guy for my main read, Gramophone, for the last 30+ years). He’s also been raving about all the Octave releases. It’s almost too good to be true?!

    3. Well, well, well. If you think that was a proper lab report, then taking a picture of the moon with your iPhone makes you an astronomist.

      The “teaser report” is very poor. Fortunately, Chris has engaged in discussing these findings somewhere else. Actively engaged in technical discussions. Wow. And he is respected! That is important, because the squiggles of frequency response above 1 kHz, but more marked above 8 kHz are not SOTA for a speaker. Quite the contrary, you expect even more from a $1k pair. Paul said he wanted flat on axis response and that poor quality graph shows something very far from flat on axis response. It seems that Chris is aware of the issue and is providing some explanation for it. We shall see in true measurements. For your education, you can read how Erin tests speakers. Lately, he tested a KEF that did brilliantly and at ASR Amir tested a Neumann that did brilliantly too. Both without the mid to high frequency squiggles. The FR30 frequency response appears to be one for someone who cannot hear well high frequencies. Like someone of more years, for example. So, if you are 70 and have lots of money, the FR30 seems for you. I am surprised that Paul said that measuring flat was his goal and then this.

      I was impressed at the low distortion at 100 Hz. But it is not that difficult at that frequency and the level used, 90 dBs. You need to see a proper graph going to 20 Hz and also measuring at 96 dBs and higher. Three points and one low level for distortion measures is insufficient. Still, this aspect is very promising and seems to fulfill what Chris stated as an objective for the speaker

      By the way, the subjective reviews are worthless without [proper] data.

      1. I never said that it is a “proper report”.
        See, there you go making assumptions again.
        However, thank you for confirming that you are still reading my “mediocre & uninteresting” posts…you must be really desperate for reading material 😉

      2. CTA, I think you may have missed something here. What I have said and still say is that a flat response at the listening position is what we’re looking for. Fortunately, the FR30 has that in spades. I would remind people that we don’t list on axis where this was measured. It is why we don’t recommend pointing the speakers directly at us. If you notice in any of the videos we’ve produced, the FR30s are always toed in only slightly. This is because the best listening experience on a proper speaker is for the most part slightly off-axis.

        John Atkinson measures about a 30˚ window then averages that response. When you do that the FR30 is flat. Where it counts.

        Unless you’re using the FR30 as a mono speaker, something I suspect no one is going to do (as we only sell them in pairs 🙂 ), then you need to see the averaged and off-axis response before passing judgment.

        1. Paul,

          You should read Copper magazine. It is quite good. It describes the value of Spinorama. The fact that you admit that you should not listen to the FR30 on axis is telling. They are not flat.

          Thanks for the clarification.

      3. Well, I do recongnise your name for our discussion at the ASR forum and on our own user forum. I think that you know better and are just being antagonistic but I’ll explain it again here.


        The speaker, as measured in the article has a a bass extension of 24 Hz at -6 dB whcih slightly exceeds our specification. Sensitivty is exactly as specified. Disotriton in the magazine is meausred at 3 frequencesin the magazine and was commented in the measurement summary as “excellent”. <0.1% in the midband and 0.11 in the bass at 90 dB.

        I assume that they chose this level for the sake of consistency because they are also testing bookshelves. It would be nice if they added in a 96 dB measurement too, liek Soundstage does on their distoriton measurements.

        They cannot show a distortion curve because this requires anechoic chamber or klippel NFS (it can't be done in-room). However, they can close micthe measurement and reference it back to a 1 meter SPL like they do and get accurate results at individual frequencies.

        Also, shjowing a disotrtion curve isn't very meaningful becuase the distoriton is non-linear and so the level needs to be matched at each frequency (between two products that you'recomparing) to get meaningful results, otherwise, the linear disotriton (different frequency response) skews the results.

        Overall, we were happy with the measurements, but a since point in space doesn't show a complete picture of the speaker's tonality.

        The speaker is optimized for a flat perceived direct sound and smooth and wide horizontal off-axis behavior for stable imaging. However, you have to look at mutliple points off axis for this and they were designed in part using the CTA-2034 standard for "listening window" where this direct sound is viewed as +/- 30 degrees horizontally and +/- 10 degrees vertically. The reason for this is to not overly weight on-axisdiffration effects and the little narrlow band +/- 1 dB squiggles (taht you seem to be overly concerned with, not understanding their importance). Our tweeter is rather large as compared to a one 1" dome and so, o get a balanced response above 10 kHz, with the right amount of "air" and spaciousness,the response directly on-axis is lifted.

        Please feel free to read the reviews if you have concerns about this high freqeuncy balance and want to see if people think that it sounds blanaced and correct. Speaker toe-in and room furnishingsalso have abig impact on the percieved balance at very high frequency. For the reasons mentioned above, this single measurment alone can't tell you that.

  4. Almost related, went to see a play last night at a small venue. I’m guessing 40ft by 40ft with 16ft ceiling. The play was fun. But the opening music(solo violin) was as if live. Albeit on the ceiling. I couldn’t spot the blacked out speakers and didn’t ask about the system, i was so jealous that the violin sounded better than at home.

  5. It’s quite all right to say “I don’t like that”; do not buy equipment that doesn’t move you because someone you consider an authority says it’s wonderful.

  6. It seems that “right and wrong” is preached all the time. From recordings to equipment.

    This high end audio stuff has been about judgments of right, wrong, like, dislike from its inception, and always will be.

    Maybe an individual “like or dislike” is less offensive.

    For example… More followers on social media and commenting sections, then the assumption can be made more right more liked….

  7. So true. But I still find it curious. When we think about optical instruments such as binoculars, telescope eyepieces, etc. there seems to be universal consensus about what’s good and what’s bad – everyone can immediately tell the difference between a bright image versus dim, sharp versus fuzzy, true colors versus muddied, etc. But somehow switching from our visual sense to auditory gives a completely different story. When I read reviews of binoculars, I know I can trust what I’m reading – but years ago I learned that the same was not even close to true about audio reviews. Seeing and hearing are both human senses, so what accounts for this stark contrast in perception?

    1. For senses we have taste ( not audio ), smell ( not audio ), touch ( not audio ), hearing ( audio ) and finally and most important of our five senses sight ( not audio ). If people are asked if you had to chose would you rather be deaf or blind, the overwhelming choice is deaf.

      Also, I think the things to compare audio gear reviews to are reviews of televisions, projectors and movie screens.

      1. Very subjective. One can go to the paint store and view the color chart. Compare your color to theirs, choose or prefer this shade to that one. Differences are very obvious, unless one is color blind. Not so in audio. Might help if everyone could hear the SAME system in the SAME room under the SAME conditions. Still everyone has their own hearing preference.

  8. Next time I go to an audio show I’ll have to remember that line (paraphrase): “Not my choice of music. Can you find something that sounds better?” LOL

Leave a Reply

Stop by for a tour:
Mon-Fri, 8:30am-5pm MST

4865 Sterling Dr.
Boulder, CO 80301

Join the hi-fi family

Stop by for a tour:
4865 Sterling Dr.
Boulder, CO 80301

Join the hi-fi family

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram