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Rick Stout - Audio System Tweaks
We sponsor an audio discussion group called 70sAudioMindset that is hosted on Yahoo Groups. In the group's file area, I posted a somewhat rambling, tongue-in-cheek message on various audio system tweaks and how it relates to the group. I thought our website visitors might get a kick out of it also so I'm posting it here also. If you would like to join the group, use the subscription form below.
70sAudioMindSet Group Description - General discussion of all matters relating to vintage/classic audio equipment primarily from the pre *black-plastic-pretending-to-be-audio-gear* era that took over the market in the 1980's. Primarily focused on 70s Audio silver-era gear, but 1960's and older or 1980's and newer are not off-topic.

Discuss receivers, tuners, pre-amps, amplifiers, cassettes, reel to reel, turntables, analog anything (solid state and tube audio), etc. from popular companies as Pioneer, Marantz, Kenwood, Sansui, Teac, Akai, Yamaha, Sherwood, Scott, McIntosh, etc to lesser or barely known brands. Performance, specifications, modifications, repairs, tips, manuals, schematics, dumpster diving and thrift store finds, eBay sales, etc are acceptable topics. Tasteful FS (For Sale), FA (For Auction), WTB (Wanted To Buy), etc. posts in moderate number are also acceptable as is limited OT (Off Topic) discussion.

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Hi Everybody,

I'd like to say some things about message threads having to do with speaker cables, interconnects (hookup cables), psycho/voodoo system improvements, nuance system tweaks, etc. Many folks making changes to their audio systems often claim VAST, HUGE, TREMENDOUS improvements while at the same time, many or most other people trying the same thing claim little or no discernable difference.

It can't simply be a matter of semantics. Everyone who claims such and such an improvement isn't an idiot. Everyone who doesn't accept that person's conclusion isn't an idiot. There MUST BE *something* going on that isn't immediately obvious to everyone. Because, how can otherwise well-meaning, intelligent people who love audio come to such different conclusions over something like a speaker wire?

Conversations about some of these things start out innocently enough, but often tend to take on a life of it's own. Frequently, they move quickly in the direction of mudslinging, name calling, hard feelings, etc. There have been huge arguments, flame wars and bitter feelings in audio groups all over the internet about this stuff.

I WOULD NOT LIKE TO SEE THAT HAPPEN HERE. We all have too much in common to let that happen. Nobody in this group will often be able to convince anybody to change their convictions on many of these matters. Besides, why should it matter to anybody that everyone else agree with them? In the whole scheme of life, it simply isn't important.

Here are some of the issues as I see them. I believe anybody who wishes to do so, can find *substantial* amounts of source material and/or opinions and conclusions of intelligent, educated and experienced people that would support any and all of the following statements (in no particular order). Some of these are intended to be humorous to get the point across. These should be more than enough to cover most of the bases.   :)
  1. All or most all amps of good design and build quality sound NEARLY OR EXACTLY THE SAME in the same system.
  2. All or most all amps of good design and build quality sound NOTHING ALIKE and cause tremendous (not minor, TREMENDOUS) changes in the same system.
  3. Speaker wire choice is immaterial as long as it's of sufficient size. That sufficient size is NOT nearly as large as what most people tend to use but ought to be at least 18 gauge (no measly 20 gauge for us) for short runs, 16 gauge for moderate runs and 14 or larger for longer runs.
  4. Speaker wire choice is immaterial as long as it's of *good* quality and costs at least in the range of several tens of dollars.
  5. Speaker wire choice is immaterial as long as it's of *good* quality and costs at least in the range of a few hundred of dollars.
  6. Speaker wire choice is immaterial as long as it's of *good* quality and costs at least in the range of more than what most are willing to spend on entire audio systems.
  7. Speaker wire choice is immaterial as long as it's of *good* quality and was made out of oxygen free copper, copper-free copper, sub-molecular distortion free copper and that was produced in outer space by alien beings.
  8. Speaker wire like all other audio components MUST be *exercised* and broken in till they reach their full potential. It's best to do multi-day /week /month burn-in sessions with pink noise to properly *exercise* the full frequency spectrum capabilities.
  9. Wire has no brain and doesn't care how you use it or abuse it or for how long, as long as you don't overheat or excessively so.
  10. Wire DOES have a magical ability to remember how it has been used and for how long. The more you make it feel good about itself, the better performance it will give you...... Wire likes the attention and feelings of importance it gives them.
  11. Properly setup double-blind testing pretty much conclusively proves that the vast majority of people can not identify any difference caused by cheap or mega-buck cabling changes.
  12. Some can prove (at least to themselves) that ALL double-blind tests are flawed.
  13. If only one will spend obscene (usually) amounts of money to acquire a system that is *capable* of revealing the nuances, everyone except the most tin-eared among us could EASILY hear these tremendous differences. If one only has a ordinary, not-properly *matched*, lowly, suitable-for-the-masses HiFi, they simply are not capable of passing judgment on the nuances of superior sound systems.
  14. Many who do NOT believe the above consider such as pissing contests. They think of themselves as a common sense type of person and would likely go with the theory that as long as *it* is of at least ordinary, average adequate size... then size really does not matter.
  15. Many who DO believe the above might also believe that 8" to 10" SURELY would be better and make them a better man /lover in spite of the fact that an average woman can only accommodate 6" to 7". (OK, I know I digress with this example.... hope you get the point though).
  16. There is a vast amount of difference *between the ears* of one person to the next. This is mostly human beings amazing ability to believe whatever they *want to believe* and their ability to be convinced by people with more money, or more expensive audio systems, or more perceived, experience, or more perceived expertise... such that we believe that *we* should believe *them*... cause it's them.... not us lowly peons.
  17. There is a vast amount of difference between the *ears* of one person to the next. This IS scientifically provable. Some of us really DO have tin ears. This is like test pilot Chuck Yeager's much better than average eyesight and how it affected his flying career.
  18. Many people claim to hear VAST (not subtle.... VAST) differences in audio systems when a CD player is resting on a certain thickness of wood of the proper type, grain, color, etc.... or a rock, a rubber mat or a hockey puck... They KNOW what they hear. Upon discovering this amazing difference caused by the magical mat, they can't stand to listen to the lousy (lousy I tell you..) sound produced without said magical mat.
  19. Most people believe that folks who believe the above are idiots.
  20. Most people who believe the above, think those who don't are idiot's or simply ignorant and uninformed at best.
  21. The audio world is FULL of marketing psycho-hooey that many people are willing to fall for and can not be moved to believe anything other than they KNOW they hear these huge differences because the man in the magazine said they would.
  22. People will proclaim how wonderful someone's system sounds until they notice the person has a loudness button engaged or a tone control turned from *flat*..... then they suddenly become convinced that system is not even capable of producing *what the artists intended*. This also applies when said admirer notices the 18 gauge lamp cord being used for speaker wire.
  23. It's a proven fact that people CAN NOT remember precisely what they heard even a few moments ago.
  24. It's a proven fact that people ARE CAPABLE of remembering in precise detail what they heard not only minutes ago, but even a system they heard *years* ago.
  25. It's a proven fact that nobody remembers anything from the past, they are only remembering the last time they remembered a particular event.
  26. Some people truly believe they can somehow magically just KNOW what the recording artists *intended* for us to hear and that can only be achieved by removing every single thing in a reproduction system that might *color* the sound. This in spite of the fact that every single step of the way from the vocalist's mouth to our ears is *colored* by myriad EQ's settings, speaker response, cabling, signal processing, compressions, expansions, studio and mixing room acoustics, recording engineer's ears, recording processes, cutting lathe engineers, tape duplicators, degree of head wear, etc., etc.

Surely that was enough wouldn't you agree? Since any number of us believe any number of the above things, WHAT are we to do? What conclusions can we come to? Let me share the conclusions I've come to.

All people have the same basic hearing apparatus (ears). Some people's hearing apparatus may really be better, perhaps MUCH better than most others. Some people perhaps REALLY CAN HEAR the things they claim even though they attribute them to things others may consider stupid.

One person thinks placing a CD player on a particular kind /thickness piece of wood on a 1000 lb block of granite makes huge improvements in (insert favorite audio terminology you wish) and everyone else is an idiot for not doing it. Most other people think he's an idiot. If the idiot believes he's correct, fine. He may be correct as there may actually may be a difference of some kind that others can not detect.

If I can not hear a difference, then to me, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. Me not being able to hear a difference might be caused by several things.

  • There really is NO difference.
  • There IS a difference, but my system for some reason can not reveal it to me.
  • My hearing apparatus is NOT capable of discerning the difference.
  • My hearing apparatus IS capable of hearing the difference, but my mind does not know how to process that information due to a lack of training or my inability to be a critical listener.

SUPPOSE that I think I can hear just as well as anyone else but really CAN NOT. I can spend megabucks and years of effort searching for audio nirvana and NEVER FIND IT. The system I end up with (after years of effort and many thousands of dollars), sounds no better to me than what I started with. I come to the conclusion that all golden-eared experts with an over abundance of money are all mindless idiots who are swayed by whatever hoopla comes along.

SUPPOSE that I think I can hear just as well as anyone else but can really hear MUCH BETTER. I can spend megabucks and years of time searching for audio nirvana and ACTUALLY FIND IT. The system I end up (after years of effort and many thousands of dollars), sounds EXTRAORDINARILY BETTER to me than what I started with. I have learned to hear the effects to the music that are caused by the most minor of changes to the system. I come to the conclusion that the masses of average audio fans are mindless idiots who have apparently NEVER HEARD GOOD AUDIO or are unwilling to spend the money to acquire a properly matched system, etc..

A silly example.... I can now look at a service manual and tell exactly what a reproduction will look like without even trying a test page. Can you? Probably not. Why? Probably because you aren't working with such things every day. Even if you were, you may not know how to pay strict attentions to the nuances of the equipment being used. It would probably take you several months to really discern minute details. It did for me. Many months and thousands of manuals before I really noticed that some of what I was producing was crap.

OK..... perfect example..... most of it was NOT CRAP to MOST people. But upon my learning by a lot of experience and a willingness to truly examine what I was doing, I decided to never settle for less than the best I can do. I can see the differences immediately with little effort. Similarly, I see people's audio system opinions in the same way. If they truly believe there is a difference, to them there is. If they truly believe average decent quality gear produces great sound for them... then it does.

Not that it really matters, but for me personally, I fall on the side of: most decent quality audio gear (speakers excluded) sounds mostly the same in the same setting. Yes of course, there are some differences that many people might detect, but they generally are not HUGE differences.

I'm of the opinion that megabuck speaker cables are not better than ordinary 16, 14, 12 gauge stranded copper wire. I personally think it's pointless to connect welding cable to a speaker that has 20, 18, 16 gauge wire inside. I really believe that... but that's just me. I think there are much more important things in the world to spend one's time and money on than that.... but that's just me.

When I see someone say that placing a 1 inch thick oak board (not 5/8 inch thickness, mind you) under a CD player produces MASSIVE IMPROVEMENTS, then I just think that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Is it possible some difference is detectible? After allowing that said CD player may have been subject to vibrations prior to the magic being applied, I don't think so. But I do allow for the possibility because of the above reasons. I don't think MOST people could tell the difference no matter how long they try.

I'm willing to give anybody who claims superior systems, superior experience, superior critical listening skills... the benefit of the doubt because of the reasons given above. What I have trouble with, is those who claim these little nuance changes produce VASTLY SUPERIOR, HUGE, TREMENDOUS CHANGES. There are untold thousands of people out there who are not confident enough in themselves so that they are *easily swayed* by the opinions of others. They tend to believe these various claims even though they may possess zero ability to discern any difference and regardless of money spent in pursuing it.

Those who make such claims for themselves, and their systems are certainly welcome to express it in this group. BUT, those who do AND who insist on trying to ram that superior system, ability, etc. down the throats of everyone else, are not welcome here unless they can back off from such *ramming*.

If someone claims that another has simply never heard *decent quality* playback of a vinyl record because they haven't listened on a turntable that costs $10,000 or more, in an equally megabuck, *properly matched* system (whatever that is)... then they are truly unthinking, rude, wrong-headed idiots and deserve the scorn of the non-believers.

So here is the conclusion of the matter as it relates to our 70sAudioMindset group. Everyone is free to discuss these kinds of issues. This IS an open uncensored group. I do believe that if these kinds of conversations run on, and on, and on, and on... (usually between a small subset of *true believers*), it tends to detract from the overall group health.

Since these issues tend to cause strong opinions among people and tend to dominate all discussions once they get going, lets all resolve to *agree to disagree* on some of these matters. Let's not allow our group to go the way of other forums which allow such threads to degenerate into senseless flame-throwing, judgmental, mud-slinging, name-calling sessions. That does nobody any good and it changes the opinions of nobody. Tolerance of others in these matters is important.

Please do NOT think this is meant to put a stop to discussions about cables, room treatments, equipment supports, pointy speaker feet, meg-buck equipment or anything else. It is not. Just make sure we keep it civil. AND remember... there are LOTS of things to talk about besides contentious irresolvable issues.

I do reserve the right to request such threads come to an immediate halt if they ever get out of hand and go become problematic.

Happy listening. Let's have fun.

Best regards,

Moderator, 70sAudioMindset
Hope you enjoyed it.

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