Speakers; When is good enough, enough

Discussion in 'GENERAL AV Discussions' started by jeffsg4mac, May 27, 2004.

  1. jeffsg4mac Republican Poster Boy

    jeffsg4mac
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    OK guys and gals we have been discussing amps a lot but not that much about speakers. I have some thoughts and questions that I hope spark some good advice for some and interesting dialog for us more seasoned audio nuts. Most of you have read my background on other posts so I won't repeat it here, but I have been in this hobby since the late 70's so I like to think I know a little. Maybe I am full of it but it is nice to think you know something :) What I have been thinking about is speakers and when to stop looking for something better and be content. I know that may seem like a radical concept to some, but let me finish. What I am trying to get at is some sanity in speakers.

    For example I have Paridigm Monitor series all around. Monitor 7's up front, CC370 center and MiniMonitors rear. I am in the process of treating my room and so far the sound I have is nothing short of amazing. Back in the late 80's, at an audio snob shop in Tampa bay, I heard, what I thought at that time, was the best sounding setup I ever heard. It was a set of Quads on a Mark Levinson Pre-Amp and Amp; I have now surpassed that level of fidelity in my opinion. I know you can't compare what you heard 20 years ago to something today, but what I mean is that when I listen to music now I am not listening for flaws anymore but rather just sitting back and listening, enjoying and having fun.

    What I am now wondering is what would I gain by going to another set of speakers say like Paradigms next level up? It would be a pretty big money investment to do so, would it be worth it? Is there that much difference in speakers today once you reach a certain level? I have my doubts. I have built at least 20 different speakers of my own and well over a thousand custom jobs when I worked for a shop in Florida, and I have never heard a better tweeter then the one Paradigm uses on their Monitor line, it is that good. If you have never heard a set go take a listen and bring some stuff with some delicate highs. Your Jaw will drop. Trust me on this one thing if nothing else, I have built stuff and heard stuff with ScanSpeak, Skanning, Vifa, Morel, Dynaudio, Peerless, Focal, and Audax tweeters and I am telling you these things are amazing.

    Now I am not trying to say Pardigm has some sort of lock on tweeters, but damn they are good. I have listened and owned lots of other great speakers, one of my old pair, a pair of Mirage 1090i's were fantastic, amazing low end for a dual 6in two way, but still they did not satisfy in the high end like the Paradigms do.

    Have we reached the limit to how good a conventional speaker can sound? Is there no point to looking for something else until a new technology comes along or would I be even happier getting something more? Is there really any difference in QUALITY speakers at this time or do they all sound good enough. What are some of your thoughts?
  2. docferdie Audioholic

    docferdie
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    I truly believe that the next big step in entertainment would be when you can bypass the eyes and ears altogether and deliver electronic information for processing by the brain. It will probably be another 20 or so processor cycles but I am optimistic that I will get to see true virtual reality in my lifetime.
  3. Rip Van Woofer Audioholic General

    Rip Van Woofer
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    Simple. When your wife says, "If you bring another set of speakers in this house I'm leaving!", it's time to be satisfied with what you have! :cool:
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  4. Dan Full Audioholic

    Dan
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    I'm not the kind of guy who always needs to upgrade. I tend to have something for a long time and replace it when it fails or is absurdly obsolete. I've owned two pairs of main speakers in my life. A bookshelf set of EPI 100s from the late 70s that were fairly basic and got me through college, med school, and residency when I had tight budgets. While my budget when I upgraded to 5 channel surround wasn't unlimited it was well above average. I found my Vandersteens to be the most realistic thing I've ever heard. I can't imagine replacing them unless to upgrade to model 5A which is a lot of scratch. I acn think of better things to get with $15K including about a thousand CDs.

    That said, I have two points. First, the Vandys are so good that many old vinyl albums I have or their reissue CDs from the 60s and 70s (jazz and rock) are unlistenable know because the Vandys ruthlessly expose the short comings of the recordings. Having heard redbook Mapleshade CDs sound better than any SACD I have yet bought I am convinced that the "rate-limiting-step" is the recording and is no longer the playback technology.

    Second, while I'm sure the Paradigms are good speakers, and you've checked the driver manufacturers out bearthis in mind. The top speaker designers who do not make their own drivers use proprietary drivers from Vifa, Scanspeak etc. They are not available to you and I even if we could otherwise copy a good designs enclosure. That is not to say that one cannot build excellent speakers, my brother built a very good pair on his first try. I do think the experts out there with their own companies know a few things that most of us do not. Their best designs are better than any an amateur could make because they have access to drivers and manufacturing techniques that we do not
    Dan,
  5. zipper Full Audioholic

    zipper
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    That's a good question. I used to think I knew something about hifi until I found this forum. I remember when Speakerlab 7's were the s##t. My ex & I had a pr of Klipsch Fortes & I thought they were fabulous. Considering they were in a big room with 20 ft ceilings & glass everywhere,driven only by a fairly high end Pioneer receiver, I now realize I have no idea how good(or bad) they really are. As you have probably read here,I recently acquired some Axiom M60's.They replaced some Boston v950's,which replaced some Klipsch KB1.1's. So I'm slowly moving up the scale of quality in speakers. So far I'm pretty happy with the 60's,however,this very question has come to mind. Where does it end?
    Just for kicks, I picked up some Sonus Faber Concertino Homes that are on sale ($800) at local hifi. These have a little better clarity & soundstage but at the sacrifice of low end & some sibilance.I'm going to return them but it made me realize what I could possibly gain by buying expensive speakers.All the characteristics we crave in a speaker are not available on a small budget.I listened to some Paradigm Studio 60's at another store & loved 'em.Excellent in most ways,they were $1600/pr before tax. I really considered stretching my budget for those but the fact that the salesman wouldn't budge a cent on the price pissed me off. So I now have what I consider the best I could find for under $1K. At the same store where I heard the Paradigm's they had a pr of B&W speakers that were,I think, $25,000. I REALLY wanted to hear them but quickly realized there was a strong possibility that I may never be happy with what I had if I did.
    To answer your question,yes,I believe you could still upgrade. But at what cost level does one draw the line? I heard some Paradigm Monitors & they weren't nearly as sweet as the Studios. Don't know which ones they were other than they were floorstanding 2-ways. For me,I'll hang onto these m60's & work on upgrading my electronics. Once I have what I want component-wise,I'll consider other speakers. Nothing more disappointing than bringing home new speaks & discovering your they don't sound good on your own gear. I'm sure there is a point of diminishing returns on costs vs. quality but I have no idea where that is yet.
  6. joelincoln Junior Audioholic

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    I just bought the Studio 60s along with CC470 and rears. During my shopping, I seriously considered the Monitors and was VERY impressed with their abilities given their price. They are unbeatable in that price range.

    It was a hard decision to spend the 60% more (or so) for the Studios. I'm still not sure it was really worth the extra money despite the fact that the Studios are clearly one step above the Monitors... it just isn't that big a step.

    I don't know if I could justify buying the Studios if I already owned the Monitors. But then if you're comparing older Monitors to the v3 Studios, there may be a bigger difference.
  7. Unregistered Guest

    Unregistered
    Audiophiles can look at the recorded media as a standard. Hi-fidelity is all about getting as close as possible to what the recorded media is all about. That means, one has to be exposed to so-called REFERENCE systems that eschew the wonderful qualities of Neutrality, Transparency and Accuracy in any of their components from the record all the way to your ears. If your speakers and the totality of your systems at home come close to those Reference Systems or do have them alright, then perhaps you've reach the zenith of your audiophilic journey, and have reached the point beyond which the law of diminishing returns apply.

    Some audiophiles short cut the route by attending as many live musical events as possible from concert halls and studios to get a feel of what real music sounds like. (Not open air live event with crappy PA systems.) That way, their standard becomes LIVE music and coupled with their subjective assessment of what is LIVE from their recollections, they then fashion their sound systems to sound closest to such recollections. Never mind if the sound is nowhere near what the recorded mix had intended. So if your speakers and your gears in general do sound like what you remember from a live concert sound, then perhaps, you've reach the point where any further upgrade becomes meaningless.

    Also bear in mind that some AV shops have accoustic treatments that can make a speaker sound impressive. Only to be dissappointingly anemic once you install them at home.
  8. jeffsg4mac Republican Poster Boy

    jeffsg4mac
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    Oh I have no doubt I could upgrade and achive a different sound but would it be a better sound, As we have discussed with amps and abx testing, has that been done with speakers as well. Can you really hear the difference between brand A and brand B with all else being equal? I have my doubts considering the advance in speaker technology over the last 10 years or so. Rip do you have a thought on that? Now I am not talking about comparing some el cheapo set to some high end set, but rather a good mid-priced set to another or to a high-end set. Likewise, I am not talking about comparing a 6in small monitor next to a set of towers either. And Joe, you spent about %60 more on your speakers, did you get %60 better sound? %50, %30, %10? Where does this all end? What is the standard that all speakers are measured against? How can one company even claim they have the best sounding speaker, best sounding compared to what? This starts to get very subjective and into gray area's I think. Thoughts anyone?
  9. zipper Full Audioholic

    zipper
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    I guess that would depend on what one would consider "better". If I was in-studio while,say,Phil Collins was recording tracks & therefore knew what it was SUPPOSED to sound like I would have a benchmark in which to compare a speakers' reproduction of that music. So I see your point. What sounds "better" to me may actually be farther from true reproduction of the music rather than closer.
    I have no doubt that my M60's ($800/pr) sound "better" than my Boston VR950's ($760/pr MSRP). Clarity,separation,imaging,bass are all better. But I would agree that judging sound is very subjective. I know a few people who turn the treble on their stereos all the way down for standard listening. They don't have great setups by any means,but what they listen to sounds like someone covered the speakers up with pillows. I happen to enjoy clarity & crispness( not "brightness" or "sibilance") in my music along with tight,authorative bass.
  10. Rip Van Woofer Audioholic General

    Rip Van Woofer
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    ABX testing, from what I've read, is best suited for sorting out very subtle differences, and for establishing whether those differences really exist. As speakers are still highly variable and the differences obvious, ABX testing is less necessary. Also, for various reasons it's a lot harder to setup a valid ABX test for speakers. For one thing, even setting up speakers side-by-side can reveal which one is playing due to audible localization cues. I've read that the ABX setup at Harman International for internal testing of their speakers involves an acoustically transparent fabric screen to hide the speakers, and a computer-controlled shuffling mechanism to place each speaker in the same position in turn!

    Anyway, to my way of thinking the only valid test for the merit of any audio component is the fundamental definition of "high fidelity": the output should match the input signal as closely as possible. That means (at least) flat frequency response with negligible distortion and noise. The electronics are pretty much there IMO; speakers still have a way to go regardless of price. And how closely they approach that ideal often has little to do with price.

    And then, unlike electronics, there are the various valid but fundamentally different theoretical models (and variants therein) that speaker designs follow: line source, point source, monopole, dipole....oy! All of which affect more subjective and harder to pin down criteria like soundstaging and imaging*...which in turn are affected by room interaction...it makes the head hurt! All I can say about that stuff is, find the one you like! Right now I'm a "point source dipole guy". Could change, though.

    *Of course, off-axis response measurements can give some indications there.
    Last edited: May 28, 2004
  11. Dan Full Audioholic

    Dan
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    I think that different speakers sound just that- different. Some have very flat response curves yet don't sound good. Some are not flat yet are appealing at least for some kinds of music and some peoples' taste. It is also not always true that the most expensive speaker in a line is the best performing or sounding.

    Much of what goes into shopping for and selecting speakers is very emotional and subjective. That's what makes it so fun. Part of the psychological aspect also involves the price. We tend to like things that are more expensive (and therefore "better") or we think we got a great deal on. Everyone has a different idea on the value of a buck based on income, how hard our job is, how we were raised etc.

    Therefore I think that especially for audio equipment where the sky is the limit in terms of cost there is a curve which describes this phenomena. If cost is the x-axis and performance the y-axis the curve starts out fairly linear and then at some point hyperbolically turns straight up. What this price/performance point is varies for everyone. I think the idea is to get as close to the turn as possible.

    I would argue that at least for me my $3500 Vandy 3As are better than anything in the $1500-2000 range. They are better than Vandy 2CE but more than twice as good? I doubt it, most speakers in that range are pretty damn good. Also I've heard Vandy 5s and while a little better than 3As they are not three times as good.

    So I say, know yourself, your taste and your budget before you set foot in the store. Don't listen above your price range and buy what gets you off the best.
    Dan,
  12. av_phile Senior Audioholic

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    I think what you mean is the curve might simply reach a plateau, not straight up. This indicates that as you go up the price on the x-axis, there's hardly any sonic improvement. A zero increase/decrease on the y-axis is just a straight horizontal line.

    This many not be entirely accurate. I would think that there is simply a point in price beyond which the law of diminishing returns apply. Like in everything else.

    But I am curious. Does anyone have or should have a STANDARD or reference when assessing a speaker? Without one, any speaker you hear after getting one can easily sound better, ad infinitum.
  13. Rip Van Woofer Audioholic General

    Rip Van Woofer
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    Even though I'm big on measurements, I have to face the fact that good measurements (in other words, not the mfrs. specs and graphs) are often not available for a given speaker. And my wife won't let me turn our living room into an anechoic chamber (women...!).:rolleyes: So I look first for obvious defects. A false, exaggerated resonance in male speaking voices which is often evidence of a hump in the mid/upper bass response. A "too good" sounding bright midrange which is often a peak in that area and will become fatiguing on extended listening. I'll sometimes listen to the noise between FM stations (kind of like pink noise) and listen for a sound like you'd get if it were being played into a paper cup or cupped hands (hard to explain, but it's a test I learned long ago that also reveals midrange problems). I'll listen to the noise on and off axis (about 30 degrees) to see how much it changes -- a good indicator of off-axis response problems -- a little change is OK, big changes are problematic. Exaggerated sibilants. And the virtues: The ability to render complex orchestral and/or choral passages clearly without getting harsh or muddy. As much low bass extension as I can reasonably expect at a given price or size. And, for lack of a better standard, they should sound "natural" with acoustic program material, based on my experience of live sound. Of course, I know that the recordings might be less than "natural" and acoustic memory is fraught with inaccuracy but that's life, eh?

    A few other tests I've heard of that sound more or less reasonable but haven't tried myself: 1) Siegfried Linkwitz suggests comparing the speakers against a set of "reference" headphones known to have flat response. He lists a few on his Website. The idea is that the 'phones will tell you exactly what's on a given recording and the closer the speakers sound to that, the better (we're talking strictly spectral balance here, not imaging and such). Of course, I suppose one must somehow mentally account for room effects when listening to the speaker, too. Anyway, I don't have "reference" 'phones. 2) The NRC/Floyd Toole testing protocol uses only one speaker, mono, for listening and measurement. In listening, it allows you to focus strictly on spectral balance without the "distractions" of stereo effects. 3) Linkwitz, again, suggests listening to speakers from another room! If a speaker is really good you should have the illusion that there are really musicians in there. That hasn't worked for me, frankly. I doubt I could ever believe that the Chicago Symphony is over there in my den, no matter how good the speakers are! Maybe it would work for some acoustic small-group or solo material.

    And finally, you might have heard that putting a speaker outside, as far from reflecting surfaces as possible, makes a fair approximation of an anechoic chamber. Haven't tried that either. The neighbors might talk!
    Last edited: May 29, 2004
  14. Dan Full Audioholic

    Dan
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    DOH! I must have been more tired than I thought last night. What a horrible way to describe the simple concept of the law of diminishing returns. I really meant to say that the break point is different for everybody and does not solely depend upon quantifiable performance factors. :eek:
    Dan,
  15. mustang_steve Senior Audioholic

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    To me, it's all about getting as close to the source recording. If the recording is crap, I want it to sound like crap, as long as that crap sound is the same crap sound imprinted on that disc, I'm happy with it. If everyone had systems like that, I bet a lot of studios would have a lot of explaining to do...especially in modern rock, where all teh music seems to have been over-normallized quite badly.

    As far as that goal, I still see speakers as the largest weak point. Our moving cone design is nearly a century old. Electrostatic only a few decades less. Horns have been done in one shape or another for well over 100 years. Really, i would love to see someone reinvent the driver once again, since I do think we have hit a plateau for what can be done with our standard cone designs. But all this is spiraling off topic quickly so let's leave it at that :)

    Either way, I do think speakers have a long way to go....they have went quite a ways, but I'm starting to think we might be reaching hte point where advancement may not be possible without having the end result cost obscene amounts of money.
  16. av_phile Senior Audioholic

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    I'm totally with you on that. The goal of High Fidelity in PLAYBACK is to reproduce the recording as closely as to how the performance was recorded. Nothing more and nothing less.

    Seems the physics of sound propagation in air is quite straightforward. Horns, ribbons, cones, electrostats, planars - they all exploit this and have reached the technological zenith, as it were, so that any further improvements can be so incremental as to go beyond the point of diminishing returns. Either that or they just sound different from one another that any judgement as to which is better or best can already belong in the realm of the subjective and personal. I share your hope that something revolutionary will come along in this area, but one that is wallet-friendly.
  17. Westrock2000 Junior Audioholic

    Westrock2000
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    My standard is that any speakers I build cannot sound better than my Magnepan MMG's...that way I don't replace them :D

    But seriously I will, replace my MMG's with the 1.6QR's eventually (maybe Christmas) , and then I will probably not replace those for a very long time. There only $1500 for the pair which certainly isn't "ultra hi-end", but it's expensive enough for me, and I don't think I'll find anything better thats still a bargain.

    But I'll probably keep building speakers for a while, just because its fun.
  18. jeffsg4mac Republican Poster Boy

    jeffsg4mac
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    Maggies and logans do sound good, I will admit that.
  19. cornelius Full Audioholic

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    Return on one's investment is a tricky thing. Personally, I stay away from the typical manufacturers. I've found for about the same money or slightly more, some of the less mainstream designs are much better. Yes, technology has improved, but over time you'll lose interest in your rig if the design isn't great from the ground up. There's a lot of turd polishing out there - and marketing doo doo.

    The worst thing a speaker designer can do is take a rectangular box and put drivers in it. I prefer Ohm, Vandersteen Magnepan approaches. Just another angle to try. I think slowly over time, rectangular boxes will be a thing of the past.
  20. savelife Audiophyte

    savelife
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    Dr. Robert Dean

    Dear Audiophiles;

    In response to your question, what represents a good speaker (or its sound), allow me to shed some new light on your question.

    Before I start, let me say while I am a pretty good doctor, I can't spell worth a darn or rearrange verbs worth spit, and I don't have the time to edit or spell check this audiophile epistle you are about to read. With that said, enjoy!

    First of all, if you had all of the world's best audio and acoustical engineers, plus speaker manufacturing engineers come together and they took 10 years to develop and produce the most accurate sound reproducer in the world...something that might cost nearly $1,000.000.00, they will end up sounding no better than the room in which they are installed. Therefore, what is a good sounding speaker can best be answered by putting your horse before your cart. Get your listening room acoustically correct first, otherwise, you are whisteling dixie. If you think your Maggies sound good, put them in an accoustically corrected room and they will sound magnificent! Put them in a room which is an acoustical nightmare and you'll beat them to death with a sledge hammer.

    Many falsly judge the sound of a speaker because what they are hearing is bad room acoustics, electronics, software, etc. Before you judge any speaker, you must first examine what's going on in the chain of events from the moment the recording of a piano's middle C note resonates from the C string of the piano after the piano's hammer has struck it to the split second you heard it from your speakers.

    Strike a middle C key on a piano with a quarter pound of pressure. A hammer strikes the C string. The C string resonates (vibrates) pushing molecules of air at a specific frequency (vibration) which a muscian would call middle C (sorry, I do not have the exact mathmatical frequency number to give you handy). Vibrating air is being moved omnidirectionally. The moving air bounces off the piano sound board, the walls of the facility in which the piano is placed, and numerous other objects, too. At the speed of sound this confused mass of moving molecules (air) funnels through holes and slots of a microphone and strikes the microphone's diaphram, which, in turn, generates minute electrical signal through a resistive and capacitive wire until it is picked up by an analogue to digital converter (turning an analogue electrical wave into zeros and ones), then on to a small amplification stage, which in turn makes the signal stronger than it originally was in a digital format.

    Now, follow me on this... a small applification device (called a digital pre-amplifier) sends this stronger signal (more zeros and ones) to a control center. The zeros and ones tend to misbehave (jitter) as they are moved down their respective paths of wires to a full bank of filters, amplifiers, and other electron modifying devices (equilizers, compressors, volume controls, polarity inverters, etc., all of which ad to and magnify distortion). In other words, we no longer have a sound which approaches the real sound. Once the zeros and ones (rearranged electrons) have been minipulated by the sound engineer (who decides what the piano C string should sound like...which, incidently, is not what it really does sound like), they get burned into a mastering disc or tape used in the mass production of digital discs. You now have a recording of a greatly distorted middle C piano note.

    Okay, wonderful! Now what? Assuming the mass production of the compact disc is bit by bit perfectly matched to the master disc or tape, you take the disc and play it back through a Compact Disc Player. This player's laser beam determines how high or low thousands of these pits are which then, by electronic values, determines the C note's pitch, volume, overtone, and numerous other audio side effects). This data (clusters of zeros and ones) are sent racing down a cable at the speed of light to a preamplifier. The preamplifier (a distortion producing device in its own right) converts the zeros and ones to an analogue signal, which inturn sends that signal (electrons) to an amplifier (another distortion causing device) which greatly amplifies and exagerates the analogue signal it received and sends it at the speed of light down another capacitive and resistive set of speaker cable wires to a noise producing device called a loud speaker. So, even if your speaker could reproduce sound exactly as the original sound sounded, the processing of the original sound has, at this point been dramatically distorted.

    So, my dear audiophile friend, does it matter if your speakers are accurate? If they are, you are simply reproducing the distortions caused in the recording process, room acoustics and many other variables to be reproduced accuratly. Just what every audiophile dreams of...accurately reproduced distortion!

    After your noise maker (loud speaker) has responded to the distorted electrical signals it receives the walls and invionment within the walls in which the speaker is housed now compound the distortions and add to them. In other words, you are hearing (1) a distorted recording of the first wave of sound molecules which reached the microphone. (2) A millasecond later you hear the reverberation of the original sound of the C note caused from reflection of the C note sound bouncing off the recording venue's walls. (3) Next you hear a compounded distortion of the originally distorted C note as it comes forth from your speakers...we call this the original wave launch (mass movement of molecules headed toward your ears). Next, the middle C note hits your ears. (4) A millasecond later, those same molecules bounce off the walls of your room and room objects, and come back to your ears. Now you are hearing the sound again, a millasecond later, distorted from its original pitch, volume and timber. You no longer are hearing the original sound of the middle C piano note. So why does it matter if your speakers are accurate?

    Now, are you ready for this...here comes the hypnotics! Audiophiles when listening to the piano's middle C note played over their he-man hi-fi will swoon and declare how "real" the sound is. With great enthusiams they proclaim, "My God, it sounds like a real piano playing a C note in my living room!" Now, I ask you, how could this be in consideration of what really happened to the C note?

    What is going on is psychoacoustics and audiophile hypnotics.

    I am a board certified clinical hypnotherapist. I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Hypnotherapy. I have 32 years of practice experience. I teach clinical hypnotherpay to psychologist, M.D.'s and dentists. I have written many scientific papers on the subject of modification of human behavior with use of hypnotics (see web site www.newlifeclinics.org. I can tell you that much of what you observe, and read regarding subjective audio experience regarding hi-fi gear and the like is purely placebo, and hypnotic in nature..

    You must realize that the sound you hear over your loud speaker system, in reality, cannot approach the sound that took place in the original recording venue. What is an audiophile to do?

    If you want me to write a rather breezy S.A. on audiophilism which will advise you as to what a good listening room, electronics, and speaker system should do and sound like, then simply e-mail your request to me and I will respond on this site in this section.

    My best regards to you and all audiophiles.

    Robert *. Dean, Ph.D.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2004

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