My Opinion

Watch out...

This page is the one that has appeared here previously, but I have updated this section with two new pages. Click on the buttons below to get a view (opinion...) of these. Later I will upgrade this page too.

Now the time has come to comment the HiFi society and some of its equipment.
The HiFi society sadly has a tendency towards the really expensive or the really cheap. This leaves many of the interested music listeners with a choice of keeping the OK sounding cheap stuff or to spend a fortune on the expensive good sounding equipment. Sadly, most listeners choose the first alternative, leaving us with a lower quality of music reproduction than in many years. This will make it even worse in the future, if we cannot make the kids interested in sound reproduction the HiFi scene will slowly fade away.
There is a small hope though, the movie industry spends fortunes on the sound, and youngsters today seem to be more interested in Home Theatre than in HiFi. The used equipment are mainly the same, but the cost for a good Home Theatre system is 2-3 times higher and the five speakers needed (six including the subwoofer) must be placed somewhere in the room. Maybe I am too old, but the Home Theatre alternative is nothing for me. Just imagine five Quad ESL-63 in a 25 square meter room and the cost for it. Probably we would choose lower quality equipment if we decided to go into Home Theatre, this is the backside of this alternative.
It is for that matter possible to get surround sound from two speakers if they are placed properly and if the room reflections do not interact too much. This is proved astonishingly well on the album 'Amused To Death' with Roger Waters which is recorded with QSound. In my room the imaging from the sides are equally well focused as from the front (considering the Quad's ability in this sense, it is remarkable). This is of course only possible if you sit exactly between the two speakers with the same distance to both of them, and only one person can listen. This album is also extremely good for equipment testing, I use it all the time when something is changed, and improvements always improve the surround sound quality. I have a couple of other QSound recordings too, sadly none of them are nearly as good as the Roger Waters album.
I have just listened to a test disc, distributed with the Swedish HiFi magazine High Fidelity. This disc contained a few test tracks with surround sound, demonstrating the surround sound (left, center, right and surround). I was a bit surprised when I heard the surround sound on my two Quad's. It sounded as if there were surround speakers present, the surround sound came about 1.5 meters in front of the speakers (giving a little out of phase sound). The recorded examples of surround sound produced a huge soundscape, well in front of and beyond the speakers, and even some sounds from the sides. The result was surprisingly good and reminded me of a good two-microphone recording. I have also a CD with Emerson, Lake & Palmer containing 'Pictures at an exhibition' in Dolby Pro Logic Surround. This recording does also produce a huge soundscape of the same kind. The result of playing surround sound on my two dipole speakers is so good that I would gladly buy some more of this kind. I don't know why it works so well, but it is probably because of the dipole loudspeakers.
Enough surround sound discussion.

Despite my negative beginning, I think some areas in the HiFi business have made significant progress. The most interesting is the vast improvements made to small box speakers and subwoofers (probably due to Home Theatre), which makes it possible to get good, musical sound for relatively small amounts of money. Small boxes have two major advantages compared with large box speakers, it is much easier to reduce the 'box sound' and the radiation pattern is easier to control. Their disadvantage is lower possible SPL, but this can be improved a lot by the use of a subwoofer (or rather two). When relieved from the frequencies below 100 Hz, these small speakers improve their sound a lot.
If you are interested in a cheap, good sounding system, I think you should start with a pair of small boxes. There are plenty of such speakers on the market, but my favorites are the ones from Dynaudio, for instance Audience 10. If you are prepared to pay a little more the Dynaudio Contour 1.3 is an excellent speaker and together with good subwoofer(s) this makes a true high end contender. Other good small speakers comes from Monitor Audio, JPW, Bowers & Wilkins, Sonus Faber and QLN. This is not a complete listing, many more good small speakers are produced. When you start the search of subwoofers, spend some money to get high quality, it is worth it. A good subwoofer shall not make any sound of it's own, and it shall be able to get as low as 30Hz or lower.
In order to get the subwoofers correctly installed, the amplifier shall have the possibility to use the pre amplifier and power amplifier separate. This makes it harder to find an amplifier at a reasonable cost, but there are some on the market. As always, used equipment can be interesting, but if you are looking for good amplifiers with separate pre- and power-amplifier NAD has a couple of them, and there are more of them on the market.
To make this a complete system we need a CD-player. I will not give any recommendations here, these items are still rapidly improving the price/performance ratio.
If you don't have a record player, it is no need to buy one now. I think that the CD sound lacks some of the qualities of the LP's, but there is no need to hang on to the record players, because there are no LP' to buy any more (I would buy if I could). A tuner is also nice to have, but these are not hard to find at reasonable prices.

When you have completed your system building, it is time to start the tweaking with cables and other stuff. Do not forget that the positioning of the speakers is the most important area of improvement.

As mentioned before, there is presently some focus on terribly expensive HiFi gear. Of course it is interesting to see how far you can get, but the price/performance ratio of these products are terribly low. Would it not be better to increase this ratio instead? I have heard a few of the mentioned products, and I have not been too impressed. Speakers like Von Schweikert VR-8 and JM Lab Grand Utopia for instance both share some qualities, for instance high SPL's and lots of detail. Initially this sounds impressive, but when you are used to low coloration sound from ESL systems, the coloration from the large boxes are very obvious and I certainly would not trade in my speakers for these items. The boxes in these speakers are very well made, and no major box vibration seems to be present. Why the box sound then? Try this experiment, put a box in front of  you and start talking and you immediately hear the change of sound in your voice. All boxes will have this effect on sound, but there are thick walls and a lot of damping material used in the boxes. This should take care of the box sound? No, it does not help. Try another experiment, build a wall in your living room with a 12 inch speaker in the middle and ask one of your friends to stand on the other side of the wall. Start talking to each other and you will notice that the speaker in the middle of the wall lets almost all sounds through. This is what happens in the large boxes, a lot of box sound escapes through the speaker. Is there no cure for this? Yes, there are two ways of solving the box sound problem. The first and best is, use no box. The second is, use small boxes. If the wavelength of the produced sound is 4-5 times longer than the longest diagonal of the box, there will be no resonances, only pressure. In small boxes this is easier to obtain, the resonances are moved into much higher frequencies, and these are much easier to reduce with damping material. A third alternative is to use a transmission line, I used to build such speakers because of their lower coloration and cleaner mid range.
I will write some more here later, but I publish this part in the mean time.

Until then, keep your ears flapped out and listen. It is your ears that matters and therefore you must decide for yourself what you like and what you do not like.


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