How to Address a Listening Environment in the Real World. Part 2
Creating Sonic Nirvana. A is for Amplification.
If you are looking to up your sonic game, the relationship between Pre-Amp, Amp and Speakers is where it happens. My firm has built and installed thousands of systems throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I say this because when I founded Stone Gildden and first created music rooms in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, it was simply to deliver great sound and an all-encompassing experience. I love creating that jaw dropping moment when clients look like they have heard sound for the first time. There is really nothing like a moment of clarity, a moment when crystal clear music reigns supreme. Technically, the heart of this moment is amplification, driving sound to each channel. Amplification, however can be a cruel mistress. Amplifiiers work best when the signals they are receiving are clearly and correctly processed.
Unlike an AV Receiver that houses an all-in-one pre-amp, amplifier and processor for surround sound, hi-end audio systems have dedicated amplifiers and often one per channel. A more sophisticated set-up will have 2-way or 3-way amps that support each speaker. A pre-amp serves as the input device, converting signals from all audio sources such as streaming devices, tuners and turntable to the signal that the amp wants. It’s imperative that the amplifier be matched to the specifications of the systems crowd pleaser, the speaker, to provide optimal output.
What Good Are Great Components If They Can’t Speak To Each Other?
This is probably the most overlooked ingredient in a mind boggling sonic experience. Audio has definitive connection requirements and, like video, quality cables are recommended for a solid, clean connection. That doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive, just of good quality and appropriately sized for the application. There are a number of really good manufacturers out there that we have used for years. More times than not we rely on quality cables from AudioQuest. We can calculate the appropriate gauge cable that delivers the necessary wattage to the speaker as required based on the distance. Gold connectors are preferred over silver or other metallic. Locking connectors are a good choice where equipment is not to be moved frequently.
Also in this bucket of often overlooked is clean power. Having clean and sufficient power is critical. Surge protection is important. Surge protection will remove artifacts from your power, filtering out spikes and dips. Insufficient power can make the amplifiers put out harmonics that will color the sound and create distortion, producing unclean sound.
No Four Walls Are the Same
Once the system has been designed and components selected, the next step is installation and commissioning. The system will be “tuned” to the room so that the room does not “color” the sound. As an experienced audio pro with a real-time analyzer (fancy measuring gear), we will test the room’s characteristics, reverb, etc. We aim for a flat frequency response by adjusting equalization (EQ), gain structure and speaker placement. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, every room is absolutely different, multiple factors should be taken into account.
Put The Needle On The Record
Old-School tells us that a turntable’s needle against vinyl is the purest form of music. It can be argued that the harmonic distortion created introduces a mild distortion that is perceived as warmth. The pops and crackles evoke a “vintage” sense that some find pleasing and authentic. However, according to Mark Slee of Facebook, “In terms of fidelity and accuracy of sonic reproduction, CDs outperform vinyl in significant ways. With that said, there are sonic artifacts and emotional attachments with vinyl that many people find pleasing. This yields a preference for vinyl - which some would describe as better, but this is a subjective quality as measured by the ear of the beholder.” With turntable sales up 16%, there’s apparently some ears out there with that preference.
The higher the bit rate, the more accurate the audio. Analog is uncompressed and true to the original. Overly processed audio, on the other hand, can mask or cancel parts of the music, eliminating hearing everything as it was mastered.
All things being equal, the more information a format can transmit, the better the sound will be. For the best experience, that transmitted sound should pass through quality cabling and components and be listened to in a space that is purposefully designed to capture every nuance.