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Speakers are ALWAYS the weakest link

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Joel    27

So we leave the store out of it; you buy 1 set of speakers and 2 receivers. You take them home. You listen to them both, using shakey's ABX method. Are we still saying that, using 2 receivers from 2 different makers, no difference can possibly be heard by the EAR? Not possible? No matter the source?

Now, you could say that my setup is flawed; 2 different receivers from 2 different manufacturers would most likely have dissimilar specs. Yes, they could, and most likely do, no matter what's written on their spec sheet. Many makers lie or cheat on their spec sheets, or are just plain wrong, or measured using a different criteria and used those numbers on their product page. Given all that, using the same pair of speakers, you're saying they can't possibly sound different?

Audio is a verifiable field of study.

Do you equate engineering to musical sound?

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Canar    0
I didn't say it wasn't about what sounds good, I said I'm not defining what good is. I'm saying it's incredibly stupid to make a post about how speakers are the only thing that matters to this good sound, and that everything else is secondary.
Why is that incredibly stupid when you refuse to even say what "good sound" is? You're arguing something that is not falsifiable. If I were to define "good sound" as the part of sound solely affected by speakers, your claim becomes instantly false.

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Joel    27
Why is that incredibly stupid when you refuse to even say what "good sound" is? You're arguing something that is not falsifiable. If I were to define "good sound" as the part of sound solely affected by speakers, your claim becomes instantly false.

"Good sound" is subjective. "Good sound" is what sounds good to YOU. If you're looking for absolutes in sound, you're wasting your time. Would you prefer I use a new term that would still show that painting the speaker as the only point to be careful with in choosing your equipment is still stupid?

However, I didn't say "good sound" once in my last post. Do you have any responses to my questions that would back up your point, or do you insist on repeating the same thing over and over in the hopes it looks intelligent?

Edited by Joel

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shakey_snake    1
1) shakey_shake got into trouble by using absolutes. Specifically the statement "See, the weakest link in any audio reproduction chain is always the last one: the speakers."

So should I jump on Joel for using absolutes?:

The speakers are not the weakest link in this chain.
I could, but I wouldn't do it because I was more interested in helping the OP than trolling.
I cannot imaging that my iPod shuffle with a 64kbps MP3 when connected to $2000 speakers would still have the speakers as the weakest link in the chain.
Two problems with your example:

1) The audio source is not part of the sound reproduction chain. It is the end result of the recording process. Obviously, if you're listening to AM radio things are going to sound different than if you're listening to a CD.

2) An iPod shuffle doesn't have line level output. So you wouldn't want to plug it into anything that could power some speakers anyways. But even if you could, the DAC in even an iPod shuffle should be transparent. Now I've read some nasty things about the DAC in the 2nd gen shuffle (the square-ish one), but I've never seen anyone run an ABX test to back those claims up.

Regardless, portable media players and headphones are well outside the scope in which I made my original claim about home theater/stereo receivers and speakers. I'm sure there are cheap PMPs with terrible DACs somewhere in China that are ABX'able. The point is that it is necessary to remain skeptical of quality claims until they are proven via conclusive ABX results.

Now that my be an exaggeration but such an absolute statement invites people to think of examples where the speakers are not actually the problem.
I cannot think of any time barraging someone as such wouldn't be considered trolling, even when Joel does it. :pinch:
So we leave the store out of it; you buy 1 set of speakers and 2 receivers. You take them home. You listen to them both, using shakey's ABX method. Are we still saying that, using 2 receivers from 2 different makers, no difference can possibly be heard by the EAR? Not possible? No matter the source?

Now, you could say that my setup is flawed; 2 different receivers from 2 different manufacturers would most likely have dissimilar specs. Yes, they could, and most likely do, no matter what's written on their spec sheet. Many makers lie or cheat on their spec sheets, or are just plain wrong, or measured using a different criteria and used those numbers on their product page. Given all that, using the same pair of speakers, you're saying they can't possibly sound different?

With volume levels matched and the test being preformed double-blind, I'd say you basically have it. We have to assume, of course that the various components are compatible. Above I've given some criteria of things that we can rule out:
and has the power to drive whatever speakers you buy to a sufficient volume.

This would include impedance problems, and listening at volumes that would result in one amp clipping.

or the amplifier is purposely adding distortion (as is the purpose of tube amplifiers, or EQing)

There's other things you could do as well to sabotage your results, obvious. Set one receiver to stereo and the other to mono and the differences will be pretty obvious with a stereo source. For me to blindly accept results you come up with requires an amount of good faith with the process on your part. Although if you're really convinced you can hear the differences between the internal parts of two receivers, I don't know why you wouldn't want to try to prove that.

I'm probably forgetting something else at the moment. Here's a fairly general guide behind the process.

Do you equate engineering to musical sound?
I don't know what this is supposed to mean. On what level am I supposed to equate them, exactly? Sound is the phenomena we perceive through one of the five senses: hearing; engineering is the application of science through technology.

The relationship is that we study sound through the science of Psychoacoustics and can directly apply it's findings to technology via engineering.

"Good sound" is subjective. "Good sound" is what sounds good to YOU. If you're looking for absolutes in sound, you're wasting your time.
Aren't you saying this absolutely? :whistle: Edited by shakey_snake

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Joel    27
1) The audio source is not part of the sound reproduction chain.

Um, what? I'm pretty sure without it, you'd need another source. The chain doesn't start in the middle.

I cannot think of any time barraging someone as such wouldn't be considered trolling, even when Joel does it. :pinch:

Telling you you're wrong is not a barrage.

With volume levels matched and the test being preformed double-blind, I'd say you basically have it.

Wow.

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shakey_snake    1
Um, what? I'm pretty sure without it, you'd need another source. The chain doesn't start in the middle.
The goal of an "audio reproduction chain" is to honor the source material as closely as possible. This is called transparency.

A receiver that plays back a 64kbps MP3 should make it sound as much like a 64kbps mp3 as possible.

It's not the playback systems fault that sound quality is crippled by the poor source material.

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Pikey    29

This is an interesting discussion I must say ..

I come from an analog audiophile background so I grew up with the notion of the audio source was king! Of course, back then that meant the latest vinyl Lp's played by Linn Sondek turntables, Ittok arms and Naim amps (if you were lucky enough to afford such luxuries) .. the speaker setup was important of course, but not as much as the source!

If at the end of hours of tweaking it all sounded good then that was it .. there was no measuring involved, the sound was all important!

Now it's the digital age and everythings different ... worse? .. possibly, possibly not.

I don't think its worth arguing about though.

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shakey_snake    1

I recently found this quote by J. Gordon Holt, the founder of Stereophile magazine.

For those who don't know, Stereophile is the flagship soft-serve review magazine that makes all sorts of ridiculous claims regarding things like $10,000 RCA cables, while dousing nearly every review with pseudo-science and biased conclusions drawn from sighted listening tests.

So, I found it very interesting as to what their founder had to say:

Do you see any signs of future vitality in high-end audio?

Vitality? Don't make me laugh. Audio as a hobby is dying, largely by its own hand. As far as the real world is concerned, high-end audio lost its credibility during the 1980s, when it flatly refused to submit to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal. [This refusal] is a source of endless derisive amusement among rational people and of perpetual embarrassment for me, because I am associated by so many people with the mess my disciples made of spreading my gospel. For the record: I never, ever claimed that measurements don't matter. What I said (and very often, at that) was, they don't always tell the whole story. Not quite the same thing.

Remember those loudspeaker shoot-outs we used to have during our annual writer gatherings in Santa Fe? The frequent occasions when various reviewers would repeatedly choose the same loudspeaker as their favorite (or least-favorite) model? That was all the proof needed that [blind] testing does work, aside from the fact that it's (still) the only honest kind. It also suggested that simple ear training, with DBT confirmation, could have built the kind of listening confidence among talented reviewers that might have made a world of difference in the outcome of high-end audio.

You can read the whole interview here, although the above quote is really the only part relevant to this thread.

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Joel    27
For the record: I never, ever claimed that measurements don't matter. What I said (and very often, at that) was, they don't always tell the whole story. Not quite the same thing.

Do you agree with this? Because you said before that the rest of the equipment didn't matter, just the speakers.

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shakey_snake    1

That quote you've extracted is incredibly ambiguous and I'm not sure exactly what he means by it. However, the part I've bolded is clear: guys like you who have been "been doing this since before I was in kindergarten" are digging your own graves.

And to clarify my position, I've only said that speakers are going to be your only difference in matters of sound quality claims.

But as far as consumer commodities (and he's making this claim in an overarching "audio industry" context), maybe a "unibody" macbook is worth the extra $400 to someone. Maybe a wooden volume knob provides a tactile or aesthetic quality someone with too much money would enjoy for an extra $485.

But you can't blindly make (or believe) sound quality claims.

Edited by shakey_snake

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Fred Derf    217

Earlier I was saying that some amps have a 1% Total Harmonic Distortion while better amps have a 0.1% THD. That was the reason why I selected a Yamaha amp rather than a Panasonic one. I'm bringing this up again because I remembered what the measurement was called (and I linked it to wikipedia).

Now, my amp was still relatively cheap (compared to what true audiophiles would purchase) and perhaps you can't hear the difference between 1% and 0.1% but it suggests to me that speakers are not the ONLY thing that matters. I am prepared to accept that they may very well be the most important piece of the puzzle but not that they are the only thing that matters.

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shakey_snake    1

Any THD numbers you might see are typically hundreds of times below the absolute threshold of hearing.

So no, they will make no audible difference.

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Joel    27
That quote you've extracted is incredibly ambiguous and I'm not sure exactly what he means by it. However, the part I've bolded is clear: guys like you who have been "been doing this since before I was in kindergarten" are digging your own graves.

He means that measurements are not the be-all and end-all that you're saying. So in essence, you posted an article to make your point where the author refuted what you've been saying. Of course different equipment can sound different than other equipment with similar specs. Saying that speakers are all that can make a difference is just silly.

People did double-blind test all the time, and with more than speakers.

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Canar    0
Would you prefer I use a new term that would still show that painting the speaker as the only point to be careful with in choosing your equipment is still stupid?
You're completely missing the point. Not surprising, as you've been continuing to miss it all along.

Here is your argument, in point form, as I understand it:

  • Good sound is assessed by listening.
  • What makes sound good is completely subjective. That is, good is specific to a listener.

This argument implies the following:

  • Any method of choosing equipment that results in good sound to a listener is a valid method.
  • Therefore, making any claims about a method of choosing equipment is completely useless.

The first two points are totally nonsense. They directly imply the rest. If I am misrepresenting your argument, feel free to point out my error.

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shakey_snake    1
He means that measurements are not the be-all and end-all that you're saying.
Of what: sound quality or consumerism?

If he means the former than he has directly contradicted what he says in the beginning of the paragraph. So why is that the logical conclusion you make?

Because it is very obvious to anyone reading this thread that at this point you are simply grasping at straws.

Of course different equipment can sound different than other equipment with similar specs. Saying that speakers are all that can make a difference is just silly.
You have yet to sight proper double-blind study which proves what you are saying. Until then:
unless you decide to take my challenge it's going to be a pretty pointless conversation.
People did double-blind test all the time, and with more than speakers.
And what are the results? You have results which are in your favor? No, you don't. Edited by shakey_snake

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Treemonkeys    5
I cannot imaging that my iPod shuffle with a 64kbps MP3 when connected to $2000 speakers would still have the speakers as the weakest link in the chain. Now that my be an exaggeration but such an absolute statement invites people to think of examples where the speakers are not actually the problem.

That is just a horrible example. This thread is talking about the audio setup, not the quality of the source media. Take the same ipod, but load a lossless audio file on it, and the speakers easily become the weakest link.

...and for everyone arguing about sound appeal being subjective, of course it is, that is why you have all sorts of different bands making different kinds of sounds (music). Personally I would rather leave the subjective taste to the artist, and use an objective method to reproduce their work. To do that you need an objective, HI-FI, audio system that will accurately reproduce the artists' subjective work. People who like to apply a subjective standard to their audio are basically people who think they can tweak the sound better than the original artist can. It is a matter of taste, but personally I would rather have as accurate of a reproduction as possible.

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Fred Derf    217
That is just a horrible example. This thread is talking about the audio setup, not the quality of the source media. Take the same ipod, but load a lossless audio file on it, and the speakers easily become the weakest link.

...and for everyone arguing about sound appeal being subjective, of course it is, that is why you have all sorts of different bands making different kinds of sounds (music). Personally I would rather leave the subjective taste to the artist, and use an objective method to reproduce their work. To do that you need an objective, HI-FI, audio system that will accurately reproduce the artists' subjective work. People who like to apply a subjective standard to their audio are basically people who think they can tweak the sound better than the original artist can. It is a matter of taste, but personally I would rather have as accurate of a reproduction as possible.

I still don't see how a $50 device is expected to match a $2000 amplifier in audio quality given that they both are connected to $2000 speakers. Is it the contention of everyone here that people who buy anything other than the cheapest amp possible are only interested in fashion and ergonomics?

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Treemonkeys    5
I still don't see how a $50 device is expected to match a $2000 amplifier in audio quality given that they both are connected to $2000 speakers. Is it the contention of everyone here that people who buy anything other than the cheapest amp possible are only interested in fashion and ergonomics?

I think you would still need an amplifier, I don't think there are many $2000 speakers that an ipod can power. The point is once you have ipod > amp > speakers, the speakers are still going to be the weakest link. As long as the amp has appropriate specs to power the speakers, it's not going to make much difference if you swap it out with a better brand or more expensive model. In most cases you will just get extra features, not better audio.

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Fred Derf    217

While I fully comprehend that it is wiser to purchase $2000 speakers and a $100 amplifier rather than to spend $2000 on an amplifier just to pair it with $100 speakers. Such logic should be a given to anyone.

I would be surprised, however, to find out that there was no audio quality difference between your average $100 amplifier and your average $2000 one. I expect that more distortion would tend to be present in cheaper models.

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Andre S.    1,923

I think you can spend a lot in speakers before other elements in the setup start to really matter. Of course, 64kbps mp3 is horrible, but (1) buying decent records isn't a huge investement, and (2) they're not really part of the setup, the setup being what plays the music, not the musical material itself.

In terms of where the money should go for a good quality setup, it's probably 90% in the speakers.

I got myself some Audioengines 2.0 and they absolutely rock my world, btw. The acoustics of my room prohibited the use of a subwoofer, and I didn't feel like spending anything on an amplifier, so these fitted the bill perfectly. Highly recommended ! My friend bought them too and is just as delighted.

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Joel    27
I would be surprised, however, to find out that there was no audio quality difference between your average $100 amplifier and your average $2000 one. I expect that more distortion would tend to be present in cheaper models.

Of course. This is where shakey's argument that speakers were all that mattered became ridiculous.

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shakey_snake    1
Is it the contention of everyone here that people who buy anything other than the cheapest amp possible are only interested in fashion and ergonomics?
All features, power, and reliability being equal, yes.
I would be surprised, however, to find out that there was no audio quality difference between your average $100 amplifier and your average $2000 one. I expect that more distortion would tend to be present in cheaper models.
Well, I can promise you that you wouldn't be the first person surprised with the results of blind testing.

It's just a matter of setting your ego aside.

It's obvious at this point that that is something that Joel just will not do, but there's no reason to ride in that sinking ship with him.

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Fred Derf    217

Yes, I'm all for the idea that speakers should be 90+% of your budget.

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