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Positive Feedback ISSUE41
Our readers respond…we respond right back!
But in the case of your latest "Review" of The Show, posted recently by Clay Swartz and Karen Wong, entitled "Apolcalypse for T.H.E. Show", etc, I must take exception.
I realize Positive Feedback has a very liberal and all encompassing journalistic policy but let us take a close look at this article.
Firstly: what took them so long? "Weeks" to compose something that obviously took no research hours or much thought process at all?
And, while opinions are one thing – facts are another. Mark Twain said, "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please". These two really need to check on "facts" before publishing—or, better yet, NOT be allowed to publish until they've mastered some of the rules of the game. Ray Kimber put it well during an Audiophile conference last December: "We, as an industry, need to police ourselves." I couldn't agree more.
It is not just the first two paragraphs of the article are extremely destructive in nature to everything we have built for over 12 years (assorted malcontents have been attempting to bury T.H.E. Show since its inception) but they are also littered with inadequacies and downright distortions.
The two claim there were "less than 20 exhibit rooms" at T.H.E. Show. In reality, there were nearly 50. I have no doubt, however, that these two only saw 20—if that. Their claim is that they made their way through T.H.E. Show in two hours, including eating lunch. By reading their entire expose, it is quite obvious they hit the three large banquet room exhibits connected to the Lobby area, but skipped the over 40 regular Exhibit Rooms down the walkway. If I were an exhibitor, I would be furious. Good reviews or bad reviews don't matter as much as being ignored. Our exhibitors work hard and sacrifice to be there and they do not deserve this type of disingenuous "reviewing" ...or lack thereof.
Being more specific, obviously they wandered into the Athena Ballroom where PBN Audio, dnp, Digital Projection, Inc, Digmoda, Straight Wire, Edge Electronics and more put on an impressive home theater demonstration.
All exhibitors involved in the presentation were so pleased with the amount of business they conducted during T.H.E. Show all have indicated they'll be returning and perhaps expanding in 2010. All these two said were, "the sound was nowhere near audiophile quality and… it was hard to see the picture".
Did they think, even once, to tap someone on the shoulder and tell them they were there to review the demonstration? Could they not have waited until the busy folks in charge were done talking to clients so they could enjoy the system at its fullest capacity? Oh, that's right ...they only had two hours, didn't they?
It was, believe me, one of the most impressive exhibits of its kind in Las Vegas during T.H.E. Show and CES and these two were negligent again. Better to say nothing. I think they may be "in over their collective head".
They took much of the second paragraph to review a brand new concept presented by Magnepan. Oh that's right. They were in a hurry. AND, as if an after-thought, the last line stated: "They also had a room where they recorded live music and them played it back via the recording". That's not bad reviewing. That's not bad journalism. That's an insult to third grade grammar teachers across the globe.
The last line actually refers to the truly dynamic live-vs-recorded exhibit put together and executed masterfully by Brian Cheney of VMPS/Ampzilla 2000 and Ray Kimber of Kimber Kables. The live performances excelled and the entire demonstration, if experienced from beginning to end was truly enlightening on so many levels. Oh…..that's right. These two were on a limited schedule. So limited, in fact they threw away a one-liner on a demonstration unique by any standards anywhere in Las Vegas during the week without actually mentioning the companies, talents or ultimate outcome.
In closing: back to the top. The headline: "Apocalypse for T.H.E. Show". Mr. Webster tells us "apocalypse" is defined as "revelation, discovery, disclosure, to uncover, reveal". Perhaps had these two spent more time at T.H.E. Show they could have achieved those goals.
I believe the word they were searching for was "apocalyptic" which is defined partially as "presaging imminent disaster and total or universal destruction". Somehow, I don't believe these authors fall under the category of "sage-like". Plus, that's a pretty darned large word to describe a "slow" high-end audio show. A bit blown out of proportion, I'd say, particularly when used by people who never even pushed away from the FREE lunch table long enough to actually experience the entire show.
T.H.E. Show was, indeed slow. So was everywhere in Las Vegas including CES during this rotten economy. But, overall, we did quite well with nearly the same amount of exhibits as the previous year. Almost every exhibitor in 2009 has initiated their return in 2010.
Of course, if these two spent more time actually reviewing and talking with exhibitors, they would know that.
I actually learned this from a friend of mine before I had kids. He's a drummer, and told me how he loves to jam with his buddies late at night. I asked if that kept his kids up and he said "Nah, they're used to it. They sleep right through it."
My boys are 9 and 12, but because I started them early, they will sleep through any sonic shockwaves I send shivering through the timbers. I can listen as loud and as late as I want without a word of complaint from the family (my wife does use ear plugs at times). A few months ago, the younger one actually told me "I like it when you play music at night. It makes me feel safe". That kinda knocked me for a loop, but how cool is that?
Now if it's your neighbors who are being kept up by the music, then that Arcam headphone jack could come in very handy.
Thanks for the words of encouragement. Believe it or not that is exactly what I am doing up to the point where the wife intervenes. For the most part it does work especially if the music is on while the kids are trying to go to bed. The key is to have the music on without it being too loud. Since my daughter is musically inclined if the music is too loud or engaging she either wants to dance or sing along. Get this, at two years old (most of the time) she sings on pitch with the right inflection, pace and rhythm—pretty cool stuff. My son on the other hand doesn't seem to be interested in the music, he crawling around and exploring his world, whereas my daughter wanted to be in the soundroom with me listening to music shortly after birth.
Yes, it is hard being an audiophile with little kids in the house, however, it can be done. There is hope. As careful as I am coupled with my diligent supervision things still do happen. As many parents say, "I just took my eye off of them for a second." Next thing you know something has happened. A couple of months ago, I left the grills off of my Aerial 7B speakers, and just like the customers always did in the soundroom at the high store I worked at (Why do they do that—customers that is…?), she pushed in the dust cap to my midranges. I was devastated! After I finally calmed down, plus rationalizing that only the dust covers were pushed in, thus, it really was only a cosmetic issue not a sonic one, I chilled out, or calmed down. After trying the tape trick to pull out the dust caps with no success, I called Mike Kelly at Aerial for an estimate for new midranges. At almost $600.00 for the pair, I asked Mike for any other suggestions to fix the problem. He suggested use a vacuum to pull out the dust cap. At first I thought he was nuts. Then somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered in extreme cases this technique does work. If you are very careful not to rip the dust cap off, meaning, slowly bring the nozzle to the dust cap, many times you can be successful. Reluctantly I tried it.
Guess what it worked. I pulled the dust cap out. I couldn't believe it. I did such a good job you can't even tell the dust caps were ever pushed in the first place! I did learn something here though that was a serious lesson. No..., it was not how to pull out a dust cap, rather, it was that two year olds have NO impulse control at all. If they see something and want it they take it. It they see something interesting they will push it grab it, crunch it, or manipulate it. I remember a couple on months ago what happened to a pair of reading glasses. Once my daughter got hold of those, I never recognized them again. My wife calls this: "She is only exploring her world, and being that little scientist where she wants to discover her new world." I told my wife that is fine and dandy everywhere but in my soundroom. Today my soundroom is always locked up, and if my daughter is with me in the room, it is only when I can give her 100% of my attention. I wouldn't trade my daughter for anything, I love her and I am truly blessed. Though it is still a challenge being an audiophile as I try to enjoy my hobby and be a daddy at the same time. I find I am making it work one day at a time. The two can peacefully co-exist where I can be "the best daddy in the whole wide world" as my daughter would say. Thanks again for the kind words, and please stay in touch.
Hi Jan-Eric Persson,
Thank you for your description of ambiance-only surround sound and your vivid picture of how it transports the listener to the location where the music is being performed. I have always loved the "natural" sound of Opus 3 two channel stereo recordings and if I should try surround sound again in the future I will play one of your SACDs first. As Gerald suggested I will try it without the center speaker, as that was one of my main problems with a coherent stable soundstage was the level of the tweeters not being in the same horizontal plane and impossible to accomplish with my CRT television in the center. It helps that I do have a very stable phantom center channel.
Thanks for writing,
Wishing you all the best,
Thank you so much for this wonderful note. I'm glad to know that Dave and I aren't the only ones who are like this, 2 audiophiles instead of an "audiophile and his wife". Thanks so much for taking the time to write!
Please find our response below. Rather than going through the entire article on a point-by-point basis, I provided copies of the text from the original article where there was specific information or points that were addressed in the response and simply referred to the topic in other cases.
There are a number of points that Lavry Engineering, Inc. would like to respond to in your review.
From the review:
"A number of the Black's features are oriented more towards the pro-audio world than audiophiles. On Lavry's web site it says the Black "…includes a polarity switch, and a Stereo-Mono switch, a feature aimed at mastering studios." Another feature that is useful to the pro-audio crowd is the Black's ability to accept any non-standard data rates between 30kHz and 200kHz via a built in sample rate converter that is engaged when the PLL switch is set to 'wide' mode. For rates of 44.1, 48.0, 88.2, or 96.0 kHz the 'crystal' and 'narrow' modes are recommended by Lavry, the choice being which one you feel offers the best performance in your system. In my system I found the 'narrow' mode to be preferable to the 'crystal' mode as the latter periodically lost lock during normal power line switching and was particularly sensitive to static. Also useful to the pro-crowd are the XLR outputs that can be configured via internal jumpers as being either balanced or unbalanced connections. The output levels of the XLRs are adjustable via a front panel toggle switch that uses "potentiometer-free digitally controlled analog volume circuitry", and which also serves as a volume control for dedicated headphone listening."
Lavry Engineering response:
Although it is true that some features are more oriented towards professional applications, the Polarity switch is not one of them. In an effort to avoid being "long-winded," the phrasing used in "…includes a polarity switch, and a Stereo-Mono switch, a feature aimed at mastering studios" was a bit ambiguous. The reason it says "feature" instead of "features" was because the Stereo-Mono switch was a feature that professional customers had requested.
Considering the extent to which the reviewer goes to describe subtleties in reproduced music, it was interesting that this feature was not seen as an important one for anyone serious about listening to recorded music. There are a surprising number of recordings made with the polarity inverted, and there are not many solutions to this problem that are as easy to use and sonically transparent as the switch on the DA10. The effects of incorrect polarity can range from inaudible to dramatic, depending on many factors including the listening environment, the presence of transient sounds or transients in the sounds, and the quality of other parts of the system.
The built-in sample-rate conversion offers versatility for more than the professional user, because it is also more tolerant to lower quality digital audio playback sources. The Crystal and Narrow modes have a "tighter" tolerance for the quality of the signal they can "lock" to in order to achieve more accuracy in reproduction. Crystal mode does provide the best jitter rejection and the problem mentioned with sensitivity to static and power line disturbances is not typical of the DA10. It is possible that there were issues with the test system's grounding that could have caused this problem. We have not received any reports of a problem of this nature with a DA10 that is functioning normally in a system that is properly grounded.
The ability to configure the XLR outputs for balanced or unbalanced operation is also statistically going to be of more use to the non-professional user. Dan Lavry chose to use a circuit that does not automatically adjust to being connected to an unbalanced input because it would degrade the quality of the DA conversion. These circuits, although convenient, have higher distortion than the "cleaner" design employed in the DA10. When using simple, commonly available XLR to RCA adapters to connect the DA10 to equipment with RCA inputs, the outputs must be set for unbalanced operation to avoid unnecessary distortion. This type of connection is more typical of HiFi applications than professional use.
Regarding subjects mentioned in other parts of the review:
Lavry Engineering is going to release a product that includes a USB interface in the near future.
DA10 users can use any number of relatively inexpensive USB to optical digital interfaces that are available.
Lavry Engineering also can't support your recommendation on the need for an extended "burn-in" for the DA10. It sounds better than most other DAC's right out of the box, and probably achieves most of the final quality in the reproduced music within a few days of use.
In the section of the review titled "The Music," it says:
"To get a feel of where a Hi-Fi component falls on the spectrum of 'music-friendliness' I like set iTunes to 'Party Shuffle' and just let it play randomly through selections of good music of widely varying—good to bad—recording quality. Pretty much any high-quality DAC can make a good recording like Led Kaapana and Bob Brozman's Moana Chimes (from the Kika Kila Meets Ki Ho'alu album) sound acceptably musical during the shuffle test, but some of those same DACs fail the music-friendliness test by making poor recordings (like many of those from the Anthology of American Folk Music) sound hard, bright, and edgy, and generally unenjoyable from a musical standpoint as they are shuffled through…"
These are some important points made; but this is where Dan Lavry's philosophy of accuracy, and use of a term in this review in a more subjective sense "transparency," differs from the reviewer's perspective. The quality of recordings does vary widely, but any equipment that makes the audio passing through it sound different than it did before it passed through that equipment is "coloring" it or making it "less accurate." While it is true that some coloration can be pleasing, ultimately a completely colorless DA converter will make everything sound "better" because it will simply be reproducing what was on the recording. Any color will take away some of the original information and add something that was not part of the original information, so it will not always "improve" the sound in every case. Although accurately reproducing something that is already distorted will not make it sound worse, distorting something that is already distorted almost always makes it sound worse. The exception would be if the device in question has such high levels of distortion that it covers the "sound" of the original recording, making every recording sound similar as a result.
The real test is one that the vast majority of music aficionados do not have easy access to comparing the reproduced audio to the source (before it is recorded). Many of our professional customers do, and many own DA10's. In their opinion, the DA10 (as well as other Lavry DA converters) are some of the only DA converters available that do not color the sound significantly.
So when the reviewer says:
"Likewise, the Black's imaging is nothing to write home about, with the images on the Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album having a rather homogenous overall presentation. No sharp outlines on the images, little sense of a visceral body or instrument in three-dimensions, and certainly none of the glowing sense of shimmering space around images that the vacuum tube DACs seem to so easily deliver. Speaking of space, the sense of soundspace is also diminished with the Black, such that the dominant sense of soundspace while listening is that of the listening room rather than the recording."
One has to wonder what basis there is for these conclusions regarding the "images." Did the reviewer have the opportunity to listen to the analog output of the mixing console when this album was mixed? It seems more likely from our perspective that the review has a bias towards the way he likes things to sound and thus will call something that does not have that sound "less accurate."
While it is true that many people prefer tube amplifiers or certain speakers, they all have a "sound." Dan Lavry feels it is best to leave the (pleasing) coloration to these components and to make the converters as accurate as possible so they do not have a "sound" of their own. That is Dan Lavry's idea of "transparency." Tube and speaker distortions tend to be more "harmonic" in nature, whereas "digital distortion" tends to be anything but "musical." Thus there is some scientific basis for this approach, as well.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this review on you website.
Lavry Engineering, Inc. Technical Support
First it was Mono, and then came Stereo and now finally we have Surround Sound ! We at Opus 3 records greeted the development of Surround Sound as an acknowledgment of the rightness of our original aims and ambitions since our inception in 1976..." To transfer and recreate the feeling and atmosphere that we felt at the moment of recording" And when SACD came along, we also found the perfect recording and storage medium for Surround Sound!
With Stereo reproduction you are looking into the place where the musicians are playing, but with Surround Sound, if your system is correctly set up, you can be there with them. However this can be carried out in many different ways, depending on what "acoustic information" you want to transfer to the listener. You can be with the orchestra or seated in the audience, the choice is made at the time of recording.
Normally we at Opus 3 would not want, for example, to put the listener in the middle of the orchestra where the human psyche in the form of ear-brain relationships resents sharp sounds behind the head. Ideally our main aim is to imbue to the listener the feeling that he or she is there, in the same room as the musicians, whether it be a Concert Hall, Church, or your favourite seat (near the bar) in your Blues or Jazz Club. Again this atmosphere or feeling of the venue is an integral part of the recording, each one is different, but never the less it is there and captured on Opus 3 recordings.
This is our main priority... to capture the performance with the ambience and acoustic of the venue at the moment of recording.
All you have to do is to close your eyes and let the walls of the listening room disappear while you are transported to your own personal heaven. (No cover charge or waiting at the door).
I remember many years ago discussing this with the late Peter Walker of Quad, who agreed with me, and also with the British technical guru Barry Fox, alias Adian Hope who did not. (Editor please note pen names should not be allowed Dr Sardonicus & others.) [Ain't going to happen, Gerald...you'll just have to get used to it. Ye Olde Editor] Barry at that time was trying push ambisonics.
Teresa, you do not appear to have auditioned a properly set up multi-channel SACD playback system, and there is absolutely no question that with a good recording it is far more realistic than stereo.
However it seems that in the current environment the greatest appeal of SACD would be its multichannel capability. While I personally, at this time prefer two channel listening, I fully appreciate that multichannel audio is the necessary step forwards. As mentioned, many homes do have some form of Home Cinema. While in the old days the pride in ownership lay in having a nice "stereo" system, nowadays a Home Cinema, multichannel setup carries the same pride for many people. Focusing on this group would be the most logical hope for this rather niche format. Although I have to add, I don't see much chance of it's survival, even as a niche beyond another 5-10 years.
Like your other readers I would support your writers catering to multichannel audiophiles as well as two channel ones irrespective of their own biases or preferences.
My guess is they are woofers in way too small a box, so small the bass resonance is extremely high, probably even above the crossover point. Then the system is probably equalized to both bring back the bass and to produce the system Q desired. This is the reason for the 1000 watt amps. The equalization needed is extreme since a closed box rolls off at 12dB per octave and it looks like the equalization covers multiple octaves. The box itself is there to do two things, raise the resonance and contain the back wave.
This is really a very interesting and flexible bass system, so long as the designer is willing to pay the price of low bass efficiency. It allows the designer to get any reasonable roll off curve desired through the electronic equalization applied to it. He can even provide for multiple system Qs by putting more than one equalization curve into the design. The earliest design I know of using this technique was some McIntosh designs from the 70s, though I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back even further. A later design was the Pipedreams speakers of the turn of this century.
Lots of 'new' woofer loadings claim to be non-resonant. None of them are. Just look at the bass impedance rise they all have. This format is non-resonant since it's operated below resonance in most cases.
Having been involved in live DSD multi-channel recordings done in a naturalistic manner (left, center, right fronts, stereo rears set to record hall ambiance and audience, and a separate but integrated LF feed), the results are simply incomparable to any other recording medium.
However, when we get multi-channel mixes with instruments behind the listening position and such, the illusion doth fade. But even there, there are bright spots for "studio" recordings, where assuming the engineer has some craft and taste, the palette becomes enormous.
However, as with the early days of stereo recording, novelty often has sway over musical aesthetics and the results can be pretty dismal.
Happy New Year, Mssrs. Clark & Robinson!
My intention was to have written this before the holidays but alas...
And then I read of John Potis's passing. Such incredibly sad news. I hurt for his wife and daughters, too. If you learn of any sort of memorial fund, or help for the family please let me know.
Over the last several months it seems Mark Wagner has not published reviews. I had been enjoying his writing (and finds) and am wondering what has occurred. Of course, others also provide insightful thoughts about classical recordings, too. Always fun to read PFO.
Regarding my initial reason for writing to you; obviously classical recordings are rarely if ever available on vinyl--new recordings, that is. Thankfully, many are on SACD, and Redbook has improved substantially. However, there is SO much talk about the resurgence of vinyl and its quality still far eclipsing the digital realm, generally, that I am becoming frustrated, along with many others. No question, recording a Mahler symphony using analog and pressing on vinyl is expensive. But it seems orchestral and chamber music are especially well served on vinyl as evidenced by the great recordings of the past that are being re-issued, or are still available on the used market. Clearly, new jazz and pop/rock/country/blues/etc are increasingly being released on vinyl daily. Most of them are not inexpensive either at $25-$50 each. I know several reviewers who tell me personally that they rarely listen to CDs anymore. My question always is: "How do you then experience the fabulous performances that are daily being released by orchestral, chamber and jazz musicians, many of music not available on vinyl?"
Thus, it is my hope that you--along with your colleagues from other publications--can possibly wield some influence in this regard. At least to start or further the discussion about the same.
Any thoughts you can share with me directly or via an article in PFO will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
Next what is required is amplifiers or receivers that do not internally convert DSD to LPCM before reaching the final analogue stage. The downplaying of multi-channel SACD by the media afraid of upsetting backward 2 channel only readers (the reason given to me by Hi-Fi Choice magazine ) and manufacturers is probably the main reason why SACD has failed to reach a wider audience who do not realize what they are missing. As many homes have a Home Cinema set up it is so easy to combine multi-channel SACD for greater listening pleasure.
I don't downplay multi-channel, I up play high resolution! Talk to anyone about SACD and you usually get a blank stare or if it finally clicks they say "You mean that surround sound format?"
I don't think people get it! SACD is not just a surround sound format it's a high resolution format! When I explain it is SACDs superior sound quality that makes it special, I usually have to comeback "Why? Isn't CD perfect sound forever? How can something be better than perfect?" Then of course I explain that it was all a lie told by Sony/Philips to get you to ditch your LPs and replace them with CDs. More importantly I let them hear 2 channel stereo SACD in my system.
Yes, SACD does offer multi-channel but the most important thing it offers is high resolution in both stereo and multi-channel. There is room for both 2 channel stereo and multi-channel music lovers in the SACD camp and indeed most SACDs have dedicated 2 channel stereo and multi-channel programs on the DSD layer! The reason for my article was to alert music lovers that SACD offers the finest digital sound even if you only care for 2 channel stereo. It is not just a multi-channel format but a true high resolution 2 channel stereo and high resolution multi-channel format.
I am not a fan of multi-channel preferring 2 channel stereo even for movies, in my room the phantom center in 2 channel has more precise imaging than a real center channel speaker with my CRT tube TV as the speaker must be above or below the TV and this does not sound natural when the left and right speakers are at ear and visual level. Three channel might work if I had a transparent projection screen and the center speaker in the exact center behind the screen and the tweeters were in the same plain as the left and right speakers. But no rears I don't like rear channels even just for ambiance. For example I didn't like Quadraphonic via 4 channel 7 1/2 IPS pre-recorded Reel to Reel tapes or 4 channel 15 IPS Master tape copies, even the ones using just ambiance for the rear channels. With 2 channel stereo properly set up the soundstage is wide and deep and there is ambiance all around the listening room. To my ears nothing equals properly set up 2 channel stereo.
I do not have a problem with anyone preferring multi-channel, it's just not for me. And if more people knew that SACD was also a 2 channel stereo high resolution format and not just a multi-channel format, it would have replace CD already IMHO!
Happy high resolution listening,