Vinyl and Audio Production in the Digital Age – Audio Technology
There is something strange going around in this this little world of ours and this can only be put down to lack of innovation or is it imagination. Over the last century we had scientists clambering over each other to discover new techniques, methods, ideas, whatever to make audio sound like the real thing – here I digress, I talk about making your home audio system sound like the original reproduction, whether it be unplugged, a concerto, a live rock concert or just the folk singer at the corner pub.
To date we have arguments for and against the different audio class topologies, A, ,B or AB, D, G, H and of course what I will call a sub of D, known as T, a trademark of Tripath. There are some phenomenal audio gurus out there ranging from engineers, scientists to the DIYer – many of them skulk around audio forums giving exceptional advice, some even let you into their own little secrets and of course then you have those that have proven exceptional talent in the field, John Linsley Hood, Nelson, Pass, Bob Carver, Rod Elliott, to name a few. I’m not very critical when it comes to audio – some of the amplifiers I built eons ago were absolute crap and then one day I built an amplifier with spare parts, a symmetrical power supply and followed what could be known as the tried and tested route – symmetry, stability and the least path of resistance – as few components as possible. Of course the amplifier was the tried and trusted class AB, and built 35 years ago it put out 60W per channel from a MJ802/4502 output pair. This was the best sounding amplifier I built in that era.
I recently built the L20 kit advertised on eBay and only because of the price purchased 4 of these units (2 kits). Using a near 2kVA power supply this thing kicks butt. Really astonishingly good quality for all of about 50U$ for the 4 amplifiers. I then went and spoilt it all by buying the NU4-6000 manufactured by Behringer. Tests forthcoming – a really tremendous sounding amplifier and when people talk about class D amplifiers reproducing bass like nobody’s business they are not joking. The problem with really high powered amplifiers, one gathers, are the neighbours.
Over the next month I will give you the tests on the L20 and the Behringer amplifier. I do NOT have a test load resistor for the Behringer though – this needs to be made up. Although the L20 was purchased for PA work I really want to buy two old discarded chassis with torroidals (working) for rack mount. The L20 is really a bargain. You need plenty of heatsinking, gurus, also make sure if use cooling fans that they don’t suck – there’s nothing like a good blow to keep things cool. I have read a few forums where people ask about quality, power etc – buy it. If you don’t like it, trash it or give to a friend – or enemy. Mine uses a +50/-50V supply and it pushes easily 200W into an 8 Ohm load. Into 4 Ohms you’re gonna need some good cooling. As promised, test results in the next month.
So now, enough about me, what about you? The manufacturers of audio are now pushing active speaker systems and wireless ones to boot. Now isn’t that great innovation. Fact is bi- and tri- amping have been around for years. Wireless technology means you now have the mains cable to contend with. The way houses and apartments are built these days you had better buy a few extension leads because a wall power outlet is becoming a scarce commodity. Jokes aside I think its great that we are now bringing out wireless speakers. They have been sold for the last 15 years but only now that we have run out of ideas are we promoting this ‘new’ technology. On a professional level – good idea. Home use – bad idea. It’s a gadget. The biggest buyers of cell phones and laptops is the new generation. They don’t like big sound systems – they like earsets, wi-fi, Bluetooth and docking stations. And really loud audio in their cars. Could you afford a 300 dollar set of headphones when you were in your teens?
Me, I like to read the audio forums and gloss over Rod Elliott’s website for pearls of wisdom I might have missed before. I wonder what he thinks of the modern trend? Bob Carver is an interesting fellow and by all accounts, like Elliot and the real gurus, does not suffer fools gladly. I just love it when they disprove a theory not by words alone but by actually doing it. So the question remains – we have TV moving into ultra high definition and now we have moved audio from it’s original high fidelity pedestal onto the high definition stage. At what point are we going to realise that us as humans have a defined hearing range and that our sensory system is nowhere close to that of a dog, cat or bat. Loudspeakers remain extremely inefficient, amplifiers climb into the kilowatt range and now we build systems for the consumer where the loudspeaker can be placed all over the house. Or apartment. Or street.
As times have changed there is no denying the fact that modern audio equipment is superior to that of old – but just as a cheap wine may be superior to an expensive wine (in blind tests) we are falling foul to petty logic and of course, snob value. I do not see the merit in wireless systems except in pro equipment (and pray we don’t have someone that decides to blot the landscape with high powered interference) just as I saw the merit in having standalone DSP decoders. If it now takes off then someone wasn’t doing their job right. Some of the biggest Japanese manufacturers are showing absolutely no innovation, the Chinese are mass producing docking stations, loudspeakers, cheap good quality amplifiers and headphones while nobody is thinking about building a cheap optical reader for vinyl and an efficient transducer – last time I did biology was in 1972 and I sure don’t recollect that our hearing was digital.
I listened to Supertramp, Paris, a month back. This was part of a vinyl collection I have from my DJ days. I listened to this on a NAD turntable through a Proton class A/AB amplifier and a pair of Sennheiser headphones. The sound was absolutely awesome. The gear was not expensive – middle of the road. Besides the occasional pops and cracks I learnt something new. Digital has taken on new meaning. We have become so accustomed to the sound systems of today one really does forget that the systems of yesteryear sounded different. Better? Never. Not in a million years. Would it have sounded better on a wire free active loudspeaker system. Never, not in a million years. But there is a difference…..
Not once did I feel tired listening to the music on the old vinyl.
If someone told me that the sound of old tubes or the soft mush of 2N3055s sounds better than our digitally enhanced music of today I would have made a comparison to modern, cheaper equipment which has so much more crisp and vibrant quality – and somewhere, somehow I think they may be right.
Well, I like this article – why vinyl is better than CD
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Distortion is key and it all depends on harmonics. Manufacturers beware – after how many years and vinyl is not dead yet. Makes one think doesn’t it?