What is Sound & How Do We Perceive It?
Sound is most easily defined in two parts- stimulus and sensation. The stimulus being the instrument or voice creating a vibration (a wave) that propagates through the air and as the sound wave reaches our ears it stimulates the little hairs in our ears, this sensation that is sent to our brains is the perception of sound.
What does each piece in a 2-channel audio system do to reproduce that sound?
The challenge of an audio system is to recreate those same vibrations precisely and deliver them to the listener’s ear exactly to stimulate the same sensation that would happen if they heard it live. This is an incredible challenge; consider all the variables and all the points in the system where the quality of the signal can be degraded.
People often ask, why is it that high end audio equipment and speakers tend to cost more (sometimes a lot more) and seemingly do less than most products on the market? It’s true. They offer less features but they do the fundamental things that are required of them and they do it extremely well with the minimal degradation of sound quality, which cheaper, feature rich products cannot claim. The price is a reflection of the quality parts used in each piece and the tremendous amount of engineering and research that went into developing a product that could do justice to the music.
Analog vs. Digital
We’re often asked what is better, analog (listening to records on a turntable) or digital (music from your computer or on CDs). The answer is that one is not better than the other and we recommend having both remembering that our goal is the faithful reproduction of the original. First, consider how the music was originally mastered, older recordings were almost exclusively mastered in analog while newer music is almost exclusively digitally mastered. In other words, classic rock music like Jimi Hendrix will sound best on vinyl while Lady Gaga will sound best in a high resolution digital download (think HD tracks.com). We see that it is not a matter of what format is best, we understand that listening to the track as it was originally mastered is best. Most people listen to a variety of music, new and old and from several formats and that is why we recommend both.
Vacumn Tube vs. Solid State
The age old debate about what sounds better, tube or transistors, lives on. Technically, the solid state amplifier should be better. In comparison to tubes, solid state amplifiers are lighter, more efficient, run cooler, have less distortion, need virtually no maintenance, and are less expensive to own over time. However, tubes have warmth and an undeniable magic to them and many would say that although on paper the solid state amplifier is better the tube amplifier just sounds better.
We asked Ron Cornelius of McIntosh Laboratories, a company who have manufactured arguably the best amplifiers in the world for over 60 years, which was better he noted that technically solid state was but noted ” In a world of soulless appliance like devices tube products are a throwback to a different time. Musicians who are responsible for the continuation of tube products demand the sweet organic sound of tube amplifiers and microphones. Even a company like Sony makes $10,000 tube driven studio microphones and Fender uses over one million tubes a year in production and service of their guitar amps.”
Ultimately, there are many considerations when choosing the right amplifier that may necessitate one technology over the other but we think they both deserve a listen.
The sound quality of any audio system is directly impacted by the acoustics of the room that it is placed in. A room with poor acoustics can make even the best equipment and speakers fall flat so it is essential that the room be considered when designing a high performance audio system.
Our Consultants will ask you to describe the room, dimensions, the application of the speakers and placement relative to the listening to position(s) as well as understand your listening habits, budget and desired level of performance. At a minimum, once we understand you and your room better we’ll be able to recommend components that will work well together in the desired space, suggest tips and products to acoustically treat your room. Ultimately for a complete solution we recommend working with an experienced acoustics engineering firm that will be able to properly engineer treatments to insure great sound for every seat in the room.
The Right Cables
At a minimum you need a high quality shielded cable with a thick enough gauge copper wire and a solid connection (i.e. bananas or spades) to pass the signal between components and speakers without losing power, frequency rang or inducing noise. Think “Do No Harm”. However, when you have a high performance audio system, the cabling can be a component in itself having a dramatic impact on the music. There is a certain amount of magic with cables, experimenting with different interconnects and power cords can be a tedious process and is not for everyone but for those who enjoy the process it is well worth it.
Century Stereo began as an audio store in 1950 and has maintained that passion for music. We utilize our vast experience in high performance audio to recommend cables appropriate to your system.
If you already have, a high performance audio system that you’re looking to improve upon, come into Century Stereo and discuss cable options with one of our consultants. We’ll help you find the right cables and you can even audition them in your home before you decide.
Learn more about our Cables & Accessories .
Choosing a Power Conditioner
Surge protectors are a no-brainer for your audio system, if for no other reason than to protect your investment from an electric surge. However, high performance audio systems need 120 volts of clean power to perform as intended and that unfortunately is not what comes out of the electrical outlet. What you typically get is fluctuating voltage plagued by noise from other electronics in the home (i.e the refrigerator, computers, etc.). We encourage you to consider these four important features when considering power management products:
- Surge Protection
- Filtration & Isolation
- Additional Features (isolated banks, power sequencing, control over IP)
Our consultants can help assess your power management needs and recommend a solution appropriate to your system
Learn more about Power Conditioners.