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Stereophile's Jim Austin disagrees w Atkinson; says tubes have something that can't be measured

fpitas

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Sometimes I get half a notion to just build one of those 300B amps to hear what the buzz is about them.
It might be fun, but I have my grave doubts you'll hear much worth hearing.
 

DSJR

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Back in the mid 1980s most of what this hot Stereophile mess is about was true. There were things we could hear but not measure.

That's changed; its peculiar that people seem to think that measurement technology hasn't advanced since then. But what has not changed is tradition- audiophiles still hang on to beliefs of the 1980s (or earlier) and try to live their lives as if these stories were true. There is also the issue of ignorance of the significance of some of the measurements (such as distortion vs frequency) and so just discount them out of hand.
I can't really argue, but a late 70's amp test book (HiFi Choice) had copious harmonic and intermodulation distortion plots going out to 100kHz and discussed many things we take for grated here. It was the (sorry) Martin Colloms tests of the UK audio 80's scene which began to take on a more subjectively ruling narrative and giving points scoring (he knew what he was doing but played down badly performing important things with favourite high end valve gear, only hinting at the substantial eq vs speaker load issues in some models he rated highly) and one had to read between the lines to really get what he was reporting. Stereophile measurements section is a bit more open, but bad performing but 'desirable to some' gear is 'tastefully dealt with' I feel :)
 

JayGilb

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Back in the mid 1980s most of what this hot Stereophile mess is about was true. There were things we could hear but not measure.

That's changed; its peculiar that people seem to think that measurement technology hasn't advanced since then.
While measurement technologies certainly have advanced, capable devices were available back in the mid 1980s, but were far too expensive for anyone but larger companies to afford.
 

Sal1950

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The whole narrative of Stereophile took a wrong turn when J. Gordon Holt turned over it's reins to
others that put making money above all else. Yes, the magazine was having financial issues under
his tutelage, but to throw away honesty and integrity in search of a cult like following believing in
magic and miracles was the end of the search for High Fidelity as a direction of the "high end". To his
credit, John Atkinson did have the balls to publish the text of a speech by JGH at the 1992 CES, it
highlights and supports most everything we are saying here.


To celebrate Stereophile's 30th anniversary, Gordon gave a speech at a dinner the magazine hosted at the 1992 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. The text of that speech was reprinted in our September 1992 issue, and it makes for disturbing reading:
John Atkinson.

"We seem to have come to a tacit agreement that it's no longer necessary, or even desirable, for a home music system to sound like the real thing. We speak in hushed and reverent tones about reproducing the ineffable beauty of music, when in fact much real music is harsh and vulgar and ugly. We design the all-important musical midrange out of our equipment in order to try—vainly, I might add—to recreate the illusion of three-dimensional space through what is essentially a two-dimensional reproducer. And whenever we hear a loudspeaker or a CD player that shows subversive signs of sounding more 'alive' or 'realistic' than most, we dismiss it out of hand as being too 'forward' or 'aggressive.' As if a lot of real music isn't forward and aggressive!

"The idea that all we are trying to do is make equipment that gives the listener some sort of magical emotional response to a mystical experience called 'music' is all well and good, but it isn't what High End is all about. In fact, high fidelity was originally a reaction to the gorgeously rich-sounding console 'boom boxes' that dominated the home-music market during the 1940s!

"We've lost our direction....The High End in 1992 is a multi-million-dollar business. But it's an empty triumph, because we haven't accomplished what we set out to do. The playback still doesn't sound 'just like the real thing.' People, let's start getting back to basics. Let's put the 're' back into 'reproduction.' Let's promote products that dare to sound as 'alive' and 'aggressive' as the music they are trying to reproduce."

Strong stuff. Fifteen years later, Gordon is comfortably retired in Boulder, Colorado. I e-mailed him Labor Day to ask him about that 1992 polemic. My questions are in italics, followed by Gordon's unexpurgated answers.

Do you still feel the high-end audio industry has lost its way in the manner you described 15 years ago?

Not in the same manner; there's no hope now. Audio actually used to have a goal: perfect reproduction of the sound of real music performed in a real space. That was found difficult to achieve, and it was abandoned when most music lovers, who almost never heard anything except amplified music anyway, forgot what "the real thing" had sounded like. Today, "good" sound is whatever one likes. As Art Dudley so succinctly said [in his January 2004 "Listening," see "Letters," p.9], fidelity is irrelevant to music.

Since the only measure of sound quality is that the listener likes it, that has pretty well put an end to audio advancement, because different people rarely agree about sound quality. Abandoning the acoustical-instrument standard, and the mindless acceptance of voodoo science, were not parts of my original vision.

I remember you strongly feeling back in 1992 that multichannel/surround reproduction was the only chance the industry had for getting back on course.

With fidelity in stagnation, spatiality was the only area of improvement left.

As you were so committed to surround, do you feel that the commercial failures of DVD-Audio and SACD could have been avoided?

I doubt it. No audio product has ever succeeded because it was better, only because it was cheaper, smaller, or easier to use. Your generation of music lovers will probably be the last that even think about fidelity.

Judging by online forums and by the e-mail I receive, there are currently three areas of passion for audiophiles: vinyl playback, headphone listening, and music servers. Are you surprised by this?

I find them all boring, but nothing surprises me any more.

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.

Yet you achieved so much, Gordon.

I know I did, and my whole excuse for it—a love for the sound of live classical music—lost its relevance in the US within 10 years. I was done in by time, history, and the most spoiled, destructive generation of irresponsible brats the world has ever seen. (I refer, of course, to the Boomers.)
 

pablolie

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I always raise and eye brow when an audio company claims that "no assembled product is shipped without it being subjected to a thorough test sound by our master designer" or something along those lines. Makes me think "what, you only ship 1-3 of these things a day?".
 

HarmonicTHD

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I always raise and eye brow when an audio company claims that "no assembled product is shipped without it being subjected to a thorough test sound by our master designer" or something along those lines. Makes me think "what, you only ship 1-3 of these things a day?".
Plus I always cringe when some repetitive technical test is done by humans only - usually results in crappy quality and customer complaints.

We humans just are not good at conducting thorough repetitive actions without error. There is a reason for the expression „human error“.
 
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teched58

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In many ways, the trajectory of legacy audio publications is not dissimilar from what happened to Playboy and Penthouse.

When what one previously paid for is available online for free and in limitless quantities, the only people who will keep coming (excuse choice of words) to the old place are those who are habituated and do so out of habit and nostalgia.
 

Axo1989

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I always raise and eye brow when an audio company claims that "no assembled product is shipped without it being subjected to a thorough test sound by our master designer" or something along those lines. Makes me think "what, you only ship 1-3 of these things a day?".

Not that I have any idea what various listening test regimes are being referred to there, but a serviceable test for audible flaws using comprehensive test tones and music selections could be executed in a fairly short time. Make sure the testers are born under solid earth signs like Taurus and Virgo, no flighty Aquarius or Geminis.

Or the Japanese approach, a preliminary apprenticeship of say 15 years on test tones before graduating to time-honoured esoteric musical segments of increasing complexity, and finally becoming a living national treasure.
 
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mhardy6647

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Sometimes I get half a notion to just build one of those 300B amps to hear what the buzz is about them.
The buzz?
AC filament supply to a direct heated cathode. A balance pot helps, but... yeah... especially using loudspeakers with 100+ dB sensitivity. hmmmmmmmm...
:cool:
 

mhardy6647

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In many ways, the trajectory of legacy audio publications is not dissimilar from what happened to Playboy and Penthouse.

When what one previously paid for is available online for free and in limitless quantities, the only people who will keep coming (excuse choice of words) to the old place are those who are habituated and do so out of habit and nostalgia.
Well... yes... there's definitely audio Pr0N.


1700682011639.jpeg

Definitely.

;)
 

Sal1950

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Sal1950

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Scytales

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The whole narrative of Stereophile took a wrong turn when J. Gordon Holt turned over it's reins to
others that put making money above all else. Yes, the magazine was having financial issues under
his tutelage, but to throw away honesty and integrity in search of a cult like following believing in
magic and miracles was the end of the search for High Fidelity as a direction of the "high end". To his
credit, John Atkinson did have the balls to publish the text of a speech by JGH at the 1992 CES, it
highlights and supports most everything we are saying here.


To celebrate Stereophile's 30th anniversary, Gordon gave a speech at a dinner the magazine hosted at the 1992 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. The text of that speech was reprinted in our September 1992 issue, and it makes for disturbing reading:
John Atkinson.

"We seem to have come to a tacit agreement that it's no longer necessary, or even desirable, for a home music system to sound like the real thing. We speak in hushed and reverent tones about reproducing the ineffable beauty of music, when in fact much real music is harsh and vulgar and ugly. We design the all-important musical midrange out of our equipment in order to try—vainly, I might add—to recreate the illusion of three-dimensional space through what is essentially a two-dimensional reproducer. And whenever we hear a loudspeaker or a CD player that shows subversive signs of sounding more 'alive' or 'realistic' than most, we dismiss it out of hand as being too 'forward' or 'aggressive.' As if a lot of real music isn't forward and aggressive!

"The idea that all we are trying to do is make equipment that gives the listener some sort of magical emotional response to a mystical experience called 'music' is all well and good, but it isn't what High End is all about. In fact, high fidelity was originally a reaction to the gorgeously rich-sounding console 'boom boxes' that dominated the home-music market during the 1940s!

"We've lost our direction....The High End in 1992 is a multi-million-dollar business. But it's an empty triumph, because we haven't accomplished what we set out to do. The playback still doesn't sound 'just like the real thing.' People, let's start getting back to basics. Let's put the 're' back into 'reproduction.' Let's promote products that dare to sound as 'alive' and 'aggressive' as the music they are trying to reproduce."

Strong stuff. Fifteen years later, Gordon is comfortably retired in Boulder, Colorado. I e-mailed him Labor Day to ask him about that 1992 polemic. My questions are in italics, followed by Gordon's unexpurgated answers.

Do you still feel the high-end audio industry has lost its way in the manner you described 15 years ago?

Not in the same manner; there's no hope now. Audio actually used to have a goal: perfect reproduction of the sound of real music performed in a real space. That was found difficult to achieve, and it was abandoned when most music lovers, who almost never heard anything except amplified music anyway, forgot what "the real thing" had sounded like. Today, "good" sound is whatever one likes. As Art Dudley so succinctly said [in his January 2004 "Listening," see "Letters," p.9], fidelity is irrelevant to music.

Since the only measure of sound quality is that the listener likes it, that has pretty well put an end to audio advancement, because different people rarely agree about sound quality. Abandoning the acoustical-instrument standard, and the mindless acceptance of voodoo science, were not parts of my original vision.

I remember you strongly feeling back in 1992 that multichannel/surround reproduction was the only chance the industry had for getting back on course.

With fidelity in stagnation, spatiality was the only area of improvement left.

As you were so committed to surround, do you feel that the commercial failures of DVD-Audio and SACD could have been avoided?

I doubt it. No audio product has ever succeeded because it was better, only because it was cheaper, smaller, or easier to use. Your generation of music lovers will probably be the last that even think about fidelity.

Judging by online forums and by the e-mail I receive, there are currently three areas of passion for audiophiles: vinyl playback, headphone listening, and music servers. Are you surprised by this?

I find them all boring, but nothing surprises me any more.

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.

Yet you achieved so much, Gordon.

I know I did, and my whole excuse for it—a love for the sound of live classical music—lost its relevance in the US within 10 years. I was done in by time, history, and the most spoiled, destructive generation of irresponsible brats the world has ever seen. (I refer, of course, to the Boomers.)
Thank you for remembering us this eye-opening opinion.

Here is a link towards the original 2007 article : https://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi/index.html
 

Timcognito

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Made back when cars were real cars and not the schitt cans they make today. ;)
My plug-in hybrid schitt can is built like tank, gets 40 miles on a half hour charge at home and goes 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. I had two 100lb bags of garden sand in the back last week, so in hauls in multiple ways.
1700684514812.jpeg
 

ahofer

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Sometimes I get half a notion to just build one of those 300B amps to hear what the buzz is about them.
My urge is to put some studio effects in my signal chain and play with saturation, groove sound, etc. to sort of "carver challenge" listener preferences.
 

ahofer

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My plug-in hybrid schitt can is built like tank, gets 40 miles on a half hour charge at home and goes 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. I had two 100lb bags of garden sand in the back last week, so in hauls in multiple ways.
View attachment 328586
Been thinking about replacing the Subaru with one of those. I've driven some very laggy-feeling hybrids recently though (using Turo)
 

atmasphere

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A 1955 Cadillac Couple DeVille I believe., what a beauty!
Made back when cars were real cars and not the schitt cans they make today. ;)
Much easier to work on, but also need to be worked on far more often. Really pretty, but inefficient, unreliable and lucky to make it 100K without an engine rebuild at the very least. Not safe in a crash and more likely to have one because they could go much faster down the road without reasonable expectation of being able to stop ('power' drum brakes fade very quickly...). Points ignition, no camshaft advance, poor power to weight ratio. I love to see them and would not mind owning one, but compared to modern cars they are simply impractical.

The radio used vacuum tubes and a device called a 'vibrator' that allowed a power transformer to be used to generate the voltages needed to run the tubes.
 

Sal1950

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I love to see them and would not mind owning one,
Cause they had STYLE
Today cookie cutters can only be told apart by the spec sheet of how many computers,
airbags and size of it's video screen. (and the huge price tags for all that government mandated junk)
I can promise you there won't many still on the road in 20 years.
 
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