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There is nothing holy about the signal

Is the signal holy?

  • Yes it is

    Votes: 18 16.5%
  • No it isn't

    Votes: 84 77.1%
  • Undecided / No opinion

    Votes: 7 6.4%

  • Total voters
    109

Keith_W

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Sorry for the clickbaity title but I thought it was time for another ASR bun-fight ;)

For some time now, I have noticed that both groups of audiophiles - subjectivists and objectivists - share the same belief: that the signal should be kept uncorrupted. Purity is all important. The only distinguishing feature between the two groups is the approach. Subjectivists believe their cables, power conditioners, cable elevators, DAC's, and analog systems keep the signal clean. The whole purpose of an analog system is to prevent the signal getting corrupted by digital. The intention of power tweaks is to keep power "clean" because they think they can hear "dirty power". Objectivists believe that the lower the distortion/SINAD, the better. Speakers are selected for low measurable distortion. The whole point of this engineering exercise is to keep distortion and nonlinearities as low as possible, preferably pushed into inaudible limits. There is certainly a large contingent of very vocal ASR members who say that the system is there to reproduce what the artist intended, and nothing more. So you can see, both are the same yet both are different.

However, there are two major aspects to sound reproduction that everyone agrees has a major impact on the sound: (1) the recording, and (2) the speaker/room interface.

The recording: this is the result of a bunch of subjective decisions made by the artist and the mixing engineer on their monitoring system, which is different to your home audio system - i.e. Toole's "circle of confusion". Take a look at the VST plugins offered by only one company, and realize there are thousands more offered by other companies. All these VST plugins manipulate the signal - compressors, expanders, EQ, harmonic distortion generators, emulators for tube sound, vinyl sound, tape sound, reverb VST's, and so on. Some recordings are completely artificial constructs that never existed in reality, e.g. all electronic music. Some recordings of less talented singers have been "autocorrected" to make them sing in tune. Even recordings of live acoustic instruments have been manipulated. I listen almost exclusively to classical music, and I can tell you that recordings sound crazy different from label to label, and even with the same label. Just compare Deutsche Grammofon from the 80's and 90's and current recordings, even though the recordings are digital. They have changed something in their workflow that makes the recordings sound different.

The speaker/room interface: despite the best intentions of speaker designers, the moment the speaker is placed in the room, the response is changed. I think that nearly all of us here on ASR agree that some type of room correction is necessary, preferably with DSP. And if you correct with DSP, you will need a target curve. Here is an older thread on ASR about target curves:

index.php


I have tried all these target curves, and they all sound different. All are purportedly supported by science. Some of these curves were arrived at by hypothesizing what the speaker's room response would look like if a speaker that measured flat under anechoic conditions were placed in a room. Some others are based on preference studies, e.g. the Harman curve. Even the Harman curve has three bands, "more bass", "less bass", and "Harman curve lovers". These bands are split into different demographics - younger men and older women respectively for the first two groups, and the largest group being "Harman curve lovers".

I suspect that whether we admit it or not, many of us pick the target curve that we like based on what sounds best to us. So here is the rub: the moment we pick a target curve, we are manipulating the signal to our preference. Even if we choose a speaker that has a certain target curve with no digital signal manipulation, we have still chosen a target curve that we prefer.

Another point of data: valve amps and turntables distort the signal and measure objectively worse. Yet there are many people, myself included, who think that they sound pleasant. Why? My hypothesis was that people just like some additional distortion, so I performed an experiment on distortion - thread here. I deliberately added distortion to the signal, and asked people if they prefer "A or B", without revealing what the intervention was. Nearly all the people I tested preferred some distortion. As I emphasized in that thread repeatedly, this was not a scientific test given that it was performed under uncontrolled conditions with only one system, but the trend seemed significant.

And yet another data point: in another thread, @ppataki recommended I try Pultec EQ to improve subjective bass slam. I downloaded a VST and tried it. It works by boosting bass followed by a little undershoot, i.e. it effectively modifies the target curve. It is still early days in my testing, but I like it very much. I need to throw more music at it to see if it still holds up after a few weeks of listening, but here is another example where signal manipulation has increased my enjoyment of the system.

Conclusion. My system is an unholy hodgepodge where I have manipulated the signal to an extent that would horrify both objectivists and subjectivists. It started by realizing that recordings all sound different, and Toole's circle of confusion meant that my system wasn't reproducing what the artist intended anyway. I began correcting the system with the intention of making the circle of confusion smaller, before I realized that this intervention by itself was manipulating the signal to my preference. So why not go further. I ended up installing all sorts of VST's and rejecting most of them on grounds of taste, so I have only kept a few. The important feature of my system is that I can turn everything off with a few clicks and everything is restored to unmolested signal, with the exception of the target curve that I can not avoid because it is baked into the system.

If you conclude that it is OK to manipulate the signal to your preference, the very uncomfortable corollary is this: there are no standards in audio, nor can there ever be. All the preference scores in spinorama.org are moot. We are back to the Wild West where anything goes. I myself am uncomfortable with this because as a scientist at heart and by profession, I can not accept a universe of disorder and chaos.

So my questions for ASR are: do you think signal integrity is important? Do you avoid all manipulation to the signal? If you did manipulate your signal, how did you choose your target curve? Do you think there is a role for preference when it comes to signal manipulation?
 

DonR

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I used Audyssey to room correct and then added a small bass boost in the 200hz area because I like it. For my headphones, I chose the Harman target curve. With digital media, signal integrity isn't as much of an issue.
 

ahofer

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The important feature of my system is that I can turn everything off with a few clicks and everything is restored to unmolested signal, with the exception of the target curve that I can not avoid because it is baked into the system.
Sounds good
 

Blumlein 88

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I've stated my philosophy on this several times. I started out as an audiophile including believing all the garbage (or at least much of it). After doing very early DSP Room Correction (more than 20 years ago) I came to what I still believe. Put together the cleanest, most transparent, most high fidelity rig you can. Then season to taste. Pultec plug ins are excellent for this. I originally chose target curves from a menu on Tact gear. It had the well known slightly downward slope, but you could create your own or pick different slopes.

It would be incredibly ostrich-like to say preference has no role. The gripes here are with those who mistake preference for superior fidelity.
 

Multicore

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I voted no because I don't hold signals to be holy in any sense. My preference for transparency and neutrality is not absolute either, it's pragmatic, a convenient answer to an optimization problem that is too complicated for me to properly solve for all the different recordings I want to play.

In other words, I can't be bothered with seasoning, as @Blumlein 88 put it. The systems sound good now meaning I would make changes if I experienced something that bothered me. But I'd rather spend my time using the systems than seeking improvements that, if they are in fact available, likely depend on the specific signal.
 
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ahofer

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I've stated my philosophy on this several times. I started out as an audiophile including believing all the garbage (or at least much of it). After doing very early DSP Room Correction (more than 20 years ago) I came to what I still believe. Put together the cleanest, most transparent, most high fidelity rig you can. Then season to taste. Pultec plug ins are excellent for this. I originally chose target curves from a menu on Tact gear. It had the well known slightly downward slope, but you could create your own or pick different slopes.

It would be incredibly ostrich-like to say preference has no role. The gripes here are with those who mistake preference for superior fidelity.
Agreed. If you start with the best fidelity you can, including low distortion, good dispersion, and low compression, then the seasoning will work better. No sense starting with the dish irretrievably salted and spiced.
 

Blumlein 88

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I voted no because I don't hold signals to be holy in any sense. My preference for transparency and neutrality is not absolute either, it's pragmatic, a convenient answer to an optimization problem that is too complicated for me to properly solve for all the different recordings I want to play.

In other words, I can't be bothered with seasoning, as @Blumlein 88 put it. The systems sound good now meaning I would make changes if I experienced something that bothered me. But I'd rather spend my time using the systems than seeking improvements that, if they are in fact available, likely depend on the specific signal.
One of things that was excellent about Tact gear. It held 9 correction curves. I didn't use all 9 that much. I did however have 3 or 4 that you could switch between in 1 second with the remote to work for various recordings. Mostly just a warmer or leaner balance. A recording is lean, warm it up, or the reverse. So there was a learning curve and some time. However in the end it was like a very quick tonal adjustment or spectral balance control at a finger's touch. So using the system was simple and seamless. So I didn't seek improvements for individual tracks, I had a simple pallet to work with. Using Pultec plug ins is a bit more involved than that, but that device in its hardware form was pretty well conceived to make big differences with ease with only a handful of controls.
 

MattHooper

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You rascal! :D

Sounds like you are having fun!

As I've said before, I am not seeking distortion per se, but I don't consider the signal "holy" either. This is because I believe the major musical components - from melody, singer, performance, arrangement, instrument choices, production choices etc - mostly swamp whatever minor deviation a system may introduce. That's why "normy" music lovers have no need for audiophile gear - the obsession for super low distortion is an audiophile obsession, not one necessary for music listening.

So...I have fun, and get my system so that listening is as pleasurable as possible, and I have my own goals for what I'm trying to achieve which has kept me interested in the hobby for many decades.
 

MattHooper

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One of things that was excellent about Tact gear. It held 9 correction curves. I didn't use all 9 that much. I did however have 3 or 4 that you could switch between in 1 second with the remote to work for various recordings. Mostly just a warmer or leaner balance. A recording is lean, warm it up, or the reverse. So there was a learning curve and some time. However in the end it was like a very quick tonal adjustment or spectral balance control at a finger's touch. So using the system was simple and seamless. So I didn't seek improvements for individual tracks, I had a simple pallet to work with. Using Pultec plug ins is a bit more involved than that, but that device in its hardware form was pretty well conceived to make big differences with ease with only a handful of controls.

Tact certainly made a splash when it came out (for those who could afford it; I remember that it was pretty expensive?).

I see you like some specific features, but generally how does it compare to the current options for room correction?
 

Blumlein 88

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Tact certainly made a splash when it came out (for those who could afford it; I remember that it was pretty expensive?).

I see you like some specific features, but generally how does it compare to the current options for room correction?
I think their 2nd gen gear doesn't give up much if anything to current options. What they totally sucked at was user interfaces. OMG, you had to be dedicated to learn to use it and set it up. And that never really improved. I had 2 friends and a couple other people I knew that got their gear once they heard it at my house. I had to set it up for them and adjust it to their liking. Which was a good learning experience for me. I learned to hear their desires and figure out what would make them happy. I developed being able to do this pretty well. There were just too many gotchas and other issues with the interface. You could call Boz (who designed it and the early Trinnov gear) and talk to him. He was as helpful as could be if you knew his software enough to follow him.

I also think their amps were much better than given credit for. They were literally doing the DA conversion at the output stage.

About it being expensive, it was, but after some people used it finding it incomprehensible you could get pretty good deals. Never dirt cheap, but not so crazy either considering little else could do what they did at the time. I still have one of their all digital amps and a Room Correction amp unit ( I have a pre too now that I think about it.) The amp still works and I use it in a 2nd system.
 

MattHooper

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I think their 2nd gen gear doesn't give up much if anything to current options. What they totally sucked at was user interfaces. OMG, you had to be dedicated to learn to use it and set it up. And that never really improved. I had 2 friends and a couple other people I knew that got their gear once they heard it at my house. I had to set it up for them and adjust it to their liking. Which was a good learning experience for me. I learned to hear their desires and figure out what would make them happy. I developed being able to do this pretty well. There were just too many gotchas and other issues with the interface. You could call Boz (who designed it and the early Trinnov gear) and talk to him. He was as helpful as could be if you knew his software enough to follow him.

I also think their amps were much better than given credit for. They were literally doing the DA conversion at the output stage.

About it being expensive, it was, but after some people used it finding it incomprehensible you could get pretty good deals. Never dirt cheap, but not so crazy either considering little else could do what they did at the time. I still have one of their all digital amps and a Room Correction amp unit ( I have a pre too now that I think about it.) The amp still works and I use it in a 2nd system.

Thanks, interesting stuff.

I never did room correction in those expensive days. The furthest I went was buying a Z-Systems RDP 1 digital pre-amp/parametric EQ. Do you remember the buzz on that when it came out? First "sonically invisible" digital EQ? It was fun hearing such a direct signal path, and playing with EQ, when I bypassed my old tube preamps. (Wasn't that long ago that I sold it, and I still have the friggin' commands programmed in to my universal remote).
 

kemmler3D

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I voted undecided. Actually, I think the signal is "holy"... but it's hard to know where the line is once the recording hits my system.

To your point about everything being manipulated in the studio... sure. That's the creative process. Once it leaves the mastering studio, creation time is over, just like a plate of fine food once it hits your table. You don't walk back into the kitchen and suggest they put more garlic in it, do you?

If you did manipulate your signal, how did you choose your target curve? Do you think there is a role for preference when it comes to signal manipulation?

And yet... you've sort of given away the game in this statement. If your target curve is anything different from what the in-room response is at the studio that mixed the album you're listening to, you've already applied your arbitrary, unholy personal preference to the entire damn frequency response.

So at that point, why draw arbitrary lines at "correction"? Why not just put a big reverb and tube saturator on the whole thing because you think it sounds cool? (some people actually do this, it's revolting.)

I don't really know why not. The primacy of the artist's intent and an attempt to respect and recreate that is what matters to me. But I think it's fair to say there's only ever an attempt. And we're dealing with a very retrograde reverence of authorial intent here, too.

Even if your only goal is to see an original painting, you still have to make sure the lighting is even, neutral, and not too bright or dim. You can't just beam it straight into your mind. And so you're making choices about what the painting looks like. You can't avoid it. Even not making a choice about the lighting is making a choice. Can you light a painting to make it look more like itself? What does that even mean, what else would it look like?

Unfortunately listening to music is just like this.

To me, the goal is to make the recording sound more like itself, not "good". So is this actually a meaningful or even coherent idea? I don't know, don't ask me.
 
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bluefuzz

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do you think signal integrity is important?
I am uncomfortable with the notion that the 'signal', as you put it, exists in some platonic realm independent of the physical reality of sound. Yes, on the electronic level we are able to measure distortions and nonlinearities and seek to minimize them. But once the sound comes out of the speakers we are in the real physical world of subjective experience. Here there is nothing but 'preference'.

My 'preference' is for every frequency coming out of the speakers to impinge on my eardrums with as far as possible equal loudness and at the same relative timing. And that's about it. I can physically manipulate the room and/or the 'signal' to achieve this to some arbitrary level of satisfaction. But it will never be 'perfect' because there is no perfect signal in the first place. Nor any perfect speakers, perfect rooms or perfect ears connected to perfect brains ...
 

kemmler3D

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Come on, the artist's intent is most of the time a myth in regard to specific sound quality. Not in regard to music. Physical fidelity is not even on the list.
I consider the mixing and mastering engineers to be under the "artist" umbrella for the purposes of these discussions, but I'm not disputing that it's an entirely idealized notion in the first place.

The "signal is holy" POV is the one I'm most comfortable with. But at the end of the day, you can only go in that direction, never reach the destination. It's simply an opinion that what's on the record is more important than whatever whim I have about what sounds nice that day.
 
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Keith_W

Keith_W

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I voted undecided. Actually, I think the signal is "holy"... but it's hard to know where the line is once the recording hits my system.

To your point about everything being manipulated in the studio... sure. That's the creative process. Once it leaves the mastering studio, creation time is over, just like a plate of fine food once it hits your table. You don't walk back into the kitchen and suggest they put more garlic in it, do you?

If I am unhappy with the dish, it goes back to the kitchen. Or I might "modify" it by salting it.

And yet... you've sort of given away the game in this statement. If your target curve is anything different from what the in-room response is at the studio that mixed the album you're listening to, you've already applied your arbitrary, unholy personal preference to the entire damn frequency response.

So at that point, why draw arbitrary lines at "correction"? Why not just put a big reverb and tube saturator on the whole thing because you think it sounds cool? (some people actually do this, it's revolting.)

Yup! That was my whole point ;) Why not plug in a big reverb and tube saturator? I don't do it because I tried it and did not like the result. Like I said, I fiddle with the signal according to taste.

Even if your only goal is to see an original painting, you still have to make sure the lighting is even, neutral, and not too bright or dim. You can't just beam it straight into your mind. And so you're making choices about what the painting looks like. You can't avoid it. Even not making a choice about the lighting is making a choice. Can you light a painting to make it look more like itself? What does that even mean, what else would it look like?

Yeah, the problem is that paintings are often degraded. Dust builds up and changes the colour. Pigments fade with exposure to UV light so what you see may not be original. Notice how there is no natural sunlight in The Louvre (except for some areas where they display sculptures)? All the lighting is via special LED's that do not emit UV light. They are carefully adjusted to mimic sunlight white balance as far as possible. But it is certainly not the same sunlight that Da Vinci would have seen his painting.

Even the way it is hanged affects the perception, e.g. the Mona Lisa is on display in the Louvre behind a cordoned off section so nobody can get close to it. I am sure Da Vinci did not intend everyone to admire his work from 3m away. Likewise, some Dali paintings are so small that you can only see them up close, I was surprised by how small they were. Again, you are kept away from the painting so if you squint, you can almost make it out.

Anyway, I welcome and accept differences in opinion :) You have your way of thinking, and I respect that.
 

sigbergaudio

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The concept of a "target curve" for speakers is inherently problematic and widely misunderstood. The harman curves are the measured result of a small number of speakers and a small number (11) of people's preference for these.

So at best we can call them preference curves, and you were never intended to force your own system to follow them with the use of DSP.
 

antcollinet

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I've stated my philosophy on this several times. I started out as an audiophile including believing all the garbage (or at least much of it). After doing very early DSP Room Correction (more than 20 years ago) I came to what I still believe. Put together the cleanest, most transparent, most high fidelity rig you can. Then season to taste. Pultec plug ins are excellent for this. I originally chose target curves from a menu on Tact gear. It had the well known slightly downward slope, but you could create your own or pick different slopes.

It would be incredibly ostrich-like to say preference has no role. The gripes here are with those who mistake preference for superior fidelity.
This.

And if you want to do the seasoning with the most analoguey of gear - go for it. Tone controls, graphic equalizers, etc.

Whatever you like. Just start with clean so you can adapt it when your preference changes.
 

ppataki

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So my questions for ASR are: do you think signal integrity is important? Do you avoid all manipulation to the signal? If you did manipulate your signal, how did you choose your target curve? Do you think there is a role for preference when it comes to signal manipulation?

With the current DSP capabilities we have I think it would be a sin not to modify the signal....
I am a hardcore DSP fan by all means
When I first heard Dirac Live in action in my life (it was version 2.1 back in around 2019-2020) I immediately realized that 'This is the way'
And not just Dirac but all the other solutions as well, including the myriads of VST plugins that are at our service

When it comes to target curves:
I have tried nearly all (if not all) and they all sounded bad in my room with my gear so I stopped pursuing any 'targets'
What I do instead is that I aim for flat (in Dirac or REW or pick your drug) and then I apply custom filters to shape the low end and the high end according to my subjective taste
Usually this means one or two low shelf filters and one high shelf filter
(if you read any of the threads I created in the DIY section you will see concrete examples)

From time to time I also play around with more exotic filters like I mentioned to @Keith_W about Pultec EQ but there are others worth trying too:
Fabfilter Saturn 2, T-Racks Master EQ 432, T-Racks One etc. etc.
 
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