audiophile

#redirectTemplate:Dated maintenance category An audiophile, from Latin audio[1] "I hear" and Greek philos[2] "loving," is a hobbyist who seeks high-quality audio reproduction via the use of specialized high-end audio electronics.[3][4] Audiophiles prefer to listen to music at a quality level that is as close to the original performance as possible using high-fidelity components. These specialized components include turntables, digital-to-analog converters, equalization devices, preamplifiers and amplifiers. Both high quality solid-state and vacuum tube amplifiers are used. The quest for audio perfection can also include horn loudspeakers or electrostatic speakers, power conditioners, subwoofers and acoustic room treatment.[5][6]

Audiophile values may be applied at all stages of music reproduction: the initial audio recording, the production process, and the playback, which is usually in a home setting. High-end audio refers to expensive, high-quality, or esoteric products and practices used in the reproduction of music. Electronic gear used by audiophiles can be bought at specialist shops and websites.[4] Audiophiles can purchase special recordings made with extra attention to sound quality, some being special audiophile-oriented reissues, as well as recordings in high-resolution formats such as Super Audio CD or DVD-Audio. Many modern audiophiles also take advantage of lossless file formats such as WAV, FLAC and Apple Lossless.

Contents


Audio system components

An audio system typically consists of a number of components. These include one or more source components, one or more amplification components, and (for stereo), two or more loudspeakers.

In addition, higher quality signal cables (analog audio, speaker, digital audio etc.) can be used to link these components. There are also a variety of accessories. These include specialized equipment racks, power conditioners, devices to reduce or control vibration, peripheral devices such as record cleaners, anti-static devices, and phonograph needle cleaners, and reverberation reducing devices such as speaker pads and stands, sound absorbent foam and soundproofing.

The interaction between the loudspeakers and the room plays an important part in sound quality. Sound vibrations are reflected from walls, floor and ceiling, and are affected by the contents of the room. Room dimensions can create standing waves. There are devices for room treatment that affect sound quality. Soft materials, such as draperies and carpets, can absorb higher frequencies. Whereas hard walls and floors can cause excess reverberation.

Amplifiers

A preamplifier selects among several audio inputs, amplifies source-level signals (such as those from a turntable), and allows the listener to adjust the sound with volume and tone controls, switchable filters, etc. A power amplifier takes the "line-level" audio signal from the preamplifier and drives the loudspeakers; typically the only control on a power amplifier, if one exists at all, is a gain (level) control.

Audiophile amplifiers are available based on solid-state (semiconductor) technology, vacuum-tube (valve) technology, or hybrid technology—semiconductors and vacuum tubes.

Dedicated amplifiers are also commonly used by audiophiles to drive headphones, especially those with high impedance and/or low sensitivity, or electrostatic headphones.

Loudspeakers

The cabinet of the loudspeaker is known as the enclosure. There are a wide variety of loudspeaker enclosure designs, including sealed, ported, transmission line, infinite baffle, horn loaded, and aperiodic. The enclosure plays a major role in the sound of the loudspeaker.

The drivers are the actual sound-producing elements, referred to as tweeters, midranges, woofers, and subwoofers. Driver designs include dynamic, electrostatic, plasma, ribbon, planar, ionic, and servo-actuated. Drivers are made from various materials, including paper pulp, polypropylene, kevlar, aluminum, magnesium, beryllium, and vapor-deposited diamond.

The direction and intensity of the output of a loudspeaker, called dispersion or polar response, has a large effect on its sound. Various methods are employed to control the dispersion. These methods include monopolar, bipolar, dipolar, 360 degree, horn, waveguide, and line source. These terms refer to the configuration and arrangement of the various drivers in the enclosure.

The positioning of loudspeakers in the room and of the optimum listening position (referred to as the "sweet spot") is of great importance in producing optimum sound. Loudspeaker output is influenced by interaction with room boundaries, particularly bass response, and high frequency transducers are directional, or "beaming."

Accessories

Audiophiles use a wide variety of accessories and fine-tuning techniques, otherwise known as "tweaks," to improve the sound of their systems. These tweaks include: filters to clean the electricity; equipment racks to isolate components from floor vibrations; specialty power cables, interconnect cables (e.g., between preamplifier and power amplifier), and loudspeaker cables; loudspeaker stands (and footers to isolate them from the stands); and room treatments – to name but a few.

Room treatments consist of several types. One type is sound-absorbing materials which are placed strategically within a listening room to reduce the amplitude of early reflections, and to deal with resonance modes. Another type is called diffusion which is designed to reflect the sound in a scattered fashion. Room treatments can be expensive and difficult to optimize—as acoustics is considered to be both an art and a science.

Headphones

Audiophiles may use headphones as a high quality output for their music.

Audiophile-standard headphones retail in the region of $60–$1,700, although it is possible to spend upwards of $14,000 (e.g. the Sennheiser HE-90[7]). Headphones marketed to audiophiles are a tiny fraction of the cost of comparable speaker systems and do not require any room adjustment for music enjoyment. Running afoul of community noise regulations or even disturbing roommates can be avoided. Newer canalphones, while as expensive as their larger counterparts, can be driven by less powerful outputs like portable devices.

Headphones are also often used by audiophiles in environments that wouldn't accommodate a full audio system, such as the workplace or an unsuitable room at home. Some audiophiles claim that there are headphones that can surpass the quality of any Hi-Fi Speaker set.

Testing

Audiophiles are split into three schools of thought regarding testing. Objectivists believe that audio system measurements and double blind testing is of the greatest importance. Subjectivists believe that measured performance can not account for all discernible differences in sound quality and thus they rely on extended listening tests to form an opinion. Audiophiles in the third group choose to combine both approaches by performing objective technical tests in combination with extended subjective listening tests.

Minimalism

Given that each step in capturing, storing, and playing back music may degrade it, especially due to the fact that circuitry is prone to electromagnetic interference and electronic noise, audiophiles insist that the fewer and simpler the stages, the better. Many audiophile components, for example, lack tone control circuits, since it is felt that these may degrade the audio quality while moving the sound away from the ideal.

The minimalist subjectivist assertion is that music contains elements which cannot be measured by electronic instruments,[8] so the less one alters the original signal, the more likely it is that this unmeasurable quality is preserved.

Objectivists, however, want to reasonably quantify and specify the effects of input source, amplifier set-up, system power, speaker configuration, etc. on the listening experience. This desire is complementary to purely subjective preferences in quantifying the perceptible effects of different equipment set-ups.

Analog sound vs. digital sound reproduction

Audiophiles differ in opinion over the relative value and performance of digital and analog media. Pro-digital audiophiles believe that digital technology's absence of clicks, pops, wow, flutter, audio feedback, and rumble make it superior to records. They also assert that digital technology has a higher signal-to-noise ratio, has a wider dynamic range, has less total harmonic distortion, and has a flatter and more extended frequency response.[9][10] Pro-analog audiophiles believe that analog sound lacks the deleterious effects caused by the analog to digital conversion necessary to produce CDs and therefore analog music reproduction from records played on a properly configured turntable/tonearm setup is superior to digital music reproduction from CDs played on CD players.[10]

Equipment concerns

In the high-fidelity debate, some prefer vacuum-tube electronics over solid-state electronics, because despite inferior measured performance, some claim a warmer or more musical sound. Vacuum-tube amplifiers are often attacked as inferior because, in addition to their substantially higher total harmonic distortion, they require rebiasing, are less reliable, generate more heat, are less powerful, and are often more expensive.[11]

Some have long believed that sound quality was degraded by large levels of negative feedback in amplifiers. Poorly-designed feedback systems can produce poor sound quality. Thus the association of feedback with poor sound quality is likely a reflection of poorly-designed power amplifiers that use feedback incorrectly.[12] Feedback impacts the harmonic balance of the distortion spectra. [13]

Criticism

Criticisms usually focus on claims around so-called "tweaks" and accessories beyond the core source, amplification, and speaker products. Examples of these accessories include speaker cables, component interconnects, stones, cones, CD markers, and power cables or conditioners.[14] Manufacturers of these products often make strong claims of actual improvement in sound but do not offer any measurements or testable claims. This absence of measurable (rather than subjective) improvement, coupled with sometimes high prices, raises questions about the truthfulness of the marketing.[15]

Roger Russell – a former engineer and speaker designer for McIntosh Labs – describes the introduction of expensive speaker wire brands, and critiques their performance in his online essay called Speaker Wire - A History. He writes, "The industry has now reached the point where [wire] resistance and listening quality are not the issues any more, although listening claims may still be made....The strategy in selling these products is, in part, to appeal to those who are looking to impress others with something unique and expensive."[15]

Skeptic James Randi, through his foundation, has offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate that $7,250 audio cables "are any better than ordinary audio cables".[16] In 2008, audio reviewer Michael Fremer attempted to claim the prize, and said that Randi declined the challenge.[17] Randi said that the cable manufacturer Pearl was the one who withdrew.[18]

See also

Audiophile publications

References

  1. "audio", Compact Oxford Dictionary, Accessed 11 May 2007
  2. "phile", Compact Oxford Dictionary, Accessed 11 May 2007
  3. Branch, John D. (23 May 2007). . In Russell Belk, Russell Belk Jr., John Sherry (eds.). (1 ed.). JAI Press. pp. 79–99. . 
  4. a b Perlman, M. (2004). . Social Studies of Science 34 (5): 783. . 
  5. van der Veen, M. (2005). . . http://www.mennovanderveen.nl/nl/download/download_3.pdf. 
  6. O'Connell, Joseph (1992-01). . Technology and Culture (Society for the History of Technology) 33 (1): 1–37. . . http://www.jstor.org/stable/3105807. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  7. Woollard, Deidre (14 December 2005). . Luxist. http://gadgets.luxist.com/2005/12/14/sennheiser-he-90-headphones. Retrieved 30 June 2007. 
  8. . http://www.stereophile.com/features/203/index11.html. Retrieved 25 March 2007. 
  9. . mastersonaudio.com. 1 January 2003. http://www.mastersonaudio.com/audio/20030101.htm. 
  10. a b . mastersonaudio.com. 15 April 2005. http://www.soundstageav.com/mastersonaudio/20050415.htm. 
  11. . mastersonaudio.com. 1 September 2002. http://www.mastersonaudio.com/audio/20020901.htm. 
  12. Martin Colloms (January 1998). (PDF). Stereophile. http://www.hificritic.com/downloads/Archive_6.pdf. Retrieved 9 May 2007. 
  13. Nelson Pass (2008). (PDF). Pass DIY. http://www.passdiy.com/pdf/articles/distortion_feedback.pdf. Retrieved 6 January 2009.  [dead link]
  14. Kinch, Bruce (2000). . Enjoy The Music. http://www.enjoythemusic.com/Magazine/equipment/1000/cheaptweaks.htm. Retrieved 7 November 2007. 
  15. a b Russell, Roger (1999-2007). . Roger Russell. http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm. Retrieved 7 November 2007. 
  16. . Gizmodo. 2005. http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/calling-bullshit/james-randi-offers-1-million-if-audiophiles-can-prove-7250-speaker-cables-are-better-305549.php. Retrieved 6 January 2009. 
  17. . Stereophile. 2008. http://www.stereophile.com/thinkpieces/021708swiftboat/. Retrieved 4 January 2011. 
  18. . JREF. 2007. http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/102-blake-withdrawls-from-pear-cable-challenge.html. Retrieved 8 January 2011.