Digital HiFi Adventures – and Questions
Between 1990 and 2005 I worked with digital controllers for custom made horn systems in critical sound reinforcement situations. The convenience to have a variety of filters, delay and equalizing selected via a nice graphical interface is great! At that time I used to do a yearly shootout of different controllers to see if I could use them for HiFi. Interestingly, even after aquiring some they ended up being unused on the shelve. For my ears, digital filters did not work as well as the soldered stuff. Would have saved endless time.
A fascinating adventure, and some personal history
Recently I added a low-midrange horn to a customer’s system.
Historical comment: grown up between musicians I had troubles to accept the sound of multi-way loudspeakers for many years. Their diverse sound radiating parts seemed to dissect the frequency spectrum somehow, for my ears.
Therefore my HiFi journey started with widebanders, some of which I still keep on the shelf.
Later, I spent considerable effort to develop my own way of producing „step response correct“ multi-way loudspeakers.
They seem acceptable to me and I prefer them now to widebanders, which often produce noticeable coloration.
Why made the exposition to acoustic music it so hard for me to accept the phase and time issues of standard speakers?
I don’t know for certain. But have ideas. Classical musicians tune their instruments and playing style to achieve a certain, highly cultivated sound. The difference between performers, and how they play diverse instruments is huge. If a recording does not capture or the replay gear not reproduce subtle nuances of the harmonic component’s intensity and phase relationships, a part of these differences is lost or distorted. I perceive that sound as unnatural.
Let us now disregard the time issues of loudspeakers, I discussed a few in the Time and Phase blogs.
All that highly tuned sounds of diverse instruments made me overly sensitive to amplitude variations in the frequency spectrum of loudspeakers.
So what’s the story?
Back to the system I had the pleasure to work with recently. A 5 way horn system, digitally controlled by Acourate. Every driver has it’s own amplifier, which reduces intermodulation. Every horn only covers the frequency range it captures best. Crossover slopes are steep, there is very little overlap between the different horns.
While it would take me days to tune such a system with a passive crossover, I watched Uli Brüggemann and our host integrating my new low-mid horn within only a few hours. The result was astonishingly homogenous sound!
And of course, given the high quality of all components, it was very impressive playing diverse music samples. Some 3-D soundeffects were beyond imagination.
Who would have expected otherwise? Me!
At my last visit, installing the huge low-frequency horns (in the front corners), I didn’t like the sound at all. Maybe due to overall stress level, or because everything sounded just too different. But maybe due to lesser amplifiers (now changed), low-mid horn and a less homogenous sound? Yes and no, I suppose. There was more, and some of it still is. Slightly disturbing naturalness.
Let me try a description that came to my mind while listening. I once switched the lighting in my kitchen from halogen bulb to LED. Suddenly, colors of pictures and natural wood around seemed to look strangely different. Some green tones even seemed to miss,
looking blue or black instead! Even with high quality LED light I miss the more continuous spectral quality of traditional bulbs.
Similar to that, it seems to me that digital controllers for loudspeakers and some (very expensive!) switching type amplifiers can produce discontinuous sounding music. At least for my ears. We all are different, and so is our perception. And what we tend to focus on during listening. As said, I’m about „tone“ and „timbre“.
If the spectrum lacks density, even while producing amazing holography and freedom from other distortions, I miss something.
Maybe that’s it, or maybe I am totally wrong.
At other’s places, often with unknown recordings, it is hard to judge sound quality in „absolute“ terms. And systems of such high quality are rare.
Fortunately, I will soon have the opportunity to try Accurate for myself. Even with my lesser quality equipment I hope to find out more about my strange preference of analog crossovers.
A different, funny story, as told by my host above and another proponent of digital crossed-over loudspeakers. (They don’t know each other.) Sometimes they prefer the sound of vinyl LPs to CDs or files of the same recordings. Both own very high quality vinyl record players. Nevertheless, we are talking about analog signals digitized compared to pure digital signals, reproduced with super quality systems. Both have a long history with HiFi, DJ-ing etc, own a large collection of music, and know quite a bit about equipment. I take their remarks seriously. But how can this be? Addictive distortion ?? Don’t know.