- About Us
The prase "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" is attributed to the historian and moralist Lord Acton who coined the prase in 1887 in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton. The phrase has become well known since, as pretty much a universal truith when it comes to people and power - at least with people in power where there is little or no control around them.
The same is true of hi-fi systems.
So often we hear people discussing upgrades, saying the next step is surely a more powerful amplifier - as if this is universally a good thing. It may or may not be a good thing. We also hear of people who upgrade their speakers to something bigger, or maybe move their sytem to a bigger room.
But in all of these sorts of cases, we need to take great care when increasing power - both its avaiilability and its demand. Remember, move a system to a larger room and you may need to set the voloume up one or maybe two notches to get the same perceived level. Assume one notch is an increase of 3dB - thats twice the power, and two notches is 6dB - thats four times the power!
So just a basic, but fundamental tip here. The more power you need to use, the more care you need to take to tackle systematic 'power' related faults.
When we move a complete system - litterally box it up, all the cables and everything and plonk it into a different location, it always sounds different. But also, if you pack up a system, then rebuild it back in the same room, in the same place in that room, it still sounds different!
Firstly what happens? (to the sound). Well it might get better, but it can also get worse. Often the soundstage is a different shape, often there is more clarity but also sometimes it sounds more splashy, and at other times it seems less clear with more distortion and a muffled sound that wasn't there before.
But why might this happen. Heres a list of the things we have found can occur. Firstly the more obvious ones....
1. If gear that's normally always powered-up, is switched off for a while, it may sound a little sluggish and un-dynamic when you fire it up again. It may need to run for a good few hours before it comes back on song.
2. When connectors are unplugged and reconnected they may slightly clean themselves. This may improve signal transfer.
3. Supports, and how well they're all coupling and decoupling may change a little. Every time we move a support we need to be meticulous that we maintain the optimal arrangement when we put it back.
4. The speakers might not be back in exactly the same position.
but now the less obvious...
5. When we disconnect and reconnect all the cables we should also remember that it will change the impedance of all the earth connections! This aspect can change the RFI behaviour of a system, maybe for the worse.
6. The arrangement of the cable loom is almost certainly different when you move it and put it back. The husbandry layout of the cables in a system can have a significant effect on the sound. How cables cross, what they are in contact with and so-on, its almost impossible to reproduce exactly each these conditions each time you disturb the system.
7. If you have moved furniture etc in your listening room during the process you might not have put these back in exactly the same place. In particular, is your listening position the same?
The simple point with this list is just to keep these factors in mind as you develop your systematic thinking. With just these points above, seriously mismanaged they can suddenly break an otherwise good system. And take care with these things when making any changes to a system when you are seeking out upgrades - make sure you are hearing the new bit of kit under controlled conditions.
One final thing of course. If you do move a system to a new location, take great care with all these issues before you start making judgements about other things such as room acoustics problems.
As we make improvements to a system, what are we expecting to achieve?
The hi-fi industry has created a large range of 'adjectives' to describe the improvements we hear, ranging from the obviously technical, such as accurate frequency response, to those that are essentially human, such as a better expression of emotion. Some of our descriptions are very important to understand in some detail, because they enhance our ability to analyze system performance.
'Good imaging' might be one example. As well as basic left/right power levels, the ability to image well is dependent on a system's ability to retain the phase integrity of the stereo signal. And the phase accuracy of a system becomes increasingly important as we aim for higher levels of performance because it also contributes to good tonal color, fine detail and so-on.
Another really important area though, and one that initially proves quite difficult for any of us to understand, is 'rhythm and timing'. At Vertex AQ we have developed our own particular understanding of rhythm and timing, from both the perspective of perceived sound quality and the physical quality of the system - this knowledge is one of the key tools to hunt down system faults.
Let's build a little music/system scenario.
We'll assume we have a couple of examples of good, complex fast-paced music, say a good rock track and a big symphonic piece. And our system is of intrinsicly quite high quality, but initially it's not setup systematically (but we have plenty of Vertex products ready to hand). So we pick a good rock track, Manhattan Project by Rush springs to mind here, and play it. Now Rush is about great percussion, with very fast and expressive drumming - not too heavy, but complex and detailed, and closely tied-in with the guitar and synth playing. When not reproduced really well, you hear the general outline of the percussive phrasing, the song moves along in a reasonable manner but there is no real sense of the interplay between percussion and the other instruments. The song's timing seems fine, but you tend to focus on the singing and lyrics of the song in order to get something out of it. But let's now start adding Vertex into the system, listening at various stages to the effect this is having on the listening experience. All the usual things get better of course, but we're focussing on rhythm and timing.
We might first notice a smoother and sweeter tonality to the dynamic peaks of the track - a reduction in dynamic distortion at the musical peaks - this makes the listening experience more comfortable and its easier to discern the character of the sounds in those musical peaks. They simply become easier to listen to, and start to make more sense. As we make further improvements we notice more detail in the peaks - what previously sounded like a basic loud drum stroke now starts and stops with more definition and we can detect the sense of a taught drum skin. Then we notice in an instrumental part that the drumming pattern is changing subtlly in a progressive way and in some parts, what we thought was only one drum stroke turns out to be two in very close succession and there is a rim-shot sound to the second stroke. And some of the cymbal splashes are now clearly different cymbals, and there is a lot of power in them - you can sense they are really being struck hard - and sometimes Niel Pert quickly damps them with a very strong and accurately-timed hand-grip. Overall there is a massive amount of fast, stopping and starting information, in quick succession and with considerable dynamic range between the peaks and troughs. Because of the reduction in systematic faults there is less 'bleeding' of the energy from those peaks - muddying the troughs, and there is less 'splashy' distortion actually at the peaks (that previously caused you to wince a little at the loudest parts). You then notice how the bass gitar and kick-drum are working together, but this was masked before because the untreated system had an ill-defined, waffly bass with some boom and overhang. Now the system has far less acoustic energy feeding back into the electronics, its not microphonically modulating the bass now, and the reduction in boom and overhang in particular reveals the stop/start nature of the interplay in the lower frequencies.
So, the track doesn't go any faster from one end to the other - we're not changing its 'speed' here. What is absolutely clear though is the far greater involvement and emotional reward we are now getting out of the track from all this detailed timing interplay. We emotionally join in with the musicians' investment in the efforts they are making to build the track with detailed and skillful percussive changes, we sense the underlying rythmic propulsion cleanly and accurately and the instinctive communication between the players when for example a drum and guitar chord is powerfully struck at exactly the same time. This is what a well-sorted system should deliver from a track like this, this is what we think of as good rhythm and timing and the important thing is that WE KNOW THE TRACK CAN DELIVER THIS.
It will prove the same with our classical track. With the poor system those fast brass tutti just blur together and become uncomfortable with distortion, the plucked bass overhangs and so we lose the sense that they are intended to be 'timed' with other elements of the music, and so-on – you get the idea.
So what is the tip here. Well its simply to get a feel for the concept, that system faults will blur and mask the fast start/stop information that is essential to get an emotional connection with the musicians as they play such music. And then to do your own experimenting and analysis, study the technicalities of applying systematic thinking, try some more Vertex products and see how they can greatly improve the sense of rhythm and timing.