Audiophile

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An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. [1] An audiophile seeks to reproduce the sound of a piece of recorded music or a live musical performance, typically inside closed headphones, In-ear monitors, open headphones in a quiet listening space, or a room with good acoustics. [2] [3]

Contents

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. In general, the values of an audiophile are seen to be antithetical to the growing popularity of more convenient but lower quality music, especially lossy digital file types like MP3, lower definition streaming services, and inexpensive headphones. [4]

The term high-end audio refers to playback equipment used by audiophiles, which may be bought at specialist shops and websites. [5] High-end components include turntables, digital-to-analog converters, equalization devices, preamplifiers and amplifiers (both solid-state and vacuum tube), loudspeakers (including horn, electrostatic and magnetostatic speakers), power conditioners, subwoofers, headphones, and acoustic room treatment in addition to room correction devices. [6] [7]

Although many audiophile techniques are based on objective criteria that can be verified using techniques like ABX testing, perceived sound quality is necessarily subjective, leading to some more controversial audiophile techniques being based on pseudoscientific, magical or paranormal principles. [8] [9]

Audio playback components

An audio system typically consists of one or more source components, one or more amplification components, and (for stereo) two or more loudspeakers. [10]

Signal cables (analog audio, speaker, digital audio etc.) are used to link these components. There are also a variety of accessories, including equipment racks, power conditioners, devices to reduce or control vibration, record cleaners, anti-static devices, phonograph needle cleaners, reverberation reducing devices such as speaker pads and stands, sound absorbent foam, and soundproofing.

The interaction between the loudspeakers and the room (room acoustics) 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 at particular (usually low) frequencies. There are devices and materials 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.

Turntable-floating-view.jpg
Modern turntable.
Cd-player-top-loading-and-DAC.jpg
Top-loading CD player and external D-to-A converter.
Harumphy.Quad ii.jpg
Quad II, an early monoblock valve (vacuum tube) amplifier.

Sound sources

Audiophiles play music from a variety of sources including phonograph records, compact discs (CDs), and digital audio files that are either uncompressed or are losslessly compressed, such as FLAC, DSD, Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless and Apple Lossless (ALAC), in contrast to lossy compression, such as in MP3 encoding. From the early 1990s, CDs were the most common source of high-quality music. Nevertheless, turntables, tonearms, and magnetic cartridges are still used, despite the difficulties of keeping records free from dust and the delicate set-up associated with turntables.

The 44.1 kHz sampling rate of the CD format, in theory, restricts CD information losses to above the theoretical upper-frequency limit of human hearing – 20 kHz, see Nyquist limit. Nonetheless, newer formats such as FLAC, ALAC, DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) have sampling rates of 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz or even 192 kHz.

CD audio signals are encoded in 16-bit values. Some higher-definition consumer formats such as HDCD-encoded CDs, DVD-Audio, and SA-CD contain 20-bit, 24-bit and even 32-bit audio streams. With more bits more dynamic range is possible; 20 bit dynamic range is theoretically 120 dB—the limit of most consumer electronic playback equipment. [11]

SACDs and DVD-Audio have up to 5.1 to 6.1 surround sound. Although both high-res optical formats have failed, there has been a resurgence in high-res digital files. SACD can be stored as a DSD file, and DVD-Audio can be stored as a FLAC or ALAC file. FLAC is the most widely used digital format for high-res with up to 8 channels and a maximum depth of 32 bit, and 655,350 Hz sampling rate. Uncompressed formats such as WAV and AIFF files can store audio CDs with no compression.

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. Many audiophile-oriented preamplifiers lack tone controls. A power amplifier takes the "line-level" audio signal from the preamplifier and drives the loudspeakers. An integrated amplifier combines the functions of power amplification with input switching and volume and tone control. Both pre/power combinations and integrated amplifiers are widely used by audiophiles.

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 variety of loudspeaker enclosure designs, including sealed cabinets (acoustic suspension), ported cabinets (bass-reflex), transmission line, infinite baffle, and horn loaded. The enclosure plays a major role in the sound of the loudspeaker.

Depending on the frequencies reproduced, the drivers that produce the sound are referred to as tweeters for high frequencies, midranges for middle frequencies e.g.voice and lead instruments, and woofers for bass frequencies. Driver designs include dynamic, electrostatic, plasma, ribbon, planar, ionic, and servo-actuated. Drivers are made from a variety of 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. [12] 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 has a strong influence on the sound experience. [13] [14] 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, sometimes referred to as "tweaks", to improve the sound of their systems. These include power conditioner filters to "clean" the electricity, [15] equipment racks to isolate components from floor vibrations, specialty power and audio cables, loudspeaker stands (and footers to isolate speakers from stands), and room treatments.

There are several types of room treatment. Sound-absorbing materials may be placed strategically within a listening room to reduce the amplitude of early reflections, and to deal with resonance modes. Other treatments are designed to produce diffusion, reflection of sound in a scattered fashion. Room treatments can be expensive and difficult to optimize.

Headphones

Headphones are regularly used by audiophiles. These products can be remarkably expensive, some over $10,000, [16] but in general are much cheaper than comparable speaker systems. They have the advantage of not requiring room treatment, and being usable without requiring others to listen at the same time. However, many audiophiles still prefer speaker systems over headphones due to their ability to simulate an immersive, rounded sonic environment. Newer canalphones can be driven by the less powerful outputs found on portable music players.

Design variety

For music storage, digital formats offer an absence of clicks, pops, wow, flutter, acoustic feedback, and rumble, compared to vinyl records. Depending on the format, digital can also have a higher signal-to-noise ratio, a wider dynamic range, less total harmonic distortion, and a flatter and more extended frequency response. [17] [18] Despite this, vinyl records remain popular, and discussion about the relative merits of analog and digital sound continues (see Comparison of analog and digital recording). (Note that vinyl records may be mastered differently from their digital versions.)

In the amplification stage, vacuum-tube electronics remain popular, despite most other applications having since abandoned tubes for solid state amplifiers. Also vacuum-tube amplifiers often have higher total harmonic distortion, require rebiasing, are less reliable, generate more heat, are less powerful, and cost more. [19] There is also continuing debate about the proper use of negative feedback in amplifier design. [20] [21]

Community

The audiophile community is scattered across many different platforms and communication methods. In person, one can find audiophiles at audio-related events such as music festivals, theaters, and concerts. The online audiophile community is even more widespread, with users on web forums and apps such as Facebook, Reddit, and others. These groups are people who are self-identified audiophiles that will often contribute to their communities by mentoring new audiophiles, posting their current audio configurations, and sharing news related to the audiophile community.

Among the listeners themselves, audiophiles will commonly differentiate community members between "golden eared" and "wooden eared" individuals. [22] Those who are deemed as having "golden ears" are people who can accurately express the description of a sound or sonic environment, whereas those with the "wooden ears" are implied to be untrained in listening and needing more guidance or assistance. These labels are not permanent, however, and people within these two groups can move between the groups interchangeably, often depending on the judgement of others within the community.

Controversies

There is substantial controversy on the subject of audiophile components; many have asserted that the occasionally high cost produces no measurable improvement in audio reproduction. [23] For example, skeptic James Randi, through his foundation One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, offered a prize of $1 million to anyone able to demonstrate that $7,250 audio cables "are any better than ordinary audio cables". [24] In 2008, audio reviewer Michael Fremer attempted to claim the prize, and said that Randi declined the challenge. [25] Randi said that the cable manufacturer Pear Cables was the one who withdrew. [26]

Another commonly referenced study done by Philip Greenspun and Leigh Klotz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that although test subjects were able to distinguish between high fidelity, "expensive" cables versus common use cables, there was no statistically significant preference between the two cables. [27] Greenspun and Klotz expect that critics of the study will point to the fact that this experiment was not done as a double-blind test, but this critique has a counter in that the study participants felt as though the experiment solely isolated the subjects' opinions on sound quality and nothing more.

There is disagreement on how equipment testing should be conducted and as to its utility. Audiophile publications frequently describe differences in quality which are not detected by standard audio system measurements and double blind testing, claiming that they perceive differences in audio quality which cannot be measured by current instrumentation, [28] and cannot be detected by listeners if listening conditions are controlled, [29] but without providing an explanation for those claims.

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. [30] [31] One of the most notorious "tweakers" was Peter Belt, who introduced numerous eccentric innovations that included a £500 "quantum clip" that consisted of a crocodile clip with a short length of copper wire attached. [32] [33]

See also

Audiophile publications

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">High fidelity</span> High-quality reproduction of sound

High fidelity is the high-quality reproduction of sound. It is popular with audiophiles and home audio enthusiasts. Ideally, high-fidelity equipment has inaudible noise and distortion, and a flat frequency response within the human hearing range.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Loudspeaker</span> Converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound

A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer that converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. A speaker system, also often simply referred to as a "speaker" or "loudspeaker", comprises one or more such speaker drivers, an enclosure, and electrical connections possibly including a crossover network. The speaker driver can be viewed as a linear motor attached to a diaphragm which couples that motor's movement to motion of air, that is, sound. An audio signal, typically from a microphone, recording, or radio broadcast, is amplified electronically to a power level capable of driving that motor in order to reproduce the sound corresponding to the original unamplified electronic signal. This is thus the opposite function to the microphone; indeed the dynamic speaker driver, by far the most common type, is a linear motor in the same basic configuration as the dynamic microphone which uses such a motor in reverse, as a generator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Audio power amplifier</span> Audio amplifier with power output sufficient to drive a loudspeaker

An audio power amplifier is an electronic amplifier that amplifies low-power electronic audio signals, such as the signal from a radio receiver or an electric guitar pickup, to a level that is high enough for driving loudspeakers or headphones. Audio power amplifiers are found in all manner of sound systems including sound reinforcement, public address, home audio systems and musical instrument amplifiers like guitar amplifiers. It is the final electronic stage in a typical audio playback chain before the signal is sent to the loudspeakers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Headphones</span> Device placed near the ears that plays sound

Headphones are a pair of small loudspeaker drivers worn on or around the head over a user's ears. They are electroacoustic transducers, which convert an electrical signal to a corresponding sound. Headphones let a single user listen to an audio source privately, in contrast to a loudspeaker, which emits sound into the open air for anyone nearby to hear. Headphones are also known as earphones or, colloquially, cans. Circumaural and supra-aural headphones use a band over the top of the head to hold the speakers in place. Another type, known as earbuds or earpieces consist of individual units that plug into the user's ear canal. A third type are bone conduction headphones, which typically wrap around the back of the head and rest in front of the ear canal, leaving the ear canal open. In the context of telecommunication, a headset is a combination of headphone and microphone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sound quality</span> Assessment of the audio output from an electronic device

Sound quality is typically an assessment of the accuracy, fidelity, or intelligibility of audio output from an electronic device. Quality can be measured objectively, such as when tools are used to gauge the accuracy with which the device reproduces an original sound; or it can be measured subjectively, such as when human listeners respond to the sound or gauge its perceived similarity to another sound.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Audio system measurements</span> Means of quantifying system performance

Audio system measurements are a means of quantifying system performance. These measurements are made for several purposes. Designers take measurements so that they can specify the performance of a piece of equipment. Maintenance engineers make them to ensure equipment is still working to specification, or to ensure that the cumulative defects of an audio path are within limits considered acceptable. Audio system measurements often accommodate psychoacoustic principles to measure the system in a way that relates to human hearing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Damping factor</span>

In an audio system, the damping factor gives the ratio of the rated impedance of the loudspeaker to the source impedance. Only the magnitude of the loudspeaker impedance is used, and the amplifier output impedance is assumed to be totally resistive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sound reinforcement system</span> Amplified sound system for public events

A sound reinforcement system is the combination of microphones, signal processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers in enclosures all controlled by a mixing console that makes live or pre-recorded sounds louder and may also distribute those sounds to a larger or more distant audience. In many situations, a sound reinforcement system is also used to enhance or alter the sound of the sources on the stage, typically by using electronic effects, such as reverb, as opposed to simply amplifying the sources unaltered.

PS Audio is an American company specializing in high-fidelity audio components equipment for audiophiles and the sound recording industry. It currently produces audio amplifiers, preamplifiers, power related products, digital-to-analog converters, streaming audio, music management software and cables.

High-end audio is a class of consumer home audio equipment marketed to audiophiles on the basis of high price or quality, and esoteric or novel sound reproduction technologies. The term can refer simply to the price, to the build quality of the components, or to the subjective or objective quality of sound reproduction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Headphone amplifier</span>

A headphone amplifier is a low-powered audio amplifier designed particularly to drive headphones worn on or in the ears, instead of loudspeakers in speaker enclosures. Most commonly, headphone amplifiers are found embedded in electronic devices that have a headphone jack, such as integrated amplifiers, portable music players, and televisions. However, standalone units are used, especially in audiophile markets and in professional audio applications, such as music studios. Headphone amplifiers are available in consumer-grade models used by hi-fi enthusiasts and audiophiles and professional audio models, which are used in recording studios.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">AV receiver</span> Consumer electronics component

An audio/video receiver (AVR) is a consumer electronics component used in a home theater. Its purpose is to receive audio and video signals from a number of sources, and to process them and provide power amplifiers to drive loudspeakers and route the video to displays such as a television, monitor or video projector. Inputs may come from a satellite receiver, radio, DVD players, Blu-ray Disc players, VCRs or video game consoles, among others. The AVR source selection and settings such as volume, are typically set by a remote controller.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass amplifier</span> Electronic amplifier for musical instruments

A bass amplifier is a musical instrument electronic device that uses electrical power to make lower-pitched instruments such as the bass guitar or double bass loud enough to be heard by the performers and audience. Bass amps typically consist of a preamplifier, tone controls, a power amplifier and one or more loudspeakers ("drivers") in a cabinet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Studio monitor</span> Speaker designed to reproduce sound accurately

Studio monitors are loudspeakers in speaker enclosures specifically designed for professional audio production applications, such as recording studios, filmmaking, television studios, radio studios and project or home studios, where accurate audio reproduction is crucial. Among audio engineers, the term monitor implies that the speaker is designed to produce relatively flat (linear) phase and frequency responses. In other words, it exhibits minimal emphasis or de-emphasis of particular frequencies, the loudspeaker gives an accurate reproduction of the tonal qualities of the source audio, and there will be no relative phase shift of particular frequencies—meaning no distortion in sound-stage perspective for stereo recordings. Beyond stereo sound-stage requirements, a linear phase response helps impulse response remain true to source without encountering "smearing". An unqualified reference to a monitor often refers to a near-field design. This is a speaker small enough to sit on a stand or desk in proximity to the listener, so that most of the sound that the listener hears is coming directly from the speaker, rather than reflecting off walls and ceilings. Monitor speakers may include more than one type of driver or, for monitoring low-frequency sounds, such as bass drum, additional subwoofer cabinets may be used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lipinski Sound</span> American audio equipment manufacturer

Lipinski Sound is a professional market and audiophile oriented manufacturer of loudspeakers, subwoofers, powered speaker stands, surround sound systems, power amplifiers, microphones, and microphone preamplifiers.

Audio equipment testing is the measurement of audio quality through objective and/or subjective means. The results of such tests are published in journals, magazines, whitepapers, websites, and in other media.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stage monitor system</span> Sound reinforcement for performers

A stage monitor system is a set of performer-facing loudspeakers called monitor speakers, stage monitors, floor monitors, wedges, or foldbacks on stage during live music performances in which a sound reinforcement system is used to amplify a performance for the audience. The monitor system allows musicians to hear themselves and fellow band members clearly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tube sound</span> Characteristic quality of sounds from vacuum tube amplifiers

Tube sound is the characteristic sound associated with a vacuum tube amplifier, a vacuum tube-based audio amplifier. At first, the concept of tube sound did not exist, because practically all electronic amplification of audio signals was done with vacuum tubes and other comparable methods were not known or used. After introduction of solid state amplifiers, tube sound appeared as the logical complement of transistor sound, which had some negative connotations due to crossover distortion in early transistor amplifiers. However, solid state amplifiers have been developed to be flawless and the sound is later regarded neutral compared to tube amplifiers. Thus the tube sound now means 'euphonic distortion.' The audible significance of tube amplification on audio signals is a subject of continuing debate among audio enthusiasts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NAD 3020</span> Integrated amplifier by NAD electronics

The NAD 3020 is a stereo integrated amplifier by NAD Electronics, considered to be one of the most important components in the history of high fidelity audio. Launched in 1978, this highly affordable product delivered a good quality sound, which acquired a reputation as an audiophile amplifier of exceptional value. By 1998, the NAD 3020 had become the most well known and best-selling audio amplifier in history.

AudioQuest is a company that was founded in 1980 by William E. Low that provides audio/video cables, digital-to-analog converters, headphones, power-conditioning products, and various audio/video accessories. The company is based in Irvine, California, has offices in the Netherlands and distributes its products to approximately 65 countries throughout the world.

References

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