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 live musical performance, typically in a room with good acoustics. It is widely agreed that reaching this goal is very difficult and that even the best-regarded recording and playback systems rarely, if ever, achieve it. [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), horn and electrostatic speakers, power conditioners, subwoofers, headphones, and acoustic room treatment in addition to room correction devices. [6] [7]

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. [8]

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 wide variety of sources including phonograph records, compact discs (CDs), and digital audio file formats that are uncompressed as well as ones that are compressed using lossless data compression such as FLAC, DSD, Windows Media Audio 9 Lossless and Apple Lossless (ALAC). Since the early 1990s, CDs have become 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. Despite this, newer formats such as FLAC, ALAC, DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD), have sampling rates of 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz or even higher such as 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. [9]

MP3 encoding, widely used in portable audio devices, is an example of lossy compression.

SACD's 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 65,535 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 technologysemiconductors 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.

The drivers that produce the sound are referred to as tweeters, midranges, and woofers. 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. [10] 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. [11] [12] 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, [13] 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, [14] 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. 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. [15] [16] Despite this, vinyl records remain popular, and discussion about the relative merits of analog and digital sound continues (see Analog sound vs. digital sound). (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. [17] There is also continuing debate about the proper use of negative feedback in amplifier design. [18] [19]

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. [20] For example, skeptic James Randi, through his foundation One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, has offered a prize of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate that $7,250 audio cables "are any better than ordinary audio cables". [21] In 2008, audio reviewer Michael Fremer attempted to claim the prize, and said that Randi declined the challenge. [22] Randi said that the cable manufacturer Pear Cables was the one who withdrew. [23]

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. [24] [25]

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, [26] and cannot be detected by listeners if listening conditions are controlled, [27] but without providing an explanation for those claims.

See also

Audiophile publications

Related Research Articles

High fidelity High-quality reproduction of sound

High fidelity is a term used by listeners, audiophiles and home audio enthusiasts to refer to high-quality reproduction of sound. This is in contrast to the lower quality sound produced by inexpensive audio equipment, AM radio, or the inferior quality of sound reproduction that can be heard in recordings made until the late 1940s.

Audio power amplifier audio amplifier that reaches power output sufficient to control a loudspeaker

An audio power amplifier is an electronic amplifier that amplifies low-power electronic audio signals such as the signal from radio receiver or 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 and 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.

Headphones Device placed near the ears that plays sound

Headphones traditionally refer to 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 earspeakers, 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.

Sound quality

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.

Audio system 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. Some aspects of measurement and specification relate only to intended usage. Audio system measurements often accommodate psychoacoustic principles to measure the system in a way that relates to human hearing.

Line level is the specified strength of an audio signal used to transmit analog sound between audio components such as CD and DVD players, television sets, audio amplifiers, and mixing consoles.

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.

Headphone amplifier Audio amplifier used with headphones

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.

Roksan is a British manufacturer of high fidelity audio products for domestic use, based in Rayleigh, Essex. It is best known for its influential and innovative design for hi-fi equipment, and in particular its Xerxes platform for playing LP records.

Powered speakers loudspeaker that have built-in amplifiers

Powered speakers, also known as self-powered speakers and active speakers, are loudspeakers that have built-in amplifiers. Powered speakers are used in a range of settings, including in sound reinforcement systems, both for the main speakers facing the audience and the monitor speakers facing the performers; by DJs performing at dance events and raves; in private homes as part of hi-fi or home cinema audio systems and as computer speakers. They can be connected directly to a mixing console or other low-level audio signal source without the need for an external amplifier. Some active speakers designed for sound reinforcement system use have an onboard mixing console and microphone preamplifier, which enables microphones to be connected directly to the speaker.

Musical Fidelity is a producer of high-end audio equipment focusing on streaming music players, and its core product range of amplifiers of various types. Other products have included headphones, Digital-Analog Converters (DACs), CD players, Bluetooth Receivers, ‘all-in-one systems’. Founded in the United Kingdom in 1982, they are known for their unusual industrial design, Nuvistor tube use, Class-AB amplification and exquisite sound

AV receiver Electronics component used in home theater systems

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.

Bass amplifier Device for amplifying signals from musical instruments (Bass)

A bass amplifier or "bass amp" 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.

Lipinski Sound

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.

Tube sound

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. The audible significance of tube amplification on audio signals is a subject of continuing debate among audio enthusiasts.

Varizone is a fully digital public address system technology developed and produced and by Klotz Digital.

NAD 3020

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, founded in 1980 by William E. Low, is a manufacturer of audio/video cables, digital-to-analog converters, headphones, power-conditioning products, and various audio/video accessories—all claimed to match high levels of performance and sold at high prices.

Professional audio store

A professional audio store is a retail business that sells, and in many cases rents, sound reinforcement system equipment and PA system components used in music concerts, live shows, dance parties and speaking events. This equipment typically includes microphones, power amplifiers, electronic effects units, speaker enclosures, monitor speakers, subwoofers and audio consoles (mixers). Some professional audio stores also sell sound recording equipment, DJ equipment, lighting equipment used in nightclubs and concerts and video equipment used in events, such as video projectors and screens. Some professional audio stores rent "backline" equipment used in rock and pop shows, such as stage pianos and bass amplifiers. While professional audio stores typically focus on selling new merchandise, some stores also sell used equipment, which is often the equipment that the company has previously rented out for shows and events.

References

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  4. Kurutz, Steven (24 July 2013). "The new audio geeks". The New York Times.
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