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]

Acoustics science that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound

Acoustics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of all mechanical waves in gases, liquids, and solids including topics such as vibration, sound, ultrasound and infrasound. A scientist who works in the field of acoustics is an acoustician while someone working in the field of acoustics technology may be called an acoustical engineer. The application of acoustics is present in almost all aspects of modern society with the most obvious being the audio and noise control industries.

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]

MP3 is a coding format for digital audio. Originally defined as the third audio format of the MPEG-1 standard, it was retained and further extended—defining additional bit-rates and support for more audio channels—as the third audio format of the subsequent MPEG-2 standard. A third version, known as MPEG 2.5—extended to better support lower bit rates—is commonly implemented, but is not a recognized standard.

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]

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.

Digital-to-analog converter device that converts a digital signal into an analog signal

In electronics, a digital-to-analog converter is a system that converts a digital signal into an analog signal. An analog-to-digital converter (ADC) performs the reverse function.

Equalization (audio)

Equalization or equalisation is the process of adjusting the balance between frequency components within an electronic signal. The most well known use of equalization is in sound recording and reproduction but there are many other applications in electronics and telecommunications. The circuit or equipment used to achieve equalization is called an equalizer. These devices strengthen (boost) or weaken (cut) the energy of specific frequency bands or "frequency ranges".

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]

Stereophonic sound method of sound reproduction that creates an illusion of multi-directional audible perspective

Stereophonic sound or, more commonly, stereo, is a method of sound reproduction that creates an illusion of multi-directional audible perspective. This is usually achieved by using two or more independent audio channels through a configuration of two or more loudspeakers in such a way as to create the impression of sound heard from various directions, as in natural hearing. Thus the term "stereophonic" applies to so-called "quadraphonic" and "surround-sound" systems as well as the more common two-channel, two-speaker systems. It is often contrasted with monophonic, or "mono" sound, where audio is heard as coming from one position, often ahead in the sound field. Stereo sound has been in common use since the 1970s in entertainment systems such as broadcast radio, TV, recorded music, internet, computer audio, and cinema.

Loudspeaker transducer that converts electrical energy into sound energy; electroacoustic transducer; converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound

A loudspeaker is an electroacoustic transducer; a device which converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. The most widely used type of speaker in the 2010s is the dynamic speaker, invented in 1925 by Edward W. Kellogg and Chester W. Rice. The dynamic speaker operates on the same basic principle as a dynamic microphone, but in reverse, to produce sound from an electrical signal. When an alternating current electrical audio signal is applied to its voice coil, a coil of wire suspended in a circular gap between the poles of a permanent magnet, the coil is forced to move rapidly back and forth due to Faraday's law of induction, which causes a diaphragm attached to the coil to move back and forth, pushing on the air to create sound waves. Besides this most common method, there are several alternative technologies that can be used to convert an electrical signal into sound. The sound source must be amplified or strengthened with an audio power amplifier before the signal is sent to the speaker.

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.

A power conditioner is a device intended to improve the quality of the power that is delivered to electrical load equipment. The term most often refers to a device that acts in one or more ways to deliver a voltage of the proper level and characteristics to enable load equipment to function properly. In some uses, power conditioner refers to a voltage regulator with at least one other function to improve power quality

Vibration mechanical phenomenon whereby oscillations occur about an equilibrium point; precisely used to describe mechanical oscillation

Vibration is a mechanical phenomenon whereby oscillations occur about an equilibrium point. The word comes from Latin vibrationem. The oscillations may be periodic, such as the motion of a pendulum—or random, such as the movement of a tire on a gravel road.

Reverberation, in psychoacoustics and acoustics, is a persistence of sound after the sound is produced. A reverberation, or reverb, is created when a sound or signal is reflected causing a large number of reflections to build up and then decay as the sound is absorbed by the surfaces of objects in the space – which could include furniture, people, and air. This is most noticeable when the sound source stops but the reflections continue, decreasing in amplitude, until they reach zero amplitude.

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.

Room acoustics describes how sound behaves in an enclosed space.

Standing wave wave that remains in a constant position

In physics, a standing wave, also known as a stationary wave, is a wave which oscillates in time but whose peak amplitude profile does not move in space. The peak amplitude of the wave oscillations at any point in space is constant with time, and the oscillations at different points throughout the wave are in phase. The locations at which the amplitude is minimum are called nodes, and the locations where the amplitude is maximum are called antinodes.

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, 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 DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD), have sampling rates of 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz or even higher.

CD audio signals are encoded in 16-bit values. Some higher-definition consumer formats such as HDCD-encoded CDs contain 20-bit and even 24-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.

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 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, or the inferior quality of sound reproduction that can be heard in recordings made until the late 1940s.

Audio power amplifier electronic amplifier that amplifies low-power audio signals

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.

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.

Preamplifier Circuit that prepares a signal for amplification

A preamplifier is an electronic amplifier that converts a weak electrical signal into an output signal strong enough to be noise-tolerant and strong enough for further processing, or for sending to a power amplifier and a loudspeaker. Without this, the final signal would be noisy or distorted. They are typically used to amplify signals from analog sensors such as microphones and pickups. Because of this, the preamplifier is often placed close to the sensor to reduce the effects of noise and interference.

PS Audio is an American company specializing in the creation of hi-fi audio components, also known as high-end audio equipment for audiophiles. Over the company's 40 year history, products have consistently been designed for the high-end audio and power marketplace. The company is currently focusing on the production of audio amplifiers, power related products, Digital-to-analog converters, streaming audio, Music Management software, preamplifiers and cables.

Founded by David Hafler and Ed Laurent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1955, Dynaco was an American hi-fi audio system manufacturer popular in the 1960s and 1970s for its wide range of affordable, yet high quality audio components.. Its best known product was the ST-70 tube stereo amplifier. They also manufactured other tube and solid state amplifiers, preamplifiers, radio tuners and bookshelf loudspeakers. Dynaco was liquidated in 1980, and the trademark is now owned by Radial Engineering Ltd.

Naim Audio hi-fi manufacturer based in Wiltshire, UK.

Naim Audio is a British hi-fi manufacturer based in Wiltshire, United Kingdom. The company was founded in 1973.

Robert W. (Bob) Carver is an American designer of audio equipment based in the Pacific Northwest.

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

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.

Single-ended triode A single-ended tube audio amplifier employing a triode in the output stage

A single-ended triode (SET) is a vacuum tube electronic amplifier that uses a single triode to produce an output, in contrast to a push-pull amplifier which uses a pair of devices with antiphase inputs to generate an output with the wanted signals added and the distortion components subtracted. Single-ended amplifiers normally operate in Class A; push-pull amplifiers can also operate in Classes AB or B without excessive net distortion, due to cancellation.

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

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.

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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  2. Lichte, Erick (2 July 2012). "Audio Research Reference 150 power amplifier". Stereophile.
  3. Doris, Frank (1993). "Hi Fi in the Arena: The Concert Sound of the Grateful Dead". The Absolute Sound.
  4. Kurutz, Steven (24 July 2013). "The new audio geeks". The New York Times.
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  13. "Power Conditioner Reviews". Audioholics.
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  19. Bruno Putzeys (February 2011). "The 'F' word, or why there is no such thing as too much feedback" (PDF). Linear Audio. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 July 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
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  21. "James Randi Offers $1 Million If Audiophiles Can Prove $7250 Speaker Cables Are Better". Gizmodo. 2005. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
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  23. "Blake Withdraws from PEAR Cable Challenge". JREF. 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
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