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  • Profesional Audiophile Reviewers

    I've been following Steve Guttenberg for I'd guess about 20 years, and I guess I know less about what a "true" audiophile is after reading his articles over that period than if I lived in a vacuum.

    His latest review is for a budget-priced audiophile stereo system. The heart of this system is the PSB's Imagine XB bookshelf speakers at $500/pr.

    I have no idea how good these sound, but with the simple appearing components compared to the ARX offerings, it's a shame performance per dollar offerings such as Chane never end up with these guys. I guess that's the result when heavily paid marketing groups pay reviewers to help advertise their gear.

    I've written Steve in the past about a few of these speaker and sub performer power packed offerings with real value, but I guess without a check in the mail, it reaches deaf audiophile ears.

    Are there any trustworthy competent reviewers out there that that are commonly regarded and give non biased (as can be expected from one individual) information? Or are preferences so different that no two people can agree on what sounds superb?

    At least one of these guys is available for subwoofers and although takes payment for reviews, provides very trustworthy info at Data-Bass.com, and does it for his hobby not for the amount of work it takes to exhaustively test these drivers and sub systems.

  • #2
    Steve ... here are my thoughts on all of this:

    1. It's important that a professional reviewer get paid to do the review. The time spent by the reviewer is something for which the reviewer should be compensated.

    2. Getting a review in a major source is difficult. There is no doubt a lot of politics, which is to be expected. Reviewers do love the idea of making a "discovery", but they fear making a fool of themselves for endorsing a mediocre product more than they love the discovery idea. SO ... they are cautious.

    3. We are getting Theater 10's to Home Theater Shack for a review. Jon may be able to get some ARX speakers in front of some more mainstream reviewers.

    Good thread, Steve - Hopefully more guys will chime in!

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    • #3
      Audioholics.com also seems to do a good job of evaluating speakers. I like the way they put subs through their paces based on a set of industry standards. Hard to fudge that way.

      Many reviewers state findings as facts without showing their measurements. Makes me think they did not measure or if they did, can't link the graphs as it would show the products weakness.

      This even extends to web sites...many rave about their product but shy away from actual data. You would think they would be proud of their graphs...or not!!!!

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      • #4
        Quenten - Audioholics uses Josh Ricci's services for their measurements. Our two newest subwoofers, the SBE-118 and VBE-118, are slated to go to Josh for a full battery of tests in the next 2 weeks. Look for some lively conversation after this takes place. :salute:

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        • #5
          Oh, that's great news Craig. I fully expect you'll get an excellent review, and an honest one. I assume your will be sending an amp with them. They have amp eval equipment as well. Have you considered sending both amps for comparison?

          It will be nice to get their sub rating.

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          • #6
            Quenten , my excitement about the new sub offerings is equally anticipated. Comparing the last gen CHT subs to even current offerings (love that graph compare feature) is very revealing. And as for amps, not so important, as Chane will be offering a new beginner amp competing with other ID offerings performance, the SA-1000, and the maximum performance MQ-600. Pay a little more, get a little more output with a simple upgrade.

            I believe Josh Ricci has his sub testing methods excellently covered - he puts out graphs that I still can't fully comprehend. It would be great if there where someone similarly inclined to review speakers as well, and at least provide a common frequency response outdoors that can be viewed on a common testing ground.

            I understand a speaker system is so much more complex than a passive sub with it's internal components - crossover, drivers and enclosure, but we have to start somewhere to be able to evaluate for consumers, no?

            And I guess my downfall may be that measurements with a center axis frequency sweep and a distortion graph which can manifest itself in so many ways does not tell how well a system sounds with a particular amp in room.

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            • #7
              sbdman wrote:

              the SA-1000, and the maximum performance MQ-600. Pay a little more, get a little more
              That's what I was referring to. I think a lot of people don't understand how much power it takes to increase SPL (without surpassing X-Max). I was thinking this would be the perfect place to test & report on how much difference there is. Just because it's nice to know in advance so to not have unrealistic expectations. And it may not be an important issue to others...don't really know.

              and:

              and at least provide a common frequency response outdoors that can be viewed on a common testing ground.
              I agree that Josh does an equitable job of evaluating subs. And I agree the 2m, ground plane, outside is the gold standard. By no means the only standard...I just like it because it takes the room out of the equation. So it won't tell you what you'll hear in your room, but at least you'll know the potential it there. I first started paying attention about 15 years ago when SVS was making a name for itself. They posted there sweeps and were proud of them. Of course they have gone on to become a bit pricey....new management!!! But that is my point. ID is where it's at right now with HT. Craig & Jon have the products, they just need the exposure & this is the kind of exposure that will help I think. Good to see their name getting around.

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              • #8
                I am working on the final draft of a speaker review, and took a little time out to see what is going on here. :biglaugh:

                I hesitate to call myself a professional, but I do try to be objective about my subjective views. Meaning, I am aware of personal biases and do my best to put them aside.

                I've been reading "professional" reviews, some from so called "audiophiles" for 30+ years. The best way to determine if you trust a particular writer is to read some of their work, and try to get out there and hear as much gear as possible, particularly the same gear they review. See if your impressions align with theirs, and always keep in mind that room and setup will differ.


                Originally posted by sbdman View Post
                It would be great if there where someone similarly inclined to review speakers as well, and at least provide a common frequency response outdoors that can be viewed on a common testing ground.

                I understand a speaker system is so much more complex than a passive sub with it's internal components - crossover, drivers and enclosure, but we have to start somewhere to be able to evaluate for consumers, no?

                And I guess my downfall may be that measurements with a center axis frequency sweep and a distortion graph which can manifest itself in so many ways does not tell how well a system sounds with a particular amp in room.
                That would be really nice if we could have an audio touchstone for mains like Josh is doing for subs. SoundStage has done a wonderful job using the NRC's indoor facilities. I have also come to trust the work of John Atkinson at Stereophile, even though his room is oddly shaped.

                I hope to include measurements at some point in time, but need to have a big enough space and an outdoor rig (source, amp and measuring equipment) to work with. I have a small back yard, perhaps it is large enough for gated measurements with small speakers, but I wouldn't attempt to measure subwoofers here. For now, I am content doing subjective reviews from my favorite listening chair.

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                • #9
                  tesseract, thanks for the link and info, you've always been an avid music listener, and I've seen many speakers in your home theater, and your knowledge of current offerings as well as theory is special.

                  I too had a couple subscriptions back in the early '80s - Stereo Review and High Fidelity, back when big box stores were just dawning, my wife had a summer at Dixie HiFi, which became Circuit City, and I was able to get a pretty nice speaker system at dealer's special price, but never saw that system reviewed. Manufacturers and stores where prolific back then, and it was hard to gauge performance at a particular price point. Looking at some of the audio show advertisements lately, and the current magazines, It looks like that hasn't changed much except for the much fewer dedicated stores selling audio gear. Now I look at an occasional magazine, and they seem so esoteric, that it boggles the mind. It's harder to filter the snake oil from the engineering miracles.

                  SoundStage! has some great data, shame they seemed to be quiet the last 5+ years with NRC, and, miss that ability that Data-Bass has to compare graphs with the overlay feature. But, yes - that's the exact kind of idea I was looking for. And after seeing how much less range difference there is in response compared to subs other than sensitivity, I can understand why subjective descriptions of music and movie audio are also important.

                  Looking forward to your coming review, it is fun to see a guy that likes to try many brands to satisfy his hobby of audio enjoyment.

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                  • #10
                    Where I work, there are quite a few very brilliant people and they got my humble mind thinking again about this topic.

                    The question came up between a couple of these guys when discussing audio gear, especially speaker test and how they thought THD was a start but, non-linear distortion was probably a more important measurement to reveal details like why two very similar frequency/amplitude graphs could sound very different.

                    I asked how this could be measured and quantified, and they responded that using a complex (aka frequency rich musical not sinusoidal) clip and measuring with mic vs the source could give a percentage divergence.

                    When one of these mathematicians began to write on the white board the theory with integrals of amplitude over frequency and time domain, my mind checked out, but the question remains.

                    Is non-linear distortion overlooked? Is it just not possible to come up with a standard to measure it? And therefore other than listening test aka personal subjective opinion, all current test can have misleading meaning to what really sounds good? And finally are reviews more important than any data that is released?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by sbdman View Post
                      Is non-linear distortion overlooked? Is it just not possible to come up with a standard to measure it? And therefore other than listening test aka personal subjective opinion, all current test can have misleading meaning to what really sounds good? And finally are reviews more important than any data that is released?
                      Non-linear distortion probably is overlooked, but I think a standard to correlate its data to experience is unlikely and would be compounded by the sheer number of behaviors in a complex system aimed at reproducing sound without distortion.

                      Measured data can and does have objective relevance but the problem for hifi is that that relevance is not yet well correlated to experience. We may log data about isolated behaviors in audio systems, but we have a challenge correlating them to what we hear. This isn't to say that isolated, measured behaviors should not be optimized by their data, but as a whole audio system, specific data is not particularly well suited to predict the human experience of using the whole system. So too for any one component in a system - components are complex too.

                      Narrow definitions applied to relatively small sample populations may give some correlation to experience in some isolated cases, and some of these correlations may be used to establish engineering truths within those sample sets, but for hifi in the broadest sense, I know of no truly comprehensive set of data that relates well to human experience. There's a philosophy of good sounding technology, technique, and practice, but no hard, comprehensive, one science. There are instead sciences.

                      For this reason the best sounding systems out in the fringes of hifi may sound vividly more authentic than even the best convention-driven commercial offerings, whose engineering basis relies on one or a few of those isolated and rather narrow measurement-driven ideals.

                      The problem is not just that we don't get a strong point of reference using measured data, it's that even among measurement-based engineering, that data either cannot be altered in a real product at will - a particular technology may have exceptionally good behavior at X but limiting behavior at Y, complicating and subjectifying the choice to deploy it - but that subtle alterations in any combination of behaviors - of technologies and methods - may send substantial differences to the ear that no amount of data can predict: We can establish a hundred measured voicings for a simple speaker design but the best sounding tune can't be identified by microphone.

                      Plenty of complex systems give verifiable results for any particular technology, set of technologies, methods of use, and even specific tunings - consider a F1 car whose sole criteria is lowest lap time - but audio is not one of them, at least not yet. Audio strikes an observer as having some degree of complex, empirical sonic realism but only in fairly isolated slices of that experience do we observe some correlation to the data.

                      Steve Guttenberg again:

                      I've met a lot of audio designers in my time, and all of the best ones have one thing in common, they have great "ears." They know what good sound sounds like. The opposite camp is populated with engineers that rely exclusively on measurements to "prove" their designs are better. To my way of thinking, the second group rarely makes great sounding products. Audio is too complex to be analyzed with just numbers alone.
                      I'm probably veering off topic by now, sbdman, but somewhere in all this should be at least an awareness that isolating a behavior like non-linear distortion of X magnitude existing by Y phenomenon does not fix its relationship to real sound. We should also remember that we cannot re-engineer any such behavior at will without upsetting other things elsewhere. It's all trade-offs, all the time. These are both complex and imperfect systems and we're always balancing their failings.

                      As Steve alludes in his conclusion, using simple data like amplitude response may actually hinder the user's search for good sound, assuming that's what s/he's after. There's always a market for the product whose perceived superiority can be claimed by simple data, but the way to get mentally and emotionally connected to the source recording is to experiment with as much stuff as you can, all of it based on some basic, working theories of how to select and set up a chain of components. Eventually you'll cross the threshold to the involuntary suspension of disbelief and that's where the fun starts.

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                      • #12
                        Thanks for the thorough answers, Jon. Very focused and weighed points. When these mathematicians posed that a test clip could be used, I thought that it would be impossible to get all speaker companies to agree on a common clip. Two companies could probably find an example that would work great on their systems, and poor on the competitors. Steve's "good ears / engineers measurements" point summed it up well.

                        In the HTS speaker evaluations, the comments where so much more important than the one sweep of in room response after meticulously positioning the speaker in that room. And even then, all the clips played, and trying to record and detect the nuances in all those clips with each tested system, I don't think any computer could handle the task, and am surprised the reviewers didn't melt down, either!

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                        • #13
                          You are pretty much right. We spent the time necessary to position the speakers to produce the best soundstage. Once we felt we had done our best, we would measure the speakers FR at three positions @ the PLP (left, center. right). We did this purely for a comparative note & to make sure the speaker pairs were preforming as intended, mechanically. Then came the fun part which was listening! This is where I fell in love with the Arx sound! They really made a connection for me (well, all of us really) that just brought music to life. And not just the tonal qualities of individual notes, but in the width & depth of the soundstage. I'm glad I brought some of my own music, it was a real treat to hear it through these speakers.

                          So yes, the ears are the way to go, but some measurements are helpful to describe a speakers FR as well as to test if they are really working as intended.

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                          • #14
                            I ran into Steve at the 2014 RMAF. We talked about the ARX speakers a bit, he is a fan.

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                            • #15
                              Props for attending the biggest audio fest! You've got a press badge, too? Please link/post impressions...

                              Always shocked me at some of the prices these systems cost, and at what worth they could be truely enjoyed at.

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                              I just put down a big wad of money for an accurate watch. It automatically updates time every night, and deviates less than a 1/2 sec a day and is light powered. I was in a gathering of watch aficionados who consider worthwhile watches of "quality" to a few manufacturers that are an order of magnitude and above the one I bought. Their mechanical watches are accurate to +/- 2 sec per day, and need an autowinder if not worn daily. A Timex will give reliable performance for 99.9% of people, and cost an order of magnitude less than what I paid, and will be thrown away in 5 years, and replaced.

                              My story is an example of an easy to evaluate product, but not so for those experts/collectors. Audio is many orders more complicated than time. And can provide so much more enjoyment than keeping correct time. So, I'm very appreciative to the people that can evaluate and describe the advantage of accurate sound. And, thanks to guys like you who keep searching for this goal.

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