Addressing some Common Misconceptions in Audio

Disclaimer

Now, you may or may not have heard of me, or this website, but I have personally encountered, browsed through and read a lot of related articles, forums, some groups, and have discovered a few common misconceptions that exist in audio. I wanted to bring a few (NOT all of them), that are pretty prominent, and address them. As always, I am only one person and am not all-knowing or all-seeing. If there is anything I missed, anything that is incorrect, feel free to leave a comment, or even just let me know in my discord (link in the home page or here). For this article, I will mostly be focusing on speaker related discussions, as I am most comfortable with them. These topics are applicable to headphones, just make sure you know the difference between the related topics.

Misconception #1: Cables do not make a difference

Actually, cables do make a difference in your listening experience. Depending on the material of the cable, the type, the gauge, the insulation, your cables can affect the sound that comes out of your speakers. I have experienced this first hand. This is more prominent in higher-end systems, and are especially “visible” for cables that carry analog signals versus digital. I’ll be focusing on specifically speaker cables for now. Speaker cables carry analog signals to your speakers which is then physically transmitted by the woofers on your speaker. As these are rather high energy signals, the cables that carry them can present a different sound to your speakers. I have personally observed this with a rather high-end system of someone I know. Using some rather old, copper cables, that cost around several hundred dollars, the sound can be a little muffled, constrained, a rough, etc. Switching to some higher quality cables, and in this case a cable using silver as the main medium (which costs over 4 digits in MSRP), the speakers felt much more open, much smoother and imaging is much more effortless. It was a difference I can only describe as a night and day difference. Money does mean better sound in this case. But as a disclaimer as well, this is much more so realized when you have a system with components that are in the same price range as the cables. Without proper gear, even with great cables, you will not realize the potential of your system. In much more extreme cases, audiophiles will spend money to invest into a quality power cable for their components as well, as better power can also lead to better sound (due to reasons I’ll not get into it because it can be a whole article).

Digital cables are much less effected by this, as data is a transfer of ones and zeroes, and is perfectly preserved in any/most situation. Only after it is converted to analog, which is a series of waves, does preserving the quality matter and the cables can affect the sound much more in this case. Other than fundamentally different cables such as XLR vs. RCA, the quality of these cables can also present an effect to the final sound you get. And if you didn’t already know, your gear also affects the sound of your system. There are a lot of factors that comes into play with audio, and as such the best way to find out how something sounds is to test it out in your own home, as the biggest two factors that affect your listening experience is none other than you, yourself and the room. But I digress. Long story short, cable do make a difference to the sound of a system, of which cables that carry analog signals affect this much more than digital cables.

Misconception #2: Tubes don’t always equal great sound (sort of)

If you have a conception that those components with tubes coming out of them means that they are really good, well you’re wrong. Not completely wrong, but it is not entirely true. This also comes down to preference as well, but there are MANY solid-state (those that obviously don’t use tubes to generate sound) components that can compete, and in many occasions sound better than tubes. Tubes are rather older technology. Tubes will eventually fuse like a lightbulb. Each tube will sound different from the other and there is a break in period and whatnot. I’m not entirely versed at tube related components because I don’t prefer it to solid-state, for many reasons. First, it is generally very biased. Those I’ve heard emphasize the mid-range frequencies a lot, accentuating the vocals and anything in that range a lot, while leaving out the high frequencies and the low frequencies. This is simply not good for many genre’s today, such as the bass-heavy hip-hop or rap music, k-pop, many pop songs, R&B, and many more (which I like to listen to). Not to mention, the bias includes the fact that it induces, in comparison to solid-state components, a “warm” sound. If you listen to good solid-state components depending on the design of the product and whatnot, you can get a neutral, pretty life-like sound, which I like. That’s not to say tubes don’t have their benefits. Some companies today still take advantage of tubes, by incorporating it in a hybrid design, and using specialized tubes that you don’t need to every change out for the life of the product. In an objective sense, solid-state components generally are more accurate and hence better than tube components. Again, this will come down to preference.

Misconception #3: All Class D amplifiers are bad

NO, THEY ARE NOT. If you haven’t realized, I have recently reviewed 2 Class D amplified components, and if you can’t tell, I actually quite liked them. This is coming from a person who has lived a rather vicariously through my dad who is a very enthusiastic review (for a publication) himself. He listens to his system pretty much everyday, and not all his stuff is Class D. But he does have a few. I don’t only listen to Class D as my reviews suggest, I’d like to think I have enough experience to know what is good or bad. In fact, I’m in the process of reviewing another class D amplifier, and I will say, they sound as good as other Class A or Class A/AB components I’ve heard, and can be better. Some will also say that there is an inherent phase shift with Class D amplifiers, but that does that matter if the sound is good (I’m no expert on the matter just said, but that’s what I’ve heard, via my discord and other forums and sources). Like I said, either way, the two biggest factors to your listening experience is yourself, and the room. If you have experienced certain audiophiles that just will not say Class D is good, there might be a reason for that. Especially in the past. But I can’t say they aren’t good anymore. Class D amplification is a rather recent technological advancement in the audio world. They weren’t common, but are becoming so today, for their efficiency, and many other reasons, such as packaging and purpose, which include the heat factor. For reference Class A and Class A/AB amplifiers run hot. Hot enough that they can become like room warmers. They definitely need ventilation. Depending on the amplifiers as well, you’ll need a lot of ventilation for these amplification types. But heat is an indication of inefficiency with the amplification stage. If you have ever heard of the law of conservation of energy, this applies here as well. What is not used is converted to heat. Class D amplifiers are much more efficient and run much much cooler than the other two classes mentioned. Some don’t even need ventilation. The worse I’ve experience is in a recent review (PS Audio Sprout100), where the hottest the product got was warm, but not past the threshold of human touch (around 40 degrees Celsius). This was a very compact, desktop integrated amplifier.

Misconception (sort of) #4: Vinyl is better than any other format

There are certainly a lot of enthusiasts that prefer listening to vinyl. As vinyl is a relatively analog experience, a conversion of patterns on a vinyl disc that can be converted to sound via a turntable with its cartridge, and other necessary components, the purists will say it is a better fundamental source, philosophically. In my opinion, this is not necessarily the case. I think either can sound really good, and it will come down to what you prefer, like a lot of things in this passion. Does your situation accommodate for a turntable? Are you willing to get up and change sides/track physically? I personally do not. With the benefit of streaming including that you get the latest songs and a huge library at your fingertips whenever you want, I find that digital sources and methods much more convenient. As a person who keeps up with the latest songs, this is also a very economical way to save money. I’ve also heard both methods of playback at an audio show and at home. I certainly find the appeals of a turntable and vinyls. It looks so satisfying. I think you can get better quality for much cheaper than digital methods. To get to the levels vinyl can present I think you’ll have to spend more. But, I can’t outweight the conveniences honestly. You can stream anywhere with almost anything, along with a very very large catalogue. Unless I’m having a day where I’m not feeling like I just want to sit there and relax picking songs at my fingertips, vinyl is certainly better, but I would honestly take digital/streaming sources over vinyl for a lot of my personal preferences.

Addressing a certain crowd…

WARNING: NSFW image below paragraph. Scroll down at your own risk.

There are many types of enthusiasts for audio, and there is a certain crowd that I want to address, and warn about. For the most part, the joy of listening is to enjoy what you listen to. As I’ve been preaching almost this whole article, the two biggest factor to your listening experience is yourself, and the room you are in (obviously less so the room if you’re talking headphones). Your preference, your situation (such as maybe hearing loss situation), and many other things to take into consideration may play a role to the experience as well. But if your measure of good sound is the measurements of components, so be it. I’m not much of an electronics engineer person, but either way, measurements are not the end-all-be-all of audio components. Even if a component measures perfectly, produces/passes through a signal as pure as possible based on measurements, the two biggest factor to the listening experience is still yourself and the room you are in. There is no beating the laws of physics. If you find enjoyment and reassurance that the components you are listening to are of the purest form, so be it. But for the others, this case be rather detrimental. Components may not all fit in together well. They may not be enjoyable to listen to. Theory such as measurements are only a basis, and they do not reflect the real world application or results. You can refer to the measurements all you want, but at the end of the day, I think, if you enjoy it, you’ll be a listener for life. If not, you’re more likely to leave. Do take note, good luck, stay safe, hope this helps, and happy listening!

-Jason

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