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No. 86 July 2011
My, one and only right, views on everything ver. 2011

This editorial was provoked by a letter from one of the readers. Although it grew on me from some time in the form of thoughts, and I shared some of them during various tests, yet finally I wanted to put all of them in one place. All of what? My, one and only right, views on everything.

I borrow the title from Leszek Kołakowski (My right views on everything, Krakow, 1999). As you can see this is ver. 2011, because once I tried to do something like that, and secondly, it is a reflection of my current knowledge, experience, my views here and now. Each day brings something new, something accumulates into a bigger thing, what makes me change my opinion, or there is a shift of accent in my thinking. I am writing this to let you know, what kind of person is responsible for the magazine you are reading, how to interpret what I am writing, how to dispute, where to base upon. This text is to deepen the tests. It is not a collection of absolute views, but of my views, those I believe in.

I lead the “High Fidelity” for seven years, I work for over eight years in “Audio”, and I am dealing with sound professionally since eighteen years. During that time I worked as a sound engineer, for live and studio events, as an audio journalist and editor in chief. I heard a vast amount of the best devices manufactured during that time, as well as inexpensive ones. I talked to hundreds of manufacturers, musicians, sound engineers, distributors, sales people. With many of them I made interviews. I am not writing all this to feel better. I just want to let you know, where I am now. And this is a good place and time.

Audio is a technical area for once, so a domain of sciences. I respect that. Each good product has to be based on technology, what also means measurements. From my education and I am a man of technology. I respect it and I admire it. On the other hand, audio is a piece of art. Like each top part of any area. There is no chance, to create an outstanding device not listening to it, or at least listening to people who listened to it. You can create something very good, but never outstanding. On the very top audio is a philosophy.

I do not reject anything just because I do not understand it, or because a common belief tells, that it is bad, erratic, makes no sense. I approach it with a distance, but also with curiosity. Because in the end only that, what can be heard counts. There is no contradiction between this paragraph and the previous one. This is just the development of the statement, that “audio is an area of technology”. Because the verification must be made by individual listening sessions. And each listening session is research by inspection. Equally important to measurements. And in the end – for me more important.

If something cannot be measured, but can be heard – I choose listening. This means only, that we do not know what to measure, how to measure or how to interpret measurements. The history of audio is full of engineers, who wanted to replace common sense by textbook knowledge. And the common sense tells, that if something is heard, we need to find a way to measure and interpret it, and finally quantify it.

I do not use “double blind” ABX tests for listening. For some years I led the Little Audio Shows for “Audio” using such methodology. After some time I concluded, that this is interesting entertainment, but does not introduce anything new to audio. To be able to observe anything in such comparisons, a very short musical sample must be used, optimally around 5 seconds. Music is something more, it is happening over time. This is why ABX sessions measure mostly the human hearing, and not the compared devices. You cannot tell anything about the character of the differences – if you can tell anything at all, then only that there are any changes, or not. And even that in a limited way. I choose only long term AB comparisons.

During AB sessions, I use known, my own devices, as the A. With known sound, character and capabilities. And I compare all tested devices to those. Regardless of the fact, if the tested product costs 1000, 100000 zł or more.

Live music is only one of the reference points, and not the most important one. Live music and reproduced music are two different worlds. They are ruled by different sets of rules, and you cannot repeat a live event at home. At current state of technology. The recording techniques and limitations of the equipment and listening rooms prevent that. This is why audio products can only be compared to better ones, having the live events only as a background.

Vinyl is a technologically weak format. Much worse than professional tape recorders (reel-to-reel analog ones). And yet it still is the best way of communicating emotions. Even the best digital systems are unable to reproduce the energy, the emotion, etc, which were present during recording. But I think, that this is only a certain stage, and finally it will happen. The digital format, is at current state, a very primitive way of recording and reproducing sound. And still it remains the endpoint. Finally the digital recording and its reproduction will give brilliant results.

The tube is an obsolete way of amplification of the signal, with high noise and distortion. But it has phenomenal linearity and other assets (transfer of energy, related to signal growth, simplicity of the circuits, etc), which make the best SET amplifiers, in good systems, to be the best way of amplifying the signals. A transistor has many disadvantages, but finally it will repeat what we have in the tube and add something extra, like low noise and distortion. The best transistor amplifiers are overwhelming. They will be better than tube ones. But not yet.

In a few years, files, including audio files, will dominate the sound reproduction. Everything shows, that in audio the model hi-res + mp3 will be forced, so the files will be sold in the mp3 and hi-res form. Well prepared high resolution files offer a much better sound than the CD. And yet, the Compact Disc format has much to achieve. The best CD players offer a sound, which was not even dreamed of, a few years ago.

Vinyl will be the second existing format and probably the only “physical” format. SACD could be its partner, but I am sure, that shortly the transfer and archiving of DSD files will become legal and widely available. Then the SACD disc will become obsolete. Vinyl will survive due to cultural connotation, still fantastic sound and collecting needs. But it will be a niche.

Cables are an equal element of the system. Unfortunately. It should not be like that, but each listening session confirms this view. They should cost as much as possible. Unfortunately. In my reference system, the cables cost more, that each other element of the system. And each change of the cable – from the interconnect, through loudspeaker cable, power cable and ending with the USB cable – can be heard.

“Bit to bit” is the biggest stupidity I heard in my life. The digital signal is very hard to be processed, archived, transmitted and reproduced. But it has enormous potential.

Technical universities do not train engineers in reproducing music, but to make measurements. And this is not the same.

The listening room is one of the most important elements shaping the sound. It is good, when it is a separate room, used only for listening, well prepared acoustically. But an equally good model is when our passion is shared with the rest of the family in the living room. It is good, when such room is also acoustically adapted. But it should not lose primary function – that of a living room.

Room acoustics correction (DSP) is one of possible development ways for the extreme hi-end.

Discs prepared by the Japanese are usually much better than other pressings. The attention to detail of the Japanese translates into the increase of the quality of sound. This is also true for many audio products.

The quality of sound is not a game, empty hobby or stupidity. Quality of sound is an imminent part of the musical work. Just like the piece itself and its performance. Playback is the third element combining into a “piece”. Equally important. Each error in the recording and reproduction path leads to falsification of the music. There is no music without its playback. Notes are only “potential” music. So the quality of sound is a part of the art.

Accessories, like anti-vibration platforms, supports, etc, have an influence of the sound. This is confirmed by both the listening session and measurements. But the spread of results is very big, and depends much on the given system and accessories. When we do not hear something, it does not mean, that it is not there. When we do not hear the change, then it means, that on our level, in that given system, that accessory is not needed. But it is worth to try it sometime later. But it is equally possible, that this given accessory does not have any influence on the sound.

“Magic” does not exist in the audio world. This is an easy keyword for people, who do not hear, or do not want to hear the changes introduced in the sound by different products, cables, accessories. Everything, what we hear is the result of physics – on macro, Newtonian level, and subatomic, quantum level. The descriptions of changes, which we cannot measure yet, are not magic, but a report from an experiment.

One cannot describe an art, and audio is a part of it, with a language, which would not call upon many different aspects of our daily life, perception or experience. Most important is communicativeness, but not at any price. Audio is an elite form of art.

An audio reviewer has to have a view on what he does. You cannot test anything in an absolutely objective way. Each observation changes the observed object and the observer. This is why it is important to know those views. We can use the text better when we know that. A reviewer is a human being and does make errors. The fewer errors he makes, the better. But it is important, to be able to admit them. The reviewer is not an omnipotent being, he is just somebody, who heard and saw more and can draw conclusions based on that.

Audiophilism is a special form of music loving. The ideal situation is when a music lover is an audiophile or an audiophile a music lover. Because we should not forget, that music is what counts in all that. We should also not forget the fetish aspect of the audio products. But those two sentences are not equal. Music is absolutely more important.

CONVERSATIONS II

As you can see, not all forecasts from last month could be fulfilled. But this is how it happens – something arrives too late, or does not arrive at all, something does not sound as well as expected, arrives broken, etc. Anyway I will try to keep you informed about the plans for the upcoming issues of the magazine, because I would like “High Fidelity” is a living magazine, and not a stiff, “ivory tower”.

For July we planned:

  • Kuzma Stabi S + PS + Stogi S 12 VTA – a turntable with an external power supply and tonearm. I tested the turntable for Audio, but without the PS power supply. And the Stogi S 12 VTA is a complete novelty. Made to fit in 9” arm mounts it offers a 12” long wand and VTA adjustment. It costs a laughable 6000zl, and is one of the best tonearms on the market. Well, maybe besides absolute hi-end.
  • Dynaudio Focus 260 or 160 – floor standing loudspeakers. On the High End 2011 in Munich Dynaudio showed a completely new Focus series of speakers, with redesigned drivers, cross-overs and cabinets. For testing we should receive either the stand mount 160 or the floorstanders 260.
  • BFA Tulip – integrated hybrid amplifier from Beyond Frontiers Audio, the model Tulip with a built-in DAC. The company was formed in 2009 by Zdenko Zivkovic and Glenn Dolick, formerly the heads of Sonic Frontiers.
  • ModWright KWA150 Signature Edition – a special version of the KWA150 amplifier, where the input transformers Lundahl were changed, also the input circuits were changed in a way to minimize their distortion and improve their dynamics. Also cryogenically treated solid core cables were employed.
  • Yter – cables used by Franco Serblin in his loudspeakers, and made by his son-in-law Massimiliano Favella. The cables were made using conductors from eutectic alloy of silver and palladium.
  • Fonel Simplicité - a CD player from Germany, without a Polish distributor. Tubes in the input stage, both in the I/V conversion and in the amplification stage, directly from the DAC.
  • Simaudio Moon DAC100– an inexpensive DAC from the Canadian specialist.

    We plan also a special cover and an interview with one of the most interesting Polish musician I heard lately – Grabek. His disc 8 is brilliant, as are the photographs accompanying it. I have an appointment with Wojciech Grabek, “Grabek” from the disc, as well as with the sound engineer and the photographer. We will see, if everything can be put together.

    A few days ago I learned, that Srajan Ebaen from “6moons.com” is going to visit Krakow on invitation from Ancient Audio. He is the editor in chief of an American magazine with which we cooperate since some years, and where tests from “High Fidelity” are also published. Srajan does not live in US for years, first he lived in Cyprus, now he lives in Switzerland. We plan a meeting with the Krakow Sonic Society. The dates are not fixed yet, but there is a will on both sides to make it happen.

    I received lately also the headphones HiFiMAN – HE-6 and HE-500. Unfortunately I do not know, when I will be able to listen to them. I announced also a test of the DAC and headphone amplifier Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold, but something went wrong along the way and I did not know what will come out of that. But I received a signal, that the package is going out to me. Anyway, the test has to be postponed – and I do not know until when.

    But I know, that in September there will be another “Polish” issue. I already talked with some of the manufacturers and there is a chance for the following products:

    • Cables Audiomica Laboratory ULTRA REFERENCE
    • Power cable Artech THE BOSS
    • Floor standing loudspeakers Music Art Design SALVADORE
    • Floor standing loudspeakers Audio Academy HYPERION
    • Floor standing loudspeakers AVCON NORTES
    • Something from Ancient Audio
    • Anti-vibration platform Rogoz Audio 3SG40
    • Loudspeakers Sundial
    • Modification of a CD player made by the company Audio Akustyka

    I believe also, that the company Harpia Acoustics returns. Its representative called me a few days ago and probably shortly I will receive the new Dobermann for a listening test. I even chose the veneer and finish – the loudspeakers will have no varnish, but will be oiled…

    Mr. Yoshi Hontani, the representative of Leben and Acrolink, among others, whom I met in Munich during the High End 2011 informed me, that my review of the disc Kanjawa Organist was the first review of the disc outside Japan. He reminded me also, that we were the first, outside of the land of the Cherry Blossom, to review the amplifier INT1000 from Musica.

    Wojciech Pacuła



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    Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

    "High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

    "High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

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