What amplifier do I need?

The topic of amplifiers is fascinating and all too frequently misunderstood area in the world of performance audio. The misunderstandings and resulting false conclusions are the result of many factors. You have likely heard the usual stereotypes about amplifiers such as:

-Solid state amplifiers are required for high power and difficult to drive loudspeakers

-Solid state amplifier are less expensive

-Solid state amplifiers have the best sounding bass

-Tube amplifiers always make systems sound better

-Tube amplifiers add distortion that makes the sound "warmer"

-Tube amplifiers are "more musical"

The list could go on and on, with all of these stereotyping statements being false in one way or another. Truth be told, amplifiers and their operating designs, are extremely complex and cannot possibly be categorized into two simple groups of tubes vs solid state. Here's why.

The design and the resulting sound quality of an amplifier, is influnced by many factors. Overall topology and layout of the design, type of parts used, and the quality of parts used play a major role in creating the sound quality from an amplifier. Amplifiers from either the solid state or tube amplifier categories have the potential to be designed really well or not so well. We will not get into the design and engineering aspects here of what makes amplifiers sound good or not so good, but let is suffice to say that not all amplifiers are created equal. Which brings us back to the title of this entry, what amplifier do I need?

The best thing you can do is ask around and do some research. A word of warning however. Many internet forums are filled with strong opinions that are not well supported with facts, With that out of the way, you may wish to call a dealership near you for advice on amplifiers to try, or give a call to a retailer with great service such as The Needle Doctor. After you have spoken with several sources about amplifiers to try with your system, find a way to audition the amplifier in your system at home. 

This short article is meant to open your awareness to the world of amplifiers and avoid falling victim to stereotypes that lead you towards the purchase of an amplifier that is not ideal for your system. The best advice would be to keep an open mind and try a variety of amplifiers before making a decision. If you have never tried tube amplifiers or never tried solid state, there are numerous choices that can take your system to another level of enjoyment.

Our listening experiences with GRAVITAS loudspeakers allowed the opportunity to try a wide variety of amplifiers, both tube powered amps and solid state. We have experienced excellent results with these amplifiers:

-Constellation (solid state)

-BAT (solid state and tubes)

-Pass Labs (solid state)

-Aesthetix (tubes)

-Ayon (tubes)

We will cover the topic of amplifiers in the next blog entry with more details about what makes for a great amplifier. In the meantime, try out some amplifiers in your system and hear the results. Send us an email with your findings! We love to talk audio. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

speaker cables, power cables and interconnects - do they matter?

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Do all wires sound alike?

This question comes up frequently for high end audio manufacturers and customers. The primary thing I see out there in forums is two distinct groups of thought. One group is certain, often times without doing any listening comparisons, that wire and cable cannot possibly make any difference. They support their conclusion with comments such as "the electricity came from the power station and miles of wire, how could any wire make a difference at your stereo's location?" The other group of people are what could be called experimental. These people are willing to try products and listen for any differences. 

My personal experiences with this topic come from the research side in designing our state of the art GRAVITAS loudspeakers. Some of the approach was studying the success of other speaker designs and improving upon already known principles. Our primary area of research and testing was experimental. And I mean really experimental. I won't cover everything we tried as it would be a novel in length. Just a few highlights to share right now. In part of our testing, we changed the internal wiring for the monitors. The differences in sound were not minor. Some wire sounded OK. Some was hashy, bright, or flat sounding. Expensive wire did not necessarily sound better, and we tried some high cost wire. In the end, we found a wire that sounded wonderful with our monitors. So how did we find the right wire? Through listening tests. Could we have looked at specification sheets of the wire looking at resistance, capacitance, amps delivery, and so on? We could have, but it would have been boring and offered no help in choosing the best sounding wire for the application. 

Another test involved using high end power cords for our powered GRAVITAS subwoofers. Here's an area where one camp would say "bass is bass. It cannot sound different with different amplifiers, and there is no way a power cord will change the sound." Our testing here was the same method as the internal wire tests. We tried a variety of cords from manufacturers. We would listen to a track, change cords, and listen to the same track again. The results were easy to hear. Stock cords and some aftermarket cords sounded OK. Other cords sounded significantly better. Why is this? There are technical reasons why, but ultimately who cares about WHY it sounds better. It sounded better. 

If I could leave you with one message on this subject, it would be this. Please try products in a system good enough to perceive audible differences that cables and wire produce. I guarantee you will hear differences. In fact, this area is a primary way to improve any system, no matter the current level of performance. A little willingness to experiment can yield dramatic improvements. But of course, if you subscribe to the "wire is wire" camp, you just read this article to hear about something you already know everything about! Ha. This stuff is supposed to be fun and allow for the pleasurable music on your terms. Until next time, enjoy your system and happy listening.

Secrets of Sound Quality - Speaker Placment

Is there a boilerplate, mathematical formula to place speakers optimally in a room? In my experience, the answer is a definitive NO. Don't take my opinion only on this topic, as you will find some of the best dealerships in the country have a dedicated person for loudspeaker setup in customer's homes. Not all of them will tune by ear, but those with the most experience and best results often tune by ear. If you would like some references to contact, give us a call and we can name some dealerships we like to work with.

Not to worry, there is a way to place speakers optimally. The required equipment is your own ears, and some patience. This article will equip you with a basic process to repeat our setup process for loudspeakers, and reveal one of the lesser known secrets of great sound. Here's the best part. Every system can benefit from better speaker placement and the only cost is your time to complete the process. 

So what about the secret part. It's not really a secret. It is more the fact that all too often, speakers are set up in a room with a that's good enough attitude. When the placement of the loudspeakers is taken more seriously, tuned by ear and made to work cooperatively with the room, the sound takes on a magically effortless quality. Really beautiful sound that is enjoyable for hours at a time. Intriguing idea, especially if you have never heard a system set up this way. Once you hear the results in your own system, it will shift your idea of what is possible for stereo system performance. So for now, put aside any biases and give this setup technique a try.

A quick note about those claiming mathematical techniques for speaker placement. Overall, there is plenty of incorrect information on the internet about optimal speaker placement. Postings abound in audio forums, and amazingly every poster feels their technique is the correct and only way to achieve optimal performance. I am sure you have read such statements as "my speakers are exactly 2 feet from the front wall, at an angle of 37 degrees toe in, with the listening position equidistant from the triangle formed..." Blah blah blah. So let's begin by putting to rest the notion of mathematical speaker placement for your room. And here's why. Almost no two rooms yield exactly the same acoustics in their response to sound sources such as loudspeakers. Furniture and items within the room have a dramatic effect on room acoustics as well. Bottom line is this. Every room is a little different. What to do? Fortunately, the answer is found in your head. Well, actually, on your head. That is in the form of your ears. To allow your speakers to work optimally with your room, the process is pretty straightforward. Without giving an overly detailed description of the process, it can be distilled into set of two steps.

1) Disconnect either the left of right speaker cables from the amplifier. Using the speaker that remains connected, choose any song with a well recorded voice and clear bass notes. Some strings and high frequency is needed as well. Norah Jones songs work well, but choose anything you like. Set the volume relatively loud, almost uncomfortably loud, and have the speaker up against the wall. In very small increments, begin moving the speaker away from the wall. Take your time doing this, as you will need to return to the listening seat after each small move of the speaker. Patience is key here. At certain locations, the sound will be fairly unpleasant. Shrill, overly boomy, muffled. Just plain awful sounding. Continue moving in small increments until you hear a more balanced and clear sound. When you hear this, mark the location of the speaker with masking tape on the floor. Continue with this process until you have found 3 to 5 locations that all sound balanced and pleasing. Choose from one of the locations market. Don't worry, any of the marked locations will work equally well. You will know it when you find it. It will just sound right. As the final step, without moving the speaker very much forward or backward from its taped, great sounding location, toe in the speaker just enough to have the singer's voice be somewhat in the middle of the soundstage. Don't worry about getting the voice exactly in the middle. The final tuning will be complete when the other speaker is placed in step 2.

2) Leave the speaker in place that has been "set", and leave it plugged in. Repeat the process with the other speaker. After the second speaker location is placed using masking tape and listening method, toe in the speaker just enough to create a defined location of the singer's voice. Use caution here, as not all recordings place the singer's voice in the middle of the soundstage. Use a couple different tracks, or perhaps a song that has a known center location of the singer's voice.

That's it! By placing your loudspeakers with this method, your system will be optimized to your room. In numerous cases for rooms I have personally tuned, excellent results have been achieved without the use of ANY room treatments. Many would claim this to be impossible, but it is simply not so. I encourage you to give it a try. With the money saved from not buying a room fill of diffusion or absorption panels, you can purchase some nice art work for the room.  

In all seriousness, if you have questions or would like help, please reach out by email. We are happy to help and love to have customers discover their system can sound much better, and all it takes is some patience and a set of ears! Happy listening.