Audiophiles don't really want NEUTRAL. Audiophiles don't really like NEUTRAL.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Steve Hoffman, Nov 6, 2010.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    This post from another thread sez it all:

    http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=232705

    Even though I've told people for years that this Shure V15 is a razor flat cart which is why we use it in the studio to A/B freshly cut lacquers to master tapes, people don't like the sound of "nothing". Audiophiles find the Shure cart dull. They want their music to be colored. This isn't a bad thing but SOMETHING in the system has to be neutral or chaos reigns...
     
  2. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    Which begs the question "What do music lovers want?".
    -Bill
     
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    I think most 'philes are so used to "boosted" top in their music that neutral completely throws them off.

    Also, middle aged men who have listened to a lot of loud music over the years have this midrange dip in their hearing that can render neutral DULL to them. A dead giveaway is when they claim that all interconnects sound alike, etc. Sigh.

    A colored sound is fine with me if it doesn't get in the way of the music. For example, I like a colored tube sound when it renders a more holographic midrange than in reality. It makes stuff sound more real. That being said, I cannot stand vinyl cartridges that have a built in treble boost (like almost every moving coil cart I've ever heard). There is no way to turn it off and the end result is that pops and tics always sound worse because they are BOOSTED, being mainly comprised of top end.

    At any rate, the days of striving for neutral in gear or music is long over, I think.

    Not bad or good, just how it is..
     
  4. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident

    Ive been listening again to Quad electro stats
    Perfect mid band
    Do music lovers want that?
    I do.
     
  5. Doug Sclar

    Doug Sclar Forum Legend

    Location:
    The OC
    I couldn't agree more Steve. I always wanted as neutral a system as I could get for evaluating recordings, but a colored system can surely be more pleasing much of the time.

    That said, a well made recording can sound awesome on a neutral system.

    Btw, I have a complete set of the old CBS test records and discovered the same thing with the Shure V15 carts, though proper set up and loading is essential for optimum results.
     
    The FRiNgE likes this.
  6. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident


    Well, I can't agree on a stereotype like that. I mean, yes there are plenty of audiophiles and average consumers of audio gear alike who appreciate a little top end sizzle in the sound. Having run an audio shop for nearly 14 years now, I can say with some authority that that is not exactly typical. many audiophiles abhor anything with any semblance of sounding bright. I've had a couple of customers who insisted that everything was "bright" sounding and they would select components, all of which were a bit on the dark side and end up with a very colored sounding system. Whatever, I don't like anything too far either side from neutral myself either.

    What I will point out about the Shure cartridges specifically however is that they do sound dull in many systems. You are probably spot on about them being ruler flat when properly loaded, as they are very high quality cartridges. The reason that they are so often dubbed as being boring or dull or uber warm is that they do sound that way when loaded by typical phono stages. They really need more capacitive loading than what the better Hi-Fi phono stages offer as standard. A brighter sounding stage will of course have them sounding more neutral and a neutral sounding stage will only sound neutral with them when they have enough capacitive loading to level out their otherwise drooping top end response.

    The same can be said for loading and gain settings for MC cartridges. It's not just a plug-n-play world, vinyl that is. It can be very rewarding if you work at getting everything sounding properly balanced with component choices. -Bill
     
  7. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Location:
    Atlanta
    This doesn't surprise me. It is what I suspected when I kept hearing people saying that they didn't like the Beatles mono box CD's because they were "lifeless" and "too old" sounding, compared with the stereo remasters. No EQ or limiting = "boring" to today's listeners.
     
  8. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident


    That's perhaps his real beef. Those are getting more scarce and the ones that still manage to find their way onto store shelves seem to go unnoticed or unappreciated. Striving for quality sound, we are mostly disgruntled dinosaurs here. :D
    -Bill
     
  9. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    Location:
    Atlanta
    It's true, the stereotype does seem counter-intuitive when we all know that one of the most common complaints about remasters is the top-end boost, but I suspect that people are more accostomed to "top-end sizzle" than they may realize.
     
  10. OldCoder

    OldCoder Well-Known Member

    Location:
    St. Paul, MN, USA
    Steve, I think if the Shure V15 was still in active production, their sales figures might give you some comfort.

    Many of the audio nuts I have known asked "Gee what do I get now?" when the V15 disappeared, and a scramble with cash flying followed in all kinds of directions.

    I think we took the V15 for granted for way too many years...
     
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  11. hvbias

    hvbias Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeast
    This is so true Steve. I have lost count of the systems I have heard that boosted the treble, but owners/dealers/demo'ers felt they were perfect.
     
  12. I think many people like a little "bloom" to the sound, which is why tubed gear is so popular.
     
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  13. Robin L

    Robin L Musical Omnivore

    Location:
    Fresno, California
    I've got a pair of interconnects I cooked up about ten years ago made of silver-clad, 18 guage Continuous cast copper. If you can't hear the difference between these cables and something "normal', you're deaf. These suckers are brighter than high noon in the tropics.
     
  14. I have long ago given up to chase 'neutrality' in favor of musicality. Maybe that's why I'm married to tubes.
     
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  15. JA Fant

    JA Fant Well-Known Member

    For me, it is not so much a 'boosted' top end, but, lots of air around all instruments...
     
  16. SBurke

    SBurke Nostalgia Junkie

    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Specifically, noise-induced hearing loss is usually at its worst around 4,000 Hz (though it could extend from 2,000 - 8,000 Hz), well known as a sign of occupational hearing loss -- the "notch," as it is sometimes called, refers to the way it appears on audiograms. Example below.

    This is different from presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, which generally just looks like a downslope in the very high frequencies, IIRC.
     

    Attached Files:

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  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    The midrange dip is the curse of the recording engineer. Ever notice how your favorite engineer's mixes get brighter and brighter over the years or how their original mixes from back in the day sound wonderful played back flat but when that same engineer remasters the music it suddenly gets aggressive, loud and bright?

    The curse.

    Can't really be helped. Most recording and mixing engineers listen back to music clippingly loud and for years on end. Eventually, a neutrality becomes pointless and barely audible to some of these guys. They don't even realize it. Even after you suggest it politely. Sad but true.

    One famous engineer I truly admire recently played back a mix he did in the 1960s and stated that the high end must have evaporated from the tape due to its age. Uhh, actually it sounds wonderful but when the hearing goes, it goes..
     
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    I love bloom. That's midrange magic.
     
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  19. DrJ

    DrJ Senior Member

    Location:
    Davis, CA, USA
    Absolutely. THIS is the issue with the Shure V15VxMR often sounding dull in my opinion (which I had for a long time and enjoyed btw), not audiophiles supposedly liking a "bright" sound (some do, I'm sure, but I'd wager most lean toward a less bright sound on top if either is more prevalent).

    The easiest way I've found to get dead neutral is a Dynavector 17D3 into the Dynavector P75mkII phono stage in phono enhancer mode (which essentially does away with the need for the loading resistor). Yes it's a MC cart and no it's not boosted on top - several other low output MC carts I tried out before were indeed boosted on top and rapidly left the building - I very much dislike that sound.
     
  20. Grant

    Grant Now let that bass fall in! Oh yeah!

    Location:
    United States
    I'm one of those audiophiles that don't like bright recordings. What I do look for is a more transparent midrange.

    To help control age-related hearing loss (and it is also genetical), I tend to not play my music too loud anymore, and I go through long periods of quiet. If Bill Inglot masterings sound too bright to me at my age, i'm doing good!
     
  21. Jim T

    Jim T Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mars
    I have been doing some recording of my own and keep trying to get better and better as it is an unpaid hobby. One of the groups that I record is the University of West Georgia Wind Ensemble. A group of 20+ wind players that are all academics and very good players. I have posted pics of the in the Stereophile forum gallery. They will be performing at Axpona next April which is the Stereophile Trade Show which is in Atlanta in 2011.

    I used some affordable omnis last year, but just purchased a pair of Rode NT-1As that I really like and will be buying one more so I can do a DECCA TREE arrangement. I am using uni's where omni's usually are because I have come to absolutely hate HVAC noise. It just ruins a stellar performance.

    I do not EQ, compress, or limit. What it is is what it is. The 20+ reeds produce a slightly "grainy" rough sound that can range up to 105db within 8 feet of the ensemble. I record a redbook back up and a 2496 wav fiile that I burn onto DVD+Rs with Audio DVD creator. Their sound has a roughness to it that is so different from what we audiophiles hear that it almost seems wrong, but I can tell you my recordings are close to what I here in the hall or practice room at the university. I also never listen at home a 105 db, usually in the 80db range so I do not recreate for myself the actual live experience. I can tell you that 105db is loud. It seems that most of my commercial recordings I own sound very good, but it is not what was heard in the concert or recital hall for sure.

    I am recording on Sunday www.tarawinds.org for the first time and this ordhestra will give me a great opportunity to experience a professional orchestra using the DECCA TREE arrangement and capture a performance exactly as the conductor will hear it. It will be just like putting your Lazyboy right on the conductor's platform.

    I may not like it when I get home, but I am also going to run a pair of omnis into my Sony DAT for a totally different comparison recording. The strings will lend a much smoother presentation than 20 reeds and I look forward to the 'science project". I know that as a patron what we normally hear is what the omni's will provide, but I am after as real as I can make it. Up close and personal!

    I think the main reason for this is that we, in general, just don't hear often enough great acoustic music to stay grounded in the "is it live, or is it Memorex" mentality anymore. We are so used to "manipulated", that we have a new standard and it is not live music anymore. It is the last great compressed commercial recording. Compression and EQ rule the day it seems.

    Just my 2 cents.
     
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  22. konut

    konut Prodigious Member. Thank you.

    Location:
    Whatcom County, WA
    This thread makes me sad. Its like the consensus on preferred audio systems is akin to drugs. "I want MORE real", "The bloom is what I'm after." Sigh. I guess I'm just an adherent of the Joe Friday school of audiophilia. Just the facts, Ma'am.
     
  23. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    Agreed.

    I think some audiophiles do like a boosted top end which might explain partially some of the crazy Japanese LP prices.

    But I also believe that some recent masterings have more HF extension than existed in the past. Some members here don't seem to like this extension in my opinion preferring a slightly rolled off sound which may seem warmer but is also not neutral.

    There are two sides to the neutrality coin I think.

    I do a lot of string recordings and I see this phenomena in comments on several violin recordings. Sometimes a violin can be bright in its tone and if you capture that well, it may seem to inexperienced ears to be bright. The trick is to balance that out in a natural acoustic from a proper distance.
     
  24. JonP

    JonP Active Member

    I have always had a problem with a perception of most recordings sounding bright no matter what the system. I had an audiogram performed a couple of years ago which reported that my hearing actually went above the "0" human hearing threshold line between 6 and 8 khz (and either 0 and -5 every where else). Perhaps this partly explains why I have always had trouble finding the right synergy of audio components (I am a middle-aged male).

    Also, I have found that every audio interconnect and speaker cable I have ever heard make the sound intolerably bright to me, with the sole exception of a cable made by the Headphile company and known as the Blacktop.

    In terms of recordings I was recently astonished by an audiophile resissue of a Kenneth Wilkinson recording by Esoteric (Mozart piano concerto 20 and 27). This recording is completely intolerable to me being incredibly aggressive sounding through that "noise notch" region of 4 - 6 khz, but also up to 8 khz as well. In actual fact, my over-riding impression of this recording was that it was the type of remastering I would do for hearing impaired people. Wilkinson recordings have always been on the bright and detailed side to my ears, but this remastering took it to intolerable heights. The earlier Decca reissue of it sounded much better balanced imho.

    But in general, a significant number of recordings I listen to regardless of equipment, I need to equalise with a notch in the EQ of around 5 - 10 dB between 4 and 7 khz, otherwise I can't listen to it at all. Incidentally though, I never have this problem listening to live music, therefore I feel these imbalances are brought upon by the engineers involved.

    Also, I would not be restricting the hearing comments to middle aged men. It is quite rare for me these days to run across anyone in the under 30s age group that I do not have to keep repeating myself to. Infact, I would say that having a frustration free conversation with a young person these days (in technical terms I mean) is becoming increasingly rare.

    As for the comments regarding the changing sound of particular engineers over time, it might be worth mentioning Gunter Hermanns (DG) who surely must have had one of the longest and loyal careers of any recording engineer in the entire industry. He was making recordings for DG in the 60s and so far as I can tell, he is still making them today. But if anything, he shows the opposite trend - the recordings have to my ears became more balanced over the years. I believe this to be a case of engineering the sound to suit the equipment (both manufacturing and reproduction) of the era. I think he is one of the best examples of consistency if you played his recordings on the equipment and pressings of the corresponding era.
     
  25. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    Interesting comments Jon. I have not found Wilkinson recordings to sound bright. Maybe I have the opposite problem. Steve did create an EQ curve after me after all...

    :)
     

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