How much has the SQ of gear improved in the last quarter century?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Ilusndweller, Nov 23, 2022.

  1. Oddiofyl

    Oddiofyl Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boston
    Ironically my new DAC uses 30 year old Philips chips and manages to sound pretty good.

    I think implementation is everything .

    The newest amp technology is GaN and I would love to hear one. I am going to do a mini bedroom system and these new amps are interesting

    Cutting edge tech is great , it trickles down and makes affordable gear better than ever. I’m usually a late adopter of technology. More so with video , but I won’t buy into anything I don’t think is a mature technology. It took me a while to buy into streaming, starting with a Vault 2 and recently an Aurender. I waited for them to get better, have better displays, memory bays , etc and I’m glad I did.

    For the record , I am using a 30 year old Sonic Frontiers preamp temporarily and it sounds pretty good still. I am replacing it with even older tech ! A DHT preamp.
     
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  2. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sherwood, OR, USA
    For headphone gear the improvements in both headphones and headphone amps over the past 25 years has been incredible. There is very very little headphone gear from 25 years ago that I would consider competitive or reasonably competitive with current headphone gear.

    Some of the high-end headphone gear from 25 years ago is still good stuff. But the good modern gear has bettered it. If you gave me a Sennheiser Orpheus HE90 from 1995 I'd take it and enjoy it. But I could build a modern electrostatic headphone system that sounds better.
     
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  3. Oddiofyl

    Oddiofyl Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boston
    Very true. I have a RME adi2 which is great and a Quicksilver headphone amp. Both great values. I don't listen to phones a lot but when I do it's 100 times better than when I was young.
     
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  4. Nothinbuttrouble

    Nothinbuttrouble Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Las Vegas
    Digital:
    (in general or be specific): 100 fold. Hi res digital, DSPs that perform miracles, digital crossover networks that are amaingly precise, flexible and free of any distortion.

    Speakers:
    Tremendously. With modern measuring, sophisticated CAD programs, see above for digital crossovers. Top of the line is now very close to audibly perfect for practical applications.

    TT (in general or break down further- cartridges, pres, etc):
    Nothing new. Just different flavors. I was a mature technology 25 years ago

    Preamps:
    If we are including audio interfaces then quite a bit

    Amps:
    Class D is the biggest break through. Other than that just different flavors and better window dressing
    etc: I'm going to put room acoustics treatment, and Digital room correction in this catagory: Again 100 fold

    Overall audio playback has improved by an order of magintude at least.
     
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  5. Frank Bisby

    Frank Bisby Forum Resident

    It depends…

    If you’re asking about the very high end where money is no object, I’d say a great deal of progress has been made. If you’re asking about the kind of sound quality a teenager or collage kid might have, it’s gone backwards quite a bit. Earbuds, a BT speaker and a sound bar have replaced entry level component systems and that’s not an improvement.

    Turntables, cartridges, DAC’s and phonostage have never been better than they are today.

    I like a big speaker cabinets, with a 15 inch woofer and high sensitively, that generally describes vintage speakers. New speaker designs tend to favor tall/skinny cabinets with multiple bass drives and are very power hungry. More high end detail, but I wouldn’t say better. There is an argument to be made that vintage power amps are better. They just don’t make power transformers like they once did and if you like tubes, old ones are better. Generally speaking.

    but it’s case by case, there are plenty example of crap in both modern and vintage equipment. If you were to go into a high end shop and sit in front of their best stuff, it’s way better today than it was 30 or 40 years ago. “Box stores” or mass market retail has become much, much worst than it was years ago. There was a time you could get a good stereo at a department store.
     
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  6. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    Most new brand name SS amps easily outperform most vintage SS amps. A few won't believe it as they own a vintage amp and just the one vintage amp.
     
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  7. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    Now that's not necessarily true. Would you please elaborate how new SS amps outperform old ones? As a designer, I see improvements but they are slight, and not likely to be audible unless the designer is going for a deliberate voicing choice. But voicing isn't progress - it existed from the start and the ways of doing it haven't changed.
     
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  8. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    As usual anything I post has disagreements. Have you heard a few vintage Marantz or Pioneer receivers? It is just ordinary sounding vs say a Rega Brio R or Rega Elex R. The Rega are not bright, more tube like and most agree an incredible amp with a terrific phono section. The only vintage receiver I heard that sounded very good was an Onkyo TX-2500 MKII. Most will also agree with me on the Onkyo even though you likely will not and I noticed you Ampexed disagree with me on many of my posts.

    Khorn and Tim 2 posted same as me, but you did not disagree with them.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022
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  9. DrZhivago

    DrZhivago Hedonist

    Location:
    Brisbane Australia
    Sound quality probably got better (based on the price point), but my hearing probably got worse. So, zero net win for me. :D
     
  10. Sources:
    Turntables are somewhat improved, but not that much. Carts have improved more than turntable technology, IMHO.

    Digital sources, primarily DACs have improved DRAMATICALLY. Anyone can adapt their computer to be a better source component than anyone thought possible 25 years ago.

    Amplifiers:
    Not that much improved in many cases, but computer aided design has allowed many manufacturers to save tons of time and money on prototypes and PC board layout. Manufacturing quality has improved by huge amounts.

    Speakers:
    See above. Modern speakers IMHO are MUCH better than they have ever been.

    Computer aided prototyping and manufacturing has improved ALL of these components dramatically.
     
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  11. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    And so has components improved. Especially electrolytic capacitors.
     
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  12. Frank Bisby

    Frank Bisby Forum Resident

    As much as I love Chaos, I’m going to try and prevent that with what I think he means.

    the first generation of SS amps from the early 70’s had a few common issue you don’t see as much with new equipment. The first being they no longer catch on fire if they are making 200 -300 wpc. You don’t exactly see a lot of phase linear or Ampzilla in the used market. I would also say there is lower distortion in modern amps, generally speaking. Now McIntosh made a fine, fine SS amplifier and I’d put a MC2300 up against any new amp. But I think our friend is conflating the performance of an integrated receiver with that of a vintage SS power amp. Jamming the am/fm receiver, preamp circuitry and tone controls in the same chassis makes for some dullness that you don’t commonly find with modern SS amps. Now, if you pull the jumpers on a pioneer, Sansui or Marantz , use your own modern preamp and only use the amplifier section in those vintage receivers, they really don’t sound that much different from each other and I’d argue they sound about as good or better than a modern SS amp that makes the same power.

    you would know better than I do but I do think the power transformers in older amps are just better, heavy and more substantial. Somewhere around 1980 or so mass market stuff just got cheap in that regard. A trend that continues into modern AVR’s. Expensive amps are a different situation.
     
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  13. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    There can be no argument with subjective impressions. They are what they are, and if you call it 'progress', I can't dispute that. However from where I stand as a designer of amplifiers, I just don't see as much 'in the weeds' change as you allude to. I would suggest that the changes you hear have more to do with voicing, and with the changing of tastes in sound that people expect. One tangible difference from a design perspective is the preference for less feedback than in older designs, and that brings with it somewhat higher distortion, especially lower order distortion which is more euphonic. In the past, the mantra was lower and lower distortion, and this brought with it some rather hard sounding amplifiers. Also, many designs are pushing farther into class A operation.

    The amplifiers of Nelson Pass belong to this newer generation. They may not 'measure' as well, but they sound better.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022
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  14. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    Yes - they have gotten worse and less reliable! More capacitance in less space - and less lifespan and reliability. Progress, not.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022
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  15. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    Toroidal transformers are the norm now. They have less radiated magnetic field.
     
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  16. Frank Bisby

    Frank Bisby Forum Resident

    I also have a suspicion that it’s far less common for a brand to do their own winding or make their own transformers. The thing that made Sansui what it was had a lot to do with their advancement or proprietary designs with transformers, same thing with McIntosh. I see a lot of interchangeable parts in modern equipment as if a designer is just ordering them.
     
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  17. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    Noratel is a major supplier of transformers for audio amplifiers these days.

    I'm sure you have seen these in high end amps and preamps:

    [​IMG]

    They're made by Talema, and cost maybe $20 from Digikey. They're nicely styled with those 'fins' but they're no more remarkable than any other toroidal transformer out there.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022
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  18. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    For one, the coupling capacitors are electrolytic audio grade now and some use poly types being that audio grade did not exist in vintage gear.
     
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  19. HiFi Guy

    HiFi Guy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    Progress is being made with Class D. I had a first generation Rogue Pharoah integrated that I tried to love, but didn’t. I replaced it with a PrimaLuna integrated.

    When the PrimaLuna pooped the bed, my mother in law lent me her entry level NAD integrated while the PL was getting repaired. A bit of midrange harshness, but not bad at all. Certainly better than I expected for a $500 integrated.

    It impressed me enough that I decided to audition a NAD C165 preamp and C298 Class D power amp. Sounds great. Reliable. It does a lot right and nothing wrong that I can detect. The PL is long sold and the NAD is here to stay.
     
  20. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    You are wrong on so many levels here - I don't know where to start. Suffice to say that high quality capacitors (for coupling or otherwise) have existed for decades, including the best capacitors of all - polystryene. Polypropylene capacitors are not a new thing and have been around forever. Electrolytic capacitors are not a good choice for coupling, including your 'audiophile grade' ones.

    Let me ask - are you an engineer and do you really know what you are talking about or is all this something you heard on the internet?
     
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  21. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    I agree - class D is one of the genuine advances in power amplifier technology. I've designed them but for my own uses I wouldn't use them. They are great for high, clean power applications.
     
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  22. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    Not true. Old electrolytic caps start failing in 30 years. Ever hear of the electrolytic capacitor plague? Not now. Electrolytic capacitors have never been better.
     
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  23. Helom

    Helom Forum member

    Location:
    U.S.
    The Hypex NCore stuff is pretty good if implemented well. The new fad is the GaN amps, which are nothing remarkable.
     
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  24. allied333

    allied333 Audiophile

    Location:
    FL
    First I am an electronics engineer (retired now), are you? I also built many amplifiers. Have you? I am talking about electrolytic capacitors, you are changing the type just to disagree with me and it is ridiculous. Now, how many poly type audio coupling capacitors have you seen in vintage receivers- about zero. They used non audiophile quality electrolytic coupling capacitors as that is all that was available back then. So, do not advise me of the audio quality of capacitors and take your pointless argument elsewhere. You are just rude.

    BTW- EVERYONE READ THIS- you are wrong about polystryene being the best audio capacitor, it is paper in oil. And if you reply with your BS, I have a paper on the internet to prove it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022
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  25. Ampexed

    Ampexed "Ampexed Tape Is Professional Tape"

    Location:
    Santa Fe, NM
    If you look at datasheets of new electrolytics, you will see that the normal lifetime is roughly 5000 hours at rated temperature. These have 10,000 hours but are not likely to be used in audio designs. This is worse than ones manufactured in the past which did not try to push the capacitance / size density. Please provide some data sheets to support what you are saying! Back up what your are saying or quit throwing out junk science please!
     
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