Sunday, April 10, 2011

Technical sales bullshit ..............continued

All of us from time to time buy some technical equipment
Not many of us know much about the technical aspects of what we are buying
We are like lambs to the slaughter
So here are some points about audio equipment

Dynamic Range

What it is: In the audio realm, this spec is measured in decibels and describes the ratio of the softest sound to the loudest sound a musical instrument or piece of audio equipment can produce.

Audio engineers started worrying about this back in the days of analog recording when tape noise — the inherent noise embedded in magnetic recording — was a big problem.

Today, with digital recording, it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Why it’s bullshit: Dynamic ranges are almost always over-represented, says Moulton.

The main thing that consumers should known about dynamic range is that you’ll want it large enough so that there are no annoying noise artifacts.

And, mostly, in the realm of music and film, we’re just fine.

Moulton explains: “Electronically, we can manufacture much greater dynamic range than is available in the real world.

When somebody claims 120db dynamic range, that’s just silly.

We don’t get there. In the real acoustic world in which we live, our usable range is about half that, or 60db.

What that means is that the really soft stuff can’t be heard because of the sounds in the spaces that we’re in.

And the really loud stuff is so loud that if we played it back at that level we’d probably generate complaints and legal action.”

Frequency Response/Bandwidth

What it is: There are two parts to this spec, really.

First, there’s another word for it, which is bandwidth, or the width of the spectrum we are hearing.

Our ears happen to have a very broad bandwidth—ten octaves to be precise (or ten doublings of frequency…or a ratio of 1000/1).

The lowest frequency humans hear is about 20 Hz.

The highest frequency is about 20 kHz.

And for educational and musical purposes we divide that into 10 octaves.

Each octave is a doubling of frequency.

Why it’s bullshit: When manufacturers make and sell audio gear, they cheat.


Today, it’s very common to specify 20 Hz – 20 kHz bandwidth, which is ridiculous.

First, very little audio gear will do that in really rigorous way.

Second, you speakers definitely won’t — unless they cost you about as much as the house in which they’re installed.

It’s just beyond the capabilities of all but the most expensive equipment. “

Frequency response is something that’s kind of claimed and you have to take it with a grain of salt,” says Moulton. “

Everybody is going to claim good frequency response and everybody has, more or less, poor frequency response.”

Power Handling/Wattage

What it is: Crank it up!

For many of us, beefy power handling equates to house shaking sound.

Yet when most of us listen to music we are actually using very little power — typically about 1 or 2 watts.

Still, it’s hard to discount that gorgeous pair of 1,200-watt speakers, right?

Why it’s bullshit: Power is, more often than not, irrelevant to most people’s music listening experience.

Here’s a nice rule of thumb to think about power when you’re out shopping for a new sound system or speakers:

Each doubling of power is barely audible (~3db).

Put another way, ten times the power will make a woofer or loudspeaker sound almost twice as loud.

So the difference between a 300-watt and a 1200 watt system…actually not so big.

So if more and more specs are offering less and less useful information, what’s a gadget geek to do?

When possible, it’s always a good to try out gear yourself.

The other option?

Find a site you trust that reviews and plays with gadgets daily.

Send an email to Bryan Gardiner, at

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