[jessica elba]

"There has been a failure in the attempt to use specifications to characterize the subtleties of sonic performance. Amplifiers with similar measurements are not equal, and products with higher power, wider bandwidth, and lower distortion do not necessarily sound better."

"Historically, that amplifier offering the most power, or the lowest IM distortion, or the lowest THD, or the highest slew rate, or the lowest noise, has not become a classic or even been more than a modest success. For a long time there has been faith in the technical community that eventually some objective analysis would reconcile critical listeners' subjective experience with laboratory measurement. Perhaps this will occur, but in the meantime, audiophiles largely reject bench specifications as an indicator of audio quality. This is appropriate.

"Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. We should no more let numbers define audio quality than we would let chemical analysis be the arbiter of fine wines. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment.

"Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not.

"As in art, classic audio components are the results of individual efforts and reflect a coherent underlying philosophy. They make a subjective and an objective statement of quality which is meant to be appreciated. It is essential that the circuitry of an audio component reflects a philosophy which addresses the subjective nature of its performance first and foremost."

to those audiophiles like master ken who reads measurements like a text book, eat your heart out ;-)

to me, music is an emotional connection; you just can't measure music reproduction and high fidelity. it is an art as much as it is science. that's why i play tube amps and i don't read magazines that have loads of charts and technical diagrams like my secondary science text book ;-)


Ken said...


I am dumbfounded by your assertion that you think I put all my beliefs on measurement. Let me reiterate to you again (I have probably told you about this more than twice), I always believed that both measurement and sound tuning goes hand in hand.
Most of the good gears measure very well. Take for example the Meridian 508.24, did you know that it has the lowest amount of jitter when John Atkinson measured it at the time of review? The Meridian also has the among the lowest noise level for a cd player at any price.
I know some people will say that SETs always measured poorly and I always see this in Stereophile magazines. But if you care to read the measurement section carefully, most of the distortion is second harmonics which is "easier on the ear".
Measurement is not be all and end all but it gives you a guide on the level of engineering that is applied to a certain gear. Think about it, why does a ARC Ref 3 sound better than a LS26? Because it is built to a better level of spec (again better measurement). Why did Nelson pass upgrade his X series to X.5 series? Because of the things he has learn when building his XA series.
You can disagree but at the end of the day everything points towards it.

joule said...

I am with ken with this one...
I think Ken has explained well why measuurements [and the need for an understanding of what it meant] are so important when you are building a system

Ken said...


Thanks for your vote.

I am always dumbfounded by people who is always going on about emotion and nothing about the science behind audiophilia.

Hifi is a merge of science and art to come up with the best engineered hardware that can convey the emotional message of the music.

Lets take ARC as an example. Why is there a Ref2 and a Ref2 Mk2? Simply because they have found better components that would upgrade the sound of the system. Why do some highend manufacturers use better parts? Because these parts create less distortion.

This is how we use science to aid us in getting the "live" sound that we so crave.


maggielurva 愛美姬 said...


you are arguing from another angle. do you know that some people prefer LS25MK1 to MKII? sometimes, ARC creates different products (MK1, MK2, MK3) for different reasons and not necessary a step forward.

better specs do not always equate better sound (and sales). some top models are not selling as well as their 2nd/3rd models and it is not only the price.

my argument is not to be too obsessed with science. it can't tell you everything.

Ken said...


I think you have missed my point entirely.

I feel science and emotion should co-exist together but you are now talking about preference rather than emotion.

With better parts, you get a more transparent, much more defined sound which would invariably lets you enjoy the music better.
But with these advantages, you will also get some disadvantages. These newer gears which will give you a better sound, will also tend to be more revealing of any weak points in a system. So now we have a problem which some of us a mismatch. Others would then up saying that they prefer an older generation gear which probably is less transparent because it is more emotional.

Again YMMV.

hifikaki said...

I subscribe to Stereophile and actually read John Atkinson's measurements (though I can’t pretend to understand every technical detail he writes about).

His measurements have in many occasions revealed anomalies and manufacturing errors, but which were not detected in the subjective review sessions. I do not see this as the fault of subjective review, because we understand that subjective review by its nature is restrictive (time constraint, music choice, the reviewer’s preferences, the review system etc.), which means it cannot cover all the bases. I believe technical measurements help by doing a quick sweep over a few common-denominators (amp power rating, speaker sensitivity, frequency response etc.). I never held the view that good measurements automatically translate into good sound. If you love something but it does not measure well (e.g., rolled off response in some tube amps), then by all means dive in, but at least you dive in with your eyes open.

John Atkinson’s measurement has actually helped me once, that was with a pair of ProAc Response 3.8 which I found to sound bright in my room, but not any other speakers that I owned. It was easy to blame the ProAc, but that would turn out to be wrong. Digging into Stereophile’s review of the 3.8 did not come up with any mention of treble brightness, but in John Atkinson’s measurement section he mentioned, “There's actually an excess of energy off of the other (badge) edge of the baffle in (the top audio octave), which will make the speaker sound too bright if the room's side walls are close and reflective”. Bam!!! That was actually what I suffered from, because of my room’s width, the 3.8s were placed close to the wall, I decided to hang some heavy drapery over the side walls and problem solved.

Ken said...


I agree with your post.

I feel measurement is another aspect of hifi that is just as important as listening when reviewing a hardware. I don't mean to say that a well measured gear will always sound best. A warm sounding gear can measured just as well as a bright sounding one. But measurement shows how well engineered the gear is, ie, how much thought has been put into the hardware during R&D.

Measurement will also tell you the behaviour of the gear. In your case of ProAc speakers, it is well known that the older generation of those speakers mate well with tube amps due to the excess HF energy or you can use some warm sounding SS amps. Another example is the measurement of output impedance of some preamps at certain frequencies. It is always good to have a low output impedance (lower than 1Kohms) across the frequency. If you have a preamp that has high out impedance, you will have to mate it with a pwr amp that has high input impedance (above 20K ohms), otherwise you will find that the bass sound lean.

Some people says that SET measured poorly but sound great. It is because in most times, the reviewer mate it with a high sensitivity speaker. Also when the SET amp has mostly even order harmonic distortion which is more often than not, inaudible to the human ear.

I always feel that one should learn as much as possible about their hobby. This is to maximise their understanding of the thing they love.

Again YMMV.

hifikaki said...


Well said.
I suppose technical measurements may not tell you what's right with the equipment, but it can tell you what's wrong.:-)

Maltmih said...

what you need to know about the propper distortion measurement that is based on psychoacoustic laws and much better correlates with the perceived sound quality, compared to traditional THD and IM. It is not some marketing speculation, but a thesis from a respected university.
Hope this helps :-)