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Thread: The importance of Resolution

  1. #1
    Addicted to Best! PeterA's Avatar
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    The importance of Resolution

    We audiophiles throw around a lot of terms in an attempt to convey meaning and describe the sound of systems. Each of us may have our own priorities and specific sonic attributes which we value, and we may value some more than others. I am interested in learning what sonic attributes people value most and how they rank them in importance in terms of musical involvement, sense of realism, or for whatever it is they want to get out of their listening experiences.

    Recently, the terms “musical” and “resolving” were used to describe two components that most people agree sound very different. I found it interesting that the components fell into one of these two camps, but that no one thought either was both musical and resolving. This got me thinking about how we describe what we hear and what we value in our components and systems. Most people with whom I spoke clearly liked one of these components more than the other, though few direct comparisons were actually made. I also found interesting the notion that if one component is more resolving, it meant that it must not be as musical. It is curious to me that these two attributes are considered distinct and that they carry different values for people. This general categorizing of components and systems with particular sonic attributes is perhaps what allows us to form camps or schools of audio, whether it is tube or solid state, digital or analog, or whatever.

    Jim Smith suggests that Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, are the three sonic attributes that make a system “musically involving”. I agree with him but feel strongly that only with high resolution can a component or system reach a higher level, allowing the listener to be convinced of a system’s ability to reproduce the sound of the real thing. The real thing is both musical and natural sounding, but for me it is also highly resolved.

    The sonic attribute which I most value is clarity. This is based on my years of hearing live orchestral music at the BSO. The one descriptor that comes to mind every time I leave a concert event is “clarity”. I can not believe just how clean the sound at the BSO is. And this is where most systems that I have heard have problems. I value Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, and they are all necessary for a system to be enjoyable. But, for a system to be truly convincing and sound similar to the real thing, it must be resolving and reach high levels of clarity. Then, the experience is musical, and the sound is natural. In other words, for me, the system must have clarity above all else, but not at the expense of tone, dynamics and presence.

    What are your sonic priorities, and how would you rank them and why?
    Last edited by PeterA; Yesterday at 07:09 AM. Reason: Added the word “one” to second paragraph.
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  2. #2
    VIP/Donor [WBF Founding Member] ack's Avatar
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    You probably know well by now that resolution (which leads to clarity) is what I strive to achieve, for years now. I just finished another modification to my turntable and resolution shot right up, by removing mechanical noise even further. I cannot possibly imagine a natural sounding system without a very high degree of resolution. TOP priority for me. And I am still waiting for that Spectral phono, claimed to be "high resolution analog"
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  3. #3
    Addicted to Best! RogerD's Avatar
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    Peter,

    Clarity, as in my experience brings every thing else with it. As clarity increases, so does tone, dynamics, presence, realism in general. Trouble is there are so many levels or gradients of clarity, I had to learn how to listen all over again. What I came to realize is that clarity is dependent on uncompressing the audio signal or presentation as presented by my system. Uncompressing now means the illusion seems real, almost life like in size and very emotional, because of the power or gestalt of the music ie the music soars. Horns project into space and violins just keep building momentum until the raw emotion overwhelms you.
    Above all you hear everything possible in the recording...to the point of players intake breaths to play a woodwind for example.
    To much information? Not possible, because everything is balanced and natural.Music is beautiful and that's when you know the system is optimized.
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  4. #4
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    I value both resolution and musicality.


    Resolution or clarity:
    Since I am 100% digital, my goal for 20 years has been to reduce jitter, which is the primary thing that achieves high-resolution. Most audiophiles I have found feel that their systems are "high-resolving" and yet when I provide a product to them that delivers really low jitter, they are surprised at how it "cleans the window" for them so they can see clearly now. Practically everything is affected when jitter is reduced, including dynamics, clarity, detail, focus, imaging, soundstage width and depth and "layering". However one thing that is not necessarily improved is musicality.

    Achieving really low jitter is not easy by any stretch. It has taken me 20 years of experimenting and new designs to finally achieve 7-10 psec in my products, directly measured at the end of a 4 foot coax terminated into 75 ohms. Why would I need to reduce jitter from say 20psec?? I'll tell you why. Each time I make a new milestone in jitter reduction, I notice the improvement almost immediately in the sound quality, and my customers notice it too. In my book, jitter can never be too low. There is literally no point of diminishing returns.

    Musicality
    I believe that musicality is an attribute that is affected by several things, including:
    1) Digital filtering in the DAC - Most DACs do a poor job, particularly with 44.1 tracks. I personally use a 192 filter setting for all sample-rates. Works well, like a NOS DAC.
    2) Stages of amplification and buffering/filtering - these exist in preamps, DACs and amplifiers. Each stage adds a bit more compression and distortion There are usually too many stages. A DAC I used to mod had 12 op-amp stages. Ridiculous.
    3) Power subsystem/power delivery - this is about delivering the dynamic current to the active devices, whether they be tubes or transistors or IC's when they need it, in the DAC, preamp and amp. When this need is not met because of poor system design or poor voltage regulation, it results in compression, lack of dynamics and lack of tight bass.
    4) Dielectric effect - this is about the effect of dielectrics on the signal. This effect happens on circuit boards, internal cabling and external cabling. The physics causes dielectric absorption, which causes distortion in dynamic signals (not so much steady-state). I once modded a Mark Levison preamp for customers. It was very dark sounding because there were literally 15 inch traces that the analog signals had to pass through over FR4 epoxy board, They made a Teflon version, which was better. My mods bypassed these traces and replaced them with silver twisted-pairs. Not dark anymore.
    5) Signal paths through cables - the main offender here is poor metallurgy in the metals of the interconnects. It is important for dynamic audio frequencies that these signals can not be impeded or reflected by "broken" crystal lattice in the metal wires. It takes both purity and undamaged crystal lattice to achieve this.

    As you can see, it is actually much easier to achieve decent resolution than musicality.

    Steve N.
    Empirical Audio
    Steve Nugent, owner and designer
    Empirical Audio
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  5. #5
    Musical resolution/clarity seems an perplexing perceived phenomena at times. I once owned a pair of Martin-Logan electrostats which seemed to reveal music with extreme clarity. Not only were details not heard with other speakers revealed, they seemed to be seperated from each other in space as well. Yet, those speakers were not musical. The main problem was, to my ears, tonal. There was a deficit of midbass and lower midrange, which then highlights the upper midrange, and likely contributed to the hyper sense of clarity.

    At the other extreme is a table radio. Lacking in clarity, bandwidth, dynamic range, distortion and noise yet, still can give musical enjoyment. High fidelity, no. Enjoyment, yes. Weird.
    Last edited by Ken Newton; 08-10-2018 at 05:29 PM.

  6. #6
    I’ve always felt musicality and sound are enmeshed but also separate perceptions.

    Musicality is a no brainer, literally. When ideally complete engagement with the music overrides any awareness of the sonic attributes then this (for me at least) is musicality.

    Clarity and musicality are certainly not at odds. Some people confuse detail with resolution though. Resolution clearly can be an aid to musicality if it leads to a natural sounding presentation. Anything out of place is for me a distraction to musicality.

    Timing inconsistencies, subtle spatial or temporal incoherence, these are for me the things that distract most from musical engagement. But I am easily distracted.
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  7. #7
    VIP/Donor [WBF Founding Member] ack's Avatar
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    Resolution is a multi-dimensional attribute; 'detail' is one, but equally important are macro-dynamic resolution, micro-dynamic resolution, et al, and for me at least, at the top sits timbral resolution.

    Last night, as I usually do, I was listening to the BSO broadcast live on FM radio, this time from Tanglewood. The encore piece was the Imperial March, which I happened to have heard at Symphony Hall not too many years ago, sitting up front; the live sound was dark, as sections of the orchestra were separated by plexi glass, but what caught my attention was the incredible body and timbral resolution of the bass section. Well, last night's broadcast brought through a lot of that timbral resolution, albeit with smaller body and less dynamics (compressed broadcasts are still de facto). I did not miss the lack of ultimate detail, though a lot of it came through, because instruments sounded so right and musical, apart from my panels' narrow distorting band. Great stuff!
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    One of the best criteria I have found for judging resolution is the one I picked up from Lloyd (LL21) which is can you hear the words more clearly on vocals and choral music.
    I am glad that previous contributors have emphasised the importance of resolution being allied with musicality. Some systems I have heard have sacrificed musicality for high levels of resolution and the resultant sound was so unsatisfying. No communication with the listener or the music.
    Again, as mentioned earlier, I am sure that avoiding that is all about getting the right synergy between the amp,speakers, sources and cables and the room. That IME is where the art in this hobby becomes as important as the science and rarely achieved easily or quickly.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by ack View Post
    Resolution is a multi-dimensional attribute; 'detail' is one, but equally important are macro-dynamic resolution, micro-dynamic resolution, et al, and for me at least, at the top sits timbral resolution.

    Last night, as I usually do, I was listening to the BSO broadcast live on FM radio, this time from Tanglewood. The encore piece was the Imperial March, which I happened to have heard at Symphony Hall not too many years ago, sitting up front; the live sound was dark, as sections of the orchestra were separated by plexi glass, but what caught my attention was the incredible body and timbral resolution of the bass section. Well, last night's broadcast brought through a lot of that timbral resolution, albeit with smaller body and less dynamics (compressed broadcasts are still de facto). I did not miss the lack of ultimate detail, though a lot of it came through, because instruments sounded so right and musical, apart from my panels' narrow distorting band. Great stuff!
    Your post has cheered me up no end ack.
    I was pretty well convinced that I was the only member listening to FM radio. Here in the UK it is a real treasure thanks to BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM in particular. My Magnum Dynalab 109 and external FM aerial provide me with untold hours of enjoyment and I have learnt so much about the composers and their music from the top class presenters on both.
    Sadly it seems to be overlooked by so many audiophiles in this digital age.

  10. #10
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    Resolution going up here as I take my Zu subs more and more subtle and barely audible.
    More cues, air, trails.
    And ironically more bass.
    Less bloat, but more articulation, lean and mean.

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