A Gold Standard for Listening Evaluations

microstrip

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(...) I probably have owned at least 7-8 pairs of Quads, 2 pair of which have been ESL 63s. There's no question that the mid range is what its all about with Quads. My last foray into Quad Land was owning a pair of stacked ELSs with Decca Tweeters mounted in the middle of each stack and 2 Hartley subwoofers built into the back wall. All of this was tied together with a Mark Levinson LNC-2 Crossover. Keeping everything running in top shape in that system (including frequently replacing blown out dust covers on the Quads) was a little like owning a very exotic, high performance, antique car that we built from a kit. It took 25-50 watts to drive the speakers and 55 watts to blow them up! The sweet little hot amps we used were always ready to fall off the knife edge, too. Exciting times!

You are dedicated!

Well, I owned 3 pairs of ESL57 and 5 pairs of ESL63 - still onwing 3 pairs of the ESL63. Curiously my exposition to Quad's was in the opposite order of yours - the first time I listened to them was helping a friend assembling his HQD Hartley-Quad-Decca system with the LNC-2 crossovers (100 and 7000Hz, I still remember). Curiously last week I learned the same Hartley 24" drivers are now for sale nearby.

Later I went into single ESL57 pairs and got one the first ESL63 to leave the UK in 1981. Since then it was a relation of come and go ...

Retrospectively, the ESL's 63 system that was more emotionally engaging (to use the WBF lexicon) included an Audio Research LS5mk3 - VT150 monoblocks , a Forsell CD player combo and all Transparent Audio Reference XL cables. A short experience with four ESL63's used in a double L arrangement (one pair is used normal to speaker plane as a subwoofer, as used in the famous SME listening room) was extremely successful but not compatible with a family living room at that time ... But I hope to reassemble such complex system, with the SME improvements, sometime next year in a new space!

BTW, the sweet little hot amps were Bedini's or Electrocompaniet's?
 

Al M.

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And while it works for her, I think it is incomplete. I don't care to argue this point further.

Upon thinking about the topic a bit more, I agree with you that it is incomplete. If a system is to play rock well, it needs to have great rhythm & timing for rock. In my experience, this is for some reason different than anything else.

For example, early digital used to have very serious problems with rhythm & timing. Still, back in the Nineties, the Wadia 12 DAC that I owned was one of the better players in that department. It was quite good on jazz, according to the old saying, "it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing".

Yet it still could not rock. The Berkeley Alpha 2 DAC, my fifth (!) DAC/digital player acquired in 2013, was the first (!) one that could really rock. Even it is superseded in its rhythmic capabilities by my current DAC, which has rhythm & timing comparable to a very good turntable. It can be rhythmically a total animal when required, yet also subtle when asked for with other music.

Another thing is that electric guitar often sounds too polite on systems. You won't necessarily find out about this deficiency by only playing classical music on them.

So yes, for some parameters of sound you DO need amplified music to evaluate.
 
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Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
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Upon thinking about the topic a bit more, I agree with you that it is incomplete. If a system is to play rock well, it needs to have great rhythm & timing for rock. In my experience, this is for some reason different than anything else.

For example, early digital used to have very serious problems with rhythm & timing. Still, back in the Nineties, the Wadia 12 DAC that I owned was one of the better players in that department. It was quite good on jazz, according to the old saying, "it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing".

Yet it still could not rock. The Berkeley Alpha 2 DAC, my fifth (!) DAC/digital player acquired in 2013, was the first (!) one that could really rock. Even it is superseded in its rhythmic capabilities by my current DAC, which has rhythm & timing comparable to a very good turntable. It can be rhythmically a total animal when required, yet also subtle when asked for with other music.

Another thing is that electric guitar often sounds too polite on systems. You won't necessarily find out about this deficiency by only playing classical music on them.

So yes, for some parameters of sound you DO need amplified music to evaluate.
I don't think we can exclude any reference, including electronic music; however electronic music comes with a caveat. My point was that electronic music should not be the sole reference for building a well balanced system in your home listening environment unless the recordings you are using to establish the sonic presentation of your system are recordings of sessions you attended, you are either the artist or you are totally versed on what the artist was trying to achieve in the session, and you are fully integrated into the mixing, production, and mastering processes. Most audiophiles are not that intimately involved with electronic music production. Some of them who prefer electronic music to acoustic music know what they like to hear on a rock recording, and they set up their systems for those particular qualities. That's a fine approach if it is all that one wants from their hi fi experiences, but this approach will not necessarily result in being able to capture the limitless dynamic range from ppp>fff, the sense of the performance venue's space, the sound of the fundamentals and harmonics of the instruments reflecting in that space, and the resulting tonal density of acoustic instruments played in a performance space. A great system should do it all. If a system does not do justice to an electric guitar ripping it up, it will also not do a great job on a large orchestra performing Mahler's 2nd at the Musikverein. The reverse is not necessarily the case, however — but then again, most hi fi systems in most listening environments are not capable of doing either of these things on a believable level. The fun is in trying to get there. You might get lucky.
 

Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
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107
33
Well, I owned 3 pairs of ESL57 and 5 pairs of ESL63 - still onwing 3 pairs of the ESL63. Curiously my exposition to Quad's was in the opposite order of yours - the first time I listened to them was helping a friend assembling his HQD Hartley-Quad-Decca system with the LNC-2 crossovers (100 and 7000Hz, I still remember). Curiously last week I learned the same Hartley 24" drivers are now for sale nearby.

Later I went into single ESL57 pairs and got one the first ESL63 to leave the UK in 1981. Since then it was a relation of come and go ...

Retrospectively, the ESL's 63 system that was more emotionally engaging (to use the WBF lexicon) included an Audio Research LS5mk3 - VT150 monoblocks , a Forsell CD player combo and all Transparent Audio Reference XL cables. A short experience with four ESL63's used in a double L arrangement (one pair is used normal to speaker plane as a subwoofer, as used in the famous SME listening room) was extremely successful but not compatible with a family living room at that time ... But I hope to reassemble such complex system, with the SME improvements, sometime next year in a new space!

BTW, the sweet little hot amps were Bedini's or Electrocompaniet's?
Electros.

Microstrip, I hope you get a chance to set up those 4 ESL63s. I am looking forward to your report.

The stacked Quads were magical when everything was right, no doubt, and one could even achieve an almost credible level of dynamic range with 2 per channel. The pellucid midrange made up for a lot of other shortcomings, however.

I hear you!
 
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bonzo75

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Well, I owned 3 pairs of ESL57 and 5 pairs of ESL63 - still onwing 3 pairs of the ESL63. Curiously my exposition to Quad's was in the opposite order of yours - the first time I listened to them was helping a friend assembling his HQD Hartley-Quad-Decca system with the LNC-2 crossovers (100 and 7000Hz, I still remember). Curiously last week I learned the same Hartley 24" drivers are now for sale nearby.

Later I went into single ESL57 pairs and got one the first ESL63 to leave the UK in 1981. Since then it was a relation of come and go ...

Retrospectively, the ESL's 63 system that was more emotionally engaging (to use the WBF lexicon) included an Audio Research LS5mk3 - VT150 monoblocks , a Forsell CD player combo and all Transparent Audio Reference XL cables. A short experience with four ESL63's used in a double L arrangement (one pair is used normal to speaker plane as a subwoofer, as used in the famous SME listening room) was extremely successful but not compatible with a family living room at that time ... But I hope to reassemble such complex system, with the SME improvements, sometime next year in a new space!

BTW, the sweet little hot amps were Bedini's or Electrocompaniet's?

I will be nice to you from now irrespective of what you say if you let me come and listen to this
 
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ashandger

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Jun 15, 2013
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I don't think we can exclude any reference, including electronic music; however electronic music comes with a caveat. My point was that electronic music should not be the sole reference for building a well balanced system in your home listening environment unless the recordings you are using to establish the sonic presentation of your system are recordings of sessions you attended, you are either the artist or you are totally versed on what the artist was trying to achieve in the session, and you are fully integrated into the mixing, production, and mastering processes. Most audiophiles are not that intimately involved with electronic music production. Some of them who prefer electronic music to acoustic music know what they like to hear on a rock recording, and they set up their systems for those particular qualities. That's a fine approach if it is all that one wants from their hi fi experiences, but this approach will not necessarily result in being able to capture the limitless dynamic range from ppp>fff, the sense of the performance venue's space, the sound of the fundamentals and harmonics of the instruments reflecting in that space, and the resulting tonal density of acoustic instruments played in a performance space. A great system should do it all. If a system does not do justice to an electric guitar ripping it up, it will also not do a great job on a large orchestra performing Mahler's 2nd at the Musikverein. The reverse is not necessarily the case, however — but then again, most hi fi systems in most listening environments are not capable of doing either of these things on a believable level. The fun is in trying to get there. You might get lucky.
Hello Karen, many thanks for the wonderful threads you have started and for sharing your thoughts. Would it be possible for you to share some info on the current system/s you have, including the system you are using in Transparent Audio's dedicated room? I have seen some older images of the room at Transparent Audio but nothing current. No worries if you prefer not to do that. Many thanks, Ash
 

Karen Sumner

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Apr 18, 2021
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Hello Karen, many thanks for the wonderful threads you have started and for sharing your thoughts. Would it be possible for you to share some info on the current system/s you have, including the system you are using in Transparent Audio's dedicated room? I have seen some older images of the room at Transparent Audio but nothing current. No worries if you prefer not to do that. Many thanks, Ash
Hi, Ash -

We have a pretty nice variety of amps, preamps, speakers, and source components at different performance levels in the Transparent Studio. These rotate between Transparent central and my home where we have a comparable RPG- designed music studio. Although there are exceptions, we mostly work with the components that our dealers sell. If a customer has components that demand REFERENCE level Transparent or above that our dealers don’t sell, we try to get the piece on loan or at least work with the manufacturer to get as many technical details that we can. We often buy things that our dealers don’t sell because we just happen to like the way they perform after we get a chance to hear them.
 
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ashandger

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Hello Karen, many thanks for taking the time to provide a full list of your components. Very impressive list indeed and the room designed by RPG as well.

Are you still using DCS Vivaldi and Brinkman Balance turntable? Also, which CH Precision electronics do you have at present, 1 series or the new 10 series? Would appreciate any info you can share and thanks again for your time.
 

marty

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Thank you Tim for putting some of these ideas into a more tangible context. To Tim's point, please see the attached chart that shows the fundamental frequencies of the instruments in an orchestra using the piano as a point of reference. Where are the majority of fundamentals?
I loved, loved this post. because of the chart you posted. I posted a similar graph here (post #179)
but the importance of this chart cannot be over-stated. As I mentioned previously.

"This is one of the most useful listening tools I have found for audio reviewing. It helps you understand the performance of your system in terms of frequencies as they relate to real notes. The most obvious takeaway is that virtually all music ever written for both the treble and bass music stanzas fall within a range that most audiophiles don’t appreciate as being essentially quite limited. Over 90% of all the music ever written falls between A1 and A5- a measly 4 octave range! Of course this is for fundamentals, not harmonics and overtones, but it is still very useful information".

Thanks for you insightful reports.
 

Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
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107
33
I loved, loved this post. because of the chart you posted. I posted a similar graph here (post #179)
but the importance of this chart cannot be over-stated. As I mentioned previously.

"This is one of the most useful listening tools I have found for audio reviewing. It helps you understand the performance of your system in terms of frequencies as they relate to real notes. The most obvious takeaway is that virtually all music ever written for both the treble and bass music stanzas fall within a range that most audiophiles don’t appreciate as being essentially quite limited. Over 90% of all the music ever written falls between A1 and A5- a measly 4 octave range! Of course this is for fundamentals, not harmonics and overtones, but it is still very useful information".

Thanks for you insightful reports.
I hope members will review your post. It has excellent examples of music to go along with your points about where music resides. I agree that the the most neglected part of the music in many hi fi systems is where 90% of the music resides — that 4 octaves generally speaking for round number purposes 100-1000 Hz. I would like to revisit this idea in future posts because I think that how we perceive musical dynamics and space needs to be built upon this vital foundation.
 

Al M.

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I don't think we can exclude any reference, including electronic music; however electronic music comes with a caveat. My point was that electronic music should not be the sole reference for building a well balanced system in your home listening environment unless the recordings you are using to establish the sonic presentation of your system are recordings of sessions you attended, you are either the artist or you are totally versed on what the artist was trying to achieve in the session, and you are fully integrated into the mixing, production, and mastering processes. Most audiophiles are not that intimately involved with electronic music production. Some of them who prefer electronic music to acoustic music know what they like to hear on a rock recording, and they set up their systems for those particular qualities. That's a fine approach if it is all that one wants from their hi fi experiences, but this approach will not necessarily result in being able to capture the limitless dynamic range from ppp>fff, the sense of the performance venue's space, the sound of the fundamentals and harmonics of the instruments reflecting in that space, and the resulting tonal density of acoustic instruments played in a performance space. A great system should do it all. If a system does not do justice to an electric guitar ripping it up, it will also not do a great job on a large orchestra performing Mahler's 2nd at the Musikverein. The reverse is not necessarily the case, however — but then again, most hi fi systems in most listening environments are not capable of doing either of these things on a believable level. The fun is in trying to get there. You might get lucky.

Certainly, no disagreement from me. Unamplified live music should be the main reference, and is the only valid reference in many respects and for many sound parameters. Yet for assessing *all* capabilities of a system some other types of music are needed as well.
 

dcathro

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Sep 16, 2016
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Upon thinking about the topic a bit more, I agree with you that it is incomplete. If a system is to play rock well, it needs to have great rhythm & timing for rock. In my experience, this is for some reason different than anything else.

For example, early digital used to have very serious problems with rhythm & timing. Still, back in the Nineties, the Wadia 12 DAC that I owned was one of the better players in that department. It was quite good on jazz, according to the old saying, "it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing".

Yet it still could not rock. The Berkeley Alpha 2 DAC, my fifth (!) DAC/digital player acquired in 2013, was the first (!) one that could really rock. Even it is superseded in its rhythmic capabilities by my current DAC, which has rhythm & timing comparable to a very good turntable. It can be rhythmically a total animal when required, yet also subtle when asked for with other music.

Another thing is that electric guitar often sounds too polite on systems. You won't necessarily find out about this deficiency by only playing classical music on them.

So yes, for some parameters of sound you DO need amplified music to evaluate.

Although it is more obvious with rock and jazz, timing and swing can be very apparent on unamplified classical music.

I have a B&W demonstration CD from the late 80s with Cristopher Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music which I use as a reference for rhythm. There are many great tracks, but the one that really stands out is the Gluck - Dance of the Furies. It has a raw life like energy that is totally captivating.

Another classical piece that I use for judging both tonal weight and rhythm is the CBS recording Bach's Cello suite number 1 played by Yo Yo Ma.

Cheers

David
 
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dcathro

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Hi, Ash -

We have a pretty nice variety of amps, preamps, speakers, and source components at different performance levels in the Transparent Studio. These rotate between Transparent central and my home where we have a comparable RPG- designed music studio. Although there are exceptions, we mostly work with the components that our dealers sell. If a customer has components that demand REFERENCE level Transparent or above that our dealers don’t sell, we try to get the piece on loan or at least work with the manufacturer to get as many technical details that we can. We often buy things that our dealers don’t sell because we just happen to like the way they perform after we get a chance to hear them.

The list changes and evolves, but for now, here’s an idea of what we have been working with.

Speakers:
Several models of Wilson Speakers including 2 pairs of XVX — a pair for each studio
Rockport
Sonus Faber
Magnepan
B&W
Monitor
Totem
Paradigm

Amps and Preamps:
D’Agostino Master Systems
Audio Research
Mark Levinson
Krell
Conrad Johnson
LAMM
Doshi Audio
CH Precision (loan)
Nagra (loan)

Digital:
dCS
Meridian

Analog:
Brinkman
Koetsu
Studer

Hi Karen,

Interesting that Magico is not included in your list of speakers. Do Magico speaker users not tend to use Transparent cables?

Cheers

David
 

dcathro

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Sep 16, 2016
266
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Melbourne, Australia
Certainly, no disagreement from me. Unamplified live music should be the main reference, and is the only valid reference in many respects and for many sound parameters. Yet for assessing *all* capabilities of a system some other types of music are needed as well.
I find that I use a wide range of material for system tuning (and DIY construction). These include:

- Joni Mitchell - Blue (for vocal expression and timing);
- Tori Amos - Under the Pink (for vocals, piano, timing, tonality);
- Massive Attack - Blue Lines (for bass rhythm);
- Massive Attack - Protection (for bass rhythm);
- a wide range of pop/rock mainly from the 1960s and 70s;
- a wide range of 1950's and 60s Jazz including Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, Sonny Rollins, etc, etc;
- a very wide range of classical from solo violin, cello, piano to large orchestral;
- big band music such as Benny Goodman, Harry James, Ted Heath, Stanley Black, etc.

I don't think that you can get a system sounding "right" or optimum by using just one style of music. I also believe that the biggest problem is knowing how something should sound, hence why classical is chosen by many people. I find that Joni Mitchell's Blue to be a recording that can sound truly awful on many systems, but can sound amazing because of the raw vocals full of emotional expression and the timing between the simple accompanying piano and guitar. I have found that if you can get this album to sound good on your system then it is a great starting point.

Cheers

David
 
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LL21

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I don't think we can exclude any reference, including electronic music; however electronic music comes with a caveat. My point was that electronic music should not be the sole reference for building a well balanced system in your home listening environment unless the recordings you are using to establish the sonic presentation of your system are recordings of sessions you attended, you are either the artist or you are totally versed on what the artist was trying to achieve in the session, and you are fully integrated into the mixing, production, and mastering processes. Most audiophiles are not that intimately involved with electronic music production. Some of them who prefer electronic music to acoustic music know what they like to hear on a rock recording, and they set up their systems for those particular qualities. That's a fine approach if it is all that one wants from their hi fi experiences, but this approach will not necessarily result in being able to capture the limitless dynamic range from ppp>fff, the sense of the performance venue's space, the sound of the fundamentals and harmonics of the instruments reflecting in that space, and the resulting tonal density of acoustic instruments played in a performance space. A great system should do it all. If a system does not do justice to an electric guitar ripping it up, it will also not do a great job on a large orchestra performing Mahler's 2nd at the Musikverein. The reverse is not necessarily the case, however — but then again, most hi fi systems in most listening environments are not capable of doing either of these things on a believable level. The fun is in trying to get there. You might get lucky.
Hi Karen,

Thank you for all your incredibly valuable time and insight. Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations might be an album I have used around the world (readily available and after studying piano for 12 years...at least I took away a sense of what a piano sounds like if not any skills worth talking about to actually play!)...but as to electronic music, I definitely DO use it as a reference...but for detail and timing only.

Specifically what i like about deep house music for reference listening is that I know that everything put down on the track was literally placed there on purpose...there are no accidental beats dropped in, noises, mistakes by an artist who got his timing off by a millisecond in the ensemble.

And what I find is 2 things the better the system:

1. You hear details way off in the background...or split deep inside bass hits where its actually multiple bass hits all at once

2. Those details (whispers or wind, etc) way off in the background...once the system gets more and more resolved...I tend to find those details 9 times out of 10 end up being in synch with the main beat...or in syncopated rhythm with the main beat. And a less timing-perfect system tends not to reveal this so effortlessly (or at all)...and that whisper or wind ends up just being a 'detail way off in the background'.

I cannot count how many times as the system resolution and absolute precision on timing has gotten better and better and better...those little beats, voices, blips and bleeps all start to come together around central rhythmic themes of the main house beat on the track. And it is very, very easy to spot those because there is no vagary once you hear it...again, it was laid down on the track on purpose, so once you hear it, you know you are not mistaking it.
 

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