IS A BALANCE OF SPEED
by Steve Deckert
of the things I find myself discussing with people on the phone
quite frequently is the relationship between speed and good sound.
More specifically how the speed of components combine to effect
either a nasty or musical sounding system. BTW, price has nothing
to do with it.
fact, you can spend 20 or 30 grand on gear and have a horrible sounding
stereo, and in contrast your neighbor may have some old junk that
wouldn't total $1500. and sounds pretty good on almost everything.
Always musical. Now I've seen this happen hundreds of times, and
the reason I'm writing this is to help you to keep it from happening
to yourself, if it's not already.
component can be subjectively judged on the criteria of speed, among
other things. Speed can be tied to transient response, dynamic range,
and clarity. Assuming that the circuit or speaker has low distortion
and low coloration it will have good clarity, but the speed is determined
by the design itself.
example, in electronics, speed is largely a function of capacitor
discharge rates, voltage swings and part counts. In speakers, speed
is largely a function of efficiency, mass, and flux density.
could have a speaker that is fast like a Lowther or some low mass
paper cone speaker with a large high energy magnet (usually an efficiency
of 100dB +) or you could have a speaker that is slow like a 12 inch
woofer with high mass and a normal or low efficiency of say 86dB.
are the easiest component to relate to speed because the largest
factor is always the moving mass. In the 12 inch woofer we may have
a moving mass of 85 grams. In the Lowther or similar speaker we
may have a moving mass of (I'd guess) 11 grams. Without understanding
anything else about the dozens of variables that effect this, simple
physics dictates that the lighter something is, the faster it can
change directions and move.
are far more complex from a speed standpoint, but equally as important.
A simple example of how the speed of electronics can effect the
end result consider the following two examples:
If your speakers are fast, and your amplifier is fast, and your
preamp is fast, you would find that the average $500.00 CD player
becomes unlistable. Reason being the electronics and speakers can
now reveal the shortcomings of the source. Result: Fatiguing and
In the same system, a slow preamp is installed in place of the fast
one. Now the grainy top end is gone, the digital sound seems smoother
more analogue and the end result is pleasing non-fatiquing sound.
The reason being the preamp has masked the shortcomings of the source.
or altering the sound is often the side effect of complex circuits
that use lots of parts. The less parts in the signal path, the faster
the circuit typically becomes. Other factors that influence the
speed of audio circuit are the speed of the power supply and coupling
suppose in the examples above that the source was a world class
turntable and cartridge instead of a $500.00 CD player. In that
situation both A and B would be musical, however A would sound far
superior with greater dynamics, loads more detail, and far better
good stereo system is an artful balance of speed between components.
A good component is an artful balance of circuit design and power
supply speed. Going a little deeper, the speed of each coupling
cap and each gain stage should be artfully balanced to that the
component as a whole is musical. A fast circuit with a low cost
power supply would sound spongy with high distortion and a lower
overall speed. This imbalance is called stress. Some components.
have stress built in, stay away from those.
does this all trickle down into usable advise you might wonder?
First you need to understand that the quality factor of your component
hierarchy should always ideally be as follows: Source, Preamp, Amp,
Speakers. That means your source is 400% more important than your
the advent of CD's, for the masses music quality went up, but for
the audiophiles, music quality went down. CD players still do not
compare to turntables, and likely never will. It would be a safe
thing to assume that most audiophiles are using CD players as their
source. Given that, the source is most likely the weakest link in
the vast majority of high end systems. The better the performance
of the system, the worse the sound as it reveals deeper and deeper
the qualities of the source.
I've found that if you have a very high end system (fast) it takes
around $5000.00 to put together a musical front end for CD's. Most
of us don't have the budget for that and the majority are using
mid-fi CD players and or entry level DACs and transports. Ironically
most spend lots on a DAC and little or nothing on a transport when
the transports usually make far more difference. In any case, the
majority of people who feel they're systems are approaching high
end, have an inferior source and constantly fight with an overall
lack of musicality.
are the symptoms of a speed disorder:
to listen to over time
- Sound good
sometimes and terrible the next for no reason
- Very CD dependent.
Some CD's can't be listened to.
- Grainy top
end, with traces of glare
shouts on certain passages
fighting with speaker placement, and cables.
have two choices. Step up to the plate and buy yourself a REAL source
for the real big bucks, or slow something down until nothing sounds
great but nothing sounds bad either, the result being a musical
system that no longer distracts you with the above symptoms.
things down from a component standpoint really means masking things.
This can be done with lower quality cables, such as entry level
audiophile type cables between components. This can also be done
with speakers by going to higher mass lower efficiency, or just
plain smoother better sounding speakers that have a warmer exaggerated
bass and or rolled treble. It can also be done in the amplifier(s)
or preamp by finding models that are less revealing.
can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes but if you want some insurance
or a safety factor that your system will be musical and enjoyable
to listen to, odds will be in your favor if you shop for new or
used gear that sings well together. Odds will be against you if
you automatically go for the most expensive matching gear you can
afford. This is in fact one of many audio paradoxes and is why a
guy who found an old Dynaco ST70 at a garage sale and a pair of
old Advents usually has better sound than his neighbor who owns
the big name high dollar amps and speakers that were suppose to
be the shit.
since how good something sounds is subjective and the mind is a
powerful thing, those who've spent big bucks on gear and gotten
poor results usually don't know it. This is because any time you
spend a painful amount of money on audio gear and take it home the
sudden change from what you had fools you into automatically thinking
its better, followed by the need to justify the money you've spent
which always has the effect of biasing your judgment.
of course during this trial and error time of trying new things
that are on the expensive side, you will find it usually doesn't
sound as good as you'd hoped so you let it burn in for weeks hoping
it will get better. And while things do improve once they're burned
in, you have also grown more accustomed to it, and more tolerant
of hard pills to swallow, I have seen over the years so many things
sound good that shouldn't, and at least 200 times as many things
that should sound great sound terrible.
have found the reasons for this is the musically or balance of speed
within the system and the acoustics of the room its played in. A
50/50 split down the middle. A $500 stereo can sound better in a
good room than a $5000 stereo in a bad room. Over half of all audiophiles
(and in reality it probably more like 80%) have poor rooms. Add
to that overpriced gear that's too fast for the quality of their
source and you have the very fuel that feeds the industry., i.e..
Frustration and the never ending search for a musical system which
grows in intensity in direct proportion to the amount of money you've