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Mistakes to avoid - 2 channel audio

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sandeepss

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Hello friends,

When it comes to selecting audio gear for our listening tastes, there can be myriad permutations and combinations in any budget. The higher the budget, the more complex it can get. While avoiding every mistake is not possible, there could be common pitfalls, which can look obvious to the experienced hand, but not so much to the new entrant and can be avoided. This can help him/her in saving money, energy and the frustration that can build up in building a system that was not sounding right.

This is a general purpose thread to sort of highlight the pitfalls which can be avoided while going for 2-ch (or 2.1) audio gear. I don’t use a home theater for movies, so I can’t add anything there. From my limited experience with 2-channel audio, I can add a few pointers to start with.

Relying heavily on reviewers opinion: While magazines like Stereophile, What hi-fi, sound on sound etc can be good resources for initial shortlisting, exercising caution while taking their reviews and star ratings would be a good practice. It’s possible that reviewers can be biased to a specific manufacturer with whom they have a financial agreement and they can use much more expensive gear to evaluate a mid-fi component (eg:- $500 speakers being hooked onto $5000 worth of electronics). Since the evaluation of audio is subjective, the reviewer’s state of mind, his tastes and expectations all can skew the opinion

While auditioning at the dealer: While it’s arguable that the dealer’s demo room might be well treated acoustically, and the components are going to be different than ours, thus sound quality can be different, it’s the best possible way to get an understanding of the sound signature of each component (other than listening at a friend’s place or better still, a home audition).

Spending very less time auditioning. Around 30-45 mins should be ideal per combination of amplifier and speakers. Also disable any sort of DSP on the electronics chain while listening. Dealer’s are likely to switch ON equalizers to make the sound more exciting than it is normally.

Forming an opinion of the new system too soon: Normally it takes around a month of continuous listening to adjust to the new sound signature. Some call it burn-in of components and some term it psycho-acoustic in nature. Whatever you call it, give some time before jumping to conclusion and selling the new gear which you painstakingly put together.

Being a newbie in this hobby, my experience is also limited, but I’m sure respected members will be able to pitch in more ideas here. The unfortunate folks who are located in remote places with no access to good dealers to demo their gear of choice will have lesser options, so these pointers might not help them.

Best wishes and happy listening :)
 
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raghupb

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Nice thread starter @sandeepss
Meaningful and practical suggestions from fellow forum members will surely follow.
Each user brings a unique perspective to the table, based on their personal experience and journey.
It is a rabbit hole, this hobby. Many folks will benefit from such a discussion.
Cheers,
Raghu
 

sandeepss

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Nice thread starter @sandeepss
Meaningful and practical suggestions from fellow forum members will surely follow.
Each user brings a unique perspective to the table, based on their personal experience and journey.
It is a rabbit hole, this hobby. Many folks will benefit from such a discussion.
Cheers,
Raghu
Hi Raghu, thanks for the kind words :)
I've often seen queries of similar nature and mistakes getting repeated here. So thought it would be good to have a sort of repository of pitfalls.
Your detailed posts on several aspects of 2-ch audio have been very illuminating, thanks for taking the time to help & educate :)
 

sandeepss

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My additional 2 paisa worth of...... :)

Too revealing a set-up: If majority of the music that we own or like to hear is not well recorded and mastered, on our medium of choice, a set-up which can reveal those flaws will make us hate all that music. In such a scenario, it will be better to have a less revealing setup and enjoy the music, than end up with expensive gear listening to genres of music we don't like. :)

Stretching the budget: Most of the components in a well cared for Hi-Fi system can last for several decades without any major degradation in sound quality. So while selecting the components, it would be wise to stretch the budget a little more to get that better sounding gear, rather than be stuck with a mediocre one and hence starting a new loop of upgrades. Waiting for more money to come in or buying used can also help here as audiophiles take good care of their gear (mostly :))
 
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efernand1

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Hello friends,

When it comes to selecting audio gear for our listening tastes, there can be myriad permutations and combinations in any budget. The higher the budget, the more complex it can get. While avoiding every mistake is not possible, there could be common pitfalls, which can look obvious to the experienced hand, but not so much to the new entrant and can be avoided. This can help him/her in saving money, energy and the frustration that can build up in building a system that was not sounding right.

This is a general purpose thread to sort of highlight the pitfalls which can be avoided while going for 2-ch (or 2.1) audio gear. I don’t use a home theater for movies, so I can’t add anything there. From my limited experience with 2-channel audio, I can add a few pointers to start with.

Relying heavily on reviewers opinion: While magazines like Stereophile, What hi-fi, sound on sound etc can be good resources for initial shortlisting, exercising caution while taking their reviews and star ratings would be a good practice. It’s possible that reviewers can be biased to a specific manufacturer with whom they have a financial agreement and they can use much more expensive gear to evaluate a mid-fi component (eg:- $500 speakers being hooked onto $5000 worth of electronics). Since the evaluation of audio is subjective, the reviewer’s state of mind, his tastes and expectations all can skew the opinion

While auditioning at the dealer: While it’s arguable that the dealer’s demo room might be well treated acoustically, and the components are going to be different than ours, thus sound quality can be different, it’s the best possible way to get an understanding of the sound signature of each component (other than listening at a friend’s place or better still, a home audition).

Spending very less time auditioning. Around 30-45 mins should be ideal per combination of amplifier and speakers. Also disable any sort of DSP on the electronics chain while listening. Dealer’s are likely to switch ON equalizers to make the sound more exciting than it is normally.

Forming an opinion of the new system too soon: Normally it takes around a month of continuous listening to adjust to the new sound signature. Some call it burn-in of components and some term it psycho-acoustic in nature. Whatever you call it, give some time before jumping to conclusion and selling the new gear which you painstakingly put together.

Being a newbie in this hobby, my experience is also limited, but I’m sure respected members will be able to pitch in more ideas here. The unfortunate folks who are located in remote places with no access to good dealers to demo their gear of choice will have lesser options, so these pointers might not help them.

Best wishes and happy listening :)

Well said and written. All new aspiring FMs who want to make purchases or decisions should keep all this in mind!
 

sandeepss

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Well said and written. All new aspiring FMs who want to make purchases or decisions should keep all this in mind!
Hi @efernand1, thanks for your kind words :)
Learning from someone else's mistake is a wonderful thing as it saves one the heartburn of discovery of our own expensive follies. The famous investor and businessman, Charlie Munger used to extol its significance constantly. A few of his quotes on the subject that come to mind are:
"You don't have to pee at an electric fence to learn not to do it"
"All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I'll never go there"

(Source: "Poor Charlie's Almanack", Charlie Munger)
 

raghupb

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Here are my 2 paise (more like 9 and a half paise)...
There is a saying in Kannada that roughly translates into Hindi as:
"Aatt Aana deke puchcha, Rupaiya deke chudvaana pada"
It'll get technical and/or irrelavant at times during the post/s; please bear with it.

The basic music system consists of:
Content --> Source --> Amplifier --> Speakers
Our grandfather's Murphy radio did all of this in one box (or great-grandfather's for millenials)
But then things have gone to pot and become extremely, sometimes unnecessarily, complicated.
So let us start backwards from speakers.
Stay tuned ....

Cheers,
Raghu
 

raghupb

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Speakers
Don't buy them. Seriously they are a hassle; your family may and will call them ugly boxes, unwanted furniture, what-not.
Just keep following your favorite bards from town to town; use an Ouija board to resurrect artists from the dead or whatever.
They are loud (loud-speakers ain't a fancy name) and they require you to spend big monies on other allied electronics.
More boxes that involve mixing and matching, aargh!!

Just kidding people!! In this hobby, where would we be without loud speakers.
These elements are the direct interface to your ears via your room/listening-space.
For stereo, you will need two speakers at least (more on this later).
Choose speakers that appeal to your ears. My speakers are mine; your friend's/neighbor's are his/hers.
If they don't sound right to you, move on, however good they are claimed to be by others.

Basic geometry:
- Box speakers (95% of users; rest of the post will be around these home use units)
- Boxless and/or Transmission Line speakers (5% of users; you don't need this post; you are a PhD)

Size/Style/Type:
- Stand-mount or Bookshelf speakers (small, elegant, relatively easy to move/place)
- Towers or Floor-standing speakers (imposing, elegant, relatively harder to move/place)
- sealed (no port) or ported (front, back, bottom)
- 2 way, 2.5 way, 3 way (this is related to crossover network, complicated stuff for now)

Technicalities/Specifications (the really important ones):
- power handling (xxx watts)
- sensitivity (xx dB SPL, sound pressure level)
- impedance (x ohms nominal; y ohm minimum)
- frequency range (xx Hz to yy KHz)
- frequency response (xx Hz to yy KHz)
- cone/driver/tweeter sizes, types

Speaker character adjectives (and my definitions):
- howlers (only politicians can hear and enjoy their sound)
- noisy (will make you cringe and run away immediately)
- bright (happy high frequencies, can bear it for probably 30 mins; after this want to turn everything off)
- neutral/balanced (difficult to describe, but will draw you into a session; you begin to appreciate the music/content)
- warm (tones down HFs, smooth vocals, good bass; does not distract you, great for background listening)
- dull (does not draw you into listening)

Common mistakes made on speakers:
- not trusting your own ears; choosing speakers based solely on what other people say or have
- not paying attention to your room; demo room performance is hard to recreate at home
- not choosing the correct size; too big or too small for the listening space
- not selecting easy to drive speakers; amp killers or suicidal units
- not placing/positioning speakers properly; too close or too far from walls; too high/narrow/wide
- not getting stands for stand-mount speakers; they really help
- not buying used; speakers are the safest components to buy used

The what to avoid, I will list out after talking a bit about electronics.
More to come ...

Cheers,
Raghu
 
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prem

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tuff

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My only criteria is get a system that you will listen to and enjoy music anyway you want. Sound-stage, Imaging -precision placement of instruments all can be in the "want" category, not "need". A great system is the one that you enjoy at the fullest once setup the best way you can.
 
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Music Freak

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Technicalities are being pointed out lucidly by the fellow FMs, hence, would like to add other important pointers.

-- Never be impulsive to purchase. Resist the temptation. Learn to resist if you can't!
-- Inquire; be inquisitive.
-- Research; dig deep.
-- Don't overbuy.
-- Choose only the necessary & required components/gear wisely as per your need(covered as above by the FMs/'d be covered).

If practiced, we'd be sure that we would fail in entertaining the thoughts of immediate upgrade or feel inferior about our rig whenever we listen/look at!
 

newlash09

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Maybe I will just add my 2 cents...

1. Don't buy low sensitivity speakers, irrespective of price. Unless you have very deep pockets. The required quality high power amplification will cost a bomb. So a reasonable sensitivity is recommended.

2. Don't buy speakers too big for your room. When in doubt get something small, you can always get a sub later to fill in the bass you feel is missing. Getting big speakers into a room , where they overload the room with bass, is a certain recipe for disaster. There is no way to scale down the sound except sell the speakers at a loss..

3. The speakers have to couple to the room, and the amp has to be sufficient to run the subject speakers. One doesn't necessarily need high power amps if listening at modest volumes.

4. The tone of the sound comes from the preamp and the dac to a very large extent. So choose one carefully.

5. Power cables, interconnects , speaker cables and vibration control devices are the last things to add. They change the sound subtly. But will not change a sound you don't like to one of glory. So invest in getting a set up you love. Then add these as a icing at the top as a last ditch measure to increase what you already love.

6. Speakers are the main source of sound reproduction. So spend the most here.

7. Power supplies make a huge difference. So add a LPSU where ever you can. Yes they make audible difference even on routers. But as already mentioned, these are last ditch additions when everything else is in place.

8. Room correction has audible benefits. Especially in a untreated room.

Will keep editing and adding to this as I remember more points. This is a pitiless rabbit hole as we all very well know :D
 

sandeepss

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Hi @Music Freak , Prem, Raghu, Uday & Manohar, thanks a lot for rallying around and adding your invaluable perspectives. Please do keep posting more as and when you remember them!

While I'm at it, let me too include a few more pointers:

Choice of medium: While physical media is slowly being phased out and streaming music is catching on, make sure that the music you want to listen to is available in that medium at a price you can afford. This can be an issue if the music of choice resides the best in Vinyl/Cassettes/CDs and they are no longer manufactured. The supply and demand issues and collectors entering the fray can keep the prices out of reach of the average person. For eg:- Vinyl is slowly making inroads, but owning a turntable is just a starting point, building a collection of at least 100-200 carefully selected well mastered LPs is essential to have a good listening experience from the set up. The cost of such a collection can range from being costly to prohibitively expensive depending on the music type. Same applies to out of circulation cassettes/CDs that are well mastered.
If affording the well mastered version is an issue, be aware of the trade-off that will have on the listening experience, since a chain is as strong as it's weakest link.

Pre-conceived notions: There will be lots of opinions floating around in the audio enthusiast circles regarding the quality of products, brands, sound signature from certain brands, underlying technologies etc. It would be better not to get carried away by these too much as they can precondition our minds to avoid researching and experiencing specific combinations/brands of components. We can never know, the sound that we are looking for might reside in one of them!
 
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bornfi

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The one that I have seen that is common that people buy HT receiver and then realize that they like two channel stereo system. So, before spending understand yourself, fine tune your need according to budget and then spend.
 

drkrack

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My 2.5 Paisa
1. Synergy of electronics - especially speaker/amplifier synergy, amplifier/DAC synergy is pretty important. Always drive with an amplification at least >75% of max power that can be handled by the speakers. I'm leaning towards 150% currently, because the amplifier manufacturers tend to overstate the power. Plan Exotic cables for the Last 10% of tweaking and invest only after you get the first two synergies right. If you like X speakers playing, be inquisitive about the amp and DAC /source used, try buying them as a combo whenever possible.

2. Room Acoustics : Room Speaker Synergy or adequate sized speakers, well placed with basic room acoustics doesn't cost much. It requires careful planning and spending time with your system tweaking. Try digital room correction whenever possible, it may not be for everyone, but which tweak in audio is for everyone by the way?
Be open to experimentation and take help of fellow audiophiles whenever possible.

2.5 Change is Constant - Adapt, keep an open mind, there are no hard rules. Explore different systems (box, boxless, oversampling, non oversampling, high sensitive, low sensitive, tubes, solid state, class A or class D, with sub, Without Subwoofer) everything comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, every change brings a new face of the same music you've been listening.
Next, explore different music genre, international music whenever possible. With streaming whole world music is open to you, don't restrict yourself with some preconceived notions, don't get limited to a time capsule in your own lifespan . Even if you are an analog guy, streaming is the easiest way to explore new music, buy physical media once you like it.
 
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Nikhil

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Some great points shared! Here are mine in no particular order of importance.

Not really technical but I would avoid trying to do everything all at one time. For many reasons already mentioned above, a music system should be built one step at a time. Get to know your gear, your room and more importantly listen to as many quality setups that you can to get an idea of what different gear sounds like.

Another common thing among us is trying to do comparisons between gear. It's tempting to get into discussions of AB testing and "what is best". The more you spend time in this hobby you realize that there are just different "flavors". Pick the sound you like and enjoy it. Your ears will start to resolve sound better with time and your journey will continue.

On a more serious note - this hobby has some serious downsides. The most obvious ones being the high cost of gear. Please exercise financial discipline when building your setup. Please check finances before extending your budget on your next purchase. When you purchase a piece of gear, always keep an exit point in mind. No matter what you buy, you will consider moving to something else later on. Consider the resale value of gear before you invest.

One of the big ideas of our hobby is the dedicated listening room. One should realize that this option is for the serious audio enthusiast and has some trade offs. Financial and space demands aside, isolating yourself from the family for hours on end is not always a great idea. For most I would recommend a more family friendly setup in a shared space like a living room where music can be shared with family members both young and old.

My final share would be to listen to all kinds of music without getting caught up in the audiophile "standards". There is only a certain number of times you can listen to "Hotel California", "Keith Don't Go" and "A Meeting By the River". Just play all the music you and your family can listen to and enjoy your setup. If Bollywood or EDM is your thing, just go for it. A lot of the best music is not always the best recorded. A very subjective area here but don't restrict yourself to a limited number of albums on your setup.



.
 

Nitin K

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Some great points shared! Here are mine in no particular order of importance.

Not really technical but I would avoid trying to do everything all at one time. For many reasons already mentioned above, a music system should be built one step at a time. Get to know your gear, your room and more importantly listen to as many quality setups that you can to get an idea of what different gear sounds like.

Another common thing among us is trying to do comparisons between gear. It's tempting to get into discussions of AB testing and "what is best". The more you spend time in this hobby you realize that there are just different "flavors". Pick the sound you like and enjoy it. Your ears will start to resolve sound better with time and your journey will continue.

On a more serious note - this hobby has some serious downsides. The most obvious ones being the high cost of gear. Please exercise financial discipline when building your setup. Please check finances before extending your budget on your next purchase. When you purchase a piece of gear, always keep an exit point in mind. No matter what you buy, you will consider moving to something else later on. Consider the resale value of gear before you invest.

One of the big ideas of our hobby is the dedicated listening room. One should realize that this option is for the serious audio enthusiast and has some consequences. Financial and space demands aside, isolating yourself from the family for hours on end is not always a great idea. For most I would recommend a more family friendly setup in a shared space like a living room where music can be shared with family members both young and old.

My final share would be to listen to all kinds of music without getting caught up in the audiophile "standards". There is only a certain number of times you can listen to "Hotel California", "Keith Don't Go" and "A Meeting By the River". Just play all the music you and your family can listen to and enjoy your setup. If Bollywood or EDM is your thing, just go for it. A lot of the best music is not always the best recorded. A very subjective area here but don't restrict yourself to a limited number of albums on your setup.



.

Absolutely true Nikhil, financial discipline must be exercised. Generally there is no end to human desire to keep on buying more expensive equipment especially after getting influenced by product reviews. Better to enjoy & be satisfied with what you have till the equipment conks off. Buyer's remorse is very common in this hobby & turns out to be very expensive. After buying new gear to my satisfaction as per my budget, I generally stop reading product reviews for a long time till its time to buy new gear.
 

arj

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So many mistakes, some I have learnt from and some still learning :)

Most important Synergy ie system is more important than the sum of all parts ie components. What I am most careful about are..keep the Source+Amp+Speaker the most well matched - not easy to get right but need to rely on people with trusted (y)ears

Next get the power right, it does not necessarily mean expensive power cords but things like if possible give a dedicated line and make sure the contacts in terms of plugs/sockets are firm and dont cause sparking- a good distributor does that unlike multi adaptors, Keep signal lines away from power and f they do have to cross , they cross at 90 degrees

Finally make sure components sit on firm and heavy bases/racks. For most equipment keeping them on the floor is better than an adhoc rack, especially for Tube equipment and CD transport/turntable.
 

Kannan

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Very good thread and excellent contributions from members.

One another critical aspect is the parasitic power supply to our homes and in the chain. This ultimately can affect the output.

First in the chain is to weed out DC noise from your primary AC output. This follows for the rest of you chain to keep out loop, hum, EMI etc.

Good interconnects with proper placing of equipment and cables can help keep it to the minimum.
 
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