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Mistakes to avoid - 2 channel audio

sandeepmohan

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I have something to add, though a more general statement.

At no point, should you feel under pressure to buy something just because someone asked you to. Sometimes; a particular component can be well outside your budget. In no way should this push you to the edge or make you feel disappointed about something you could not buy. Buy with the financial means you have. It in no way means you bought a dud (Off course; don't buy a Takai) just because you bought some component that is cheaper and of lesser appeal. Every price point has something good to offer. What you want may not satisfy someone else and that is absolutely fine. You are buying something for yourself.

Use product reviews as a guide only. What "What Hi Fi" rates as 5 or 6 star need not cut it for you. This applies for the more established reviewers as well.

Don't up your budget blind. Does that 50k DAC sound better than the 15K one? Does the 10k cable sound better than the 2k one? Don't let the price fool you into thinking it sounds better or let your imagination take over. Listen carefully before you put down your money and then ask yourself if it really is worth that much more for a particular component. Once again, you must tie this to what you can afford.

As already said, home demo's are the best but not all dealers provide one due to the risk involved (or rather lack of trust) in loaning equipment.
 
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raghupb

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Amplifiers
We told you not to buy speakers, but did you listen this piece of advice?
You have bought speakers (or decided to buy them) and now you have landed yourself in a pickle.
OK, so be it. Let's go hunting for that "right amplifier".

An amplifier makes the speakers you have (or plan to have) come to life and sing to you.
The simplest one is the humble Integrated Amplifier (IA). This post is about IAs.
There will be a separate post related to preamp + power-amp separates, later.
An IA has capability to host one or more sources, can connect to at least one pair of speakers, and has volume control.
They are great boxes; the industry around them has been around for 50-60 years.
Definition of what "integrated" means have changed over the decades, though.
Very few things can go wrong with such a mature technology, right? Haha!!
Actually, if one follows some simple rules of engagement, it'll be fine.

What actually happens inside an amplifier? Well ... a lot actually.
A small voltage signal at the input (from source) is made into a large voltage signal (to speakers).
In between, there is capability to control the level of the small voltage signal; the volume control.
Small signal to large signal is related to "gain" of the amplifier.
Speakers are sweet, yet nasty buggers; when they see a voltage at their input they impede or resist.
Speaker impedance, this is what it is and it is measured in Ohms.
To hold the output voltage at desired level in spite of impedance/resistance, there should be enough current capacity.
Enter the amp's power supply and transformer.
This part of the circuit/design supplies the necessary current/drive to make things go about their way.
So the power supply section of an amp needs some consideration (more on this in a later post).

Class/Topology (most common)

- Class A (old stable tech, simple designs, high current, inefficient, heat issues, usually low "watts")
- Class A/B (mature tech, simpler design, can be high current, some what efficient, low-medium "watts")
- Class D (new tech, chip based design, very efficient, bat-shit crazy "watts" in small form factor)
- Solid State (uses transistors like BJTs, FETs, MOSFETs to achieve voltage gain; most common these days)
- Single ended (usually uses vacuum tubes and are mostly Class A designs, tubes need break-in and warm-up)
- Push Pull (uses a pair of devices, tubes or transistors, can be Class A or A/B)
- feedback or no feedback (don't lose sleep about it; most SS IAs use some sort of feedback design)

Technicalities/Specifications (the really important ones related to IAs):

- power capacity (usually specified as xxx Watts per channel at y Ohms impedance over 20Hz - 20KHz range)
- peak current capacity (xx Amps per channel)
- Total Harmonic Distortion THD (usually specified as % at y Ohms at a single frequency or over a frequency range)
- analog and/or digital inputs (nice to have digital inputs or DAC onboard)
- tone/balance controls (very useful in my personal opinion)
- damping factor (usually specified as a number xxx at y Ohms at a single frequency or over a frequency range)
- remote control (yeah we are lazy bums)

Amplifier character adjectives (and my definitions):

- noisy (usually a badly executed design with weak power supply)
- bright/lively (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)
- clinical (difficult to describe, does everything right, measures great, mates well, but the fun factor is missing)
- warm (tones down HFs, great vocals, good bass; does not distract you, great for background listening)
- dull (does not draw you into listening)

Common mistakes made on amplifiers:

- not trusting your own ears; choosing amps based solely on what other people say or have
- buying based only on any one of these criteria; "watts" or "THD" or "transformer type" or "class" or "topology"
- not paying attention to impedance loads; some amps don't do less than 6 Ohm speaker loads, period
- not hearing out how they would sound with the speakers you have or plan to buy; no synergy
- cubby holing them in tight spaces and playing loud; these boxes and electronic components heat up people
- playing at ear bleed levels; sound will distort, signals will clip and cause damage to ears/amp/speakers
- going the "purist/minimalist" way (no remote, no tone/balance controls; these are nice to have practically usable features)

Enough "phukat-gyaan" for 3 posts :p
Now that we have understood speakers and amps, the next post will about common speaker-amp pairing mistakes.
More later ...

Cheers,
Raghu
 

arj

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Nice one !
wanted to add something
<snip>

What actually happens inside an amplifier? Well ... a lot actually.
A small voltage signal at the input (from source) is made into a large voltage signal (to speakers).
</snip>
This is a very crucial part of an amplifier and the power input/Power supply plays a huge role. The Analogy which explains this the best is,
If we assume the output of the amplifier to be a Sculpture , the input signal from the preamp is the "model or Muse, the Power supply output is the Piece of Stone and the Sculptor is the quality of the amplifier

Hence the Quality of the amplifier defines the detail/reality/beauty of the sculpture. the power is literally the stone from which the sculptor makes the final sculpture or the output.

So literally the amplifier shapes the input power into the closest likeness of the preamp input

If the stone itself is flawed, no matter how good the sculptor is, the output will always be flawed
 

sound_cycle

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Interesting thread.

I am well qualified to add having made most of the Mistakes to avoid - 2 channel audio :)

Mistake #1

Don't trust reviews. No one is out to cheat you. No one is probably trying to fool you. It is simply that the room is the arbiter and you are the final judge. Also everyone listens differently, for different things.

I naiively trusted a reviewer and the glowing comments made over pages of posts about a speaker. The speaker was very ordinary. Later I realized, that the reviewer had zero idea of what stereo is about.

So what I am getting at. ?

Triangulation.

Figure out whom to believe on what. Magazines, websites, reviews and posters on fora. Look for similar music tastes, listening preferences, opinions on equipment you have heard.

And have some judgement on where they are listening and how they are setup. For instance if you see pictures of bare walls and asymmetrical arrangement, move on :)

It is hugely beneficial to have a group of interested friends / FM with a range of equipment, experience to discuss and share. Which is a huge shout out to hfv.

So you match what you know, with what you hear with what you read. It is not foolproof, but I have spent mucho dinero on equipment which I have not sighted or heard, with no regrets post purchase. Except that first one, that is.

And Boy George made mistake #3.

What about #2

The smug know it all smile. I'm not feeling that confessional so in another post

Ciao
GR
 
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square_wave

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1. Half of what you hear is the room. All furnishings in your room are either absorbers or diffusers with their own acoustic properties. Ignore this at your peril.
2. Synergy of components is key to a satisfactory experience. A majority of very effective black magic lies in this area.
3. Buying home theatre equipment for stereo thinking that it is more advanced. Low to mid budget home theatre gear is the worst thing that has happened to music playback in the last couple of decades.
4. What gives you musical satisfaction for majority of your music collection should be your preferred music system.
5. Cost is not the only arbitrator for performance. Sometimes a lesser cost well matched gear will outperform a costly one.
6. Not everything that can cause a difference in sound can be measured. Ignore this at your peril.
 

SachinChavan

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‘Resist Upgraditis’

I’d say this from own experience - it pays to resist the urge to upgrade a component the moment you sense your system lacks in comparison with something you’ve heard.

It takes a lot of patience and experimentation to understand your own system and can even take years to optimise it. Work on speaker placements, connectors, cables, ICs et al till you’ve gotten the sound you like - and then work on it some more. And then some more!
It’s silly (and counterproductive) to give up on a component/speaker too soon. There will be others (even experts) who may advise you to upgrade some of it. But believe me, you are the best expert when it comes to your system. If you aren’t, keep working on becoming that.

It will be both frustrating and rewarding journey. But the emotional connect as well as the mastery you’d have of your system is worth it.

If your budget is 2 lacs, you might stretch it to 3, but don’t blindly keep upgrading and end up spending 6-8 lacs. Make it a goal to get the best possible from what you’ve spent. And most likely you will.
 

sandeepss

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Thanks to all members who have taken the time to share their thoughts on the subject! I'm sure new entrants and also old timers will benefit from the invaluable advice shared in this thread.

I assume that when we truly appreciate music (or any other art form) it makes us a better human being, a more civilized one. By pursuing this hobby, we are trying to achieve our vision of how it should be within our means, rather than reduce the hobby to a mere cerebral exercise. There are countless other music aficionados who don't pursue this as a hobby, but enjoy it with what they have. It can be through desktop speakers or headphones which cost lesser than our "budget" interconnects, but they are nevertheless having a great time with it. Since we have spend a lot more, and put in hours of research and tweaking to better the system, it is likely to look down upon others, give their system the cold stare and giving them unwanted advice on improving their equipment.
If our hobby reduces us to that, then I feel, the whole purpose is lost. So, don't be obnoxious and never be a snob :)

P.S. I just realized that my wallet is empty (literally), no more paise left to offer here, so no more rambling, good bye :D
 

raghupb

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Speaker + Amplifier (The hunt)
Before we go diving here, let's revisit the chain.
Content --> Source --> Amplifier --> Speakers

To prevent our brains from becoming "bheja-fry", these assumptions hold good for now:
- Content; the music is well recorded, mastered, transferred, formatted and/or archived
- Source;this box/component is of "acceptable" quality, as per "your" standards and requirements.
The above two topics are mega discussion threads individually, so more on this later.

The earlier assumptions are still valid, namely:

- fixed a budget, there is no right or wrong here; it is simply what you decide it to be
- worked it out with family members and have a tentative nod to bring home some new "furniture"
- planning to buy "box speakers"
- planning to buy an "integrated amplifier"

OK, now you are all set for a crazy hunt. You will get onto HFV and other forums, some of them international.
For what you think is your first or next "killer amp", there is a Brazilian dude writing lengthy articles in Portugese.
And the amp is a Chinese make with documentation in Mandarin. And you don't trust Google translate.
Assuming you are a guy, you somehow befriend a hot Brazilian girl and a cute Chinese girl.
They are very excited with your friendship, until you ask them to translate obscure stuff.
There are only two outcomes here:
- they will be mildly disappointed with you
- they will be terribly pissed off with you (most likely outcome)
If the result of befriend-translate experiment gets you two kicks in the nuts, please record and upload.
We on this forum love to laugh our butts off or get cheap thrills from funny videos.

Break time now, more meat and potatoes in later post/s ...
Cheers,
Raghu
 

Enkay78

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Too good a thread.


But one thing you guys have left out:

What are you going to suggest to fellow FMs who can't/doesn't/not available for audition? How to decide what to buy then....and how to avoid making the mistakes?


For example , in Manipur where I stay there is NOT A SINGLE DEALER of HiFi (unless I become one :)) to audition. So it's very hard to decide what electronics and speakers to decide on. One is left with YouTube reviews, forum like this, and other websites to bank on.

So I guess it's more of trial and error for those of us in immature hifi markets.

And for beginners like me, I definitely won't like to dabble too much in very expensive systems. So options left is to try outs budgets ones......even lean more on Chinese products. It's a bit of a dilemma.


And then there are those threads with so very high end stuffs............and......no..... opportunity....for audition. :)
 

MaSh

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Wow this thread is becoming a Wikipedia of sorts. It should become a Sticky.

Most of the mistakes are already covered and I raise my to have committed most of them.

One mistake or rather advice which proved useful to me was Make Friends. Use a Forum like this to make friends who are like minded and have similar tastes. Have Mentors who can guide you to the next level, who can correct your plans, advice you on trying to use your setup in a better way. Trust me, mentors are your best friends in any hobby.

MaSh
 

raghupb

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Too good a thread.


But one thing you guys have left out:

What are you going to suggest to fellow FMs who can't/doesn't/not available for audition? How to decide what to buy then....and how to avoid making the mistakes?


For example , in Manipur where I stay there is NOT A SINGLE DEALER of HiFi (unless I become one :)) to audition. So it's very hard to decide what electronics and speakers to decide on. One is left with YouTube reviews, forum like this, and other websites to bank on.

So I guess it's more of trial and error for those of us in immature hifi markets.

And for beginners like me, I definitely won't like to dabble too much in very expensive systems. So options left is to try outs budgets ones......even lean more on Chinese products. It's a bit of a dilemma.


And then there are those threads with so very high end stuffs............and......no..... opportunity....for audition. :)
This is too funny!! Become a dealer :p
We can collectively suggest some out of box solutions on forum, like it has always been done.
Hopefully a method to the madness will evolve over time.

Cheers,
Raghu
 

prem

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I thought I must share what Naturelover did here. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing. Being in Nagpur, he had limited options. So he visited Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Cochin, primarily to hear different systems, both at dealers and members homes. Basis his listening sessions, he shortlisted his system. Not all might go to the extent Naturelover did, but one could consider the option of visiting at least one city and hear different systems. And remember to tell your wife you’re taking her on a holiday. Don’t even mention audition and stuff like that to her. :)
 

raghupb

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I thought I must share what Naturelover did here. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing. Being in Nagpur, he had limited options. So he visited Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Cochin, primarily to hear different systems, both at dealers and members homes. Basis his listening sessions, he shortlisted his system. Not all might go to the extent Naturelover did, but one could consider the option of visiting at least one city and hear different systems. And remember to tell your wife you’re taking her on a holiday. Don’t even mention audition and stuff like that to her. :)
See, "Out of Box" thinking!!
Cheers,
Raghu
 

sandeepss

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But one thing you guys have left out:

What are you going to suggest to fellow FMs who can't/doesn't/not available for audition? How to decide what to buy then....and how to avoid making the mistakes?
Hi Enkay78,

this is a real issue and was included as a disclaimer in the first post :)

As FM Kannan mentioned, getting demos in cities itself is difficult. The dealer I have here is called "Hifidemo room" but he doesn't provide any demos (how ironical :))
As FM Prem & Raghu suggested, the best way will be to travel to nearest location which has dealers who allow demo or visit friends with gear. I had driven to Cochin ProFx to demo and buy my first set of speakers. It's part of the fun and cost of the system, I guess :)
 
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Enkay78

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I thought I must share what Naturelover did here. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing. Being in Nagpur, he had limited options. So he visited Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Cochin, primarily to hear different systems, both at dealers and members homes. Basis his listening sessions, he shortlisted his system. Not all might go to the extent Naturelover did, but one could consider the option of visiting at least one city and hear different systems. And remember to tell your wife you’re taking her on a holiday. Don’t even mention audition and stuff like that to her. :)
Hahahaha......


Cannot do that yet....the love bug is still yet to get big.
 

Enkay78

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For me, this forum is second best to audition. Here I can note the passion and attention to detail......which are quite educating for me.

All those listed in the thread are gems of knowledge and experience. I guess one has to take advantage of that ......as a substitute to a 'real' audition.


It so happen, some of the opinions and subjective reviews here do get bang on target with what I experienced... especially when one study and research the taste of the reviewers. (Sometimes I value this more than professional reviewers states). In addition to this forum, I find audiogon also a very good repository of knowledge.


So I am holding to this ....for the time being. I am yet to get the big bite to go to Singapore for the grand audition .....Adelphi Mall


........but when the times comes :D:D:D:D
 

blackscorpio

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I thought I must share what Naturelover did here. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing. Being in Nagpur, he had limited options. So he visited Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Cochin, primarily to hear different systems, both at dealers and members homes. Basis his listening sessions, he shortlisted his system. Not all might go to the extent Naturelover did, but one could consider the option of visiting at least one city and hear different systems. And remember to tell your wife you’re taking her on a holiday. Don’t even mention audition and stuff like that to her. :)
We should have a sticky, city wise, FMs who are ready to let the other members come for audition to their homes. May be a google sheet with all the system details, comfortable times, etc, etc.. so members can update the google sheet when something changes.
 
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