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Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo Sounds Better Than Yours 674

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-the-candy-tasted-better-too dept.
asto21 writes "Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years, actual sound quality became a secondary selling point since most people started buying their equipment either online or from big box retailers. People started caring more about the number of connections and wireless interfaces and wattage of systems. As a result, there was less money in R&D budgets to spend on advancements in sound."
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Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo Sounds Better Than Yours

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  • by Danathar (267989) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:39PM (#36910722) Journal

    I'm 41.

    Years of listening to Rush, Van Halen, ACDC, Iron Maiden, Def Leopard, Metallica ,Yngvie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani (among others) at ear splitting volumes has probably reduced the audio reception fidelity of my ear drum to that of a crappy mid 80's Krako speaker set bought from radio shack.

    So while I lament with you about the loss of speaker quality I seriously doubt I'd be able to hear the difference.

  • by icebike (68054) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:40PM (#36910734)

    Quality is mostly subjective anyway. Good marketing has a much bigger influence on your subjective impression of quality than actual linearity in response and low noise floor. We got to the point of diminishing returns on audio quality decades ago.

    Well to a point is is subjective.
    But sitting blindfolded 10 feet away from a single violinist and two very expensive speakers powered by a very expensive tube amp back in the early 80s and NOT being able to tell the difference convinced me that "its all subjective" argument is mostly an excuse.

    Switching in a transistor amp was immediately noticed.
    Switching in different mics was obvious.
    Switching in the Moster cables, - not so much.

    We have backed off so far from the point of diminishing returns since then. Of course my ears have backed off a bit too over the decades.
    Never the less, you really can't compare the output of any modern digital sound chip driving earbuds from an mp3 to to analog sound
    from tubes into big speakers or even studio quality headphones and waive the difference away as "subjective".

  • by xclr8r (658786) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:47PM (#36910820)

    Not only that , but how can a lack of R&D be to blame for a decline in sound quality? If audio quality failed to improve, you could blame it on lack of R&D, but there's got to be more to it than that for quality to *degrade* over time. With NO R&D AT ALL, at the least we should have exactly AS GOOD sound as "your dad's thirty-year-old stereo".

    I'd have to disagree. As you add more and more complexity to a device there are power drains and voltage/capcitance/current/frequency issues to be worked out.

    To put a bad analogy on it.. it's like saying "Lets add a 1000W lamp to this wall socket and not expect anything bad happen to the Audio on the same circuit." Talk to any sound engineer (read non-audiphile subscriber) and they will have tons of stories on how fickle sound set ups can be when no one knowledgeable is watching the setup and correcting things.

  • by unixfan (571579) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:12PM (#36911216) Homepage

    Exactly. It's not like they still carry my old stereo from yesteryear. As the article says, they spend less since people are not willing to spend as much. I noticed the same decline in electronic shops. Back when microcomputers came out it was easy to find a store to buy quality components and have a good selection.
    Now the only one that seem to still be in business is RadioShack. Not exactly what it was a few decades ago either.

    I listened to a 5.1 system my daughter had and it was kinda OK when watching a movie. But once you turned on quality music - yikes!

    It was very surprising to hear how a 5.1 system could sound so bad. Which was mostly due to the crappy speakers they included. I got spoiled with studio equipment and could never listen to anything less without being disappointed. Of course everyone wanted to know what I thought of Their stereo. About which one has to get very clever on how one answers. My reply ended up being that they sound pretty good for what they paid. Unless they actually wanted to know the truth.

    If you don't actually sit and listen to a good system, or live music, it's not that easy to realize what it should sound like. With all the get everything from the comfort of your own home, that becomes harder and harder. Yeah, my 30 old system sounded a lot better (though only with two speakers) than todays average 5/6/7.1 systems.

    Quality is not either subjective. How accurately can your equipment reproduce a sound? Your taste is subjective but that's another story.
    Marketing does affect what people buy, especially when they can't tell the difference.

  • Amar Bose anecdote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snsh (968808) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:32PM (#36911578)

    Sometime in the early 20th century RCA did an experiment where they had people come into a room where opera music was playing. They had the test subject adjust two dials until the music sounded 'best'.

    The result was half the subjects turned both dials all the way down. The other half adjusted the dials to the midpoints.

    The two dials were for treble and bass. Half the test subjects were people who went to a lot of live opera performances. The other half where people who listened mostly to the radio. The live listeners adjusted the dials to the midpoint, matching the sound they usually listen to. The other half listened over the radio. They adjusted the dials all the way down because that's how radio sounds.

    The moral of the story- what "sounds best" depends a lot on what you think "sounds best", and is not necessarily a measure of accurate sound reproduction.

  • Re:in other news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @02:15PM (#36912270)

    Let me tell you a story about a taster of vodka. He was given, blind, and in random order, 10 shots of vodka. 9 were from a cheap bottle, 1 unfiltered and the other 8 passed through a water filter (this improves the smoothness of vodka) a respective number of times (1 once, 1 twice, etc.) The other shot was from a 60$ bottle. He was able to place each shot in precise order of smoothness by how many times it had been filtered, and the 60$ bottle shot was at the top. So, the unfiltered shot ranked a 1, the once filtered ranked 2, etc. I am by no means insisting that, between nearly identical products, the spendier is better. Well, obviously there can be psychological effects, but those will never pass a blind taste test.

    The case of the cigarettes I mentioned offers an example. The Camels are not pure tobacco: numerous other chemicals are added to make them cheaper, so that the producer doesn't need to buy as much actual tobacco. The Shermans are, of course, pure 100% natural tobacco. Or your example of cars: the Toyota may be better, despite being cheaper. But it certainly is nowhere near as good as, say, a Lamborghini. For the uneducated (I am aware how snobbish that sounds), they will typically say that expensive=better automatically. This is not always true, as you say. But the more expensive can be made better than the cheaper. Sometimes the maker will rely on his name or the perception of difference to sell at a higher price. But usually, for an open market in an educated area, pricier=better. Not always, but generally. I.e. if you buy a $20 "iPod", you can expect crap. If you buy a $300 iPod equivalent, chances are it will be better. This is also why I said that learning is key. Most audiophiles can't really hear the quality they pretend to, and simply enjoy it more because they spent more on it. (In fact, this is a valid psychological reaction that really does increase enjoyment, so don't downplay it). But some really can hear good-quality sound. These rarely spend nearly as much as the "audiophiles" do, because they actually can tell that $1000 speakers are about the same as, say $400 ones. But no $100 speaker can match those $400 ones. (prices for illustration only, not meant to reflect actual real-world prices).

    So you definitely have a valid point. But if you want real quality, expect to pay extra. And a little more extra because so few people can actually tell real quality.

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