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Music Hardware Technology

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 bugs2squash (1132591) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:11PM (#36910314)
    what makes it sound good. Surely there's no need for more R&D to maintain the status quo. What sunk good sound was a desire to push down the costs.
    • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:18PM (#36910402)
      Good sound quality is still out there and still being improved. Companies like NAD [nadelectronics.com] are still in business and still developing amazing gear.
      • by treeves (963993) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:39PM (#36910720) Homepage Journal

        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".

        • 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 Ihmhi (1206036)

            True, but it's not like you need good sound quality anymore. In fact, you'd probably want the opposite considering how mastering a track nowadays seems to involve going to the sound board and jamming every slider and dial up as high as it'll go.

            • by epine (68316)

              Dad still plays on his 30 year old stereo 30 year old music. Not a lot of wrong notes (or mixer catastrophes) on Dark Side of the Moon. Goes well with a 30 year old whiskey, too.

              In my case, the amplifier is a NAD 7040 and a small pair of B&W S3. The NAD doesn't give a damn about driving 4 ohms. This speaker is reputed to be 8 ohms at most, and well less than 8 ohms over fairly wide sub bands.

              I'd love to upgrade the caps, but my own caps are going, and dentists aren't cheap.

              • by Plekto (1018050) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @02:44PM (#36912634)

                Impedance is highly variable for most speakers and while the average impedance is listed at 4phms, it will often dip down to 2 or 3 ohms near the lower end.

                There is no substitute for mass. (this is a favorite saying of mine)

                Q: Why does your Dad's stereo sound better?
                A: Op-Aps and cost-cutting.

                You can't tow a boat with a Prius, and you can't expect a bunch of ICs and cheap 50 cent components to properly amplify anything for any reasonable amount of time or at a decent volume. If your amplifier doesn't weigh on the order of your dad's old one, you're not going to get the same sound out of it. Everything about amplification and electronic theory was known and done as of about thirty years ago. There is no magic. Only trickery and marketing.

                The biggest lie of them all is wattage. 95%+ of the time, they state wattage as maximum through one speaker. So that 200W 7 channel amplifier is actually only putting out about 29W to each speaker, maximum. But distortion and heat will limit you to about half of that continuously, or about 15W per channel. Given that typical speakers are about 87-89db efficient, that means that you net a pathetic 90db or so that's actually usable. While this is still quite loud, it's far below what you really need for good home theater. Most people try to compensate for this by turning up the volume, but all that really does is bombard them with more and more high frequency sound since the bass long ago disappeared. This, naturally, leads to listening fatigue and hearing damage. The older amplifiers were rated as typically 100W per channel or more, and could deliver about 80% of their maximum rated volume without any problems. They did not get weak under heavy loads or strong bass, either.

                This also applies to the most critical aspect of the system, the speakers. You simply cannot convey a full sound through miserable little 5 or 6 inch speakers. And a single subwoofer is a poor way to fill in for a weak mid-range and missing low-end. You don't play your guitar or bass through a 6 inch cabinet, but somehow people forgot to use common sense. So often you have a decent amplifier hooked up to junk speakers. You "father's system", I bet, has 8 or even 12 inch woofers in the main speakers, as this was common back in the 70s and 80s. In order to produce a convincing sound, you need to move air and create enough sound pressure. Or else it sounds like your neighbor's stereo does from down the street - tinny and distant.

                But all of this is truly ancient news. People were discussing this twenty years ago or more online.

                • Phms. They rule your hi-fi.

                • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @04:25PM (#36913962)

                  There is no substitute for mass.

                  This is generally true, however with switching supplies and Class-D amplifiers, really good sound is available from feather-weight amps. A LOT of attention needs to be paid to filtering, switching frequencies, fast diodes, shielding, load compatibility, etc, but assuming these issues are competently addressed, a light-weight amp can sound good and have plenty of grunt.

                  Q: Why does your Dad's stereo sound better?
                  A: Op-Aps and cost-cutting.

                  Cost cutting yes, op amps not necessarily. With a correctly chosen op amp in a correctly designed circuit, sound as good as or better than discrete designs is possible. Unfortunately, too many designers assume that a TL071 or an NE5534 in a garden variety topology is sufficient. It isn't.

                  The biggest lie of them all is wattage.

                  I'd say that the biggest lie is THD. Not that the spec'd THD figure is incorrect, (that's another issue), but that THD is a poor predictor of sound quality. Distortion figures of 0.1% or more are appalling to the average audio engineer; however if the harmonic content is mostly low-order and mostly even-order, an amp with this much distortion, or even more, can sound wonderful. On the other hand, an amplifier can have a 0.001% distortion spec and sound truly awful. This happens when a circuit that is inherently highly non-linear is given a low THD spec by using copious amounts of negative feedback. This causes lots of high-order odd harmonics, which are subjectively much, much more objectionable; the THD spec is good, but the amp sounds harsh and sterile. Even in the 1940's this problem was recognized, and highly respected audio engineers suggested that THD be calculated by weighting harmonics according to the square, or even the cube, of their order. These engineers were ignored by an industry that was increasingly driven by specsmanship and cost-cutting rather than by sound quality.

                  You simply cannot convey a full sound through miserable little 5 or 6 inch speakers.

                  If you're talking about overall speaker size then you are correct, however if you're talking about just the driver size then there's an experience you've missed. A good full-range driver in the 4-to-6 inch range, (an expensive Lowther driver, or even a fairly cheap Fostex), in a nice big cabinet that horn-loads the back of the speaker, can produce surprising amounts of bass and an overall magical sound.

            • I can't remember the specific article I read, but hopefully the Loudness War is coming to an end because of the rise of digital streaming (and their normalization and other volume adjusting algorithms), but who knows, that could start a Dynamics War.

              Wikipedia has some info on it:
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war#2010s [wikipedia.org]

            • by hazydave (96747)

              It's actually worse than that -- the raw mix is probably fine. The mastering engineer has the dial cranked on the compressor -- that's how you turn a 24-bit master into a 16-bit CD or MP3 with, if you're lucky, 8-bits of actual dynamic range.

              Of course, if that were true of all music, it might put upward pressure on ensuring a low THD on the amplifiers, even if dynamic range weren't important.

              Some places, like HD Tracks, sell music with much better mastering... sometimes even no audio compression at all. I h

          • by jschottm (317343)

            As a sound engineer, I'm curious what a "voltage/capcitance/current/frequency issue" is? I was mostly with you up until the frequency part.

            The things that have been added to stereos (mostly surround processing, some simple source switching, and D/A converters) since the 70s aren't huge power sucks to the extent they would cause amplifiers to sound worse.

            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."

            As long as there's not a di

        • by eldepeche (854916) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:52PM (#36910902)

          Your dad's 30-year-old stereo was probably well-made and sort of expensive if it's still in good condition now. A cheap stereo you bought at Walmart is not. The gear being sold today has inferior components.

          • 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.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      You don't need it to sound good when your goal is to crank it and get baked, and you're used to shitty little earphones anyway.

    • Uh, yeah there is. People want to change the inputs, outputs, add HD radio, blah blah blah. Now, do that while keeping the original audio quality intact. I have a stereo from 1988, 1996, and 2006.

      There is a noticeable audio quality drop off when listening to CD between them as time goes on, and I paid more and more for them because I wanted to get something I could listen to and even brought a few home in 2006 that I had to return the next day they sounded so awful when I was listening to my music (and not

    • by JamesP (688957)

      Sound quality is not a secret.

      But I guess modern 'sucktitude' is attributable to several issues:

      (before the deficiencies of CD mixing or mp3 encoding)
      - Sound comes out of a digital player using a 1-bit DAC. A consumer 1-bit DAC can't beat a 16-bit DAC PERIOD. It's like comparing the image quality of a webcam to a DSLR (a 1-bit DAC can beat a 'proper' DAC if using a very high frequency).
      - sound circuit: Most modern amplifiers use 1 or 2 chips (being one power chip). Very high gain (and very high feedback). P

    • Huge Gap (Score:5, Insightful)

      by softWare3ngineer (2007302) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:30PM (#36910578)
      I think one of the biggest issues is the gap in price between good products and low end stuff. I want my music to sound good and I'm willing to buy something that is 3x the cost of the everyday / low end equipment. But instead I'm given the choice between low end equipment or pro-awesome-blow-your-mind stuff that is 10 times more expensive, with nothing in between. I would love the more expensive stuff, but I just can't afford a 10,000 worth of stereo gear.
    • Good point.

      But maybe engineers realized further improvements would be undetectable to humans ears.

      Or maybe its the quality of the sound delivered by digital media that has deteriorated, rather than the quality of the equipment.

      Or maybe you dad just had better music to listen to.

      Just sayin'

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:55PM (#36910942)

      It is actually amazing how good modern speakers can sound. If you buy higher end hardware these days it is damn impressive. However it costs more. Not more than it used to, just more than the cheap stuff.

      This article is stupid because it is looking back and pretending as though 30 years ago HiFi sets were common and cheap. Not hardly. They were expensive and rare. Take the price you'd pay for one, adjust for inflation, and then see what you'd get with your money today. You'd probably be pretty impressed. Please remember that $500 in 1980 is $1,305 today. You can get a pretty heavy hitting receiver for that kind of cash.

      Also 5/7.1 has to be taken in to account. Receivers are asked to do more these days, not even taking in to account the stuff he's whining about. Time was they were just amplifiers and preamplifiers for two channels, and maybe a tuner. Now they do all that for 5, 7, or more channels and handle decoding of digital formats, crossovers, maybe room correction, and so on. For all that, they still sound good, amps are not often your problem in sound quality (speakers are).

      He seems to be whining that they can't make quality cheap. Well, too bad. That is a frequent problem. Quality costs money. You want quality sound? Go buy it. I love my system, it is extremely good sounding. However it did run me like $6,000 for a 5.1 setup. Don't want to spend that much? I totally understand, but you can't then cry that a $600 system doesn't sound as good.

  • by VolciMaster (821873) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:12PM (#36910322) Homepage
    Who would've *ever* guessed?

    Seriously, though - I think part of it, too, is the use of tubes 30 years ago vs now. My dad's old Teac stereo he bought in 1970 still sounds better than 95% of what I see in stores nowadays :-\

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:24PM (#36910494) Journal

      Solid state is much more linear and low noise than any tubes could hope to be. You might think they sound "better" because you like the characteristics of the distortion they produce. But that's unrelated to what we normally consider audio quality.

      • Solid state is really linear until you hit the top hat--then it is incredibly non-linear.

      • Yea but if it was what people preferred, then it was better. And it was what people preferred except for portables and car radios.

        Up to about the 1950's, radio companies did not care what % distortion an amp had; they experimented with different amp circuits and depended mainly on polls of ordinary people listening and choosing which one sounded better. It is possible to design a tube audio amp with a very low amount of distortion {--tube amps are still used as the final stage of radio broadcasting system
        • by Hatta (162192)

          Yea but if it was what people preferred, then it was better.

          I've got to disagree fundamentally with this statement. When it comes to audio reproduction quality is accuracy, nothing else.

  • TFA (Score:4, Informative)

    by Translation Error (1176675) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:13PM (#36910342)
    Shouldn't the article say more than the summary?
  • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:14PM (#36910356)
    Sound quality is still a selling point to people who want it, and those people will still find a wide selection of good quality components. However most consumers dont want to deal with setting up expensive speaker systems and finding the 'sweet spot' in the room etc. They just want a box that noise comes out of, and thats what they purchase.
  • by Anrego (830717) * on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:15PM (#36910360)

    I’d also like to throw into the pile the complete obsession with bass in the current generation. It seems to have become the major selling point of speakers at the expense of the mid and high ranges. I like to feel my rib cage rattle as much as anyone else, but I also like those sharp, crystal clear highs.

    And it’s of course mandatory to point out that current music sucks, and kids these days only listen to low quality mp3 versions of it anyway and no one has an appreciation for proper sound reproduction and other such “get off my lawn” arguments ;p

    I’d also like to note that modern speakers aren’t big enough! I don’t care about volume (personally I don’t like stuff ear-bleeding loud) but my dad’s huge (up to my neck) floor speakers have a presence that you just don’t get with the modern stuff I’m guessing because they just move more air due to their size.

    • by steveg (55825)

      Um. This isn't new.

      My parents compalined about all the bass in my music. This was in 1974 or so.

      But yeah, I always liked the highs too.

      Older speakers also sound better because they're *denser*. They are made of heavier materials, so the speaker body doesn't flex like newer ones.

    • by dwater (72834)

      if you like great sound on the move, i recommend the Nokia N9 (or N950). really excellent sound(imo)

    • "Iâ(TM)d also like to note that modern speakers arenâ(TM)t big enough!"

      That's the truth. Sound is nothing but changes in air pressure and small speaker simply can not move enough air. I'm completely baffled how the 4" subwoofer was accepted by the public.

    • by AdamWill (604569) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:51PM (#36910874) Homepage

      it's not so much about more air, it's frequencies. The ability to reproduce low end frequencies is directly dependent on the actual size of the speaker, which is why subwoofers have to be so effing huge. But we didn't used to have subwoofers; we had tower speakers, which are big enough that they can incorporate a woofer capable of decent low frequencies. All things being equal, a single speaker producing a full range of frequencies will sound better than two separate speakers (bookshelf plus separate subwoofer). So a pair of floorstanders is going to sound better than two bookshelves and a smallish subwoofer.

      These days the real high end setups use a couple of floorstanders for everything down to about 50Hz, and a real bigass subwoofer for 10Hz through 50Hz, which is truly non-directional. But most people (including me) use a couple of bookshelves for 100Hz and up, and a 10-12" subwoofer which can probably do about 30-100Hz. (Or, they have bookshelves and a subwoofer and completely mess up the configuration of the cutoff point, which is probably more common and the reason lots of people's systems sound crappy). The bookshelves plus subwoofer setup can sound pretty good if you're careful about the cutoff point and the phase and everything, but never quite as nice as a good pair of floorstanders.

    • by Burning1 (204959) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @01:26PM (#36911496) Homepage

      Bigger speakers are generally going to have more presence because the speaker drivers themselves have better impedance with the air at low frequencies, and the heavier drivers tend to be more efficient at that frequency range. A good 10-12 inch driver should be able to get all the way down to 20hz, which is about the limit of human hearing; (though frequencies below that can still be felt.) With a modern speaker using a smaller 6 inch driver to produce low frequencies, the bottom end of the range will either be lost, or it will have to be normalized to the midrange; doing so tends to induce distortion.

      More or less the top-of-the-line in consumer grade speakers is the Klipschhorn, which horn loads the tweeter and midrange, and uses the interior of the cabinet and your wall to horn load the woofer. The horns again deliver better impedance with the air, making it one of the most efficient speakers on the market. It's capable of producing 105db of sound from one watt of input power.

      For what it's worth, I'm in my late 20s and grew up listening to a lot of the classics. I love Zep, and a number of others. There's good stuff coming out now too, but if all you do is listen to the radio, you're unlikely to hear it.

  • by Gunkerty Jeb (1950964) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:16PM (#36910370)
    I'll keep my old-school Cerwin Vega's thank you very much.
  • Almost (Score:5, Funny)

    by steveg (55825) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:17PM (#36910378)

    Sorry not true.

    *My* 30 year old stereo sounds better than yours.

  • in other news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by burris (122191) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:18PM (#36910396)

    Most people buy wine to catch a buzz and are primarily concerned that the product contains sufficient alcohol and isn't totally repulsive. Some people can, or think they can, taste a difference and will pay more. Some people are concerned with impressing their guests and buy expensive stuff with a famous label whether it tastes better or not.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I'd mod you up if I hadn't already posted.

      A large part of it has to do with training and the effort one puts into it. That being said, few people really need pro audio gear that aren't professionals and nobody needs audiophile gear. You very quickly reach the point of diminishing returns even with amazing hearing.

      The folks who spend more are frequently more interested in appearance than actual use.

    • My favorite, is people that buy high end stuff and then mix it.

      Like wine, sure there are some subtle differences between "normal" and "high end". However all that is lost when you mix it with coke, juice, or whatever you favorite is. If you don't like to drink straight up, then don't bother wasting you money making Grey Goose Screwdrivers or Patron Margaritas...

  • by ubergeek65536 (862868) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:26PM (#36910516)

    99% of popular music sounds like crap on any audio equipment. Engineers severly compress the audio dynamic range in order to make everything louder. The result is crap sounding music. You may also want to disable the virtual tin can mode on the DSP settings.

  • by cvtan (752695) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:29PM (#36910556)
    After working at Kodak for 26 years in electronic imaging and hearing nothing but "IMAGE QUALITY", I am now faced with a world where everyone is taking crappy pictures with crappy cell phone cameras. Why did we bother?? As in the stereo world, cost and convenience trump what used to be important.
    • by AdamWill (604569) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:56PM (#36910962) Homepage

      everyone? In my circle, ownership of DSLRs seems to be going up quite rapidly.

      I think there's more a spreading of the market to extremes; medium-quality compacts are getting squeezed out by cameraphones at the low end where you really just want a rough reproduction of some event, and DSLRs and interchangeable lens, large sensor compacts at the high end. (Boy, I can't wait for the NEX-7).

    • by Nimey (114278)

      More like they've got their cells with them and don't have to remember to bring a nicer camera.

      Convenience.

    • by Lost Race (681080) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @03:47PM (#36913520)
      I have a big bulky DSLR ... in a camera bag ... at home. I also have a camera/phone in my pocket, ready to take a picture any second of the day. Guess which ones takes more shots? Image quality is far less important than image content -- interesting things happen suddenly and rarely wait around for me to run home and get my good camera. Cost isn't nearly as much of an issue as convenience. Remember: the best camera is the one you have in hand, ready to shoot. Of necessity that one is usually going to be small, fast, expendable, and therefore relatively low-quality.
  • My Paradigm speakers sound pretty damn good. With the prices they charge, they have plenty of money to put into R&D. Well worth the price, IMO.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:30PM (#36910572) Journal
    From the original CNet article:

    Right up through most of the 1990s power ratings differentiated models within a given manufacturer's lineup, but that's barely true anymore. In those days the least expensive models had 20 or 30 watts a channel, but now most low- to midprice receivers have around 100 watts per channel. For example, Pioneer's least expensive receiver, the VSX-521 ($250) is rated at 80 watts a channel; its VSX-1021 ($550) only gets you to 90 watts: and by the time you reach the VSX-53 ($1,100) you're only up to 110 watts per channel! Doubling the budget to $2,200 gets you 140 watts per channel from their SC-37 receiver. Denon's brand-new $5,500 AVR-5308CI delivers 150 watts per channel! The 31-year-old Pioneer SX-1980 receiver Butterworth wrote about was rated at 270 watts per channel. He tested the Pioneer and confirmed the specifications: "It delivered 273.3 watts into 8 ohms and 338.0 watts into 4 ohms." It's a stereo receiver, but it totally blew away Denon's state-of-the-art flagship model in terms of power delivery!

    Emphasis mine. So I noticed that you didn't adjust the SX-1980's price into 2010 dollars so let's ask Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] about the cost of an SX-1980 in today's dollars:

    Its retail price in 1978 was $1295.00. According to the average historical price of gold, it would have listed for an equivalent of $8199.42 in 2010.

    Okay. Show me that industry wide receivers that cost in excess of eight grand are vastly inferior to the SX-1980 and we'll have a conversation. What's the Yamaha RX-V1800 cost these days? One grand? Am I surprised your blind listening test found something that costs over eight times that amount sounds better?

    Here's what you're noticing: the market of people who want to sink ten grand into a receiver (just the receiver alone!) isn't big enough for them to waste their time making the absolutely perfect everything just in the name of sound quality. You're going to design the circuit board and power output entirely devoted to sound quality? Not if you're only going to sell a hundred units.

    I have a lot of audiophile friends but I don't often hear "Gee, I wish they sold an eight thousand dollar receiver devoted to sound quality so I could really blow some money to climb from the 90th to 98th percentile of sound quality."

    • by nabsltd (1313397)

      Okay. Show me that industry wide receivers that cost in excess of eight grand are vastly inferior to the SX-1980 and we'll have a conversation. What's the Yamaha RX-V1800 cost these days? One grand?

      I'd also like to point out that the RX-V1800 is rated at 170W x 7 channels for a total power output of 1,190W, compared to the 273W x 2 for the SX-1980. How much more would the SX-1980 have cost if it had to output twice the wattage at the same other specs (frequency response, THD, etc.)?

  • by Freddybear (1805256) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:30PM (#36910586)

    Cheap crap 30 years ago sounded just as bad as cheap crap now. Good quality audio gear wasn't cheap back then and it's not cheap now.

    • I can tell the difference between $3 and $6 headphones. The sound distortion on the cheapest ones is horrible and they're not worth using. But I can't tell the difference between the $6 and the $20 headphones. I'd need to jump up to the $100 range to get another radical improvement in quality. Since I don't have that sort of cash lying around, I am content to use the $6 headphones. They work, that's all they need to do.
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:32PM (#36910606)

    It was taught to respect it's elders, not like these young punk stereos you see walking around with their pants hanging off their butts. And, MY dad's stereo mowed the lawn every week without having to be told. Don't you know that builds character??

  • Mass market digital began the decline in audio fidelity with the advent of the audio CD. At a sampling rate of only 44.1 KHz, it's incapable of resolving enough detail at the upper range of human hearing to sound natural. Coupled with the dithering added in the D/A conversion process to mask inherent sampling noise you have a format with harsh sounding highs and a severely constrained soundstage. Even when factoring in all of the obvious faults of analog vinyl records, a top-end analog system with a decent

  • 1. In an age of digitally compressed music (MP3s, Ogg, even ATRAC, and others) true fidelity is a wast of money. The source is so relatively awful that good gear cannot fix the problems. And actually, if you are listening to most pop/rap/hiphop/etc music, it's been so worked over in the studio that you're wasting your dynamic range. Headroom for these genres is measured underneath your steering wheel. That audience doesn't care.

    2. Much gear is build with integrated power stages, which just don't compare

  • 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 Megane (129182) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:59PM (#36911014) Homepage
      Wait a few more years and HDTV won't seem so impressive to you anymore, either.
    • Heh heh... Reminds me of a theory a friend of mine has. We went to several of a series of free outdoor concerts recently, and for every one - regardless of genre - they had the volume turned up so loud that we had to move back 50 yards from the stage just to hear it properly. Seriously, a folksy singer/songwriter? Turn it up to 11! His theory was that the sound guy's hearing was shot from decades of working rock concerts, and he was just setting the volume to what sounded good to him.

  • actual article(s) (Score:5, Informative)

    by demonbug (309515) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:39PM (#36910728) Journal

    Since apparently linking to the pages with the actual content in the summary is a no-no, here they are:

    First, the Cnet [cnet.com] article talking about the test that someone else did.

    Next, the actual source article [iavscanada.com].

  • by treeves (963993) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:43PM (#36910758) Homepage Journal

    Steve Guttenberg was amusing in the Police Academy movies (though not nearly as good as Leslie Nielsen), but why should I trust him for advice about audio gear?

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      In all seriousness, I'm not sure why anyone should listen to this Steve Guttenberg, either. He's one of those Stereophile kooks who loves to go on about how much better things sound once you add that $1000 speaker cable to the system.

      Besides, if he really thinks 30 year old stereo systems sound better, what is he doing raving about modern ultra-high end electronics, speakers, and *cables* in his reviews, anyway? I'm pretty sure my Dad didn't pay $1000 for his speaker cables, and I'm pretty sure someone tr

  • Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years

    So that's what happened to his career after "Three Men and a Baby"!

  • by Voyager529 (1363959) <`voyager529' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:52PM (#36910910)

    The article's general argument (I know, I know) is that adding in all the whizbang features like Bluetooth connectivity and HD Radio, and the licensing fees involved has eaten up all the money to the point where there's little left for R&D for clearer audio. I think the problem is simpler than that, and twofold.

    First, people by and large no longer actively listen to music. We listen while doing something else. Whether that 'something else' is driving, jogging, cleaning, working, or whatever else...it's no longer a sit-down activity like it was in the past. I'd argue that the most common audio output device is the iPod earbuds. They sound pretty decent for bundled earbuds, but that's like congratulating Apple for making the prettiest Terminal window for OSX. Point is, even a $500 Sony receiver with its bundled speakers is going to sound better than /that/. It's actually going to sound a LOT better than that. The floor is much lower than it was 30 years ago, therefore, it doesn't take the same amount of audio quality to greatly surpass it.

    Second, most people when stereo shopping are looking for something that sounds "very good". Being as the majority of said consumers are pretty easy to please in that regard according to point #1, now Sony has to distinguish itself between Yamaha and Denon and Onkyo when they're shown next to each other. How do you do that in a way that prints well on shelf tags? Answer: good luck. That's where the arms race of having 1,001 connectors, bluetooth, XM, Pandora, laser light shows on the front, spiffy animations, 1,000,001 EQ settings, pseudo-surround from the stereo speakers, etc. all comes in to play: Bluetooth vs. no Bluetooth is very easy to distinguish. Wattage numbers are very easy to compare. "Sounds better than..." is both subjective and difficult to determine, so fighting over it would ultimately put everyone on a similar playing field. While the Slashdot Cynicism would say that it's because no one wants to have next quarter's numbers suffer on account of "doing it right", to be fair to them, how many Best Buy employees - even the ones in the home theater department - would YOU trust to accurately showcase the difference between how the different receivers sound? Have you EVER been in one where the routing panel buttons actually routed the signal properly? I haven't.

    I'll use myself as a perfect example. I spend enough time in my car to replace the perfectly working stock stereo with an aftermarket one. When it came time to shop, I at least went to a store that specializes in auto and marine audio and skipped over Wal-Mart and Best Buy. I got Boston Acoustic speakers and a Kenwood deck. What attracted me to the deck was its price tag ($200 was about what I was looking to spend; the higher priced units were closer to $500-$600 and had the in-dash flat panels and navigation, etc), and its feature set. It was really nice to have a USB port and an aux in; I could charge my phone and recognize music stored on it, and I could play Pandora and make hands-free phone calls with the aux in jack. It was beautiful. A friend of mine who is one of those "Boom Car" owners - you know the type, the ones who you wouldn't exactly want leading the charge in a "surprise attack" that give you a back massage at a red light, even though you're in the opposite lane and three cars back. He had a Pioneer deck that he sold me for $60, and even did the installation for me (I installed the Kenwood, I just couldn't be bothered this time around lol). It doesn't have the USB port, the FM radio reception is mediocre on a good day (I swear that Kenwood could pick up a transmission from Mars), and I still haven't figured out how to set the preset stations for which it has no buttons (the presets are cycled through the general purpose knob, which can require a bit extra nudge at times). Every time I'm in my car I debate going back to the Kenwood deck because the Kenwood does basically everything I want it to do (except bluetooth, but neither does the Pioneer). I still haven't

  • Sure - I remember my Dad's 30 year old radio, a Philco model 60 [antiqueradio.org] from 1936. Those thirty years were the the golden age of radio I caught just the tail end in the late1950's.

    His cathedral radio glowed in the dark, thanks to 5 vacuum tubes and an incandescent dial lamp. Took a minute to warm up (boot?) thanks to the 6 volt filaments and sagging line voltage (the thing drew 60 watts just idling). Superhetrodyne tuning of the AM broadcast band gave it a response from perhaps 50 to 2000 Hz, give or take 10 db. Stereo? Naw it didn't even have FM (though you could tune in shortwave broadcasts from Moscow)

    Fidelity? Well, the Lone Ranger theme came boomed in just fine, as did Jack Benny, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Nothing like staying up late to tune the latest releases from WKBW, CKLW, or WABCs Cousin Brucie. Or joining the Night People to catch Jean Shepherd on WOR after midnight.

    I've heard plenty of music since then, on vinyl, cassette, 8-track, CD's and mp3 -- great stuff! But I miss the excitement of stalking the elusive Rock and Roll station...

  • 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.

"Out of register space (ugh)" -- vi

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