Mis-mixed Audio Concepts

     The following quote is a negative response to my criticism of using active equalization in a high-fidelity audio system.  It’s from an audio engineer of impressive credentials.   His remarks were written in a comment area at HomeTheater.com.

     He stated, ““If audiophiles were able to actually view the results of EQ…… on legitimate test equipment ………  90% of the mythology that drives most of (their) business models would evaporate rapidly.””

     He also offered this snide remark regarding high-fidelity cable to illustrate the ‘mythology’

““…I have a rare pair of $20,000 two-meter speaker cables available …to anyone who needs them. They’re made of a revolutionary material I’’ve cleverly named Cu (copper) Life changing – trust me!””

     A clever response indeed.  This kind of noise has dogged high-fidelity audio since its inception.  Is our engineer simply narrow minded or is there a financial motive lurking?  It may be an ample dose of both.  If your livelihood is derived from active equalization, that might narrow your bandwidth view of the audio landscape. It doesn’t have to.  But in this case, I suspect it did.

     Michael Fremer of musicangle.com and Stereophile said these guys claim we can’t hear what we hear because “…”(we) are not as accurate as some stupid test equipment that someone is using to try to prove to you that you don’t hear what you hear.””  Well, we hear just fine.

     The balanced of this blog is limited to the issue of equalization.  If you’re interested, my view on high-fidelity interconnects and speaker cable can be found at this link: In the Defense of Snake Oil

     I once had this EQ conversation over lunch with a commercial audio friend.  I did not and do not dispute his and other AV pro’s ability to provide complex room EQ solutions.  They do some cool stuff.  I simply maintained that, in a high-fidelity audio setting, the passive correction of acoustical problems is a better choice than active electronic correction.   By the time our bill for lunch had arrived, he had agreed that we were really on the same page.  I hope you do too.

     Here’ is the problem.  Many AV pros have mis-mixed two basic audio concepts.  Studio and stage AV professionals produce the artist’s music.  Their implementation of active equalization is as the use of a paintbrush by a landscape artist. I applaud their work.  However, the goal of a high-fidelity AV pro is to reproduce the result of that work, the artist’s intent. We are talking about two entirely different endeavors: reproduction vs production.

     The output of a high-fidelity audio system component is identical to the input. Well, that’’s the goal.  Any measurable or audible difference is distortion.  If an amplifier distorts the audio signal, replace it with an amplifier that does not.  If a speaker system cannot accurately reproduce the music, it should be returned to the speaker drawing board.  Don’’t replace the speaker if a preamplifier is the distorting system component.  Likewise, if the room acoustics distort the reproduced audio, the acoustics should be corrected —–  not accurate high fidelity components.

     If active equalization is placed in the path of high-fidelity audio components, it will change the output from the input: distortion. This type of equalization attempts to mask distortion with distortion.  It may look good on legitimate test equipment.  But it does not pass the test of the human ear and brain.

     Passive equalization avoids this dilemma. Passive solutions engage manageable room dimensions, careful speaker and listener placement, soundproofing, plus a dose of acoustical absorption and diffusion.  This tactic will generate a more accurate reproduction of the artist’s intent.

     Don’t get me wrong.  There is a place for active equalization in audio reproduction.  Car audio is an example.  It can create a much more desirable car audio system.  Small room-boundary-distorted in-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems are another case.  Their sound can surely be improved with active equalization.  But car audio and in-wall speaker systems are not of high fidelity caliber.

     I do not believe that our contentious narrow-minded engineer is a bad guy.  It’’s just easier to turn a knob on an active equalizer than to apply and install passive acoustical solutions.  On the other hand, he may have simply been misinformed by his legitimate test equipment.

(Next Blog: Why It Matters.)

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