This week enjoy this article from ASC founder & president, Art Noxon, PE written for the first Hong Kong HiFi Show. Art helps us move toward our Hifi rooms delivering a world-class listening experience.
The electronic components…
…and interconnects available in today’s hi-end audio are superb. Yet there is always room for improvement and changes in both the technology and style of audio as the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Playback audio will continue to be improved in every detail but if the minute improvements are not perceptible, they will not be heard and appreciated. New equipment that presents no audible difference from older equipment will not sell so easily and without good sales, further product development cannot be supported. The evolution of the product line slows to a halt and sales become driven by marketing hype, not performance.
If a technical improvement is real it should be audible, but if it cannot be heard it becomes useless, or at best a curiosity. As long as an improvement is within the realm of human perception, it can be heard except for only one factor – the noise floor. Whenever improvements are buried in the noise floor of a system they cannot be heard. Only when the noise floor is lowered can the hidden, inner detail become revealed.
The electronic “hiss” noise floor had been a problem in audio for many years. More recent improvements in signal processing have driven the electronic noise floor down to almost the threshold of hearing. The noise floor now is more mechanical – transport decks, air conditioning and outside noise intrusion. But there is one less obvious noise floor and it is currently the single most significant sound barrier to better listening. It is the self-noise of the listening room acoustic. Lingering sounds from one musical moment become the masking noise floor for the next musical moment. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link and for today’s audio, the weakest link is the listening room acoustic.
There are two phases of listening room acoustics and both must be understood and properly handled in order to reduce the room acoustic noise floor. We begin by recalling the piano keyboard. It is divided in half with notes belonging to the bass clef to the left and the treble clef at the right. For all practical purposes, it is sufficient to divide the room acoustic noise floor into these same two regions, bass and treble.
When most people envision sound, they think of how the sound in the treble cleft behaves. It bounces around the room as if it were a ball and that is something with which we all some experience. It is because we are familiar with bouncing balls that we have an intuitive feeling for sound in the treble clef. The bass clef is quite different. With bass, sound doesn’t beam forward and bounce around, bass goes in all directions equally – as easily backwards as forwards. Place a speaker outside, in the yard and play it while you stand behind it. What do you hear? Bass without treble. Despite this most obvious fact, the behavior of bass continues to elude people. Most of us do not have experiences that lead us to an intuitive understanding for sound in the bass range.