New to High End Audio? (4)
Or - How to get great sound while avoiding the technology blackhole.
The world of high end audio is a very murky place for many interested in music and high performance home entertainment systems. Unlike video where a shopper can clearly see differences in performance between different sets, high end audio forces a person to evaluate performance in a much more complicated way. Volume levels, source components, amplifiers, cables - you name it - there are a huge number of variables. How do you know what you are really listening to? Not only that, competing technologies and formats and equipment priced at astonishing levels make you wonder if a reasonable choice is possible at all.
When you buy a TV, what you see in the store is just about what you will get in your home once the set or projector is properly calibrated. With audio, all of the components are different and your room is certainly not the demo room.
Very experienced audiophiles can pick their way through these issues. But how does the inexperienced audio shopper with visions of the enjoying real music or life-like movies in the home make the right series of choices? How can Newform Research help in delivering a dynamite system for less than stupid money? And without tearing the house apart?
Newform makes a unique line of new technology loudspeakers which will produce superb sound quality in most average rooms. The investment in electronics to drive our loudspeakers can be quite small and still achieve excellent results. Having said that, the better the source components are, the better the sound will be. There is a price ceiling however beyond which there is probably no acoustic benefit. Above $10,000 in electronics, "prestige" and flim flam are the items being purchased. Newform Research Ribbon loudspeakers will not restrict the performance of your system. See our "You Can't Go Wrong" page for ideas on systems and various levels of packages.
Are Ribbon loudspeakers a valid and current design approach? Over the past 30 years the most experienced audiophiles and music lovers have coveted Ribbon and electrostatic loudspeakers as the first choice for their dream systems. Real world considerations may force compromising on conventional dome/box loudspeakers but once knowledgeable audiophiles have heard a good planar loudspeaker, they have been dissatisfied with anything else.
Transparency, detail and you-are-there soundstaging are the principal qualities that have separated planars from conventional speakers. The clean sheet Ribbon technology from Newform delivers the best sound qualities of the finest planars in room friendly systems that can be driven by very modest electronics. Our wide dispersion columnar radiation pattern is more likely to deliver superb sound in more normal rooms, for more people, than large dipoles (sound comes out the front and rear), horn loudspeakers or dome tweeter systems. Our Ribbons have excellent room coverage but minimize fatiguing reflections from the floor and ceiling so the soundstage stays three dimensional and clearly focused.
Many higher end loudspeaker manufacturers are moving to small Ribbon tweeters. These are certainly an advance over their past designs but with their short heights, high crossovers points and baffle mounting, they fail to utilize a great deal of the potential realized in Newforms large, free standing Ribbon systems.
Our new Coaxial Ribbon LineSource designs come in at higher price levels than we have occupied before but they offer significant improvements in both fidelity and practicality over most loudspeakers, regardless of price- conventional or planar - in most listening rooms. They are just as electronics friendly as our other speakers and thus, for $15,000 total system cost, it is possible to atain ultra system performance.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET INTO HIGH END AUDIO
Your room must accommodate high quality loudspeakers and a reasonably favourable setup involving both the loudspeaker placement and the listening position. This typically means a room 10' x 14' or better. For dedicated rooms, you can start out slightly smaller.
You have to have a system budget of $2500 plus. A lot of money to the uninitiated but a laughably small amount for the jaded audiophile. However, a pair of R630s or LineSource Monitors, with a $200 DVD player and a modest receiver (say Panasonic XR57 for $400) will deliver very, very decent sound in a reasonable room. Such has been the progress in the electronics world in recent years.
You have to have a kernel of real commitment. No matter how much you spend, or how perfect your room is, you will have to plan a little bit and do some experimentation before any system can start operating near its potential. We will work with you on the planning and be there to offer suggestions on optimizing your system.
You don't have to bleed for fine music in the home. Some quiet reflection plus several minutes on the phone with our designer can quickly lead to the development of a simple and successful strategy.
Once you realize what is substance and what is smoke, achieving great sound on a reasonable budget is very easy. Tearing yourself away from the music then becomes the difficult part.
The high end audio community uses a great many special terms and concepts which are new to most people. But here is the fundamental point. Although we go to great lengths to make sure customers get the most from their loudspeakers and their complete systems, getting great sound is not difficult.
Hook our Ribbon loudspeakers up to virtually any stereo amplifier or receiver made in the past 10 years and give them a little space in any average living room and you will end up with a very impressive sound system.
Getting the best possible sound from your room and your components takes some thought but stepping up from a big box store system to high end audio is extremely simple. It is virtually plug and play with your old loudspeakers being unplugged and our Ribbons replacing them.
Beyond that, there are high end preamps, crossovers, amplifiers and CD and DVD players. But there is no rush because the digital world is churning out generation after generation of better and cheaper products at a furious rate. Get the speakers right and the rest can follow on your timetable.
Educate your ear and then improve your system as you get more comfortable with the room/speaker balance and with what new electronics can offer.
A sealed or closed box speaker enclosure. Also called a sealed enclosure, or infinite baffle.
The acoustic spectrum of human hearing, generally regarded to be between 20 Hz and 20 kHz.
A board or other plane surface used to mount a loudspeaker.
The range of frequencies covered by a driver or a network (crossover).
An electric circuit designed to pass only a certain range of frequencies. See also High-pass and Low-pass filters.
The metal frame of a speaker.
See ported enclosure.
The smearing of transients that makes bass reproduction sound muddled.
The path an audio signal travels through a circuit during playback.
A complete path that allows electrical current from one terminal of a voltage source to the other terminal.
(1) A distortion caused by cutting off the peaks of audio signals. Clipping usually occurs in the amplifier when its input signal is too high or when the volume control is turned too high and the amplifier tries to put out too much current and it sends out direct current to the speakers. (2) when playing at loud volumes, and the cone of the driver "bottoms out" - it cannot move as far as the signal requires it to, it can produce a noise. If an amplifier or speaker is left operating in this condition, serious damage may occur.
Crossover Network (Filter)
An electric circuit or network that splits the audio frequencies into different bands for application to individual speakers. See Electronic and Passive Crossover.
The reduction of movement of a speaker cone, due either to the electromechanical characteristics of the speaker driver and suspension, the effects of frictional losses inside a speaker enclosure, and/or by electrical means.
(1) A logarithmic scale used to denote a change in the relative strength of an electric signal or acoustic wave. It is a standard unit for expressing the ratio between power and power level. An increase of +3dB is a doubling of electrical (or signal) power; an increase of +10dB is a doubling of perceived loudness. The decibel is not an absolute measurement, but indicates the relationship or ratio between two signal levels. (2) SPL (sound pressure level) can be measured in dB.
The part of a dynamic loudspeaker attached to the voice coil that moves and produces the sound. It usually has the shape of a cone or dome.
The spreading of sound waves as it leaves a speaker.
Any undesirable change or error in the reproduction of sound that alters the original signal.
A high frequency speaker with a dome-shaped diaphragm.
A loudspeaker unit, consisting of the electromagnetic components of a speaker, typically a magnet and voice coil that actually converts electrical energy into sound. - cone, dome, planar
The range of sound intensity a system can reproduce without compressing or distorting the signal.
The loudspeaker parameter that shows the level of sound output when measured at a prescribed distance with a standard level of electrical energy fed into the speaker.
Uses active circuitry to send signals to appropriate drivers. Usually more efficient than passive crossovers, however requires additional amplifiers to drive each frequency band.-- Digital, passive, electronic
The box that contains the driver(s).
Electronic device used to boost or attenuate certain frequencies. "EQ"
Any electrical circuit or mechanical device that removes or attenuates energy at certain frequencies. See Crossover Network.
The faithful reproduction of an audio signal; specifically, the variations in output level of less than 1dB above or below a median level over the audio spectrum.
The number of waves (or cycles) arriving at or passing a point in one second, expressed in hertz (Hz).
The frequency range to which a system, or any part of it, can respond.
A speaker designed to reproduce all or most of the sound spectrum.
The multiple frequencies of a given sound, created by the interaction of signal waveforms.
Harmonics artificially added by an electrical circuit or speaker, and are generally undesirable. It is expressed as a percentage of the original signal. See THD.
A measurement of the frequency of sound vibration. One hertz is equal to one cycle per second. The hertz is named for H.R. Hertz, a German physicist. Also a good place to rent a car when you're on vacation.
An electric circuit that passes high frequencies but blocks low ones. See Band-pass and Low-pass filters.
A speaker design using its own funnel shaped conduit to amplify, disperse, or modify the sounds generated by the internal diaphragm of the speaker.
Audio noise that has a steady low frequency pitch often caused by interference from the AC power line.
The opposition of a circuit or speaker to ac current; the combined effect of a speaker's resistance, inductance, and capacitance that opposes the current fed to it. It is measured in ohms and varies with the frequency of the signal.
A flat surface that completely isolates the back wave of a driver from the front.
one thousand hertz.
An electric circuit designed to pass only low frequencies. See Band-pass and High-pass filters.
The tendency of a speaker system that consists of more than one driver to produce a lobed frequency response in space with in-phase reinforcement (lobes) from the various drivers occurring at some elevations and out-of-phase opposition (nulls) at points between the lobes.
Mid level bass, usually frequencies just above the sub-bass range, from around 100-400Hz or so.
The frequency range above bass but below treble that carries most of the identifying tones of music or speech. It is usually from 300-400Hz to 3kHz or so.
Any undesirable sound reproduced in an audio system.
A range of tones where the highest tone occurs at twice the frequency of the lowest tone.
A unit of electrical resistance or impedance.
A basic law of electric circuits. It states that: the current [I] in amperes in a circuit is equal to the voltage [E] in volts divided by the resistance [R] in ohms; thus, I = E/R.
Out of Phase
When your speakers are mounted in reverse polarity, i.e., one speaker is wired +/+ and -/- from the amp and the other is wired +/- and -/+. Bass response will be very thin due to cancellation.
Uses inductors (coils) and capacitors to direct proper frequencies to appropriate drivers.
Refers to the timing relationship of two or more signals or soundwaves. It's especially important to be sure that your stereo speakers are playing "in phase." This means that the drivers (cones and domes) of your right and left speakers are moving in and out at the same time. If your speakers are out of phase you'll hear significantly less bass, and instead of producing a strong center image, the sound tends to stay localized at the speakers.
The relationship and timing of sounds that come from different drivers.
A type of audible distortion caused by time delay between various parts of the signal; can be caused by equalizers.
The orientation of magnetic or electric fields. The polarity of the incoming audio signal determines the direction of movement of the speaker cone. Must be observed when wiring speakers, so that they are "in phase". See Out of Phase.
A type of speaker enclosure that uses a duct or port to improve efficiency at low frequencies. Excellent design for lower power systems, as the port often adds up to +3dB to low frequency efficiency. It also introduces a resonance into the system.
the tendency of an object to vibrate most at a particular frequency.
the frequency at which the speaker tends to vibrate most at a certain frequency.
in electrical or electronic circuits, a characteristic of a material that opposes the flow of electrons. Speakers have resistance that opposes current.
the attenuation that occurs at the lower or upper frequency range of a driver, network, or system. The roll-off frequency is usually defined as the frequency where response is reduced by -3dB.
air tight enclosure that completely isolates the back wave of the driver from the front.
the desired portion of electrical information.
the ratio, expressed in dB, between the signal and noise.
the waveform of a pure alternating current or voltage. It deviates equally above a zero point to a positive value and an equal negative value. Audio signals are sinewaves or combinations of sinewaves.
Sound Pressure Level (SPL)
the loudness of an acoustic wave stated in dB that is proportional to the logarithm of its intensity.
a buildup of sound level at a particular frequency that occurs when any dimension of the room is equal to any multiple of the wavelength. You would hear it as a peak in the frequency response of the room.
a loudspeaker designed to reproduce only bass frequencies.
the quality of a sound related to its harmonic structure. Timbre is what gives a voice or instrument its sonic signature & why a trumpet and a saxophone sound different when they play the same note.
a type of speaker system composed of three ranges of speakers, specifically a woofer, midrange, and tweeter.
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
the percentage, in relation to a pure input signal, of harmonically derived frequencies introduced in the sound reproducing circuitry and hi-fi equipment (including speakers).
the ability of a speaker to respond to any sudden change in the signal without blurring (smearing) the sound. A speaker that can react quickly to rapid changes in sound has "good transient response".
the upper end of the audio spectrum reproduced by tweeters, usually 3-4kHz and up.
a speaker designed to reproduce the high or treble range of the sound spectrum.
a type of speaker system composed of two ranges of speakers, usually a woofer and tweeter.
the wire wound around the speaker former. The former is mechanically connected to the speaker cone and causes the cone to vibrate in response to the audio current in the voice coil.
a unit of measurement used to measure how much "pressure" is used to force electricity through a circuit.
a unit of electrical power. A watt of electrical power is the use of one joule of energy per second. Watts of electrical power equals volts times amperes.
the length of a sound wave in air. It can be found for any frequency by dividing the speed of sound in air (1120 feet per second) by the frequency of the sound, or: WL = 1120 / Freq.
a bass loudspeaker designed to reproduce low-frequency sound only. A woofer and subwoofer are usually the similar type of loudspeaker, but their application (crossover frequency) differentiates them.
the actual sound wave.
Reflection off the baffle of the sound wave after the main wave has launched. The larger the baffle, the more bounces.
Any spectrum of frequencies used for discussion. Audio bandwidth is 20hz to 20,000Hz. Subwoofer bandwidth might be 15Hz to 45Hz etc.
Ability to go down to the low frequency extremes.
Tuneful, accurate bass not bloated or muddy.
Using one channel of an amplifier to drive each Ribbon and midbass so that a stereo pair of speakers requires 4 channels of amplification. Means that instead of driving a speaker full-range with a single channel of amplification, through a single set of speaker cables, you actually connect two sets of cables, with each set driven by a separate amplifier, or separate channels of a multi-channel amplifier. This way, low frequencies and high frequencies each receive dedicated amplifiers.
Running separate cables from the amplifier to the Ribbon and midbasses.
Carrying higher voltage and power, running from the amplifiers to the speakers. Also power cables
Digital, passive, electronic - means of channeling high frequencies into the high frequency driver (Ribbon midrange/tweeter or dome tweeter etc.), and low frequencies to the woofer.
Anomalies created when a wave moves out from the diaphragm and encounters a radical change in the baffle - say a 90 degree corner. The sharper the corner, the greater the diffraction effect.
The soundwave is broken down into a digital format which bears no physical resemblance to the original analog waveform.
Where the complete signal path is digital and there are no analog steps except when the amplifier converts the digital information into the analog waveform which powers the speakers.
Horizontal, vertical - radiation pattern - how evenly the soundwave moves off to the sides and up and down.
Ability to play loudly and cleanly.
Equalizing electronically to deal with room acoustic problems or produce special effects.
Forward and backward movement of the diaphragm.
Emphasis of very high frequencies sounding very live but harsh.
Too much mid-treble emphasis leading to rapid listening fatigue.
carrying low voltage signals from the CD player say to the preamp and from the preamp to amp.
tall loudspeaker with a line of drivers or diaphragms (in the case of Ribbon) all producing the same frequencies. Tall enough to put the listener in the nearfield where there is very little room interaction. The taller the linesource, the further back the nearfield area extends. Very little floor or ceiling reflections. Radiates in a columnar form.
speaker driver reproducing middle (say speech) frequencies.
basically a woofer which also operates well into the lower midrange.
refers to bass and midbass where the notes are indistinct and poorly defined.
the position relative to a line straight ahead of the diaphragm. Off-axis vertical and off-axis horizontal.
time arrival of the information. Out of phase means wave is 180 degrees shifted from the in phase (ideal) wave.
any flat surface diaphragm driver typically film based, electrostatic, Ribbon types.
radiates hemispherically - as much towards the ceiling and floor as to the sidewalls and listening position.
thin conductive diaphragm suspended in strong magnetic gap. Diaphragm vibrates when audio signal is put through it.
the sonic signature of a room, the frequencies it emphasizes and damps down.
rolled off treble and bass producing very mellow sound but losing a lot of information.
effect of hearing the soundsources - instruments, singers etc. - located in specific places horizontally and in front of and behind the plane of the speakers. 3D sound localization as it would appear in a live show.
even frequency response so that all frequencies are presented evenly, it their proper perspective.
a hole or depression in the frequency response - not as easy to detect as a boosted section of bandwidth.
Tight group of curves
off axis response very close to that of the on-axis response. Ie broad horizontal dispersion giving even sound in a wide listening area.
modifying you sound components for better performance.
ability to hear into the music. Separation of instruments, removal of "veils" from obscuring musical detail. Naturalness.
speaker driver reproducing high frequencies.
Voicing a speaker
giving a speaker a specific character. (Newform's policy is to remove character as much as possible)
speaker driver reproducing low frequencies.