PS AUDIO: The sound of magnets


Note: As with all trade writers, we are happy to publish but …. doing so does not mean we necessarily agree with their observations and conclusions.


We know that every element in the signal chain imparts a sonic fingerprint: bipolars, tubes, JEFETS, MOSFETS. And let’s not to forget film, foil, beeswax, ceramic, and electrolytic capacitors.

One piece of the puzzle has only never been eliminated. Magnetism. Most everything you listen to when reproducing music arrives to you through the lens of a magnetic field. Without magnetic fields most of us would not be able to enjoy recorded music.

Just about every loudspeaker or headphone is based on a magnetic field. In fact there are only four exceptions I can think of—two we all know, the other two I’d be surprised if more than a handful had ever heard music reproduced through them. The two we know are the original Gramophone, which worked more like a tin can and string arrangement—and didn’t sound much better—the other the classic electrostatic loudspeaker.

The two exotic ones are the Ionovac and the Hill Plasmatronics. Two highly impractical sound reproduction exceptions .

Those playback exceptions aside, when we listen to music on home reproduction systems it is mostly through opposing magnetic fields, one fixed, the other variable (either recorded with a magnetic based microphone or reproduced through a magnetic based speaker). And magnets are not linear, nor is the motion of drivers pumping air into our ears or the microphones that pick up the music we record.

There are non-magnetic based microphones that are similar to electrostatic loudspeakers. And thus in a modern system with electrostatic loudspeakers and hand-selected recordings using condenser microphones, one could avoid magnetic fields, but it’s rare.

Microphones, phono cartridges, tape heads, the laser reading mechanism on a CD transport, hard drives, all depend on magnetic fields for their movement, conversion of motion into electrical impulses or storage and retrieval.

The original switch from the Edison Gramophone to the microphone/loudspeaker combination still in use today came about because of the magnet. And it’s been with us ever since.

One way or the other, if you listen to recorded music, it’s likely colored with a magnetic lens.