Designing high end audio is, after all, an art form

Paul McGowan:

Many of you have written me asking not to back off while others want more – I think perhaps an increased effort on my part to balance the topics and posts would probably be appropriate.  One comment really resonated with me “where else would I ever read about the audio designer’s perspective?”  I suppose that’s true, this is probably the only personal diary of a high end audio designer you can subscribe to.

The second comment I made about loud being better was somewhat misunderstood and I wanted to clarify that.  Playing a particular track louder isn’t better – as I have written many times – each track in any room has one specific loudness level that’s perfect for the track and the room.  Playing it louder does not make it better – in fact it makes it worse.  What was meant by the comment referred to the AB process between two pieces of gear.

If you AB two DACS, amps, preamps or whatever, and one is somewhat louder than the other, you’ll almost always pick the louder of the two as better.  The same is true with cars.  Manufacturers have learned that if you use a lower gear ratio for first, then that car will seem faster and more powerful even if the engines are identical.  And, in point of fact, the car with the lower gear ratio IS faster out of the gate.

I will admit that years ago, when we first made the observation that the louder of two pieces of gear always wins, we purposefully made our products a little louder than the norm to take advantage of this.  It wasn’t as if this was a “dirty little secret” because our main efforts have always been focused on building better sounding products at affordable prices – but adding a little “secret sauce” or using a tool to help us win people over is a perfectly legitimate practice as long as those efforts aren’t used to cover up or hide something: which has never been the case.

Using crutches or tools to help the designer make the best products they can, as well as getting them accepted by customers, is a time honored tradition.

Last night Terri, the boys and I went to the Denver Art Museum to see a special Van Gogh exhibit that was really well done and we enjoyed our evening.  I was fascinated to see the tools he used for many of his landscape paintings – those tools helping him get all the lines, distances and perspectives correct – and accepted by a larger number of people.

Perhaps you’re familiar with this artist “crutch”?  It’s basically a frame with a wire mesh grid the painter places in front of his subject.  He then lightly draws the same grid pattern on his canvas and makes sure that his drawing of the landscape or buildings matches within each square.  Pretty simple but very effective.

At first I was a little taken aback by this revelation.  I guess I always thought of famous painters like Van Gogh as never struggling or needing tools to help their visions – and then you realize they too were simply craftsmen using every available tool at their disposal to make their art.

In the same way, we use whatever tools and techniques are available to us to build better sounding equipment and get that equipment into the hands of as many music lovers as we can: meters, ears, reference systems, loudness tweaks.

Designing high end audio is, after all, an art form.

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