So, the Feds created an “FTC power rating.” This called for measuring the RMS watts of a stereo amplifier when both channels were driven to full power. In addition, the measurements needed to be taken over the full audio range from 20-20,000 Hz at a distortion level of under 1%. This created more of a level playing field among manufacturers and was helpful to the consumer.
Unfortunately, nowadays it seems as if anything goes. Major manufacturers of audio/video receivers offer RMS ratings with only 2 channels driven. When Sound & Vision magazine tests 7 channel audio/video receivers, they often measure the power with all 7 channels driven. More often than not, their power rating is half or less of the manufacturer’s. So, that 100 watts per channel you think you’re getting may actually be less that 50 when you drive all the channels at once. Manufacturers may are argue that it isn’t often that all channels are driven to the maximum level at the same time, but I don’t see how they know this.
With subwoofer amplifiers, many once-respected companies rate their amplifiers in peak watts. Unlike our RSL Speedwoofer 10, most subwoofers use Class D digital amplifiers. Digital amplifiers don’t distort the same way that normal analog amplifiers do. As a result, it’s possible to greatly inflate a peak power rating. I’ve seen subwoofer amplifiers rated at many watts that wouldn’t even put out a third of that power, if it was rated honestly. Companies feel compelled to do this, because they want to appear to be competitive to the unenlightened consumer. We’re now even seeing receivers from respected companies rated in peak watts. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t buy these products. We’d just like you to be aware that when it comes to power ratings, there’s more than meets the eye (or ear).
If you have Internet service in your home, you probably have a router. This is an important piece of equipment that is often overlooked. Usually, the router is supplied by your Internet provider and also contains the modem. The modem is the device that connects you to the Internet. The router part performs several functions:
- Provides wireless access for your Wi-Fi devices.
- Acts as a firewall to help provide security against hackers (however, not 100% guaranteed protection).
- Directs Internet traffic throughout your home.
All of these functions are important, but especially the last one. Our home has many devices hooked to the Internet. They included satellite TV receivers in multiple rooms, several computers, and connected audio/video components including TVs, Blu-Ray players and A/V receivers. Although I had subscribed to a high speed Internet plan, I noticed that my connection would continually slow down. Unplugging and plugging back in my modem/router would temporarily fix the problem for about a day. I had the cable company send a technician out.
He told me that the modem/router the cable company supplied was “junk.” He said that to direct all the Internet traffic properly so that there wouldn’t be IP crashes, a router needed a strong processor, unlike the cheapo one I had. He also said that the Wi-Fi function of the router was substandard, causing intermittent dropouts and limited range.
It was at that point that I had him install a plain modem without a router. I then went to my local electronics store and bought the best router I could find. A really good one can run about $140-$200. I can tell you that it was well worth it! Internet speed is always at maximum. Netflix and various videos from the Internet both, on wired and wireless connections, stream flawlessly. DirecTV Video On Demand, which also uses the Internet works very well.
So, if you’re not getting enough speed from your Internet, upgrading your router could be the answer.
In previous newsletters, we covered the importance of room acoustics and its impact on sound quality. We use to live in a house where the main system was in the den. The den had horrible acoustics, which greatly diminished our listening experience. When it was time to look for a new home, we made better acoustics a priority.
We started looking at potential homes and needed a way to quickly get an idea of a room’s acoustics during a brief visit. Obviously, it’s not practical to set up an audio system or test equipment. So, I came upon a method that could quickly give a rough idea of a room’s acoustics.
If you’d like to give it a try, walk into the middle of a room and clap your hands with a single sharp clap. To be able to do the clap test, you need to train your ears. Do the single clap outside, where you’re a substantial distance away from walls that reflect the sound. You should hear the clap and nothing else; no echo or any sound of the clap occurring after the initial clap.
Then go inside and try the clap. You should be able to hear the initial clap and then some additional sound as it reflects off walls and other objects and travels back to your ears. If a room has a lot of echo and the sound seems to continue, this could present acoustical problems. Sometimes these issues can be corrected by adding furniture, carpeting and wall treatments. Sometimes, the room correction built into receivers can help. I remember one house that had a vaulted ceiling. After the clap, you could hear the sound continue to ring up into the ceiling. I think an audio system could have difficulty achieving good sound in a room like this.
Practice the clap test outside and in different rooms. Let us know if it works for you.
This past Thanksgiving, the audio industry lost a gentle giant; Leon Kuby. Lee was an important part of Harman Kardon during it’s early days. He was largely responsible for the Citation line of audio components that are still cherished by audiophiles today. After his tenure at HK, he worked with Infinity (a Harman company) helping the company rise to its peak.
I met Lee in the early 70’s when he was Vice-President at Harman Kardon. An executive working with Lee at HK visited my tiny hi-fi shop in North Hollywood and listened to the speakers we were making. Apparently he was impressed; enough so to share his experience with Lee when he returned to HK’s headquarters in Plainview, New York. A few months later, Lee himself stopped by our shop during a visit to the West Coast.
In the years prior, I’d met top executives from several different industry-leading audio companies. New to the business, I was always excited to meet these people and share suggestions and ideas, based on my hands-on experience with customers and listening to their desires. Unfortunately, every meeting only seemed to be about one thing; boasting about how many boxes they were able to sell. Whenever I seized an opportunity to make suggestions, they’d respond courteously; but also made it abundantly clear that they had more important things to think about than the ideas of a some youngster.
During Lee’s visit, I shared my ideas and recommendations. I just couldn’t help myself; I guess I hadn’t learned my lesson… To my surprise, Lee really listened. He took out a pen and paper and wrote notes. His responses were thorough and thought out, not dismissive. He promised to get back to me on anything he didn’t have answers to. And he actually did! It was unlike anything I had experienced.
When Lee discussed his products, it was different. He was more interested in talking about was the quality of the products and why they sounded so good rather than how many boxes they sold. As an example, he discussed the new HK 630 and HK 930 stereo receivers. He explained that none of the Japanese-built receivers back then could pass a 20 Hz. square wave, an accomplishment vital for great sound.
Knowing this, Lee had the HK 630 and 930 receivers designed to overcome this hurdle. But when the prototypes arrived from Japan they were no exception. They couldn’t pass the square wave either. Lee was baffled. Eventually, the team discovered the cause of the problem: a lack of copper content in the core of the power transformer. When Lee confronted the manufacturer, they were offended about his criticizing the quality of their transformers. As it turned out, there were no power transformers in Japan that would suffice. So, Lee made sure that special transformers were produced for his receivers. Those two receivers received rave reviews and were among the best sounding on the market at the time.
By the end of the visit, a bond was born. I admired Lee for the time he spent and the respect he showed a young newcomer in the business. It was the start of a 40+ year friendship.
Lee Kuby was a true audiophile and he knew how to listen. He was always experimenting with better components in the basement of his Long Island home and would carefully listen to anything HK was working on before the public was exposed to it. He always tried to get the best source material. He had friends in the recording industry that would copy master tapes of classical music that Lee would play on his reel to reel.
I admired Lee’s ethics as an audio executive. I remember that, in the early 70’s, quadraphonic products started appearing on the market. I was very excited to get my hands on the new HK-150+ quad receiver that Lee was telling me about. I waited months until the big day arrived. I hurriedly unboxed it, hooked it up, and fired it up. Something didn’t sound right. I called Lee and instead of being defensive, he was concerned. I told him I’d be at Long Island on the weekend and he said he’d have one setup so we could listen.
At his house, he played some music through an HK-150+ for probably not much longer than 5 seconds. He shut it off made a very sour face and said something like, “Yucch!.” It was on a Saturday and he immediately got on the phone with their V.P. of engineering, Bob Furst. He told him they’d have to stop the release of these receivers until they could fix the problem. Most audio manufacturers would just let it go and maybe fix the issue on the next production run, but not Lee. They investigated and found that the Japanese manufacturer took the liberty of using a different tone control circuit, which degraded the sound.
Lee Kuby was the opposite of arrogant, but was impatient with others who were. He was passionate about audio and always said what he felt. He would always battle to produce the highest quality audio products. He made many friends and was respected throughout the industry, although there must have been others who may have been offended by hearing the truth.
Leon Kuby was born on November 14, 1925. He served in the Air Corps in WWII. He spent the last 25 years of his life living in Northern California with his wonderful wife Teri, whom he had met at Infinity. She described him as a “wonderful son, husband, father, and person.” I agree. Although he’s had some rough times in his life, he was always able to maintain his warm sense of humor.
Lee Kuby knew the art of listening like few others and I’m not only referring to audio, but to people. In my 40+ years in the audio industry, I met and became friends with hundreds of industry insiders, but Lee was my hero. I feel privileged that he was my friend. I learned a lot from him in addition to audio. He deserves a lot of praise, but I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t want any. He will be sorely missed. He was 89.
How good or bad is quality of music purchased on Apple’s iTunes? That depends how the recording artist delivers the music to Apple. There are 2 methods: In the first, the artist delivers a CD to Apple. Then Apple compresses the songs to their AAC format. In the second method, the artist provides a copy of the master recording at the original bit depth and bit rate, which is usually higher than CD’s 16 bit depth and 44 KHz bit rate. As you’d expect, this master copy sounds better than a CD. Apple than transfers this master to their 32 bit depth equipment and then converts it to AAC. This method results in superior sound over the first method.
Are iTunes songs as good or better than CDs? No, but sometimes they’re close. I have purchased entire albums on iTunes and they sounded great. Naturally, I would prefer to have the original CD or a non-compressed high-resolution version on SACD or downloaded from websites like HD Tracks. However, many CDs are either very expensive imports or out of print. Often, iTunes will offer these at much lower prices. I’ve purchased several and haven’t been disappointed with the audio quality. There are rumors that someday Apple may offer lossless music files. I hope that happens.
Apple has put more info in a white paper that you can download at: https://www.apple.com/itunes/mastered-for-itunes/docs/mastered_for_itunes.pdf
In a previous newsletter, we spoke about speakers becoming smaller over the years. In spite of this, the sound quality is better than ever. So, I was pondering the question: “How good was Hi-Fi in the late 50’s and 60’s when stereo first became popular?”
Ok Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1961, destination Hollywood, California. Let’s examine a high end audio system that was owned by my late uncle (who lured me into the world of audiophiledom). For speakers, he had KLH9 Electrostatic speakers. The Nines were the first full range electrostatic speakers produced in America. Their diaphragms were extremely light and they didn’t use boxed enclosures, which eliminated all sorts of audio problems exhibited by most of today’s boxed speakers (present company’s speakers excepted). These speakers still sound fantastic today, rivaling or surpassing many “high end” speakers. Powering these speakers was a McIntosh MC275, an all tube power amp along with a McIntosh MC20 tube Preamplifier. These McIntosh pieces are revered by audiophiles and currently command a hefty price. I recently listened to the amp and pre-amp combo and the sound quality was stunning; smooth as silk, yet fully detailed.
Because electrostatic speakers can’t deliver deep bass, he had a separate subwoofer with a Marantz tube electronic crossover to fill in that part of the sound. The Empire turntable and cartridge he used may not be quite up to today’s high end turntables and cartridges, but it did deliver excellent sound quality. Back then, you could also buy stereo reel to reel tapes that sounded great. His system sounded fantastic, even if judged by today’s standards.
Back then, if you couldn’t afford a system of this quality, you could still avail yourself of some of the tubed stereo receivers from companies such as Fisher, Scott and Harman Kardon. With some of the modestly priced speakers (like ARs and KLHs), you’d still have a great-sounding system.
In the 50’s and 60’s the recording industry had terrific equipment, which delivered high quality record albums. For example, the Neumann condenser microphones of the 1960’s sound as good as any microphones of today and can fetch enormous prices. The analog tape recorders did an amazing job of capturing all of the sound.
Yes, the industry has made a lot of refinements. Great sound has become more affordable. But make no mistake about it, the early days of stereo in the 1960’s were far from the dark ages.
People’s ideas of how large their speakers should be have sure changed over the years. During the 1970’s, our most popular model, the RSL Studio Monitor was a 12″ 3 way system. It was 25″ tall, 14 1/2″ wide, and 12″ deep. Our customers would put these in their living rooms or dens in bookshelves or on speaker stands. Fast forward to today where our CG4 speaker is only 10″ high, 6″ wide, by a little over 6″ deep. While most people are happy with their compact size, there are a few who wish they were even smaller!
So, the question is: has sound quality diminished over the years due to the downsizing of speakers? Actually, the opposite is true. Imagine having a pair of large floorstanding speakers in front of you. Each speaker would have a large woofer. Then, closer to the top of the cabinet, there would a midrange, perhaps 4″ in diameter and a 1″ dome tweeter. Instead of this setup, we now have the 4″ speaker and the tweeter in one compact cabinet and the woofer (now called a subwoofer) in another cabinet that’s easy to place or hide.
There are big advantages to this as long as 2 criteria are met: First, the 4″ woofer has to have enough bass response to meet the subwoofer, so that there is no gap between them. Second, the subwoofer must be fast, without sloppy overhang (the woofer needs to stop when the music stops). If the system meets these 2 criteria, the sound can be as big as a large floorstanding speaker and in some cases may present a more realistic sound image.
There are also other advantages. Large floorstanding speakers must be placed where they’ll image the best. This position may not be a good spot for even bass distribution in your room. By having a separate subwoofer, you can place the small satellites for best image and the subwoofer for even bass distribution. Most floorstanding speakers will not allow you to adjust the woofer level separately. So, they may not deliver the proper level of bass where they are positioned. Having a separate subwoofer allows you get the exact bass balance you need. A good subwoofer, such as our Speedwoofer 10, will actually give you deeper and more powerful bass than many of the 12″ speakers of the past.
The bottom line is that even though speaker sizes have shrunk, the sound quality is better than ever.
Since we first discussed our impressions of Dolby Atmos a few months ago, we’ve taken several more Atmos systems for a test drive. We also had the opportunity to experience Belgium’s Auro-3D during our visit to CES.
We found that both systems have strengths and weaknesses. So we thought we’d put together our list of pros and cons for each system to help you decide which is right for you, if any.
Dolby Atmos is a new home theater speaker configuration that “transports you from an ordinary moment into an extraordinary experience with breathtaking, moving audio that flows all around you” according to Dolby. Basically you’re taking an existing surround system and either adding speakers in the ceiling, or on top of the front and rear channels. The ceiling setup has two options: 2 speakers in the center, or one speaker in every corner totaling 4. If in-ceilings aren’t an option, you can use reflecting speakers. You can place one reflecting speaker on top of your front left and right channels, totaling 2. Or you can place one on top of each of your front and rear channels, totaling 4.
1. We found that with 2, or better yet, 4 in-ceiling speakers you will indeed increase your audio dimensionality and create a more immersive experience. Airplanes, bullets, rain, etc really will come from above you. You’ll also notice more accurate sound placement than a standard surround system. Adding Atmos via in-ceilings is definitely a step towards the ultimate goal of realism.
2. Cost. Receivers aren’t cheap, especially when you get to 9 channels and above. Fortunately, you can get a 5.1.2 Atmos system (2 in-ceiling speakers) with some reasonably priced 7.2 receivers. For those of you that already own one, all you may need to do is download a free update. If you want to have 4 in-ceiling speakers, then you’ll need a 9 channel receiver or an additional stereo amplifier.
3. Space. Atmos is spatially efficient. Considering the fact that you’re installing speakers into the ceiling, an Atmos system is not very intrusive in your room. For some people, putting 5 speakers in a family room is a tough enough sell. Now if you want to add more, at least they’re out of sight.
1. Compatibility. Atmos is not compatible with every room. Actually, to achieve the desired results, you really need a fairly specific room with a flat ceiling no lower than 9 to 10 feet. Unfortunately, if you have vaulted ceilings, you may be entirely out of luck. For those of you who can’t install into your ceilings, you’re faced with a less desirable alternative, which brings us to point #2.
2. Reflecting speakers. We’re not big fans of this approach. That’s not to say it can’t work. We just feel the results are inconsistent and less fulfilling than the in-ceiling systems. We found that the reflecting speakers don’t achieve the desired dispersion commonly leaving you with a narrow sweet spot. So one seat may sound great; its just too bad for anyone not sitting in it. Also, we didn’t experience the same level of definition as we did with the in-ceilings. If you ask us, we’ll say that firing sound directly at you is definitely more optimal than bouncing it off of another surface.
3. Lack of source material. Right now there’s only a few movies actually recorded in Atmos. Obviously this will increase over time, but how do we know something better won’t come along in the meantime?
Auro-3D is on its way to the U.S. and is taking a different approach to achieve a similar goal. Auro looks at sound in layers and adds a second layer of sound on top of your standard 5 or 7 channel system. Its kind of like stacking one surround system on top of another. They achieve this with four bookshelf speakers, front and rear left and rights, mounted on the wall above your current surround system and angled down at approx 30 degrees.
1. Sound. Our sole experience came from Auro’s room at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The demo took place over a 9.1 system (5.1 surround + 4 height speakers) with a high-quality demo disc. The experience was exhilarating. The demo disc actually included a/b comparisons with Auro on and off. Wow, what a difference! It was the closest simulation of reality that we’ve ever experienced. A pipe organ in a cathedral was 100% convincing, as was a symphony orchestra. A recording of a London street corner left you struggling to believe you weren’t there. A jetliner passing overhead made you want to hit the deck. It was so convincing it was almost scary. We felt this was a substantial leap towards ultimate realism.
2. Compatibility. Auro is compatible with a larger variety of rooms. Since you’re basically just adding bookshelf speakers to the wall directly above your left and right channels, you don’t need to worry about vaulted ceilings or cutting holes. The only potential for a problem is a room with a really low ceiling. You may not get enough separation between high and low speakers. We don’t yet know what the spatial requirements are.
3. Sweet spot. Auro, from what we could tell, has a much wider sweet spot. We don’t feel that a narrow sweet spot is a huge problem with Atmos (with in-ceilings) but we have heard the issue mentioned on several occasions.
1. Cost. To enjoy Auro, you’ll need a minimum of 9 channels. Your choices are to either buy a 9.2 receiver, or add a stereo amp to an Auro capable 7.2 receiver. That’s going to up the price right off the bat. Then come the 4 speakers. With Atmos you can run a 7.2 receiver and you have the 2 speaker option to minimize costs while still improving your sound.
2. Space. Adding 4 bookshelf speakers to your walls could be a really tough sell if your theater is also your family room. Most people face enough of a challenge just trying to add a 5.1 system to the family space; let alone a 9.1 system. The sound is definitely worth it, but the footprint is much bigger.
3. Lack of source material. Material is out there, but the selection is very limited. We have, however, heard that several movie studios have already signed on with Auro which means more is sure to come.
At this point, if sound were the only desire, we would recommend Auro-3D. But keep in mind that that’s only based on one demo with a carefully perfected demo disk. We’ll continue to provide updates when we have more real-world testing under our belts.
RSL 28 – Circa 1972 RSL CG4 – Current
The answer to that depends on how they’re constructed and if they’re designed to be repaired. Many current speakers, in order to save money, have their woofers and tweeters built into a single plastic front board (called the baffle). In this speaker, if either the woofer or tweeter were to fail, the entire front board would need to be replaced, which would include the woofer and tweeter. In some cases, even the crossover is built into this baffle. In these situations, repair of the speaker isn’t economically practical and the whole speaker needs to be replaced. Some speakers even have non-removable woofers and tweeters as well. These speakers are also non-repairable.
Every RSL speaker uses high quality separate woofers, tweeters and crossovers that are accessible for repair. Many of our speakers from the 1970’s are still in service. Sometimes speakers (some of our models and many other brands) use foam surrounds around their woofers. After many years (usually over 20), the foam rings may deteriorate. However, they can be replaced and the speakers can sound like new.
Our current RSL Speakers are built the same way and when you consider their long life expectancy, the cost of ownership per year is extremely low.