Features and Sound Quality

From the hegemony of technical fads...

In the latter half of the 20th Century, the rise of the marketing department at many an audio company led to our being told that we absolutely needed and had to have amplifiers with triode valves; then tetrode valves; then with transistors; then with mosfets or bipolar outputs.

Recently, having come a complete full circle, we are once again, told we need triode valves; as long as they were single-ended and put out no more than two watts. (note: your author is not disapproving any of these features, merely stating them).

The advent of digital was a distinct case of deja vu: at first, the best DAC for CD was 14-bit with oversampling. Soon the bit wars purported that only a 20-bit DAC could do the 16-bit data on CD justice and CD's magically yielding "20-bit sound". Not long after, the Zen-like "less is more" one-bit DAC (delta-sigma®, bitstream®, MASH® et al.) was introduced on the promise of sonic salvation.

Philips® CD-100 - the first CD-Player with a 14Bit DAC

The one-bit DAC was a marketing wonder until the coming of audio DVD heralded the advertising of one-bit DACs based on the word length they would accept on the input (not the actual resolution on the audio signal). The by-product is the so-called "24-bit/192KHz" DAC that endows virtually every £30 supermarket DVD player.

This 24Bit/192KHz DAC, you may by now be unsurprised to hear, offers an objective and subjective performance that would have had the designers of the 1980's 14-Bit CD players espouse many a profanity.

All the while, we have been told we had to have big speakers; small speakers; speakers with horns; speakers absolutely without horns; dome tweeters made from cloth, from plastic, from metal and then again from cloth. Lest we not forget electrostatic and magnetic planar speakers proclaimed as being the "true gospel".

A typical current low cost DVD Player, often with a claimed 192KHz/24KHz DAC
...comes once in a while, a true classic!

Funnily enough, from each and every particular feature craze, a few products emerge as long-standing and ongoing favourites for sounding exceptionally good. The rest are quickly discarded, forgotten.

We can surmise then that the reasons these special products become enduring and undying classics are not because they had a certain feature or a lack of; not because they measured a certain way or not; but because by either accident or diligent approach, they ended up offering
enduringly good sound.

We have taken note that the only consistency is their inconsistency: take two polarised designs such as the Marantz® Model 7 Valve preamplifier, fitted with every kind of control and gizmo known to man (in total 16 controls), in sharp contrast to the ascetic, stripped down minimalism of the small shoebox known as Naim® NAC72 preamplifier (in total four controls).
Marantz® Model 7T Preamplifier and Naim® NAC 72 Preamplifier

The case is the same with speakers: from the massive (2.3m tall) and complex Infinity® Reference Standard 3-Way ribbon speaker with its servo controlled bass towers to a simple, single Lowther® 8" full-range driver in a modest sized corner horn enclosure or the seminal pintsize BBC/Rogers® LS3/5 mini monitor with the middle ground occupied by the heft of a Tannoy® Westminster Royal® with a 15" Coax driver loaded by a huge 30Hz horn. Despite the diverse methodology of execution, they all make good sound and have become enduring classics.
Infinity® IRS MKV, Tannoy® Westminster Royal®, Lowther® Acousta® and LS3/5 approximately to scale

What makes good sound?

We have therefore reasoned that neither an over abundance nor extreme paucity of "creature comfort" features makes or breaks "good sound" by itself any more than a given specific technology does.

In the final analysis, it is the effort and vision of the designer/s as much as simply ensuring that no facet of the design is allowed to perform below par or out of step with the rest.

At Abbingdon Music Research, we have for a long time, investigated the starting points for good sound. Following on from this principle, we have taken on board exceptional implementations and technologies through the decades, motivated simply by finding what gave us the most musical pleasure.

Just because we seemingly pander to some fads in our technology, rest assured they were selected not because they were "en vogue", but simply because they sonically, "delivered the goods".

We tend towards making our products feature-rich as well as easy and convenient to use but only without compromising "good sound" as we recognise that Spartan inconvenience is no more a guarantor of good sound as is any other feature.

We at AMR would like to cordially invite you to experience the fruits of our research and draw your own conclusions as to how well we have managed to give you a system that provides enduring "music for pleasure".

Thorsten Loesch

Executive Director - Technology

Abbingdon Music Research



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