Blackness / Black Background

stehno

Well-Known Member
Jul 5, 2014
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#1
All too frequently I read where somebody executes an upgrade and then posts a comment how the upgrade resulted in a greater blackness or blacker background. Some will mention as a result of the upgrade how much more exciting it is to hear the initial attack of an instrument arise from this black background.

What gives? Do genuine improvements really induce a greater blackness or blacker background?
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#2
In my system there is a quiet, calm background, without electronic hash and grain, from which sound emerges. This is especially the case since my upgrade to an Octave HP 700 preamp, which was a substantial improvement across the board.

I wouldn't call it a black background. I associate the term with artificiality.
 
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JackD201

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Apr 21, 2010
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#3
When I went off grid I ended up with no background, or at least it seems like it.
 
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tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
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#4
All too frequently I read where somebody executes an upgrade and then posts a comment how the upgrade resulted in a greater blackness or blacker background. Some will mention as a result of the upgrade how much more exciting it is to hear the initial attack of an instrument arise from this black background.

What gives? Do genuine improvements really induce a greater blackness or blacker background?
"Wow. The Celebration hit a bullseye. The glockenspiel notes emerged from a velvet-black background sounding rich and three-dimensional, with convincing percussive impact and a pure bell-like tone, all rendered with in-the-room transparency. " Ref

"All for the better, building on the new amp's predecessor—which had, as I described in the original review, "high-frequency cleanness and transparency combined with as perfect a high-frequency transient response as I've heard from any amplifier, all emerging from velvety-black backdrops."" Ref

"Drums and flutes pop out of a deep black background as they echo throughout the reading of the mass and beyond the alter." Ref

...and so on.

Black background. It's classic reviewer-speak, or more gently perhaps, a limitation in the standard audiophile vocabulary. The attempt to describe ... what? Some will say a lower noise floor, others the absence of noise, the space between the notes, quietude, silence (S&G), the absence of ambience. Being (white) and Nothingness (black) - with apologies to Sarte - in which case there is no "greater black." Sometimes adjectives get attached to characterize the adjective - Fremer likes "velvet-black" - perhaps to give the black some texture.

Sometimes the "observation" of a black background is applied to components, sometimes to records. Either way it's something we hear by way of comparison, or don't hear. What 'it' is, is the "background" - presumably that against which something else ... what? Appears? Exists? Emerges from? Or is in contrast to? Presumably it's always there? We couldn't have music without silence ... blah blah blah.

Certainly some audiophiles (synthesists?) enjoy it or at least use it because it's an easy phrase and after all, that's what the review said. Digerati love to contrast it to the surface noise of a record.

I'm inclined to agree with Al (above) that it is artificial. But it's very real, certainly the phrase usage is, but moreso some components certainly sound quieter than others, some records are quieter than others - if that's what people mean. But it's artificial in the sense that it reflects the absence of information, and that absence is usually intentional. It is a filtering out.

What do you hear when you go to a concert hall? You certainly don't hear black background. You do hear (perhaps) the contrast between the orchestra playing and not playing, whether that is from rests in the music or between movements. But that's not black. Things should be quieter in the recording studio - is there black there?

Roger Skoff (what a great name for a forum member) wrote a piece on Positive Feedback from which I'll quote a bit:

"Musical backgrounds aren't black. Even if recorded in an open space, the venue is almost always filled with the sounds of other instruments or performers, and with the ambient noise of the venue itself. That makes the background almost always "white," and the better the background can be recorded and the better it can be retrieved and recreated by your playback equipment, the more realistic your sound will be, and the more music will be there for you to enjoy." What isn't Black? Roger Skoff Writes about the Real Sound of Sound
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#5
Greater S/N
Better Dynamics
Absence of distortion
Better transients
Our goal is for the system to respond to the musical signal.
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
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North Shore of Boston
#6
Stehno: "What gives? Do genuine improvements really induce a greater blackness or blacker background?"

For me, it depends on what kind of a sound you are looking for.

There are ways to increase the blackness of backgrounds. I find that this creates more contrast to the sound, more starkness. More hype, more excitement, more hifi. I used to enjoy this type of sound.

The more I started to pay close attention to live music, the more I came to realize that in my system, nuance, ambiance, subtlety all suffered. The instruments' harmonics and resonances and sense of energy were all reduced. Timbre was less accurate. Music seemed to have its life sucked out of it. I found the sound to be less natural, less convincing, less real.

I am now moving in a different direction.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#7
I was similarly involved several years ago using devices in my system that everyone commented how the sound emerged from a black background only to disappear into the same dark background. I was the first to admit how unique the sound was UNTIL I did an A-B-A test where the final part of the test was to remove the devices. Bottom line was that when the devices were removed there was an immediate return of ambient sound and the feeling of presence, a "you are there feeling". The sound was so much better and I was much better involved in listening to the music. Everything I gave up to achieve the sound coming from darkness had returned. Timber was indeed off but was back after I removed the devices. I agree completely with Peter's last post. Ambience suffered the worst as there was no ambience. All the little nuances, the big dynamics and a feeling of presence were once again audible and much for the better. Those devices never went back into my system and were listed for sale the same day. I have never looked back

IMO that so called sound emerging from darkness and disappearing into darkness is fascinating to listen to but in reality it is not the way music is heard.One loses all of the spatial indicators as well as giving up a whole lot more. People typically do an A-B test and all to often are mesmerized by what they hear. My question has always been "do you hear something better or is it merely something different. Doing the A-B-A test answers all questions


Like Peter I went in an entirely different direction
 

jazdoc

Member Sponsor
Aug 7, 2010
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Bellevue
#8
Stehno: "What gives? Do genuine improvements really induce a greater blackness or blacker background?"

For me, it depends on what kind of a sound you are looking for.

There are ways to increase the blackness of backgrounds. I find that this creates more contrast to the sound, more starkness. More hype, more excitement, more hifi. I used to enjoy this type of sound.

The more I started to pay close attention to live music, the more I came to realize that in my system, nuance, ambiance, subtlety all suffered. The instruments' harmonics and resonances and sense of energy were all reduced. Timbre was less accurate. Music seemed to have its life sucked out of it. I found the sound to be less natural, less convincing, less real.

I am now moving in a different direction.
Peter, congratulations for one of the greatest posts in the history of WBF!

IMO, this is also the definitive answer to this thread: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...ding-like-analog-best-term.30534/#post-645351.

Audiophiles love to claim that live music is their reference. When I go hear live music, it's not in an anechoic chamber (which for many people leads to hallucinations). At the venues I frequent, most (all?) of the attendees and musicians are drunk, high and/or heavily tattooed with resultant ambient noise. YMMV :D
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#10
Congratulations Peter: this may be the greatest post in the history of WBF! This should be bookmarked. IMO, this is also the definitive answer to this thread: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...ding-like-analog-best-term.30534/#post-645351
Except that this isn't about analog vs. digital. The latter can sound just as natural than the former, with natural ambient information and decay, and without "black" background.

Rather than introducing a "black" background, my new preamp gave a calmer, quieter background, and the naturalness of information increased.

I agree that Peter's post is great.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#11
Peter, congratulations for one of the greatest posts in the history of WBF!

IMO, this is also the definitive answer to this thread: https://www.whatsbestforum.com/thre...ding-like-analog-best-term.30534/#post-645351.

Audiophiles love to claim that live music is their reference. When I go hear live music, it's not in an anechoic chamber (which for many people leads to hallucinations). At the venues I frequent, most (all?) of the attendees and musicians are drunk, high and/or heavily tattooed with resultant ambient noise. YMMV :D
Thank you jazdoc. Tang touched on this too with his videos of original v. reissue LPs. I have not yet thought about this in terms of analog v. digital, but there is a distinct sound difference I hear in almost all digital sources compared to analog, and it usually comes down to the degree of naturalness. Perhaps this is because of the inherently "blacker" backgrounds of digital music. I haven't lived with hi-end digital to have a strong opinion on this.

I'm sure this will be controversial. There is also some discussion about noise in amplification devices and the controlled introduction of harmonic distortion. Fascinating issue. We all have our preferences, for a variety of reasons. We also hear things differently.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#12
. . .

there is a distinct sound difference I hear in almost all digital sources compared to analog, and it usually comes down to the degree of naturalness. Perhaps this is because of the inherently "blacker" backgrounds of digital music. . . .
Which sense of background "blackness" is more consonant with what you hear at BSO?

If you go to a classical symphony orchestra concert at BSO and suddenly every member of the audience except you disappeared, and talking, shuffling, sneezing, talking and even collective breathing noises instantly disappeared, so that the background noise suddenly dropped several decibels, would you enjoy the music performed even more -- by hearing details no longer obscured by that higher background noise level?
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#13
When I went off grid I ended up with no background, or at least it seems like it.
Hi Jack!

You mean off-grid with the Stromtank?
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#14
Hi Ron,

I'm not sure I understand your question. The noise from audience sounds is not what I hear when comparing vinyl to digital. It is something completely different. Even when there is no music playing and the stage is quiet, or between movements when the musicians are sitting still and not making music, and if the audience is fairly quiet, there is still an energy, a liveliness to the atmosphere. The hall is not "black". This sense of atmosphere and aliveness seems to lesson when a system or component or room becomes "blacker". Perhaps you should ask jazdoc as he specifically wrote that he thinks my comments answer the question posed in the analog v. digital thread.

Anyway, what I hear at the BSO is analog and atmosphere, life, energy, even in the quiet. Simple as that. The silence from digital, the blacker backgrounds, don't exist in real life, or at least I don't hear things like that. As far as enjoyment goes, I have been to packed concert halls, in lots of different seats, small and large venues, and in closed rehearsals at the edge of the stage, feet from the musicians or singers. I enjoy them both, though at a concert I'm usually listening to the music. At the rehearsals, I was listening to the sound of the instruments and learning about their energy and resonances. That was about education more than it was about enjoyment.

It is not about details. It is about the sense of energy and life in the music and room. "Black backgrounds" imply to me the absence of sound. It is unnatural. I never hear anything close to an absence of sound, or a black background, in real life.

EDIT: This is not to be confused with having a quieter room or cleaner power. Those things can improve the listening experience if they increase the perception of natural resolution from the system allowing one to hear more of what is on the recording without stripping it of life.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
#15
"Black backgrounds" imply to me the absence of sound.
I totally agree The loss of all ambient sound is not natural and robs the presence out of the music. It is lifeless
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#16
Even the best tuna net catches a few dolphins.
Products with vanishing low distortion, lightening transients, and high s/can sound sterile. The problem with ss and digital.
Velvet black background is nonetheless desirable. We have to be careful how we achieve it.
 

steve59

Active Member
Jan 7, 2018
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#17
The only thing I can say I fairly consistently notice when comparing a high resolution recording to a standard Redbook is the sense of space the hi Rez provide, the opposite I think of black.
 
#20
"Black Background" is usually a result of two improvements:

1) Reducing the noise that is constantly present in the playback, usually while playing music, but often when no music is playing. This is the steady-state noise.

2) Reducing the noise that is riding on the music waveform. This is correlated noise or dynamically induced distortion.

Examples of steady-state noise are:

a) AC hum
b) HF noise caused by ground loop pickup of RF
c) Induced noise from large magnetic or electromagnetic fields, such as local radio transmitters or local noisy light dimmers etc..
d) Power supply noise/ AC line noise

Examples of correlated noise are:

e) Jitter in Master Clock and the I2S signals, particularly SCLK and MCLK
f) Power subsystems in the components that cannot deliver the di/dt, so distortion occurs more during HF dynamics
g) Devices such as IC's and transistors that heat-up dynamically and behave differently when hot than cold
h) Acoustic feedback mechanisms such as tube microphonics and capacitor vibration that changes/modulates their behavior
i) Any active device that has gain or feedback that reacts differently with HF music compared to LF music waveforms
j) It it possible to get music-correlated noise with ground-loops
k) Resistor thermal noise
l) Dielectric noise from absorption - Analog signals over long circuit traces can cause this


One thing that I have implemented in my own system that reduces noise significantly is to eliminate all of the ground-loops. I do this in the following way:

1) computer to DAC digital interface - I use either Ethernet, which is isolated or isolated USB interface
2) DAC to amplifier/preamp analog interface - I use my Final Drive audiophile transformer isolators

This made a marked difference in the noise floor.

One thing to be aware of is the tendency to go down the garden path of distortion, thinking that it is better or more "ambient". Some digital formats in certain D/A converters can cause a kind of echo or ringing in the high frequency transients that is not real, but can be very appealing. It's not that the ringing should not be there, but these devices tend to exaggerate it. Once it is reduced, there is a clarity factor that is obvious, with the venue echoes still being present, but not as exaggerated. More live sounding for sure.
 
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