My monitor/subwoofer system

microstrip

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Well XLR is provided for convenience on many electronics and if it "sounds better" to someone then that just means they like having an extra transformer in the signal path. Regarding your first paragraph, my response is "it depends". It's not an old vs new myth. There are plenty of modern (and high priced) electronics with appreciably high THD. The actual distortion profile still matters to the audible result in these cases. It's not about opamps.

The "convenience" I was addressing does not include transformers - it is simply wired in parallel with the single ended pin, connecting pin 3 (inverting input) to ground ... :)

And surely in this hobby "it depends"!
 

Mark Seaton

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When they are not fake they have literally twice the amount of parts in the signal path. I'm not saying that's bad, but I'm not saying it's good either. You get double of whatever you got.
This is only the devices in the output stage if the XLR is driven with balanced circuitry rather than a transformer, and the output device will be producing 1/2 the magnitude signal vs that of the device driving the single ended output referenced to ground.

We should clear up that the balanced output cannot cancel any distortion produced upstream, ie any signal ahead of the output stage. The balanced output can help reduce any asymmetrical non-linearities produced within the circuit itself, but the more conventional benefit of a balanced signal is to cancel any noise induced into the parallel run of wires (+ & -) at the receiving end. Many do use balanced circuitry to cancel and reduce asymmetry in transfer curve, but most line level electronics run rather linearly to begin with. I would expect a much bigger difference in an amplifier design than preamp/linestage. Asymmetrical non-linearity in devices are observed as even order distortions of the input signal, especially 2nd order.

If using a pair of tubes in the output stage I could see a potential difference between the connection, but it should be independent of the length of cable.
 

Folsom

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This is only the devices in the output stage if the XLR is driven with balanced circuitry rather than a transformer, and the output device will be producing 1/2 the magnitude signal vs that of the device driving the single ended output referenced to ground.

We should clear up that the balanced output cannot cancel any distortion produced upstream, ie any signal ahead of the output stage. The balanced output can help reduce any asymmetrical non-linearities produced within the circuit itself, but the more conventional benefit of a balanced signal is to cancel any noise induced into the parallel run of wires (+ & -) at the receiving end. Many do use balanced circuitry to cancel and reduce asymmetry in transfer curve, but most line level electronics run rather linearly to begin with. I would expect a much bigger difference in an amplifier design than preamp/linestage. Asymmetrical non-linearity in devices are observed as even order distortions of the input signal, especially 2nd order.

If using a pair of tubes in the output stage I could see a potential difference between the connection, but it should be independent of the length of cable.

You need the same supply voltages for the operation for + and -, and devices are not equal between + and - inherently (ever) - at least not perfectly even if close. So do they do 1/2 the magnitude? They do half the phase. Typically balanced stages have more voltage because they're double what a single ended is... so it'd be more fair to say they do the same overall amplitude but only half the phase.

There's no reason to expect them to act like filters, or rather improve anything unless they're designed to absorb RF for a special flavor. They keep down common mode noise between gear, and stop the signal lines from being ravaged by 60hz hum while having more voltage and low enough capacitance. That's what the pro industry uses them. It's not "fidelity" as an audiophile knows it.
 

morricab

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This was meaningful when electronics had significant distortion - typically using cheap operational amplifiers to balance and unbalance signals. Most modern audio electronics do not suffer from this problem, but the old myths last forever. BTW, sometimes additional noise can be perceived as an warmer sound.

I have read from people referring that the Lamm L1- ML3 sound a lot better when we use the single end cables between preamplifier and power amplifier than using the same brand of balanced cables. They were not aware that the XLR connectors of these particular Lamm's are fake and just used for convenience, they are not balanced. :)
High order harmonics are part and parcel with differential amplifiers. It doesn't matter if it is discrete or from an op amp.

feedback-paper-acrobat.pdf (caltech.edu)

Look at page 40 for the conclusions on differential circuit modelling.

So if, in your view, amplifier distortion is no longer the cause for differences in sound reported, then what is the cause of 'modern' amplifiers to sound different?
 

morricab

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Are you saying there isn't so much the addition of odd order distortion but the reduction of even order distortion that tips the balance towards the odd order?
The circuit topology itself leads to generation of odd and high order harmonics preferentially. Push/pull output stages also cancel out even order harmonics and mostly produce odd order harmonics .
 

Al M.

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Happy New Year everyone!

Nice discussion, gentlemen, about the pros and cons of balanced.
 

Al M.

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This is a continuation of my progress update begun a few days ago:

Update 12-28-20 (Post # 598 and following)

Since a while I had planned to replace the "Blue Dots", sorbothane vibration damping isolation sandwiches between speaker stands and speakers that came with the Sound Anchors stands. They were partially deformed, because of all the moving of the speakers on the stands during toe-in experiments. They are quite thin and soft, which makes them a bit flimsy, and eventually I had put tape over them on the speaker stands in order to prevent further degradation. I am not sure if this would have affected the damping properties of the Blue Dots, but if so It would not be clear to me as to how (the tape itself should not transduce any energy between speakers and stands).

In any case, I was both ordering new Blue Dots from Sound Anchors and looking at what Herbie's Audio Lab had to offer. I like their footers, and found out that they had Big Fat Dots that could serve the same function as Blue Dots, but were much sturdier:

https://herbiesaudiolab.com/products/herbies-fat-dot?variant=12645162418231

I ordered eight of these isolation dots, for a cost of less than a hundred bucks. After I had finished my above described set-up experiments, I put the Herbie's Big Fat Dots under my 75-pound heavy speakers (4 under each), in order to see how they would sound like as a replacement for my worn-out Blue Dots.

DSC01927_cr.jpg

DSC01932_cr.jpg
 

Al M.

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The transformation of sound just amazed me, this was not what I had expected. Distortion was yet again way down. There was yet cleaner sound from the violins in the problematic recording of the Haydn string quartet op 20/II on period instruments, and with it I noticed a more perfect integration of the highs -- you do not know what is missing until you hear the improvement.

Sorting through some problematic loud passages in my favorite set of Haydn's complete 104 symphonies (Dennis Russell Davies cond. Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra), I discovered that these unexpectedly also sounded much better. Peaks were not just cleaner sounding, but also featured more resolution. In a dense passage of the first movement of Symphony 43 I could, for the first time, easily distinguish the figures that the strings were playing.

Even Black Sabbath's War Pigs sounded better. While there were still very distorted and aggressive guitars as there should be, they also sounded cleaner (as did Ozzy's voice). In a sense there was a cleaner dirtiness ;). I also could play the recording yet louder without any strain; I went to a volume level with peaks of 94 dBa, close to 100 dB (I did not try even louder, I don't want to fry my ears and try to adhere to NIOSH recommendations).

Overall, while a few distortions still remained, I could listen to all of the six Haydn string quartets op. 20 on period instruments with pleasure. Now the recording had gone from listenable to really enjoyable, and delving into the music I discovered what a treasure it was. The other recording of Haydn string quartets on period instruments that I had mentioned a few days ago, the six quartets op. 33 with the Eybler Quartet, now sounded practically free of distortion (with just a handful of slightly problematic brief moments on the entire double CD remaining) -- again at volume peaks of up to 90 dBa (ca. 95 db) -- and with considerably greater purity and beauty of shading of tone than before all my recent changes.

After some time, I tried a fresh set of the Sound Anchors Blue Dots that I also had obtained ($ 1.35 each), and was surprised that they gave a very similar result to the Herbie's Big Fat Dots in terms of improvements of distortion and tonality (the slight speaker toe-in was kept the same between the footer changes by laser measurement). So maybe the deformation of the old dots had done more damage than I thought, or perhaps the great weight of the monitors had diminished their damping properties over time. In terms of handling I definitely prefer the much sturdier Herbie's Big Fat Dots over the soft and thin Blue Dots, and decided to stick with them.

The new isolation footers between speakers and stands also solved another issue. While there had been no hardness on the choral and solo vocals on the "Cantate Domine" recording (Propius), on his last visit Peter A. rightfully complained about some hardness of vocals on Holst's Six Choruses for male vocals (Argo/Decca), a recording that I had first heard in his system and then bought on CD (Holst's vocal music in general is really beautiful and amazing!). Now the excessive hardness was gone. While my memory is not good enough to know if the presentation is as buttery as on vinyl, I just cannot detect any level of hardness anymore that would obviously be counter to a natural and believable presentation. While the presentation has certainly smoothed out in that manner, its great vividness is preserved.

The monitors have no crossover, with direct coupling of the mid-woofer to the amplifier, which favors dynamic liveliness and immediacy of sound (the tweeter is kept from frying by a capacitor). A theoretical drawback is high-frequency break-up of the mid-woofer, but it amazes me how loud the monitors can now play without any problems. The last several days I spun a few times the fourth, wild movement of the orchestral work Scheherazade (Reiner/CSO on XRCD), and was astounded at how effortless and without strain, and with hardly any distortion, the system presented this dynamic music at a volume with peak levels of 96 dBa (100 dB or above). Quite a difference after the last improvements to acoustics and resonance control. This morning I actually caught myself laughing upon experiencing the almost relaxed ease with which these 2-way monitors projected the outrageous sequences of dynamic explosions in the middle of the movement.

The great cabinet rigidity probably helps in suppressing breakup modes of the speaker cone to run out of control, and the mid-woofer itself is optimized. My previous Reference 3A monitors that had a less rigid cabinet, the MM DeCapo BE, did have some audible breakup modes, like on loud treble notes from piano (these are clean on the current monitors). They also had a less optimized mid-woofer. The Reference 3A MM DeCapo BE monitor seems a nice engineering feat for the price, the Reference 3A Reflector monitor seems a great engineering accomplishment, period.
 

spiritofmusic

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Al, I'm disappointed. You didn't mention "natural" even once Lol.
 
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Al M.

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With all the recent advances, timbre also has become deeper and more saturated. The most astonishing improvement for me is on solo trumpet, for example on Lee Morgan's playing. While vocals, including bass voices, had sounded very good on my system, and also solo trombone had fared quite well, trumpet had always had a somewhat thinner, more emaciated timbre than I found realistic, and this had bothered me to some extent. The first significant improvement came with the new Octave preamp in Spring 2019, which finally gave some depth of color to the instrument. The improvement of acoustics last summer by moving the subwoofers from the front wall next to the speakers had also resulted in more harmonic richness from trumpet sound. Yet now the full-bodied, rich timbre of solo trumpet is quite close to what I perceived as realistic trumpet sound, and compares nicely to what I have heard from much larger floorstanders.

Audiophiles often discuss sound in terms of more or less "warmth", or in terms of overall fullness or leanness. While there is some value in that type of discussion, I think it partially misses the point. It is also about harmonic integrity of sound, which seems essential to depth of tone. I suspect that the harmonic integrity of something like trumpet tone is much more vulnerable to distortions by reflections and resonances than quite a few other timbres, and the taming of those may help explain why in particular trumpet sound has made such progress in my system lately. The depth and saturation of saxophone timbre has also dramatically increased, which obviously is instrumental as well in making jazz much more realistic sounding and enjoyable on my system.

Another area where there has been great progress is the sound of drums, in particular on rock. Also here I had found a certain thinness compared to what larger speakers could deliver; I tended to be more critical about this aspect of sound on my own system than audiophile friends when they visited. Yet now finally I hear real fullness of sound on drums, which is very satisfying and also makes the speaker system sound much more like large speakers. Yet at the same time there is no artificial "fattening" of sound on drums, something that can be a problem with larger speakers in cases where their placement elicits adverse speaker/room interactions or their coupling to the floor is suboptimal -- or of course, when they are of intrinsic lesser quality. I have always been particularly sensitive to this kind of boxy coloration, which has also been one of several factors for me choosing monitor speakers throughout my audiophile journey.

Overall, the monitor/subwoofer combo just keeps surprising me in terms of having much less limits than also I as a satisfied owner assumed, and now sounds much more like high-quality large speakers in terms of available tonal saturation. Sure, it still cannot capture the full weight and definition of massed orchestral brass in all instances (even though the opening of Scheherazade/Reiner/CSO sounds pretty amazing), and massed orchestral string basses still do not have the heft and weight that you can get from much larger high-quality speakers (not just any floorstanders), but these to me are comparably minor issues in the big picture. The speaker combo delivers in spades on most music, and offers high resolution (timbral micro-detail, separation of instruments) and exquisite dynamic vividness for an, in high end terms, rather moderate price.

For my personal tastes regarding unavoidable compromises in a medium-sized room like mine, with a relatively narrow width of 12 feet, the Reference 3A Reflector monitors combined with the JL Audio subs now come rather close to being my dream speaker system (obviously, the high level electronics and signal cabling do their part in revealing the speaker performance). I also love the intimacy and immediacy that the system is capable of on some small-scale recordings. -- A large room of course would produce its own considerably greater potential, but also its own challenges, and would require a very different system approach for filling it with music at a loud volume.
 
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PeterA

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Nice report Al. I look forward to hearing your system again once you start having visitors. It’s nice when the sound improves without spending much money.
 

Al M.

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Al, I'm disappointed. You didn't mention "natural" even once Lol.

Hehe, good one, Marc. Even in my post following yours I don''t speak of natural sound, but about "realistic" sound and "harmonic integrity".
 

spiritofmusic

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Al, that's all good stuff, and I've followed your system narrative w great interest. For me, I hit a level about 12 months ago where timbral accuracy suddenly became hugely apparent. This overnight upped my level of enjoyment and immersion in jazz dramatically, and recent changes have opened up tonal color and revealed the air and stage in recordings, that together w those timbral changes, have revolutionised my appreciation of classical. Fascinatingly the stuff that is now most "challenging" is my core deep genre prog and fusion, where greater accuracy has it's "downsides".
I can only assume when PeterA, SteveW and DDK etc talk about upping "naturalness" in their systems, they mean these things. It's good to know they're keeping up w me and you Lol.
 

PeterA

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Al, that's all good stuff, and I've followed your system narrative w great interest. For me, I hit a level about 12 months ago where timbral accuracy suddenly became hugely apparent. This overnight upped my level of enjoyment and immersion in jazz dramatically, and recent changes have opened up tonal color and revealed the air and stage in recordings, that together w those timbral changes, have revolutionised my appreciation of classical. Fascinatingly the stuff that is now most "challenging" is my core deep genre prog and fusion, where greater accuracy has it's "downsides".
I can only assume when PeterA, SteveW and DDK etc talk about upping "naturalness" in their systems, they mean these things. It's good to know they're keeping up w me and you Lol.

Mrac, just as you do not understand my use of the term natural, I have no idea what you mean when you talk about greater accuracy with your core deep genre having its downsides and challenges. I don’t see Al using the term accuracy either though I may have missed it in all of his wonderful descriptions.

I do not mean that to be an invitation for you to discuss your system in Al’s thread though.

For my part, I’ve witnessed the improvement in Al’s system as he has removed some of his room absorption, reduced toe-in, and moved his subs forward for better integration. I dare say he is moving towards a more natural sound with less distortion and fewer artifacts.
 

spiritofmusic

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What is this? One can't talk about one's experiences in others' threads? When did that become a rule? And if anyone should object, it should be Al, not you.
 

Al M.

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Nice report Al. I look forward to hearing your system again once you start having visitors. It’s nice when the sound improves without spending much money.

Thanks, Peter. I look forward to hearing your system as well and having you over again to hear mine.

It is indeed nice when you get quite large improvements of sound at a low cost. I guess we both are pursuing similar paths when it comes to this, as we did with reduced toe-in and removal of room absorption. The latter were in my case also inspired by your efforts in your system, and I guess we both are happy to acknowledge inspiration by ddk.
 
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Al M.

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For my part, I’ve witnessed the improvement in Al’s system as he has removed some of his room absorption, reduced toe-in, and moved his subs forward for better integration. I dare say he is moving towards a more natural sound with less distortion and fewer artifacts.

This is a characterization that I agree with.
 

Al M.

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What is this? One can't talk about one's experiences in others' threads? When did that become a rule? And if anyone should object, it should be Al, not you.

I enjoyed your post, Marc, and reading about your parallel experiences in your system.
 

PeterA

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Thanks, Peter. I look forward to hearing your system as well and having you over again to hear mine.

It is indeed nice when you get quite large improvements of sound at a low cost. I guess we both are pursuing similar paths when it comes to this, as we did with reduced toe-in and removal of room absorption. The latter were in my case also inspired by your efforts in your system, and I guess we both are happy to acknowledge inspiration by ddk.

Al, I should add that there’s been a commensurate reduction in the spotlighting or emphasis of certain aspects of the sound of your system. This also is part of what ddk means by a natural sound. The last time I heard your system, it was more about the music and less about the sound and certain frequencies drawing attention to themselves. Let’s also give some credit to your use of the stock power cords.

That is a sure sign of progress in my book.
 
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spiritofmusic

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I enjoyed your post, Marc, and reading about your parallel experiences in your system.
Appreciate that Al. I recognise a lot of what you've achieved in my journey, I always thought part of the fun in this forum was sharing experiences in common. Even if we don't necessarily share the same language to describe said changes.
 
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