For most of us listening to music intimately is an activity essentially passive. We get carried away. It relaxes us. It helps us to escape from our daily activity. However, when we decide to approach it to test the quality of headphones, speakers or any other sound equipment, we predispose ourselves to adopt an active attitude.
Staying alert to try to identify the characteristics of the device we are testing is a successful strategy, but it is also important to let ourselves be guided by a methodology that helps us draw conclusions as objective as possible of an activity that is eminently subjective. Emotional.
This is the starting point that we propose
The purpose of this article is to propose a procedure that can help you when you need to buy some loudspeakers, headphones or other sound reproduction element and you have the opportunity to try it before you do with him.
It is not always possible to test a component before buying it, but when the opportunity arises worth take advantage of it to make sure that this element really offers us what we are looking for.
The method that we propose is the one that we use when we analyze audio devices. But we have not invented it at all. In fact, it is the one used by many sound professionals and audiophiles to identify quality of a sound system, and also, although this objective is more complex, what role does a certain component play within it.
A mediocre recording will represent an obstacle that will prevent the team we are testing from giving the best of themselves.
Before getting into flour it is important that we secure our starting point well. Our first advice is that when you decide to carry out your own tests, select musical themes that have a sound take of the best possible quality.
A mediocre recording will be an obstacle that will prevent the team we are testing from giving their best, but an outstanding recording will allow them to express themselves and help us to assess your potential. In the last section of the article we will propose several musical cuts that have a very remarkable sound take.
There goes our next tip. If your purpose is to compare the performance of several components, the ideal is that you carry out the tests blindly, without knowing which one is playing at each moment, and matching sound pressure level of all of them.
To run the tests blindly you will need the help of another person, and to equalize the sound pressure level and prevent the one that sounds louder from inviting us to conclude, perhaps erroneously, that it sounds better, we will have to use a sound level meter.
We are aware that it is not always possible to count on the help of another person, and also that most music fans do not have a sound level meter, but if the circumstances allow us to carry out the tests in this way, it is worth running them. so that we can draw a conclusion as reliable as possible.
Our last two tips are much more affordable, but just as important: close your eyes during the audition and write down everything you perceive.
Closing our eyes allows us inhibit visual stimuli and concentrating on auditory stimuli, and taking notes is also a highly recommended practice, especially if we are going to try several components, because our auditory memory is fragile. If we don’t, we risk assigning to one element the attributes that we have identified in a different one.
Follow the tune: Ivor Tiefenbrun’s method
This procedure was devised by the founder of Linn, a long-standing Scottish company specializing in fine-tuning high-quality hi-fi components. What he proposes is that we try to focus all our attention in a single instrument and follow its tune, leaving everyone else in the background.
A good music system must be able to reproduce each instrument with precision, separating it neatly from everyone else, so it should allow us to achieve it without trying too hard. Of course, this method is not equally effective with all musical genres. It is very accessible with small orchestral formations, and more complicated with large orchestral masses and with modern music that expressly introduces distortion.
A good music system must be able to reproduce each instrument with precision, clearly separating it from all the others.
In any case, if the sound recording of the music we are listening to is of good quality, this method It works very well. If we are trying out well-executed headphones or speakers, we will be able to focus our attention on any instrument in a very natural way.
But, if the component we are analyzing is not up to the task, the instruments will appear intermingled and it will cost us a lot to identify one of them with precision and follow its melody throughout the musical cut.
How to identify the attributes that give away the quality of an audio component
In addition to the method proposed by Ivor Tiefenbrun, when we test a sound device we strive to identify the attributes that most clearly reflect its quality. Our intention is that this procedure be as affordable as possible, so we are going to suggest only those parameters that are easy to discern.
the sound scene
If the sound recording of the musical theme that we are listening to is good, the acoustic boxes or the headphones that we are testing should be able to place each instrument in the right place. In the physical location it occupied on the stage where the recording took place, thus recreating a virtual sound scene with horizontal and vertical amplitude and depth.
If we close our eyes, the loudspeakers, or the headphones, should completely disappear. We should be able to locate the singer’s voice in front of us, in the center. We should also perceive the instruments that are to the right of it, to the left of it, and behind it. In no case should we identify that the sound emerges from the physical location of our speakers. Each instrument must be part of a sound scene wide and continuous.
A simple and intuitive way to define transients requires identifying them as loud sounds and Of short duration that many audio components fail to reproduce correctly. In fact, even if they are present in the recording, it is possible that they are masked and we cannot hear them correctly.
There are many transient-rich instruments, but one of the easiest to identify are the castanets. Good quality equipment should have no problem reproducing them accurately and believably, but mediocre speakers or headphones may not be able to reproduce them well, especially if they coexist with a large orchestral mass.
The level of detail
Identifying the level of detail that is capable of recreating the audio component that we are testing is simple as long as, yes, the sound intake is up to par.
If the recording has managed to pick up a high level of micro-detail in some of them we can hear the breathing of the musicians who play the wind instruments (especially the flute), or even the friction of the fingers of the guitarists when they strum the strings. Some recordings by Paco de Lucía allow us to appreciate this last characteristic very clearly if the loudspeakers are capable of restoring this musical information.
If the distortion exceeds a certain threshold, it will cause acoustic fatigue.
One of the challenges facing audio components, especially headphones, speakers and amplifiers, is distortion. It usually occurs when we increase the sound pressure level above a certain thresholdand it can ruin our experience because it generates acoustic fatigue.
If we turn up the volume to a realistic sound pressure level, and after a few minutes we feel discomfort in our ears or mental dullnessit is likely that the performance of the component we are testing is being compromised by the distortion.
Here you have some musical cuts with an impeccable sound recording
These are some of the musical themes that we usually use to test the quality of the sound equipment we review. As you can see, in addition to indicating the title of the cut and its interpreter, we specify the format in which we usually reproduce it:
‘Stir it up’, de Bob Marley (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘You make me feel like a natural woman’, de Susan Wong (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘Redbud tree’, de Mark Knopfler (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘Autumn in Seattle’, de Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘Spanish Harlem’, de Rebecca Pidgeon (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘You’ve got a friend’, de Susan Wong (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘Wasted time’, de Eagles (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘Vivaldi – Flute concerto in D’, Chesky Records (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘Stimela’, de Hugh Masekela (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘Lush life’, de Billy Strayhorn (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘Afro blue’, de Mongo Santamaria (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘April in Paris’, de Duke/Harburg (FLAC 24 bits y 96 kHz)
‘No sanctuary here’, de Chris Jones (FLAC 24 bits y 44,1 kHz)
‘Under the boardwalk’, de Mighty Echoes (PCM 16 bits y 44,1 kHz)
Pictures | Hudson Marques | andrea picquadio
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