Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies - Page 4 - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #31 of 52 Old 02-20-11, 08:37 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

Also, regarding cds and vinyl, I find that the vinyl kills cd on system over about 1k. this assumes the
best recordings in either format. It is strange to me however that records can be preserved intact on cds.

Regarding X-over parts, I have to agree. I have wasted good money on fancy caps and have heard no
improvements. I have used iron core inductors with great success in certain applications, while some people
claim they should NEVER be used.

As to the 2 channel vs. 5.1 debate, I a firmly a stereo man and shall remain so.

I wish I knew 1% of what Zaph knows, and I applaud his effort to share what must be just a fraction of
his knowledge. I have learned alot by studying his (very complete and polished) speaker plans he publishes for everyone's benefit. At the same time, I think one should beware of experts, and take care that when looking for
Mr. Right, one should make sure his first name is not Always.
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post #32 of 52 Old 02-20-11, 08:51 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

He certainly knows his stuff and also has his opinions as to what is good and bad through his tried and true methods, he's also not afraid to voice his opinions either. I like him allready.
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post #33 of 52 Old 02-21-11, 12:36 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

mor2bz wrote: View Post
Also, regarding cds and vinyl, I find that the vinyl kills cd on system over about 1k. this assumes the
best recordings in either format. It is strange to me however that records can be preserved intact on cds.
While vinyl may be pleasing to the ears, it is far from accurate in representing the recorded event. Doug Sax, Bernie Grundman, Bob Katz and several other award winning mastering engineers have said this, and based on my experience mixing audio, I have to agree. Even Wilma Cozart Fine, the lead engineer of the Mercury Living Presence series of recordings (and former VP or Mercury records) has said the series CD reproduction was much closer to the original tapes than the vinyl is.

I always find it ironic that folks who make these comparisons always choose the lowest resolution of digital (16/44.1khz bit and sample rate), and compare it against the second best way of reproducing analog sound. Why don't folks make this comparison with 24/88.2 or 24/176.4khz bit and sample rates?

As to the 2 channel vs. 5.1 debate, I a firmly a stereo man and shall remain so.
I love stereo as a listener, hate it as an audio engineer. I do not like to have limitations placed on my sound systems. I can easily play a stereo recording on my music leaning 7.1 system, but a two channel system can never play a multichannel recording

I wish I knew 1% of what Zaph knows, and I applaud his effort to share what must be just a fraction of
his knowledge. I have learned alot by studying his (very complete and polished) speaker plans he publishes for everyone's benefit. At the same time, I think one should beware of experts, and take care that when looking for
Mr. Right, one should make sure his first name is not Always.
Well said

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post #34 of 52 Old 02-21-11, 10:09 PM
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Sonnie wrote: View Post
I was plundering around the Zaph Audio site, mainly snooping for Zaph's measurements... and ran across his "About Me" page. Pretty interesting stuff:
Intresting list but in some cases a bit to dogmatic for me.
A. CD vs Vinyl. It all depends on the mastering of the music. Many CDs are recorded w/inferior
masters and are peak limited to the extreme. On the vinyl side especially from the late 80's
on quality vinyl went down hill with the rise of digital. Also comparing analog tape recording to
digital is completly different process what you prefer is purely subjective.

B. I enjoy the mags for what they are which is a great source of information on whats new.
Even though I can't afford $180,000 speakers I enjoy reading abouth them just like a $100,000
C. Vintage audio I'll put up my Threshold and Forte amps up against anything out today. Quality
electronics will always stand out. Afterall has anyone amended Ohms law recently?
D. Pricing. I'm a free market guy. If you want to make a $12,000 8 wpc amp good luck. A person
buying this probably is not worried about next months car payment. Years ago I had a friend in
Florida that was in the Yacht building industry. Overpriced boats for the rich. Well when they
put an extra tax on the yachts the industry collapsed and the average Joe that built the boats
lost their jobs. Why do we always want to punish companies that make high-end products?
E. This hobby is all about entertainment and fun. Sometimes I think we take it to serious.
Suggestion turn down the lights get your favorite beverage and enjoy some tunes. Isn't that
what we're all looking for in the end???
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post #35 of 52 Old 02-23-11, 10:27 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

While I don't disagree with Zaph on a lot of things, I'm of the opinion that everything should be put to the objective tests - both measurements and blind listening. If a correlation cannot be found, it shouldn't be claimed.

The website I find myself visiting most for information is

because I think his articles are very informative.

If a person truly believes that his cable or pre-amp or what have you sounds different, I would always

1) Ask them if they can hear this difference when the biases of sighted listening are eliminated
2) If so, wish to measure the product and see just why it's sounding different. Our knowledge of these sort of things is great enough that the measurements will reveal the difference IMO.
3) If there is a difference, is it truly a positive one? Have we accidentally sacrificed fidelity?
4) If there is a difference, is it financially proportional to the difference between something which in my experience always makes a huge difference (Room, Speakers, and Sufficient Amplification)? "Was it truly worth it"?

And after all that, instead of an enlightening discussion, usually attacks on my hearing ability, my financial situation or the resolution ability of my own system. And that's fine. But this to me reveals a far deeper issue:

Is high-end audio less about enjoying what we wish to enjoy, and more about ostentatiousness? Is that what audiophilia is? Is mid-fi just the same? Is there any way to remove this constant disdain between the two parties? One party refuses to try hearing the lack of a difference, and the other party apparently lacks the ability to hear the difference. Stalemate.

So my ultimate conclusion is that... on paper, we all need to learn to hold our breath when people disagree with us. In my experience however, I do feel inclined to tell a person about to spend $2000 on cabling or power conditioning to rethink his/her position and do the research necessary. To spend $100 on measurement gear or something to know whether and why it would have a difference. Or to find third party measurements of the product and see what exactly it does. And if the justification is more..paranormal than that... to at least audition blindly, with a close family member doing the blind switching. While I believe in double blind and ABX, I believe level matched, single blind, with a trusted person switching, is far less convoluted and more likely to get you the results you as an individual desire.

I do believe measurements are almost the end-all-be-all as the well documented psychoacoustic researches have shown much correlation between them and what we perceive. I also believe that 99% of the time, what measurements we have are extremely INSUFFICIENT. And I also believe that a lot of us, myself included, haven't thoroughly enough actually read all of that psychoacoustic research that will help describe to us how we do or don't acheive the desired feelings and emotional connections.

But that's complacency, and in my opinion acceptable because it means we are happy. At the end of the day, despite all the shortcomings, I think many of us can still enjoy music through the lowest-fi systems as long as it does not extremely sound well off and distorted.

The alternative is insecurity and constantly switching out components which do or do not get us closer to our end goal. Is that happiness? Personally, in correlating my subjective experiences with objective knowledge of others, I feel secure about my money having been well spent. At the end of the day it brings me happiness.

Maybe a cable really does change the sound at 14khz ever so slightly. But because I'm not bothering with the ever-so-slight "maybes", I feel content and feel my money can be put to less slight, less "maybe" things.

Last edited by GranteedEV; 02-23-11 at 10:36 PM.
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post #36 of 52 Old 02-26-11, 05:07 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

Zaph has a section at the bottom of his site:

Evaluation Myths Busted

Subjectivity vs objectivity

noun: judgment based on individual personal impressions and feelings and opinions rather than external facts

noun: judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices

For those who are not familiar with the usage of these terms in the audio world, subjectivity is an interpetation of performance using ears and music while objectivity is proof of performance using as many scientific measurements and methods as required to make a point.

This is going to be the part of this article that hurts some the most: In a situation where proven methodology and technology exists to do objective testing, people will side with subjectivity when 1)objectivity does not give them the answers they want to hear 2)they have an agenda or interest to protect, or 3)they are incapable of executing objective methods or reading objective results. Why do I never discuss this issue on the forums? Because there's no winning an argument with someone who is stubborn and uneducated, unaware, or uninformed. (ouch, but I can't think of any less harsh terms at the moment)

Don't let a proponent of subjectivity tell you that the right measurements don't exist to properly describe performance. That is a wrong statement, occasionally stated unknowingly but more often stated blatantly on purpose. The right measurements do exist and it's time for people to get with the program. The field of audio is very well known and has been for 50 years. My advice to those who say the right measurements don't exist: Get a decent measurement package, start measuring some drivers, and then start listening to them, in different applications and without filters, alone and in systems with other drivers, just so you can hear exactly what you see. In time, understanding will come.

Beware the subjective speaker review. Anything subjective is likely full of vague useless verbage and is open to very different interpretation by anyone. It's also open to omissions because the review material will always be limited. And, as mentioned above, there's a good chance it's just not true.

A speaker can't be evaluated like a painting. The nature of a painting forces subjectivity while a speaker *can* be objectively tested. Don't forget that a painting is a production conveying the emotions and ideas of the painter, while a speaker is a device for reproduction. There is no room for emotion (or distortion) in a reproduction. A reproduction is judged by one thing: accuracy compared to the original. People shouldn't put on purple sunglasses when going to an art museum.

The objectivity of measurements leaves nothing to the imagination. Issues can not hide or be neglected, intentionally or unintentionally. So obviously, the moral of this story is that objective measurements should be used whenever possible, and subjective reviews should not be accepted or at least considered with a grain of salt.

How often has someone said "Forget the measurements and tell me how it sounds." Or "Learn to listen with your ears." Well I hate to say it, but stubborn and uninformed is rearing it's ugly head again. A lack of understanding without an open mind leads to a refusal of the facts and an embrace of whatever view happens to further that individual's cause. Or worse yet, it may lead to a view that's simply an attempt to make a knowingly guilty person appear smarter or more interesting than they actually are.

All the answers are in the measurements
I mean ALL the answers. Some people don't know how to interpet the measurements. Some don't want to know all the answers. The mysticism of not knowing how a speaker sounds before trying to use it might make for an interesting, though lengthy design session. That's fine. If that's the route chosen, so be it and enjoy the design process. It would be wrong however to say that's the only route to take. The sad part is that the less technical "guessing" route is the one that's more likely to lead to failure.

The performance of a driver can simply be broken down into two types of distortion
linear and nonlinear. Everything is a subset of that. It's beyond the scope of this article to describe how types of distortion are categorized. As far as the measurements posted on this web site, don't assume that if one type if distortion isn't tested for, something is missing. The linear distortion in the form of frequency response, and non-linear distortion in the form of harmonic distortion and intermodulation distortion are the factors that make up 95% of a driver's performance. For example, I don't show "the rise and fall time" of a driver because it's just a derivative of the response curve. It's all in the impulse.

Ears cannot be trusted
Those who don't measure, don't know. Period. They can pretend they know, but rest assured they don't. The human ear, as it is connected to the human brain, is not very smart and easily fooled. If something is wrong with a speaker, people have a hard time telling what it is. Using ears only, the quality of a speaker can only be described in extremely subjective terms. Treble is often described as bright, dull, edgy, recessed, etc. Bass is often described as warm, boomy, deep, lean, tight, etc. But without any accurate basis of comparison, comments like that are meaningless. Don't even get me started by describing how many "veils have been lifted" from the music or how a speaker's "pace rhythm and timing" is affecting the sound. Those vague, meaningless statements are made by people who lack the proper technical vocabulary to describe a speaker's performance. In summary, a driver should be fully measured before a person is qualified to comment on the sound of that driver.

Look at it this way: who is more believable, the guy who says "This tweeter sounds edgy" or the guy who says "This tweeter has moderate 3rd and high 5th order harmonic distortion." Again, who is more believable: the guy who says "This tweeter sounds dull" or the guy who says "The average level of this tweeter is 1.5 dB lower than the woofer above the crossover point." So, while "this tweeter sounds dull" does imply that something might be wrong, there is absolutely nothing there to say what is wrong or even offer any proof that something actually is wrong.

To make a point, some statements could have many different translations. Here's a bunch of examples. We'll start with a single statement made by folks that have been listening to .

This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "I've been listening to a speaker without baffle step compensation for 10 years, and this new design sounds different than my personal standard."

This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "My last system had Dynaudio D21 tweeters, and now anything without a peak at 10kHz sounds recessed and doesn't have sizzle I need."

This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "My current speaker has a woofer that did not have the breakup node properly filtered, and now I've accepted that type of sound as normal."

Then we'll try the statements made by folks with well trained ears but other problems.
This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "I misunderstood the crossover diagram, hooked the tweeter up with the polarity reversed and now I have a broad 40dB null at 2.5kHz."

This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "My living room is very sound absorptive, and any system with a flat response just isn't enough to overcome the lack of room reflection."

This tweeter sounds dull. Translation: "Oops, my kid pulled the treble knob off my preamp, put it back rotated 45 degrees to the right, and then adjusted it so it visually centered."

Go ahead openly laugh at that last one... but it has happened. Here we have addressed about 1% of the potential reasons why a tweeter may sound dull, and we have not even considered that there may be a problem with the design or an out of spec driver. And good lord, "this tweeter sounds bright" has a potential 500% more translations. Obviously, words can't cut it. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in a case like this, an actual measurement is priceless.

All that said, it's not impossible to speak in terms of distortion types when listening with ears. But be aware that it takes years of working with real distortion measurements before types of distortion at various frequencies can be properly identified using only ears. Enough said.

Drivers cannot be evaluated in a system
I see this all the time. Statements like "I used XXX driver in my last YYY design and it sounded ZZZ." Replace X, Y and Z with anything. It doesn't matter what, because statements like that don't have any merit. When a driver is used in a system, only the system as a whole can be evaluated. (and even then, as mentioned above, not without measurements) Of course the drivers are making sound, but what you really hear is the crossover, design choices and the listening environment. So many people evaluate drivers while they are in a poorly designed system and then blame the result on the drivers themselves. Only individual and extensive driver measurements are acceptable in evaluating an individual driver.

If distortion measurements aren't part of the first step in selecting and using a driver, the system "tweaking time" will multiply exponentially as the designer struggles to find a configuration that helps hide a driver's faults. All drivers have faults. Without distortion measurements, improper usage of a driver may cause a person to simply give up and come to the wrong conclusion that a driver is a poor performer. In a case like that, the only poor performer is the designer who failed to work around a driver's faults.

Where subjectivity actually works
During the driver evaluation process, any sort of subjectivity is a bad idea. But on the other hand, subjectivity during the system evaluation process is going to be required. At some point, a designer has to decide on tradeoffs. That could mean deciding what types of distortion are more annoying to the designer personally. For example, what sounds worse: a broad, large increase in even order harmonic distortion in the lower midrange and bass or sharper but narrow band odd order harmonic distortion in the upper treble? Sound familiar? It's the old metal vs paper cone debate and it comes down to personal preference. The choice is a subjective one. Some prefer metal cones while many others prefer paper or poly. That's OK. Measurements can tell the truth about a driver but remember that they can't tell you what you like.

When a proponent of subjectivity repeats what I just mentioned above, I'm not going to dispute it. Many things in the end come down to personal preference. A system design decision can be subjective, but testing and evaluating drivers individually must remain objective.

Detail is a word
This is a word that is used by people who don't know how to properly describe a speaker's performance. It is merely a vague indicator that something sounds pleasing, and it means different things to many different people. It could mean more distortion or it could mean less. Detail is an audiophile "power word" that means nothing but sounds good rolling off the tongue. It sure sounds better than just mumbling "I like it" every time a speaker impresses.

I might advise substituting two different words that work a little better: clean and smooth. Clean can mean low non-linear distortion. It would mean a lack of harmonic frequencies that are different from the fundamental frequency reproduced. Clean can mean hearing only what's in the original music and nothing more. Smooth can mean low linear distortion. Of course this could mean a smooth frequency response, but it also means low energy storage which is directly related. Rise and decay time are all related to frequency response smoothness.

The words and phrases list
Aside from the word detail, there are a lot of other audiophile wannabe "power words" and phrases. All are vague, non-descript and useless. Some phrases are deceiving, such as soundstage width, depth, or height. What people are really hearing is a system's power response and it's interaction with the room. Open up a Stereophile and read a page to obtain a plethora useless audiophile terms. Some of the offending single-words might be transparency, image, bite, snap, grain or resolution (in reference to anything analog) and so on.

Multi-word phrases are even worse
Veils have been lifted gets a special achievement award for overused bad cliche. It doesn't end with phrases like pace, rhythm and timing and black spaces between the notes. Any description of music played during evaluation or any description of cables or interconnects used during evaluation also fall under this category. I won't go on for fear that I might cause nausea. Just be aware that there's a lot of it out there. Some of it is obvious and some is not.

Common system comparison errors
Non-linear confused with linear distortion
For those who are not familiar with the terms, non-linear distortion is any type that adds additional frequencies to the original fundamental frquency. Linear distortion is anything related to deviation from flat frequency response. Harmonic distortion by it's nature can make a speaker seem to have a bright tonality. It might measure flat, but upper harmonics not in the original recording can change perception of the tonality. It takes a deep familiarity with a reference recording and a keen ear to be able to tell the difference between linear and non-linear distortion.

Woofer issues confused with tweeter performance
Related to the above, a poor choice of a crossover point on a woofer (too high) can often lead a person to believe there is a distortion or level problem with a tweeter. A woofer could be generating harmonics well into the range that the tweeter is covering. When a listener declares that they don't like a tweeter they heard in a system, 90% of the time it's the woofer and the design that's actually the problem.

Low end distortion is not good bass
Smallish woofers often trick people into thinking bass performance is good. There's a mindset that more is better, but when listening to tiny woofers trying to reproduce the bottom three octaves, you're not hearing "more" bass, you're hearing "different" bass. Bass distortion causes audible harmonics above the fundamental. On a small scale, this sounds like a warm tonality. On a large scale it can't be any better described than aural mud. Be carefull before declaring a woofer as having good bass. If a person is unfamiliar with what good bass is, they could just be hearing muddy distortion.

Dull or veiled vs vibrant or exciting
When comparing the sound of two systems side by side, the first impression is often that the more distorted speaker seems more detailed, and the more accurate one seems dull or veiled. A speaker could often be described as vibrant or exciting by ears that are unfamiliar with clean sound. Even when set to the same level, the more distorted speaker will seem louder, and louder immediately seems better. Eventually, the distortion that causes "vibrant and exciting" will turn to listening fatigue, but it happens slowly. It's usually too slow to make quick A-B comparisons useful. If you really want to compare speakers with your ears, you had better live with them for a good long time. Otherwise, take some measurements to get the truth right away.
The fact that listening fatigue takes a long time to set in does not bode well for making comparisons on a showroom floor, or at a DIY event for that matter. The favorite of a DIY event is most likely not the best performing speaker. On the showroom floor, it's a well known fact that some speakers are intentionally inaccurate to help them stand out. The unknowing consumer then takes home a poor performing speaker only to realize days or weeks later that this speaker doesn't sound as good as they thought. The DIY'er building a project they heard at an event is often disappointed with the result after living with it a while.

I tend to line up with Zaphs objective view point. I've been in two cable burn in threads now where I have offered to send the subjectivists two sets of cables two burned in and two not, randomly labled. So far at differing forums they won't do it.
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post #37 of 52 Old 02-27-11, 12:08 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

Zaph is my new hero, I could not agree more with his comments. He takes all of the high end voodoo out of audio and makes it plain and simple. I love it

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post #38 of 52 Old 03-25-11, 12:05 AM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

Sir Terrence wrote: View Post
Zaph is my new hero, I could not agree more with his comments. He takes all of the high end voodoo out of audio and makes it plain and simple. I love it
I have so far built three of his designs, and a minor tweak of a 4th. I think in terms of a knowledge base, nothing even comes close to his site. Its too bad he is no longer updating his database of driver reviews. I bet one good word about a particular driver from Zaph will lead to a massive spike in sales.

And about his criticism of audio subjectivism, its excellent. I continue to be shocked at the ridiculous things people believe, the utter refusal to acknowledge expectation bias, and the arrogance that accompanies it all.
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post #39 of 52 Old 03-25-11, 05:07 AM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

Very true. I think it was his site that made me long for the ScanSpeak 7" slit cone paper woofer. He doesn't consider active crossovers as worthwhile though and I feel the opposite. Its sad he quit adding to his driver database.
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post #40 of 52 Old 05-18-11, 11:08 PM
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Re: Zaph Audio - Snake Oil and Lies

I am always surprised by the number of electrical engineers that buy into the snake oil and apparently forget everything they know about orders of magnitude and the relative affects of changing something that is 2 to 1000 orders of magnitude lower than the next higher value in the audio signal path.
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