Latest News The importance of what you can’t hear!

I guess it is only natural that if you purchase something designed to make a noise that you want to are able to hear it – and this applies particularly to those forking out their hard-earned funds on audio equipment.

At the same time I am not sure that your new piece of AV kit sounding blatantly obvious in your system is a good thing. A great example of this is the sub-woofer. It is only natural that after spending a significant amount of money on a sub (and to be honest if you have not spent the appropriate amount you may be better off without it) you want to be able to hear it.

Wrong: particularly if we are talking about a music-based system rather than a theatre system. You should not be able to hear the subwoofer, but it should be obvious that something is missing the moment it is turned off. The sub forms part of the music and should never be audible as an individual component, but should blend seamlessly with the speakers it is supplementing. It is very difficult for the ear to determine the direction of bass below 200Hz, and almost impossible below 80Hz, so the brain assumes that bass notes are coming from the same source as the rest of the music (i.e. your speakers). If you can close your eyes and pinpoint where the sub is located it is either configured incorrectly or turned up too high, or both.

The same applies to surround systems. We regularly receive complaints from customers that they cannot hear the surround or Atmos speakers in their system. In most cases there is no signal there at that particular time in the first place. Secondly the surround speakers were never intended to be an equal partner in any system – they are simply there to add ambience and effect at the appropriate moment. Once again for most of the time you are not aware of them – but turn them off and it is obvious that something is missing.

The argument of what you can and can’t hear has been around for decades. During the 90’s we witnessed the advent of compressed music. Admittedly the reasoning was solid,the internet of the day was incapable of streaming uncompressed music, and compressed music allowed the introduction of steaming as we now know it. However the rationale behind the technology left a lot to be desired. It was argued that there were elements in the music that were either outside the capabilities of the human ear to register, or which were hidden by other louder passages, so were inconsequential. These were removed from the music – resulting in smaller audio packets capable of being streamed. The result – MP3 – produced a close approximation of the original performance, but which was never-the-less notably inferior.

Some years ago I attended a performance of Mahler’s 8th in the Sydney Opera House. The choral ensemble took up the entire section behind the orchestra, and when they were in full flight during the final movement they all but drowned out the orchestra. Yet if the orchestra had ceased playing at the time the magic would have disappeared.

Every system and every performance should be a sum of the parts involved. All components should be of equal quality, and all should be working in unison. This is how the magic happens!

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