I have a beautiful studio here at AIX Records. The main room was deliberately designed to be similar to a very nice home theater. The control rooms of most professional studios are smaller than mine. It’s 30 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 12 feet high with a custom diffuser located at the center of the ceiling. I have 5 B&W 801 Matrix III speakers mounted on anchor stands (filled with lead) positioned in a correct ITU 5.1 array. The distance from the listening position to the speakers is about 7 feet. The room sounds amazing.
It would not surprise me to learn that many of you have rooms that are similarly equipped, similar in size, and sound great as well. You may have better cables (although Audience and Cardas were kind enough to provide me with some of their best products when I built the place), more current model speakers, and more “audiophile” brands in your rooms but I’m pretty confident that you don’t have a large format all digital high-resolution console in your space. This is the piece of equipment that allows me to do things that are very difficult to accomplish in a home setup.
The recent discussion of expensive cables and the assertion by some readers that they clearly hear a difference between digital cables (S/P DIF, Ethernet, etc) got me thinking about just how are they doing their tests? If I tried to do this type of comparison at home using my Oppo player, Yamaha AVR, and B&W FCM-8 speakers, I would have to play a track and then make changes to the setup (replace a cable etc) before listening again. In the studio, I can simply hit a button on the console and instantly switch between one stream and another. And those streams could be completely different formats (MP3 vs. CD vs. DVD-A etc). There is a very expensive format convertor in my machine room that makes this possible. I doubt whether too many home theaters or listening rooms have something similar.
So how people doing comparisons at home? When someone lends you a set of expensive interconnects, how do you evaluate them against your current setup? If your optical disc player has two identical coaxial outputs and you can connect two different quality digital cables to two inputs of your external DAC, then you could switch between the inputs and do a reasonably good comparison. But which optical disc players have two coax outputs? On my console, I can digitally “mult” any digital signal as many times as I need, but at home this is much tougher if not impossible to do.
The same problem applies to the CAT-6 cable I wrote about the other day. Without identical systems from source to speaker that can easily switch from one cable to another without any re-plugging, I don’t think you can actually to a comparison that holds up. If I’m wrong please explain to me your approach.
The recent “High Res” study that I was involved in that tried to compare 256 kbps MP3 files to high-resolution 96 kHz/24-bit ones had this problem. I was prepared to use my laptop and professional PT DAW to switch randomly between the two streams. As it turned out, I was forced to abandon that method and they simply played the files from another computer one after the other. The participants were expected to have sufficient sonic memory to be able to compare the two. They got to hear a minute of one track and then another minute of the other track. No one would be able to hear the difference and the results that we got bore that out. It’s hard enough to hear any difference when you have a great system setup.
I don’t doubt that many audiophiles believe they “hear” a difference when a new piece of amazing gear is inserted into their systems. But I’m not convinced that they are actually receiving anything different.