Do all boxes of electronics sound alike?

I have started writing my blog again for purely selfish reasons: The stimulus it brings to my own life. Retirement is one of the most dangerous pastimes on the planet. It is usually fatal. If dementia doesn't get you in the end then depression probably will. Exercising your mind is the best way to avoid mental obesity and sloth. 

I now think of my blogs as diaries. left lying carelessly around, to be read or rejected at a whim by others. I do not need your approval. Nor your respect. Nor am I (remotely) trying to impress anybody else. This does not mean that I do not set some minimum standards for my monologues.  

I have no other justification for my blogging on this subject other than having followed the hobby of hifi (and later AV) since childhood. My father loved music and built loudspeakers and enjoyed his music via a valve powered, Armstrong tuner amplifier and Philips reel to reel tape recorder. That was many years ago now and the electronics industry has grown vast over the intervening decades. This has cost me (and many others) far more than was strictly necessary for the simple enjoyment of reproduced music. 

But, the exercise has brought considerable enjoyment in the ownership and use of their products. Not to mention the countless wasted hours spent trying to improve my system from a subjective viewpoint. Most importantly I have learned to change my mind as often as necessary to maintain my pseudo-scientific standards. I have repeatedly gone from raving hifi subjective fundamentalist to blind testing disciple and back again without the least sense of guilt. One should always remember that it is only a hobby unless you are making serious money from this daft pastime.   

I also get great pleasure from the music itself and enjoy sharing my thoughts and ideas about its reproduction. Though I have absolutely no illusions about my skills or wisdom in this field I do have considerable experience in building and using the kit at a fairly basic level. If you find my blog uninteresting then start a blog of your own! Your own thoughts are equally worth sharing as long as you do not demand automatic respect for your ideas. Solomon would never have fallen for the hype of hifi sales so don't expect (any) real wisdom from the so-called gurus. 

Old age teaches us that life quite literally has absolutely no meaning. Other than what we make of it during our brief abuse of space, resources and time on this tiny planet. One insignificant planet amongst countless billions of others. Do you really think your set of ideas, values and morals is somehow superior to those of anybody else in the universe? Or even in your own street? Dream on! The tramp you just studiously ignored may well have an IQ above 140. 

I never thought I'd add anything to my IB blog again. Then my overpriced, over-hyped, overweight, Blu-ray player, the Pioneer LX70A, did me an enormous favour and formally retired. "No disk!" Hoo-bløødy-ray!

The damned thing had always been extremely over-sensitive to the quality, cleanliness and copy protection of any disk it was ever asked to play. It took forever to load. [Several minutes!] If it grudgingly decided to play anything at all. It sounded no better (nor even different) than my ancient, secondhand, CD63SE Marantz CD player from another era. There is a lesson for us all here. All boxes sound the same unless they are sold by Aldi supermarket. Or do they?

The LX70A used the most oblique and frustrating method of firmware updating ever invented by arrogant, pen-pushing, pedantic, tie-owning jobsworths. i.e. Those who have risen far beyond their allotted station in life:

An "image" of the software file had to be burnt onto a pristine, new, recordable CD. Which was then inserted into the gaping maw of the basking shark of the BDP world. Where it would whirr and rumble like it always did when playing any disk. The Pioneer was the Harley Davidson of the BDPs without any of the desirable traits. It needed no subwoofer to make a decent racket. It could manage pink noise with one hand behind its back and the rest of the system switched off! It was as if somebody in the vast hype department at Pioneer decided a silent BDP would short-change the new owner. So they added lots of mechanical noise.

The damned thing chugged on like some sulking, obese teenager well beyond its useful purpose. Playing only common or garden hired DVDs with difficulty. It would have nothing to do with rented Blu-ray disks. Firmware updates finally dried up in 2011. So its built-in obsolescence counter started ticking down to the arrival of the eagerly anticipated, grim reaper.

My very first purchased Blu-rays discs would not even play in the damned thing until I had updated the firmware! With all the unnecessary palaver that entailed. Involving downloading new and unknown software and buying  new pack of disks the next day. When I had really, really hoped to relax in expectation of being able to enjoy my new and very expensive toy on the same evening of my birthday! Thank you Pioneer!

I can't bring myself to show another image of the damned thing so you'll have to make do with a link:


All in all, the LX70A was a moody, lumbering, temperamental, inarticulate, bulky, overweight, bullying tortoise living in the clouds with absolutely no saving graces. It's no wonder Japan is going down the tubes if this is their idea of high end AV quality and customer service!

They showed bugger-all respect for me as a consumer of their obscenely over-hyped nonsense. I have duly added Pioneer to my list of  Chinese box re-labellers and movers with whom I will have no more truck. They probably won't notice my absence from the endless queues around the block to purchase their latest goods.

I tend to buy this sort of stuff only rarely. Relying on spending a bit more each time in the hope of getting decades worth of life out of it. Usually my strategy works. Until I fell for Pioneer's less than subtle clap crap trap.

The routine of enjoying films had come to such an abrupt halt that something had to be done. Our Saturday evenings would be dull affairs indeed without a new hired film to watch. It's not as if the TV companies care about anybody with an IQ measured in more than a few digits above their own "educationally-challenged" "Arts" imbecility.

Neither of us is much interested in film replays except at very long intervals between viewings. (Counted in years!) Our modest library of DVDs and far fewer Blu-rays mostly collects dust. So, after a swift look at consumer reviews online, a Sony BDP-S790 was duly purchased. Without the bulky Pioneer and CD63SE bulking out our chest-high rack it looked practically empty at the top end with the skinny little Sony in place.

The Sony whines.  Of course it whines! They said so on the AV forums that theirs whine too! I spoke about this to the dealer at the time of purchase as a bit of a worry. We do live in a rural situation with very low noise floors. Of course he denied any known problem with unwanted noise from this player.

How long has Sony been making electronics? Slightly longer than I have been officially registered as belonging on the third rock from the sun. Still the BDP-S790 whines. It's has a Sony label! Deal with it!

Call me biased (deluded?) but for a while I thought the Sony sounded better than the Pioneer or CD63SE. I had left it playing an organ CD while I browsed off-stage right. Suddenly, somewhere in the background, I noticed new nuances in the bass. A new tune was being played on the organ pedals.

Normally this means dragging the CD63SE out from storage to make A/B comparisons. A tedious procedure involving severe concentration as the same bit of music is repeatedly churned out like some tasteless spaghetti. Best not to go there! Save it for a boring Sunday afternoon, if you really must.

If noticing differences in SQ involves repeated plays and intense concentration then surely the game is already up? Every box of electronics must sound exactly the same. Except that some don't whine and some don't rumble. Choose your expensive toys relying entirely on superstition and appearance alone and you only need a new one when it dies two or three years down the road. It's called consumerism with built-in obsolescence. If a thing really was better then it would be easily noticeable. If it sounded the same then without the hard sell hype nobody would need a new one. Unless it had miraculously stopped working. Factories would close. Suicide rates amongst big (and small) spenders would increase. Though the world would continue to turn.

Your supposed skill in choosing toys is a total illusion fostered by a vast and totally corrupt, global industry. One based on lies and dedicated to making every box sound less worse than all the others. That really takes some doing! But, each new box must appear subtly, cosmetically different enough to be interesting to the idiot buyer. Your collection of expensive boxes just means more ornaments with volume controls or on-off switches. No more and no less.

Not convinced? Then do your own homework online about A/B/X and blind listening tests. There is plenty of reading matter out there. I did my own test decades ago with an expensive record clamp. I was convinced it added enormously to my listening pleasure and could describe the clear differences to myself in glowing detail. Until, that is,  my wife ran a blind listening test and I was completely unable to discern any difference. Similar results followed with cables. If I couldn't hear any difference, despite my previous decades of attentive listening to a wide variety of systems, then something was definitely amiss.

The purchase of a Linn Sondek repeated the bleeding obvious: My Thorens turntable deck was not noticeably inferior. Nor really any better. No amount of expensive dealer set-up, new springs, motors, bearings and power supplies made the slightest difference. Except to my wallet and that of the dealer.

Speakers and subwoofers do still sound different even to my (supposedly) cloth ears. I don't like the sound of many of them. To bright, too aggressive or simply attention seeking. Many of them seem unable to make my foot tap. This is the only test I know for true enjoyment of any sound system. I rediscovered it in the hallway of a large hotel during a "High End" AV sales drive/exposition.

I sat there for ages listening to a budget system bouncing along on music I had never heard before and very unlikely to actually want to purchase. In between sessions I dutifully did the rounds of the all the expensively hired rooms and listened to the "arm and a leg" systems on their carefully set up stands. Often with cables which cost more than some new cars. They certainly all did "hifi" in the usual way, but had no sense of pace or rhythm. No excitement. No desire to hear another track or actually go out and buy the demo CD.

It was always played very loud. Always impressively so. Have you noticed that? The very "high end" rooms were always the worst. They actually sounded rather dire. I would listen for a few moments and then have to leave the room for fear of laughing out loud! If I stayed it was only on my own terms. I would sit there desperately trying to like the sound. And equally desperately trying to tap my foot in time with the deafening roar happening somewhere up front. I would swap seats as other became bored too. It never helped.

So I'd return to the cheapo system playing in the hallway and enjoy another refreshing dose of music against a background of café chatter and rattling coffee cups. Somehow that system played real music through quality shoebox speakers. Not perfectly and not particularly loudly but it held my attention and my feet were locked firmly in step with the performers. Perhaps systems do sound different?

I know mine always did when I finally got home tired and usually a bit head-achy. It was like having warmed wine poured gently over me as the first few strands of music washed over me. With every subtle detail and emotion of the music laid bare. And, I could tap my foot unhesitatingly. Even to the slow movement of a choir, orchestra or organ. I'll swap bounce for loud any day. I can do loud just like the demo rooms but value my few remaining years without the compete loss of my hearing. Pardon?

Next time somebody is trying to sell you some black audio box, or other,  ask them to turn the volume down. Still impressed? Thought not. ;-)

Lacking musical inspiration? Try "Celtic Circle 2." My wife hates it for the number of times I have listened to it. Somehow it crystallises everything I like about Celtic music. Disk 1 and 3 aren't bad either. Though the sound quality is not remotely on a par with original artist's CDs. There, still believe I have cloth ears? CDs sound far more different than expensive AV boxes? You'd better believe it! ;-)

Vitally important SQ Note: 

The S790 reverts to DRC (Dynamic Range Compression) by default if you set it to Auto!

Fine if you just want to use your TV speakers or even a sound bar which need such protection.

For any serious speaker/subwoofer surround system you should set the S790 DRC to OFF in the menus!