Pro Gear

hearing the electronics

There’s no place in the home for professional audio gear. How could one stoop so low? It’s true. Much of the pro gear on the market is steered towards cheap and loud. It’s built to take the abuses of travel, packing and unpacking, loading and unloading, dropping and jostling by careless and harried roadies. It’s designed for force, not finesse; quantity, not quality. A few percent harmonic distortion at hearing-loss levels doesn’t matter. After all, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Still, that’s only one side of pro equipment—the DJ-rock-band-road-tour-blast’m-out-of-their-seats side. The other side of professional audio gear is cloaked in recording studios. Neither type of pro equipment tries to compete with home audio, neither consumer nor audiophile grade, and from this point of view, pro audio is a non-contender.

But it’s been suggested by those who know and are serious about quality sound recording that one shouldn’t dismiss the pro approach, or the gear. Yes, pro audio for home use, even for diehard audiophiles.

Pro gear? Really? Heresy!

Consider this. The music you listen to is recorded, mixed, mastered, and sent through kilometers of wire and circuitry using pro equipment. Good pro equipment isn’t cheap, but then, compared to high-end audiophile stuff, it doesn’t contend in price either. Pro gear is designed for work. It’s designed for reliability. It’s designed for longevity, designed for transparency. Why? Because pros can’t futz around wasting time and money. They can’t bear fiddling with mods, endless upgrades and tweaks, nor endure breakdowns, nor bother with distortion ladened niche-market toys made to appeal to eyes and vanity. Pros, likewise, can’t suffer being under-informed, or guessing. They haven’t patience for fads or gimmicks. They ignore the misinformation spouted by the audiophile press. They want nothing added to the signal. They want electronics you can’t hear. Professionals seek performance, not promises; performance, not pretty boxes; performance, not pettifoggery.

I use a pro digital crossover, pro amps, mid-priced drivers, and ordinary wire. Why? Not to be subversive, but because I won’t squander my time or money fussing over hundredths of a dB here or there, while turning a deaf ear to shortcomings easily heard even without an A/B comparison. Pushing for the last barely discernible soupçon of whatever quality one is hoping for gets swamped when the gross differences between recordings are considered. I’m focused on the big picture, the major issues that otherwise get overlooked when one is mired in smidgens. Details are important, but only after the big factors are squared away. This is the attitude hailed by the pros. Pro equipment focusses on the job it’s supposed to do, and gets it done correctly. The good part of a pro-disciplined approached is that it’s not outrageously expensive. The better part, it’s based on solid science that’s plainly understandable. The best part, it produces clean, accurate sound.

Consider this. Good music deserves good playback. You deserve to hear the recording unembellished by erratic frequency responses and other added distortions. Good audio. . . Okay, enough preaching. Yet the choir has been subjected to a barrage of bafflegab. They’ve been misguided by marketing, mislead by charlatans, and diverted by the high priests of omission. Pro-audio may not be fully immune to these distractions, but because it runs outside the mainstream, it tends to have fewer hucksters interfering with the production of sensible sound equipment at soundly sensible prices.

Read part one of the Hearing series — [The Color of Sound] — also visit [Parallel Audio].

Addendum — A friend of mine put together a double blind listening test. The subject on trial was the audibility of an additional analog-digital-analog conversion cycle in the signal path, specifically by using an inexpensive ($300 shipped) pro audio digital equalizer. There were four listeners, twenty one trials. Each trial used a different recording played twice for 15 seconds. Each play was randomly selected for either A or B. No one listening or controlling the selection knew whether A or B had the equalizer in the signal path. Listeners had to decide if the two plays of each selection were the same or different. The results? Listeners gave correct answers 46 times out of 88 possible, 52.28% correct—no better than chance. All agreed the pro equalizer’s presence and the extra A/D/A conversion was undetectable, in other words, harmless and transparent. Similar tests have been done on a larger scale. Findings show it takes over a dozen A/D/A conversions to have a noticeable deterioration of sound quality. That is powerfully compelling support for the accuracy of digital audio. The unit under test cost 300 USD, shipped—hundreds (or thousands) less than some audiophiles spend on a standalone DAC that isn’t balanced, can’t EQ, can’t convert analog to digital, can’t do anything expect digital to analog conversion.

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