Unofficial rec.audio.opinion Usenet Group Brief User Guide, Version 1.6

Copyright 2007 by whosbest54

1.  General and Purpose

A link to the web page containing this short guide will be posted by the
author to the r.a.o newsgroup at appropriate frequencies determined by the
author.  The guide may be used and transmitted by others provided they quote
it in whole without modifications.

The Guide's purpose is to help readers of the r.a.o newsgroup efficiently use the
newsgroup and understand a few of the key issues discussed therein without
having to wade through thousands of posts.  It is not a frequently asked
questions (FAQ) guide to r.a.o.  Newsgroup FAQs list commonly asked questions
and provide answers to help prevent recurring individual posts containing
questions that have been asked and answered many times before.

I've been a user of r.a.o for several years (using my real name, not my AOL
alias).  My posts are mainly replies to requests for assistance.  I read some
of the argumentative threads, but generally do not participate in them.

The views expressed in this document are strictly my own.

Suggestions for improvements are welcome and appreciated.  Flamers and trolls
will be cheerfully ignored.

2.  R.A.O Use

The newsgroup contains some helpful discussion about important issues related
to audio.  It also has become a place where some post personal attacks, flames
and trolls that really are of very little use for most users who are
interested in those important issues.  Bandwidth is wasted for
endless arguments that will never be resolved.  Users waste their bandwidth
downloading these headers, and in some instances, all such articles.  This is unfortunate.
There are proposals floating around to create various forms of r.a.o in a moderated
form.  These proposals may or may not lead to success.  Even if a moderated
form of the group is established, there are still questions about who should
moderate, and this original group will still exist without moderation.

Healthy debates and discussion about serious audio issues should be
encouraged.  But serious users of the group should:

-  Post only on-topic information related to the discussion of audio related
issues.

-  Refrain from personal attacks.  If you have to duke it out, take it to
personal email or a private chatroom.

-  Don't participate in endless arguments that will never be resolved.  Learn
to agree to disagree.

-  Ignore flames and trolls.  Here is one web page that outlines some good
behavior for another group that contains good advice:

http://orangefox.svs.com/rem/other/lame-posts-faq

I'm sure there are other sources of FAQ type information on appropriate usenet
behavior if you search for them.

For those who can't control themselves and won't follow the above, consider
adding a tag to your subject header indicating that the post is not audio
related, such as OT, NAR or NAC (off topic, not audio related or not audio
content).  At least that way, serious users may ignore or filter such posts
out.

-  Use newsreaders that allow filters to be set up to filter out posts by
authors who have a history of inappropriate posts.

3.  Issues that Will Never Be Resolved

Bandwidth is wasted on arguments in this group about a few key
issues.  I recommend that you form your own opinion on these issues by reading
about them outside of this group and not get into flame wars with people over
them.  The first place you may want read about audio issues and to educate
yourself is the rec.audio.* FAQ periodically posted to all the rec.audio
groups by Bob Neidorff.  This document can be found archived at Dejanews and
on various web sites.  It may be found by entering rec.audio.* FAQ into the
Google Groups search engine or your favorite web search engine.  I also found it
at:

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/AudioFAQ/

Here are brief overviews of a few of the issues, concentrating on home audio,
and my own opinion on them.  Again, feel free to form your own.

3.1.  Purpose of Home Audio

For music, the primary purpose of home audio systems is to provide sound that
is good enough, based on personal preferences, to not interfere or distract
from the enjoyment of a musical performance.  The audio delivery chain,
including the studio/live recording, production, reproduction into a home
audio format and playback on a home audio system itself should be designed to
provide an experience that is a close as possible to what the producers
intended for the music being reproduced.  That said, I believe there are
cost/benefit considerations to take into account when purchasing a home audio
system.

There are a lot of products out there that provide very little additional
benefit for a great deal of additional cost.  Each user should decide how much
money they wish to devote to meeting their own goals for their system, but
keep the primary purpose, above, in mind.  I believe a lot of money is wasted
because people start to concentrate on secondary goals that are less important
than the primary purpose, such as impressing their friends, satisfying an
audio dealer, or having the best looking or most expensive equipment.  Often,
people are fooled into thinking very expensive equipment or some tweak or
cable sounds better based on a dealer's or friend's word, without actual
scientific evidence that they do.

3.2.  Cables

This issue boils down to whether specially manufactured, and often more
expensive cables, for connecting audio components to each other and speakers
to amplifier outputs, are better than mass produced, more standard component
connectors and regular speaker wire or electrical wire ("zip cord").

My opinion is if you use reasonably good component connectors and keep the
connections free of corrosion, you will not hear the difference between them
and the more expensive connectors.  In other words, special expensive cables
don't hurt anything, but they are a waste of your money.  I use mass consumer
grade RCA phono plug connectors for my components and 12 gauge "zip" cord for
my speakers.  If you have money to burn, then there is nothing "wrong" with
using them, especially if it makes you feel better about your system.  It's
your money.

I've added a DVD player and Dolby Digital receiver and decided to try the
cheapest digital audio cable connection first.  I used a good quality, 3 foot,
75-ohm antenna wire connector made by my cable company that wasn't being used
anymore, with good quality male f-connectors at the end.  I added cheap female
f-connector to male RCA phono plug converters ($2 apiece at Radio Shack, $2.50 for
gold plated) at each end.  Worked great, with no noise, artifacts,
interference, etc.  This may not work for you, but my message is, don't always
believe you need a special or expensive cable to make a good connection.

3.3.  CDs vs. LPs

Some claim LPs and purely analog sources of audio will always sound better
than CDs or other digital sources for various reasons.  Some claim the process
of making and playing digital recordings will add artifacts to the sound,
remold or redefine the sound unacceptably or make it sound "unnatural" or
harsh.

In my opinion, the technical recording and playback method, if done reasonably
well, should not make that much of a difference.  A well produced LP played
back on a good system should sound similar enough to a well produced CD of the
same recording played back on a good system to allow you to enjoy the
performance without distraction due to the overall sound quality.  LPs do have
a lesser dynamic range and sound a bit noisier.  But I have some CDs that
sound worse than the same recording on LP and vice versa - this is due to the
mastering process, not the format itself.  When considering various recording
formats, I feel the most important consideration is what other problems not
related to the actual recording and playback process you are willing to put up
with.  For example, LPs are much harder to maintain than CDs.  They must be
kept very clean and played back on good equipment with an unworn stylus
("needle").  They have surface noise, such as clicks and pops that are
difficult, if not impossible to avoid.  I am often distracted by LP surface
noise and I find their maintenance tiresome, so I generally prefer CDs over
most LPs.

3.4.  High End vs. Mass Consumer Grade Equipment

Some feel that you must have "high end" equipment to get the best sound.  The
exact definition of what is "high end" is somewhat fuzzy, but it does include
equipment that is made with the best electronics, in limited quantities, found
in high end shops (and other retailers too with the mass consumer stuff) and
with high price tags.

My opinion is the relationship between sound and price becomes asymptotic
beyond a certain price range.  You will get very, very little additional sound
benefit beyond a certain price.  For most listeners, there will be very little
benefit to going beyond good mass consumer grade equipment.  However, for some
listeners, I would recommend listening to high end speakers if you find you
don't like the sound of the mass consumer grade ones.  The characteristics of
the listening room and your speaker placement have a much greater impact on
the sound quality than the benefit derived by going beyond good mass consumer
grade stuff.  Like the cable issue, if you have money to burn, there is
nothing "wrong" with purchasing high end equipment, especially if it makes you
feel better about your system.

3.5.  Objectivism vs. Subjectivism

Objective testing determines audio equipment performance based on
measurements.  Subjective testing determines the performance based on
listening.  One way to minimize the skewing of subjective results due to human
biases is to use double blind listening tests.

Some claim there are clearly defined groups in r.a.o that have only objective
or subjective opinions on audio issues.  Apparently, the objective group will
only believe scientific evidence, such as actual measurements, to substantiate
a claim, and the subjective group will believe a claim strictly based on
listening and do not feel scientific evidence is needed.

I'm not so sure everyone can be fit into such clearly defined groups.

I believe there is a place for both approaches in the audio field.  Some
issues can really only be correctly resolved with mainly one or the other
approach.  An approach that includes both objective and subjective methods is
needed for other issues.  For example, when selecting an audio system for your
home, objective testing information from an audio magazine is important to
determine if a piece of equipment, such as an amplifier, delivers the
performance the manufacturer claims.  You will want to look at the features of
the unit.  But you will also want to listen yourself to the amplifier, which
is a subjective activity, but the features and the performance are more
important.  Selecting speakers is a more subjective activity than selecting an
amp - this is really subject to your personal preferences (and your room
acoustics!).  That's why I recommend you consider high end speakers if you
don't like the sound of mass consumer models, as speaker selection is really a
matter of personal preference.  But I would want the objective testing
information about the speakers too - it is just less important.  In my
opinion, deciding if certain kind of speaker wire is better than another
should be based on objective testing.

Audio quality has improved to the point where certain pieces of audio
equipment, such as good consumer grade and high end CD players and amplifiers
and receivers (but not their tuners) in the same power range, modify the audio
data stream so very little that the differences in their sound is difficult,
if not impossible, for most people to hear.  The quality of the CD recording
and the nature of the speakers and the listening room have a much, much
greater impact on what we hear than these components do.  That doesn't mean
they "sound identical", just that the differences aren't very important.
 

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