Do Specifications Lie? Do Our Ears Lie? Where does the Truth Lie?
Recording Engineers and Audiophiles often distrust audio measurements and specifications. It is not uncommon to hear claims that a product measures poorly but sounds good. Occasionally we also hear claims that a product measures well but sounds bad.
This whitepaper documents significant differences between three headphone amplifiers that have nearly identical published specifications.
All three products have a high-quality headphone output with very low output impedance, high drive capability, low distortion, and a flat frequency response. The published specifications strongly suggest that it should be impossible to hear any difference between these products. Nevertheless, in our informal listening tests, we had the distinct impression that there were significant sonic differences between these products when listening to music.
We replicated the manufacturers' tests and found that the published specifications were accurate and correct. All three manufacturers followed standard measurement procedures and provided accurate specifications.
This paper shows some additional measurements which expose significant differences that do not appear in traditional published specifications:
At the 2023 AXPONA show in Chicago, I had the opportunity to see and hear the Hill Plasmatronics tweeter. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Alan Hill, the physicist who invented this unique device.
The plasma driver has no moving parts and no diaphragm. Sound is emitted directly from the thermal expansion and contraction of an electrically sustained plasma. The plasma is generated within a stream of helium gas. In the demonstration, there was a large helium tank on the floor with a sufficient supply for several hours of listening.
While a tank of helium, tubing, high voltage power supplies, and the smell of smoke may not be appropriate for every living room, this was absolutely the best thing I experienced at the show!
If an audio system is composed of multiple components, we may have detailed specifications for each component, but we will not know the performance of the combined system without doing some calculations. You may have questions such as these:
Will my audio system produce audible noise?
Will my audio system produce audible distortion?
How will my audio components work together as a system?
How loud will my audio system play?
Use Benchmark's online audio calculators to find answers!
For example, if we know the output power of an amplifier, as well as the sensitivity and impedance of our loudspeakers, we can calculate the maximum sound pressure level that our system can produce.
This application note provides interactive examples that help to answer the questions listed above.