Paul Seydor of The Absolute Sound interviews John Siau, VP and chief designer at Benchmark Media Systems. The interview accompanies Paul's review of the LA4 in the December, 2020 issue of TAS.
"John Siau, Director of Engineering and chief designer at Benchmark Media, knew from an early age that he wanted to design electronic equipment. He enrolled at Syracuse University in 1976 and graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. Along the way he’d cobbled together an audio system and worked as the sound engineer and mixer for a local band. The fifteen years following his graduation include long stints at CBS and General Electric, plus independent consulting, through all of which he acquired extensive experience in HDTV (receiving two patents for video-image stabilization systems) and developed high expertise with high-speed A/D and D/A converters, ultra-low-jitter phase-locked loops, high-speed digital logic, digital filters and FPGA cores. In 1995 Benchmark hired him to design its first digital product, the AD2004, a 20-bit A/D converter that set new standards for low distortion and won some awards. Soon afterward he joined the company full time, eventually becoming part owner. Away from Benchmark, his musical training includes trumpet and tuba; he is an avid skier; and he and his wife have a large family who on vacations enjoy exploring remote trails and locations. They own a farm, which they lease, though they do enjoy working it from time to time."
"Siau’s many white papers and other pieces about audio are well worth investigating on the Benchmark website."
"His essay “Rules of Thumb for Music and Audio,” which combines useful information, solid practical advice, and wise counsel, will enlighten both tyros and seasoned audiophiles and reviewers."
[Paul Seydor] "Benchmark publishes by far the most exhaustive technical information about its products yet listening also plays an important part in your product design and development."
[John Siau] "At Benchmark listening is the final exam that determines if a design passes from engineering to production. But since listening tests are never perfect, it’s essential we develop measurements for each artifact we identify in a listening test. An APx555 test set has far more resolution than human hearing, but it has no intelligence. We have to tell it exactly what to measure and how to measure it. When we hear something we cannot measure, we are not doing the right measurements. If we just listen, redesign, then repeat, we may arrive at a solution that just masks the artifact with another less-objectionable artifact. But if we focus on eliminating every artifact that we can measure, we can quickly converge on a solution that approaches sonic transparency. If we can measure an artifact, we don't try to determine if it’s low enough to be inaudible, we simply try to eliminate it."
[Paul Seydor]"Can you provide an example from your own work as to how listening revealed something the tests did not and how you went about discovering (with tests) what it was and how you fixed it?"
[John Siau] "One of the most elusive artifacts is caused by inter-sample peaks that exceed 0dBFS. These peaks ..."
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
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.