What Happened To The Sound

What happened to the sound?

I guess it got improved … Or something like that!

I do not think I am the only person wondering about this, but I may be the only sound guy who is.

Guitar players have been suporting a cottage industry of boutique tube amp makers for years, almost since the day Leo Fender sold his company to CBS back in 1965 (The Mesa Boogie company was formed in 1971, and I suspect the idea for the company started shortly after the tinkering began)

Guitar players have had it easy … Lots of choices!

Sound guys … Not so much … There does not seem to be a cottage industry of boutique sound systems to choose from.

So what did happen to the sound?

My best guess would be that business happened.

Folks who knew little or nothing about sound and music, but plenty about business took over, and to be fair, they have come up with some pretty neat things!

Large format sound systems are available today to safely and economically bring your sound to 1,000 to 99,000 of your closest friends (Coachella Music Festival, Indio, California). Small format sound systems, perfect for the GB or wedding gig, that won’t break the bank or your back. Decent gear is even finding it’s way into the local school’s AV closet for the annual play or dance recital. Easy to set up and use but somehow not quite what used to be called “High Fidelity”.

Loud enough and good enough most of the time, but perhaps not all of the time?

Sherman! Set the way back machine …

In the 1920’s the early sound inventors saw the need In the new “talkies” at the movie theaters for what eventually became that small self powered loudspeaker in the AV closet … A more reliable, louder and better sounding sound system

The next generation of audio engineers, some still wearing the trademark white lab technician’s coat started to tweak and tinker, improving the sound to the point where the term High Fidelity came into existence.

High Fidelity, defined by Merriam Webster.com as: “The reproduction of an effect (such as sound or an image) that is very faithful to the original”, (first used in 1938).

One of those early speaker designs, the Klipsch Corner Horn (patented in 1946) sounded so good that it is still in production today. Paul Wilbur Klipsch’s brain child still holds it’s own when paired with the proper amplifier. I’ve only heard them thru an old Macintosh tube amp, but I remember the pleasure of that first listening and have added them to my bucket list.

If you are not familiar, go find a pair and give them a listen. You may not be able to help smiling when you hear any of your favorite music played thru them.

They are big, unwieldy and if they did not sound so amazing would probably qualify as ugly!

Fair warning though … They are not cheap!

So … Just what is good sound?

That is a loaded question!

An easier question to answer would what is bad sound … Far fewer arguments!

Feedback … Distortion … Too loud … Not loud enough … Too shrill … Too bass heavy … Cannot hear someone / something … Are all prime examples of bad sound.

It occurred to me years ago that there might not be a correct answer to the first question … Bad sounds on the other hand are pretty obvious … Unaminously agreed upon by sound engineers, musicians and audience members alike.

So … I set about trying to get rid of as many of those “bad” sounds as possible, hoping that I might be left with something approaching the right answer to that first question.

Does the technique work? I’m happy to say yes … At least for me!

Will business “adopt” it?

I do not think so … You would have a hard time making more money selling less!

With the invention of the “talkies” a whole new industry was born

Things kept improving to a point where no-one was making a terrible sounding sound system.

The “high water mark” in my opinion was around the peak of the class A/B amplifier series designs. Plenty of power, wonderfully reliable and aside from a few tube purists, no complaints about the sound were heard!

Unfortunately this was not good for business.

Once you sold someone one of those amplifiers it was going to be a pretty long time before they were going to need to replace it!

Business was going to need to sell something if it was going to survive.

Taking advantage of the two weakest points of the “then” state of the art amplifiers (price and weight) by the horns as it were, a new series of lightweight amplifiers started being developed.

The class D amplifier was “born” and “business” was saved!

Well, the business of making and selling sound systems was saved.
I am not sure the actual sound business needed saving. We did get a lot of really neat, lightweight gear to use, but lost something in the High Fidelity department along the way. Things just did not seem to sound the same … Loud began to hurt … And what happened to the low end?

But no worries, the class D amplifiers are very handy at adapting. Readily interfacing with the new digital processing that is continually being developed, something that has done a great job of helping get things to sound better. But, aside from in some glossy magazine advertisements, I am not hearing anyone using the term “High Fidelity” to describe things … just yet.

I think perhaps I have some Missouri in my DNA.

When new gear came along I would give it a try.

If it was better than what I was currently using I would take out my check book and make the switch!

If not, tried and true was going to keep me going.

I bought one of the “new” Carver PM 1.5 amplifiers when they first came out and was really looking forward to the concept of 1,500 watts of power in that smaller 21 pound package.

I brought it back to the store in less than a week to see what was wrong with it … My Yamaha 2100 saved the day that first show when I was not getting enough low end out of my subs at the local frat house. I needed to swap out the new 1,500 watt amp with my spare, 120 watt per channel “old school” amp.

The dealer was very helpful. He pulled another PM 1.5 out of the box and fired it up in the show room and it seemed loud enough thru a full range speaker, but when we tried running just lows thru it, almost nothing, even with all those cool LED meters blinking red!

We both agreed that perhaps driving subs was not the proper place in a sound system for those particular 1,500 watts of power.

The dealer was happy to take the PM 1.5 back and sell me the CROWN Microtech 1000 that kept me happy until I discovered the Macro tech 2400 … Which kept me pretty happy until someone introduced me to the love of my low end life, the Macrotech 5000 VZ.

That was a long time ago, but the love affair, like my carefully maintained 5000 VZ’s, is still going strong!

I have tried out the I-Tech 10,000’s and find that I prefer the sound of the older, heavier, less powerful VZ’s. It seems to me that the 5000’s are the right “tool” for the job. For now, when I have the capability of “tying in” to get the four 30 amp circuits needed to keep me and my four Macrotech 5000 VZ’s happy, I’ll do it!… The smiles in the audience or out on the dance floor make lugging all that weight and cable around worth it.

So what next?

The business of the sound business is still driving things forward, towards what someday may again be called high fidelity.

I suspect and hope someone will develop a hybrid technology that takes advantage of what we “knew” 30 years ago and all of the DSP we have available today to get beyond the limitations of both the new and old “schools”.

My check book is ready!

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