BLOG #67. The Power of Right Relationships – Seeing My Former “Ex-s”


BLOG #67. The Power of Right Relationships – Seeing My Former “Ex-s”

As they say, “an imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and that was exactly what I thought when I recently saw this:

Here’s a link to formal review for one of the products in this FIR Audio’s family (the content of which, in my opinion, does fully support most of my claims below):

Even considering that one of our own StereoPravda SPearphone ear monitors’ key feature is that we use “naked” drivers in our BA-drivers’ arrays (i.e. “tubeless” ones in FIR Audio’s lingo), I felt no threat but just an exhilaration when I saw that our original IEMs’ innovation technologies start to be trickling down to the market place with a little help of our potential competitors.

I remember as in 2016, at the RMAF/CanJam Show in Denver:

the FIR Audio’s brother (literally!) company 64Audio has been sending to our “booth” there – one by one - all the brothers (sic!) in it to audition our just released StereoPravda SPearphone “SB-7” ear monitors, which, incidentally, premiered our own “naked” BA-driver technology to the whole industry.

One year before that show I gave an interview to an American “Widescreen Review” magazine, in which I described that technology in some details:

Also, I still have a vivid picture of how, just after my presentation of the “SB-7” to the head of that company, Vitaliy Belonozhko at that show, I was walking in a nearby hotel corridor where I caught him frantically browsing through our website’s info.

There is no doubt that, sooner or later, any valuable idea will be adopted by your competitors. Therefore, the fact that almost three years later, the FIR Audio started to tout their “tubeless” designs (unambiguously implying in their promotion literature that the latter is their own original idea) proves to me with all the certainty that our own original twist on the completely saturated BA-based IEMs’ technologies’ field does seem to have a certain content in it.

So, why do I feel so careless about the incident?

Partially, because on the same day when I saw that FIR Audio’s Facebook post I visited an old client of mine who has bought many years ago a couple of my own former audio systems (one by one).

One of them is Apogee Acoustics Studio Grand-based 3.5-way stereo active system (eight SET/Tango “iron” Manley “GM-70” monoblock power amps, custom built octal tube P.A.S.T. Audio mono-block 3-way active crossover, Manley “20-bit UltraAnalog” DAC, Manley “300B” preamp (equipped by “300B” by Western Electric and some vintage octal tubes), Manley “Massive Passive” tube mastering EQ, Forsell CD-Transport, various acoustic treatment devices by ASC, Stereovox 600-series cabling, PS Audio Power Plant power conditioner, etc – see the picture attached).

The other one is Apogee Acoustics Grand-based 4-way stereo active system (two pairs of custom “on-board” Krell amps to drive the tweeters and the subwoofers, two pairs of “out-board” Audio Research Corporation tube monoblock amps - MB-600 and MB-210 - to drive the mid-ribbons and woofer-panels, MSB Signature DAC and Transport, various acoustic treatment devices by ASC, Stereovox and Stereolab various top-tier cabling, etc).

The customer went as far in his efforts to serve some audio Gods as to build at his premises a special 2-story building to house a large dedicated listening room for the second system’s altar. The house is built in the “Stalinist Empire” style, with all the columns, portico and the rest, including vintage 1930-ies posters featuring the Soviet leader filling every wall inside.

The guy has always been a nearly ideal customer who strictly heeded almost all of my advices to him (bar a few ones where his life style considerations quite substantially restricted my overblown sonic ambitions), which was a very unique case during all my 25 years spent selling home High End Audio. The most common scenario would be a completely different one: when a potential customer would (carefully) listen to my advice and then will do just the opposite.

Now, meeting your ex-s after a long time is always a nervous experience, you never know what to expect. Do you still regret the departure? Or, did you do the right thing? Do you still feel jealous? Or, would the only feeing you will experience will be a feeling of relief?

However hard the new owner have been trying to fit the set ups into his life style, he still had to strike quite significant compromises from positioning and room acoustics standpoints.

When both of the systems were more or less optimally positioned in my own dedicated listening room with quite a lot acoustic treatment, I struck much less significant compromises in terms of the systems’ set ups and my room’s acoustic treatment. Therefore, in my room, from the same systems I’ve had significantly more sonic resolution, more depth, more layering, more sound “3-D effect”, more expressive micro-dynamics, and so on.

Nevertheless, I must admit that their sonic clarity, transparency, sonic “holography” and dynamic splendor still shined through from both of these systems and they still enchanted me.

Although, despite those almost 10 years, which I spent with each of these systems, and despite that they did teach me a lot, by now, I don’t really have any regrets that we parted our ways.

I consciously moved to my new StereoPravda SPearphone project due to some new developments in my life, and, like every other relationship, my full blown interest to the best music reproduction at home has had its start and its finish.

There is no denial that the most elevated home audio can provide you with some sonic experiences that portable High End Audio is not capable of.

But the opposite is also true.

So, in ideal world, they would co-exist in our lives, but in practical one, we would usually have to choose either one or another.

My portable audio project is fully based on all the knowledge and experience I gained from the 25 years of actively participating in all aspects of no-holds-barred home High End Audio. That knowledge, those advanced hearing skills, those insights and that experience constitutes the foundation of our StereoPravda activities, and they all pave the way for it in the future.

Figuratively speaking, our portable audio products are like proverbial bottles which contain the sound of my former audio systems that I can take anywhere with me (and which allow me to share the excitement over their sonics with anybody who would listen).

And here we come again to why I am not really threatened with some attempts of our competitors to “borrow” some of our ideas for their own products.

The reason I don’t care is because nobody can “borrow” my quarter of century’s worth of my own personal experiences, all the insights I accumulated through those years and all my completely palpable mental pictures of what constitutes great sound quality.

The latter include the mental pictures of the sound that my own former sound systems represented, and my recent visit to “see” them one more time reinforced some of those ingrained in me sonic impressions.

That experience, those insights and those mental pictures constitute the main essence of our StereoPravda products, while such tools as “naked”/”tubeless” BA-drivers’ technology are no more than just some techniques to achieve the corresponding sonic results.

So, despite using some (possibly) similar tools and production methods, and with all the respect to the FIR Audio efforts, I would presume that their products represent completely different backgrounds, completely different insights and completely different sonic mental pictures. Which would inevitably lead to a completely different set of priorities in their products, both regarding various aspects of sound quality, and regarding the applied methods of marketing.

Here I’d like to present an example of the latter.

A few years ago, 64Audio started a short-lived collaboration with Stephen Ambrose of Asius Technology on the implementation of the latter’s “ADEL” technology. The latter helps to relieve the eardrum of excessive movements in the environment of a sealed ear canal (I presume, a variation of this technology is marketed now by 64Audio under “apex” moniker, and FIR Audio calls it “atom-x”):

Originally, Stephen’s main goal for the ADEL’s application was – in his words – to “… [avoid] the risk of hearing damage caused by [ear canal sealing] earbuds”.

As a sign of his special goodwill towards me (he once called our “SB-7” as a “Stradivari” among all the other ear monitors), during one of our meetings with him in Denver, Stephen provided me with numerous samples of his ADEL modules, so I could experiment with them on our own StereoPravda SPearphone products.

My verdict: if the ADEL technology is beneficial in fighting the long-term hearing damage from prolonged exposure to the typical “earbud” sonic assault, it is definitely not beneficial in terms of getting the best sound it can be from our ear monitors.

If the sound quality goals for some products are intended to be presented in completely different from true High End Audio’s context, then I would definitely agree that the ADEL-type technologies can be very useful to prevent the hearing damage (as they can be definitely very useful for all sorts of marketing speculations).

For instance, they can be very useful when the low frequencies’ “quantity” and extension are higher basic priorities than its “quality” and articulation. Or, they can be very useful when the overall sonic resolution can be easily sacrificed for solving some unrelated to sound quality problems (such as elevated comfort, “scrumptious” looks, perceived value, etc.). In the later scenarios I would completely see why and how such marketing buzz technologies can definitely provide some additional sales opportunities (with either preventing long-term hearing damage or even not).

While auditioning ADEL modules installed on our ear monitors, with an exception of a certain decreasing of ear canal isolation at the lowest frequencies (with a corresponding flattening of the “sound stage”), the effect we are completely not interested to implement in our ear monitors,  I didn’t hear anything of particular sonic significance that would make me even to consider to adopt such technologies for our own products either.

The latter doesn’t mean that we don’t feel responsible. On the opposite, we also do believe that our customers’ hearing should be protected as much as possible.
However, we’ve got our own way to deal with this.

Which is to deliver the sound in our products to be as clear, as transparent and as immediate (especially at high frequencies) as is realistically possible for all the technologies we apply to deliver. One of the positive side effects of such a sonic presentation can be that it will definitely facilitate a gradual shift of our customers’ attention from a common interest in some music for disgruntled adolescents to something much more level-headed and substantial; which, by the way, is another very efficient way to prevent hearing damage.

In particular, our customers are not supposed to be prompted to increase the volume higher and higher so they can eventually distinctly perceive all the high frequency music information, on the opposite, the “proximity” effect of our lucid music presentation would prompt them constantly to lower the volume to some less and less harmful levels. By “proximity” effect I mean here not so much a subjective feeling that virtual “sound sources” seem to be located in a close vicinity of the listener or even occupying his own personal space, but more so a subjective feeling that “the musical sources” are addressing him – and nobody else but him - directly and immediately. Due to such a “proximity” presentation, to hear every last detail in music perfectly well there will be absolutely no need to increase volume above much smaller (than usual) levels.

As far as I know, there is only one and the only isolated case when a reviewer would perceive our ear monitors’ voicing as being “too bright”:

As any other formal review would never mention such a quality in our ear monitors, then, in my humble opinion, the above accusation of “SB-7” to be too “bright”-sounding can be a part of only two possible scenarios.

One could be a lack of proper ear canal seal during this particular reviewer’s auditioning of the “SB-7” (a substantial "SB-7" left/right channels' mistracking in the measurement section of the list, in my opinion, actually, does support this possibility).

And, the other one could be that the reviewer’s prejudice formed during a long history of constant exposure to listening to the typical (timbre-wise) “dark” presentations of the vast majority of IEMs on the market has brought him to a certain sonic disposition.

A brief digression is necessary here to support my last claim.

That “dark” sonic presentation of the most of IEMs on the market is a direct result of positioning their “key” drivers on board too far from the ear drum for the drivers to be capable of providing the appropriate high frequency extension along the whole (!) dynamic envelope of the musical signal (and not intentionally along only some pre-determined standard test bench insignificant part of it).

The biggest problems of the BA-drivers IEMs’ manufacturers – including how to minimize the hearing damage – stem from the fact that the vast majority of them are constantly “asking for too much” from some of the drivers they use in their IEMs. Especially, when they are “asking for too much” from such “bellows”-type drivers as of BA-based ones and some of the latest miniature electrostatic offers.
The most of these drivers were developed to be used in some single-driver hearing aids positioned within an ear canal (or even deep inside of it) with a single task of delivering just a decipherable speech to the user. Such devices would operate at a relatively short distance from the eardrum and within a fairly small “operational volume” of air trapped between an ear canal’s acoustic isolation surface, the ear canal walls and the tympanic membrane.

So, when you use the same drivers in ear monitors to play music and you position them outside of an ear canal or at the very entrance to it, the drivers - which act in a similar fashion to bellows - are just not capable enough to “properly” “blow through” such a long distance as from them to the receiving tympanic membrane (especially when we are talking about the smallest variety of these drivers touted as a family of some “tweeters”).

This is why, at such long propagation distances, to operate more or less properly, they require some sound tubes (and the accompanying effect of “bound volumes of air” formed in them). However, even if a typical length of a typical IEMs’ sound tube can provide some help, usually, that help is not enough to support the best sound quality, as after the sound waves leave the IEMs’ outlets they should continue to propagate for a substantial distance to the eardrum. Exacerbated by the ear canal “occlusion” effect, the biggest when the IEMs isolate the ear canal at its very entrance, this particular deficiency of IEMs’ typical construction is the most obvious at the highest frequencies, and even more so, if the sound tubes in the ear monitors are bent.

From the most basic physics’ considerations, it’s obvious, that if you remove the “tubes” from the outlets of “bellows-type”-drivers located at such long distances from the ear drum, the conditions for them to work properly would deteriorate even further (in the case of directly radiating “dynamic” drivers the situation will be somehow different – but we would not dwell on this difference here).

To give an analogy, however hard you would try to manipulate the sound of a pair of small “book shelf” mini-monitor speakers you wouldn’t get much in terms of sound quality – and, especially, at high frequencies - if you would listen to them from a distance of, say, 20 meters. The same happens when the “bellows-type” drivers are positioned too far from the eardrum, and this is exactly why I’ve got no reasons to expect too much sonically from such a typical positioning of the drivers in the vast majority of IEMs.

If to correct the above “book shelf” loudspeaker “20 meters” home set up anomaly, each meter of decrement of a distance between the mini-monitors and the listener – up until the right speakers’ optimal configuration in the room will be achieved - can make a significant sound quality improvement. Exactly the same way, each millimeter decrement of a distance between “bellows”-type-drivers’ outlets and the listener’s tympanic membranes – up until they would reach the vicinity of “the sweet spot” located near the ear canal’s “Second Bend” - so their top region frequency response can get some additional help by “firing” “on-axis” at the eardrum - can make an important difference in the drivers’ acoustic inputs to the overall IEMs’ sound quality.

This is why StereoPravda would always insist on our main guiding design principle: before anything else, we would always try to put the “naked/tubeless” “key” BA-drivers in our IEMs as close to the listeners’ eardrums as possible.

Only in the close vicinity to the eardrum, the use of “naked/tubeless” BA-drivers implementation becomes a sonically viable option. When such drivers occupy the typical positions within the typical IEMs, because of, both the drivers’ overall inner sonic capabilities (vs the distance to the eardrum), and because of all sorts of additional physiological and psycho-acoustic reasons, an application of this particular design principle will never be capable of realizing of its full sonic potential.

Therefore, I see an attempt to squeeze a bunch of “tubeless” “bellows”-type-drivers in an empty conventional IEM case located at the very entrance to an ear canal and positioned so far away from the eardrum, as no more than just an imitation of what we are trying to achieve sonically in our own products.
Let alone that protective dense metal mesh in FIR Audio IEMs…
(laughable, in the context of true High End Audio).

The recent opportunity of seeing and listening to my former audio “ex- s” instigated me to recalibrate my latest sonic “relationships”, this time, with our latest StereoPravda SPearphone “SB-3.5” ear monitors (a.k.a. “SB-4”).

Those clarity, transparency, sonic “holography” and dynamic splendor, we always insist on, were all confirmed as a common thread in all of my sonic relationships, be it either with my own home audio systems, or with my own portable audio ones.

As they say, every one of my audio systems is simply of my “type”, or, they are simply “me”.

There is a saying, “the only thing constant in life is change”.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the same applies to all our relationships.

Each one of them teach us some lessons, which, if properly learned, can bring more and more confidence in ourselves and can make us more and more productive in our future.

There lies their biggest power.

The closer a relationships the more powerful they can be, then, the more of its own power each sides of the relationships contains, the more powerful the products of such a relationships can be.

And vice versa, the more distant the relationships, and the less power of its own each side of such “one night stands” contains, the more inferior the results of such a relationships will be.

15.07.2019 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  1570

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