By Kevin Gallucci
The dream of all stereo electronic engineers is to create audio components that are perfectly neutral. By neutral, I mean that the audio signal has absolutely not been changed or altered from the original recording as it traveled through the electronic circuitry. A neutral audio component retains the exact audio character from when the track was mastered at the studio. Unfortunately, I know of no audio product or audio system that is perfectly neutral, or at least I haven’t heard one yet. This is a goal that every stereo electronic engineer shoots for, and hopefully one day will achieve.
Don’t fret too much, though, because stereo electronics have gotten exponentially better over the years. I’ve heard audio components today that are very close to being neutral, but there are a few things you should consider when looking into buying new stereo equipment if you want to achieve a more neutral sound.
Audio board layouts that maintain good channel separation between individual audio signals and have a good signal-to-noise ratio are good indicators that an audio product is maintaining the integrity of the audio signal. You can tell a product has a decent board layout based on its dB ratings. For example – 120dB channel separation and 117dB Signal-to-Noise Ratio are extremely good measurements from an audio component.
A Quality Power Supply
Better sounding audio components have well-engineered power foundations. Remember, audio signals are just electrical signals and a poorly designed power supply can muddy the audio signal.
When your speakers and/or subwoofer are playing they create vibrations. These vibrations can travel back to your audio components, causing additional distortion to be introduced into the audio path, which can impact sound quality. Good audio components will have a solid case that utilizes vibration reduction methods to minimize external influences from vibrations.
The old adage, “you get what you pay for” does apply to some extent in the audio world. Electrical components used in audio circuit boards come in all prices from extremely expensive to extremely cheap. Unless you’re an electrical engineer, my recommendation is to buy your audio gear from a reputable manufacturer that has a track record of using quality components that will not only sound good, but will last.
Ultimately, if you want to be sure an audio component sounds good to your ear, you should definitely try to listen to it in person. This has become increasingly difficult with more and more traditional audio shops going out of business. The next best thing is reading as many reviews as possible from professional and peer reviewers to ensure the product you want to purchase has the sonic characteristics you desire. If you do you research, you more than likely won’t be disappointed in your next audio purchase, and it might be the most neutral and best sounding audio product you have ever purchased.
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Kevin Emden Gallucci is a freelance A/V writer and self-admitting electronics junkie. He has written for various publications such as Electronic House, Hi-Fi Choice, ToneAudio, SoundStage, HiFi News, and Home Cinema Choice. Kevin’s goal is to make hi-fi/home cinema interesting for all ages and debunk the myth that you need to spend a fortune to get a great sounding system.