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American Sound v British Sound


AndrewJ
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Following up on the topic of "have you been disappointed" I have been wondering if there is a difference between what constitutes good sound to an American as opposed to a British Audiophile. 

I live in the UK and have tried some of the respected british products and also recommends from "what hifi" only to be disappointed as it sounds restricted or dull. The only Brtiish amp I have found that works for me is the Quad 33/303. I like controlled but deep bass, clear midrange and treble that doesn't sound muffled. I like what I think is probably an analogue sound and the valve sound I found to be the one I like the most. I much prefer floor standing speakers as they can produce the bass but just sound more alive than bookshelf speakers. I haver B&O M100-2 speakers and find they work really well with the quad but I have had B&O active speakers in the past with other B&O kit and it just sounded restrained compared to the M100s

So I am wondering if there is a difference in taste between the brits and the americans? Having seen the popularity of the vintage 70s receivers I wonder if perhaps I lean more towards american tastes than british.

Interested in what the Americans think of the British sound and vica versa - or do all audiophiles around the world just like the same type of sound, or is there a difference between an audiophile and someone that just enjoys playing music?

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America sound - sterile, clinical

British sound - safe or fatiguing 

European - Best, (certain) 

I don't think I've turned Japanese.. 

Generally speaking amps and speakers... 

Edited by 2010*zuma
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We only see the tip of the iceberg in this country .. Speakers from Acoustat, Martin Logan, Vanderstein, DCM TImewindows and others have sold very well over here.

As to amplifiers there is nothing cold and sterile about American Amps, MacIntosh, Conrad Johnson, Audio Research, Parasound, Various amps by Nelson Pass, Krell, Mark Levinson, make great amps that grace many systems and the list goes on and on.

To my mind (and I sold the stuff for over five years) there is no "American" sound and we go on about British Sound but I personally think that died when Arcam went to the FMJ line.  Sugden could never be said to have an "English" sound - you cannot get more neutral.

At the end of the day we all have our own preference to sound (all of us have our own idea what is right) and so an individual should use their ears to choose and woe betide them if they do not (if your ears are not happy you can be certain you won't be).

All I know for certain is I am still using a Hafler DH200 (parts made in the USA but assembled over here) for the last 40odd years and when I bought it in 1979 there was no English amp with the same power and quality into difficult impedance loads.  Also interesting to note that the Gale GS401 (very successful speaker in the 70s) was designed by an American living over here .. 

As to the Quad 33 303 combination .. for me it is "polite" but this was the first generation of transistor amps as for the 405 IMP soundwise it was no improvement  and the later preamps compared to Meridian, Naim, and a host of others was rather dull by comparison IMO.

So for me there is good, ok and mediocre (and possibly bad) sounding stuff from all areas of the world (us included) so it is vital to audition before purchase.  As to magazine reviews on my basis that we all have our own idea of what sounds right I am actually more interested in gear where the reviewers disagree with each other (somehow that is more real world to me).

Edited by uzzy
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Main difference for an "American Sound" and "British Sound " for me is in the speakers which are voiced differently . JBL , KLH  and others have produced some excellent speakers but they tend to be in the uptempo and bright area of voicing . British speakers from early KEF , Rogers , Spendor and others followed a BBC voiced idea and were popular here because they sounded like what we listened to from the BBC . Things now have changed there are still BBC influenced designs and you can still get various flavours of that design but lots of others have changed and produce more dynamic and in your face designs . In the end you have to listen and match your choice with sympathetic equipment and get a sound that suits you and this is not only from one country .

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America sound - sterile, clinical
British sound - safe or fatiguing 
European - Best, (certain) 
I don't think I've turned Japanese.. 
Generally speaking amps and speakers... 
No stereotyping then
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Judging by the position of the tone controls on pretty much every car I’ve ever hired in the USA, Americans like lots of bass and lots of treble!

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I read in an article 30/40 years ago the postulation that difference twixt equipment made in the USA particularly with speakers other than cultural vs UK was due to the lighter construction use of timber etc +larger  room size in the USA. The UK averaging the smallest rooms in Europe.

I believe the suggestion at that time was that there was more bass loss in the timber framed US rooms, unlike our smaller brick built properties, whether this still applies with our now frequently found stud walls I can't say.  I live in a 1950's constructed top floor 2 bed flat now with 2 rooms in the loft with stud wall & noise insulation construction, I know my son and fiancé when they lived here using a  150 wpc at 8 ohms  SS amp, TDL non transmission line modified ie front ported with a professional  upgraded cross over; they  preferred the  sound of deadmou5e in their room in the old solid construction ie brick walls 4" thick concrete floor part of our flat.    

Edited by John (big)
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11 hours ago, AndrewJ said:

I live in the UK and have tried some of the respected british products and also recommends from "what hifi" only to be disappointed as it sounds restricted or dull. The only Brtiish amp I have found that works for me is the Quad 33/303. I like controlled but deep bass, clear midrange and treble that doesn't sound muffled.

Wow given that the majority would say that the 33/303 sounds restricted and dull (velvet mist was a term used often) I am wondering what other British products you have tried.  I used to own a 33/303 and many other amps sounded far less muffled and restricted but I never found one to match the Quad'd muffled nature.

I haven't noticed a particular difference between British and American amps and surely it's possible to find a British version of Krell or ARC etc etc. I think that the 'British sound' was more of a marketing thing although Marantz have done some UK specific models for their budget offerings.

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I confess I turn the bass upto 1 and treble upto 2 on the 33 and to me it sounds great. I've  had a Linn Kollektor and Linn Wakonda feeding an LK100 (may have been 140, I cant remember) but I just couldn't get the sound to my liking. It sounded very good but not as bright or the bass as weighty - which is what led me to think that perhaps there was a british sound. In fairness though I have only just recapped the speakers and maybe that has made a difference, but even before then the Quad and Beomaster 6000 (80's one) sounded better.

I've not heard any American amps so cant compare, however understand that there is a big following of vintage Japanese gear which from what I've read seems to give the powerful type of sound I like. I listen mainly to Jazz and Classical music.

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Had and have lots of American amps ,modwright , msb, belles, bel canto ( loads !!) All superb . Build quality,  Sonics first class and big fan of them . 

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13 hours ago, Beobloke said:

Judging by the position of the tone controls on pretty much every car I’ve ever hired in the USA, Americans like lots of bass and lots of treble!

That's what we guitarists call "scooped". An "American" guitar sound is also a bit that way, whereas the "British" guitar sound (think Marshall Plexis) has loadsa midrange punch.

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On 15/06/2021 at 22:24, AndrewJ said:

Following up on the topic of "have you been disappointed" I have been wondering if there is a difference between what constitutes good sound to an American as opposed to a British Audiophile. 

I live in the UK and have tried some of the respected british products and also recommends from "what hifi" only to be disappointed as it sounds restricted or dull. The only Brtiish amp I have found that works for me is the Quad 33/303. I like controlled but deep bass, clear midrange and treble that doesn't sound muffled. I like what I think is probably an analogue sound and the valve sound I found to be the one I like the most. I much prefer floor standing speakers as they can produce the bass but just sound more alive than bookshelf speakers. I haver B&O M100-2 speakers and find they work really well with the quad but I have had B&O active speakers in the past with other B&O kit and it just sounded restrained compared to the M100s

So I am wondering if there is a difference in taste between the brits and the americans? Having seen the popularity of the vintage 70s receivers I wonder if perhaps I lean more towards american tastes than british.

Interested in what the Americans think of the British sound and vica versa - or do all audiophiles around the world just like the same type of sound, or is there a difference between an audiophile and someone that just enjoys playing music?

I wonder if in fact you prefer a 20th Century sound presentation over a 21st Century one? 

Sound presentation has changed very considerably since the 1990s and some may say not for the better.  Speaker makers are using smaller bass drivers and clever enclosure designs to provide what seems to be better bass compared with a traditional un-stressed 12" driver that you'd be more likely to find in an older speaker.  For me the "best sound in show" at the last Bristol show I visited came via big Harbeths with their BBC-like laid back and very pleasant presentation via 12” bass drivers

Likewise digital audio has changed the presentation of music, both in the the way music is stored (CD and streaming compared with vinyl and tape)  and in the DACs and amps we now use that are far more digital based.

I've tried at home numerous amps recently made by brands from the UK, US, Canada, Japan and various EU countries, but I've not been aware of any "national" difference. Some of these amps are designed in these countries but manufactured in China - again no "Chinese" sound in my view.

Likewise with speakers, I agree that floor standing ones are hugely more preferable than stand-mounts and I wonder sometimes why people choose the latter as they take the same floor area and don't sound as good (wait for flack)!  

The speakers I've had in my system (some bought some on loan) are mainly EU brands, but one pair from the US and a couple of UK brands.  Again I think it's more down to how you choose your speakers than where they were designed,  You can get the type of sound you're looking for from a US or UK or EU speaker brand, though of course there are eccentric makers that tend to have a certain following usually in their country of design.  As someone else says, there are still some UK manufacturers that continue successfully building developments of old BBC or similar designs as they present the sort of sound we (in the UK) have become accustomed to.  I've become more attracted to the European speaker brand I've had as my principal speakers since 2002, incidentally chosen by the US magazine Stereophile as their Speaker of the Year back then.  However if I heard UK or US designed speaker that sounded better or provided better value, I’d probably switch. 

I pay very little attention to What HiFi reviews as they tend to cater more towards the mid-fi listener.

Currently I have German-made speakers and Canadian (formerly British) branded electronics that are now built in China - both items chosen as Components of the Year by that same US magazine.    Peter

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Thanks Peter - yes you may have hit the nail on the head. I think my preference is definitely 20th Century as to me whilst not strictly accurate is just enjoyable - maybe I have lived with that type of sound for too long and that's why I'm not understanding the attraction of a more clinical accurate sound. I think I had hoped that perhaps there was a type of sound associated with a country and missed the point that its more to do with the age of the equipment. Having said that the new Chinese valve amps that I have listened too I've liked very much.

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The first thing I think of is that a lot of American stuff is designed for bigger rooms and more power. "Big" and "powerful" seem to me to be part of the US culture (cars etc...) This has produced some superb speakers in particular - Magneplanars, Martin Logans and Apogee ribbons - and beautiful sounding amplifiers like McIntosh, Conrad Johnson and Audio Research. And also some great kits like Dynakits. 

Britain did make the BBC monitors and Quad Electrostatics, which weren't IMO better than the best Apogees or Magnepans. And amps by Leak, Radford and Quad which were fairly standard circuits.  I think Britain has been good at value for money and has been quite inventive with solid state products. 

My heart is with European gear, however. Gorgeous valve amps and speakers. And a range of lower power SE valve amps which sound great. German and Swiss engineering has produced some classic gear, some of it studio and broadcast (Neumann, EMT etc). Personally I love all the European valves made before WW2 and I've enjoyed collecting some of them. After WW2 valves got miniaturised in the USA and turned into the 9 pin and octal valves we find in almost all commercial equipment these days. Very useful to have them smaller and running off the same 6.3v heaters, but nevertheless very few of them were better than the bigger valves they replaced. So ironically the USA went both big and small in different ways. 

Japan has been very interesting, and is full of enthusiasts. 

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16 hours ago, hearhere said:

Sound presentation has changed very considerably since the 1990

Totally disagree .. Try the great amps from from virtually any decade since the 60s and there was always a choice of sound (with the advent of Transistors).  The Sugden A21 today is similar sounding to the A21 of the 60s (and every decade to today), similarly a lot of other amps.  The design goal for any designer is to produce an amp that gives a perfect frequency response, square wave response and minimum distortion.   

Similarly loudspeakers .. the sound of IMF TLS80 or their super compact speaker, Gale GS401s, the Meridian Actives, Celef (became Proac), Yamaha NS1000 and many others have a sound signature like lots of modern speakers today .. but the designers again aim for a flat frequency response with minimum distortion.   

I do not think anyone who appreciates good sound would listen to a pair of Quad ELS 57s and say they sound dated, similarly Acoustat 4x and Quad ELS 63s from the 70s.  

A benchmark today for many (both young and old) for mid range sound is the LS35A (from the 70s).

I have been in this game for nearly 50 years now and used to sell the stuff for some years and in my opinion there is a variety of sound presentation depending on designer and manufacturer and thank god there is, because the paying public all have their ideas of what sounds right and that is why we have that variety ... put a Naim lover with a Sugden Class A lover and they will each think their amps sound better.  

We have not moved that far in 50 years in reality .. The good old Denon 103 still loved by many, Deccas continuing under the London Brand, Ortofon SPU etc etc.  We still have loudspeakers that are only 20% efficient (the other 80% is heat.  

There are great amps, turntables and cartridges and speakers from most decades from the 50s to please anyone today.  What has changed considerably are CD players - the first generation ones in the 80s were bad IMO (well they gave me and the missus a headache and kept us buying vinyl until we found a CD player we could live with).  If they hadn't changed then perhaps the vinyl resurgence might have happened a hell of a lot sooner.

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