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American Sound v British Sound


AndrewJ
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of course there are eccentric makers that tend to have a certain following usually in their country of design.

7 minutes ago, uzzy said:

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.

You seem to be claiming that hi-fi manufacturers have made no progress in the last 20+ years.  With respect, what rubbish.  You mention a few brands such as Sugden and this is one of those I was thinking about when I said "of course there are eccentric makers that tend to have a certain following usually in their country of design." 

Most brands have moved on both with internal technology and more noticeably with aesthetics - casework, labelling, etc.  Just like cars, huge advances continue to keep the industry on its toes and thankfully most are investing in R&D for even better things in the future.  Anyone sitting on their hands deserves to lose out though a few such as Sugden struggle on in their eccentric fashion in a similar way to Morgan Cars - long may they continue to do so.  However don’t claim that they are as good as modern kit – cars or hifi.

As well as these stick-in-the-mud manufacturers (and luckily for them), there are still lots of stick-in-the-mud consumers who haven't appreciated what's been going on since they bought their Sugden A21, Quad 57 or LS3/5As - or they are happy to live with their 20th Century technology – nothing wrong with that.

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4 minutes ago, hearhere said:

more noticeably with aesthetics - casework, labelling, etc.

cannot disagree with that = but unfortunately that does not improve the sound .. perhaps the difference today is too many listen with their eyes.

As to the specialists like Sugden - Tim De Paravicini was designing for Lux and then his won company from the 70s .. Musical Fidelity from the 70s - there are just so many great amps from the past (and great loudspeakers) .. 

6 minutes ago, hearhere said:

ust like cars, huge advances continue to keep the industry on its toes

As for cars - the huge advances are in fact minor - for pure driveability a Caterham 7 is as good as anything and identical almost to the Lotus 7 from six decades ago  - get behind the wheel of a Jensen Healy and compare it to any two seater sports car today.   I could go on (my mechanic bends my ears about it all the time) how engines from the 80s and 90s will outlive many of todays offerings as will the hydraulic automatic gear boxes compared to the double automatic clutch variants today)  but we are a hifi group so the car thing can be in a car group somewhere.  

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1 hour ago, AndrewJ said:

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.

Andrew - I think you’re right, more accuracy may be a feature of most newer equipment, but there's certainly plenty of relatively laid back alternatives that can combine modern technology and casework etc with a more mellow sound for those who enjoy that sort of presentation. Even Class D amps are available with plenty of differences in presentation, as do DACs of course.

My first truly opinion-changing purchase was in 2002 when I switched from big ATC speakers to Avantgarde horns.  They made such a huge difference that I kept them for the next 17 years before concluding that there must be things better sounding than this 20 year old design.  I tried other newly designed speakers from well-established makes (Martin Logan and others) before deciding that I still liked the house sound of Avantgarda.   I upgraded to their most recent model that has better and bigger drivers, a crossover and bass amp that includes room correction and larger enclosures.  That sort of upgrade immediately demonstrates the progress than one manufacturer has made in 20 years and other makers have likewise made significant progress towards the never achievable perfect component!

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There is a lot to be said about room dimensions in the Uk compared to the USA because to me this can be the biggest factor on the electronics you .use Unless your speakers are totally inefficient, I cannot understand why you would need more than 100watt rms 

The Gale 401 is one of the most inefficient speakers I’ve had , but the 60 W Sonus Faber Musica has no problem ..More power which the American market does seem to prefer does not mean more quality ..Very early in HiFi history I would say there was a British sound as that’s all there was and most of the designers were British .. It is not the same now multinationalism has evened everything out and now it’s more about aesthetics.. Personally I don’t care where something is made so long as it gives me the sound I want.

I have an American TT

Japenese SACD player

German/Chinese Power amp

Italian integrated

British/ Chinese Streamer

French speakers

Swedish speaker cable

British interconnects

Its the sum of the parts that matters ..They all have influence on the sound be it British or American or wherever the components come from..

I think Japanese vintage takes some beating

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I don't think there's much of a clear distinction in sound these days, but one thing most American gear seems to have in common is that it looks  hideous!

wilson-audio-wamm-master-chronosonic-des

Edited by Bazzer
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1 hour ago, bigrod said:

Very early in HiFi history I would say there was a British sound as that’s all there was and most of the designers were British .. It is not the same now multinationalism has evened everything out and now it’s more about aesthetics.. Personally I don’t care where something is made so long as it gives me the sound I want.

Yes, very true.  When I started in hi-fi (remember Hi Fi Shows at the Russell Hotel in Central London?), there was not much imported stuff and the UK makers were in their heyday selling around the world as well as the UK. 

Then, with the EU (we used to be a member, remember?), removing all trade barriers, the European makers started selling to the UK in much larger volumes.  US makers had a more difficult time because fright then was significantly costlier and there were tariffs and there was hostility / ignorance towards American-made equipment.  Like their cars – big and vulgar and often considered shoddy!

With global brands / capital venurers buying up the small fry that used to dominate the cottage industry of hi-fi, we often don’t even know the country where brands are based or where they choose to manufacture their offerings.  Is this more level playing field a good thing?  Overall I think yes it is.  It keeps innovation going and it keeps prices competitive, though there are still exceptions of course.   Peter

Edited by hearhere
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One off the big issues is room size, but also building construction. Outside of the 'old' east coast cities, US homes are large and, most importantly, timber framed.

Compared to the usual stone, concrete, brick construction in the UK many American homes will flex and move in a way that rarely happens in the uk. It is almost like having a home listening room with effective 'bass traps' built in.

Having experience of both situations, the differences are huge. Attempting to fit a pair of classic BBC (LS3/6 type) monitors in an American home really brings it home, even with fairly potent US style amplification they were left 'wheezing' and unable to cope with any kind of volume.

In many ways this was more obvious than the 'usual' overbearing bass that many US speakers produce in UK rooms, that can often be tamed but the inadequacies of UK designs in US homes is far more difficult.

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22 hours ago, hearhere said:

of course there are eccentric makers that tend to have a certain following usually in their country of design.

You seem to be claiming that hi-fi manufacturers have made no progress in the last 20+ years.  With respect, what rubbish.  You mention a few brands such as Sugden and this is one of those I was thinking about when I said "of course there are eccentric makers that tend to have a certain following usually in their country of design." 

Most brands have moved on both with internal technology and more noticeably with aesthetics - casework, labelling, etc.  Just like cars, huge advances continue to keep the industry on its toes and thankfully most are investing in R&D for even better things in the future.  Anyone sitting on their hands deserves to lose out though a few such as Sugden struggle on in their eccentric fashion in a similar way to Morgan Cars - long may they continue to do so.  However don’t claim that they are as good as modern kit – cars or hifi.

As well as these stick-in-the-mud manufacturers (and luckily for them), there are still lots of stick-in-the-mud consumers who haven't appreciated what's been going on since they bought their Sugden A21, Quad 57 or LS3/5As - or they are happy to live with their 20th Century technology – nothing wrong with that.

Whilst progress is made in many areas progress doesn't necessarily mean that all aspect of performance are better.  You mentioned cars.  Cars are more economical and have better safety but driving feel has been removed greatly from what went before.  And its the same with hifi.  Some are better in some areas and others are not necessarily better.  I once owned the futuristic carbon fibre Wilson Benesch Arcs and Curves.  I have gone back to Harbeth because music sounds more like music.  I have recently bought a very modern Auralic Altair G1 so am not some stuck in the past person.  Remember that there are a lot of opinions in hifi, as in anything else, and modern isn't always universally 'better' as this is a subjective hobby.

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I've got American heavy weight box front ends - CD/DAC and Power Amps, with a British Speaker. Best of both worlds?

The thing all these have in common is that they're extremely well built (like a tank), may be that contributes towards their sound SQ/signature.

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A great question with complex answers.  I think that there used to be more of a difference from British to American hifi than there is today.  And I think it was because designers in their respective countries were designing more for their home markets than worldwide.  That's where I think the discussion of the differences between the *typical* US and British homes comes in - particularly the typical construction and size.  US homes are (again, generally) frame construction and lossier than the average British home.  

So I think that earlier British designs tended to be physically smaller (compare a Naim 250 to a Krell KSA-100!) and focused on sonic areas like quickness/speed, rhythm, etc.  PRaT isn't a cliche for nothing.  American designs tended towards the larger/more powerful, with a (often stated) focus on tonality and imaging/soundstaging - which are typically easier to achieve in a larger room.  Whatever one may think of it, a "classic" British system was an LP12 with a Naim Nait and Linn Kan speakers.  That system would have been (and often was!) laughed out of many American hifi stores.  Conversely, a "classic" American system might have been a Well-Tempered or VPI turntable with a Levinson/Conrad-Johnson/Krell/Audio Research amp system driving Vandersteens/Magnepans/Acoustats/etc.  Those systems would sound SO different to each other it'd be culture shock.  

I also think that the rise of the internet started to blur the differences in sonics, as people found it easier and easier to buy hifi (and a lot of other things!) from around the world.  And it became infinitely easier to exchange opinions about hifi.  Concomitant with the rise of the internet, the rise of computing allowed designers to design MUCH more efficiently in terms of time - they didn't need to try each and every possibility in real life; they could model it.  That also allowed manufacturers to robotically build components - I remember going to Linn training in 1996 at the "new" factory - it was amazing.  Now that sort of factory is much more common, and outsourcing is much more efficient.  So I think those factors, and a variety of others, helped to shrink, if not eliminate, most of the more apparent sonic differences from the US to British gear.  

Something I find ironic is that as an American, my system is primarily British - Linn or Rega table, Exposure preamp and monoblocks, Monitor Audio speakers, Naim nDAC with a Pardo TXPS from Israel, Linn tuner.  A couple interconnects from the US - Audioquest and Wireworld - but that's about it.  Go figure - I've just never heard an "American" system that trips my trigger.

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@Automaticftp Good post - and welcome to the Forum.

Personally, as somebody who bought HiFi in the 70s and 80s, the British Market had blinkers on, as a result of a) The HiFi Magazines telling us what few brands we should buy...which were almost exclusively British and b) The combined marketing of Linn and Naim.

Your path was laid out from the start. At the more budget end, you were "allowed" to consider some Japanese brands like Trio and Sansui...but it was punted out, that Japanese brands had too many flashing lights and knobs to be real HiFi (which should have no tone controls etc to pollute the signal)....and a TT had to be belt driven. It was mostly nonsense, but got into the DNA of many. The advent of Forums have been a great way of shining a torch on what is out there.

In the UK, once you decided to upgrade from your budget TT, which was either a Dual CS505, or a Trio KD 1033B, or a Sansui SR222Mk2...it was a Rega. As a Rega owner, you then aspired to be a Linn Sondek owner....or if very daring, a Pink Triangle owner. There were of course other brands, like Thorens, Roksan, Ariston and Michell....but they weren't promoted as much by the Magazines.

On the Amp end, you probably went from Nad 3020 -> A&R A60 (or a Naim Nait) -> A Naim Pre/Power + adding a Power supply later (to go with your Linn)...with some Musical Fidelity stuff in there too.

Speakers were usually British - Wharfedale/Goodmans/Kef/Epos/Monitor Audio/Naim/Linn/Harbeth/Celestion etc There were more niche brands like Keesonic, Tangent and Videoton.

It was the Single Market that opened up the European Market.

Where I live.....there was no access to American brands....and for the most part, there still isn't. To me personally, American Amps appeal much more than their Speakers.

Edited by CnoEvil
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As a previous owner of English Audiolab & US Krell integrated amps there is an ironic commonality that might be at odds with the intention of the thread.
Both were hard and bright and beautifully constructed.
But for the Krell amp's vastly higher price you got some imaging.
 

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