Audiophiles: Using a PA as a home stereo

The article I linked mentions the loss of ultrasonics from cymbals. That explains why recorded cymbals sound more like Fibber McGee’s closet than real cymbals. Especially on MP3s.

You know, it is quite remarkable. I flew into O’Hare on Monday and while downstairs and underground looking for the subway turnstile, I heard a saxophone echoing from another tunnel. Even though it was distant and I only caught a note or two at first, I knew it was live. I knew there was a saxophone player before I actually heard the saxophone! Cymbals are even easier to

Speakers just can’t replicate live sound.

Well, now we’re not talking apples and oranges anymore, are we?

Big difference between home and theater.

A huge PA would be a HORRIBLE choice for a normal home theater setup. Overkill, different wiring setup, etc.

Large spaces need more amplification and speakers to soak that up.

But just because a band has a monstrous PA doesn’t mean it’s configured the same way a theatre would have their space configured. Sound matching with images isn’t the same as sheer power, of which rock bands are infamous for and not so much “pure stereo sound”, Pink Floyd being a notable difference.

Still apples and oranges.


The hijack continues.

Reading the rest of that article that does get a bit of qualification, but I haven’t had any coffee yet and it needs some interpretation. Meanwhile, who’s listening to the DC component? And how was it recorded?

Also keep in mind the looks of PA speakers are generally utilitarian. They’re either some version of black or grey plastic or are covered in some type of tough fabric or vinyl and a metal screen protects the speaker cone. Not that it matters much if you’re a sound geek.

Integrated amplifiers are so versatile and tweakable now it’s hard to see how going the PA route would be an improvement.

That said, my current favorite listening setup is I have a Focusrite firewire audio interface from my laptop into a Mackie mixer into a Stewart amp into budget KRK K-RoK studio monitors. So it’s kind of a middle ground between a big ugly PA and your basic consumer home audio setup. Tough but sweet :). I have a projector for DVDs and just run the DVD player in stereo through the Mackie.

I would use PA speakers in a home theater setup only if they were really fine - something like Meyer Sound (UPA -1A, or drool UPA-1P) or Apogee. I am now considering this for my home theater.

Regardless, I wouldn’t be looking to a Bose system for an example of a quality home theater.

old thread but worth reviving…some PA amps sound better than home audio stereo, the majority will sound worse or be too burdensome to run at home. You can get all the sound you want or need from a home audio stereo with 160 watts/channel, and IMHO there’s no sane reason to have more than 400 WPC inside a normal sized room in a house, up to around 30 square foot room.

the little secret about home audio is, higher powered amps generally sound better at lower volumes, than a lower powered amp would sound, at the same volume. The bigger amp will show more detail.

If it has a noisy cooling fan, then cross it off the list- WTH wants to listen to that damned thing in your living room

this is one reason why the single ended 10 watt tube stereo amps are so desireable, then can reach an acceptable level and show a lot of detail. Home audio isn’t about volume, it’s about tone and quality.

I’ve been to many rock concerts, 60+ shows back in the 70’s and 80’s, and saw all the big bands, i.e. Stones, Who, Alice Cooper, Sabbath, etc. and the loudest bands generally sounded like schitt. The Stones had the best sound system of any, and when you left your hearing wasn’t even hazed, they had an acceptable volume level. Steppenwolf rang my ears for 4 days and was too loud. The Who was even louder but I was in the top rows of Vets stadium in Philly, even up there my ears were starting to physically feel pain.

so WTH do you need all this power for in home audio ? you don’t

3000 watts into 2 ohms ? who cares, the OP is asking is it good for home audio- answer is no. You don’t need an Allison V16 fighter plane engine, to drive your Chevy down to the store for a pack of smokes and a 6 pack. Doing so is just plain dumb and overly-expensive and assinine.

contrary to what many think, many PA amps have MORE DISTORTION than home audio amps with lesss power. I’ve seen quite a few with bogus specs that in reality had 1% distortion or higher and that’s very high. A typical good home audio set as .01% to .05% distortion. If you actually check the output levels of your home audio rig with a voltmeter and find out how much watts you are listening to when it’s loud, you’ll find you are listening to about 30 wats per channel even with a very good amp, PA or consumer stereo.

3000 watts ? you crack me up. So what, why not Led Zeppelin 1975 vintage system with 100,000 watts then. The wealthiest people in the world don’t listen to 1000 watt stereos, the Japanese tycoons listen to $20,000 tube amps, with $80,000 speakers, that may put out 10 to 50 WPC at best.

what’s that say ?

the dirty little secret about specs is, usually the most powerful high wattage amps, with the best specs, sound the worst. I had an NAD 2200 power envelope amp that sounded like schitt. I could not wait to dump it.

Now I have an SET tube amp with 10 WPC that sound 1000x better. No matter how powerful your amp is, you’ll still be listening to it most of the time at the same volume level. Strive for tone and quality, not watts.

the beauty of a PA amp is you can buy cheap power when some band upgrades and dumps their old amps- the downside is, connecting them can be a real PITA because when you ask a question about how to use a 70 volt output with home 8 ohm speakers, all the hi fi and audio PA genuises suddenly don’t know the answer. The question of matching what used to be a mic input to a phonograph, CD player, or tape deck is even more mystical and the geniuses once again can’t answer it.

in reality it’s trial and error, and you may never get a PA amp to sound right, because some simply don’t have 8 ohm output capability, and wont’ accept a standard CD player or phono line input without being distorted, or not being loud enough.

It’s possible to have both - I had the privilege of working on the Opus 1 some years ago, and it’s basically one of the most gorgeous hi-fi amps you ever heard, but at a multi-kilowatt power level. One of the demo racks made a local gangster cry - he said he’d never heard his club sound so amazing. The only criticism that I ever heard of it was that it didn’t sound loud, i.e. it might pin you up against the wall, but it was never objectionable to the ear.
The designer is now chief engineer at Joe Meek.

Do PA systems typically have a frequency response that goes as high as good stereo? Say, 20 kHz? Five years ago Anthony N wrote “very good frequency response”, but that could mean flat, but only up to 12 or 15 kHz.

Aren’t PA systems often (usually?) targeted at voice, rather than music.

how about not posting bullshit?

what is “detail,” and why are lower-powered amplifiers better at exposing it? and why did you previously say “bigger” amps “show more detail,” and then contradict yourself to say a 10-watt amplifier can “show a lot of detail?” do you even lift?

1% THD at what output level? a $2 IC-based amplifier can easily have THD numbers below 0.1% when unclipped. The loudspeakers produce an order of magnitude more distortion than the amplifier, so whinnying about the distortion of an unclipped amplifier is little more than bloviating.

they’re idiots.

why did it “sound like schitt?” by the way, profanity isn’t banned here so you can just type “shit.”

hi-fi amplifiers should NOT have “tone.” They should be as neutral as possible.

Lordy, don’t go down this path here. I have spent years on HiFi newsgroups, and there is no useful end to this.

A few technical points.

As mentioned in 2008, pro gear uses balanced inputs, something that crops up in higher end consumer gear, is not something most people come across. Easy to cope with, but needs to be understood.

Pro gear is always going to be about power, with reliability and convenience being big issues as well. Modern PA amps are going to be class D for the most part. The advantages in power output, price, weight, and efficiency are impossible to beat. Class D has come on in quality astoundingly, and is now essentially as good as almost all conventional (ie class A and B) amplifiers. Indeed many domestic amps are now also class D.

When it comes to deciding how an amplifier sounds to you, it gets much harder. Accuracy is what any professional, whether recording or reproducing music wants in the sound they hear. Crafting the sound to sound good is something that happens earlier. A recording engineer may use tube pre-amps on some mics, and use tube based effects gear (LA2 etc) but when it comes to hearing what they have created, the last thing they want is speakers or amplifiers that change the sound. They need to hear what is actually going to go out. This is even more true of the mastering engineers. A PA system needs to be accurate too. The sound should already sound good before it gets to the PA.

Now at home you have other choices. If you listen to a wide range of musical styles you may find that accuracy in reproduction is your only choice - otherwise you may bias the sound too much in favour of a one genre. But a lot of people enjoy the additional warmth and bloom that some gear adds to the sound. Right at the top of the list are single ended triodes. A technical point. Being single ended means the amplifier is of necessity horrendously inefficient. Almost all the power than comes out of the wall socket vanishes as heat in the amplifier. There are designs that have an active load on the triode that hep a bit, but a pure SET amp can only be about 10% efficient. Some are worse. Class D is 90% plus. Next, being single ended means that the transfer function of the output stage is asymmetric. This means that the distortion products of the amp will contain a reasonable proportion of even harmonics. This is where the sound comes from. A more conventional amplifier - usually known as push-pull - has a symmetric transfer function, and this balances out any even order distortion - leaving mostly odd order components. A SET amp still has lots of odd order harmonics, but compared to a push pull design it also has lots of even order. Furthermore, SET designs are usually seen with little to no global feedback. (Mostly due to decades of ignorance about the mathematics of feedback on the part of many audiophiles.) This means that in general SET amps have lot more distortion than most conventional amplifiers. The end result can be an amp that sounds warm, engaging, with a heightened sense of dynamics (as the dynamics splash distortion products around that our ear interprets as loud). In fact it generates a sound not all that far away from some of the studio gear a recording engineer may press into service to liven up a sound. The difference is that you can’t turn the effect off, or otherwise tune it to the music being played, or control which instruments it affects.

For domestic use there some advantages in PA based speakers. At least with care. The high end PA drivers can be very very good. But they cost astounding money. But at the mid end you see manufacturers like B&C making small (say 8") drivers that are very high quality, with smooth frequency response, very low distortion, and high efficiency. There is also a bit of a revival in horn loaded high frequency drivers for domestic use - as they have some very desirable features not found in more conventional drivers. Work by Earl Geddes in particular has made a bit of a stir. If you want real dynamic, and effortless reproduction, a PA style setup is hard to beat. But it isn’t really suited to domestic use.

Another issue, is that a PA system is usually designed to work in a large space. The diffraction effects off the edges of the enclosures, and assumptions about the effects of nearby walls are very different to a domestic setting. These problems are not fixable by simply tweaking the frequency response with a graphic equaliser.

If that’s the case, why not grab a pair of powered mid-field monitors and a cheaper Mackie (just a cheaper option, but well-built kit) mixer for handling inputs? I think the mixer would be the weak link, but even on cheaper ones if you don’t mishandle the gain staging, they should be pretty neutral.

The speakers even in older studio mixing monitors are pretty old enough technology that I think flat is what you can expect.

Not an audiophile, but I like to hear as much detail in the music as possible, at the expense of having a really nice coloration. Granted, I don’t get the same pleasure out of having music sound “nice” or whatever – I like to hear separation of channels in so far as possible according to frequency.

The advantage is grabbing even some Behringer powered monitors is probably good enough for getting close, and not having to use a dedicated Crown 300-500W power amp makes things pretty simple. Just use the mixer to handle interconnects, and you can have some flexibility as to what you want to come up through the monitors. Plus, you can make your own TS or TRS 1/4" cables if you want to make a hobby out of it, and solder in some RCA connectors if you want, I guess.

No, you don’t want to use some 15" powered monitors with built-in crossovers for stage reinforcement unless you live in a loft next to a place where some rock and roll people rented out a spot to rehearse, unless you are a real loudness freak. IME, the Mackies and JBLs don’t sound that great – they get loud, and that’s fair enough, because that’s what they were built to do. But the nearfield or midfield monitors are what people use to mix albums like you’ve seen pictures of, and I can’t see if you want minimum coloration why that wouldn’t be a great choice.

I’m talking about amplifiers. why the hell are you bringing up speakers?

“coloration” is not “nice;” coloration is sound which isn’t supposed to be there. it comes from distortion or panel resonances.

evidently you’re throwing around terms you don’t even understand. stop.

the people mixing “albums like you’ve seen pictures of” use near-field monitors because they’re sitting pretty close to the speakers. if you aren’t, then you don’t want near-field monitors.

Because among powered monitors, there has been some effort, successful or not, to make sure that even simple things like impedances have been optimized. And, like it or not, IME the structure of speaker cones has a lot to do with the acoustics of the system.

Yes, that’s what I said. Coloration can certainly be pleasant – why, then, are many hi-fi systems designed to specifically introduce higher-order harmonics into the chain? And, for that matter, why is a flat response considered desirably for other uses (viz, hearing what is one the tape or digital medium)_?

Not really. I used “channel” when I meant to stick to separation by frequency of tracks at the mix-down stage. Mea culpa, but no need to get butthurt about it.

Yes, I used the idea of “pictures” because people have probably seen on MTV or whatever pictures of big console/desks with a few monitors. FWIW, I suggested mid-field monitors as a compromise from the beginning.

More technical points.

Nearfield monitors are designed with a different frequency response to normal speakers. Or they include specific compensation capability to cope with the different use cases. Because they are listened to up-close the baffle step correction factor is different, and other diffraction effects result in a different frequency balance. What is especially important is that the diffuse field is much lower in volume compared to a domestic speaker. The effects of all the junk nearby when they sit on the desk also makes this just plain hard.

The sets of speakers you often see on the mixing desk in pro studios are not the main monitoring speakers. In home recording setups they might be, because that is all that can be afforded. In a pro studio they are often there as a quick check to hear what the mix sounds like on small speakers.

Don’t be too disparaging about the cheap Behringer speakers. For the money they are not all that bad. Zaph did some tests of one of them, and his summary was “Overall an excellent system for someone who wants a completed system for cheap.” Behringer has a dubious reputation for quality, but they are hard to beat on value for money.

If you want to see what the real pros use in the studio, you are looking at ATC and Genelec, and you are talking very serious money.

Can you give some idea of what you’re talking about? You’re talking about fancier monitors than Yamahas or Mackies or JBLs, but despite your claim that only tiny project studios or home mixing studios use midfield monitors for mixing, that has not been what I have heard or seen.

What exactly are these high-end pros using? Phones or surround sound for a stereo mix?

I am kind of skeptical.

I didn’t say that only these use small monitor - I said that in pro system nearfield monitors are not the main monitors in use - they get used for specific duties - to see how it sounds on small speakers.

It isn’t hard to get a feel - a few photos from ATC’s customers in the UK and the US for instance. Or cruise about all the pictures of studios here.
Note the common theme. The main monitors are often integrated into the walls, many times covered with a speaker cloth - which is why you will often not realise they are there. But note how there is almost always a nearfield pair on the desk.

Headphones don’t tend to be used for final mixing. Mixing for surround requires a proper surround setup, and the studios have their own setups that include integration with the video. Tracking might get monitored on lots of things, and headphones are good for that. But not mixing.

Exactly. That’s why I said I was skeptical, because nobody uses cans for mixing unless they’re testing something out or working in the box on an airplane or a bus or something. Much less surround. You should have guessed I was joking, but I do appreciate your two cents.