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How Great Speakers Work: Why We Hear What We Hear

Speakers are boxes or panels, among other things, designed to transmit music to our ears. They are never amusing or funny, always serious and straight to the point, or should be-effectively neutral, like a good news story. Via whatever technology they employ, they somehow convert an electrical signal-which contains the information previously converted from physical music in the studio to an electronic analog; even digitally recorded music has to be converted back to analog for the speakers-into (hopefully) pleasing music.

Getting sound out of some sort of transducer is simple-anyone can get their hands on a speaker driver of some sort, hook it up to an amplifier and some kind of music or noise will result. The trick is drawing out sound that is faithful to the original information encoded in that electrical signal and then delivering it to our ears. In the case of the JT faithful, that means asking, does it sound like real jazz? Is Monk in the room? Does Hawk’s horn sound full and meaty like it should? Does Diana sound like Diana sings onstage? Are the nuances of cymbals, reeds, concert halls, piano hammers, the Vanguard’s ever-tinkling glasses, all conveyed in such a way that we might be fooled into thinking we are there, with those sounds as they are being produced? Ahhh, that’s the magic of speaker design, and every speaker magician has his or her own tricks, some more successful than others, for achieving that illusion of aliveness, of reality, of XXX.

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