Manufactured Product: Grey Noise
Price: What you can hear and YMMV
Author: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Researched Covid-19 Lockdown 2020
Written: Summer 2020
One of the immediate primary side effects of the corona virus lockdown has been a reduction in Grey Noise (terminology in this context). Your Old Scribe noticed this while out walking during the dusk chorus. The birds seemed louder. This seems counterintuitive because research has shown that birdsong becomes louder and/or more raucous in urban or industrialised areas. Your Old Scribe purloined the term Grey Noise [see footnote] while out on this walk, and composed the outline of this article while on that walk. While audiophiles generally attribute an external factor to phenomena without much evidence, for example attributing mains quality to late night listening pleasure, rather than being more relaxed at that time (or experiencing lower ambience noise masking), in this case, the lockdown may well be responsible.“What's he mean in this context; what other context is there?” enquire Plebs Chorus, stage left
Human beings are evolved to identify external factors as the explanations for differences. This is what enables humans to decide to manipulate our environment to increase our safety and comfort. Unfortunately, this also has the effect of creating imaginary explanations for our subjective experiences or overvaluing slight differences in objective physical phenomena to explain changing experiences.
There has long been an audiophile myth that audio systems sound better late a night because the mains supply is cleaner. This may well be the case in some instances, but far more likely is the more receptive state of mind of the listener at that stage in the day. The psychological dimensions of the late night listening experience, after the bustle of the day is done, is a far stronger “contextual force” (Cronen (1994) & Pearce) than any potential change wrought by slight changes in mains noise or voltage.
The Covid-19 lockdown situation has been the perfect laboratory to test the mains myth vs the phenomenological context hypothesis. The mountaintop lair of your Old Scribe is the perfect environment for this test. Located as the last building on a tentacle of houses extending from an urban sprawl, the mains quality can be variable. The residents of this road tend to be professionals who have all been working from home everyday during lockdown. Therefore the induced noise from a street of computer power supplies and TV power supplies has been at its greatest all day, every day. The power demand has also never been greater during the day too. Therefore this listening room has never been subject to worse mains quality than it is now (confirmed by a couple of unofficial spot checks). And yet The resident system has never sounded better.
This undermines the nocturnal cleaner mains hypothesis. This also presents a new conundrum. If not voltage sag and mains noise offering improved listening experience, why do so many people report better system sound at night?
Your Old Scribe proposes a different kind of noise: GREY NOISE. Grey Noise (in this context) is the general background hiss and hum of human activities of daily living.
Grey Noise is created by the rumble of tyres on tarmac (asphalt), the vibration of loads rumbling over bridges, the vibrations of factory machines transmitted through the earth’s crust, the footfall of millions in cities, the openings, closings, startings, stoppings, liftings, lowerings, cuttings, joinings, heatings, coolings and numerous actions of manufacturing, administration and generating income.
Incidentally, white noise is an artificially generated sound that's an equal intensity across all frequencies audible by the human ear - presumably the terminology is borrowed from white light which is the whole visible spectrum perceived mixed together. Therefore white noise has equal power (Mathematically) at any given frequency. The ear-brain perceives pitch relative to logarithmic frequency, each octave higher is a doubling of frequency. Pink noise has equal power per octave and so represents equal power as humans perceive it. Grey Noise (in this context) is the equivalent of that white T-shirt that has been washed many times in loads of mixed colours. Grey noise [see footnote] is (in this context) the background audible sludge of human activity.
While personal transport was largely off the road, the difference was startling. The reverse case test has begun, as traffic has increased, despite most commerce still being locked down, sound quality has deteriorated to about halfway to usual levels. The heavy machinery of the next door farm (600m away directly) has continued during lockdown. Therefore mains quality must have been consistently equal or worse than usual during lockdown locally. And yet sound quality was consistently better than usual day in, day out. The typical evening improvement in sound quality was not there. The evening was as good as the day, and still was better than pre-lockdown.
As well as reduced Grey Noise there is a second factor to be considered. The listener is also, even when working from home, not subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous commuting. Your Old Scribe has observed that colleagues are logging-on earlier than the working day but later than they would have set off from home. Working from home, workers are more able to control tea breaks and meal breaks and eat healthier than usual. These factors too will affect the listening experience.
In the arts, the continuum of the banal is referred to (Barthes, 1980) as Studium. Those peak moments that arrest our attention are the <>Punctum<>.
We therefore expend brain power constantly suppressing unnecessary sensory data. Urban dwellers trying to sleep in the country, complain that the countryside animal and agricultural sounds keep them awake. Conversely, country dwellers on city breaks struggle to zone out the traffic roar and periodic sirens piercing their hotel rooms. We are all adept at zoning out the <>Grey Noise<> of our own particular environment. This also impairs our capacity to enjoy the downward dynamic range of music. This impairs our capacity to enjoy the subtle nuances of sublime performances. Once liberated from the arduous task of suppressing background noise, our ear-brain mechanism can enjoy the music even more!
The presence or absence of Grey Noise and the phenomenology of the experience of late night listening are far more likely explanations of the late night audible improvements.
The human tendency to attribute different subjective experiences to external objective phenomena has resulted in many audio myths. The context of our own state of mind when listening often has more effect than any of the objective contexts and their minor sequelae. The Covid-19 lockdown has offered a brief interruption to the grimbly grumbly rumble of Grey Noise the industrial world creates.
Grey noise is random noise whose frequency spectrum follows a psychoacoustic equal loudness curve (such as an inverted A-weighting curve). Therefore grey noise is adjusted to match hearing curves with intensity of each frequency corrected for equal subjective loudness.
Barthes, R. (1980) Camera Lucida
Cronen, Vernon E. (1994) Coordinated Management of Meaning: Practical Theory for the Complexities and Contradictions of Everyday Life
Music enjoyed while writing this review
on vinyl of course
Equipment used in this review:
Extensive and ever evolving acoustic treatment including corner bass absorption, high frequency (above 2kHz) absorption at primary tweeter reflection points, high frequency diffusers at other critical points, sloping ceiling with absorber >2kHz. Solid walls and argon filled triple glazing and no radiators. Hanging rugs and thick textured floor rug between listeners and loudspeakers, solid slate floor.
Some wire is used to join these components together. No interconnects cost more than 10% of the device at each end, much of it made by the Old Scribe from high quality components without Pixie Dust. Old Scribe amplifier-to-loudspeaker wire (full range, mid-range, tweeter) is ultra-low impedance Black Rhodium S900, a low-Z variation (3x3mm^2 csa) on the Black Rhodium S300 & S600 cable that came out well in Ben Duncan's objective and subjective correlation tests, selected primarily to match the OPT/driver damping factor, not for any magical qualities. Bass only loudspeaker cable Naim NACA 5, which remains rarely challenged below 300Hz. Mains is supplied by an audio only ring main with Radex earth (ground) non-inductive connections and a technical earth. Crossover and power amplifiers fed by a hydra with minimum connections. Sources and pre-amp from terminal blocks within the audio only ring.
Copyright © 2020 Mark Wheeler - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com