System noise floor lowered. BUT

A very curious effect I’ve become aware of from taking various steps to lower my system noise floor. This has resulted in inky black backgrounds - all the ususal stuff - which is all good. However, I now find that I’m much more concious of recording tape hiss or other hiss present in recordings. All played from my Melco N50-S38. Presumably this was previously buried in a low level sea of noise which now removed leaves it exposed to clearly hear.

Anyone else noticed this with their systems after taking steps to lower the noise floor?

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I have noticed this too as one improves the system reduces the noise floor or can gain more detail from a recording you get the bad with the good. More detail is extracted along with the music you get more of the recording/engineering/mastering errors etc. come through. On some recordings, this is very noticeable. One in particular in my collection is Bruce Springsteen’s Born to run has a lot of processing noises.

However, when a recording is top-notch, you are rewarded with great-sounding music and a sublime experience.

In any case, it is better in my view to have detail and low noise any day no matter what else may be let through to your ears.


Unless using very cheap electronics lowering the noise floor as opposed to types of noise is exceptionally difficult and and can be really hard to measure or confirm…

Tape hiss and other artefacts from the master are typically very much above the noise floor in quality audio replay equipment . You may well have improved the definition of your system by reducing intermodulation distortion or smearing so these subtleties are now more easily heard… subtly changing the pass band eq in a ‘live’ room by reshaping the noise (ie different interconnects, different PSU, speaker positions etc) can improve definition and give the impression of reduced noise - by reducing the affect of reflections etc. so more of the signal is getting through to your ears without smearing or masking from your room…

In hifi many of us get quite a lot of enjoyment of recognising and listening to the production techniques used in recordings - the production master is often as much of the art as the instrumentation. The aim is for these techniques to be heard subconsciously as many mass market systems aren’t designed to resolve sufficiently but if you start to follow mastering approaches you can hear them consciously and listening to the different techniques employed by the mixing and mastering engineer(s), and some of the best ones are super renown names that artists with deep pockets hire. Congrats and enjoy.

Another thing you can listen out for is gated reverb - listen to the Wall by Pink Floyd on a good system and you can hear interesting production techniques from that era. Another great album with superb mixing and mastering techniques was Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. In more modern pop and dance music listen out for side chaining into compression of some sort to make the track feel like it grooves and times better, ie it makes you want to tap your foot or dance :slight_smile:


One thing that I have discovered is the ability to hear differences in various aspects of the recording between tracks on the same album. Intonations, tonal balances, all sorts of stuff that used to be unresolved. Really difficult to explain.


Agreed. Musically it is a clear improvement.

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I would never have the slightest interest in attempting to measure this. My observations are entirely subjective, not scientific. I’ve always had this approach to hi-fi. I listen with my ears and whatever any measurements may tell me will not change what I hear. For those involved in R&D in a professional capacity clearly the situation is rather different.

I know some folk do take a great deal of pleasure in measuring things. Even to the extent that they sometimes are guided by these measurements rather than what they hear. Each to his/her own. There are no absolute right or wrongs here. Just do whatever makes you happy. No point otherwise.

The devices I have employed are claimed to lower the noise floor of a system and to my ears that is the effect that they have. But to be clear about this the noise they eliminate is not anything that was previously noticeable as audible noise. So yes recording tape hiss is well above the noise floor of any but the most dire systems. There would need to be considerable background hiss to mask it. But the reduction in noise manifests rather as blacker backrounds, more space around instruments/voices and as everything snapping into much shaper focus. Also, and not directly related to what we are discussing, much improved musicality - for want of a better term. This seems peculiar to digital streaming systems. Noise destroys the music and doesn’t impact on CD or analog systems in the same way.

My statement that tape hiss was previoiusly buried in a sea of noise was not a good description actually. What really seems to be happening is that the lowering of the noise floor has simply allowed everything to be rendered far more explicitly. This is both good and bad. One would rather the bad remain less visible, but once the door is opened wide enough it will let everything through.


Great post well explained. :+1:t2:


Absolutely though I would say most as opposed to everything- and allows you to enjoy the recordings more. My comment was about the term ‘lowering the noise floor’ which is over used and incorrectly (in my opinion, its kind of become the new “inky black”). Anyway sounds like you have successfully removed certain noise sources, or smearing or got better definition equipment and therefore you can enjoy your recordings more. Congrats. I certainly do… and that is what its all about :grinning:

I have found micro dynamics and low phase distortion really adds to the sense of realism, naturalness and presence - without the need to require artificial highlighting or brightness. Sounds become easier to listen to immerseively, lyrics often become a lot more lucid in complex mixes. For me that translates to both digital and analogue sources. Often analogue is inherently noisier than digital in terms of noise floor - and in fact we tend to like a noisier sound, just look at the popularity of many valve designs - sometimes we call it out as more ‘analogue’ sounding rather than digital.

In the world of music production there are processes that can be applied to artificially make a track sound more analogue, organic or atmospheric by adding carefully shaped noise - it’s a technique used that is quite common in commercial music.


I agree. Our ears are the only essential measure as a consumer. Our ears are different to each other too as are our brains that interpret what we hear so what sounds perfect to me may be more mediocre to you etc.

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That’s something I wasn’t expecting to find on the forum!

Indeed, it does make you wonder perhaps how many actually understand how the tracks and recordings are made, manipulated and processed to sound appealing and musical that we enjoy on our Naim systems.

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Yes. Certainly any kind of artificial highlighting, whilst it may be superficially impressive in the short term, ultimately sits between the listener and the true intention or nature of the music. Becoming closer to the music is a very difficult concept to put into words, but you are left in no doubt at all when it happens.

This was brought home forcefully to me when I recently upgraded from a Melco N100/Plixir PSU to a Melco N50-S38. Everything just sounds far more real and musical phrasings and interplay are far more explicit and involving. I was reminded that the source first concept, which I admittedly and wrongly came to view as rather over-played in some quarters, is in fact alive and well - just as it was back in the 70’s/80’s. Yes - I’ll eat my hat here - source does matter and it matters a hell of a lot. I was completely wrong to ever imagine otherwise.

As far as noise in analogue systems goes my experience is that yes it matters a lot, but what it doesn’t seem to do is to affect musical integrity. In streaming systems - and I include the way I use the Melco, which is via USB to a Chord Qutest DAC, noise seems to severely impact on musical performance. In a nut shell the whole thing becomes far less musically involving. I don’t know why - but that’s how I hear it. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my LP12 days. Having said that my LP12 days were a very long time ago and I haven’t used a turntable since. So maybe I’m wrong to think it does not affect musical integrity in analogue systems. The kind of noise reduction devices available to us now just didn’t exist back then. Paying the equivalent of £2K for a mains block would have pretty much labelled one as certifiable. Now it shows how hip and enlightened you are.


Yes source matters, once you have your room/speakers sorted, I shift focus to source then amp.


Right on Dude! I was just about to make that very point…

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I agree with you on source-first. For me it still holds. I tried to move away from my stone-age Melco a few times but it has become the new LP12 for me. It always comes back. I now just run its USB-out through a Singxer SU2 (cleaning up the digital) and then I2S to a NOS-DAC. Very simple digital but works really well for me.

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I very much find this also, and kind of find it annoying. I understand the presence of tape hiss sound on older recordings, but can anyone help me understand why I hear it on brand new recordings?

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Maybe it was recorded to tape? :person_shrugging:

There’s certainly hiss on many modern recordings but in this case it’s not tape hiss, it’s residual noise from recording/processing electronics. Yes it’s extremely annoying - I thought I’d left all that behind when I abandoned vinyl more than 30 years ago.

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Seems to be worse with recent recordings, maybe it’s just the proliferation of electronic gear used by artists these days.

I had the opportunity to attend a recording session with a group of audio enthusiasts. We listened to a jazz group playing whilst being recorded. We then listened to a quick mix on a high end system. The thing that struck most of us was how the judicious use of compression made the playback recordings a more enjoyable listening experience than the live version.

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