The Systematic Approach Blogs by Steve Elford – Part 8 'The Transparency Concept'

For this post I’m going to talk about an important system concept - transparency. Transparency is a term we often use when describing the sound quality of a component, and in our mind we usually think of things like good imaging and a lot of detail. But that’s missing the point.

Let’s start from the basis that something that’s transparent will let things through - we say glass is transparent because it lets light through. A few hundred years ago people thought that window glass was transparent. But use it to make three or four lenses in a telescope and you’d soon hit a problem – it was far from transparent for that application. The lenses in a telescope are very much like the components in a hifi system, they have to let the musical signal flow through, but inevitably they will each lose clarity and add colouration to the system as a whole. From this you get the idea how you could start to improve the overall transparency of our telescope by upgrading each lens at a time with a more transparent alternative. And this brings out three important truths:

1. You can’t turn a mediocre telescope into a paragon of transparency by just upgrading one lens.

2. In a moderately good telescope it doesn’t make sense to repeatedly upgrade just one lens.

3. It doesn’t make sense to keep upgrading all but one lens - no matter how transparent all the other lenses are, the transparency of the telescope will be dictated by the one poor lens.

And these three ‘transparency rules’ apply equally to hifi. The only sensible way to go with both telescopes and hifi is to assess how transparent the whole system is, as a set, and make sure we explore upgrade options with our three rules in mind. And, surprisingly, it’s the third rule that catches customer’s out the most – we can fall into the trap of testing and upgrading most of the system but stick doggedly with one part that is low in transparency. That might be for practical or domestic reasons, such as an old pair of speakers we like the look of, or remaining with a poor rack and support solution because we don’t want to find a bit more space for the hifi. Or it might be a less obvious culprit like the bells and whistles mains regenerator we bough at half price on eBay.

I hope it doesn’t sound harsh saying these things. For a few of our customers, my comments will reflect some of the recent advice we have given them, and which, to their great credit they have accepted with exceptionally good grace. Our job, when we set up a two-week home demo, is to to find out how your system stacks up as a tube full of lenses.