Plankton... and the ability to resolve properly

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by Mikoss, Sep 14, 2016.

  1. Mikoss

    Mikoss Friend

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    I wanted to share a discussion that I had with @Griffon a couple of years ago, because it's about nerdy plankton shit that may be enjoyable. Basically, we were comparing a bunch of cans before going to a meet, and we got to discussing plankton. Marv had written quite a bit about it on CS, and @Griffon wanted to share some thoughts with me.

    We were both in agreement that brighter headphones may highlight treble areas where details may be "hidden" by other cans, however artificially pushing those areas into the FR doesn't create resolution. Bright headphones can still be poor at overall resolution, simply because their tricked out FR gets old very quickly when compared to a more balanced, refined presentation. I would argue that hearing the treble details with proper timbre does a lot more for overall resolution, than simply just hearing them "easier" with a brighter headphone.

    Something else that came to mind for myself was that initially, I believed my definition of plankton as being low level information/micro detailing, which often can be heard as details trailing the initial note. This would also be the ability of the driver to resolve the sustained information; to pick up background reflections which add to the vocal mix and give a sense of recording space.

    I still believe this is true, however, I also believe that if plankton is the ability of the driver to resolve micro-detailing, this detail retrieval also contributes to much more than just a sense of sustain, or space. I believe it extends to the tonal nuance- for example, the ability to hear how the vibrations on each string of the guitar are creating these tiny, low level sounds, which create the overall sound of the guitar.

    This changed my thoughts on plankton at the time, from being those lower level sounds, to actually being essential in other ways as well.

    One of the cans we spent a bunch of time with were the LCD-3 fazors. ZOMG, the latest and greatest... only I felt they kind of sucked at overall resolution. We ended up playing The Shape of My Heart by Sting about a million times, as it has some guitar/vocals and string which have the ability to sound nuanced/textured and revealing. The LCD's did a great job with initial attack, however I never felt like they were properly resolving the guitar. They weren't properly resolving the nuances in the strings... they were quick and precise (although tuned with a warm FR), but they weren't able to bring out the plankton which I believed produced the tonal nuances. Conversely, recently spending time with the Andromedas, the first song I put on, I could hear the guitar translating properly.

    I think it's nice to have "friendly" tuning, however, I believe that headphones can still be tuned more bass heavy, or brighter while still either excelling at overall resolution, or lacking overall resolution. I wouldn't say that plankton retrieval itself is ultimate resolution, as having a "limp-dick" response, lacking proper weight or punch is also a deal breaker.

    Edit: Link to CS plankton thread... http://webcache.googleusercontent.c...www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,1856.0.html
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2016
  2. Ryu

    Ryu Friend

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    So in a TL;DR form, Plankton is the how well the headphone picks up on the tiny nuances of the music? For example, the fading effect of the coins hitting the other coins in the intro to Money by Pink Floyd or in your example the guitar strings finishing their vibrations and transitioning to the next tone. What I want to know is how we can measure and "define" plankton. I want a set of words or phrases that really define the (levels?) that the headphone has. Please correct me if I have any of this wrong.
     
  3. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    ...or Corrine Bailey Rae's lipstick. Seriously.... listen..... ;)
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yup, yup, yup.

    While this site was founded on measurements, it's plankton that serves as the foundation of good sound. Others may concentrate on tonal shaping to individual tastes, transient response, fast decay, low distortion. These are all important. But paramount is that all musical information be communicated. Once this happens, there is magic.
     
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  5. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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    Fascinating post, Mikoss. It got me thinking about how synergy is not just between equipment, but between equipment and user. The experienced listener is able to understand and discern what the whole chain has to offer.

    Thinking how there is an aesthetic component to plankton, like being able to see the ridges, patterns and bumps in the oil paint when a Van Gogh is seen in person.
     
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  6. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    Folks seem to use reductive arguments regarding plankton and its existence. Like when people say that lower amplitude signals should be just as easily represented by Playback system X vs Playback system Y. Mathematically there is no obvious reason why the micro information is any different from the macro. That of course assumes that we are dealing with totally linear systems, which I think is a reasonable assumption until someone provides a more measurable dataset to contradict that assumption. But nonetheless, we are talking about perceived sonics which are so much more complex than what any single metric can show us. And that's also why I would not take a "perfect" amplitude linearity plot between an 009 and a Utopia as absolute proof that there is no difference in microresolution and plankton ability between those two components ( or any others).

    Again, these auditory qualities we hear are relative, so the fact that you play some Youtube version of a song and happen to hear the shaker in the left side on your earpods, is not proof of its extraordinary plankton abilities. Once you move over to an HD800 on a top-tier rig, the relative difference in plankton you'll hear in that shaker should be obvious. You'll hear the defined texture, start and stop, the composition of the beads, etc. You can hear the shaker on the less resolving system, but you're not really hearing all the shaker. The instrument takes up space on the sonic stage and it has a certain size (width height depth) and dimension (edges rounded, precise, or maybe deformed) so when we're talking about plankton we're not only talking about the image itself but all of the things around the image that put it in context and make it complete. That's why resolution is important because of how it connects the musical moments to one another, and back around to the listener. And that's why plankton is important because it provides a whole missing layer that wasn't apparent before, and in that, contributes to greater depth of experience for the listener.
     
  7. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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    @OJneg, the shaker is an excellent example, I think.
     
  8. castleofargh

    castleofargh Acquaintance

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    what about trying to learn the relationship between measurements and perception instead of making up words for the perception side of things and then struggle to link it to reality because it's a mind construct? if you had approached this as frequency response and masking (which seems kind of the obvious first element given what you try to describe), it would have been easier to explain when and why something might be perceived or lost depending on FR. unlike "plankton", people have worked on the relation between psycho acoustic and frequency response so masking is a well documented thing nowadays.
     
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  9. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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    @castleofargh , surely there is room for both. Plankton, as a metaphor, works. I have no facility yet for measurements, would like to develop some. So for now, this is a way for this experience to be articulated, and hence, to be shared.
     
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  10. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    You're not at all being clear to me. Are you trying to say that you would prefer to describe "plankton" as a lack of low level masking? While that might be one possible interpretation of what we are trying to describe, using the term "masking" brings along the baggage of that term especially as it relates to auditory masking. Auditory masking is more related to the phenomena of large signals/noise making soft sounds unintelligible, so we're talking about human perception rather than inherent transducer ability to actually present those soft sounds. Is there any reason to believe (given a reasonable amount of level matching and the same set of recordings) that the large signals presented by the HD800 are not masking the low level signals, while the large level signals in an 009 are? If you have any theories regarding the mechanism that might be behind that, feel free to air them as I would be interested.

    Otherwise the phenomena that we describe as plankton doesn't seem to be related to auditory masking (or at least not as I have traditionally seen auditory masking defined). If there are some resources on auditory masking that could better explain our ever so misguided creation of the term "plankton", please enlighten us. Otherwise I would determine that the term is no less useful than "masking" in terms of efficiently describing the phenomena we hear and is not in fact redundant as you claim.
     
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  11. castleofargh

    castleofargh Acquaintance

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    well sorry, wikipedia doesn't give me a great deal of details about plankton as you guys seem to use it ^_^(must say I had never seen that term before so I imagine it's a changtstar thing?). so I based my comment on Mikoss's post entirely.
    this looks like an interpretation thing and not an objective matter. isn't it totally about human perception? I don't see a measurement or a method to quantify plankton, only that it's something you feel that doesn't seem to relate directly to physical sound characteristics. a little like soundstage I would think. we feel it, we can sometimes agree on it, but there isn't a single set of measurements to define it because it's a mind construct. I didn't mean to just switch the term plankton with masking and be done with it(that would be just as bad and forgetting about distortions, damping, phase, etc). just that masking looked like it could be a start to explain a good deal of OP's post and has the great advantage of being documented and accepted as a concensus.
    to show how I see this in relation to masking, sorry in advance for the quoting destruction I'm likely to make. @Mikoss this is all to try and answer @OJneg's post.
    can at least in part be explained by masking. if the trebles are way too quiet compared to the rest, it feels like we don't get all the sound we should. if the frequency response rolls too much, then there will be some masking from the louder and lower frequencies(like louder 6khz might have a masking effect on a quieter 8khz). it usually works like that, the masking of a sound is most effective(in a bad way) if the louder signal is at or slightly lower frequency.
    so it makes sense that a brighter signature could let us perceive low level details that would be masked in a flat or warm frequency response.

    well that also is logical, just making things louder can only work to a point. maybe the quieter signal we further unmask weren't all that relevant for the music? maybe the treble boost isn't linear enough so it generates plenty of isolated masks even though the general sound is bright? maybe it's just that boosting something will always end up masking something else, just making everything louder isn't the magical answer we were all waiting for.
    masking work usually suggest that a balance is the most effective way to maximize perceived information, and Floyd Toole would often argue that flat sound is the most revealing sound. so what Mikoss said makes sense and works relatively well with masking theory. again I wouldn't go so far as saying it's all there is, because obviously that would be disregarding distortions , ringing and general loss of the original signal. but even those aspects are IMO closely related to masking. when there is distortion of a tone, we could say from signal perspective that the result is the original tone+something else. and same with noise. so what's relevant is where that added sound is relatively to the original tone and how loud it is. that too follows masking theory pretty well. it's always one sound taking priority over another sound in our brain.

    again micro detail, low level information, from a psycho acoustic point of view, it's as much a matter of the information being there as it is not having louder sounds masking them.

    how we perceive sound will obviously change when we perceive a different sound, and of course some low level cues can/may be used by the brain to create more than just more felt micro details, as sound is what the brain uses to build the whole shebang in our head. so I guess I agree but not with how it's presented.

    this is typically the kind of stuff that will never work for me. "properly" is in Mikoss mind and based on anything but the original reference. we weren't in the studio, we don't know how the mics were placed or how it was mastered and sounded like in the studio, so we effectively do not have a reference to tell if the sound is right or not. all assumptions are based on how each of us imagine the guitar should sound. I can't see how this could relate to reproduction quality and details and this is why I reject so many subjective comments. not for being subjective but because without a clear reference it's all guessing at best and false assumptions in general.

    this could be back into masking. some magnitudes of change in the low end is still perceived as a change, but it might not alter the masking of the mids too much or change the overall feeling of details depending on the music content and which part of the music plays the most important part in giving us an impression of low level details or general resolution.
     
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  12. lm4der

    lm4der A very good sport - Friend

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    @OJneg just want to toss a compliment your way for those really well written posts about plankton! Very well explained, at least to me.

    Edit: Not to diminish the OP, also nicely done @Mikoss
     
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  13. lm4der

    lm4der A very good sport - Friend

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    One thing that confuses me about this - sometimes it seems to me that people are describing different _types_ of resolution or detail. For example, maybe saying macro detail is different than micro detail, or something like that. Is this the case? To me, it just seems like there is one focus knob for resolution / detail. When the focus is sharp, then you can hear the sound of the room, decay, etc, aka plankton. Maybe people just mean that those types of details come across differently when we hear them, but that it is still just turning up the focus knob that gets you the plankton?

    Edit: tl;dr does plankton become audible due to detail resolution?
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
  14. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    We have found some correlation with the "sound floor" of the 6kHz to 9kHz area of the V1 coupler CSDs presented with super low floors. The overall problem is that current measurement visualizations trade off time domain information for frequency domain information. Now just because it can't be measured with our current methods (and visualization techniques) doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    A example of this would be the HD650 Dynamat mods. Both @Bill-P and I were looking for solid evidence, but nothing came up that gave us confidence, considering how difficult it is to get consistent repeatable results within even less than 1db, from the "standard "suite of distortion measurements via centered impulse responses. It was only perhaps a year later that I figured out how to demonstrate measure-able effects of the Dynamat.

    Finally, we are having a big meet in November in Los Angeles. Unlike New York, which has some nice places to visit, Los Angeles is a cesspool of a city governed by corrupt and incompetent politicians, and increasing in zombie population. But there are some nice areas a few hours away where you can see the majestic beauty of America's outdoors. You should swing by and we can give you a demonstration of plankton. Perhaps even a blind test, also involving other subjects.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
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  15. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    I think as you kick up the resolution knob (which might be different than the focus knob; focus isn't an audio term I use often) you get more macro and micro detail. So by definition more plankton means more resolution, if you accept that plankton and microdetail are in fact defined as I have just stated (i.e. subsets of resolution). I think most of us would agree that there is a general trend of more resolving components gaining more or less an even amount of macro and micro detail. Meaning, if you were to chart the least resolving to most resolving headphones via a panel of Friends, you would see macro and micro detail scale correspondingly in a general upward trend. That being said, a headphone that scores higher on that scale doesn't necessarily have more plankton, because there are other subsets that make up resolution.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2016
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  16. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Think photoshop sharpening filter.

    Grado SR120: macro detail galore. minimal microdetail
    HD800: macro detail galore, shitload o' plankton
    Utopia: motherlode o' plankton, not detailed (macro) in your face
    HD650: not very detailed (macro), but lots o' plankton
     
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  17. lm4der

    lm4der A very good sport - Friend

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    Ahhh... macro detail can be emphasized like a sharpening filter adds contrast.
     
  18. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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    Is there an example of micro detail vs. macro detail that comes to mind? Struggling to understand the distinction...
     
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  19. ohhgourami

    ohhgourami Friend

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    smh
     
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  20. knerian

    knerian Friend

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    This is a great point and something that is overlooked or ignored ALL THE TIME.

    And to take it even a step further consider that with acoustic music it is already hard enough to know what the original sounded like, you can't base it on familiarity with how instruments should sound as there are not-subtle differences between the sounds of varying brands of instruments, even within the same brand there are different models. The acoustic space of the recording affects the sound the mic is picking up, not to mention the huge effect that the recording methods themselves (mic placement, numbers of mics, post processing of sound) influence the final mix. Some engineers want to go for a completely natural sound, some want to go for a multi-mic'd, hyper-real sound, some want to minimize the effects of the acoustic space, some want to capture it. Pick 10 different recordings of the same classical piece and you can tell right away they all sound completely different.

    When we're talking about amplified music, there really isn't a reference. One could argue for the studio monitors, but even the sound coming out of the monitors is not an accurate reproduction of the original sound because due to mixing it is a construct designed by the mixing/recording engineer, producer, artist, etc.
     

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