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Do Electrostatic Speakers Ever Quit Changing?

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karma

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HI All,
Here is a question for you long-time electrostatic speaker owners. Do the speakers ever quit changing? I have noticed that even after 15 or more years, my CLS IIA speakers continue to change and continue to get better. At this stage of use, the changes are small, subtle, and not noticeable on a daily or even monthly basis. But periodically, I notice the speakers have changed once again, always for the better.

I bought my CLS II’s (later upgraded to the A’s) when they first hit the market. I’m still using the original panels and they sound glorious. My original expectations of the speakers were unrealistic as time has proven. I foolishly thought that once the initial break-in period was past (stated as 40 hours) the speakers would be stable and unchanging. I was wrong. Additionally, I think 40 hours is not realistic and should be stated to be about 100 hours. Even after 100 hours, the speakers continued to change.

I have no long term experience with other ML speakers or other brands of electrostatic speakers. This continuous changing of the panels may apply to all stats, not just CLSII’s.

I’m trying to determine the following:
1. Have other CLS owners noticed the long term changes I have?
2. Have owners of other ML models noticed this effect?
3. Have owners of other brands of electrostatic speakers noticed this effect?

Let me give you a little background that is applicable to the question. After the first two years of CLS ownership, my system (see my signature) has been stable with the exceptions of a new cartridge once in a while and new tube sets. I have fully replaced the tubes in my power amp three times and my preamp tubes twice during my CLS ownership. As you tube amp folks know, each tube set change results in a new sound until the new tubes fully break-in. Even then, the amp may not sound exactly the same as it did with the old tube set. Then there is the inevitable decline in the sound as the tubes lapse into old age. Such is the nature of tubes.

The point is this. From an equipment view, my system has been essentially identical over the CLS years. But, sonically it has not been completely stable due to the tubes. This is not an ideal situation when I try to make the case that the panels change continuously. In other words, what exactly IS changing? I tend to dismiss the possible changes in the tube equipment because they have always settled out to a constant or at least very close. Over time, I have determined that the long term changes I am writing about are due to the CLS’s and not the amplification. Adding strength to my proposition is the basic stability of the system and the fundamental stability of the Audio Research designs.

So, what are your experiences? If you don’t have many years of listening to the same speakers under very stable system conditions, you may not be able to confirm or deny my proposition. No matter. I still want to hear your views. But do try to qualify your opinion with a consideration of the stability of your system. I believe trying to determine subtle speaker changes when the system is constantly changing would be difficult if not impossible.

Thanks, Sparky
 

risabet

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One would hope that any device would reach a level of stability at some point. I've not noticed continued changes but maybe that's just me. Possibly atmospherics are affecting the panel tension or the charge ability of the panel. Just guessing on my part!
 
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karma

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HI risabet,
How long have you been using your current speakers (which speakers are they?) with your current system in your current room with the current room treatments? It is important to define the conditions under which you are making your judgment call.

One would hope for stability. But that's not what I'm hearing. Understand, I'm not claiming huge changes. They are very small but they add up over time. No one but a nit picking audiophile like me would hear them. Also, nobody is as familiar with my system as I am. I'm not looking for changes. I just notice them and make note.

Sparky
 
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K

karma

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HI Atty,
No doubt true. But please give me more credit than that as a critical listener. Is this issue so over the line that it won't draw a serious response?

Sparky
 

TomDac

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Hey Sparky,

why are you be purchasing new panels (click here to see the thread) if your speakers are sounding better and better all the time? :confused:

Enlighten us.
 

DTB300

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As you tube amp folks know, each tube set change results in a new sound until the new tubes fully break-in. Even then, the amp may not sound exactly the same as it did with the old tube set. Then there is the inevitable decline in the sound as the tubes lapse into old age. Such is the nature of tubes.
I think all here that run any type of tube equipment let it be Pre or Power would agree that the sound changes over time with the aging of tubes.

Over time, I have determined that the long term changes I am writing about are due to the CLS’s and not the amplification.
But here you contradict yourself, stating that the amplification is not causing the change in your speakers. Yet in the statement above you make a point that tubes do change over time. :confused:

I totally agree with Attyonline, that we become acustom to the sound of our systems over time. Tube changes again can confirm this statement. Yet with tube equipment, we can sit there and say, "... it does not sound right, I better buy some new tubes". And VOILA...we get a new sound. So was the sound really that bad, or did we just want to make a change for the sake of Joey-Itis????

Why look for a change??? Sit a listen to music and enjoy it. Make your tube changes on a timely basis for your amps and pre. And, again, as you stated, when new tubes go in, the sound will change.

Oh, and before you get defensive or in a huff again as you did before, do not take this as bait, or confrontational, you started the thread and wanted some opinions...
 
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K

karma

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Hey Sparky,

why are you be purchasing new panels (click here to see the thread) if your speakers are sounding better and better all the time? :confused:

Enlighten us.
HI Tom,
If I were sure that I could buy the panels forever, I would not buy any now. As it is, and I have explained this before, my right speaker has lost some sensitivity over time. It does still sound great but I must balance it for a proper image. I don't want to get caught with no replacement panels in the event it fails. I don't know yet if I will actually install the replacements. At least I will have them if needed.

As you can see, I plan on keeping these speakers for a long time.

Sparky
 

attyonline

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HI Atty,
No doubt true. But please give me more credit than that as a critical listener. Is this issue so over the line that it won't draw a serious response?

Sparky
There is no objective proof of the phenomena that you have described. No competently designed speaker that is in good working order has constantly changing sound quality for years at a time. If you perceive a difference in sound quality, it is somewhere other than your speakers, either upstream from your speakers or in your head.
 

JonFo

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Karma,

While I think panels do change over time, it's generally not in a positive direction. And by positive, I mean that they'd improve their measured performance vs their perceived performance.

If the slight high-end roll-off of an aging panel is more attractive to a listener, then they might be perceived as 'improving'. But that 'improvement' could have been had at any time with some EQ.

Having recently measured old vs new panels as I re-paneled Monoliths and SL3’s, I can say that the measured characteristics favor the new.

I can also confirm there is a very slight improvement after the 40 hours or so of break-in. But I believe most people are really just acclimatizing to the ‘new’ sound of the speaker, vs the speaker itself radically changing.
After 40 hrs, unless there are external factors, like dust or upstream components, an ESL panel will be quite stable. However, over years, that will start to degrade as noted elsewhere.

Now, we do need to throw in environmental impacts as well, as air pressure, humidity and airborne particulates can and do impact performance to some degree on a week to week basis. What degree that is, I’ve not seen any research on. My guess is it’s negligible.

We all keep saying how revealing the ML’s are to upstream components, and I fully support that notion, which makes me wonder if what you are hearing isn't the changes in your tube gear vs the panels.
That would my first point of inquiry before looking at panels. Tube gear measurably varies over time, and from yours and others accounts, does so audibly as well.

I know in my system, the speakers kept sounding better and better over the years, but it was due to the changes I was doing upstream. The only time the speakers themselves got noticeably better was when I changed the panels and / or the woofers for new ones.
 
K

karma

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HI All,
Well, we have some good thinking going on here.

I seem to be the only one, so far, who is sensing long term changes. But are all of you dissenters in a position to support your position? The reason I went to some trouble to outline my stable system situation, and the possible variables, is because I thought I would probably be a rare case where my system has not been through significant upgrades. Thus, maybe I'm one of the few who could actually detect the changes.

No one else seems willing to back their opinion with a stable system and room situation. Thus, how can you be so confident of your opinions?

I can accept the opinion that what I am hearing is either in my head or that the speakers are changing in a less than good direction from a measured viewpoint. Countering this view is what I perceive as improved performance.

As we all know, in order to determine the change in sound resulting from a change in our systems we must change only one thing at a time. Yet, over time (a long time in this case), I'll bet that most have made many system and room changes. So, again, I ask how you can elevate your views above just a personal opinion? That's why I originally asked you to qualify your statements after considering the changes you have made.

While my system may be in a unique position to exhibit the changes I'm talking about, I'll be the first to admit that even in my situation the sound is a moving target. Ideally, great solid state amplification (very stable) would be in use, the same phono cartridge would be used, and CD's offered a level of subtlety that could provide an unquestioned signal source. I could hope that my ears would not change but I know they do. And I don't have sufficient influence with GOD to control the weather and atmospheric pressure. I agree that all these things make a scientifically based statement impossible.

So we end up with your opinion verses mine. I wish I could do better. I wish you could too.

Does this not sound like the situation that gave birth to the arguments that surrounded designer cables when they first hit the market and still rages today? Some (me) insisted that cables made a difference and others argued with just as much energy that copper is copper. I'll bet that this very division exists on this forum. There are no objective tests that can prove either view. We only have our ears to fall back on.

Jonfo,
Can you explain exactly how you measured your old and new panels? I would like to do the same but I don’t know of a really valid set of tests. And certainly, I don’t know of a set of tests that will demonstrate the subtle changes I hear. I do have the necessary test equipment to run tests except a really high quality calibrated mic. All of my equipment is modern Tektronix, including an audio frequency spectrum analyzer and signal generation and harmonic distortion analyzers capable of measuring down to .0001% THD. I can also do precision frequency sweeps. This equipment are all left over from my high end repair shop that I sold about 5 years ago.

Off hand, I would use a white noise generator (I don’t have a pink noise generator) and do a spectrum analysis off a calibrated mic. This is the only way I could integrate room effects. I would like to hear your thoughts on this. A frequency sweep also might be useful again using the spectrum analyzer. These are painful processes because the spectrum analyzer is slow at audio frequencies. Also, I’m not at all sure I could correlate the results to audible effects.

Thanks, Sparky
 
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attyonline

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I do not think anyone has ever claimed a mechanical device like a speaker sounds "better" each succeeding year for many years. If anything, its performance should slowly degrade over time as noted in an earlier post. Your subjective reaction to the sound of your system is not proof it sounds objectively better. But since that term has no objective definition, there is no way to debate the issue, since I cannot hear with your ears and brain, to know what specifically sounds "better."
 

jmschnur

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The ML electrostatics clearly need to be cleaned (vaccumed) every few months. Variations in cleaning times and methods well lead to changes over time. Environmental effects may also be important as the speaker ages. Mylar itself should not change but I am not sure about its ablitiy to sustain charge.

Joel
 

amey01

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Mine change constantly, but not always for the better - sometimes just different. Atmospherics have a lot to do with this, particularly humidity. So does the interval at which you clean them. Also worth noting, this has been happening in my system long before I got electrostatics - who knows why - maybe it's just my perception or the mood i'm in - maybe it is the power, maybe it is ambient noise levels, maybe it is ground vibrations - probably a combination of all of the above.
 

DTB300

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Your subjective reaction to the sound of your system is not proof it sounds objectively better. But since that term has no objective definition, there is no way to debate the issue, since I cannot hear with your ears and brain, to know what specifically sounds "better."
Very well put!!!! Massive brownie points for you Attyonline!!!!!

To address the validity of an opinion. What sounds better to one person, does not mean it will sound better to another. It is the opinion of the listener, and the opinion is neither right, nor wrong, just an opinion. You can agree with it, or disagree with it for YOUR opinion, but the original opinion still stands. There does not have to be any facts, valid measurements, or analyzed/verified results to back an opinion up, it is an opinion. So all this hoopla about stated opinions in this thread lacking credibility and confidence to back them up is just hogwash. It is just an opinion.:banana:

Dan
 

enilsen

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I think this is a very interesting observation from karma in spite of what many would think about aging panels. One thing I have noticed when experimenting with Mylar coatings is that the newly coated panels are very bright in sound and they do calm down a lot within the first couple of weeks. This is not a subtle change but quite significant.

As time goes on they gradually require a little more energy to drive and would appear to be more balanced in sound. I believe there must be some lose of static charge held by the Mylar over time which accounts for this phenomenon (similar to aging capacitors). Personally I do prefer panels that require more energy to work. It kind of reminds me of the days when you could choose between 4 or 8 ohm speakers and I always felt the 8 ohm elements sounded better.

The tension in the Mylar can also be a factor here. Newly stretched Mylar can be too tight initially so the bass can appear to be lacking, but over time it relaxes and finds a balance. In some cases the Mylar needs to be tighter when the diaphragm travel slaps against the stators at very low volumes (a hair dryer can fix this).

At the end of the day your panels’ maybe sounding their best at that balanced age just before they start to sound not so good. :rolleyes:
 

kwr

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HI Atty,
No doubt true. But please give me more credit than that as a critical listener. Is this issue so over the line that it won't draw a serious response?

Sparky
Probably :D - you are swimming upstream maintaining that your audio memory is stable over long periods of time - maybe it is. Difficult to understand a transducer continuing to improve over long periods of time. Most drift and require recalibrating.

We have had Monoliths for a decade with two different rooms and two different sets of amplification. FWIW we were considering rebuilding them (new panels, woofers) and running an active crossover. If we do this will be in ideal situation to test your premise. The new panels will not sound as good as the old ones.

Kevin
 

JonFo

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Probably :D - you are swimming upstream maintaining that your audio memory is stable over long periods of time - maybe it is. Difficult to understand a transducer continuing to improve over long periods of time. Most drift and require recalibrating.

We have had Monoliths for a decade with two different rooms and two different sets of amplification. FWIW we were considering rebuilding them (new panels, woofers) and running an active crossover. If we do this will be in ideal situation to test your premise. The new panels will not sound as good as the old ones.

Kevin
Kevin, I can help you there, as I can pretty much gurantee it will sound better if you do what you proposed. As noted and meaured in several threads with measurements I've made (see: http://www.martinloganowners.com/~tdacquis/forum/showpost.php?p=19079&postcount=59), the new Panels are much better, the woofer is significantly better and using active crossovers with delay and EQ adjustments an even bigger benefit still.

Using memory to detect long-term change in sound is very tricky. Which is why I've been measuring my set-up with ETF and and a DBX calibrated Mic for the past six years. This has allowed me to see where the issues are and whether I've managed to correct them.

The one constant in my measurements are the room dimensions. Otherwise, I'm tuning treatments, drivers, and upstream components in search of 'better sound'.

The good news is, one can indeed achieve that with some effort.

I don't know if anyone who had the opportunity to measure their room and system would do so and not change anything and re-measure over time to prove the OP theory.
Maybe the QC dept. at a place like Harman might do long-term stability tests? Something to look into Sparky.
 
K

karma

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Probably :D - you are swimming upstream maintaining that your audio memory is stable over long periods of time - maybe it is. Difficult to understand a transducer continuing to improve over long periods of time. Most drift and require recalibrating.

Kevin
HI All and kwr,
Audio memory is a very interesting issue. I did not bring it up because I don't think that's what is really going on. But, it is a good thing to bring into the discussion. I want to talk about an effect I'm sure all of you serious audiophiles have experienced from time to time.

First, I'm a very experienced critical listener. I am familiar with the short term nature of sonic memory. I have no idea if my sonic memory is better or worse than what other folks experience.

Next, I do not want to play games with words. Rather, I want to describe how I become aware of the changes in my CLS's. I'm going to differentiate between sonic memory and sonic realization. I would describe hearing long term changes with my CLS's more like "What's that? Did I just notice a change? Interesting, I wonder why?"

Thus begins a process of trying to isolate the effect and make an attempt to describe what I'm hearing in words. This is a technique I've used over the years to help solidify my thoughts.

My point is that I am not in a state of mind that is looking for changes. Instead, I will "notice something" that I had not noticed before. I call this "sonic realization". It always catches me by surprise. I'm sure many of you have experienced this in your listening adventures.

It seems that my "Notice Threshold" functions in discrete steps. Changes below the threshold do not get noticed. But accumulated change can become sufficient to exceed my Notice Threshold and.......the change gets noticed.

Is this the same as sonic memory? I don't think so. I feel that sonic memory exhibits itself entirely in the conscious mind. I will actually remember a specific sound. That's not the case with sonic realization which I believe operates on a subconcious level (below the level of conciousness) and is more of a notification system.

I'm sorry I had to get into some esoteric ideas that may not interest you but I think they are important to our understanding of the total listening experience.

Sparky
 
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Gordon Gray

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My two cents

Sparky,

I've owned four pairs of ML's. My most recent is the Summit. I, like many others in this forum, are pretty die hard audioholics and probably have a tendency to over listen / analyse at times. For example, my system will always sound different when I come back from a vacation and haven't listened to it for awhile. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. My sense is that it's caused by our auditory memory and some subconcious reaction thereof.

I know that when I clean / destat my cables and connections, the system sounds very different. More open but texturally drier, less liquid. I think if you have tubes in your system, as I have had from time to time, you will hear the tubes "aging".

My silly system is so revealing that, at this time, turning off the display light on my Theta Miles CD player is audible. Go figure.

After being an audioholic for some 25 years, I've come to the conclusion that the hardware / software is simply the messenger and if you enjoy the message, that's all that matters.

GG
 
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