24 Feb What nobody tells you and admits about Funktion One
Everytime I read another interview with Tony Andrews, the man behind the famous Funktion One (F1) or hear him talking about the problems with global audio quality or even bragging about their own sound quality and how totally bad all other speakers are I feel the need to put things into perspective, but I can’t comment on everything. He even mostly manages to make the stuff he says sound reasonable to the layman. So I had to do some writing on this and here it is.
Why don’t I like the F1? It is because my music sounds totally crappy on F1! What? Come on, why would I tell you that, since, it could easily be used against me. But i’ll come to that. Far more it is because I don’t like it if someone spreads wrong information and even more I don’t like if something is hyped. But my main reason is that speakers like Funktion One force musicians and producers to produce their music in a certain way, because most other ways don’t sound well on them.
If you think I’m an idiot now and your are convinced that F1 sounds great because you heard it yourself let me tell you, that I understand you. But there are two things left unconsidered:
1: It’s all a question of comparisons
First, I understand that so many people believe the F1 is a great system and are also rightfully convinced of that! It’s simple: if you only hear totally crappy PA-speakers all your life and then hear a F1 you will probably think it’s the fucking best system you have ever heard. How would anyone who hasn’t heard better, or not in a short period of time within each other, know that in reality the F1 is only average? How would anyone know what they are missing on top of that? To be honest: There probably even was a time at the end of the last millenium when F1 were among the top players in the business, but they forgot to go on, they have long been passed by many others but the hype and other terrible systems live on.
2: It’s not only bad
Second, F1 does indeed have some unique properties, besides the awsome look, which make them particularily attractive for a certain kind of music and a certain kind of music production. In fact it is of course electronic music. But not any electronic music. Due to their transient response, that is how quick they can react to the music, F1s sound particulary great with music that is minimalistic and clean. The less different sounds, the better. Take a kick, a hihat, a lead and a snare, run it through an F1 at high volumes and you will experience something that maybe even no other speaker company can do. It, almost literally, blows your brain out and even makes it feel kind of good. The pressure and precision is just insane and it sticks out.
Wait? Wasn’t that supposed to be a rant? Wasn’t I to tell you how average the F1 is? Yea, I’ll come to that. But I also wanted to make it a point that I actually understand what I’m talking about and do have a differenciated opinion about those speakers. Btw. I do know what I’m talking about because of a couple of other reasons. 1: I have been building, fixing, renting out PA-speakers and speakers since I was 15 years old, 2: I have been producing and writing music for almost 20 years, 3: I have organized several festivals and therefore chosen and worked with various professionals and their systems, 4: I’m a trained electronician, became physics teacher later, so do know my way around tech a bit. 5: I have played on F1s with my own music myself several times, one time at Boom Festival 2008, where F1 and Andrews himself is involved a lot. 6: I go to damn festivals for over 20 years, fuck.
So now that you know I can appreciate the strengths of the F1 and probably believe that I do have some background, lets come to the point where I tell you why I critizise those speakers and think that we should all burn them! Just kidding. I only want to raise some awareness.
Well, as I said earlier: My music sounds like crap on them. What does it mean? Now you say: “sure he hates them because they make him look bad”. But look, why do I tell you that? I don’t have to. I could just avoid this fact and give you one less point against me.
As you can see in the comments already, is that people who lack good arguments will definitly use this against me, instead of using good arguments. So it would be a better strategy to just not mention it at all. But I still do tell you because my music can be used as a great example of the one great weakness of the F1-System. In short: Midrange resolution! You sure know what resolution is in a screen or a digital photo, it is how many pixels fit on the screen and therefore how well you can see details in an image. I and some others use this word for speakers just the same. How many layers of sounds can you play through these speakers at the same time and still hear them appart? And that is where F1 fails.
Produce Music so it sounds good on everything… and F1
See, I always hated to produce my music so that, I quote mastering engineers and producers from all over the world: “it sounds great on all possible speakers and even smartphones and laptops”. I mean, come ON! Why should I miss out the opportunity to create something wonderful, diverse, complex with miriads of sounds just so that you can listen to it on dumb laptop speakers? I’ve always made it a point in my production to just ignore a wide portion of crappy speakers on this planet and concentrate on the better ones. In my studio I have a pair of Dynaudio BM6A and Genelecs 1037B. Not the best speakers in the world, but those speakers have an amazing resolution. It’s wonderful, you can play any song and you will hear new details that you never heard before. And this is how I make my music: For great speakers. I compromise very little for bad speakers with low resolution. And this is why my music sounds like crap on the F1.
F1 is not good for music with millions of details and layers and sounds, F1 are low-resolution speakers, only music with low resolution will sound truly great on them. A lot of music, especially often electronic music, is produced for low-resolution speakers simply because of the fact that every experienced electronic music producer knows very well that most PA-speakers are low resolution and therefore they match their music to the crappy speakers to make it sound well even on your kitchen radio. Of course many also truly like it extra clean, and like that “low resolutionish sound” because of their taste or their sub-genre, or they simply grew up knowing nothing else.
In any case, if you take some kind of low-resolution music and play it on F1 which are tuned in well it can sound quite good because of their transient response especially in bass. Also with non-electronic music, if the sound engineer who mixes the band makes sure that especially few frequencies clash and in the midrange section everything sits especially well in its place it can sound very nice.
I give you an example. If you had an F1 and say, a top notch db J-system line array side by side and you would play this song, it could well be, that the F1 would sound more impressive (not better, more impressive). The J-system would also sound very good, but definitly not as brain-shaking as the F1. But if you would play this song, it would again sound very beautiful on the J-system but it would sound terrible on the F1. And that is because the F1 lacks the resolution for the second example. The first example has very little going on (all in the right place though) and that is excellent for the F1, it can capitalize on that with its transient response. How did you listen to the examples? Listen to them on great speakers or great headphones.
And this is my main point. Once you play music with a lot going on in the midrange or which is simply aimed for high-quality speakers it will shockingly show F1s weakness. But at the point where that happens, people are too much believing in the quality of the F1 system that they will blame themselves, the dj or the producer. So does Andrews himself.
Questionable technological knowledge
By now you know everything you need to know, but if you are otherwise bored let me tell you some more things. Andrews, in interviews and lectures, never stops blaming the audio itself for the shitty soundquality at festivals or even through his own speakers. If he hears his speakers sound bad, he just blames the DJ or MP3.
He ends up stating technical facts that are just plain wrong. For example at a lecture at Boom 2010 he said FLAC is a lossy file format only slightly better than MP3 and should not be used by DJs. In fact FLAC is a lossless file format with the exactly same audio quality as a CD.
Like many others, he still believes that an MP3 file can never be good enough, which is as also very arguably wrong if you make a distinction in the conversion quality. At the same lecture at Boom 2010 he demonstrated the difference between an mp3 and CD by playing a 128bit mp3 file throug a small F1 and then comparing it to a CD. Of course the difference was easy to hear, since a 128kbps Mp3 sounds of course terrible. He said: “See?” Proud to have made his point. The thing is: Of course he was right, everyone can hear a 128bit mp3, but it has been shown many times over that even professional listeners can’t hear the difference between a 320kbps mp3 and a CD. (Wanna try?).
So I then asked him why he didn’t demonstrate a 320kbps mp3 file converted in the best algorythm. His answer? “because we wouldn’t have heard the difference”… think about that answer for a moment… I mean, seriously? What was that supposed to mean? There are really only two things: Either he just said that his F1s were not able to transmit the difference or that he actually just unproved his own point by saying a well encoded HQ mp3 can not be distinguished from a CD. Either way it was embarassing.
Across the board DSP-hate
Furthermore Andrews is a big hater for everything DSP (digital signal processing). You need to know: modern, great PA speaker makers, have actually understood that there are physical limits to a speaker and they way multiple speakers are arranged. There are physical limits to a membrane, to an enclosure made of wood or any compound used today and they have started to use computers (DSPs) to correct that physical limitations before the sound even goes into the amplifiers. The results are remarkable. He thinks it’s crap. Just because its digital. Andrews has a very narrow minded and incomplete view of the digital world and has no idea how amazing the possibilities are today. He probably heard some crapy DSPs 20 years ago when they still were crap and then he forgot that, you know, computer technology exploded and all. I do appreciate something good analogue, but I’m a proponent of “the best of the two worlds”.
As a side note, there are however people hating DSP who make far better points than Andrews.
But there is even more to come: There is one more reason why F1 is not only average but even obsolete: Sound distribution. Modern systems for example line arrays (of course he hates them too), are able to distribute the sound evenly over a wide area. That means the front row won’t have bleeding ears just so that the last row can hear anything at all. It means that the volume is much more constant everywhere on the floor. That is done with those speaker-bananas you see hanging at big concerts. Those bananas have a actually a nice trick up their sleeves. All those single speakers are actually providing sound for one slice of the dancefloor. Horizontally they spread their sound relatively wide, however vertically they have a very narrow distribution of only 15 Degrees or so. That might seem to be very narrow and it means if such a speaker is pointed above your head or at your feet you won’t hear it very loud. But since you stack those speakers on top of each other and those speakers are curved it leads to each speaker delivering sound to another slice of the floor. The top most ones point to the back of the floor and the lower ones to the space directly bellow them. The top ones play of course much louder than the lower ones because they have to go farther. But not only that. In some systems the subwoofers don’t just point forward but also BACKWARDS with their phase inverted! They on purpose cancel out the sound that goes to the back and through precise phase shifting it no exactly 180° they actually can even shape the distribution of the bass over the dancefloor and make it less not only in the back but even on the sides. All digital of course. A modern Line Array can drastically reduce sound-pollution around the dancefloors.
I will cut the Point Source technique that F1 trys to apply some slack. You need to understand that whenever you have multiple speakers, those speakers will start to interfere with each other and this will reduce sound quality. Line Arrays try to solve this problem with their distribution angles and digitally, but run into limits with it. Point Source systems try to transmit all sound from just ONE POINT in order to not have interference. This is of course impossible, since LOUD speakers simply need space and can never be in one point. It can be approximated of course and from what I hear kv2 is doing quite a good job in doing so. The point source however can never address the problem of the front rows having bleeding ears, while in the back there is little volume or the problem with sound pollution outside the dancefloor. Except when the hang the speakers really high above the stage to equalize the distances to all people on the dancefloor. Some experiment with 4 point source speakers around the dancefloor, which then causes a new set of interference on the floor. There is almost religious level dispute between Line Arrays and Point Source systems and while I do advocate for Line Arrays here, I do believe that both kinds of system can sound brilliant, however so far the best I have heard are line arrays, all factors including sound pollution considered.
So what speakers are great speakers in my opinion? For our festival we rented first a d&b Q-system with Subs from their J-System and later a Kling & Freitag Sequenca. If we had more ressources I would try a full d&b J-System. But to be honest I’ve heard line arrays from Martin, Meyer, Clair and JBL all sounding better than an F1 without a lot of effort. That is why I say F1 is average at best. But hey, being average in 2016 with 1990s technology isn’t bad. I actually believe it needs a lot of skill, because I built my own speakers in the 90ties too and I would never have succeded to make them sound as an F1. So kudos for that Andrews! But it’s not the 90ties anymore. If you just want to beat your brains out with kicks and hihats I can totally recommend it. Just don’t ever think they are truly good speakers. Because good speakers can do more than that.