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The Keystone of Good Fi..... what does it for you?


esldude

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I am referring to what kinds of sound quality really gets you into enjoying the music? Whether a particular aspect of the sound reproduction or a particularly great piece of gear. And conversely what gets in the way, what kills the heady buzz of good music?

 

First time I heard some Quad's the midrange seemed so pure, and so right. There was no boxy coloration. I didn't know how much boxy resonance interfered until it was gone. I fell in love with the sound immediately. And it held up. It wasn't some spectacular quality that would grow old quickly. It was the reverse. Those speakers seemed to simply get out of the way and let music flow forth without encumbrance. Sins of omission seems to me are much easier to forgive than sins of commission.

 

Now those had some shortcomings. Not super dynamic, no deep bass, and even attenuated extreme treble. But adding any of those capabilities came at too high a price if it compromised what was so right about the simple direct midrange from those speakers. That quality was important enough most of my decisions in system configuration revolved around that.

 

There are other good qualities, and many choose those over what I did. Some qualities I can admire even if they don't quite speak to me. The dynamic power and jump of K-horns in a large space, or the ethereal 3D quality of some LS3/5A speakers. Of course I would like to have my cake and eat it too. Have some speakers with the pure, direct beautiful midrange, with fast lifelike dynamics and bandwidth from 20 hz to more than I can hear, combined with spacious 3D imaging you feel you could walk around in. But if the midrange is not right then it simply is a non-starter for me to enjoy long term.

 

The better speakers now are better than ever. Many different designs do very well at much more than one thing. They aren't any one trick pony. And upstream components still could make or break a speaker. It isn't as clear cut as in years past when speakers were more different, and even good one's more one dimensional. Still would like to hear how others approach something as their keystone for putting together systems that satisfy.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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There were two defining moments for me.

 

First one was when I was a student and heard some Dynaudio Contour 2 at a friend's place. The mids were resolving women voices so nice and back then I listened to a lot of Kari Bremnes etc. Total wow experience! I had to have a pair for myself and that is how I got started into hifi. Those babies needed a better amp than I had and so I bought my first pre-amp and power-amp separates. My 12 year old Technics CD player didn't fit nicely with the new components, so I upgraded to a TEAC VRDS 10. Hooked up a vinyl turntable - you get the idea :)

 

Second one was when I heard the kind of stereo imaging that is possible with a good pair of near-field monitor speakers. Totally stomped imaging and sound stage of any mid-field system I have ever heard at any price point. Since then I have a pair of active mini monitors on my desktop at work and a pair of active near-field monitors for my living room. The latter one are powerful enough to fill my living room and adjoining eating area (ca. 700 square feet) with loud and reasonable quality music for invitations, parties etc. For critical listening, I move my armchair in front of the speakers, in an isosceles triangle of approx. 5 feet base and 7 feet sides. I'm still mostly into voices, such that bass extension is not a limiting factor for me. Thus, I'm really happy :)

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I mostly listen to instrumental classical music, and for me two things are crucial: first, clarity, in the sense that I can hear each instrument individually i.e. not congested, and secondly that each instrument sounds realistic- a piano must sound like a piano and a bassoon like a bassoon etc.

 

If these two qualities are there, other features like sound staging, dynamics etc, whilst important, are less vital.

 

Philip

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Having said that sound stage is less important to me than the two things above, I remember to this day a demonstration to me of how important equipment isolation is. I was at a friend/dealer's house listening to some music. He was using a Townshend Sink platform. This was an early version, about 20 years ago, and each level rested on what was essentially a bicycle inner tube, which you had to pump up periodically!. The equipment was basically resting on a bed of air. The music sounded incredibly three-dimensional. My friend then went over to the equipment and grasped hold of one of the vertical struts of the stand. The three-dimensional soundstage collapsed as if it had been punctured! That was a lesson I've never forgotten.

 

Philip

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the ethereal 3D quality of some LS3/5A speakers

You nailed it for me - I've been living happily with mine since they came out (late 1975, as I recall). Although many other speakers have come and gone, these survived every challenge and are now on my bench getting born again. Everything's pretty tired inside after being squeezed hard by KT88s and slammed around by huge SS amps for 3 1/2 decades. But they're capable of some amazingly life-like reproduction with the right sources and electronics.

 

The other "Aha!"s are tight bass free of midbass boost (yeah, yeah, I know the Rogers do this intentionally - but I forgive them because they're sooooo good otherwise and without that boost, they'd have no bass at all) and a total lack of extraneous noise. I absolutely HATE hum and hiss! I also hate record noises, which is why my vinyl's still in fine shape - I hated listening to records with scratches and pops so much that I'd get up and skip tracks I knew had a flaw.

 

And this one will sound a bit screwy to many, but every system I've loved also sounded great from the next room (e.g. as though there were a live performance going on). My main listening area is a 10x17 room next to our den and across the hall from our kitchen and living room, so I often find myself in another room with music on my main system. It makes me feel like I'm in the bar and there's live music down the hall in the restaurant - when I get that feeling from a system, it gives me a jolt of joy.

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Not screwy at all. It is my first "test".

And this one will sound a bit screwy to many, but every system I've loved also sounded great from the next room (e.g. as though there were a live performance going on). My main listening area is a 10x17 room next to our den and across the hall from our kitchen and living room, so I often find myself in another room with music on my main system. It makes me feel like I'm in the bar and there's live music down the hall in the restaurant - when I get that feeling from a system, it gives me a jolt of joy.

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snippage.......

 

And this one will sound a bit screwy to many, but every system I've loved also sounded great from the next room (e.g. as though there were a live performance going on). My main listening area is a 10x17 room next to our den and across the hall from our kitchen and living room, so I often find myself in another room with music on my main system. It makes me feel like I'm in the bar and there's live music down the hall in the restaurant - when I get that feeling from a system, it gives me a jolt of joy.

 

I don't think it screwy either. One of the best at this were the Quad ESL63's I had. But seems most every excellent speaker I have heard will do well at this. Some also pretty good one's fail it somewhat. But none that sound good in the other room have sounded anything less than good in room.

 

Often imbalances, especially in the low end or results of extremely spiky directional effects are more clearly heard as off balance in the next room.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I haven't heard enough good systems to speak definitively (hanging head in shame), but it seems obvious the speakers are the component that makes the biggest impact to the overall sound. That said, what I'm attracted to is a sparkly treble, a neutral, clear midrange, and solid bass that doesn't call attention to itself (i.e., blends seamlessly into the midrange).

 

I walked into a showroom the other day just to try to get a handle on the B&W "sound" many seem to like. I was totally nonplussed with what I heard from the 800: terribly congested, "in your face" sound, with booming bass and no treble to speak of. Ugh - hope it was just a bad setup :/

 

I think the closest I've heard to what I want is MartinLogans - but only the really high-end ones (i.e., the ESL series). The several models that sell for <$5k US sound a bit too disjoint in the bass (provided by a separate "woofer" enclosure) to truly satisfy me.

 

I'll keep listening.

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I walked into a showroom the other day just to try to get a handle on the B&W "sound" many seem to like. I was totally nonplussed with what I heard from the 800: terribly congested, "in your face" sound, with booming bass and no treble to speak of. Ugh - hope it was just a bad setup :/

 

I'd strongly lean toward it having been "a bad setup". I may be biased, but my personal experience has been far from what you've described.

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The B&W's have sounded more or less as jhwalker described them to my ears, and this in several different setups. But setup can dramatically alter the balance if there is enough bandwidth to work with. I don't usually write off a speaker on one audition. Though one audition of excellence is enough to show that excellence is there.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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The B&W's have sounded more or less as jhwalker described them to my ears, and this in several different setups. But setup can dramatically alter the balance if there is enough bandwidth to work with. I don't usually write off a speaker on one audition. Though one audition of excellence is enough to show that excellence is there.

 

Sorry but I'm not going down this rabbit hole.

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Sorry but I'm not going down this rabbit hole.

 

No attempt at argument. Just agreeing with the other description. I have heard them a handful of times, and would have said they seemed muffled, lacking in resolution and treble. But by others descriptions they are often praised. I guess my question would be if I heard them side by side with someone who likes them would the other person praise them while they sounded muffled to me. There is of course no right or wrong answer in that situation.

 

Wilson's are a different animal. I have heard them more often than not set up badly. And though I didn't care for various aspects in those bad setups they always made me think they had great potential. Have heard them in a couple of good setups and they are among the very best I have heard in that context.

 

Thiel's better speakers are that way too. Usually don't like them as they are setup, but they have some potential. And also pretty darn good when done right. But it seems they sure take very little to be not right.

 

One of the reasons I started this thread. Wondering what makes others happy.

 

I remember looking at some Acoustats in a shop once. The fellow selling them was complaining how they had no guts, wouldn't play loud enough to use, and he couldn't believe people paid such high money for them. What have got once you play them....nothing good he said with disgust. I listened and would have given quite the different description. He also played me his favorite speakers. He recorded rock bands on the side, and his description of clean power, real guts and lifelike zip were accurate if your reference were rock bands setup in a local bar. Myself, I couldn't stand the awful things. The zip was from some horrid horn tweeters, and the power from a thudding woofer with an overall cold hard sound. Some of that may have been the Carvin amps he was using. But neither of us was wrong, just different preferences and different perspectives.

 

So I am not saying the B&W's are junk or bad, just the one's I have heard are not for me.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Sorry but I'm not going down this rabbit hole.

 

I had no intent of being controversial or insulting, just mentioning a speaker I definitely did not like and comparing it to ones I *do* like. I recognize others have different preferences - as I've said before, I find it fascinating how differently we perceive.

 

That's right on topic for this thread; i.e., what represents "hi"-fi to you . . . in this case, me ;)

John Walker - IT Executive

Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > Topping D90 > Topping A90 > Dan Clark Aeon 2 Closed / Focal Elegia

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Sorry but I'm not going down this rabbit hole.

 

Too bad; the B&W's sound great in rabbit holes.

 

Presence and space between voices and instruments is important to me. Sound stage doesn't have to be accurate necessarily, but it's nice if wherever instruments are placed, that they are solidly there.

 

The sound of well recorded strings should be smooth with that lovely sheen, and the sparkle of picked strings, guitars in particular, really gets me. And then there's voice, Alison Krauss, A Living Prayer comes to mind. So palpable and vulnerable. And choruses should sound big and open and glorious.

 

Chris

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You nailed it for me - I've been living happily with mine since they came out (late 1975, as I recall). Although many other speakers have come and gone, these survived every challenge and are now on my bench getting born again. Everything's pretty tired inside after being squeezed hard by KT88s and slammed around by huge SS amps for 3 1/2 decades. .

 

Be very careful doing anything at all to LS3/5a's. MANY folks have tried to modify, refresh, or otherwise change a thing here or there only to discover the sound was changed. Always for the worst. If you love yours but feel they are "tired" a better bet may be to sell the pair you have and seek out another pair that may have much less wear and tear on them. A gamble for sure but there are pairs out there that have very few hours on them and if you look carefully you might find a paint that would serve you another 35 or so years.

David

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It is the recording.

 

Nothing else matters.

 

All you need is equipment that is well made. Well made at any price point.

 

Everything else is just having fun with your hobby.

In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake ~ Sayre's Law

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- Sins of omission rather than commission, and getting the midrange right

 

- Timing: transients (real, not the artificial "zip" of a tipped-up response) and phase correctness

 

- Clarity: Again, not the artificial clarity of a tipped-up response, but the ease of hearing everything that is going on (the lyrics, the phrasing, the instrumental lines winding around each other)

 

As others have mentioned, setup details are surprisingly critical to this. I have heard Wilson speakers sound clinical each of three times I've heard them with Transparent or MIT cables, and musical the single time I heard them with Audioquest. I've heard the B&W 801 series sound miserable when rolled out for audition on small casters(!), and much better with proper isolation. I was told by my dealer that I would know by ear to within a 1/4 turn or less whether the bolts holding my Sound Anchors stands to my Vandersteens were too loose, too tight, or correctly tightened, and he was absolutely right.

 

There are other relatively small changes that to me make surprisingly large differences, but that's the stuff of other threads. For this one, I'll stick with the three above (and note that when these and setup are good, soundstage and imaging seem to take care of themselves).

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I think the closest I've heard to what I want is MartinLogans - but only the really high-end ones (i.e., the ESL series). The several models that sell for <$5k US sound a bit too disjoint in the bass (provided by a separate "woofer" enclosure) to truly satisfy me.

I tried to love the $2200/pr ESLs from Martin Logan. And if I could sit perfectly still for an hour at a time, I probably would have bought them. They were very impressive - realistic soundstage, great presence, excellent definition, neutral where it matters to me and pretty fine bass...but your head has to be in the sweet spot, which is about the size of a human head and critical to getting the best sound from them. They lost their magic if I strayed as much as an inch from that spot.

 

But electrostatics and good planars like Maggies give me the goose bumps we're talking about in this thread when set up right and driven by well suited equipment. I remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard KLH 9s - it was in their demo room in Cambridge when I was a freshman in college, and I couldn't believe how real and live the music sounded.

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