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"Audiophile" - Compliment or Insult


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I suppose that to some folks, an audiophile is someone with an invisible third ear in the middle of their forehead (didn't Bell Labs define it as actually being that that back in the 1920's.....?), but your example here illustrates something very important. Something I was going to add to my sigline in the last post: It is all about the audio or sound. The "phile" part of audiophile is equivalent to "love" and can mean any kind of love. From destructive love to the point of ignoring the audio portion of the equation altogether in favor of better numbers through more and better equipment, all the way back to the love of the musical performance itself alone - almost no matter how it 'sounds'.

 

You wouldn't even need reproduction equipment in a perfect world. You could just listen to the musicians perform whenever you liked, with no need to wonder if the music being heard in the moment was 'true to the original'. YIKES!

 

.... it isn't a perfect world though, is it.

 

markr

 

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Rick, I'd like to second the thanks on raising the subject. I know you did it with some caution and boy was that appropriate! There is a world of boards out there on which this would have burst into flames! It's one heck of a tribute to this board that we can take on the subject directly and peacefully. Of course give us a couple of hundred more members....

 

I ended my day late last night, laid back on the couch in my home office, headphones in place, listening to 'Round About Midnight. I'm definitely a Milesophile.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I came in for my landing with Bill Evans "Live at the Village Vanguard". Six degrees removed from the Miles, perhaps.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Sounds like you both landed really well on Friday night. I love Village Vanguard, and though I haven't heard the Plant/Krause outting, those are two incredible voices.

 

Last night, after driving all day, I settled in, bone-tired, for a round of Astral Weeks. Not an audiophile cd, but I'd listen to Van sing "Slim Slow Slider" through a toilet paper roll.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Warning: long rambling. The gist of the message of this post is in the penultimate paragraph. Feel free to skip the rest.

 

Here is a personal anecdote that happened to me a while back and that made me re-evaluate my goals when it comes to audiophile equipment.

 

I had just upgraded from a consumer-level stereo to a mid-fi system. I asked my girlfriend to give me her impressions of the new equipment. I played some piano-solo pieces performed by a world-class pianist. So I asked "How does it sound?". She replied "Lovely. Her phrasing is wonderful, and her touch is delicate and subtle." "Yes, I know", I said, "but how is the sound?" After a while, she said "Her chord playing is smooth, nicely legato, and she brings out the critical notes perfectly." A bit frustrated I kept pressing: "What do you think about the treble, the lower registers, does it sound muddy, or is everything clear?" "Nice piano" was her answer.

 

At that point, I was already on to something.

 

After a while, I got a new, "better" piece of equipment. At that point, we actually sat down and compared 320 kbps AAC files vs. uncompressed, files played from my Mac vs. played from a CD player, transmitted wirelessly to the stereo vs. direct, low-volume vs. loud listening, etc., all kinds of things. My girlfriend would always make comments about the music, about the playing of the performers, but rarely about the technical aspects. The only big exception was that 320 kbps files of complex orchestral music sounded clearly "inferior" to her than uncompressed files, but the differences largely disappeared when the music became less complex. Most astonishingly, however, she hardly cared about these differences. Why not?

 

Before I answer that, a bit of a background about my girlfriend: She is an accomplished classical pianist who has performed many times, both solo as well as in chamber-music festivals. She can create and distinguish the most subtle differences in chord playing, she can easily distinguish between and often identify certain pianos, she can adapt her playing instantaneously to the sound of a dry hall vs. a wet hall, a fully-packed hall vs. a half-full hall, a large vs. a small venue. She can hear and judge the tiniest nuances of every instrument in an orchestra. However, she cannot judge audio equipment! Her listening is focussed on aspects that are clearly different than the technical aspects of sound-reproduction systems. She doesn't know what 'jitter' means, and it wouldn't matter to her whatsoever.

 

One reason why all this doesn't matter is that the sound quality of a live performance is so much inferior compared to what a high-end stereo system can produce. No audiophile would ever put up with the shortcomings commonly encountered, e.g., halls that are too dry or too wet, solo instruments that are drowned out by the orchestra, sitting too close or too far away or too low, Jazz combos where the loudness of the instruments is not properly balanced, etc. etc. The sound differences of a piece performed by the same performer in two different halls are much bigger than the differences between two good stereo systems, or even between a low-end vs. a high-end Hi-Fi system. So why then do most music lovers prefer a live experience over a canned one? The reasons are well known; they have little to do with sound quality and everything with musicality. The musicians themselves experience the worst sound quality, yet they are perfectly able to jam and jive and enjoy the music they are making to its fullest.

 

I have once been told that a good stereo system does not make the listener work to fill in the blanks or to subconsciously remove artifacts that a worse system might have. I am not sure anymore if that is really necessary. It was another comment by my girlfriend that set me straight. I was asking her "But don't you hear that this speaker is a bit harsher in the treble?". She said "Maybe, but I can understand perfectly what the performer is telling me. I can feel the emotional tension, and the resolution in the end is well executed." At that point, I gave up. Our brains are actively working to fill in blanks but in a different way. We are interpreting the music, its emotional content (at least what concerns Classical music), the message that the performer is sending. We can easily handle small artifacts that the stereo-system might introduce. More to the point: For my girlfriend and myself, the improvements in sound quality that a high-end stereo system might deliver over a low-end one are marginal in terms of musical enjoyment. I verified this by dragging her to a high-end audio store where we listened to a $150K system in a perfectly treated room. It sounded great, no question, but the musical enjoyment was the same.

 

Since that attitude shift, when I come home, push a few buttons and listen to music, I immediately forget about my equipment. It took me a while to realize this fact and then actually to accept it.

 

For me, the perfect audiophile system is one that is entirely transparent, one that vanishes completely. If it's too low quality, then shortcomings will show and will be one one's mind. If it's too high-end, one might always think about the expense, or whether that new cable actually makes a difference, etc., one might be afraid of touching it, because it might lose resale value, and so on. If the equipment is on one's mind, the musical experience will suffer. Turn it on, and forget it! It was astonishing to me to realize how large the range in quality, price, or whatever measure one choses, of stereo systems is where my musical experience doesn't change noticeably.

 

Sorry for the long post, but if nothing else, it helped me re-evaluate my own approach and realize that I can be happy with a variety of music systems, as long as I keep my brain working to get at the musical content. I finally understand what my girlfriend is telling me, and that is always a good thing, isn't it?

 

Best - MM

 

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This is a really interesting and great post. I like the two perspectives offered. I've personally never looked at this from a performers viewpoint such as MM's girlfriend. In the end we all are looking for the equipment to just get out of the way as you said. Is this accomplished easiest by assembling "reasonably" priced gear? Who knows. In addition "reasonable" is so different for all of us.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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"Reasonable" can indeed be quite different, and I didn't mean to imply that mid-fi is going to cut it for everyone. It is, however, sufficient for me and my girlfriend. At this point, we would have to sink serious money into our system to get significantly "better" sound quality. Even disregarding the fact that we need to spend this money on other things, we would rather get more music than a high-end reclocker or a power conditioner. In fact, we will rather sink $100K into a new piano than into a new stereo system (many people would call us 'nutters' for that, just as much as they might label high-end audiophiles as 'nutters'). My next component will be my music server, but from then on, I am sure a lot of money will go towards new recordings before we would get a new piece of equipment. In the absence of unlimited funds, more music with lower sound quality is more important to us than less music with higher quality. I realize this attitude may not qualify us as 'audiophiles', but that's just fine. Best - MM

 

 

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if there's one thing that has increased my music buying it's my music server. With terabytes to fill up and a lot of enjoyable music out there I almost feel obligated :-) Plus music is cheap!

 

I'd never consider 100k on a new piano a bad thing. For all the enjoyment it could bring the price may be cheap. You only live once.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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I know this isn't anything that you were getting at, and I did read your whole post, but it does remind me that I often find it easier to relate to female listeners about connecting to the music than males. In general, in my experience at least, guys have more of a tendency to fall into the trap of the gear being the goal rather than it being a means to access the music in a more fulfilling way. We refer to it as the Tim Allen syndrome.

 

Regarding your comment about being more inclined to spend money beyond your server purchase on more music rather than gear, I think that is terrific and healthy. In fact, my whole point of this thing is they feed on one another. A worthwhile system upgrade makes me want hear more music, find new music, and sometimes even better appreciate performances I already know. My personal baseline is a system that gets out of the way sufficiently to let the music speak. We have some customers who, after an upgrade that is really rewarding, will ask what to do next. My response is often that they should go out and discover new music, rediscover their old, and forget about the system for a while. Yeah, I know, I'm not a great businessman but even if they want to do more it is still good advice to get comfortable and familiar with what you are using now.

 

On the other hand, I do love really great gear in terms of what it can do for my ability to get into the music more. I bought an Audio Research REF3 preamp a while back. This is a very expensive piece, although not one of those things whose price has nothing to do with what it cost to make it, nor are you paying a ridiculous amount for cosmetics. However it gets out of the way so well, it is so unmechanical that it had a profound effect on my emotional response to the music, as well as an intellectual appreciation for how refined, how natural, etc. it is.

 

One of your comments in your first post reminds me of something that I appreciate about a good conversation about any subjective issue. If the discourse is a good one and I happen to disagree in some areas with the other person, it often makes me reassess my own position rather than hanging on to it just because I have decided that's how I felt and am going to defend that. In some cases it allows me to make a better case for my beliefs, or at least feel like I have honestly examined them. In others it causes me to modify my position, at least to some degree. Political discussions are a good example of this.

 

Thanks for your contribution.

 

 

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Rick, I have a question for you: How many of your customers are musicians, particularly "serious" musicians? How do they go about setting up a stereo system? What particular aspects do they value? How do they differ from those who purely listen to music but do not make music themselves?

 

I am asking because of an aspect I alluded to in my first post above. I have the impression that musicians put less emphasis on a great music-reproduction system than non-musicians. This is purely based on observations on my musician friends and may not be general in any way. There are exceptions, of course.

 

If that is true, why would that be the case? Is it that musicians are surrounded by such a dismal sound quality when they make music that they don't care about great sound quality in their stereo system, because the "get" the music anyway?

 

That had me baffled for a while now. I am a much worse musician than my girlfriend. I also tend to emphasize the technical aspects of music reproduction more than her. I wonder if that is the causal correlation for my observations...

 

Thanks. Best - MM

 

 

 

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"Is it that musicians are surrounded by such a dismal sound quality when they make music that they don't care about great sound quality in their stereo system, because the "get" the music anyway?"

 

I'm not Rick, but I'm pretty sure this is not the answer. I'm a musician, and while my experience playing clubs and bars in rock bands is really different from your girlfriend's, there are some similarities as well. Musicians hear horrible sound quality, transcendent sound quality, and everything in between. I have been in performing situations where I couldn't hear myself singing, much less pick out the nuance of the rhythm guitar part and how well it is integrated into the rest of the rhythm section. In that case, and it's not uncommon, a horrible master played back as a 128kbps file through ear buds would be better. On the other hand, I can take my Gibson jumbo out of its case, go into a quiet, lively room of my house and make music right now, the fidelity, transparency and micro dynamics of which would cause a $100k audio system to blush with embarrassment.

 

If musicians have a completely different attitude toward home audio, it's because they have a completely different experience with music. But it's not all bad. If you have stood in front of a trap set and heard/felt the crack of a rimshot and the thunk of a kick drum, if you've played through a vintage Fender amp just a few feet away and danced the dynamic space between clean tone and crunch, controlling it with the strength of your attack, if you have heard your own singing fed back to you through side-fill monitors the size of Klispchorns backed by several hundred watts with fabulous dynamic range (but nothing compared to the nuance of your actual voice in a quiet, lively room), it completely changes your perspective.

 

Musicians understand intuitively, whether they have worked it out intellectually or not, that most of the time they can hear the details (parts, movement, dynamics) of the music better through a studio recording than on stage, even played back on an iPod, while the most expensive equipment can never replicate the experience of listening to the instrument in your hands. No amount of technology, not yet anyway, can "get out of the way."

 

I can't speak for everyone who played the instrument long before they heard it played back on good equipment, but I think it's pretty easy, from that perspective, to seek something that sounds good, for what it is, and be satisfied with that. Audiophiles seek something musicians don't believe in -- a system that can reproduce a live performance. Half the time, you wouldn't want your system to sound that bad, trust me.

 

The other half? You may as well hunt unicorns.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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You said "Audiophiles seek something musicians don't believe in -- a system that can reproduce a live performance. Half the time, you wouldn't want your system to sound that bad, trust me."

 

Exactly! But it goes further. What is contained in a recording is very far from a (live) performance in any case. It's an idealized performance, something that one would never hear in reality. I am not talking about splicing to replace imperfect sections, but I'm talking about the modifications to the sound coming from each instrument to create a product that reflects the vision of the sound engineer, or whoever makes the final decisions. As such, the sound engineer becomes part of the performance and might be as important, or even more important, than the performers themselves; just look at the market formed by re-releasing music that's been remastered.

 

The musicians are chasing the dream of delivering a convincing interpretation of the music.

The sound engineer is chasing the dream of creating the proper sound.

The audiophile is chasing the dream of faithfully reproducing that sound.

 

I have sat in on live performances that were later released on CD. I could hardly believe that those were the same. So, I am not convinced that I should make a lot of effort to reproduce the sound contained in a CD; if my stereo system produces a slightly different sound, then that's just fine; a different sound engineer might have introduced much larger differences. Tube equipment usually very strongly colors the sound and should be banned from anything 'audiophile' for that exact reason, yet many people use such equipment, because they like the sound. These guys are obviously not interested in faithful reproductions. They listen to sound that they want to hear, not necessarily how it was intended originally. That's legitimate as well (it's like putting more salt on your steak), and it is probably as close to the "truth" as what an entirely neutral system produces.

 

Best - MM

 

PS: I think, according to all this, 'audiophile' may actually be an insult ;)

 

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Hey MM - I can't resist replying to this one because I am a big fan of good tube gear :-)

 

I think you are on to something when you say that tube systems are "...probably as close to the "truth" as ... an entirely neutral system ..." I am guessing you mean solid state based on your previous few sentences. If correct, tubed gear is like adding more salt to your steak and solid state is like adding more pepper. Neither one are perfect in reality, but ideally both would sound the same.

 

This is certainly not a tubes v. solid state thing. I like both and think both have their place. An all tube Audio research / Wilson system is the best I've ever heard :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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MM, I agree with almost everything you said...except the tube stuff. It's not that it isn't true, but at it's best it is sooooooo subtle as to be a non-issue.

 

Mind you, my experience with tube gear is mostly old-school stuff, but I played with a bit of it years ago, when it was on its way out. And I'll tell a story, because well...if you guys haven't figured out how much I like to do that by now....

 

In the early 70s I played in a classic Country Rock band -- Burrito Brothers, Poco, Pure Prairie League, that sort of thing. I was the primary vocalist and rhythm guitarist, which meant I played a lot of acoustic. This was before the day when you could walk into any Guitar Center and buy an acoustic fitted with a pickup and a dedicated acoustic guitar amp to go with it. I had an old Gibson fitted with a pair of Barcus-Berry transducers, I had good EQ (an absolute necessity), but I didn't have anything onstage to give me the feel and presence of having a guitar amp there. I just plugged straight into the PA and got my feedback via floor monitors which carried a mix of everything else as well. I wanted that dedicated amp feeling I had when playing electric guitar on stage.

 

Our bass player's day job was sound contracting, and the little sucker was pretty brilliant. He fixed me up with a small Altec speaker (a 12 and a horn, I believe), my parametric eq and a little line mixer/preamp, and powered the whole thing with a mono McIntosh.

 

I swear that even with those prickly, tizzy little BB piezo transducers, that thing sounded like God's guitar. I hooked a turntable up to it every now and then. Damn. Enough to make you forget stereo, or at least the stereo I had then. This is a long story to get to a simple point -- I'm convinced that as you go up the foodchain of tube gear, it gets more and more neutral, until, given enough headroom, the difference between tubes and SS is pretty small, and almost all in the mids. Is it color? Yeah. On both sides of the story. There really isn't much color in good components though. Most of that is in transducers. And EQ. Whatever happened to EQ? Audiophiles have this notion that a little tone control is going to add soo much noise to their signal chain that the stuff hardly exists anymore. Instead, we try to eq with cable and caps and audiophile fuses and tube rolling...I gotta tell you, that's the hard way.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I will answer your question about musicians as best I can. This is by no means intended to be a definitive answer and contains a fair amount of speculation.

 

I would agree, in general, that musicians tend to not get into the higher levels of reproduction compared to the general public. Why? That's where the speculation begins. First of all, and this is purely speculative, most of the musicians I know are not rich and tend to do what you mentioned - they buy instruments rather than hifi gear. I have noticed that the musicians we do see in the store tend to play in genres where the music is less processed, more acoustic and pure. We have several members of our symphony who are very much into sound quality and would be high end customers if their budget allowed.

 

I actually agree with you that some players never hear anything other than bad P.A. systems, although I am not sure how much of a factor that is. Certainly the interaction that Tim described with working in that "in between" zone with a good tube amp implies being selective about what you hear and feel. It may not apply as much to the sound of the whole ensemble. I go to few amplified concerts these days because the sound is so incredibly bad that the music is barely there. I know that could put me into that audiophile thing but there is a big difference between seeing a great band in a medium sized room and the godawful stuff you hear in a big arena with vocals that can barely be heard, one note bass, and echo to rival the grand canyon.

 

I suspect there is something else at play. I mentioned in an earlier post that my brother is a truly gifted guitarist, in the jazz and fusion vein. Think Alan Holdsworth mixed with a little John Scofield. He has worked at the store and is very sensitive to sound quality and has "good" ears. Prior to his involvement I noticed something that I believe is fairly common; musicians are listening to notes, to structure, to technicque, and they seem to look past the recording or system quality. In other words, they are listening as players, not as an audience. An analogy might be when I listen to classical music. I enjoy it, I listen to it quite a lot, but I don't hear the things a good friend of mine, who is a trained classical musician does. I will hear a passage I like and accept it at that. He hears the musical structure and what the composer was doing in terms of stucture and progressions, etc.

 

The example Tim gave of his Gibson jumbo is one I can relate to, although in my case it is a Huss & Dalton. There are systems that can get you very close to that wonderful, rich immediate sound he is describing. I am fortunate enough to have one and I completely understand his point.

 

I also agree with Tim about tubes. Certainly some, especially older designs, are warm and romantic, awash in even order harmonics and a euphonic frequency response. Today's best tube offerings are not that way. My preamp doesn't sound like tube or solid state. It is the most remarkably neutral thing I have ever heard. In fairness most tube power amps still sound different than their solid state counterparts due to the usual output transformer and the higher output impedance. This causes an interaction with the load of the speakers so you get a slightly difference response depending upon what you connect it to. The very best solid state and tube gear today seem to be moving toward a convergence in sound that really sounds like neither.

 

Hope that made a least some sense.

 

Night all

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Here's one of the great mysteries of modern hifi from one man's perspective:

 

The sound reinforcement and studio guys understand that smooth, clean solid state is about sheer power. Headroom. Stay well below the point of clipping. The math doesn't change when you switch to tubes. What changes is the sound of the distortion caused by the clipping. Tube clipping is a distortion that a lot of people like. But the thing that is inescapable is that it's still a distortion.

 

I often shake my head a bit when I see the hi-eff tube guys on the internet talking about powering speakers with 90db of efficiency with 5 watts of SET. If they ever crank it up, they're listening to clipping. If they enjoy it, that's fine by me. But words like "natural," "transparent" and "clarity" really don't belong in the same sentence with 90db eff/5 watts. And really, the same principle applies, on a much more limited scale, to high-end, relatively high-power tube systems. 40 or 50 watts won't drive a 90 db speaker to high volume levels without clipping either, it just clips a lot less often. But there is no doubt that if you're driving speakers that are 85 - 90% efficient with a 50 watt amp , the transients are softened by the headroom limitations of your system. You may like it, but its there.

 

If I planned on pushing a system to anything approaching club band volume levels, I wouldn't hesitate to put a good 100 watts behind a 90 db speaker. In fact, for those volume levels (I don't go there, but I'm assuming folks with the big floor-standing speakers in big rooms have plans for that ), I'd consider 100 watts a starting point. That system won't clip and, therefore, that kind of distortion, which is the most significant and audible in modern systems, is a non-issue. And that's the point from which audiophile tweaking should begin.

 

Pushing 90 db speaks with a 5 watt amp and then investing in high-end cabling and jitter-reduction schemes to increase transparency and reduce distortion? This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how this stuff works. If transparency and inaudible distortion is what they seek, they'd be a lot better off saving up for a bigger amp. A MUCH bigger amp.

 

Now, with all of that said, I should repeat that I understand that many folks like this "distortion" and don't hear it as distortion at all. They hear smooth, musical, etc. I'm not only cool with that, I understand it. I just think they should embrace it, understand it and stop chasing transparency with their tweaking budget while assuring that they cannot achieve it with their amplification and speaker choices.

 

Tim

 

PS - I was just looking at my own post and noticed that I still only have one little headphone darkened. I guess it must be measured by post-count. If it was by the word, I'd own the place by now! :)

 

[headphone adjustment properly made -editor.]

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I didn't mean to start a side track of the discussion here with my remark about tube gear. That remark was only meant to indicate that sound coloring in a music-reproduction system (through a judicious choice of equipment) is probably as legitimate as sound manipulation in the mastering stage, and that the end result might be as far removed from the true performance as any other type of coloring (e.g., no coloring at all). Sound coloring, e.g. by using certain tube gear, is like looking through pink glasses at something that's been photographed through a blue filter. So what if that amp sounds a bit brighter than the other one? Moving a rug around might do the same.

 

So, back to Rick's question. Tim earlier said "Audiophiles seek something musicians don't believe in -- a system that can reproduce a live performance". I think that a lot of audiophiles are actually foremost obsessed with faithfully reproducing what is in a recording. My contention is that reproducing a recording and reproducing a live performance are two completely different tasks. Reproducing a live performance is actually impossible, because the required information is not contained in the recording. So all that's left to obsess about is reproducing the recording. And that's good enough for a lot of people. The frustrating thing is that it is very difficult to find out how a recording should sound in the first place; is there a reference system that can tell us? If that was the case, we would have objective standards, and all those religious debates about audiophilicity would be moot. The fact that the debates are raging on indicates that we have no idea what dream we are actually chasing, but we'll chase it anyway with utmost conviction and fervor.

 

Best - MM

 

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Actually, I think very few audiophiles are chasing accurate reproduction of the recording. Engineers do that. Audiophiles rarely like the sound of it. What audiophiles are chasing is what sounds good to them; it just takes a very confident person to spend several, if not tens of thousands of dollars on a hobby, and then admit that it is, more or less, subjective.

 

And the arguments on the net are not really about sound quality. They are about people who lack the sense of self to believe what they have is right (for them), without believing that everything else is "wrong." And it works on both sides. Many of the guys over in the vintage camp, buying their hifi at garage sales (not that there's anything wrong with that), have to insist that it is better than anything made since 1980 (which the refer to as BPC "black plastic crap"). That this is not supported by the data carries no water in the argument.

 

For my part, my threshold for enjoying every second I listen to music is relatively low. I understand that systems can sound better than anything I've ever owned. But I'm good. The biggest kick in the pants my listening ever got was ripping everything to hard drive and having access to my entire music collection through my Mac. Did it increase SQ? Maybe. Theoretically, yes. Can I hear it? I'm not at all sure. But what I can hear, right now, is that Bruce Cockburn album I probably hadn't even seen in my binders for the year before I switched delivery systems.

 

It's all about the music. It's all good. I'll get back to you when I come up with a few more cliches. :)

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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It is an interesting discussion, isn't it? The same conversation could probably be had on a lot of hobbyist boards. One thing I feel needs clarification, now that I've actually read my own post:

 

"it is, more or less, subjective."

 

I mean this in a pretty fuzzy sense. My wife, for example, would hate the bass extension of your B&Ws, because, even at moderate volumes, she would not be able to escape it in our small house. I, however, recognize that the superiority of your Macs and B&Ws over my old Harman Kardon and Cambridge Soundworks Model Sixes is both subjective AND impossible to argue with. I'm not trying to make a broad relativist argument. But I am saying that few audiophiles actually seek accuracy. They seek flawed, colored, beautiful sound. And that's pretty subjective.

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I think we have finally reached "where the rubber meets the road". This is really the crux of my question. I understand your point and recognize that many audiophiles, or guys heavily into sound quality, are looking for a stylized sound, but not all. I most respectfully disagree while acknowledging that your basic statement has merit. In fairness, you did use the qualifier that "few" audiophiles are looking for accuracy.

 

I am looking for accuracy and that means more than just flat frequency response. A speaker can measure flat and sound hard, forward, and obnoxious due to other elements. This is so subjective in some regards, yet in others it is not. Many recordings are poorly done. I am not trying to make those recordings sound like audio nirvana. If the music merits, I listen to the music and lament the fact that the production sucks. My definition of accuracy is that the sound of instruments and vocals sound real. I know there are elements that will never sound live. However that does not mean that I don't know what brushed cymbals, acoustic guitar, violins, etc. sound like. They have texture and substance and lots of other things I don't know how to describe. I was just listening to Anthony Wilson's Goat Hill Junket. It is a five piece jazz combo that is well recorded without going into that "audiophile recording" thing. First of all, the band is great. Anthony plays with Diana Krall, I assume to pay the bills, and makes some terrific ensemble jazz recordings. A friend of mine produced this and Anthony's other CD's. The drums, as well as everything else, are beautifully recorded. I played in bands for years and on my system, this is what live drums sound like. Joe has recorded many jazz and blues artists, including Ry Cooder, and he is truly gifted. By coincidence we use the same speakers so that kind of gives me a leg up in terms of what he hears. By the way, I keep mentioning drums but Anthony plays archtop guitar.

 

It is hard to make this kind of statement on heavily processed recordings but my definition of accuracy is not some sweetened, euphonically altered version of reality. You mentioned your guitar a couple of posts ago. That is the kind of thing I'm talking about. The very best equipment, which is not necessarily the same thing as the most expensive, well matched and properly set up in a decent acoustic environment can sound very lifelike. Startling so. One of the sales managers at Wilson Audio is also a well respected classical recording engineer. Peter has done a number of recordings, mostly of the Florida Philharmonic for several classical labels. Interestingly, he was the first proponent I ever encountered who was singing the praises of server based music, a number of years ago. I have sat with Peter on several occasions in my store, usually after hours, and listened to something he engineered, usually on a system very close to what he used for production.

 

Many "audiophile" components are not about accuracy, just as many cables are audiophile approved tone controls. But there is another approach. Sometimes on my system the feeling of being directly connected to the sound of the instruments, the "thereness", is so right it is hard to describe, almost compelling. Admittedly in most cases it is an artifice in terms of stereo imaging, soundstage, etc., since those are largely created on the board with the exception of some classical recordings. But the sound of the instruments and vocals can be beautifully accurate and lifelike. You don't need to know what the guy in the mixing booth created to know what the human voice sounds like. This is the kind of accuracy I strive for. I am constantly reminded of how many people have never had this kind of experience. They simply have no expectations that it is possible to do what I'm referring to. And again, you don't have to spend a fortune to get there, although if you want to maximize it, with the fewest possible compromises, it isn't cheap. The customers we have who are looking for this kind of experience are the ones who are a joy to work with.

 

I would love to have the opportunity to share the experience with you. If you are ever in Kansas City, give me a call :-)

 

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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I've had some experiences that come pretty close, I suspect. My headphone system isn't bad, by any means, though headphones can never produce the imaging and the sense of presence that is there in speaker systems properly set-up. But I suspect it can listen in to detail, pretty faithfully rendered, better than most high-end systems in most rooms.

 

Thing is, if the experience is as startling as you say, I'm not sure I want it! I'm afraid it would put a bug in my ear and a burn in my belly that couldn't be satisfied. I mean - and here is the ultimate audiophile problem, or mine anyway - my humble little headphone system is resolving enough that it makes quite a few modern masters difficult to listen to. And that's with Senn HD580s at the end of the chain, which have a built-in treble roll-off that dulls the worst part (the ungodly glare) of modern masters. Of course nothing can do much for the compression that squeezes all the dynamics and space out of the music.

 

It makes me sad.

 

I really don't doubt that, with the right equipment and treatment, I can hear my beloved original Jumbo in the room. The real challenge is finding someone who recorded it well and didn't squeeze the life out of it in the mastering. In the studio, Bruce Springsteen favors my kind of acoustic guitar - battered, ancient, bone-dry Gibson sloped dreads. On "Magic" they sound like tin foil tamborines.

 

It's painful enough to simply amplify it. I already find myself passing over great music to find something I can stand to listen to. I sometimes wonder if I should downgrade. How sad is that?

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I think I know what you are referring to. A number of high end components and systems have a justified reputation of being ruthlessly revealing. I had a system a number of years ago and I played a track off of Abby Road for my brother. His comment was that he wasn't sure if he wanted to know that much about how that made the record.

 

For some reason the system I have now, which is the best I have ever owned, does two things simultaneously that I would normally consider mutually exclusive; it allows me to hear wonderful musical detail and yet for some reason it is kind to inferior recordings. You can still tell is a poor recording but somehow the music still survives. Usually if you have something that is forgiving, it is subtractive and the great recordings aren't all there. The high frequencies in particular often scream "hifi" or "bad hifi" at me. A phrase I use with customers is that the holy grail is a system that will allow you to listen into it as deeply as you care to without having it thrust at you.

 

At any rate, I sympathize with your plight. There is musical gear out there that is reasonably priced that doesn't force you to forgo much of your music collection. Unfortunately there is much more of it that justifies your feelings.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Hey Tim

 

I'm with you! I love music too much to allow hifi to stand between me and it.

I spent many years, much valuable time, great emotional turmoil, and a great deal of money in pursuit of the sound, goaded on by my reading of magazines. I could rarely sit and enjoy a complete disc. I had become the definition of what it is we hate about the word "audiophile".

 

I was in a department store one day walking past the TV section and heard the Choir of Kings College Cambridge playing via a weak FM signal on a JVC micro system. I was captivated. I went closer. This little setup was allowing the Choir to speak to my innermost being. I sold most of my high end gear, loaned out the rest, and bought this little gem of a system. My family bought the matching subwoofer for me for my birthday. That was nearly 10 years ago and I have not had the urge to upgrade. It is faithful to the music.

 

A couple of years ago, my family bought me an iPod G5 30 GB and I wondered what I would do with it. I ripped some music and plugged in my Sennheiser 580 Jubilee Classics and found my other great music communicator. I doubt I could live without it now! I can listen to any recording on this, at any time and in any place. (If it is a noisy place my Sennheiser CX300 in ear headphones do the same musical trick.)

 

My point is, that while the consumer "audiophile" journey is great fun, it can, if we are not careful, devour us and cause us to lose what we originally came with - the music. I admire the great audio giants past and present who have allowed the musicality of both my systems to exist and who have pioneered for us a (hopefully) musical future. I am grateful to these people and it is these people who probably should be given the name "audiophile", for in its purest sense, that is what they are - those who know, study, and advance audio in the service of music.

 

I love this forum!

 

Baxtus

 

 

 

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