How do you know what you want from your audio system?

tima

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The following quote from Peter comes from the thread: Ron's Subjectivity & Balance Argument
I want to use it to spin off this thread, not continue that one. If you find this thread is irrelevant or stupid, feel free to move on. There may be no right answers and <caution> the discussion could be lively.

The subjectivity is choosing what you want your audio system to accomplish. The important thing is having some kind of target and then going about achieving it using some kind of methodology known through experience to get you there.

Yes. Imo, the hardest part of choosing what we want our audio systems to accomplish is knowing what we want. What is your target and how do know it is right target for you?

Some folks may be lucky or smart enough to know at day 1 what will satisfy them at day N. For myself and perhaps you, Peter, it has taken some time to gain exposure and experience with a broader range of alternative choices. That may be the case for others too. It is an interesting journey though it can be expensive.

The fact that many of us have gone through several (many?) component "upgrades" or wholesale system changes does suggest that maybe we don't know what we want. Well, let's say we want "better sound". Do we know what we intend to accomplish specifically? For some of us, it is trial and error; sometimes trial and success too. For some of us we have not yet experienced that ultimately satisfying sound. Some of us may simply get bored with our system and want something different. Do you know what "better sound" means personally?

How do you know what you want? What are your experiences figuring that out and have you figured it out? Do you feel sufficiently confident that you on your own can know what you want. Would you like some guidance? (I'm not offering any in this post.)

How do you know what you want from your audio system?
 

PeterA

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Tim, I think this is an interesting subject. I wish I knew then what I know now about the hobby. This can be a very complex pursuit with many alternative approaches. I think in general most people learn the hard way in this hobby. Complicating matters is that the target often changes and without the experience, it is hard to know what the target is.

I started out thinking that what I wanted is a sound in my living rooms that is like what I heard live. The longer I worked to try to achieve this, the more difficult I realized it was. My target eventually shifted from wanting the “sound“ of live to having a similar experience listening to my recordings that I get when I listen to live music. It is the emotion and feeling that the live concert creates that I want when listening at home.

I started out following the advice of a dealer and then increasing my exposure by listening to other systems and going to audio shows and dealerships. I picked out aspects I likes and upgraded in stages for particular attributes. Everything sounded different. I focused on the sound and the gear. What is the new and how does it sound different from other gear and systems? I read articles and through this process I found that I was breaking down the sound into parts and going after mini targets. There was only a vague reference to the way actual live music sounds and makes me feel. I now understand that this was unhelpful and lead me in the wrong direction. I had failed to grasp the meaning of the live music listening experience. I understood it as a combination of pieces rather than as an holistic experience.

I have written extensively about how my approach started to change in my first system thread, “sublime sound”. I basically had to step back and try to understand objectively what I was doing wrong. It was not until I met two individuals who taught me to think about everything in a completely different way. I had reached the point where I wanted to learn and the teachers presented themselves to me.

One teacher exposed me to the target - the experience of live music, the other one encouraged me to learn how to get there by system building and set up. For me, it came down to a willingness to experiment, to learn what to listen for, and to approach the process with a completely open mind. I had to reject what did not get me to the target. I could not have reached where I am without the help of these two men. It was the combination of these two teachers, one knows all about live music, and the other who knows more about gear and set up than anyone I have met, that helped me to understand the target and how to get there. The latter demonstrated to me my target based on what the former had shared with me about live music.

I had only a vague idea of what the target was before I heard it and recognized it as such. I discovered that in Vienna. This may sound pretty trivial, but it also might explain why for many of us, this hobby is a long and continual searching process. After that experience, I knew what I wanted, but I had to experience it from an example of a very specific approach to system building to finally understand that it is possible to achieve. I got closer by experimenting with set up. I then heard it in Utah and knew what I wanted.
 
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wil

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Jul 22, 2015
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As far as Sound goes, I'm looking for a sense of ease and naturalness which is true to the recording. Ultimately, I never want to be reminded that electronics are producing this sound.

If the Sound is happening as described above, then I'm more able to connect with the intention of the music and musicians performing in those moments in time captured by the recording.

Beyond the gear and it's careful set up -- my mental state -- that is, how cluttered or clear my mind is to receiving the music -- to be the most important element of all. For this reason, I often find early morning listening to be the best.

And sometimes the grace of music can come flooding in at the most unexpected times. Not long ago, while washing dishes, through the kitchen radio, came Jimi Hendrix performing Little Wing with just guitar, no vocals. The music so took me over, I felt like I sunk down the drain to the heartbeat at the center of the planet. No mind-altering drugs were involved!
 
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thedudeabides

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I hope it is emotional involvement. Finding it is an indvidual, subjective process.
 

BlueFox

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I want it to sound good, and I'll know that when I hear it. I'm at that point now, and haven't bought or upgraded anything for a few years.
 

sbnx

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Mar 28, 2017
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Knowing what you want is an interesting topic. I remember starting out in this hobby in my early 20's. I went to several local stereo stores that I found in the yellow pages (remember those). I remember them asking me several questions trying to discern what kind of sound I was looking for. For example, they asked do you like sitting in the front row or middle rows or back rows. Most of the stuff I had no clue how to even answer the questions as I had not really thought about it or just didn't know. When I was in my 20's the only tickets I could afford were in the back.

Early on it seemed I was randomly buying stuff because it was supposed to be "good". I would put this stuff together in my house and was never really satisfied at all with the sound. I would often think "what is the reviewer hearing that is so great?" I just didn't know that it is the implementation of the various parts of the SYSTEM that makes it sound great.

Since that time I have a very good feel for what I want my system to sound like. The question from the OP is "How do I know?" Well, from many years of screwing around. I wish I had some mentor to show me. Or I could have gone to listen to some very well setup systems to know what was possible. What does the 'top' sound like? What are some examples of different presentations? Maybe Ked has it right in that he travels around and listens to all kinds of stuff. At least he has a very large menu when he eventually decided to build a system.
 

Ovenmitt

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Nov 21, 2017
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Yep, Doc Watson showing me a guitar part in my fathers living room, 1989.... Keith Richards through a '54 telecaster and a '59 Fender Twin... Charlie Watts on the drum riser behind him, Austin, TX 2006. Billie Holiday singing through a crappy PA and loosing her voice, Harlem 1953 - I can only imagine.... I know a "stereo" will never get me there. But then a wee dram or two and.... :)
 

Diapason

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Mar 26, 2014
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This is an interesting topic indeed, and I've often asked myself "what do you actually want?" as well as wondering what the hell other people are doing with their upgrades! As mentioned elsewhere I've taken a bit of a step back from the high-end for the moment for a variety of reasons, but when I eventually get back into this world I will have a very different focus than before.

Looking back, my early goals were a reaction to what had gone before. Growing up in the era of cassettes and really low-fi sonics at home, everything was always mushy, muffled, lacking details. I joke that I never heard cymbals until CD came along, but there's honestly some truth in that. We did *not* have good audio at home, but when I heard the crisply detailed presentation that CD brought compared to cassettes, I was hooked. That defined my early goals: I wanted more clarity, more information, I wanted the sonic equivalent of a microscope. If somebody shifted in their chair I wanted to hear it. I couldn't believe how much information was stored on those silver discs, and I wanted more of it.

On the face of it, wanting more information from the disc seems reasonable enough, but over time it pushed me in a particular direction, and with each step forward I slightly lost something else, although I didn't realise that at the time. I gradually fell into the classic audiophile trap of listening to a limited number of "good" recordings, I never listened to Zep any more, I complained that almost everything was too bright except for a few perfectly balanced CDs which I played to death. It was ridiculous really, and when it started to dawn on me, I reacted by trying to pivot in the exact opposite direction. I changed speakers, and then amps to try to address the deficiencies I was now hearing in body and tone, and it satisfied for a while. Except ultimately this approach doesn't really work, it's band-aid upon band-aid, so I threw my hat at it and gave up for a while.

These days, I've heard a lot more good audio, and I have a better understanding of what can be achieved, and the particular sound I would like to have. I am looking for relaxed openness, a liquid, tactile, unforced sense of space. I love the space. Real musicians in real space, if I can get that illusion I'm generally in a happy place. Timbral accuracy is also key. I'm an organist and occasional pianist, I have played in a brass band, I have played with different ensembles on both organ and harpsichord, I have accompanied singers and choirs. I know what a lot of stuff sounds like in person, and I'm sensitive to problems there.

That said, I also have a much better sense of the compromises I am willing to accept in pursuit of this goal. I will never be able to afford the ultimate, so if I can't get there, I think it's really important to know what I can and can't do without. For example, despite the conventional wisdom that organ music requires massive deep bass capabilities, I can work around that if I have that sense of unforced space and timbral accuracy instead. Sure, I'd like a solution that offers 16 Hz at home, but for me that's more party trick than essential to enjoyment. I also don't really respond well to the thrilling front-row presentation, the sense of music being thrust at me from the speakers (I know some people love this). I'd prefer to be invited in to the sound, free to choose where I focus my attention.

That's me, my tastes, my desires, and I know many who don't share them. We might agree on what constitutes state-of-the-art sound, but we might never see eye-to-eye on the sonic compromises we'll accept short of SOTA, and I find that a fascinating part of the hobby.
 

Gregm

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Mar 14, 2019
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How do you know what you want? What are your experiences figuring that out and have you figured it out?
In my case, it was by listening to many different systems and set-ups. T

The magic moment (the "aha" in coaching practice) was when I first listened to my (then) system driven by FM acoustics electronics, then by Symphonic Line.
It was engaging, emotionally inspiring -- I was moved!

The dynamics and the effortless presentation of space (i.e. high frequencies) & low-level detail (were what ultimately did it.
Do you feel sufficiently confident that you on your own can know what you want. Would you like some guidance? (I'm not offering any in this post.)
In my quest to identify the traits that triggered my reactions and describe them using commonly understood language, rather than the subjective audiophile alternative (i.e. "objectify" the traits which propelled me :)) I received invaluable help and guidance from friends

So, to yuor question above: I discovered what I want, not on my own but, by listening and discussing with friends, not audiophiles necessarily, but all of them music ¬philes. Regards
 
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wil

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I also don't really respond well to the thrilling front-row presentation, the sense of music being thrust at me from the speakers (I know some people love this). I'd prefer to be invited in to the sound, free to choose where I focus my attention.
My strong preference as well. Good soundstage depth and overall balance helps with this.
 

marty

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Not long ago, while washing dishes, through the kitchen radio, came Jimi Hendrix performing Little Wing with just guitar, no vocals. The music so took me over, I felt like I sunk down the drain to the heartbeat at the center of the planet. No mind-altering drugs were involved!
Exactly. Want to know what I''m looking for in my audio system? That's it. I don't care if its from a kitchen radio or my big rig. Forget the pedantic discussion of gear and all that discussion about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

Nobody ever asked Beethoven what he wanted from his music.
 
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Bobvin

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Sure, I'd like a solution that offers 16 Hz at home, but for me that's more party trick than essential to enjoyment. …I'd prefer to be invited in to the sound, free to choose where I focus my attention.
Nicely said. When we are first exposed to something we like, it is easy to chase after that, then the next thing we hear that causes an ‘aha’ moment, until we learn these disparate parts are not creating a sonic whole, and we find ourselves in a hole looking for the way out.

Wrt, for example, the 16hz deep bass, one might also find, upon obtaining the speaker that can do it your room cannot, and you end up with a mess.

So, as you say, what is essential to enjoyment? I am lucky to have three amazing speakers in-house. The Alsyvox probably go the deepest, but only by a few hz, compared to the big Bayz. Neither go below 20 hz, and with either I get all I might want ( for enjoyment ) if I listened to a lot of electonica or club music. The Diesis Roma, in the other hand, only dip below 30hz (and would not be my choice if electronica or club music was my thing), but when I listen to the Roma I am never missing those lowest frequencies as everything else is presented in such a balanced, cohesive way. No party tricks, just everything essential to enjoyment. Not only invited in, but lured in finding it easy to sit down and get lost in the music.

Thats not to say the Alsyvox or Bayz are “tricky”, they just go a bit deeper and that might be essential to some.

And someone above mentioned changing tastes, like wine. When I first started to enjoy wine big, bold, new world wines excited my palate but over time I came to appreciate balance, nuance, delicacy and finally the intimacy of terroir. So has my appreciation changed for what a system can offer. While I still appreciate grunt and slam, I can now hear and appreciate delicacy and subtle nuances that are only served by a system capable of resolving those differences.
 

Kingsrule

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Forget natural, sublime, and all the other descriptives bantered around and argued over and over in the various forums subsets

I want my system to sound real

We all know real when we hear it......
 

marmota

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Feb 3, 2016
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1. Me as an individual:
I'm relatively young at 30 years old, 95% of the music I listen is not on vinyl or tapes. If I buy a turntable or a tape machine, it would be for a minor amount of music that I can also listen digitally, so it would be a huge investment for a better experience of a very small % of music enjoyment. As such, only source will be DAC until I have boatloads of money to buy a top analog rig (no need for a mid-fi anything, life is too short and good to waste with mid tier stuff). I like colorful but linear and resolving sources, like the Rockna Wavedream DAC.

2. Coherence:
speaker has to have all drivers made of the same materials and type of construction. All cones. Must be a 2 way with a filler driver, with driver sizes preferably being 15', 8' and waveguided 1'6 cone tweeter taking into account that the speaker only has 3 drivers. Passive filter must be phase coherent and speaker must produce perfect impulse response. Passive filters must be 2 cascaded 1st order for woofer and tweeter, and none for midrange which should have "built in" 1st order roll off at both ends, baffle step compensation taken into account. Crossover parts must be all of the same materials and construction. All drivers must be loaded the same, with a sealed transmission line carved in multiple translaminated wood panels being the best possible method (custom molds being terribly expensive unless planing to start a speaker company with prospect to sell 100+ pairs of speakers, which is not the case with me). Speakers must be decoupled from the floor with a proper method, such as Boenicke swing bases. Room must have at least 2x PSI active bass traps and be of proper dimensions. Impedance must be linear due to drivers having a second voice coil that counteracts impedance peak, like 18sounds "AIC", not because of extra crossover parts. Impedance must be 16 ohms flat and efficiency over true 90db 1 watt.

3. Headroom:
10' is the mininum size for a "bass" driver, anything less is a midrange driver. A small speaker is not a good speaker, because it doesn't have headroom or plays well at low volumes. It doesn't have efficiency to play with good sounding amps either. In my opinion, small speakers are ok for desktop listening and discovering music with Youtube, not for true high end audio.

4. Lack of molesting artifacts:
smooth but not dull treble, linear midrange and bass. Proper micro and macro dynamics, due to drivers being efficient, well behaved and using good sounding materials, such as paper or hemp, coupled with good sounding magnet materials (alnico, neodymium and various field coils).

5. The ability to properly convey tonal colors:
due to all the characteristics mentioned above, the speaker can be used with good sounding, properly built pure class A amplification. 20 watts of pure class A1 being optimal, something like a custom Sakuma style GM70/GM70 with full custom finemet transformers and chokes would be ideal. Preamp must be as minimalistic as possible, a passive autoformer volume control built into the amp being preferred.

6. Conceptual coherence with regards to cabling:
cables must have custom connectors made of the same materials as the conductors, non negotiable. Equipment's connectors must be custom made out of the same materials as the cable's connectors too. Same for wall AC outlets. All of this for maximum performance.

7. Imagination is the only valid standard:
I couldn't care less about what reviewer a or b thinks or what next equipment piece is the "best", I have an imagined sound in my mind that my future speaker setup must reproduce. I've made a thread about it called "Do you have a dream sound in mind", on which people replied that they didn't, they just bought equipment, listened, bought new equipment, listened...repeat cycle. That results in chasing the next best thing instead of self education and discovering what is your ideal sound and what it takes to achieve it. Imagination is the biggest standard and it must be met or exceeded by the equipment, not backwards where the sound is only experience without imagination and direction of any future endeavors. Influence from inside you must be bigger than influence from outside you (reviewers, forum members, etc). Describing things as "real" and "natural" doesn't count either, it's like wow you got the sound you wanted in exchange of forgetting how to describe sound. Such pedestrian descriptions are not useful for anyone.

These are my observations of what I want for my personal audio system and why I think that way, please don't take them as gospel, they are just my desires and my opinion.
 
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microstrip

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(...) The fact that many of us have gone through several (many?) component "upgrades" or wholesale system changes does suggest that maybe we don't know what we want. Well, let's say we want "better sound". Do we know what we intend to accomplish specifically? For some of us, it is trial and error; sometimes trial and success too. For some of us we have not yet experienced that ultimately satisfying sound. Some of us may simply get bored with our system and want something different. Do you know what "better sound" means personally?

IMHO it is impossible to answer in general to such question. The technical limitations of stereo (reproducing music using a two channel format using two spaced sources) make our listening a an individual experience. It is undefined enough to allow very different objectives, as often referred by Ron. Better sound means a different sound that we prefer, according to our experience and audiophile knowledge.

How do you know what you want? What are your experiences figuring that out and have you figured it out? Do you feel sufficiently confident that you on your own can know what you want. Would you like some guidance? (I'm not offering any in this post.)

How do you know what you want from your audio system?

Being an audiophile is much more than an audio system. As often referred, musical experience, curiosity, technical knowledge, amount of free time and desire to entertain ourselves, available funds and social aspects model our personnel definition of "better" . Remember that, in practice, bias is an intrinsic part of the high-end.
 

gleeds

Industry Expert
May 29, 2018
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1. Me as an individual:
I'm relatively young at 30 years old, 95% of the music I listen is not on vinyl or tapes. If I buy a turntable or a tape machine, it would be for a minor amount of music that I can also listen digitally, so it would be a huge investment for a better experience of a very small % of music enjoyment. As such, only source will be DAC until I have boatloads of money to buy a top analog rig (no need for a mid-fi anything, life is too short and good to waste with mid tier stuff). I like colorful but linear and resolving sources, like the Rockna Wavedream DAC.

2. Coherence:
speaker has to have all drivers made of the same materials and type of construction. All cones. Must be a 2 way with a filler driver, with driver sizes preferably being 15', 8' and waveguided 1'6 cone tweeter taking into account that the speaker only has 3 drivers. Passive filter must be phase coherent and speaker must produce perfect impulse response. Passive filters must be 2 cascaded 1st order for woofer and tweeter, and none for midrange which should have "built in" 1st order roll off at both ends, baffle step compensation taken into account. Crossover parts must be all of the same materials and construction. All drivers must be loaded the same, with a sealed transmission line carved in multiple translaminated wood panels being the best possible method (custom molds being terribly expensive unless planing to start a speaker company with prospect to sell 100+ pairs of speakers, which is not the case with me). Speakers must be decoupled from the floor with a proper method, such as Boenicke swing bases. Room must have at least 2x PSI active bass traps and be of proper dimensions. Impedance must be linear due to drivers having a second voice coil that counteracts impedance peak, like 18sounds "AIC", not because of extra crossover parts. Impedance must be 16 ohms flat and efficiency over true 90db 1 watt.

3. Headroom:
10' is the mininum size for a "bass" driver, anything less is a midrange driver. A small speaker is not a good speaker, because it doesn't have headroom or plays well at low volumes. It doesn't have efficiency to play with good sounding amps either. In my opinion, small speakers are ok for desktop listening and discovering music with Youtube, not for true high end audio.

4. Lack of molesting artifacts:
smooth but not dull treble, linear midrange and bass. Proper micro and macro dynamics, due to drivers being efficient, well behaved and using good sounding materials, such as paper or hemp, coupled with good sounding magnet materials (alnico, neodymium and various field coils).

5. The ability to properly convey tonal colors:
due to all the characteristics mentioned above, the speaker can be used with good sounding, properly built pure class A amplification. 20 watts of pure class A1 being optimal, something like a custom Sakuma style GM70/GM70 with full custom finemet transformers and chokes would be ideal. Preamp must be as minimalistic as possible, a passive autoformer volume control built into the amp being preferred.

6. Conceptual coherence with regards to cabling:
cables must have custom connectors made of the same materials as the conductors, non negotiable. Equipment's connectors must be custom made out of the same materials as the cable's connectors too. Same for wall AC outlets. All of this for maximum performance.

7. Imagination is the only valid standard:
I couldn't care less about what reviewer a or b thinks or what next equipment piece is the "best", I have an imagined sound in my mind that my future speaker setup must reproduce. I've made a thread about it called "Do you have a dream sound in mind", on which people replied that they didn't, they just bought equipment, listened, bought new equipment, listened...repeat cycle. That results in chasing the next best thing instead of self education and discovering what is your ideal sound and what it takes to achieve it. Imagination is the biggest standard and it must be met or exceeded by the equipment, not backwards where the sound is only experience without imagination and direction of any future endeavors. Influence from inside you must be bigger than influence from outside you (reviewers, forum members, etc). Describing things as "real" and "natural" doesn't count either, it's like wow you got the sound you wanted in exchange of forgetting how to describe sound. Such pedestrian descriptions are not useful for anyone.

These are my observations of what

1. Me as an individual:
I'm relatively young at 30 years old, 95% of the music I listen is not on vinyl or tapes. If I buy a turntable or a tape machine, it would be for a minor amount of music that I can also listen digitally, so it would be a huge investment for a better experience of a very small % of music enjoyment. As such, only source will be DAC until I have boatloads of money to buy a top analog rig (no need for a mid-fi anything, life is too short and good to waste with mid tier stuff). I like colorful but linear and resolving sources, like the Rockna Wavedream DAC.

2. Coherence:
speaker has to have all drivers made of the same materials and type of construction. All cones. Must be a 2 way with a filler driver, with driver sizes preferably being 15', 8' and waveguided 1'6 cone tweeter taking into account that the speaker only has 3 drivers. Passive filter must be phase coherent and speaker must produce perfect impulse response. Passive filters must be 2 cascaded 1st order for woofer and tweeter, and none for midrange which should have "built in" 1st order roll off at both ends, baffle step compensation taken into account. Crossover parts must be all of the same materials and construction. All drivers must be loaded the same, with a sealed transmission line carved in multiple translaminated wood panels being the best possible method (custom molds being terribly expensive unless planing to start a speaker company with prospect to sell 100+ pairs of speakers, which is not the case with me). Speakers must be decoupled from the floor with a proper method, such as Boenicke swing bases. Room must have at least 2x PSI active bass traps and be of proper dimensions. Impedance must be linear due to drivers having a second voice coil that counteracts impedance peak, like 18sounds "AIC", not because of extra crossover parts. Impedance must be 16 ohms flat and efficiency over true 90db 1 watt.

3. Headroom:
10' is the mininum size for a "bass" driver, anything less is a midrange driver. A small speaker is not a good speaker, because it doesn't have headroom or plays well at low volumes. It doesn't have efficiency to play with good sounding amps either. In my opinion, small speakers are ok for desktop listening and discovering music with Youtube, not for true high end audio.

4. Lack of molesting artifacts:
smooth but not dull treble, linear midrange and bass. Proper micro and macro dynamics, due to drivers being efficient, well behaved and using good sounding materials, such as paper or hemp, coupled with good sounding magnet materials (alnico, neodymium and various field coils).

5. The ability to properly convey tonal colors:
due to all the characteristics mentioned above, the speaker can be used with good sounding, properly built pure class A amplification. 20 watts of pure class A1 being optimal, something like a custom Sakuma style GM70/GM70 with full custom finemet transformers and chokes would be ideal. Preamp must be as minimalistic as possible, a passive autoformer volume control built into the amp being preferred.

6. Conceptual coherence with regards to cabling:
cables must have custom connectors made of the same materials as the conductors, non negotiable. Equipment's connectors must be custom made out of the same materials as the cable's connectors too. Same for wall AC outlets. All of this for maximum performance.

7. Imagination is the only valid standard:
I couldn't care less about what reviewer a or b thinks or what next equipment piece is the "best", I have an imagined sound in my mind that my future speaker setup must reproduce. I've made a thread about it called "Do you have a dream sound in mind", on which people replied that they didn't, they just bought equipment, listened, bought new equipment, listened...repeat cycle. That results in chasing the next best thing instead of self education and discovering what is your ideal sound and what it takes to achieve it. Imagination is the biggest standard and it must be met or exceeded by the equipment, not backwards where the sound is only experience without imagination and direction of any future endeavors. Influence from inside you must be bigger than influence from outside you (reviewers, forum members, etc). Describing things as "real" and "natural" doesn't count either, it's like wow you got the sound you wanted in exchange of forgetting how to describe sound. Such pedestrian descriptions are not useful for anyone.

These are my observations of what I want for my personal audio system and why I think that way, please don't take them as gospel, they are just my desires and my opinion.
I am interested in this post from the perspective of you being a "new generation" audiophile.

What led you to speak in such a detailed manner so directly to your priorities in a system/loudspeaker?

What music and audio educational experiences contributed to this very defined POV?

As someone who has studied and immersed oneself in performance audio for decades, I find your post fascinating.
 

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