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

Ron Resnick

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

I think this is a very interesting question, Tim. Thank you for starting this thread.

I think this is an important question -- a threshold question. If one does not know what one wants (what I call one's "objective") how can one plan, with research and listening experiences, to get to the goal?

There are different ways to describe what we want from our audio systems (in my parlance, there are different possible objectives of high-end audio).

Here is the framework of possible objectives a group of us on WBF developed in 2016:

1) recreate the sound of an original musical event,

2) reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played,

3) create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile, and

4) create a sound that seems live.


Of course people can quibble with these objectives, and how they are described. But I think that this list truly has explanatory power. I believe that this framework is an advancement from Jonathan Valin's attempt at the same question.* Audiophiles, when describing what they want from their audio systems, often say or write things which track closely one of these objectives.

In Karen Sumner's wonderful essay, "A Gold Standard for Listening Evaluations," she described a beginning principle as: "come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material. Karen then described a later principle as: "create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences."

Karen's beginning principle, "come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material," seems to me to be substantially the same as Objective 2) "reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played."

Karen's later principle, "create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences," seems to me to be substantially the same as Objective 4) "create a sound that seems live."

___________________________________________________________

*Jonathan Valin uses this framework of objectives:

1) transparency to sources (or “accuracy-first”)

2) “as you like it” (or “musicality-first”)

3) “the absolute sound” ("search for those recordings and components that best preserve the sound of acoustic instruments in a real space")


See https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/magico-m3-loudspeaker

Jonathan's "transparency to sources" is substantially the same as my "reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played."

His “as you like it” is the same as my "create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile."

His “the absolute sound” is substantially the same as my "create a sound that seems live."

I personally think our WBF framework untangles things helpfully by disaggregating the "absolute sound" into "recreate the sound of an original musical event" and "create a sound that seems live." I think our topology is more specific and easier to understand.
 
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Robh3606

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Aug 25, 2010
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1) recreate the sound of an original musical event,

2) reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played,

3) create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile, and

4) create a sound that seems live.


Of course people can quibble with these objectives, and how they are described. But I think that this list truly has explanatory power. I believe that this framework is an advancement from Jonathan Valin's attempt at the same question.* Audiophiles, when describing what they want from their audio systems, often say or write things which track closely one of these objectives.

In Karen Sumner's wonderful essay, "A Gold Standard for Listening Evaluations," she described a beginning principle as: "come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material. Karen then described a later principle as: "create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences."

Hello Ron

I can agree with 2,3 and 4. Number 1 is simply not going to happen ever. You may get close enough where you get emotionally involved and forget where you are for a moment but that's fleeting?? Not sure of the spelling, and it all comes crashing down back to reality in your listening room. But it sure is fun trying to get there.

Rob :)
 
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thedudeabides

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Jan 16, 2011
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No need to further elaborate, it's quite self explanatory and my other posts here say everything needed about the topic. It's just plain common sense (selecting the right speaker for your room and amp for the speakers included).
Everything we need to know? You are funny.
 
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Bergm@nn

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Aug 14, 2021
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I think its helpful to distinguish the qualities and outcomes you're looking for when listening to music at home, from the means and method of doing so.

If I've learned anything from this hobby its that there is more than one way to achieve what you are looking for; and the natural tendency to narrow down options and thinking too soon can artificially and unhelpfully blinker you to one path at the expense of other options.

So I guess I find the specifying of the means/ method that @marmota described up thread a bit flawed/ counterintuitive, but each to their own path etc.

Others have articulated this better but what I think I'm looking for from my own own stereo is an effortless portrayal of music with believable sonic images and tone. Good dynamics and a reasonable soundstage that fools me into thinking the instruments are being played in the room to some extent.

Its always going to be somewhat flawed due to the fact that most recordings are mixed and produced so what you hear is a contrived product rather than the sound of band in a space - I know there's exceptions etc. Within this compromise I still expect the sound to be 'believable' to a large extent.

Also another good marker for me is lack of fatigue when listening for long periods. Any system that sounds exciting but has to be switched off after a couple of hours isn't what I'm looking for.
 
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bonzo75

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Jonathan's "transparency to sources" is substantially the same as my "reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played."

His “as you like it” is the same as my "create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile."

His “the absolute sound” is substantially the same as my "create a sound that seems live."

Where I disagree is that transparency to source will make the sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile with good recordings and gear. It is not like G spends his time listening to mp3 or reissues that he needs lack of transparency to sources to make it pleasing. If you are listening to compressed prog music records then yes, you would rather sacrifice that transparency for a pleasant sound consistent across recordings

Also, if you have good classical records and transparency to sources, you are getting the feel of a live event, so that's the absolute sound.

So depending on your level of recordings and system you either have these three as separate or they roll up into one
 
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tima

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Mar 4, 2014
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I think this is a very interesting question, Tim. Thank you for starting this thread.

I think this is an important question -- a threshold question. If one does not know what one wants (what I call one's "objective") how can one plan, with research and listening experiences, to get to the goal?

There are different ways to describe what we want from our audio systems (in my parlance, there are different possible objectives of high-end audio).

Here is the framework of possible objectives a group of us on WBF developed in 2016:

1) recreate the sound of an original musical event,

2) reproduce exactly what is on the tape, vinyl or digital source being played,

3) create a sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile, and

4) create a sound that seems live.

Thanks Ron. While you and I come at this from slightly different angles, I believe we agree generally on approach and importance for guiding assesment and setting direction.

As regards your #1, it is not a consideration, imo, if one literally means recreating the sound of an original music event. Reality and reproduction are not the same and while maybe some future technology might make them indistinguishable, as of today identity is not possible. Now if #1 was modified to something like "sound similar to an original event" or "be judged against the sound of the original event" that eases up on identity, although ilt is highly unlikely that one has a clue about the original event unless they were there.

As for #2, it is a very interesting idea although I question how we would know exactly what is on the source material. Hypothetically if there was a way to assure that everything on a recording is reproduced, it is possible that two systems could do that yet sound different from one another. I don't see that as a problem because the goal is achieved and thus possible as a goal - but it's not.

#3 certainly is a viable goal.

#4 is a viable goal - similar to a less stringent #1 that doesn't require an original event. I put this differently and talk in terms of using the sound of live acoustic music as my reference. It poses some difficulty for music created by programming or solely in a studio - we have no reference gauging how those should sound.

So for those wondering what they want, or willing to admit they don't have a clue about what they want, ask yourself do you have a method for figuring that out. What Ron and I are talking about is a framework for figuring out what you want if you have no method of your own.

I suggest two considerations:
i) expose yourself to a wide variety of systems and sounds. And be willing to experiment with what you have to learn different ways your gear can deliver different sound. This is not so much about choosing equipment but learning what different types of sound different types of equipment can deliver. What is available may be a function of where you live. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge what you do not know, keep an open mind but also know your choices are not etched in stone.
ii) ask yourself if are willing to be guided by a reference - that is something relatively stable against which you can compare and assess. If you want to be your own reference consider how or if your preferences change over time. Do you want your stereo to deliver music sounding like it does when it is performed or do you want your music to sound like some imaginary ideal in your head or in some way 'sounds better' than a performance - there is no right answer.
 
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tima

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Where I disagree is that if the sources are good, transparency to sources will make the sound subjectively pleasing to the audiophile. It is not like G spends his time listening to mp3 or reissues that he needs lack of transparency to sources to make it pleasing. If you are listening to compressed prog music records then yes, you would rather sacrifice that transparency for a pleasant sound consistent across recordings

Also, if you have good classical records and transparency to sources, you are getting the feel of a live event, so that's the absolute sound.

So depending on your level of recordings and system you either have these three as separate or they roll up into one

Okay - I kinda agree with your idea but there's a bit of chicken and a bit of egg here. "If the sources are good" is partly a function of the level of transparency one can achieve with a certain set of gear. Can you tell if 'a sorce is good' on any system?

Does sorting this out help us understand what we want from our audo systems?
 

bonzo75

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Okay - I kinda agree with your idea but there's a bit of chicken and a bit of egg here. "If the sources are good" is partly a function of the level of transparency one can achieve with a certain set of gear. Can you tell if 'a sorce is good' on any system?

Does sorting this out help us understand what we want from our audo systems?

I reworded that a bit to clarify. But yes I am saying if you get the transparency to source you will achieve all three objectives with good recordings
 

Gregm

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I reworded that a bit to clarify. But yes I am saying if you get the transparency to source you will achieve all three objectives with good recordings
Transparency to the source: isn't that Ron's No2?
 

bonzo75

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Transparency to the source: isn't that Ron's No2?

I am saying it need not be a separate stand alone, by achieving that objective you are achieving more than one
 

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