Mediocre recordings with great gear vs great recordings with mediocre gear?

Kingrex

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As a tube amplifier person, I would say that tube amps can do that! (Different presentation I can understand; "stomped" on darTZeel sounds like an exaggeration.)
When I leave Mike L house I have a hard time turning on my stereo. Sometimes for weeks. The maker of the Blade is a friend of Mikes and had his amp in town, so I heard Mikes system and the Blade at my home. When the Blade played, I felt I had performance rivaling Mikes. The details were out of this world.
Trio Palabras. First song. There is a clunk clunk clunk. With the blade you not only hear its a hollow piece of wood hit with a stick, its like you hear in the wood. And its presented so deep in the soundstage its like its ouside the back wall of my room.
Vivaldi in Venice. I'm sure I heard the Harpsichordist draw his finger across the top of the strings. And the players breathing is as apparent as some instruments.

These amps absolutely trounced any other that has been at my house. They would still be here today. But, there was a hum out of one speaker. Then the amp quit. When Scott came to take a look, we found UPS had slammed the wood crate so hard they snapped the output transformers base on one amp.
In a way it may be a small blessing. Scott says the volume I listen at is pretty low. He can build the amp with a EL34 that will bloom at peak output a little lower than the KT88.

A side benefit of the amp design is that not a single driver, signal or Mercury vapor tube costs more than $40. And those should last 20,000 hours. The power tubes are 2 x KT88 or EL34 new production. They should run 3000 to 5000 hours.

I have one one order.
 

Hear Here

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Invariably, I find that the better the system, better the sonic result -- I.e with the better gear I hear better what was cpatured in the recording. And I wouldn't want to pass by a Furtwangler / Vienna Beethoven 3rd symphony because the sound ain't all that audiophile ;)

Indeed, I have not found that the best setup systems are "unforgiving" and thereby, render bad recordings unlistenable -- the opposite, if anything. Better resolution and less distortion highlight the music just as much as the weaknesses of the recording, but in extracting more information, these systems bring me closer to the music.
Exactly - even poor recordings sound better on good quality equipment than poor equipment.

However, one proviso perhaps - some speakers (and to a lesser extent amps) are designed for studio use, where poor aspects in a recording are required to be emphasised (the wrong word I accept), so that the recording engineer can do his magic in fixing as many "faults" as he can before the master recording is distributed. My studio ATCs were such speakers and poor recordings really sounded poor! I didn't like those speaker so quickly moved on to others that make almost any recording sound exciting.
 
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Hear Here

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Vinyl fans do get up to change sides every 20 minutes. Even though I have just CD playback at home, I very much also enjoy the vinyl experience in audiophile friends' homes, and the sound can be awesome too. I find it a bit questionable to recommend to someone to ditch their vinyl collection and gear, just because you did.
An interesting reply from someone without vinyl! ;) OK, when you visit friends and see they get up every 20 minutes to change a record, do you really think that when they are on their own, they don't do what the rest of us do - relax in a comfy chair and enjoy the sound quality and convenience of streaming? Granted, some may not admit it, but I'd bet that more time is spent listening to streamed music than vinyl in all but the reat die-hards homes!

I wasn't recommending that vinyl is ditched, rather than to suggest that the investment in speakers seems disproportionately small and that perhaps consideration could be given to moving that investment from vinyl to speakers such that better sound enters his ears. If money is no object, then good speakers and good vinyl can both be catered for, but if expenditure on equipment is limited, there’s a good case for redistribution.
 

Al M.

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An interesting reply from someone without vinyl! ;) OK, when you visit friends and see they get up every 20 minutes to change a record, do you really think that when they are on their own, they don't do what the rest of us do - relax in a comfy chair and enjoy the sound quality and convenience of streaming? Granted, some may not admit it, but I'd bet that more time is spent listening to streamed music than vinyl in all but the reat die-hards homes!

You can bet all you want. BTW, some don't even use streaming much or at all. I don't either on my rig. I do streaming on YouTube over laptop and headphones.

I wasn't recommending that vinyl is ditched,

Yes, you were:
"but perhaps I would re-arrange my investment by selling all vinyl (hardware and software unless you play it daily and can genuinely believe it sounds better),"

If money is no object, then good speakers and good vinyl can both be catered for, but if expenditure on equipment is limited, there’s a good case for redistribution.

True. That is why I am not venturing into either vinyl or high-end streaming, but rather stick with optimizing my CD playback and putting my money there, freed up from using it for other sources. I am very happy that I made that choice, it's precisely the right one for me. But again, not everyone is the same.
 

Ron Resnick

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When I leave Mike L house I have a hard time turning on my stereo. Sometimes for weeks. The maker of the Blade is a friend of Mikes and had his amp in town, so I heard Mikes system and the Blade at my home. When the Blade played, I felt I had performance rivaling Mikes. The details were out of this world.
Trio Palabras. First song. There is a clunk clunk clunk. With the blade you not only hear its a hollow piece of wood hit with a stick, its like you hear in the wood. And its presented so deep in the soundstage its like its ouside the back wall of my room.
Vivaldi in Venice. I'm sure I heard the Harpsichordist draw his finger across the top of the strings. And the players breathing is as apparent as some instruments.

These amps absolutely trounced any other that has been at my house. They would still be here today. But, there was a hum out of one speaker. Then the amp quit. When Scott came to take a look, we found UPS had slammed the wood crate so hard they snapped the output transformers base on one amp.
In a way it may be a small blessing. Scott says the volume I listen at is pretty low. He can build the amp with a EL34 that will bloom at peak output a little lower than the KT88.

A side benefit of the amp design is that not a single driver, signal or Mercury vapor tube costs more than $40. And those should last 20,000 hours. The power tubes are 2 x KT88 or EL34 new production. They should run 3000 to 5000 hours.

I have one one order.

thank you for elaborating!
 

Hear Here

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Feb 14, 2020
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I do streaming on YouTube over laptop and headphones.
Oh, dear!
Yes, you were:
"but perhaps I would re-arrange my investment by selling all vinyl (hardware and software unless you play it daily and can genuinely believe it sounds better),"
No I wasn't! Not a recommendation but what I may do - maybe. There is a big difference.
True. That is why I am not venturing into either vinyl or high-end streaming, but rather stick with optimizing my CD playback and putting my money there, freed up from using it for other sources. I am very happy that I made that choice, it's precisely the right one for me. But again, not everyone is the same.
If you think that buying CDs and playing them on a stand-alone CDP or transport is less costly than streaming, you may be mistaken. My guess is that it would be less costly to stream at comparable sound quality.

Granted used CDs are pretty much free now that everyone is ditching them, but players are more complex (including moving parts) than streamers and streaming offers millions of albums compared with a few hundred or even a couple of thousand in a big collection. Moreover if you are interested in good sound quality, streaming can offer better SQ than Red Book
 
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Al M.

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If you think that buying CDs and playing them on a stand-alone CDP or transport, you may be mistaken. My guess is that it would be less costly to stream at comparable sound quality.

Bad guess, very bad guess. Do you think I have not witnessed the endless drama and huge amounts of hours of effort and/or vast amounts of money spent in friends' systems to try to get streaming right? No thank you.

And one friend with a very high-resolution system who was big into streaming and has spent lots of effort on it is now again big into playing physical CDs. They sound better in his setup.

Moreover if you are interested in good sound quality, streaming can offer better SQ than Red Book

Emphasis on *can*.

It takes *a lot* to get there. It's not that run-of-the-mill streaming beats well sorted out CD playback, see above.
 

Kingrex

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thank you for elaborating!
Upon reread, my comment about rivaling Mikes is extreme. But it was the first time I was not dissatisfied and feeling the need to not play music after being at his house. My scale is nothing like his. But the resolution and detail are so greatly improved, it moved me a lot closer to his system than far away as I have been.

Jazdoc has a system I always wanted to emulate. When he plays Art Pepper, you are very aware of Art's breath and lip work on the reed. I always thought it was the Daedalus speakers. I was a bit surprised to realize its the Blade amp.
I sort of feel all I need to complete my system is this amp. Then I'm done.
 

Kingrex

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I have about a 20 minute attention span, so records are perfect for me. A full CD gets too long. And streaming starts to beliger me when it never ends.
I want a Jays Audio MK3. The maker of my DAC says they play fantastic together. I can stop a CD if need be.
And I would never be without streaming to find new music.

If I had to drop a source in my system, it would probably be tape. It may sound the best. But it truely is a production to play something. And I won't stop and start the tape unless I am between songs. And even then, I have dust. So I am restless with a loaded tape sitting and getting dirty.
 

wil

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Jul 22, 2015
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It strikes me as odd at the dual extreme perspectives:

One that it’s some kind of onerous chore to flip an lp every 20 minutes.

And the other that streaming is all about sitting passively for hours while Roon cues up playlists.

I stream and my listening is as conscious and methodical as someone listening to records. I get restless to stand up every 20 minutes or so anyway.

I agree with Al that to make streaming equal to excellent cd playback takes a huge effort. It can be a painful journey. But once that effort pays off, the combination with the vast catalog of music, can make for a heavenly trip.
 
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Al M.

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I agree with Al that to make streaming equal excellent cd playback takes a huge effort. It can be a painful journey. But once that effort pays off, the combination with the vast catalog of music, can make for a heavenly trip.

Yes, I have experienced that heavenly trip in great systems where the owners did optimize their streaming.

It did come with a price tag that goes beyond what I personally would be willing (or able) to spend, but that's just me.
 
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russtafarian

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As a part-time sound engineer I spent years figuring out how to make bad bands and/or bad PA systems sound at least somewhat musical for the audience. I take the same approach with my hi-fi. I want to every record to sound great, so when sound quality fails to satisfy, I have tools to help.

For vinyl I regularly rotate 3 cartridges: AT OC9 XSL, Ortofon SPU Classic IIe, and a 45 year old Shure M95 MM (with new JICO stylus). A record that sounds wrong on one cart will usually sound better on another. The OC9 sounds gorgeous on fine acoustic recordings but pulls out too many artifacts with most rock-pop stuff. The M95 pumps smooth vibes and big energy with ‘70s and ‘80s rock but lacks resolution for better recordings. The SPU splits the difference and sounds great on just about everything. Choosing the right one inevitably turns into a game of rock-paper-scissors. I enjoy this level of engagement with my music.

Russ
 

Rexp

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Yes, I have experienced that heavenly trip in great systems where the owners did optimize their streaming.

It did come with a price tag that goes beyond what I personally would be willing (or able) to spend, but that's just me.
Nah you just need a NAD M33.
Seriously though, some of these class D amps do make sub par digital recordings sound better. Wouldn't want to use one with quality source material though.
 

Chop

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Going back to the original question: For me, if I have to choose its mediocre recordings and great gear, every time. i want to get the most from the music I want to listen to. I'm not so interested in sound for the sake of it.

I listen to a very wIde range of music on mostly on LP, 1930's to current. As such the quality of the recording varies from record to record pressing to pressing of the same record, and a system that allows me to hear the the differences between recordings & pressings / the maximum performance from anything I want to listen to is extremely important to my enjoyment.
Hearing the most possible from a great performance of something is important. Boring music sounding great isn't.
 

Zuman

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A couple of thoughts in response to the comments...
First, thank you. There is a lot of good wisdom in addition to actual experience expressed here.
Second, I'm a bit stranded right now with my first-ever bout of COVID. That gives me both the opportunity and the excuse to read, learn, listen, and play around with my system.
So, the first thing I've been forced to accept is that (as we all know, but which many try to avoid swallowing due to our love of "gear"), the room rules. While I'm not particularly enjoying moving speakers and furniture around in my present state, I'm finding massive differences when reconfiguring speaker and seating placement. For example, moving my listening position about twelve inches forward completely eliminated a slight midrange honkiness that had been bothering me on occasion. That resulted, however, in a clean but lean overall presentation, which was mitigated by moving my speakers about six inches closer to the front wall. And so it goes on and on...
I bought the downloadable copy of Jim Smith's "Get Better Sound" and I'm working my way through that.
I really appreciate TimA's comment that "audiophile recordings are meant to placate mediocre systems" and "I encourage using challenging music to help improve your system." While I'm sure that making poor systems sound good is not the ONLY reason for audiophile recordings, I think that it's a good point that they can help mask deficiencies. While I continue to rearrange my room over the next few days, I think I'll first use an average-sounding recording to try to find the best configuration, then immediately play some of my best music and ensure that it still sounds great.
Also, I really love PeterA's comments back in January about integrating music into social experiences. I want to listen in my home, not in a lab.
One final comment - and I promise I'm not being defensive here - regarding my speakers, which are based on the CSS Criton 2TD-X towers (not the MTMs), I'm confident that they're not the weak link in my chain that's letting everything else down. Even though you can buy the drivers and upgraded crossover components for about $1,500 (not including cabinets), many reviewers have favorably compared their performance in "standard" form to $10k or more expensive speakers. My modifications include solid quartersawn mahogany boxes with high-end joinery, lined by Baltic birch ply and NoRez, braced with Baltic birch braces and internal front baffle, solid copper and solid silver internal wiring, top-level binding posts and tube connectors, and Isoacoustics Gaia feet (on their carpet spikes). I've owned a lot of good speakers, including KEF, Martin Logan electrostatics, TAD, and classic Infinity, and my current Critons hold up very well indeed in comparison.
Thanks, all!
 

steve59

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Lots of theories on the subject. Personally I found the great equalizer to be system synergy. I was naive when I bought my first 'hi end' speakers. Going from the bose 901 VI to kef R 105/3 was a huge step in high fq resolution and I was still using my radio shack Realistic 55 wpc receiver. my cd collection of 80 discs(1990) shrunk to 7 or 8 listenable cd's! Now I've got a system assembled that plays well and when I play one of those old, flat, lifeless Aerosmith discs they don't sound half as bad as they once did and the good recordings excel even more. Now ASR forum still believes in 'perfect sound forever' and if they're right I can't give my dac any credit for the improved sound, so I'm back to system synergy.
 

stehno

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A genuinely superior playback system should dramatically improve the musicality of every recording. Genuinely superior recordings should dramatically improve the musicality of any playback system - even if the system resolution and/or our listening skills are so poor we’re unable to discern audible differences.

A better question might be about inferiority I.e. which is most inferior (least optimized) or most severely crippled or compromised - playback systems or recordings? IOW, which has the potential for greatest levels of improvement?

IMO, due to various unaddressed or poorly-addressed distortions at the playback system clearly our systems are far more crippled than perhaps any recording. Not to mention that the quality of engineering in a recording is outside of most of our scope while a playback system's questionable resolution is entirely within our scope.

Hence, sufficiently focusing on improving the playback system should result in recordings sounding seemingly far more superior than we thought. Which in turn translates to far more frequent actual as well as potential musical enjoyment. Rather than suficiently focusing only on acquiring genuinely superior recordings.
 
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treitz3

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@Kingrex or @Mike Lavigne Do you have a link to this Blade amp company?

I tried looking it up and all I see so far is car amps.

On topic -

As my audio journey has advanced, I have heard great songs I once loved start to sound worse, mediocre songs start to sound great and stellar recordings sounding phenomenal. In my view, or rather, in my own observations....the system matters. Is it built and designed toward that "typical and unflattering ultra Hi-Fi sound" that sucks all of the life and emotion out of the selection but gives you every last detail? At the other extreme, is the system built to mask deficiencies in the recordings/upstream gear to make everything sound more "enjoyable"? Is it built and designed toward emotional connections toward the music and great fidelity or it is built and designed to sound decent to great on all genre's (really bad recordings aside)? That's a lot of variables.

Everyone has their own taste, Their own preferences. Their own "reference" when it comes to reproduced music. I do not believe that humans will ever achieve "perfect" sound that perfectly replicates a live performance. The technology simply isn't there, nor do I believe that it will come close in our lifetime. So, we are all trying to achieve what is best for our own personal "reference" of reproduced music/performances/recordings.

As far as the question of mediocre recordings with great gear -vs- great recordings with mediocre gear? Why limit yourself?

Take Adele, for example. Any of her albums. Great voice, great tunes but while I can listen to her on the big rig, I prefer on a much greater scale to listen to her in the vehicle with the windows rolled down. There are just to many recording "issues" going on with how the albums are recorded to listen to her on the big rig. You tend to notice all of them on a great rig and it takes away from the musical connection (for me) because all I want to do is start yelling at the recording engineer (who isn't even in the room) and complaining on how they F'd up such a great artist's music.

In a vehicle, I still clearly hear the compression and other artifacts but listening and enjoying her music is on a completely different level because the roadside/vehicle noises block most of the BS that the recording engineers....anyhoo, you get my drift.

Now, on the flip side. Take a stellar album and play it on a mediocre system. Yeah, it sounds good and some of the micro details are still there but you have to strain to hear them. They are not as defined and fluid. The imaging and emotional connection is lost. The impact is compromised. Well, for that matter, the music is compromised. In this case, I would move it to the big rig and enjoy it in it's full capacity, with all of the wonderful attributes the big rig offers. I'd even go so far as to pick out the best version/recording of said song/album I have and play it on the best sounding format I have for said album.

Then you get into the (stay with me here) vinyl versus CD versus streaming versus tape thing. I don't care (personally) about the format. I just want what I want to listen to to be reproduced in the most wonderful way sound can hit these ears. This is kind of the same thing when it comes to mediocre recordings with great gear -vs- great recordings with mediocre gear. I really don't care where I hear it from, I simply prefer to hear it utilizing the best recording, format and playback mechanism/system I have available to me. Presented to me in the best possible pleasing way, in a way that extracts the most out of that particular selection.

I am sure I am not the only one here that will go to the extreme and change out an IC or tube(s) just to hear a particular selection presented to me in the best possible way. I make sure that I am not limited in my choices and I hope to never be limited. Music is simply to important and enjoyable to me.

Tom

 

Mike Lavigne

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@Kingrex or @Mike Lavigne Do you have a link to this Blade amp company?

I tried looking it up and all I see so far is car amps.

On topic -

As my audio journey has advanced, I have heard great songs I once loved start to sound worse, mediocre songs start to sound great and stellar recordings sounding phenomenal. In my view, or rather, in my own observations....the system matters. Is it built and designed toward that "typical and unflattering ultra Hi-Fi sound" that sucks all of the life and emotion out of the selection but gives you every last detail? At the other extreme, is the system built to mask deficiencies in the recordings/upstream gear to make everything sound more "enjoyable"? Is it built and designed toward emotional connections toward the music and great fidelity or it is built and designed to sound decent to great on all genre's (really bad recordings aside)? That's a lot of variables.

Everyone has their own taste, Their own preferences. Their own "reference" when it comes to reproduced music. I do not believe that humans will ever achieve "perfect" sound that perfectly replicates a live performance. The technology simply isn't there, nor do I believe that it will come close in our lifetime. So, we are all trying to achieve what is best for our own personal "reference" of reproduced music/performances/recordings.

As far as the question of mediocre recordings with great gear -vs- great recordings with mediocre gear? Why limit yourself?

Take Adele, for example. Any of her albums. Great voice, great tunes but while I can listen to her on the big rig, I prefer on a much greater scale to listen to her in the vehicle with the windows rolled down. There are just to many recording "issues" going on with how the albums are recorded to listen to her on the big rig. You tend to notice all of them on a great rig and it takes away from the musical connection (for me) because all I want to do is start yelling at the recording engineer (who isn't even in the room) and complaining on how they F'd up such a great artist's music.

In a vehicle, I still clearly hear the compression and other artifacts but listening and enjoying her music is on a completely different level because the roadside/vehicle noises block most of the BS that the recording engineers....anyhoo, you get my drift.

Now, on the flip side. Take a stellar album and play it on a mediocre system. Yeah, it sounds good and some of the micro details are still there but you have to strain to hear them. They are not as defined and fluid. The imaging and emotional connection is lost. The impact is compromised. Well, for that matter, the music is compromised. In this case, I would move it to the big rig and enjoy it in it's full capacity, with all of the wonderful attributes the big rig offers. I'd even go so far as to pick out the best version/recording of said song/album I have and play it on the best sounding format I have for said album.

Then you get into the (stay with me here) vinyl versus CD versus streaming versus tape thing. I don't care (personally) about the format. I just want what I want to listen to to be reproduced in the most wonderful way sound can hit these ears. This is kind of the same thing when it comes to mediocre recordings with great gear -vs- great recordings with mediocre gear. I really don't care where I hear it from, I simply prefer to hear it utilizing the best recording, format and playback mechanism/system I have available to me. Presented to me in the best possible pleasing way, in a way that extracts the most out of that particular selection.

I am sure I am not the only one here that will go to the extreme and change out an IC or tube(s) just to hear a particular selection presented to me in the best possible way. I make sure that I am not limited in my choices and I hope to never be limited. Music is simply to important and enjoyable to me.

Tom

Found Music, Blade Amplifiers.

builder; Scott Sheaffer.

972-998-6109

www.foundmusic.info

 
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PeterA

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Dec 6, 2011
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A genuinely superior playback system should dramatically improve the musicality of every recording. Genuinely superior recordings should dramatically improve the musicality of any playback system - even if the system resolution and/or our listening skills are so poor we’re unable to discern audible differences.

A better question might be about inferiority I.e. which is most inferior (least optimized) or most severely crippled or compromised - playback systems or recordings? IOW, which has the potential for greatest levels of improvement?

IMO, due to various unaddressed or poorly-addressed distortions at the playback system clearly our systems are far more crippled than perhaps any recording. Not to mention that the quality of engineering in a recording is outside of most of our scope while a playback system's questionable resolution is entirely within our scope.

Hence, sufficiently focusing on improving the playback system should result in recordings sounding seemingly far more superior than we thought. Which in turn translates to far more frequent actual as well as potential musical enjoyment. Rather than suficiently focusing only on acquiring genuinely superior recordings.

This is an interesting post Stehno. If you are right about superior systems overcoming limitations of the room and the recording, then the majority of viewers of system videos would reach some kind of consensus about the superiority of certain videos reflecting the superiority of certain systems. And yet, I don’t see this consensus. All sorts of people like all sorts of system videos, seemingly regardless of the system or the room treatments or the recordings.
 
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