Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I am so pleased you found what I wrote to be good reading!

. . . More to come . . .

Although I am sure many people are asking themselves what I have in my current system, I decided quite early in the "Karen Sumner Talks Audio and Music" forum not to go there or to talk about specific brands — it's kind of a slippery slope in which there are no winners because as some WBF veterans have reminded me — hi fi and music are very personal journeys.

Thank you for reading and commenting.
Respectfully disagree. To begin, we already know what speakers she uses, as well as the cabling. (You don't really think she uses Nordost or Audioquest, right? :eek:). But just like many others who have detailed their gear, it provides a useful metric for the readers as to her (or any user's) bias and preferences and to help the reader's context when specific discussions occur. For example, I always find it useful to learn if a user prefers SS or tube amplification, DAC's etc. I see no downside in these sorts of disclosures.
I value Karen’s comment posted above and I believe that we should respect her decision I thought she said it kindly and with good intent. Let it go
 

Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
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Hi,

Okay, well that and two ears. I don't know that relative transient speed (duration? Rate?), whatever that is, is relevant to sono-location, maybe it is - I would say articulation or definition. Plucking a string is probably your best example though a sharp glockenspiel strike works too. I gather you are concerned with a possible issue of reproduction more so than how instruments are played or how music sounds to us. I can live with that while disagreeing with the original contention:

What I like about the direction of the discussions in this thread is that you and others have begun to describe the music qualities that are important to create believable home music listening experiences. I think what we see here is that being able to do this in a way that communicates with other people is really quite challenging. It takes a lot of experience with hi fi and music, a new way of talking about our listening experiences, and practice.

I have enjoyed delving into the conversation about what Blackmorec means when he uses the term transient attack as an important trigger to being able to identify the sound of different instruments in space. I think the gap in communication is in part due to a little metaphor mixing.

“Transient response” in hi fi circles is not the same thing as instrumental attack. Transient response is a measure of the behavior of an electrical circuit that has been excited by a signal. Attack is the action required by the musician to initiate the sound of a note on a musical instrument, and I agree with you that attack if we are to use it as a musical term does not mean that “the initial part of most notes from most instruments has a strongly percussive element.” Percussive elements do exist with some instruments and techniques, but percussive elements are more like seasoning than they are a universal trigger to identify timbre and space.

As a way to differentiate themselves from tube amplification companies, some transistor amplifier companies decades ago started to promote the idea that their superior transient response resulted in superior sound quality. A significant core of audiophiles began to think that dizzyingly fast rise times and DC-to-daylight bandwidths were necessary for them to hear rim shots accurately or to be able hear each individual wire on a brush drumstick skitter across a drumhead. Needless to say, because audiophilia tends to be a process of extraction, hi fi fireworks again had (have) the tendency to take a front seat. The fact that the hi fi world was also graced with “perfect sound forever” at about the time this new amplifier technology started to take hold just added to the pizzaz. Yikes! Getting music out of a system in those days was like a high wire act. I’ve been there.

As I mentioned previously, it doesn’t require a state-of-the art sound system to capture instrumental attack to a believable level, nor does it require an amplifier with astonishingly fast rise times and limitless bandwidth, but one thing is for sure. To be able to embrace the full measure of what music has to offer, we need to take an interest and study how different instruments and artistic interpretations interact to create the form of music notes, including attack.

Speaking of timbre and instruments, I ran across an incredible Decca recording yesterday: 12 Stradivari, Janine Jansen (violin) and Antonio Pappano (piano). I listened to Tidal’s MQA version. Here’s a link to give you some background on what went into the production of this album. Yes, there were 12 different Stradivarius violins played. I was transfixed, and I would love to talk about it. There are no wrong answers here.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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What I like about the direction of the discussions in this thread is that you and others have begun to describe the music qualities that are important to create believable home music listening experiences. I think what we see here is that being able to do this in a way that communicates with other people is really quite challenging. It takes a lot of experience with hi fi and music, a new way of talking about our listening experiences, and practice.

Karen, I have been enjoying your series of essays and the discussions they prompt. Thank you for joining this forum and for your contributions.

I think here in this paragraph you state well the need to re-examine how we describe and discuss what we hear and to return the focus to referencing real acoustic music. I have attempted in a limited way to do the same in my own system thread.

I remember fondly a trip to the BSO many years ago when your partner and two men from your sales team joined me for lunch and a beautiful vocal performance. The discussions were never about your cables or audio gear and only about the music and what we heard. My impression was then and continues to be now, that you and your team are focused on the music and how we hear it.
 

cmarin

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Jul 17, 2011
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In a future thread, we will examine how to evaluate a hi fi system’s presentation of musical space, but before we go there, it is important to have a deeper discussion about the nature of individual music tones played by different instruments. If we are to talk about how a hi fi renders the sound of a musical instrument in space, we need to know what stimuli we need to trigger the level of musical believability that will result in at least temporarily suspending our notion that we are listening to a hi fi.

More than a few audiophiles are looking for listening experiences that don’t have much bearing on the actual sound of live acoustic music. If your objective is purely to have fun experimenting with sound and trying to achieve a sound that you personally like, you don’t need to continue to read this thread. If your objective is to create more musically engaging listening at home, I have a few more things to share. I have been reminded by some of you that hi fi is a very personal journey. It’s obvious from reading posts here that some of you never really arrive at a satisfying musical destination, and I have seen some audiophiles eventually giving up on the hobby because they are looking in all the wrong places for solutions. A few, for at least a time, are able to achieve a plateau of musically satisfying performance until at least they discover the flaws that stand in the way of taking their experience to the next level. Fewer than that ever reach their musical destination.

Karen,

Wanted to thank you and extend my congratulations for your refreshing and insightful essay.

I find that this passage in your essay best encapsulates the analogous blue pill vs red pill dilemma many of us as audiophiles face with varying degrees of self awareness:

“Are [you] looking for listening experiences that don’t have much bearing on the actual sound of live acoustic music [, and] your objective is purely to have fun experimenting with sound and trying to achieve a sound that you personally like [Blue Pill]. [Or is] your objective … to create more musically engaging listening at home [Red Pill].

The first (Blue Pill) case reminds me of a car stereo judging contest where the purpose is to check off and score individual audio criteria (e.g., soundstage, clarity, dynamics etc) and decide which system is best based on its aggregate score - a fatiguing left brain analytical exercise.

I am personally firmly in the red Pill camp. Personally for me, the goal is to experience the same chills and goose bumps at home that I feel when I’m sitting at a great musical hall listening to a great musical performance - a relaxing and emotionally engaging right brain adventure.

i look forward to further reading your thoughts on what system criteria/capabilities are necessary and sufficient to reproduce the emotional engagement of a live event at home; while taking into account, as others have suggested, that we all hear and react to what we hear differently.
 

Al M.

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Karen,

Wanted to thank you and extend my congratulations for your refreshing and insightful essay.

I find that this passage in your essay best encapsulates the analogous blue pill vs red pill dilemma many of us as audiophiles face with varying degrees of self awareness:

“Are [you] looking for listening experiences that don’t have much bearing on the actual sound of live acoustic music [, and] your objective is purely to have fun experimenting with sound and trying to achieve a sound that you personally like [Blue Pill]. [Or is] your objective … to create more musically engaging listening at home [Red Pill].

The first (Blue Pill) case reminds me of a car stereo judging contest where the purpose is to check off and score individual audio criteria (e.g., soundstage, clarity, dynamics etc) and decide which system is best based on its aggregate score - a fatiguing left brain analytical exercise.

I am personally firmly in the red Pill camp. Personally for me, the goal is to experience the same chills and goose bumps at home that I feel when I’m sitting at a great musical hall listening to a great musical performance - a relaxing and emotionally engaging right brain adventure.

i look forward to further reading your thoughts on what system criteria/capabilities are necessary and sufficient to reproduce the emotional engagement of a live event at home; while taking into account, as others have suggested, that we all hear and react to what we hear differently.

Maybe you could have chosen other pill colors to make your point, in order to avoid certain connotations ;).
 

cmarin

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Maybe you could have chosen other pill colors to make your point, in order to avoid certain connotations ;).
Ha ha …yes good point! ;)
 

Al M.

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cmarin

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LOL. Regardless, I agree with the general direction of your argument...
But the Red Pill is associated with the “Left” brain and the Blue Pill is associated with the “Right” brain which I think provides a good bipartisan balance after all! ;)
 

PeterA

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…Personally for me, the goal is to experience the same chills and goose bumps at home that I feel when I’m sitting at a great musical hall listening to a great musical performance - a relaxing and emotionally engaging right brain adventure.

cmarin, This is an excellent expression and description of your goal with audio. I agree in every way.
 

jonyung

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Sep 22, 2014
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Karen,

Wanted to thank you and extend my congratulations for your refreshing and insightful essay.

I find that this passage in your essay best encapsulates the analogous blue pill vs red pill dilemma many of us as audiophiles face with varying degrees of self awareness:

“Are [you] looking for listening experiences that don’t have much bearing on the actual sound of live acoustic music [, and] your objective is purely to have fun experimenting with sound and trying to achieve a sound that you personally like [Blue Pill]. [Or is] your objective … to create more musically engaging listening at home [Red Pill].

The first (Blue Pill) case reminds me of a car stereo judging contest where the purpose is to check off and score individual audio criteria (e.g., soundstage, clarity, dynamics etc) and decide which system is best based on its aggregate score - a fatiguing left brain analytical exercise.

I am personally firmly in the red Pill camp. Personally for me, the goal is to experience the same chills and goose bumps at home that I feel when I’m sitting at a great musical hall listening to a great musical performance - a relaxing and emotionally engaging right brain adventure.

i look forward to further reading your thoughts on what system criteria/capabilities are necessary and sufficient to reproduce the emotional engagement of a live event at home; while taking into account, as others have suggested, that we all hear and react to what we hear differently.
cannot agree more!
Well said!
 

Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
133
377
65
Karen, I have been enjoying your series of essays and the discussions they prompt. Thank you for joining this forum and for your contributions.

I think here in this paragraph you state well the need to re-examine how we describe and discuss what we hear and to return the focus to referencing real acoustic music. I have attempted in a limited way to do the same in my own system thread.

I remember fondly a trip to the BSO many years ago when your partner and two men from your sales team joined me for lunch and a beautiful vocal performance. The discussions were never about your cables or audio gear and only about the music and what we heard. My impression was then and continues to be now, that you and your team are focused on the music and how we hear it.
Hi, Peter -

I am so glad that we have had the chance to cross paths again on this forum. I have checked out some of your posts on the "Resolution vs. Musicality" thread. Nice! Excellent job of qualifying what you hear in musical terms by discussing it within the context of your preferences, your system, and set up. We need more voices like yours. Thank you!
 
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Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
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cannot agree more!
Well said!
I think there is a significant group of audiophiles who is betwixt and between. They eat purple pills, and most of them will eventually give up over-thinking and seek out a more emotional connection with music, or I at least hope that that is the case. There is also a significant body of newcomers who are looking for answers. I also hope that we are able to pull a few new constituents in our direction. Advocates of red pills need to get better at talking about the relationship of music to hi fi, and I see that more than a few of you are sharing your musical perspectives on this forum, but that takes time, and wouldn't most of us rather just put on another album?
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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Speaking of timbre and instruments, I ran across an incredible Decca recording yesterday: 12 Stradivari, Janine Jansen (violin) and Antonio Pappano (piano). I listened to Tidal’s MQA version. Here’s a link to give you some background on what went into the production of this album. Yes, there were 12 different Stradivarius violins played. I was transfixed, and I would love to talk about it. There are no wrong answers here.
I bought the CD, which I rarely do these days, but I thought it would be worthwhile, especially for the liner notes. It is a beautiful album, beautifully played and produced. I listened to it repeatedly all day. All I can say is this- if anybody ever tries to do a video compare of these tracks in an effort to demonstrate anything about the differences in the sonorities of these violins, I vote to ex-communicate them from this forum in perpetuity!! Listen to this album on a good system and enjoy it to the fullest! I definitely had my preferences even though they are all obviously gorgeous instruments. The value of this CD in educating the listener is extraordinary as I don't envision any other pragmatic way to do this. I don't think Janine will be bringing these 12 instruments to a concert hall near you anytime soon.

I found it surprising that there could be such clear differences between nearly identical instruments that were made in the same shop only a few years apart, or even in the same year! I found it best in trying to decipher the individual sounds when I separated the instrument range into higher and lower registers. Some instruments that were very sweet sounding on top had unusually harder timbre in the lower registers and vice versa where a rich and resonant lower register was not as smooth or as silky on top as some others. They really do have distinct voices! As Karen said, no wrong answers here. Now, if they only made a vinyl version to playback those Strads.....
 
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microstrip

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Karen,

Wanted to thank you and extend my congratulations for your refreshing and insightful essay.

I find that this passage in your essay best encapsulates the analogous blue pill vs red pill dilemma many of us as audiophiles face with varying degrees of self awareness:

“Are [you] looking for listening experiences that don’t have much bearing on the actual sound of live acoustic music [, and] your objective is purely to have fun experimenting with sound and trying to achieve a sound that you personally like [Blue Pill]. [Or is] your objective … to create more musically engaging listening at home [Red Pill].

The first (Blue Pill) case reminds me of a car stereo judging contest where the purpose is to check off and score individual audio criteria (e.g., soundstage, clarity, dynamics etc) and decide which system is best based on its aggregate score - a fatiguing left brain analytical exercise.

Or we simply take the Blue Pill in order to create a system that you know that brings us to the Red Pill more successfully, enjoying the process. IMHO this orthogonal pharmaceutical separation is artificial - although we all know about the existence of some audiophiles that do not like music - IMHO they are the exception.

I am personally firmly in the red Pill camp. Personally for me, the goal is to experience the same chills and goose bumps at home that I feel when I’m sitting at a great musical hall listening to a great musical performance - a relaxing and emotionally engaging right brain adventure.

I must say I do not expect such behavior. Real music is a much richer experience that creates a different type of connection - even by its uniqueness and momentariness. For me sound reproduction aims at recreating a different type of musical enjoyment and engagement - and surely helped by some feeling of satisfaction with my system.

i look forward to further reading your thoughts on what system criteria/capabilities are necessary and sufficient to reproduce the emotional engagement of a live event at home; while taking into account, as others have suggested, that we all hear and react to what we hear differently.

Yes, IMHO this is the most challenging part - can we find some systematics in the diversity of successful stereo? Also looking forward to read from Karen on this aspect.
 
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assessor43

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Regardless of how messy music is, I want my system to make me want to listen to music. For everyone, thats different. I do not want a system that may be more accurate in some ways but in the end sits idle for months on end. Ive been there and done that. Thats not for me.
 
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