The importance of Resolution

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,963
41
48
North Shore of Boston
#1
We audiophiles throw around a lot of terms in an attempt to convey meaning and describe the sound of systems. Each of us may have our own priorities and specific sonic attributes which we value, and we may value some more than others. I am interested in learning what sonic attributes people value most and how they rank them in importance in terms of musical involvement, sense of realism, or for whatever it is they want to get out of their listening experiences.

Recently, the terms “musical” and “resolving” were used to describe two components that most people agree sound very different. I found it interesting that the components fell into one of these two camps, but that no one thought either was both musical and resolving. This got me thinking about how we describe what we hear and what we value in our components and systems. Most people with whom I spoke clearly liked one of these components more than the other, though few direct comparisons were actually made. I also found interesting the notion that if one component is more resolving, it meant that it must not be as musical. It is curious to me that these two attributes are considered distinct and that they carry different values for people. This general categorizing of components and systems with particular sonic attributes is perhaps what allows us to form camps or schools of audio, whether it is tube or solid state, digital or analog, or whatever.

Jim Smith suggests that Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, are the three sonic attributes that make a system “musically involving”. I agree with him but feel strongly that only with high resolution can a component or system reach a higher level, allowing the listener to be convinced of a system’s ability to reproduce the sound of the real thing. The real thing is both musical and natural sounding, but for me it is also highly resolved.

The sonic attribute which I most value is clarity. This is based on my years of hearing live orchestral music at the BSO. The one descriptor that comes to mind every time I leave a concert event is “clarity”. I can not believe just how clean the sound at the BSO is. And this is where most systems that I have heard have problems. I value Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, and they are all necessary for a system to be enjoyable. But, for a system to be truly convincing and sound similar to the real thing, it must be resolving and reach high levels of clarity. Then, the experience is musical, and the sound is natural. In other words, for me, the system must have clarity above all else, but not at the expense of tone, dynamics and presence.

What are your sonic priorities, and how would you rank them and why?
 
Last edited:

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
5,207
20
38
Boston, MA
#2
You probably know well by now that resolution (which leads to clarity) is what I strive to achieve, for years now. I just finished another modification to my turntable and resolution shot right up, by removing mechanical noise even further. I cannot possibly imagine a natural sounding system without a very high degree of resolution. TOP priority for me. And I am still waiting for that Spectral phono, claimed to be "high resolution analog"
 

RogerD

Active Member
May 23, 2010
3,155
0
36
BiggestLittleCity
#3
Peter,

Clarity, as in my experience brings every thing else with it. As clarity increases, so does tone, dynamics, presence, realism in general. Trouble is there are so many levels or gradients of clarity, I had to learn how to listen all over again. What I came to realize is that clarity is dependent on uncompressing the audio signal or presentation as presented by my system. Uncompressing now means the illusion seems real, almost life like in size and very emotional, because of the power or gestalt of the music ie the music soars. Horns project into space and violins just keep building momentum until the raw emotion overwhelms you.
Above all you hear everything possible in the recording...to the point of players intake breaths to play a woodwind for example.
To much information? Not possible, because everything is balanced and natural.Music is beautiful and that's when you know the system is optimized.
 
#4
I value both resolution and musicality.


Resolution or clarity:
Since I am 100% digital, my goal for 20 years has been to reduce jitter, which is the primary thing that achieves high-resolution. Most audiophiles I have found feel that their systems are "high-resolving" and yet when I provide a product to them that delivers really low jitter, they are surprised at how it "cleans the window" for them so they can see clearly now. Practically everything is affected when jitter is reduced, including dynamics, clarity, detail, focus, imaging, soundstage width and depth and "layering". However one thing that is not necessarily improved is musicality.

Achieving really low jitter is not easy by any stretch. It has taken me 20 years of experimenting and new designs to finally achieve 7-10 psec in my products, directly measured at the end of a 4 foot coax terminated into 75 ohms. Why would I need to reduce jitter from say 20psec?? I'll tell you why. Each time I make a new milestone in jitter reduction, I notice the improvement almost immediately in the sound quality, and my customers notice it too. In my book, jitter can never be too low. There is literally no point of diminishing returns.

Musicality
I believe that musicality is an attribute that is affected by several things, including:
1) Digital filtering in the DAC - Most DACs do a poor job, particularly with 44.1 tracks. I personally use a 192 filter setting for all sample-rates. Works well, like a NOS DAC.
2) Stages of amplification and buffering/filtering - these exist in preamps, DACs and amplifiers. Each stage adds a bit more compression and distortion There are usually too many stages. A DAC I used to mod had 12 op-amp stages. Ridiculous.
3) Power subsystem/power delivery - this is about delivering the dynamic current to the active devices, whether they be tubes or transistors or IC's when they need it, in the DAC, preamp and amp. When this need is not met because of poor system design or poor voltage regulation, it results in compression, lack of dynamics and lack of tight bass.
4) Dielectric effect - this is about the effect of dielectrics on the signal. This effect happens on circuit boards, internal cabling and external cabling. The physics causes dielectric absorption, which causes distortion in dynamic signals (not so much steady-state). I once modded a Mark Levison preamp for customers. It was very dark sounding because there were literally 15 inch traces that the analog signals had to pass through over FR4 epoxy board, They made a Teflon version, which was better. My mods bypassed these traces and replaced them with silver twisted-pairs. Not dark anymore.
5) Signal paths through cables - the main offender here is poor metallurgy in the metals of the interconnects. It is important for dynamic audio frequencies that these signals can not be impeded or reflected by "broken" crystal lattice in the metal wires. It takes both purity and undamaged crystal lattice to achieve this.

As you can see, it is actually much easier to achieve decent resolution than musicality.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
 
Dec 12, 2012
243
0
16
#5
Musical resolution/clarity seems an perplexing perceived phenomena at times. I once owned a pair of Martin-Logan electrostats which seemed to reveal music with extreme clarity. Not only were details not heard with other speakers revealed, they seemed to be seperated from each other in space as well. Yet, those speakers were not musical. The main problem was, to my ears, tonal. There was a deficit of midbass and lower midrange, which then highlights the upper midrange, and likely contributed to the hyper sense of clarity.

At the other extreme is a table radio. Lacking in clarity, bandwidth, dynamic range, distortion and noise yet, still can give musical enjoyment. High fidelity, no. Enjoyment, yes. Weird.
 
Last edited:
Jul 18, 2014
622
34
28
#6
I’ve always felt musicality and sound are enmeshed but also separate perceptions.

Musicality is a no brainer, literally. When ideally complete engagement with the music overrides any awareness of the sonic attributes then this (for me at least) is musicality.

Clarity and musicality are certainly not at odds. Some people confuse detail with resolution though. Resolution clearly can be an aid to musicality if it leads to a natural sounding presentation. Anything out of place is for me a distraction to musicality.

Timing inconsistencies, subtle spatial or temporal incoherence, these are for me the things that distract most from musical engagement. But I am easily distracted.
 

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
5,207
20
38
Boston, MA
#7
Resolution is a multi-dimensional attribute; 'detail' is one, but equally important are macro-dynamic resolution, micro-dynamic resolution, et al, and for me at least, at the top sits timbral resolution.

Last night, as I usually do, I was listening to the BSO broadcast live on FM radio, this time from Tanglewood. The encore piece was the Imperial March, which I happened to have heard at Symphony Hall not too many years ago, sitting up front; the live sound was dark, as sections of the orchestra were separated by plexi glass, but what caught my attention was the incredible body and timbral resolution of the bass section. Well, last night's broadcast brought through a lot of that timbral resolution, albeit with smaller body and less dynamics (compressed broadcasts are still de facto). I did not miss the lack of ultimate detail, though a lot of it came through, because instruments sounded so right and musical, apart from my panels' narrow distorting band. Great stuff!
 
Oct 12, 2013
1,599
6
38
Essex UK
#8
One of the best criteria I have found for judging resolution is the one I picked up from Lloyd (LL21) which is can you hear the words more clearly on vocals and choral music.
I am glad that previous contributors have emphasised the importance of resolution being allied with musicality. Some systems I have heard have sacrificed musicality for high levels of resolution and the resultant sound was so unsatisfying. No communication with the listener or the music.
Again, as mentioned earlier, I am sure that avoiding that is all about getting the right synergy between the amp,speakers, sources and cables and the room. That IME is where the art in this hobby becomes as important as the science and rarely achieved easily or quickly.
 
Oct 12, 2013
1,599
6
38
Essex UK
#9
Resolution is a multi-dimensional attribute; 'detail' is one, but equally important are macro-dynamic resolution, micro-dynamic resolution, et al, and for me at least, at the top sits timbral resolution.

Last night, as I usually do, I was listening to the BSO broadcast live on FM radio, this time from Tanglewood. The encore piece was the Imperial March, which I happened to have heard at Symphony Hall not too many years ago, sitting up front; the live sound was dark, as sections of the orchestra were separated by plexi glass, but what caught my attention was the incredible body and timbral resolution of the bass section. Well, last night's broadcast brought through a lot of that timbral resolution, albeit with smaller body and less dynamics (compressed broadcasts are still de facto). I did not miss the lack of ultimate detail, though a lot of it came through, because instruments sounded so right and musical, apart from my panels' narrow distorting band. Great stuff!
Your post has cheered me up no end ack.
I was pretty well convinced that I was the only member listening to FM radio. Here in the UK it is a real treasure thanks to BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM in particular. My Magnum Dynalab 109 and external FM aerial provide me with untold hours of enjoyment and I have learnt so much about the composers and their music from the top class presenters on both.
Sadly it seems to be overlooked by so many audiophiles in this digital age.
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
71
48
E. England
#10
Resolution going up here as I take my Zu subs more and more subtle and barely audible.
More cues, air, trails.
And ironically more bass.
Less bloat, but more articulation, lean and mean.
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,963
41
48
North Shore of Boston
#11
Resolution going up here as I take my Zu subs more and more subtle and barely audible.
More cues, air, trails.
And ironically more bass.
Less bloat, but more articulation, lean and mean.
Not at all surprising. Congratulations.
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
71
48
E. England
#12
Got the tale of Dave visiting Tang to install the AS, and scrapping his subs, to thank for my concerted move here.
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
2,396
37
48
Switzerland
#13
We audiophiles throw around a lot of terms in an attempt to convey meaning and describe the sound of systems. Each of us may have our own priorities and specific sonic attributes which we value, and we may value some more than others. I am interested in learning what sonic attributes people value most and how they rank them in importance in terms of musical involvement, sense of realism, or for whatever it is they want to get out of their listening experiences.

Recently, the terms “musical” and “resolving” were used to describe two components that most people agree sound very different. I found it interesting that the components fell into one of these two camps, but that no thought either was both musical and resolving. This got me thinking about how we describe what we hear and what we value in our components and systems. Most people with whom I spoke clearly liked one of these components more than the other, though few direct comparisons were actually made. I also found interesting the notion that if one component is more resolving, it meant that it must not be as musical. It is curious to me that these two attributes are considered distinct and that they carry different values for people. This general categorizing of components and systems with particular sonic attributes is perhaps what allows us to form camps or schools of audio, whether it is tube or solid state, digital or analog, or whatever.

Jim Smith suggests that Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, are the three sonic attributes that make a system “musically involving”. I agree with him but feel strongly that only with high resolution can a component or system reach a higher level, allowing the listener to be convinced of a system’s ability to reproduce the sound of the real thing. The real thing is both musical and natural sounding, but for me it is also highly resolved.

The sonic attribute which I most value is clarity. This is based on my years of hearing live orchestral music at the BSO. The one descriptor that comes to mind every time I leave a concert event is “clarity”. I can not believe just how clean the sound at the BSO is. And this is where most systems that I have heard have problems. I value Tone, Dynamics, and Presence, and they are all necessary for a system to be enjoyable. But, for a system to be truly convincing and sound similar to the real thing, it must be resolving and reach high levels of clarity. Then, the experience is musical, and the sound is natural. In other words, for me, the system must have clarity above all else, but not at the expense of tone, dynamics and presence.

What are your sonic priorities, and how would you rank them and why?
I am currently in Moscow on holidays and yesterday we were crossing a road by way of underground tunnel. At the stairs to go down we heard a saxophone playing with some backup music. I turned to my wife and said "it's live!". We go down and sure enough a young guy was down there blowing his horn with a recorded backup. The acoustic was poor but it didn't prevent me from being able to tell from OUTSIDE the tunnel that it was live. Resolution, by high end standards, was poor until standing right next to the guy. But all the information to know it was a real saxophone was there from far away in difficult acoustics.

Why is this relevant? Because true resolution gets you closer to the real and more and more I have come to realize that this means the removal of the synthetic from playback. Removal of electronic distortions that the ear/brain cannot associate with the natural, removal of electronic noise and distortion caused by noise. The hash that makes high frequency content sound louder and therefore spatially incorrect. Removal of the electronic artifacts that our ear/brain screams "UNNATURAL "! Removal of electronic restrictions on dynamics and low level information retrieval.

When you have done this then you will have resolving and musical.

For these types of artifacts are not so problematic from a speaker perspective and not at all from the room...remember, real sounds real in all environments and a frequency response imbalance can still sound realistic just like a sax in a tunnel or in a grand concert hall.

Where speakers fail are frequency dependent resonances that give away the game in someway breaking the illusion now and again; however, we are more tolerant of this mechanical generation of distortion.

Electronic noise and distortion destroys the real...and therefore is a killer of the musical too. We did not evolve with these unnatural sounds and so they jump out at us.
 

MadFloyd

Member Sponsor
May 31, 2010
2,402
6
38
Mass
#14
I think one of the pitfalls of resolution chasers is that they often forsake musicality for detail. For example a tonal balance that is tipped up will give the perception of detail/resolution but often lacks realistic weight (e.g. lack of body). In a real world situation you get both. Any situation where you only get half is not ultimately satisfying.
 
May 30, 2010
14,145
86
48
Portugal
#15
Your post has cheered me up no end ack.
I was pretty well convinced that I was the only member listening to FM radio. Here in the UK it is a real treasure thanks to BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM in particular. My Magnum Dynalab 109 and external FM aerial provide me with untold hours of enjoyment and I have learnt so much about the composers and their music from the top class presenters on both.
Sadly it seems to be overlooked by so many audiophiles in this digital age.
They are still ashamed after learning that a 13 bit code was used in the BBC links in the late 70's and 80's. :) What are the current technical standards of the BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM transmissions?
 

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
5,207
20
38
Boston, MA
#16
Your post has cheered me up no end ack.
I was pretty well convinced that I was the only member listening to FM radio. Here in the UK it is a real treasure thanks to BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM in particular. My Magnum Dynalab 109 and external FM aerial provide me with untold hours of enjoyment and I have learnt so much about the composers and their music from the top class presenters on both.
Sadly it seems to be overlooked by so many audiophiles in this digital age.
I am an avid FM listener. My Magnum Dynalab Etude, as extensively modified, provides killer performance. MD are the unsung heroes of the high end, and they still offer me 50% trade-in value for an upgrade to current models, and mind you this unit is now over 23 years old. I last talked to them just a few months ago, while contemplating what an upgrade here means for me - beautiful midrange, tight deep bass and really great presentation, not sure I need to do anything yet.

Regarding your other post with voices, that's what I describe as Articulation, and resolution improves that as well, as you said.
 

LL21

Active Member
Dec 26, 2010
10,573
3
38
#17
Most interesting thread...in the same way i was advised the sweet spot for price/performance in the Sennheiser range is the HD650...

1. What would you all suggest is the sweetspot for price/performance in the Magnum Dynalab Range?

2. And for longevity, would you make digital a must (ie, for digital stations)?

3. And as ever, the inevitable WBF question...are the reference tuners from MD really that much better? If i actually thought i might end up spending a fair amount of time listening to it...do you think their reference tuners rival original source equipment?

4. Finally...how much of the MD performance is based on the quality of reception, aerial antenna, etc? Is it a MUST that i hook it up to an outside antenna to get true reference performance?

5. Thanks for this...i suppose it goes without saying Magnum Dynalab is not alone, but certainly is an easy 'go to' reference if you just want something really great without a massive audition process?
 

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
5,207
20
38
Boston, MA
#18
I am not familiar with their current products, but I can tell you what I would get... the 90SE with the 105 upgrade option, which includes a shielded RF section and Mundorf coupling capacitors (two of my own mods, long before the 105 was a product - these are "classic" tuner mods). I use their own antenna as well, the vertical indoor one.
 
Oct 12, 2013
1,599
6
38
Essex UK
#19
They are still ashamed after learning that a 13 bit code was used in the BBC links in the late 70's and 80's. :) What are the current technical standards of the BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM transmissions?
Thanks ack
As I didn't know I have just finished googling to try to find the answer to your questions.
Still not clear but their standards for commissioned material appear to be 16 bit and I saw a claim that they apply less compression to their broadcasts than Classic FM but couldn't find any info on their technical standards. Technical standards are not my strong point but you may be able to make more sense of what is there.
I get good signal quality and sound from both but Radio 3 sounds more analogue in character than Classic FM which sounds more digital and which may be explained by the above on compression. A very experienced professional who knows my system well over a number of years speaks very highly of the tuner sound quality which I think he has heard only on BBC fm transmissions. As it happens when I was speaking to him on the phone a few days ago he commented on how much he enjoys listening to the tuner.
The future of BBC fm transmissions has been very controversial with a concerted push to switch it off and rely on DAB but that changed recently and it looks as if FM's future is now safe.
 
Jul 18, 2014
622
34
28
#20
Resolution is a multi-dimensional attribute; 'detail' is one, but equally important are macro-dynamic resolution, micro-dynamic resolution, et al, and for me at least, at the top sits timbral resolution.

Last night, as I usually do, I was listening to the BSO broadcast live on FM radio, this time from Tanglewood. The encore piece was the Imperial March, which I happened to have heard at Symphony Hall not too many years ago, sitting up front; the live sound was dark, as sections of the orchestra were separated by plexi glass, but what caught my attention was the incredible body and timbral resolution of the bass section. Well, last night's broadcast brought through a lot of that timbral resolution, albeit with smaller body and less dynamics (compressed broadcasts are still de facto). I did not miss the lack of ultimate detail, though a lot of it came through, because instruments sounded so right and musical, apart from my panels' narrow distorting band. Great stuff!
Great explanation Ack, multi dimensional aspects of resolution is it for me as well with timbre very much at the top of the tree.

There was a presentation at Can Jam from Rob Watts (Chord designer) on what he sees as the fundamental relationship of transients and subtle cues in timing being critical to portrayal of timbre. He proposes that more accurate timing of transients is critical to timbral resolution and that this has been the fundamental issue for digital analogue conversion in regards to timbre. Also he speaks on how after 20 years of research on this and with the recent development of his million tap length interpolation filter in Chord's Blu 2 and Hugo Mscaler and that this is his benchmark achievement and in listening translates to the much more natural experience of both sound and music with regards to timbre and resolution.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfscfTkHgM4
 
Last edited:

About us

  • Founded in 2010 What's Best Forum invites intelligent and courteous people of all interests and backgrounds to describe and discuss the best of everything. From beginners to life-long hobbyists to industry professionals we enjoy learning about new things and meeting new people and participating in spirited debates.

Quick Navigation

User Menu

Steve Williams
Site Founder | Site Owner | Administrator
Ron Resnick
Site Co-Owner | Administrator
Julian (The Fixer)
Website Build | Marketing Managersing