What is the art of sound?
We believe that the actual process of selecting components and their ancilliaries before assembling and setting them up to make a system through which we can enjoy listening to music is more an art than science. Like with any art an element of technical expertise is of course essential. Just as painters need to master the techniques of mixing paint and putting brush to paper before they can create a masterpiece, the components chosen to deliver music into your home will have been well designed and engineered by by experts with considerable technical prowess.
However, whilst favourable measurements taken of THD, dynamic range, power output, current delivery, slew rates, impedance, sensitivity (and whatever else we can actually measure) can be used to support your reasons for choosing a particular piece of kit, these arbitrary measurements will never be able to substitute what your ears and your own judgement can tell you regarding the effectiveness of the components in delivering enjoyable music into your listening environment. If you choose your kit relying solely on such measurements, the end result is unlikely to be particularly inspiring.
Therefore, such a faculty for discernment using yor ears is vital to the success of building the kind of system that, with the right kind of music, will move you to tears, plant a big grin on your face, get your feet tapping and/or keep your attention for any length of time. If you do not place much importance on the process of actually listening for yourself and making your choices based on what you hear then perhaps there are other sites that will meet your needs better than this one.
Because of the very subjective nature of The Art of Sound, it is inevitable that for different people there will be different points of departure for how they would like their hi-fi system ultimately to transport them to their musical nirvana. These starting points outlined below are just that - starting points, for surely all of us would want absolutely everything from a system without compromise if such a thing were ever possible. As such the starting points listed below are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive so you are free to add to or combine them in any way you see fit:
1) Playing the tune or tunes. Components are selected on their ability to make more sense of different melodies, how they fit together in time and generally give the greatest possible insight into the musical performance. The method used to make the selection is often refered to as "the tune dem."
2) Recreating (or getting close to) life-like dynamics, scale and visceral impact. If you are a regular concert-goer you may seek a system that can recreate the drama and thrill of the live band at the arena or the orchestra in the concert hall.
3) Detail retrieval. You want to extract the last tiny little drop of detail embedded in those silver or black discs.
4) You want to listen to your system all day long without experiencing listener fatigue. For you tonal accuracy, low coloration and distortion are very important.
Me, I fall into the first category although I seek elements of the other three in my system. People often think of Linn/Naim when tune or timing are mentioned. Some will even argue that there is no such thing as musicality/tunefulness and that it is just a marketing ploy touted by the aforementioned manufacturers and their brand-loyal followers. For me it is simply a way of evaluating kit, especially as there are a lot of manufacturers out there that excel in this area and it is by no means a foregone conclusion as to which brands or products are likely to be chosen using the tune dem method.
For tune dem read also deriving the greatest insight into the musical performance.
Excellent post Steve, very qualitative.
I fall into the third type of listener, although as you do, I seek an overall quality presentation of music. But first and foremost it is the ability to really hear what the band put on the recording.
The more background kerfuffle I hear the wider my smile. I particularly remember the first time I heard background studio chatter on Supertramp's 'Dreamer' - filled me full of delight.
Maybe it's due to being a musician and having to have an ear and a realisation for those elements in recording.
Evolution: One man's preposterous and non-sensical hypothesis based on the death of his daughter, now sadly taught as fact. Evidence to the contrary.
I don't really fall into any... I want a system that's not necessarily tonally perfect, not necessarily low-colouration... I want a system that plays the music with feeling.
If I listen to a piece of music on a system I want it to affect me emotionally, I want it to draw me in, and play the music. It's all about enjoyment, I pick my system on whichever system I enjoy listening to the most. Argh! It's hard to explain.
Hi Rick and welcome.
You clearly fall mainly into the first category then I would think.
The art of sound is actually very simplistic truth be told, it really boils down to how you perceive what good sound is. For me personally after years of listening to all topologies of hardware it boiled down to the actual TONE of the sound i.e how realistic is the sound. How real do instruments and the human voice sound through electronics and lack of listening fatigue for long durations?
Solidstate is our representative offering the basis for starting point #4. Without actually stating the obvious, guys in this particular camp are more than likely valve amp users, possibly with vinyl-only sources.
It's an extremely valid approach and one I personally wish to investigate with the possible risk that I may wish to trash my entire system, fall in a heap and begin again from scratch if it meets some of the other critera, notably mine.
Actually no, out of all the elements of music (melody, harmony, timbre, texture, tonality, rhythm etc...) melody is the least important. Harmony is far more important to me than melody ever will be.
Originally Posted by Steve Toy
It's more about the music as a whole, the way it's played, the feeling behind the playing, the feeling behind the composition. All these are far more important than melody.
I don't particularly like the idea of categories that I may or may not fit in,
but here goes,
The most important thing for me is that it's able to keep me digging through my collection for another CD/LP. so you would maybe assume I fit into category 4, but categories 2 & 3 are also important as is 1, to me it all comes down to resolution.
The better my system has become 1, 2 & 3 contribute to 4, detail can be a voice in the background becoming 2 voices, where previously the first voice had masked the quieter second voice, or identifying a specific acoustic around a thwack on a tom.
This increased resolution will also better reveal interplay between percussionist and bass player etc.
The system I have at the moment does all this , It's not an expensive system, compared with some of the kit I've owned over the last 26 years, it works well with CD or vinyl , has a staggering 12 watts per channel capability and looks like a dogs breakfast.
Hopefully we'll share ideas without forgetting that we probably all have different ideas as to what constitutes perfect sound reproduction, it would be a sad world if we all liked exactly the same sound, musicians , women, etc.
Some of the systems I've previously owned worked on certain types of music,
but fared less well on others and necessitated explanations to visiting friends as to why it wasn't performing at it's best, ( Lunar cycle etc).
There isn't a single part of the current system that is standard, i.e. it's had a soldering iron waved at it or in the case of the turntable a major rebuild.
I'll end by saying that if you're using a valve amplifier you owe it to yourself to investigate the benefits from upgrading the coupling capacitors, even ludicrously expensive Teflon caps ( £50 a pair of 0.1uf) are a bargain in the context of the benefits wrought.
Rick, it can be hard work discussing these things, but in actual fact we may actally agree. My understanding of harmony is different melodic threads working in time with each other. True harmonies are in major or minor third, fifth or octave intervals above any given fundamental note. If a system can separate out all of the respective melodies and yet lock the all together in time you get harmony.
Then there are harmonics: a given note on, say a cello, will naturally give an octave + third attenuated interval above the note plus presumably in turn diminishing further such additional harmonics above that to a theoretical infinity. I guess at this point we define such notions of tonal colour etc.
I know the best possible ancilliaries in your system like stands and interconnects/cables are what are required too eek out these extras in terms of decaying detail.
At this very top end in the audible spectrum we also end up with the spatial cues where RFI and other electro-mechanical microphonic distortion has been sufficiently eliminated or significantly reduced.
Then there is the issue of phase coherence governing all of this....
Good post btw. Thanks. I'll do my best to respond to your points later today.
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