Whew...I've finally got a chance to reply to Steve's excellent post. Sorry for my late reply. Looking at the four categories Steve listed:
There is merit in all four; I would want them all in the presentation of my system and the way in which it communicates music. If I had to pigeon-hole my priorities into one of the categories above it would probably be 2), but that's only part of the story...
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 referred 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.
For me, the 'Art of Sound' is about two things: REALISM (one could also say 'accuracy') and MUSICAL COMMUNICATION without artifice. I believe that if the former is achieved then the latter comes automatically, along with all of that listed above in 1-4. Allow me to explain:
If a piano sounds 'real', for example, in the sense that what you're hearing represents as close as possible to how the instrument sounds live (based from experience on what you know a piano to sound like from regularly hearing one played live - in effect you are au fait with the sound of piano), and the system accurately reproduces every element of the musical performance recorded on to the disc or record as tonally accurate as possible in terms of timbre (this is crucial, IMO) then what you have effectively is REALISM.
The 'musical communication' aspect follows automatically because if the system has successfully achieved all of the above, and captured all the emotion of the performance, which will be the case if the system has faithfully reproduced all of the recorded musical information, then, quite simply, the ‘musical message’ will be communicated to the listener. Subjective system characteristics such as 'tune playing' ability, which is so important to Steve in category 1, is simply an automatic by-product of the realism and musical communication achieved as described.
The fact is (to the chagrin of audiophiles with a certain type of belief system) it is completely impossible for electronic components to encode 'emotion' or 'tune' (as defined by certain audiophiles) on to a recording. It just can't happen. If the system is doing it's job properly (and that means all of what I described earlier) then all it can effectively achieve is to reproduce the recorded information, on whatever format, as accurately as possible - that's all, nothing else.
The same applies to cables: they can't add 'emotion' or 'tune' either if it isn't there on the recording in the first place. When an audiophile, or hi-fi enthusiast/music lover, or any other title you care to give him or her, claims that system 'X' or cable 'Y' 'plays the tune' better than some other system or cable, that might well be the case, but all they're effectively saying is that system 'X' and cable 'Y' were more accurate. I'm afraid that any other notion is simply in the listener's imagination.
To claim otherwise or to build a system on the basis of achieving some false notion that inanimate objects can magically alter recorded information on a disc or record and imbue it with more 'tune', or whatever, is I'm afraid nonsense. What you are effectively saying is that you enjoy the euphonic effect of certain types of coloration, which is fine, but it's not hi-fi, and if it's not hi-fi, then by definition it is not accurate, therefore such systems will not convey the "realism" with music I alluded to earlier. The bottom line is if instruments and voices don't sound real then the music isn't real.
What is heard in these instances is merely a style of sonic presentation that's tailored to appeal to your listening preferences, which of course is absolutely fine, but it's definitely not what I'm after, or what my system is about. I want to hear exactly what's on the disc or record as far as my system is able to achieve with as little sonic tailoring as possible. This may mean that on occasions poor recordings are exposed for what they are, but it also means that good recordings are revealed in all their glory, and that for me is what owning a quality hi-fi system is about.
Building a system choosing components, ancillaries, and cables that combine to accentuate an individual's listening preferences will never be a system that is 'accurate' or 'real' in the sense I have described - it's as simple as that. Musically realistic hi-fi systems, such as I have described, are like fine cuisine: they follow a recipe using the best ingredients to ensure the authenticity of the final dish. Artificial additives serve only to sully the dish, and it is exactly the same with music. I want as close to the real thing as possible, not to savour someone else's over zealous use of seasoning! Therefore I build a system with components which in my opinion reproduce recorded music as faithfully as possible. 'Junk food' simply isn't for me!
Lastly, and this is significant I feel, what you consider as 'The Art of Sound' largely depends on your available benchmark, which is basically your level of musical experience, if of course it is accepted that owning a hi-fi system is simply a means to an end, and that end is to appreciate and enjoy music.
If you've never been to a concert or heard, for example, a live un-amplified acoustic musical performance or solo instruments being played, then the stark reality is that you don't really know how any of this sounds. Your benchmark, as such, is only how recorded music is heard through a hi-fi system, albeit one that fulfils your presentational priorities, so in the absence of real musical experience how can you judge how 'tuneful' or 'musical' a piece of hi-fi equipment actually is? It's a fact that I feel deserves some reflection for many audiophiles...
Going back to 2) on Steve's list I have to admit that on, say, returning from a rock concert I get a serious buzz from playing the same band's music on my system and experiencing a mini snapshot of what I've just heard live, reproduced with similar visceral intensity, scale, and life-like dynamics, and of course 'realism'. Oh yes... Nothing puts a smile on my face more!
That, my friends, is my 'Art of Sound'.
"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist" - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
Modified Technics SL-1210MK5G/Mike New high-precision bearing & baseplate/Mike New ETP platter/Bruil record weight/Nagaoka GL602 crystal T/T mat. Paul Hynes SR7EHD PSU (plus regulator modules)/DCSXL pure-silver DC lead. Ortofon RS-212D tonearm/'Speedy Steve' custom-made Ebony armboard. Yannis Tome 423.5 Phono Silver-Litz tonearm cable, with Furutech CF-DIN(R) and Eichmann silver Bullet Plugs. Cartridges: Denon DL-S1 in AT MG-10 headshell with AT-6106 Quattro Hybrid lead-wire. Denon DL-103C1 in '103U' headshell with AT-609 silver lead-wire. Vintage Denon DL-103AU in AT-Ti15ANV Titanium Headshell. Shure M55E in Denon PCL-300 headshell with 6N silver lead-wire. Shure original USA SC35C. Audiocom-modified Sony X-777ES/DAS-R1 transport/DAC. Raspberry Pi-3 Model B and IQaudio Pi-DAC+/Paul Hynes SR3DR-05 linear PSU. Heavily-modified Croft Charisma-X preamp. Modified Goldpoint SA4M-47 passive preamp. Stereo Coffee LDR. Head-amp: Paul Hynes design/SR5 PSU. Also modified Lentek. Tube Distinctions 50W Class A P/P Copper amp with cryo-treated Tung Sol KT150s. Speakers: 'Lockwood Majors', using 15" Tannoy Monitor Golds, modified with bespoke crossovers. Also Celestion Ditton 15XRs. Stands: Mana Acoustics (non-magnetic stainless steel 'clones’). Hi-Fi Racks Podium T/T wall shelf. Sony ST-5055L tuner. Cables: Furukawa EE/F-S 2mm & 2.6mm solid-core mains leads, fitted with Furutech FI-50 IECs and FI-1363Rs. Stereo interconnects: Sommer Carbokab 225 (with silver-plated MS Audio non-metallic POM RCAs). Speaker cable: VDH 'The Wind' Hybrid II. Digital coaxial cable: 1m Trompeter Electronics Triax TRC-75-2, with MS Audio ‘Starline' silver-plated RCAs. Mains block: Mark Grant 6-way, modded with Furutech FP-1363R sockets and Furukawa cable. Tube Distinctions digital noise filter. VPI HW 16.5 record cleaner.