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Can we become obsessed with perfect ‘sound’?

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I was waiting in the car while my wife went shopping during Corona Iso and I happened to tune in to ABC FM Classical Music on my car radio to fill in time.

 

This simple moment changed my attitude towards audio enjoyment.

 

My standard Ford radio was providing me with music that had soul and balance. The ultra transparent, detailed sound I had been enjoying was replaced by music that had a soul. I could understand and feel the emotion of the performance and composer. But what was different?

 

After a few tracks, I realised I had been starved of the mid range body that integrates and enhances the bass. I had been hearing only the detail of the tracks in my collection that I thought were superb.

 

How did I forget the pure musical enjoyment I was getting from my old VAF DC-X Gen 4 speakers driven by an 11 valve Transcendent OTL valve amp with valve preamp playing Pink Floyd?

 

My obsession with ‘sound’ over music started during a QLD Audio Club meet where I heard some enormous Apogee panel speakers for the first time. I was immediately hooked by the ‘sound’ and just had to emulate it. That was my goal, but the substantial cost was beyond my budget but eventually I discovered DIY mini ESL speaker kits for a few hundred dollars.

 

To my ears, the sound was even better and more accurate than the Apogees and I commenced my two year journey building my ideal ESL hybrid speaker system. I was aware of multiple bass null points in my listening area but was unable to address them, and i believe this led to my bass problems.

 

However, I was convinced I had cracked the formula and started compiling hundreds of Spotify tracks that exploited the ESL magic I was enjoying.

 

NOTE: I have no doubt that a full range ER Audio ESL system would be a magical solution but I don’t have the space available.

 

My direction has changed now, and I am on the cusp of refining the performance of my system to prioritise musical enjoyment above pure ‘sound’.

 

I am now happier than ever because my wife is also enjoying my music again and not feeling locked out while I listen to wierdo stuff.

 

How many others have gone through this process?

 

Cheers, Rob

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Very nice story, have you already made changes or still in the planning stages?

Hopefuly the moral of the story isnt just to avoid audiophile meetings at all costs ha! 🙂

 

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Maybe an endorphin production burst from getting out of the cabin during ISO helped.

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I think there's another underlining, and more important story here. Too many people listen to their system and stop listening to the music it is reproducing. It's ALL about the music, the system is just a means of delivering it to your ears in a way you find it pleasurable to hear. Imagine if sound engineers adopted the same approach and critique of output, would the music start to lose It's soul? If over analysing the sound is starting to separate you from the music, it's time to stand back, take a deep breath, and reassess where you've lost the plot.

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The chase for "perfect sound" is a sickness if it interfers with listening to music.

I treat my hobby of building hifi seperate to my enjoyment of listening music.

If I wander into "listening to the hifi" I say to myself "stop and listen to the music".

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could on hypothesise that the plot is lost when plotting the next purchase🍷

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Without perfect silence, perfect sound is inconceivable ("You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means").

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 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

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On 25/07/2020 at 5:47 PM, robmid said:

After a few tracks, I realised I had been starved of the mid range body that integrates and enhances the bass. I had been hearing only the detail of the tracks in my collection that I thought were superb.

In other words, you thought your system sounded good, but it didn’t. This is an ever-present danger if one tunes a system for months or years without external reference. You tend to drift in some direction without noticing.

 

It’s invaluable to have some sort of second system, even a cheap home theatre or a headphone setup. While overall it may not be as impressive, in can sometimes show things that are missing in the main system.

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Posted (edited)

I've never chased perfect sound because it's unobtainable. I just replicate music as best I can with my system.

 

But IMO, the crux of the matter to me is........................it's always about the music. First and foremost and always has been FOR ME.

I can enjoy hearing a great track out of my tinny car speakers as much as I can playing it at home on thousands of dollars of equipment. And nothing beat a live performance anyhow.

 

Actually feel sorry for folk that chase their version of perfect sound. :)

Edited by soundfan

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2 minutes ago, Steffen said:

In other words, you thought your system sounded good, but it didn’t. This is an ever-present danger if one tunes a system for months or years without external reference. You tend to drift in some direction without noticing.

 

It’s invaluable to have some sort of second system, even a cheap home theatre or a headphone setup. While overall it may not be as impressive, in can sometimes show things that are missing in the main system.

Thank you Steffen. That is a great summary my message. I wish I had put it that way.

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I live by one golden rule in HiFi

- Build a system that allows you to enjoy more music

Too many hi fi systems sound downright awful on bad recordings and are only enjoyable when listening to great recordings.  This reduces the amount of music you enjoy and is the opposite of what this hobby should be about in my opinion.

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This is a different take on focusing on the music rather than perfect sound

 

Having a simple system helps. 

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Posted (edited)

For me, listening to the music rather than the system is more about what I feel than what I think about the sound.  If the music truly engages me, it generates feelings that lead me to think about things that are generally unrelated to the ‘sound quality’ - such as beauty of the sound of the instruments as opposed to the sound the stereo is producing, or imagining I am there at a live performance, transporting me back to memories of times when I have seen the band live.  Or any other random thoughts one has when feeling good about life.   However, it can be hard to think through how to make changes to one’s stereo that will increase engagement rather than sound quality on certain preferred criteria (detail, soundstage, imaging etc).  The whole is different to the sum of the parts, but not always better for engagement/ enjoyment.  I’d be interested to learn more about HOW the OP went about changing the system to increase enjoyment of the music.  How did you identify what was lacking and plan to address it?

Edited by RussB

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1 hour ago, Cloth Ears said:

Without perfect silence, perfect sound is inconceivable ("You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means").

Very true but I qualified my statement with "To my ears, the sound was even better and more accurate..."

I keep using the word 'sound', because, in my mind it is an alternative description to enjoying 'music'.

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Posted (edited)

I lost things that were more important for a while when I went through a stage chasing ultimate detail, I lost a lot of that body, the meat on the bones as it were, that was a while ago and haven't fallen into the same trap since and focus on the emotive aspect as much as possible.

Edited by muon*
typo

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3 minutes ago, RussB said:

For me, listening to the music rather than the system is more about what I feel than what I think about the sound.  If the music truly engages me, it generates feelings that lead me to think about things that are generally unrelated to the sound quality - such as imagining I am there at a live performance, transporting me back to memories of times when I have seen the band live.  Or any other random thoughts one has when feeling good about life.   However, it can be hard to think through how to make changes to one’s stereo that will increase engagement rather than sound quality on certain preferred criteria (detail, soundstage, imaging etc).  The whole is different to the sum of the parts, but not always better for engagement/ enjoyment.  I’d be interested to learn more about HOW the OP went about changing the system to increase enjoyment of the music.  How did you identify what was lacking and plan to address it?

This is going to sound like I had an addiction and saw the light or heard the sound.

 

I understood that something was out of kilter when I realised I was skipping through tracks that emphasised the extreme detail obtainable through my ESLs to get my fix. The 'sound' was key and my wife wasn't interested. She just wanted to listen to music.

 

My decision to buy her a set of KEF LSX speakers with 5 inch drivers alerted my to the fact that I had been missing a lot of lower mid range. Pink Floyds, The Wall live, played on the tiny KEFs confirmed that I had been on the wrong track since I sold my floor standers and valve amp two years ago but I convinced myself that I could live with that by using a couple of subs with my Hybrid ESLs.

 

Listening to ABC FM Classical on my car radio completely changed my focus and I realised I was way off track.

 

My ESls have now been replaced by a pair of largish Satori ARA stand mounts which still have the transparency attributes I enjoyed but also have the missing mid range and bass in spades. Pink Floyd is back and I've just ordered a Rega turntable.

 

Best of all is that we can enjoy our great music collection together, without my habit of track skipping.

 

Cheers, Rob

 

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I want a music system that isn't calling attention to itself.

I want the music to be played in a natural and accurate sounding way.

I generally only notice the equipment when something sounds wrong.

 

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5 minutes ago, pwstereo said:

 

I want the music to be played in a natural and accurate sounding way.

 

That’s the crux, without reference or occasional reset you may lose sight of what that is.

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In my opinion high details with huge dynamic swings systems are the most impressive and give the best goosebumps but  there are consequences and selection of music is unavoidable.  

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13 minutes ago, Steffen said:

That’s the crux, without reference or occasional reset you may lose sight of what that is.

I can attest to that.

Once upon a time I was building a pair of speakers that were going to use those Motorola KSN 1005 piezo horn tweeters. I had the tweeters, but had not finished building the speakers. The tweeters could be connected directly to the speaker output of an amp without a crossover.

So of course I connected them up to an amp and played music through them, the tweeters were just sitting on my bed. I kept on working on building the speakers. At first it was all just weird sounding (there's not much output below 3 kHz), but after half an hour or so, it was sounding less and less strange. It seems our brains are able to adjust and correct (psychoacoustics?) to help the music sound the way we know it should.

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I don't do much of it anymore, but I was a guitar player and in the last couple of years I have been fiddling around with the ukulele trying to work it out by ear. 

 

I like to give it the Uke a strum every now and then especially when it is out of tune while listening to my hi-fi, just as a reminder of a real instrument in a real room. 

 

That slightly comic sound of the Uke is a touchstone for me, like the spinning top Leonardo DiCaprio used in the film "Inception".

 

Because Hi-Fi is a bit like Inception, building levels of reality within dreams within dreams kinda thing and a small anomaly can destroy the whole edifice.

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1 hour ago, allthumbs said:

a small anomaly can destroy the whole edifice.

Or destroy the whole artifice.

artifice
/ˈɑːtɪfɪs/
 
noun
  1. clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.
    "an industry dominated by artifice"

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1 hour ago, deanB said:

Or destroy the whole artifice.

I'll accept the direction but the image I had was from the film where a succession of edifices were destroyed in that film  but artifice is better as Hi-Fi is art(ificial) reproduction.

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47 minutes ago, allthumbs said:

I'll accept the direction but the image I had was from the film where a succession of edifices were destroyed in that film  but artifice is better as Hi-Fi is art(ificial) reproduction.

I was ok with 'edifice' as I was thinking in terms of all those electronic components carefully selected and assembled into a metaphorical structure, but all suddenly revealed to be useless. Artifice is good, too 😃

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