Opinion on HiFi, Auditioning and Reviewing
order to get a good HiFi system some auditioning is necessary, on this page
I will give you my view on this matter. If you are one of those who seek maximum
'crash-boom-bang' sound you don't need to read any further. We (MT and many
others) are looking for lowest possible coloration and ability to make listening
as enjoyable as possible.
First, let's kill one of the oldest myths: You must have perfect hearing to be able to judge an audio system.
I think this is entirely wrong, people with hearing defects are in fact often better at detecting coloration because it distracts them more. This does not mean that you must have a hearing defect to be able to judge an audio system, but we (with normal hearing) are actually very good at ignoring flaws in the audio chain, and in order to reach audio nirvana we must know how to select the low coloration objects that we prefer in the long run. 'Golden ears' have little to do with the actual ability to hear high and low frequencies, it is purely experience and maybe some kind of musicality. The human brain is exceptional at voice recognition, you can for instance recognize your friends voice using a very bad telephone line, and this is the ability that sometimes fools us to believe something is better than it really is.
This is where the debate can get hot, is it possible to sort out the good equipment via measurements? My answer is NO, but still measurements are an important part of the construction. It seems rather strange that no conclusions on the sound character can be made with the use of measurements, and this is certainly not the case either. If the frequency curve is published and you see a deviation from the straight line between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, you know that it influences the sound. Other measurements may give some clues to the sound but overall it is not possible to sort out the good sounding equipment with the help of measurements but it may be quite possible to sort out at least some of the bad sounding. Remember the early solid state period when good sounding tube amplifiers were replaced by solid state amplifiers no one would touch in these days, these were mainly sold because of better measurements than the tube amplifiers. For a long period of time, these better measurements led people to believe that solid state amplifiers had a more correct sound than tube amplifiers and if they sounded worse, this was because the flaws were not masked by some sort of 'nice distortion'.
Even if my opinion on measurements is that the correlation between good measurements and good sound is low, I like to read reviews with lots of measurements. The measurements may not directly show if the sound is good but it often gives a hint on the thoughts behind the construction. Some measurements are more interesting than others, waterfalls give some clues to resonant behaviour. The impulse response is theoretically the only test you need to perform, the result tells you everything about the behaviour but this requires a perfect impulse and we don't have these and not the perfect analysing equipment either. FFT analysing data is also very interesting, from these some conclusions may be made on the construction and amount of feedback. If no feedback is used, the FFT data shows quite a lot.
Who has the best ears, the expert or you? Tricky question. One thing is true though, your ears sit on your head and this is a significant advantage. Some experts tend to like the same equipment as I do and some don't. Those who tend not to like the equipment I like do not get much attention from me, it would be stupid to run out and buy something recommended by some other person who tends to dislike the stuff I like. It is not more complicated than this, at the end you are going to live with the sound and the final conclusion must be your own. Experts can be a great help since they have the opportunity to try more HiFi gear than you will be able to and based on the experts advice it is at least possible to pick out some interesting products to audition for yourself.
General Considerations For Auditioning
Generally, I agree with Peter Qvortrup (in article:"Are You on the road to Audio Hell") that the ability to make different recordings sound different is the strongest indication on low coloration. Apart from this ability, the HiFi system must also be able to reproduce sounds in a lifelike manner. Depending upon which kind of music you prefer, the choice of components may be different. Personally, I need clean bass down close to 20 Hz. If this foundation is not present, the music sounds compressed and the soundstage is not as 'alive'. Those who listen to small scale music, like small Jazz ensembles or string quartets, may not think the low bass is needed and consequently choose other equipment. The choice of HiFi components is much about taste, there are lots of good products with minor flaws of different kind. Selection between these comes down to taste and the kind of music you are going to use them with.
Even if I use this method sometimes, it is not the one I prefer. You tend to be too tense and use only one half of the brain, the analytical one. With this method, you can easily hear the differences between components but it can be difficult to examine the real sound qualities because of the acoustic memory. If you have played something very loud, the normal level sounds lower than normal after this and if you have listened to a speaker with too much treble for instance and listen to another speaker with correct treble level after this, the correct treble level appears to be too low. The method also tends to make the components that add something to the sound winners, far from our goal. Use A/B testing if needed but be aware of the method's weaknesses, in the end you must give the component a comprehensive listen without switching on and off.
It is far too common to use one favorite piece of music whenever a new system's quality shall be established. The main reason for this kind of behaviour is that the selected recording sounds especially good on the present sound system but it may be the only recording that sounds good on that system because it is recorded in a certain way. When you try this recording on a better system, it is possible that it actually sounds less good. A good rule is to use as many recordings as possible and preferably with acoustic instruments because these are the only ones you know how they sound. A good system will be able to reveal the differences between the recordings and the acoustic instruments will sound natural. The recording must not be close-miked because this alters the sound of the instruments. Bad speakers for instance, are not capable of reproducing such recordings, the coloration gets too obvious. Close-mike studio recordings can sound detailed even on bad loudspeakers and this is probably the reason for the popularity of this kind of recording technique.
What to Listen for?
Try not to listen to any certain quality, instead try to relax as much as possible and enjoy the music. It is when you are in this state you will be able to hear the details that set HiFi components apart. The only way to find out if a system is really good is to play lots of music for a long time, if you still like it after 500 hours it probably is good.
You must learn to trust your instinct and also need to listen to a lot of music if you want to acquire 'golden ears', when you finally get them, everything will be easy except convincing your friends that you are right.
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