‘Listening through the system not to the system’

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Shiver, Jul 6, 2016.

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  1. Shiver

    Shiver Forum Resident Thread Starter

    That’s it really, the title. Just a reference I came across that struck a chord because, without having really thought about or articulated it that way, I realised it’s what I’m drawn to, aiming for.

    I’ve heard some really impressive audio hardware components along the way that just left me cold from an underlying sense of hearing ‘them’. Something processed about it. Much more preferable to me are ones that have a feel of openness and neutrality - ones with no particular emphasis (such obvious mid-hump or upper-base-hump); no obvious limiting factors (such as base or treble roll-off); and no perceived voice of their own. Components or a system that seems to let the music breathe and do its thing.

    And of course, every component will ultimately have its own characteristics and effect on the sound. It’s just at least the (personal) perception of some doing it more than others – ones you might feel you're more listening through, than to.
  2. Thorensman

    Thorensman Forum Resident

    Very close to my heart this.
    If one can listen unbiased at prestige or price, then advances can be made.
    To give an example, i found a simple design of interconnect that really does justice to equipment!
    The Van Den Huls i used sound soft and unclear by comparison.
    I found another way of making mainsblocks to remove RFI.
    Again this opens out the soundstage .
    Put yourself in the reviewers place.
    When you chose an amp for example buy what sounds right for you.
    I run an all tube system.
    Recently whilst setting up a system. For a relative i discovered the Denon PMA 350.
    I really loved it and tried it in my main system.
    Really superb, its solid state, but is sweet and smooth.
    Before going all tube i used Naim amplification. The Denon to MY Ears is far more satisfying.
    So there you have it. I,m free and
    I choose as i hear it, and for me i listen to the Music, not the gear
    Manimal, Tim Irvine, enfield and 4 others like this.
  3. jkauff

    jkauff Senior Member

    Akron, OH
    This is good advice no matter what the playback system. One of the best musical moments of my life came when I was interviewing Bryan Ferry when he was promoting his yet-unreleased second solo album. He had with him a state-of-the-art (for the time) portable mono cassette recorder, the same one you could buy at Sears. He played me a dub of the final mix of "The In-Crowd", grinning madly when the Davy O'List guitar solo came up. Pure magic. I didn't hear anything of the playback system quality, just the wonderful music.

    We should all keep in mind that for popular music, the studios used to do their final mixes using average consumer bookshelf speakers, not audiophile equipment. They wanted to optimize the sound for the average listener. Brian Wilson used to mix the Beach Boys singles using a car radio speaker.

    High-end audio transparency is a wonderful thing, but you're getting a transparent reproduction of something optimized for cheap playback systems if we're talking about popular music. Classical is a different story. For example, old RCA Red Seal classical recordings, like the Rubinstein piano albums, were mixed for high-end systems and really come alive on a transparent audiophile setup. But the goal is the same--listening to the music, not the gear.
    mds, Rich C, Johnny Vinyl and 4 others like this.
  4. Thorensman

    Thorensman Forum Resident

    Fascinating stuff.love this kind of thing . I have heard a lot of high end stuff and get fed up at the excused made for it not delivering the sonic goods.
    I use Leak TL 12 plus x 2 and a Tisbury Passive and rarely hear better , to MY ears.
    Old stuff but there you go.
    Got some mint Decca Mono LP,S.
    The sound they produce are nothing short of amazing , especially ad you say, the classical genre.
    Shiver likes this.
  5. The Pinhead


    Good luck with that !:laugh:
    SandAndGlass and 2xUeL like this.
  6. KT88

    KT88 Senior Member

    That is what most designers of gear and reviewers of gear call transparency. I certainly find a system that has that to be most enjoyable as long as the artifacts that it does have are pleasant. All systems will have some "system sound" and putting together a system involves some management of that to be as unobtrusive and as pleasant as possible. You can easily put together systems that are dynamic and clean, yet nearly unlistenable due to the shear harshness of it, and likewise you can put together a system that is so lush and warm that everything sounds dull and soft. I also prefer a transparent sounding system but also one that leans just slightly to the warm side of neutral tonally. That is because we are never listening to the actual performance when we listen to our hi-fi, just a recording of an actual performance, and each recording has in itself many limitations and distortions that also have to be considered.
    mds, Robert C, SandAndGlass and 4 others like this.
  7. Schoolmaster Bones

    Schoolmaster Bones Senior Member

    ‎The Midwest
    Y'all are listening, when you should be hearing.

    Shiver and ggergm like this.
  8. ggergm

    ggergm another spring another baseball season

    This is one of the reasons I think a lot of musicians have average music systems. They hear the music in their head and don't need a great hi-fi to get there.

    Of course, the other reason most musicians have poor stereos is that they don't have any money. It's a tough life...

    For me, a non-musician, it's magic when the stereo disappears and I'm simply left with the music. It doesn't happen often enough. My quest is to make it happen more often.

    As a side note, for all their faults, this goal is the main reason I love a properly set up pair of Magnepans. To my ear, they can disappear better than most box speakers.
  9. Bill Hart

    Bill Hart Forum Resident

    To me, this is a mindset, not necessarily related to the equipment as such. You could have the most fabulous system in the world, and spend your time listening to what it needs- using records as fodder for system scrutiny, rather than as a music machine.
  10. ggergm

    ggergm another spring another baseball season


    God, been there. Done that. This is exactly the reason I had to give up being an audiophile in the 1980s. I got stuck at a point when all I could hear was my hardware and what it was doing wrong. I couldn't hear the music. It was terrible. I switched to a system that sounded average at the best but was fun and easy to use, putting music throughout my house. I started enjoying music again. Now, 30 years later, I'm mature enough to be both be an audiophile and a music lover.
    SandAndGlass, Jonboy, Rich C and 2 others like this.
  11. Burning Tires

    Burning Tires Forum Resident

    Atlanta, GA
    Elwood Blues traded the original Cadillac Bluesmobile for a microphone, not a stereo system.

    Jake Blues: "A Microphone? Okay, I can see that."
  12. Clay B

    Clay B Forum Resident

    Some great comments. This last one really struck home. I am in the process of doing what Gregg had the maturity to do many years ago. At least I hope I am. Got a couple items coming this week that are very nice, very versatile, but probably not everyone's idea of state of the art. No multple pieces, seperate power supplies, and special interconnents. No equipment stands with exotic materials or glass and ball bearings. Good wires and interconnects but not state of the art by a long shot. I can hardly wait to enjoy music the way I did decades ago on my Dynakit. Fingers crossed.
    ggergm likes this.
  13. Otlset

    Otlset It's always something.

    Temecula, CA
    Yes this is a great way to look at my pursuit of this hobby: listening through the hardware system to the music, as if the only impediment to the full reality of the reproduction is the system itself. Consequently then my efforts as an 'audiophile' have been to remove as much of the system itself -- get it out of the way of the musical presentation -- as possible to better hear the music. I think this is a more accurate portrayal of an audiophile's goals.
    Shiver likes this.
  14. bhazen

    bhazen GOO GOO GOO JOOB

    Deepest suburbia
    The great audio Zen problem - can one switch the audiophile hat for the music listener hat at the appropriate time?
  15. jupiterboy

    jupiterboy Forum Residue

    Buffalo, NY
    If I'm listening to the system, I'm also talking to myself in my head about what I'm hearing.

    If I'm just listening to music, there's no language buzzing around in my head.
    Shiver, ggergm and bhazen like this.
  16. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Vallejo, CA
    One of the most enlightening aspects of our hobby is to listen to a very expensive system and come away unimpressed.

    Another is to start over from scratch - rather then upgrade existing components, create a system from the ground up with true synergy/matching.
  17. Merrick

    Merrick The return of the Thin White Duke

    Or even just to hear how changing one component can turn the experience from Shangri-La to Motel 6. The synergy is really key, getting the best spec'ed, highest priced everything won't give you the sound that you really want.

    Of course, you may need to spend a lot to get that sound, but it's about spending the money on the right components.
    Dave likes this.
  18. Manimal

    Manimal Forum Resident

    Southern US
    I just to hear clear highs, decent mids, and my shirt to move just a little on the opening of DSOTM, I'm working at it:)
  19. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Vallejo, CA
    I always remove my shirt entirely when listening to DSOTM. Try it, it really enhances the experience.
  20. Manimal

    Manimal Forum Resident

    Southern US
    Yes..I will
    Rolltide likes this.
  21. sunrayjack

    sunrayjack Forum Resident

    Very well put,I totally agree .
  22. Thorensman

    Thorensman Forum Resident

    Would that be Davy o list from "the Nice."
    Lucky man to have met Bryan Ferry. Loved thst album! Roxy music,s first album really " blew my mind " as they say
  23. lonelysea

    lonelysea Ban Leaf Blowers

    The Cascades
    This. My wife and I had this experience at the audio dealer I frequent. At least $100k worth of equipment (D'Agostino, Wilson, etc.) in the "high end" room. We both came away thinking, "Wow, that was no where near 10 times better than our modest system".

    Also, I wonder how much this phenomenon (listening to the system) has to do with the fact that most audiophiles have their equipment prominently displayed. My components are in a rack in an adjoining room - out of sight, out of mind - all there is in my listening room are a pair of vintage (and somewhat homely) speakers tucked away in the corner(s). It works for me.
    action pact and Shiver like this.
  24. bhazen

    bhazen GOO GOO GOO JOOB

    Deepest suburbia
    That's a normal result, in my experience. The more money spent, incrementally, the less improvement (i.e., diminishing returns.) Also, system setup gets more crucial the more you spend; if you don't have real pros setting up an uber high end system, they can sound frankly awful. Or worse: boring.
    lonelysea likes this.
  25. Dino

    Dino Forum Resident

    Kansas City - USA
    This reminds me of when I was in High School back in the early 70s. I had a friend that was buying a stereo and wanted my opinion while he was shopping for one. He got his heart set on a Pioneer turntable (forgot the cartridge) and receiver. I had different preferences but did not try very hard at all to dissuade him from those choices. I didn't see/hear anything wrong with them. I figured he would be happier with his own choices.

    When it came to speakers, back then a lot of stores had what I called "House Speakers". Their brand could only be found at one particular store or chain of stores. They had bigger cabinets and drivers (woofers anyway) and often more drivers than compareably priced name brand speakers. They shared a sound signature - peaks in the low end, mid-range and high end. They would be played a bit louder in demonstrations against name brand speakers, as well. They sounded impressive for a few minutes then their problems would be revealed. I was already a bit of an audiophile and heard the problems quickly. I think it took the average stereo purchaser longer, if they ever noticed.

    I tried pretty hard to dissuade him from these speakers. He was confused between my opinion and the obviously better value and sound that he perceived from these "House Speakers". At some point, I saw that he had made up his mind and I shut up and never brought them up again.

    After a while, it turned out that he started being dissatisified with those speakers. They were not horrible and even though I knew his stereo would sound much better with different speakers, I could still enjoy music through them. He could not really afford to get something else and they bugged him to the point that he was not enjoying his stereo.

    One day I told him that he should try focusing on the music coming out of his stereo rather than concentrating on the sound of his speakers. He didn't get it. By the next week, he got it. He thanked me several times over the next month for putting that idea in his head. He could enjoy listening to his stereo again.

    As for me, for an example, I could enjoy the sound from my Vanderteen 2Ci speakers for the last 26 years without thinking about anything that they may be lacking. They were stolen recently and I plan to buy the current Vandersteen 2Ce Signatures to replace them. I hope they have not lost the easy going yet thoroughly enjoyable quality that I found the 2Ci to have.
    Robert C, Clonesteak, JeffMo and 2 others like this.
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