The source. The ultimate determinent of sound quality?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by felix.scerri, Apr 30, 2013.

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  1. felix.scerri

    felix.scerri Forum Resident Thread Starter

    G'day all, increasingly it seems apparent to me that pretty well regardless of playback system quality the ultimate determinent of sound quality is the source (record etc). I have many records the majority of which are preloved/older records all of which are musically meritorious, but often sound 'ordinary'.

    Am I correct in assuming that is just 'the way it is', and nothing much can be done to improve perceived/apparent sound quality. I've been told that the higher the playback system quality the better the recovered audio quality, however my own observations do not agree with this notion.

    Indeed the same thing happens with some music CD's that I have, great music but all the sound quality of a cardboard box, if that makes sense! So is the 'source' the ultimate determinent of sound quality? Regards, Felix.
  2. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

    With a bad source you are never going to get good sound no matter what you do. In fact it is my belief that the better the system the more inportant the source becomes. Lower quality systems tend to be more forgiving. IMO
    acdc7369 and Dave like this.
  3. james

    james Forum Resident

    It could be the recording itself? I'll play 2 records in a row and think "my analog rig sounds like ****", but then i'll put on a record that sounds amazing.
    phil1db likes this.
  4. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    That could lead one to exclude a lot of otherwise superb music that just wasn't recorded very well. A friend of mine once was bemoaning the fact that he avoided playing some records of GOOD MUSIC just because it didn't sound awesome on his high end system. At that point you're listening to the system, not the music.

    Often the opposite is true... a more resolving system is better able to extract more detail from a poorly recorded piece of music, making it more enjoyable than it would be when played on a less-resolving system.

    I can think of a particular 1950s Charles Mingus album on CD that always sounded muddy to me until I bought a better CD player and speakers - I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded then.
    Dave and phil1db like this.
  5. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

    Thats exactly what felix was stating that the source is most important.
  6. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

    I fully understand what you are saying. It must be remembered that source implies not only source material but front end playback. My understanding of the OP's question was that it relates to source material and not your playback system.

    I should have said that poor source material may sound better on a lesser system, IE a very bright recording may sound a bit rolled of on the top end on a system of lower quality, hence making it sound good, but a resolving system will reveal a bright, compressed etc recording for exactly what it is.
  7. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    Yup, I can't disagree at all. I think the point we're both making is a highly resolving system can be a double-edged sword - you get all the goodness and all of the badness along with it.
    tyinkc, Dave and phil1db like this.
  8. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

  9. kevintomb

    kevintomb Forum Resident

    Highly resolving, or so called highly resolving, is often not automatically the best sounding.
    RSharpe and Lownote30 like this.
  10. laughalot

    laughalot Forum Resident

    Have too agree, sometimes less is better, see above.
  11. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

  12. mj_patrick

    mj_patrick Forum Resident

    Elkhart, IN, USA
    Garbage in, garbage out.
    tyinkc and Dave like this.
  13. Larry I

    Larry I Forum Resident

    Washington, D.C.
    The most important component, in terms of determining the overall sound quality of the system, is the weakest component in the system, whatever that may be. In most systems, it is the speaker. A local dealer in the Washington DC area that sells a LOT of very expensive gear uses as a demonstration source (for convenience), MOG and Rhapsody streaming from a Sonos -- i.e., super crappy source. Even from such sources, systems can sound suprisingly good.

    I think that, above all else, one must find the set of speakers that is your fit. From that, the complementary electronics will follow--high efficiency speakers make low-powered tube gear feasible, low-efficiency/difficult to drive may demand higher powered tube or solid state amplification.
  14. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Mid Atlantic
    Let's just say the resolution of the system should be in rough correspondence with the resolution of the source material. It depends what you want from the audio system. A frequency balanced low fi system can give you mild sonic sludge which goes by in the background without disturbing you. A high end system can give your best recordings a thrilling or very natural presentation and show the gimmickry and distortion of poor mic'ing. On average I find higher resolution works better on analog and SACD while midfi works best with CDs. I do think that seeking out the best masterings of a given recording whether analog or digital makes a lot of sense rather than asking the audio system to magically compensate. That would require audio with artificial intelligence.
  15. kevintomb

    kevintomb Forum Resident

    That term is meant to be insulting, and really means nothing to most people. High Fidelity can be either high priced or affordable. Mid fi denotes nothing actually but merely is a term to disparage other peoples equipment.
    Brother_Rael and Spek like this.
  16. If you can, you want the front end as clean as possible. Any mojo stuff to deal with not so perfect source material should be added at line level signals. Hence the once so ubiquitous "loudness" switch.
  17. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    San Diego, Ca. USA
    The ultimate determinate of sound quality when I listen is me.

  18. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident

    The ultimate determinate of sound quality is the talent in front and behind the microphone.
  19. gingerly

    gingerly Forum Resident

    Sources are of uniformly high quality these days. Entry level Oppo's are not a world apart from yesterday's Mark Levinson front-ends. There is also relatively little difference between similarly spec'd amplifiers. Speakers are the most important component in the chain.
    Brother_Rael and esldude like this.
  20. hesson11

    hesson11 Forum Resident

    Great post, Felix. My ranking, in order of importance in determining sound quality:

    1. Recording quality
    2. Listening room's interaction with speakers
    3. Speakers
    4. Cartridge (for analog sources, of course)
    5. Everything else (nothing of which has much of a determining factor in determining sound quality)

    jbmcb and Brother_Rael like this.
  21. esldude

    esldude Active Member

    SE USA
    The ultimate determining factor in reproduced sound quality is everything. Almost every step has its problems. At any point between recording and playback magic can be killed off. Wherever a big enough bottleneck occurs you can lose the most sound quality. These days generally that will be the speaker/room part of things. Amps not dealing with speaker loads is probably next most common, and so on each step back to the source component. The other big deficit is microphone/room on the recording end of it all.

    Now most decently made sources, pre-amps, and well designed amps properly matched to speakers cost very little in terms of lost sound quality. The speaker and its interaction with the room is the biggest limiting factor by far when it comes to consumer audiophiles reproducing available recordings.
  22. Once I finished the tube phono preamp I am using now, I hooked it up. It was great, the best I have ever built. Then I removed the input RCA jack, cut the RCA plugs on the TT cables, hard soldered the TT cables to the preamp. BINGO! Micro resolution galore! in spades! It was really shocking how good this worked. Now, if I only had the guts to hard solder the little wires to the pins on the cart :evil:

    Just a recent front end revelation.
  23. weirdo12

    weirdo12 Forum Resident

    I believe that's what is meant when equipment is described as 'revealing'.
  24. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Mid Atlantic

    Well then I've insulted myself because that's what I have in a CD player. You do seem to have some kind of agitation about all kinds of triviality.
  25. kippy

    kippy Forum Resident

    Chicago, IL, USA
    Kudos on the soldering. That's how I real man connects up his components. I actually think this is the way to go for the best sound. I don't do it myself..but I have thought about it. Interconnects are a joke compared to a soldered connection IMHO.
    morinix likes this.
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