my preamp is still not repaired properly so my life has been without hifi for close to a month now. it is agonizing. sorry for those who are waiting for more reviews from me.

i have been reflecting on some of the hifi things and the hifi people i met this year and the most illuminating statement i heard this year, from a very sage audiophile, is "good sound has universal standards".

this particular audiophile, like me, doesn't subscribe to the frequent defensive statement from audiophiles when facing constructive criticism from visiting audiophiles : i-like-my-sound-and-i-don't-care-how-others-dislike-it mentality.

true, you have every right to defend your sound and your biases towards this kind of sound but do you ever ponder for a moment that universally there is only one "right" tonality (that's the one closest to live sound), one "right" soundstaging (that's the one closest to live soundstage)? the operative keyword here being "closest to live". c'mon, reproduced sound can never, ever achieve the scale, intensity, SPL or realism of live sound but a good system can provide a close facsimile of the real thing. a case in point, even the tiny monitor like the famed bbc ls3/5a can do a wonderful job in creating a good facsimile of live sound, albeit in a much reduced scale.

we don't dismiss those who play 300B because they like the romantic sound, or those SS-proponents who like dynamic bass, or those horn-proponents who like lifelike realisim and many other sub-genre of audiophiles who have various biases but do you ever dispute that good systems share many similar traits?

just like we won't dispute that jessica elba has the best beach-girl bod, or angelina jolie or hsu qi (picture above) have most sensuous pouty lips, or scarlet johannson has the best boobs. even beauty have universal standards, tho' many would argue that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder ;-)

while it is not wrong to defend the kind of sound you like, do spend a moment next time to ponder when you receive a constructive criticism from a sage and wise audiophile (make sure he is sage and wise lah!) on why he gives that kind of feedback. he does not mean to dent your ego and make you feel bad; he may just want to help you because he has been there, done that.

when you do get it right on a certain aspects of hifi, do visit those people whose systems you looked up to in the past and you would then realize good sound do indeed have universal standards.

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16 comments:

GCK said...

I thought you were busy listening and setting up your system after you ARC pre-amp got repaired. 1 month is a longgg time for music lover like us.
Agreed, good sound have universal standards. I am beginning to understand now.
I am free for "yum cha" usual time.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do concur with the ultimate comparison to real life instruments and real life scenarios. OTOH do you realize just how loud and dynamic a simple solo trumpet or a saxaphone can sound? Even some of the highest level of hi-fi players failed to realize that. There goes the universal standards ;-)
TWK

Anonymous said...

The point about using life sound as the 'universal standard' may seem to be logical at first glance, but with deeper thought it is fraught with pitfalls. My doubt is confirmed when I read what's written by Anthony H. Cordesman in a review of his in the Jan 2006 TAS.
I'd just like to quote the passages verbatim since I can't put it better than him:

"We talk a lot about musical accuracy and absolutes in The Absolute Sound. We place an almost ritual emphasis on listening to live music as a standard. The truth is, however, no two reviewers share the same taste or define absolutes in the same way. We all do share a common joy in music, but no one who reads the magazine with any frequency can believe we share the same musical taste.

Moreover, as someone who travels to some twenty to thrity countries a year, I have heard live music sound so different in so many places, and the sonic nuances of a given performance shift so much in character as I move through the performance area, that I am not about to designate one mix of sound characteristics as a standard. Anyone who believes that there is one such standard for the sound of live music has led an amazing sheltered and musically narrow life. Even if the illusion of electronic reproduction could be perfect - and it can't - the issue of which musical reality a given audiophile prefers would still be a matter of personal experience and taste."

Bravo, what a brilliant deconstruction of the "good sound = life sound" mantra.

andre said...

i fully agree with the above statement by anonymous and quite we put too...

even live music sound different in different venues and different locations in the concert haLL[That is why the price of the tickets are different] ....

IMHO a well set up system can sound better than off pitch singer in an acoustically challenged concert hall.....

Anonymous said...

I have listened to live amplified music and compared the performance with that on a studio recorded CD and I can assure you my system sounds way better. I also heard one item performed without mikes and it was totally different and by no means better than that same performance amplified.
The only universal standard is live unamplified classical music.
So unless you listen to classical music you have no standard to go by.

shad said...

When you talk about universal standard I cant help but agree with you fully....but there is one caveat;it might not sound alike........

GCK said...

Perhaps this writer have a point after all the "good sound = life sound" mantra.Enjoy the read.

http://6moons.com/industryfeatures/whymusic
matters/itsimplydoes.html

Michael Ng said...

CK,
thanks for the good read, very eye opening. there's one point from the writer which I really liked, and agree with:

"If we're talking about our experience, what matters most is our experience. If anything, the relevant and interesting question to pursue is - why did you like what you liked?"

many people fail to explain or even capture the essence of what they like.

music like an art is about the appreciation, and when we start to understand that music is not merely about audiophile cds or test cds, can we fully understand what good sound is. from there, we adjust the cues (like in the case of art.. the lighting, the ambiance etc) to bring out the best of the painted picture.

like a good friend once told me, the painted picture must be like an "open window"!

simon said...

maggie,

if you take live music as your reference,i am afraid only a vinyl-based system will be good enough as reference.

in my experience listening and sharing,no digital-based system -yup,heard them all;reim yo,zanden,meridian,weiss-can never sound as real as a vinyl based system;well with the exception of perharps the dcs latest stack...

Anonymous said...

Simon,
Which vinyl system is your basis for comparison.

simon said...

anonymous,

almost ANY vinyl system will humble the most expensive digital setup,IF we use live music as referance....Let's see ,you can start with a LINN sondek,or the humble REGA p-3...and try Karajan's interpretation of Beethoven's 9th as a start...DG on vinyl vs SACD on the BEST digital playback you have, and i can bet you within ONE minute you would know which is more closer to live...

GCK said...

Aha, the old vinyl vs digital debate is around the corner. Well, I can vouch for simon. In my experience, vinyl is better anytime. I recently setup my humble Rega P3, after a long long rest, thought that my digital playback was very good already. Within 1 minute, I could tell vinyl playback was much much more realistic. The jump factor was there. But now I felt the Rega was spinning a little too fast to my liking and it sounded thinner tonally.

Anonymous said...

maggie,

u r talking abt universal standards and use live music as reference, then in the next breath u said reproduced music can't achieve live sound and a facscimile will do?! Sound at a reduced scale from ls3/5a will also do?! How can this be universal standard? u contradict yourslef.
If I need scale, dynamics and detail in my facsimile to get me excited, and say this is not included in ur facsimile universal standards (u seem to prefer tonality), so whose facsimile is more correct?
Sometimes it is dangerous to talk in absolutes ('universal')

Jack said...

I think -correct me if I am wrong-what Simon is trying to say is that Vinyl sound more "real',more like live music in term of its dimensionality,tonality,naturalness-on these I cannot argue,especially IF you use live unamplified musics[acapella,baroque,classical,opera].

BUT,certainly digital playback-well set up ones-will provide MUSICAL enjoyment just as much.Take transient for e.g.On Digital playback,it is always better pronounced;even better than live music!!!!but I enjoy listening to all the details that only a good digital playbvack could provide,knowing very well it is nothing like live music;)

kurien said...

In term of Realism nothing ccan come close to Live ,unamplified music as Analogue rigs do-that is an irrefutable factIMO.

this is not about what is better,it is as simple as that.Musicality,and musical enjoyment is something else though,and a well set up Digital rigs can sound better musically than an Analogoue-but not if you use live music as referance

Ken said...

All,

I have never heard a system where it can mimic real "live" sound. It is impossible.

We can argue tubes vs SS or vinyl vs cd. We can even argue about planar vs box speakers. To me the most important thing is that an owner buys a system to, first and foremost, satisfy him or herself. If that sound is well liked by others, great. If not, the owner can go for improvement if he/she deems necessary.

I personally think an audiophile first job is to know what music they like to listen to. After that, try to get the hardware that can play those kind of music well.

Just remember at the end of the day, a hifi system does colour the sound no matter how neutral we say it is.

YMMV.