I always believed the best way to audition equipment, especially doing effect A/B comparisons was to use audiophile quality software that I was really familiar with so that it would be easier to identify differences.
Well, I change my mind.
I've been doing a number of auditions lately, and amazingly, I've found that auditioning with ordinary software (especially live albums) that I have virtually no experience with allows me to compare and contrast the gear much better!
Get one "reference" quality CD that should Sound Fanatastic on a great system.
Get one "average" consumer CD that should sound pretty good to decent on a great system that doesn't go too analytical
It allows you to be more objective because you won't be drawn into the music. If the gear passes the first test, play something that you really love. This time, you definitely want the music to suck you in!
You have to be very careful in judging what is drawing you in, especially if you don't love the music. It may be that something in the system is grabbing your attention or impressing you in a way that isn't compatible with the way you normally listen. For instance, you may find yourself saying, "I've never heard the triangles so clearly. Wow, Celine Dion is cool." But that same emphasis on minor details, while charming at first, could prove annoying and artificial over the long run. In the end, you want a system that satisfies your tastes and brings the music to life, not one that calls attention to particular aspects of a recording. If a system makes Michael Bolton sound interesting, it is a very flawed system.
Peter Qvortup of Audio Note UK advocated auditioning equipment with music you don't like. It's a test of the system's ability to communicate musical and emotional messages: the best systems could make music you don't ordinarily care for appealing or interesting, or at least not annoying.
Thanks for remembering that!
I shall expand on this if I may?
I work on three basic methods when doing serious evaluation work.
1.) Comparison by Contrast, main tenet is the fact that no two recordings can be the same and therefore the better the equipment, the greater the sonic difference between recordings.
I know that this flies directly in the face of current wisdom, which favours "consistency" which can only be interpreted as homogeneity or "sameness", something which the digital media do particularly well, however, in my mind there is no question that if one's main purpose in owning an audio system is in order to listen to and explore music in all its variety and glory, then this is the last "quality" one would want, as it reduces the greater performances to the also-ran.
2.) The use of unfamiliar music or music you do not like, the better system will normally engage you better thus keeping your attention, if it does not then chances are that the system is not making the most of the source material.
It is important to see the broader issue here, because in order for any listener to be allowed access to new music or music which was previously rejected as uninteresting, unpleasant or irritating, a system which suddenly changes this has on offer a staircase to a greater appreciation of a wider range of music and thus an expansion of ones understanding of oneself.
3.) Use of music which is VERY badly recorded, preferably recordings from the early part of the 20th century, on all these recordings the noise competes heavily with the music, and the system or component that makes more "sense" of the music by "separating" it from the noise the best, IS always the better.
An interesting observation, two things happen when you play 78's or 78 transfers at hifi shows.
A.) The vast majority of visitors walk out immediately, without giving the music or the system a closer listen, and normally misinterpret the sound of the recording as the sound of the system.
B.) The few that stay for long enough to listen more seriously are normally struck in amazement by how good the underlying sound and the quality of the performances are, once they have allowed their brain's natural filter time to work.
Over the years, as I have studied and refined the various aspects of the evaluation process, I have also come to the conclusion that the greatest artists somehow manage to "punch" their art through an otherwise inadequate medium much better than the lesser ditto and my experience has been that the better sounding the system the greater the difference in the quality of interpretation and emotional expression between recordings.
It is not that most of us are incapable of being touched by these great performances, but we are so distracted by the noise initially that we rarely give ourselves the time to listen beyond that, the "seasoned" audiophile is especially prone to dismiss anything unfamiliar when walking into a room at a show.
In contrast, interpretatively poor and musically shallow performances on technically excellent recordings actually benefit from the audiophile obsession with sonic "packaging" such as, low noise, imaging, sound staging, bass slam etc., and favours equipment that provide these sonic elements to the detriment of the music itself.
To me this is a compelling argument for why the audiophiles are rarely music lovers and the music lovers almost never interested in equipment.
As a fairly serious music lover and record collector myself, I fall into the latter category were it not for the fact that I decided to make equipment myself, which has always caused me to consider and analyse both sides of the argument.
Whilst I agree that absolutes do not exist in terms of "perfection", they do exist if one sets the lesser goal of making equipment that makes the best use of a wide variety of recorded music and provided that the "best" is defined this way, not by the more common single criteria review processes, which mainly address simplistic and fashionable criteria such as "Rhythm, sound stage, imaging, detail, slam etc." it is in my opinion comparative easy to establish whether one product, circuit, component or system is better than another.
This bias towards and blind favouring of totally artificial and perceived differences between equipment, rather than music based and musically relevant issues has lead the audio industry into what I see as a blind alley where the sound of the equipment has become far more important that the music it is playing to the point where the recording process and technological development have become biased in the same way.
One of my favorite audition tools is "Famous Blue Raincoat" sung by by Tori Amos on the "Tower of Song" CD.
but using just 'audiophile approved' recordings can be tiresome and misleading. fact is, most records are pretty well recorded. there are surprises on many 'run of the mill' discs, LP or CD.
the muse label turned out to be a surprise for me on mark murphy recordings. the instruments all sound natural, and likewise for ECM in a different way.
some great recordings get overplayed like jazz at the pawnshop and discovered again (grusin it all) and some of the cat stevens records. it seemed that EVERY time you went into a hifi shop, those were playing.
one surprise for me was the LA4 on concord. never intended to be 'audiophile' discs, the LA$ and other concord discs are VERY well done and can be used as such.
another trick i learned by accident was long term 'listening' while having a conversation with the salesman. this was going on once and i developed a headache while playing cerwin vega speakers. the continuous THRUM AND CCCHHHH got to me without paying attention.
hearing speakers from another room during play is another eye opener. now and then, it sounds like there are musicians playing there.
I've been listening to an almost exclusive diet of Ry Cooder today whilst watching TV and surfing the web, and all his discs (I've got around eight) in my collection are supremely musical and well recorded - even the later, digitally mastered discs.
i have it both on cd and vinyl. this is the disc that convinced me about the green ink on the edge of the cd. albeit, the vinyl is better. i understand theres a mofi as well. i dont know it the mofi is only cd or vinyl as well. i got my copy long after it was used in hifi stores as a reference (and during a period when i wasnt frequenting those stores).
the greening was rather a revelation in a couple of ways. YES, it made the disc sound better top and bottom, and dynamically, and seemed to play louder, BUT not worth greening every cd. i find my time better spent cleaning worthy vinyl.
I have a bunch of recordings each of which have a track with either an instrument, group of instruments, or voice with a problem or a level of excellence that i want to hear in equipment. This helps me rule in or out stuff very fast. But this only works at home where i know all of my other stuff as well as the room. In any other environment I really don't have a clue what is causing what i'm hearing, good or bad, but especially when its "bad".
my trick is real simple.
i agree with Chris that the human voice is the ultimate arbritrator of reality......but which voice?
i play a 45rpm Lp of Ella Fitzgerald's "Let No Man Write My Epitath". Ella's voice is crystal clear and ANY change can be easily identified. her voice is full and the sense of body and presence to her voice is tactile.
things that this doesn't tell me about are simply not that important.
anything that reduces the clarity and immediacey of her voice or causes any unnatural edge or roughness jumps out.
Ella never lies to me.
the key is to have a very high resolution source that is very uncolored and recorded naturally.
i do use more energetic music to tell me other things but the 'Ella' test is the one that counts most to me.
Ella? All well and good as a choice, but to evaluate an audio system she's a menace!
I have this 78 with her and Louis and the vocal reality is so amazing that it swamps your tinkly LPs and edgy CDs. What may that say about your system?
i enjoyed our conversation at CES......but......"tinkly Lps"????......well.....as a 78 devote', you'd certainly know about "tinkly", now wouldn't you?
IMHO, your beloved 78's are not to the level of a very good 45rpm on a proper tt......when the noise-floor drops off to almost nothing.....there is alot more information to hear. i know there is magic in good 78's, but also limitations.
much of Ella is not ideal for evaluation....but that particular recording is quite good.
I think the typo of Clark's has you confused?
'Tinkly Lips' (rather than Tinkly Lps) is obviously some term of endearment and one can only speculate as to what you two got up to at the CES.
I note that Mr Rochlin's tweaking of Clark's nipple at that show wasn't met with much resistance, and Steven now call's Clark 'Mr Tinkly Nipple'
British Hi-Fi Shows really are dull...ahem...affairs by comparison. :0)
You, of course, have heard the direct comparison?
Or (more likely) did you use an LP or CD of a 78?
If the latter, then you know not of what I speak.
And BTW 78s need proper playback gear too.
i have heard 78's, but not in my system and, from what i recall from our conversation, not in a world-class 78-optimized system like yours. it has been a few years since i listened to 78's and i don't pretend to have heard them at their best. the friend who's system i heard them in had 3 different tt's; i enjoyed 78's and 33's that day. i came away with an impression that was mixed.
could your 78 setup make enough difference (or might your 78's be enough better?) to bridge the gap between my impression and your experience?.....maybe.....who knows?
also, from our conversation, your system isn't optimized for 45rpm at the level of my system. have you heard 45rpm performance at the level of my system? considering your respected place in our hobby....good chance but not for sure.
if i have made too bold a statement without all my ducks in a row i apologize. but i believe what i wrote to be the truth based on my experience. and if we were to be able to compare the musical experiences of your best 78 record on your 78-optimized vinyl front-end compared to my best 45rpm record on my 45-optimized vinyl front-end i think most listeners would clearly choose the 45 (assuming you would allow me to use "both" speakers).
then we would need to discuss who's musical taste is valid and what is important to musical satisfaction.
please understand that all i said was that in response to your comment of "78......swamps your tinkly Lps"......i commented "your beloved 78's are not to the level of a very good 45rpm Lp on a proper tt"......i don't question the specialness of 78's in certain areas.
If you can get ahold of Rickie Lee Jones' "Pop-Pop" I think you'll be surprised at how that recording reveals things, too.
Check out the essay linked below. An interesting take that confirms, in a way, your experience.
We've been doing it wrong all along!
A simple vocal allows you to forget about soundstaging, separation and dynamics and concentrate on which component is more natural; millions of years of evolution ensure we are excellent at determining if voices are real or not, but no cave-drawings of violins or trombones have yet been discovered.
Short A/B comparisons are something I'm useless at, but maybe it's just me being more honest than the 'golden ears' who distinguish differences rather than improvements?
This may sound strange...but I use a good clap also. Find yourself a track with some good clapping...you know what a clap sounds like...everyones clap sounds simialr (there are only so many variations) and if you have a component that's coloring the system...the clap can sound surprisingly bad.
A single voice singing or a voice talking also does well.
enjoy the music!
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