Audio Diversity - What is it?

I've noticed that there are always alot of threads put up about "this vs that", tubes vs transistors, analog vs digital, cone vs electrostat, high price vs high value, cables make no difference, etc, etc. It seems that there is a wide variety of opinions as to what actually sounds good or better than the rest. Sometimes this elicits very strong opinions.

My question is why is it, that there is so much difference of opinion on this subject? Doesn't everyone hear the same music? Is it something to do with some other factor like, whether they never really heard many other things, or this was all their dealer had so they think it's best, is it listening skills, or what? Or is it ego, pride of ownership, and protecting resale value of their equipment, that is coming into question here? If that is the case, then are people lying about it to support their self-esteem or bank account, by exaggerating the quality of their systems to others? Do people who can only afford low-fi state that there is no difference in gear, only to make themselves feel better that they have just as good gear as the guy who paid $50k? Or are we all just imagining differences? Or perhaps, some of us don't want to get "closer to the music", but would rather have certain "airbrushed" qualities to it that they like, but take it further away from truth? Personal preferences? I don't know.

It seems to me that if 2 people listen to the same system in the same room at the same time, there should be some consensus about whether it is better or worse than some other system they compare it to. But yet, we seem to not be able to agree on this. There is always this and that getting in the way. But I say it's either closer to the music or further away. It should be easily determined. When 2 people look at a red car, they both know it's red. Nobody has to measure the reflected wavelengths to know that. One may like red better than the other, but there is no doubt that the car is red. Can't do that with audio systems. When 2 people listen, one says better, another says worse. Why?

What I would like to know is, what you think is the reason for such large differences in opinion about what sounds right and what doesn't. I don't want to start an issue about one particular type of equipment vs another, but I want to focus on why we don't seem to hear things the same.

I think this is at the root of alot of our discussions here on this forum, and I'd like to hear some opinions on it, which will likely be just as diverse.
You have set forth most all of the reasons why people find differences in the equipment they discuss. I'm sure there may even be a few more. But, I'm not at all sure that I can make a connection with your statement that to refine your music reproduction system allows you to "get closer to the music". To the contrary, all that you accomplish is to enable yourself to hear what the engineer's put on the recording, which I feel has little to do with music in a pure sense, unless you consider the engineer an artist who suceeds the original composer. IMHO music is an art form, much as painting. One does not need a loupe to appreciate a great painting unless one is assessing the technique of the artists use of the brush and paints. Art is meant to be viewed at a distance. In my view so is music. Its meant to be heard live in an appropriate venue. It does not need electronic reproduction to survive and in fact there is no model for the recording and reproduction of music by which anyone can judge correctness. You may enjoy hearing a piano concerto with the microphone in the piano - you sure will hear all of the sounds from the vibrating wires - but you will not hear what the composer intended.

In my view the more familiar one is with a piece of music the less important it is to hear all of the detail you feel is important to "get closer to the music". Thats why Bose and MP3 are successful outside of this hobby - those folks just need clues, not detail and, interestingly, we denegrate them for their choices. Hum, I wonder who's really better off, us or them? Something to think about as you worry about which cartridge or wire "sounds" better.
Excellent question and I think in your second paragraph you've already hit upon a majority of reasons why people disagree. Another reason is that there appears to no agreement upon a sonic reference. TAS has always held out live unamplified music as the reference. While it may not be a perfect reference, it's at least a pretty good starting point. There is another post today where someone asks for reference quality, technically first class recordings. He/she offers Norah Jones and Willie Nelson's "Stardust" as examples. Others offered equally studio contrived, multi-miked, reverbed, multi-tracked synthetic recordings. Now I know "Stardust" is an excellent recording, but unless I was in the control room at the final mix, I really don't have a clue as to what is supposed to sound like. If we continue to use studio synthetic recordings as sonic references, then it's probable that some systems may euphonically favor some recordings over others. An accurate reproduction of the input signal suddenly becomes a secondary consideration and whatever equipment makes the signal sound "good" takes priority. I'm kind of coming around the backdoor to a "musical" vs. "accuracy" type argument.
Agreement has a great deal to do with execution. There are many things in our lives that most of us enjoy and maybe even treasure, this is usually due to excellence of the object or product we are experiencing. Audio is far from a perfected endeavor, one could say its state of proficiency is at the level of primitive. Dissatisfaction is the engine that drives change; that is why Audiogon succeeds.

Great thread. I'm sure there are many things going on here.

One, as a pretty darn good photographer let me make this analogy. The first 35mm camera I got my hands on was a Nikon Nikormat. This was while I was taking a photography course in my freshman year of college. After graduation and finding gainful employment I tried several different brands of cameras before buying my first. I wasn't rolling in cash so I had hoped something less expensive would do the trick. I just couldn't wrap my mind around a Canon, Pentax or any other brand of camera although I knew that great results could be had with any of the above mentioned in the hands of a skilled shooter. I had learned on a Nikon and it was the only brand that felt natural. I bought an F2 Photomic which I still own and is my favorite camera still. I even like this better than later, nicer Nikons.

I believe there is an imprint made on ones mind early on in audio much like my photo analogy. It takes a very open mind and a lot of effort the re-evaluate and change that original imprint.

Some audio experiences are a no brainer. Example: In the early 70's I had a Thorens table (sorry, I can't remember all the details of arm and cartridge) and later in that decade I auditioned an LP12. The LP12 was so much nicer than my other table I couldn't justify NOT making a change. I later bought another LP12 when my original one couldn't be upgraded. The Linn has something about it that has imprinted on my mind, perhaps it's the prat thing. I realize it's not technically as great as a number of other tables but when auditioning them and recognizing their strenghts I find them lacking in something. I honestly can't put my finger on what it is. So, changing is something I'm not compelled to do. As you know I will someday own a Teres. I'll make the change, keep the Linn and listen to the Teres until a time comes to really compare the two. I'm sure I'll laugh at myself when that time comes and then part with the Linn.

In recent years, and especially in my case where I moved to an audio wasteland, the two channel high end shops have become few and far between. Most of them that are left are full of insufferable jerks that tend to insult me with the first words out of their mouths. Mail order and internet sales (especially used) make experimenting much less expensive than walking into one of the high priced salons and paying the entry fee. Many of the small changes one makes to a system is reinforcement of synergy. This is a real phenomenon.

I know from personal experience that two identical motors used for racing never perform the same. The tolerances allowed in each part in the manufacturing process can make for a substantial difference in the end. I believe that to be the case in the world of audio with the exception of the very top of the heap manufacturers. If you look at NASCAR or Indy racing where there is almost no end to the blueprinting process you will find almost no differences with identical motors.

I'm also sure that each of us has a different frequency response in our heads. This can logically be the result of mechanical differences in the shape of our ears, whether we wear glasses or something as small as our seated height, not to mention the necessary differences in the inner ear making each of us unique. Our brains may also be hard wired differently which makes sense too. Physical damage from environmental exposure would obviously have an impact on our choices since we may be trying to compensate for hearing loss.

All that being said I believe that ones hearing can be trained beyond any measurement tools ability to test for the difference. It doens't surprise me that someone in Chicago who belongs to an audio group and is very social among the members would have ears better trained than I. I'm kind of a solitary audiophile here in Idaho. I honestly had better abilities prior to my move here since so many of my friends in Nebraska also had higher end equipment. I did prove to myself that most of my listening abilities are still solid during my last trip home. I listened to many fine systems and could really tell the differences. Like we have discussed in many private emails I heard things that I want during that trip. The troubling aspect is the things I didn't hear that I surely would miss. At least I've been around long enough and have tried hard enough to know what I can or can't live with in audio.

More puzzling to me is the question of whether we see the same colors.
Thoughtful questions and well thought out answers above. I believe opinions sustain all interests. If you believe every opinion is correct based on their point of view, then differences of opinion are the consequences of having an interest in the first place.

I also believe that no one sees the same colors.
TWL, you're a brave man!

I am sure the differnces in most system and the great disparity of opinions is mostly due to personal prefernce. It is similar to some people liking country music while others find it to be the lowest common denominator of music; or was the hip hop???

People have different priorities in their system. Some people love the sound of accurately reproduced bass. Thier system must be able to reproduce that bass. They will be willing to sacrifice other aspects of the sound to obtain the bass they love.

It is possible for that person to go to the opposite extreme. If they are not able to reproduce the deep bass they love in an accurate manner they may be willing to forgo deep bass altogether. Rather than poor quality the listener might prefer no bass.

Another person might demand the purist midrange and tonal accuracy and be willing to give up the frequency extremes to obtain it. Bass and high treble will be less important than the liquid midrange and perfect timbre some people have to have in their system.

Other people might love a realistic soundstage. They want height, depth and width. To obtain this they would be willing to sacrifice bass in their speaker placement. Since it is usually impossible to get both deep bass and huge soundstage from the same speaker placement they will err on the side of soundstage.

The intersting thing is, two people who are listening to the same music are not listening to the same music. The flute player might be listening to the flute while the Viola player is focused on the strings. The same recording is on the turntable, but the listener is not listening to the same aspect of the music.

That IMO is why people differ so greatly in what they consider to be good, accurate, or pleasant musical reproduction. That is also the reason why I am the only person with a good system here!
Sonic priorities are important as well. For some, a well placed image is critical - and they'll gladly give up low frquency extension for it. Other are unwilling to give up the lows, but may be willing to compromise on image.

For some, dynamics are key (horn lovers, for instance). They make their own trade-offs.

Just like your car analogy, I believe that various listeners will hear and report similar sonic findings (they all see it's RED) but they may differ on which is BETTER (you want a sports car, I want luxury, etc.)
Tom, I would like to offer a personal answer that, though right for me, may not be right for all. I am very sensitive to certain types of distortion. The distortion created by electronics, solid state electronics (which I currently use exclusively, go figure) in particular, bother me in very small quantities. I am very sensitive to grain and texture; glare does not bother me much. Loudspeaker and cartridge distortions do not bother me much either, even when several orders of magnitude greater than those of electronics. Others go running out of the room when confronted with distortions that really don't affect the musical message very much for me.

I suppose that what I am saying is that, since systems are riddled with so many distortions, dynamic, harmonic, IM, slew rate, frequency response, etc. We all pick our systems based on this sensitivity. Some of it is just taste but some if it is music related. If you listen only to string quartets you probably won't notice the dynamic limitations of using an SE amp with an 88db sensitive speaker. If your diet is Black Sabbath, you might never notice the midrange veracity of that setup but you would surely be looking for some more punch.
I disagree with the premise that two people hear the SAME thing. With anything. Put a musician playing live in a room and then ask people to listen to a recording of that session to name the system that accurately reproduces what they've heard live and no two people will agree IMO.

That's why I believe there are so many variants of amps, preamps, TT's, CDP's, speakers, cables, etc. Those who voice them will not necessarily hear what your ears hear. But I do agree that we can tell differences between components - but not to an equal degree.

Of course, the difference between components can be obvious or subtle to some, but as to whether which one is actually more "accurate" or "musical" is in the ear of the beholder. We all have different physiology, tastes, emotions, hang-ups, etc., which is probably why we can't agree. What's the best color for a car?
It's a fascinating subject. For starters let me give my opinion on reproduction: music reproduction is a representation of an original -- NEVER the original. In the same way that a portrait is NOT the original, likewise, blind (i.e. non video) music at home is an interpretation of the original material; in this case the LP or disc -- NOT the live event.

Trying to give a structured answer to Tom's question, I'd say that my present take on the subject is that the "differences" relate to FOUR factors... in no order:

* The kind of music we favour.
Classical is acoustic, rock is electric often with processing thrown in. So, harmonics captured by the classical recording *should* reappear in the reproduction -- or we don't like the result. Classical has a lower bass content of ~40% to rock's +50%. So, the system priorities in either case would be different, in a real world rig (I readily concede that a well balanced 100k 2channel system can probably do both well -- but that's exotic for mere mortals).

* The sonic preference or goal pursued: Linkwitz (of xover & Audio Artistry fame) once remarked that he wanted the reproduced sound to be as close as possible *to the original* i.e., the recorded signal. That's one view. Another is to make a system emminently enjoyable (usually giving a few db boost to the 100-5000Hz region). Again, the appraisal of a system, by people favouring one or the other approaches, will be different.

* What are the sonic details we can live without vs. those we cannot accept compromise for. Viridian was very clear on this.
I, for one, love to get transient attack, as if experiencing a 20db headroom (i.e. 1-100 difference) is the minimum threshold to preserving my psychological well-being. Of course I also need pitch otherwise I get a stomach ache. So, of course, when s/one asks about, say, Spectral or Symphonic Line, I will find both products exquisite. Of course they have the ultimate extension in the highs & the lower low's. Do they have the pronounced & extended midrange of a good tube? No, in both cases, and by comparison the midrange is a bit "recessed".

*FINAL: most of us have scant knowledge of electroacoustics & the maths related to speaker performance. Unfortunately, no one seems ready to give us a few intelligible hints -- appart from this & other communities exchanging info.
So, we readily concede that speaker X performs better than speaker Y with amp X (amp X,Y vs. speakers, etc) when all that's happening is that the loads are iffy, the speaker's crossover components are of the 0,5c variety (and we buy expensive cables to correct the uncorrectable), etc.
Worse, very often even speaker placement is terrible CHEZ the professionals -- hence, a somewhat iffy tonal balance speaker placed facing straight ahead (we're listening well off axis) with an iffy amp/pre combo sounds good, compared to a good speaker playing the same pre/amp combo. Dangerous conclusion: the "better" speaker is worse.
It isn't.

Anyway, pls excuse the rambling

When a MAJOR performance gap is created between one product and the status quo we have found that debate ceases to exist; i.e. how many people this year will be purchasing black and white televisions as compared to color?
Most audiophiles really don't know audio. That's why they go on the "This vs that" type of question. They lack the fundamental skills to make a whole setup sound synergistically--from the power delivery/noise control to selecting and tuning components, vibration control and then on to room acoustics. I will say it over and over and over, "High end is who you are, not what you buy.".

And I'll add what my father taught me when I was in seventh grade:

"Twenty years' experience is not the same as twenty times the experience of a year."

Ah, Twl is in prime agent-provocatuer form...I will agree with him, thus disproving his theory. :-)
Ego is a prime candidate for deciding which is better, the one I built or the one you built. Time, energy, experience, knowledge even money to maybe a smaller degree all interfere with two parties hearing the same thing. I am very proud of the unique Frankenstein I have assembled over the years. Some of these parts may seem old to some but much of the chase is to make what you have the best it can sound. Taking a stock chassis and making a race car out of it, example my still almost barely Dunlavy SCIV's. All that I have done with these now radical speakers could be applied to and I feel improve many other fine speakers. That was years long gestation period as well as a great learning process. Oh that ego part of me speaking... I feel I have learned much about passive room geometry enhancement because my perfect room 10 years ago turned out to be imperfect. Passive acoustic room cures much like managing the airflow of an automobile manifold have mitigated much of the problems I originally had. Sounds really good looks really cool. A recently added pull down movie screen was encased in another acoustic device much like the first but designed so as to capture resonance and disperse it to the ceiling studs as well redirect energy off the ceiling and back to the listener. I have tried to preserve the natural dynamics with out the negatives of dampening.. These journeys into and out of audio madness I feel have made me a better and more knowledgeable listener. It also keeps me out of the strip joints...Tom
"It also keeps me out of the strip joints...Tom"

You're just getting old.

Ever hear of Yohimbe bark? It's sold in health food stores. Give it a try--a capsule in the morning and a capsule in the afternoon. Walk every day for a week, go to the strip joint and report back to us!!!

With psychic power and primal intensity,
Yea, I do that bark stuff. It does make me howl. The strip joints, well thats to protect my monetary position..Tom
Most people, and that includes a large number of the people who post here, don't have the experience with enough equipment to be able to offer a valid opinion on the differences between, and the quality of, "high end" components.
At least some of them admit that "I haven't heard those other models, but..." Others don't even do that; they just want to offer an opinion.....for what that's worth.
A person of experience can see what some of these people are raving about and just shake their head in disbelief. Some of us have heard the equipment that others rave about and know that it's just not that good. The sound of that equipment might be a revelation to the inexperienced, but they haven't heard the better stuff yet. Why do you think there is so much stuff being sold on Audiogon? People want to try something different, they're looking for Audio Nirvana and failing to find it, choosing the wrong equipment based on other (inexperienced) peoples' opinions or they have realized after awhile that the piece wasn't as good as they thought it was.
If two people can't agree on what they're hearing, it could be a hearing deficiency that they're unaware-of, or one or both don't know what to listen-for. It takes experience and a good teacher to point those things out. That's also why a good dealer (or a good demonstration) is important; the good dealer has experience listening to different equipment and can point out the differences in equipment and performance. Once you've heard the things you should be listening-for, you don't forget them, and eliminating the lesser components is made easier.
Highest price doesn't automatically mean highest performance either; there is a lot of high-priced crap out there. As twl has mentioned, ego and status come into play and the owners would be loathe to admit that anything sounds better, at any price, and especially if it's cheaper; it would be too embarassing to admit one spent all that money and obtained a product that can get its ass kicked for $20,000 less!
Then there are people who have very good equipment and are STILL not happy. They dump it to get the latest greatest thing that they read about here. Then a couple of weeks later, they are asking about where they can send it to get that "great" modification done by some twit who is crowing that he can make it better than the manufacturer can. Then they have the mod done, screwing-up any warranty in the process, and often find that the performance wasn't improved at they're going to admit that? Not!
Then there's the question that begs asking: if the latest greatest was so good in the first place why the heck are you looking to modify it?
To finish things-up here, I'd just like to say that although I love Audio and music playback, and I like what a very good audio system can do, I have no illusions. It doesn't sound like the real thing and anyone who raves on and says that his system sounds like the real thing is either seriously deluded, lying, or hasn't heard any live music lately - if ever!! It really hits you when you are walking through the halls of a CES listening to all of this high-priced gear, then from around the corner or down the hall it hits you - someone is playing live acoustic music on real instruments. It's unmistakeable..and THAT's what you should be trying to hear in your audio system.
It really comes down to an educated ear.
You may have noticed in your many years of listening that when you were learning how to listen, and what to listen for. When you heard a really great system you may have said to yourself, YA it's better but not that much better than mine and not worth paying all that extra money for.

Then when the day came that you did get a better system and you lived with it, and got accustomed to hearing all the new details you now say to yourself, how did I ever think what I had was so good. It's your point of referance.

The point I am making or adding here is, when you first here something better you really don't hear it that well.
But when you take it away, then you really notice it.
It is the absence of certain qualities one has learned to listen for, that really stand out.

So when 2 people listen to the same thing and disagree on the sound I believe this educated ear plays a role. IMHO

I also agree that the pride thing and prejudice, play a big part in the semantics here at Agon
I dont believe one person knows "How to listen" more than somebody else. Everybody listens. Its weather or not you can break down what you heard into a verbal form that can be relayed and understood by others.

I dont believe that I can "Listen better" than one of my buddys who is not into audio. I dont believe that the more seasoned people here can "listen better" than me. If anything the ability you gain is the terminology and wording to present the differences you feel into a sentence.

Its like when a skilled guitar player listens to somebody else play, he can recognize the chords and strings, the non-guitar playing guy cannot. It does not mean that they hear differently, it does not mean the guitar player hears better, and it certainly does not mean that the guitar players hearing gives him better judgement as to weather or not it sounds good.

i mean no offence, but if somebody told me they can listen to music better than me, i would reccommend that they talk to a therapist.

my other half is by no means an audiophile. She can tell that my new speakers sound different than my old speakers, she fully believes they sound better than my old speakers. She lacks the vocabulary list to reffer to alot of the changes.
She says they dont sound as big. "soundstage"
she says they seem to connect better in the center. "imaging"
She says they sound more realistic. Etc Etc.

Shelby, with no real understanding of hardware, software, accoustics, or the principle of sound can tell all the changes i can, she just uses different terminology.

So, i must respectfully disagree that people can ever "Hear better" through experience. They might know what specifically what to pay attention to, so they can put a review into it, or inform somebody else about it, that does not mean they can hear what others cannot though...

as for something sounding better after you got it... that probably has something to do with break in period...

just my opinion, diddnt intend to offend anyone...
You're taking that one terminology or point out of context from the rest of the message. I didn't say the experienced ears are any better, I said that they will recognize the good points more quickly because they know what to listen-for; they know where the inferior systems or components fail to deliver.
There is a lot of noises occurring in a musical passage, and the secret is in the playback of certain details; you just have to know what details to listen-for (in addition to the over-all sound). Most people have to be trained to listen properly.
Yes, Golden ears has said it well.
MR. SLAPPY Yes, I cannot hear better that you in fact I probably cannot hear as well as you, but I believe because of my 30+ years in AUDIO, I may be able to Listen better?
Take your guitar player, When A Guitarist listens to another Guitarist he will hear many things that I cannot, because he can listen better, not because he can hear better. Mr. Slappy you need to understand this concept.
I believe you know what we are talking about. I apologize for I may not have done a good job of getting this Idea accross.

Tom, when I have done critical listening with others to the same system at the same time, we could always agree on the sound. When 2 people listen to the same amp, in different systems, in different locations. It will be much harder to get a Consensus, because of the obvious differences. IMHO

there is so much difference of opinion on this subject because people don't do blind listening tests
+1 Golden ears 

A lot of differences are a lack of training. An untrained person may prefer a lush bass heavy warm sound coloured by the system to accent treble and bass. A trained musician may prefer something that sounds closer to what he recognizes is closer to the real thing which often has more mid range and can be harsh or brash (especially trumpet)
Very interesting thread indeed.  As a conservatory-trained musician, as well as running a music production company, I think I know what every acoustic and electronic instrument sounds like, both live and recorded.  And, as many of you know, many engineers do not even attempt to capture the true sound of the instrument, instead preferring to make it sound prettier by tuning out harsh overtones, etc.  I have often wondered what people without a musical background are listening to, or think they're listening to when they listen to a high-end hifi system.  There is no way for me to know, except to say that this is a hobby and everyone enjoys themselves differently.  To some, it's a pathway to musical performances and to others, just a bunch of toys to be fooled around with in hopes of achieving some imaginary goal.  Who knows?  All I know is, I went to see Denis Matsuev at Carnegie last week and it sounded just like my system.  So I guess I have it basically right.  Good luck people.