While " you can't put garbage in and get tolerable sound out" you can balance you system so that it is not lean and critical of all recordings. Detractors call this "forgiving". I call it imperative if your taste runs to more that a handful of audiophile discs. Digital equalization can help correct frequency imbalances. Many free computer programs allow you to learn the powers and limitations of this technology before investing money.
I try to remember the really bad ones and avoid the label in the future.
Some media are simply bad, like LP's made with recycled plastic that have bits of foreign matter imbedded in them, creating noise, or like scratched CDs.
Sometimes it is the recording's engineering. Sometimes the recording studio has lousy equipment so the engineer couldn't properly hear what was happening. Sometimes the studio has good equipment, but the engineer deliberately tailored the music to boombox customers, low quality car radio customers, or some other low fi target. Sometimes the studio has good equipment, but the engineer has no actual appreciation for good sound (perhaps new to the job?).
There are also times when the music was poorly miked or performed in an inhospitable venue.
When I encounter these issues, I have to weigh them against the appeal of the composition and the artfulness of the musicians. I haven't assembled an inferior system that would mask faults while I listen. At worst, I could delegate an album to my car CD player, but I have never actually done that specifically to mask faults.
Great topic for a thread, I've dealt with this problem all my life. When I bought my first system as a teen, my goal was to build a system that allowed me to hear music at it's best.
Like you, I found that often with high end components, the sound was not satisfactory unless "audiophile" recordings were used. I hate most of those records, our group refers to them as terrific recordings of bad music :^).
It's taken me many years, but I have my system where I can play every kind of music and the sound is good. The really good stuff is beyond compare and the bad stuff is tolerable and completely enjoyable.
I think that's the best that can be achieved. The fact that a high end system can be built to play all music is a testament to the options available to us. There are many ways to get to this point, including great but forgiving speakers and great but forgiving electronics, or both.
The key is getting ultra low distortion and ultra low noise. With that as a starting point, any distortion in the recording becomes a separate entity, and something that identifies "that" recording from the others. I have LP's that are 50 years old that sound better than recordings made last year.
If a system is built just right, you can get perfect sound from perfect recordings, good sound from good recordings and acceptable (even fun) sound from poor recordings.
In my case (and for my taste), the key is first class analog, powerful tube components and extremely low distortion speakers. There are things about that combination that are pleasant to the human ear and leave headroom for bad recordings of great music.
This last Friday night our group listened for over eight hours and no audiophile LP's hit the turntable. The majority of that nights music was the blues, with much being from 1940's through 1968. We had a wonderful time and I'm still getting email from members saying how great the sound was. Oddly enough, this was a "cleansing session" from the incredible quantity of drum records, Patricia Barber and similar software that populated the rooms at RMAF.
The answer to your question is yes, it's possible to get great sound without sacrificing the quality wonderfully recorded music.
The better ones hi-fi Is the better ALL Vinyl/cd's will sound. I was not surprised at the choice of music at this years Denver hi-fi show (same as last years show) the exhibitors were playing mostly easy listening, sounds good on any system stuff like blues/jazz. I always take along cd's that I know give gear a hard time. I mainly listen to old Brit goth/Indie music and I know that they are not generally very well produced for the most part In hi-fi terms but If they sound good then the system will make well recorded stuff sound excellent. If a cd sounds poor Is it the fault of the cd or the gear It Is played through? My thoughts are the latter Is the culprit.My thoughts only.
there is nothing wrong with owning some "band aids" to overcome the sonic deficits of some recordings. band aids include cables, anti resonant devices and accessories.
use only when necessary.
If it's a rock recording, usually there is only one version. If it's bad, you're sort of stuck with it. Sometimes an "audiophile remaster" can be had for more money, e.g. of Pink Floyd. This may or may not be more satisfying than the "regular" edition, since recording and mastering are somewhat subjective crafts.
If there's a classical piece I like, I try to find and buy different performances thereof. Sometimes I end up with a good recording of a performance that doesn't "sit right" with me. Sometimes I have a poor recording of a performance that I really wish were recorded better. And sometimes, crooned Goldilocks, pulling a spoonful out of Mama Bear's bowl...
I handle by using a second armwand and cartridge on my TT and a second cd player for the bright stuff.
It has taken me about 30 component changes but I finally have it so that poor recordings are recognizeably poor - but not irritating. It is very hard to balance transparency with forgiving sound but if you try hard enough, it can happen. I hear music like never before and I'm not afraid anymore to play something that might not have the best engineering backing it.
Although I admit to making use of my C42's EQ to help out the bad recordings. It's necessary to keep great recordings sounding great because no system should try to please everything. That would be too much of a compromise IMO.
Albert, I could not have said it better. I only buy well performed music regardless of the sound quality. My system even makes the bad sounding ones listenable.
I have never gone for an "audiophile" sound. Take all the various terms like staging, transparency, depth, detailed, etc, etc. I have never been in a live music setting where the sound was as perfect as the systems people build. If there is something I go for that is defined in audio terms, it would be PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing); better known simply as music.
Let me play the devils advocate...
Are some actually suggesting that you dumb down a system so it can play bad recordings passably...disguise them by changing the sound through added distortion or fundamental changes in tonality or timbre?
The tail wagging the dog!
A system not based on accurate sound reproduction but one that sugar coats and candy wraps bad recordings. In essence more recordings will sound alike. Differences between recordings will all suffer from sugar coating; far less evident differences from track to track, recording to recording; blemishes smoothed away like the artist's air-brush in playboy. A dream world of syrupy pleasant sound...but totally out of touch with reality.
Surely this is mediocrity?
Sugar Coating?? Why spend megabucks on a system that clearly reproduces all the noise and distortions that are on most recordings, especially vinyl. Isn't that what you are doing by building a system to play perfect recording perfectly? No wonder I get a headache in most of the rooms at CES.
I would think to enjoy your system to the fullest you would want to accentuate the positive and diminish the bad. I'm with Albert.
Agree with Albertporter completely...particularly on the issue of distortion, and, next, on the issue of "forgiving" speakers. This is not "dumbing down" a system. In fact, it seems kind of simple (in the end, though getting there is hard work): If a system sounds too bright on most material (but seems to sound great on "audiophile" recordings), there is probably something wrong with the system (and brightness is, of course, one of the most common faults of high end gear). The "audiophile" recordings will still sound great (maybe even better) once you tame the brightness out of the system. It seems to me that, in the end, the most truly natural and neutral system will have about the right tonal balance on most recordings, sound bright on some, and sound dark on others, in roughly the same proportion...sort of an averaging out, tonal-balance-wise. Yet most systems I've heard in the hi-fi shops are too bright. The audiophile recordings can take it (sort of), but the more typical material quickly becomes intolerable to the ear. That's not "accuracy," in my view. (Though it sells, evidently.)
its become my opinion over the last three decades, that if i intended to be both a 'stereo-type' and a music collector, that the thrills each of these hobbies hold, had to be held apart for sanity's sake. Sometimes they meet, but for the most part if you love an artist or a recording that is technically average...it simply is what it is.....by the same token, the best sounding equipment current or future (on a technical level), never lives up to the one you regret getting rid of.....comes with the territory and the beat goes on
if one configures a stereo system to minimize errors of inaccuracy, it may be possible to alter the sound of a stereo stereo system to accomodate inferior recordings.
for the majority of one's recordings one would maintain the "virtually" neutral system. for the few "bad" recordings, one could apply the bandaids, and then remove them .
thus one creates the best of both situations, the better quality recordings and the poor recordings, without incurring the wrath of shadorne and the other perfectionists on this forum.
Sugar coating should be left in the hands of the recording engineer :).