Basically, a component or speaker so analytical, so perfect, and so cold, that you can't enjoy the music. Fortunately, I never heard any such thing.
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before responding it needs to be pointed out that music is valid in any form or format....one man's noise is many times another man's pleasure. as you travel down the road of the pursuit of the ultimate music reproduction experience you do go thru a few stages and even diverging paths. lableing one path 'hifi' and another 'music' becomes in many ways a matter of taste and preference.
now that i have hopefully stated the politically correct obvious qualifier.....here is my view on what "too Hi-Fi" means.
"too Hi-Fi" means that the sonic performance is more about the various components of what adds up to music reproduction as opposed to a clear view to the musical event and the emotional pull and level of involvement that 'clear view' might entail.
"Hi-Fi" can be a positive term applied to any gear that presents a good amount of musical information; more information typically being better than less. more bass, deeper bass extention, more mid-range detail, extended high frequencies, big bass slam....these are all potentially good things.
OTOH if those individual sonic attributes do not come together as involving music that get you close to the musical event then we label that as "too Hi-Fi".
some might label all solid state amplification, or anything other than horns with single drivers, or maybe even all digital music as "too Hi-Fi"...and for them it just might be. it does become a matter of one's sonic biases as much as anything objective.
for me personally; any time i am drawn to a particular aspect of the sound; as opposed to the musical message....then the system is approaching that "too Hi-Fi" threshold. i have heard modest systems with marginal resolution that were extremely musical and involving....OTOH i have heard many very expensive systems with lots of resolution that were borderline unlistenable and "too HiFi" (including my own at certain times).
I agree the the term 'too hi fi' cannot be understood if taken too literally. To me, it means certain incidental sounds in the recording, be it studio or live, come to dominate or distract from the notes and rhythms of the instrument or voice.
Some find it exciting to hear every cough from the audience in a jazz cafe, the louder squeak of calloused fingers on a fret and string, the hum of feedback in a guitar amp in the studio, the sound of rosin on a bow drawn across a string, the gasping in-breath by a singer etc. I've heard systems where these non-musical (in my opinion) incidental noises can be magnified artificially at the expense of the music; that which the composer intended.
Those who delight in such effects, feel they bring a sense of 'realness' to the recorded performance. They are welcome to them, of course.
That is my working definition of 'too hi fi'
Both good responses above. If I was to try and crystalize or simplify, ("too high-fi" being the antithesis of the responses above) I'd say that "too high-fi" tends to draw your attention to the parts, as opposed to the whole musical experience, thereby substantially reducing its visceral and emotional impact. The "whole" is what it's all about in terms of communicating to you. The parts are incidental. "Too high-fi" is about the parts.
All the above are good descriptions. I have used the term
"Hi-FI" recently in a post to describe some speakers, that I did not care for. I used the term "HI-FI" sounding as a way so say they highlighted certain aspects of the music in an artificial, or enhanced manner and in doing so called attention to themselves.
To paint a visual, think TV's at Best Buy. They have them adjusted to make real life look more bright colored and vivid than it actually is. Some audio compents do the same with sonics.
For me, it suggests a component or speaker that is striking because of its resolution and detail, but that precisely because of those characteristics, imparts an unnatural, and thus undesirable, sound. Early vintage Wilson speakers, and Halcro and Spectral amps, are good examples (I'm not saying that these examples are "too fi-fi" -- each person's hearing is different -- but many people believe they are).
Agreeing with the folks who say that if the music is not served first it's too (or simply not) hi-fi. Who cares if the recording has a great sense of space and undistorted sonics if you can't listen beyond the aural/visual effect to appreciate the music. (So much for the 'recording' aspect where it all starts - I realize that is not what this thread is about).
IMHO the "too hi'fi" observations come about as a result of manufacturers creating components that are simply voiced brightly or have un-naturally fast rise and decay times, either (or both) in order to impress buyers with a (false) sense of additional detail and resolution. Combine these components with speakers that can accurately reproduce these signals and you've got Too Hi-Fi. Usually the problems arrise in the upper-mid and high frequencies.
I think a lot of audiophiles, and reviewers as well, in assessing individual components frequently think 'more' is 'better' but then stress the need for 'synergy' when you assemble a system to compensate for those instances when 'more', in any individual or all of the components, results in something unlistenable. Much like having to stuff some tubes into the system somewhere to compensate for sounds that are too sterile, clinical, etc, with the result being the tubes round off some of the sharp edges added by the manufacturers referred to above (You see the question a lot, especially when Digital is involved, "Where should I put the tubes, CDP, Pre amp, Amp?").
I've taken it mean that the speaker excels at typically hifi atributes that are not necessarily those found in a live performance, for example ultra precise pinpoint imaging...ever listen to a live symphony or classical concert, theres almost no sense of pin point at the real event, i realize this is a function of the recording as well, but i guess some speakers highlight it more than others...
THere is no such thing as too hifi. By bringing up such a term shows just how much snake oil and hype there is in the audiio world. At tkmes I feel like its the 1970's all over again when i hear certain equipment. The names labs use with all the letters and numbers like SEXi 3.5, or SE9000, "the all new SEX310" and such. In this world of easy access info, there's seems to be more confusion than true knowledge. With the audio mags as the prime source for adding to the confusion and hype.
I've heard alot of equipment that some said were simply 'definitive, the ultimate" and I've walked away from the demo just shaking in disbelief or at times.ROTFLMAO
Lets get back to substance and facts. And leave questionable ideas and reviews where they belong, in the garbage can.
Hi fi means high FIDELUTY. Of course you youngsters have never heard this term before.
I guess I should now read through some of the above posts.....man we've got a long way to go.....
The term "Hi Fi " reminds me of the old mortorola stereo console my Dad bought when I was a Kid in the 60's. Also Seems I remember some of those old albums boasting " Recorded in "Hi Fidelity". Stuff like Nat King Cole, Patsy Cline and Glen Miller.
The sound from that old counsole was warm rich and perhaps a bit bloated in the mid bass area...that's what I think of when I hear the term " Hi-Fi".
agree with Rotarius about sterile ie: clinical to an unpleasant stage, lacking in PRAT. In my case, when I hear "HiFi", I would not be able to sit through a listening session for long without constantly wanting to change the music played. Perhaps a sign for me to look for something more musical/enjoyable??
Such great answers here. I've found that speaker manufacturers who purposely accentuate parts of the frequency spectrum to make them sound exciting or attractive in the showroom to most people are guilty of "too hifi." In the old days we would refer to some of these as the "boom and tizz brigade," or speakers with "presence" (!). Manufacturers vary so much in the tonality of their products that for the forseeable future the "truth" for each of us will be found in our choice of ancillary components, as others have suggested.
As for striving for "precise pinpoint imaging" I continue to consider that valid, even if it isn't always what one hears in the concert hall. If the recording microphones picked it up, and the engineer preserved it, I want to hear it. The trick is to get this sound to the ear without manipulating the original tonality of it with such tricks as raising the treble, etc.
bartokfan, when you say "fidelity", do you mean faithfulness to the recording or to the sound of instruments ?
neither goal is attainable. it may be esaier to approach what is on the recording than recreate the sound of live music. unfortunately, there is no way to test one's progress with respect to either criterion.