For You: THE most imprortant element...

of music reproduction?
the music.

my ears.
sorry, dekay. what'd you say? (or was that ray charles?)
my checkbook ;-)
Emotional connection with the performance/artist-
IMO,the key element for achieving that quality is based on how temporal/timing features of music relate to note shaping and subtle shifts of dynamic shadings.
It's the music, but I can't get involved in it if it isn't sonically and technically excellent--guess that's why I'm sucked into this hobby for good.
Emotion. Likewise with live music.
A system that allows for long listening periods without discomfort.
No, seriously now, the most important element to me is that, be it live or reproduced, it touches my heart and soul and draws me into, not different to the posts above.
Aside from the obvious responses above (my ears, the music, emotional involvement...) the thing I need most from a system to be able to sit still and listen... is a very clean (prefer 'sweet') top end, and a clear midrange. Sonics with the high frequency shredded: I RUN away. That's my #1 priority.
For me I think it's TONE that is true to life, so that instruments and voices sound so real you are fooled, if only for a moment. If I have that, I can live without dynamics, imaging, soundstage, bass extension, etc., etc., at least for a while. On instruments with a lot of low-frequency content, however, true to life tone requires sufficient weight. Dan
I'm with Greg and Detlof--the most important thing to me in my system and the equipment I choose is to let the emotion of the performance and the music through. I'm willing to sacrifice some detail (but not a correct tonal balance) to get that.
I have to agree with Drubin- for me it is tonal purity. I guess to be totally honest with myself my perception of tonal purity is probably influenced by imaging, transparency and frequency extension, but they are all means to an end- losing myself in the texture of the sound.
Actually, CornFedBoy was spot on - it's the music. I can listen to Dwight Yoakum, for example, on anything capable of making some semblance of the sound. Do I prefer to hear it on good gear - naturally. But I first fell for music listening to Chicago blues and MoTown pop on the old Sony "Ball and Chain" am radio. Stupid thing could sometimes pull in Chicago, sometimes Texas, sometimes Canada, and as a kid it was the most amazing thing - to hear all this music I'd never heard before. And back then I didn't know AM from my A$$, stereo from steering, I just loved the music. If I'm doing "serious" listening, then it'll be on the main, but I can get just as much joy out in the barn listening to Bill Monroe on the beat to bits boombox when I'm working on something. If I get hung up on how it sounds, I lose that foot tapping fun feeling, and that's really why I listen to music, at all. On the other hand, put any "101 Strings..." recording on the mightiest, most magnificent, as yet unheard, unbelievably realistic sounding, you-are-there system, and I'll just pull the plug. Can't stand it. Really don't want to hear it.

No system can make music, but the music makes the system, for me.

I agree with Drubin and the Trekkie (couldnt resist). Taking for granted that we are listening to music we like, accurate tonality comes first for me, then dynamic realism, then imaging (ie 3 dimensionality), then soundstaging. being able to get lost in the music. When suddenly it's 2AM, and the past hours belonged only to oblivion, things are just right.
Most important is accurate retrieving of low level musical information. Without? Musicality and sense of ambience and space, is lost.
Actually, I think your's is the first comment I've received on my A'Gon alias Paulwp :). I thought it doubly appropriate given the forum topic here and the fact that I tend to lurk more than post (though I am *not* the phantom -2, -2 lurker-rater ;).

Fpeel- you hit it right on the money; though I hate getting up to go to work the next morning. I just don't seem able to stay up into the wee hours like I used to- getting old I guess :).
I am with Ken. The timing cues that let you sink into or be swept up in the music are critical and unfortunately misunderstood alongside the more obvious issues of detail, dynamics and neutrality.
This is a real thought provoking thread; one that really makes you think about sound reproduction. We really do have a long way to go with sound reproduction, I mean really, we don't have 3D speakers which let you really hear the entire event, or for that matter, components that truly represent an actual event. We are fairly close, don't get me wrong, but we have a few years to go.

Certainly, we that are interested enough in this site and in sound reproduction strive for the best we can, through better components, tweaks, etc., and of course it's the music that really matters. I know that we all have better sound that you will at an amplified event. Yet, when you listen to a live trumpet, does it sound like that at your home? (Sorry, I'm a huge jazz fan). A trumpet "live" in a small jazz club hits you with an impact that is amazing. It is such a powerfully macro dynamic instrument, yet, so powerful in micro dynamics. Dynamics, micro and macro, along with a true 3 Dimensional soundstage, (with non phase anomalies encountered with current multi-channel), may be what takes us to the next level. These for me would help with the emotional impact of the music.

Things have come a long way, but oh, what the future may bring ...
Very good points. When I see live music, it is usually dynamics that I am most aware of as the thing that is missing from our home audio systems. I mean, it's not even close! I can understand the resurgence of interest in horn-based loudspeakers
I know what you mean, Drubin. I'm not hugely into horns, but there are atributes to each; horns, dynamic electrostatic speakers which, so far, positive attributes can't be combined. We have been at audio longer than we have space travel, yet we are still miles away. It's funny, if we audiophiles were granted three wishes from a genie, one would most likely be the knowledge to obtain "real life" sound in ours and others homes.

We have, since the 1970's, came a long way. Hopefully the next 30 years will bring as much as the past.
Music conveys emotion, some even say that it IS emotion. Draws you in & transforms you to 'another world' beyond the state of consciousness. You're physically still sitting on that sofa, but unconsciously you're a million miles away, or somewhere?
...the awe inspired in me by artistic expression.