High definition vs. tonal balance


After many, many years as an audiophile, I’ve come to a conclusion that a goal of tonal balance is far more rewarding and less crazy producing than the quest for greater and greater definition.
Of course, both together is Nirvana.  But so many audiophiles go awry in the holy quest for lucidity.
Years ago I had a system that was far less defined than the system I have today. But, tonally, it was in perfect balance.  A violin sounded like a violin, an oboe like an oboe, a trumpet like a trumpet, you get the idea.  But, it was lacking in those elusive fine points of definition that I thought I needed.
Then began a many year’s quest to find the right component, wire, fuse, what have you to get the sharpest picture I could attain.  Trouble is, I would improve one aspect at the expense of another.  More piling on of fixes and I couldn’t get to the place of happiness I had before I started.
Finally, probably by luck and after thousands of dollars I’ve reached the point of content I was at several years ago.
Maybe my system is better defined now, but it also has achieved that synergy.
My point is, was it worth the torture?



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Re: soundstaging

Yep, a dip around 2.4 kHz in the response seems to do this. It’s kind of a convenient point too, as crossovers often occur in this range so as a speaker designer, all I have to do is push the high pass and low pass filters a little further apart than optimal, and voila, exaggerated soundstage.


As I recall, some Wilsons did this.


On a related note, many years ago, budding audiophile me, did blind testing with speaker cables and neighbors. I preferred sound staging, they much preferred the more neutral and liveliness of the cheaper cables. We agreed on what we heard, but disagreed on what was more important.

Harry Pearson started the obsession with the "soundstage" in his first issues of TAS. Gordon Holt’s first concern was with the timbre (pronounced tamber; I often hear it mispronounced timber) of acoustic instruments and voices. He looked for any "vowel" colorations in loudspeakers, and with any "grain" added to the source material by electronics. Second was the reproduction of the orchestra’s balance; the heft and weight of the tuba, the double bass, the left-hand registers of the piano, the bass pedals of the pipe organ at one end, the sheen of violin strings, piercing blast of the trumpet, and delicate peep coming out of the piccolo at the other. Plus all the harmonic overtones produced by all acoustic instruments and voices. He valued transparency for the role it played in allowing all the "voices" in the orchestra to be heard. For a stunning example of that kind of inner detail, try to hear any of Bob Fulton’s ARK label recordings. They allow every single voice in the large Minnesota church choirs he recorded to be clearly heard, all the individual threads of the vocal tapestry revealed. He also captured the awesome power of the local cathedral pipe organs. Incredible recordings, fully the equal (if not better) of those of Dave Wilson.

By the way, the difference in timbre produced by two instruments playing the same note is the result of the relative strength of all the harmonics of the fundamental tone produced. The same is also partially true of the difference in timbre between two, say, violins. Partially because there is also the matter of the resonance of the wood used to make the violin, it’s shape and internal construction, and how it is finished. Gretsch drums were for many years the preferred make by players who appreciated their superior resonance, a result of the nature of the design and construction of their shells. All six plies were butt-joined, unlike the scarf-joint construction of all other makes.

There are those who believe if the “soundstage” is right, the timbre will automatically be a right as well.
 I’m not so sure that is true
There are those who believe if the “soundstage” is right, the timbre will automatically be a right as well.


Well, kind of. The trouble is I disagree with what "right" is. I mean, yes, sound stage and timbre is intimately linked, but those who like exaggerated sound stages also like a timber which is off neutral in absolute terms, and this is what has become the high-end bias. It's not better, it's just different but it sure does command higher prices.

I'm in the same camp as the OP, @oregonpapa , and @erik_squires on this one. I have heard systems with impressive soundstaging and dynamics and extended FR in both directions, and yet . . . when I listened to an orchestral recording, I couldn't tell what instrument was playing, because the timbres were all wrong. In the end, I found that a discouraging experience.
To those who say, it's all in the recording:  I'm the first to agree that recordings vary a lot.  That doesn't negate that, to my ears, differences in audio systems' timbre reproduction are noticeable across a cross-section of recordings.