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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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.
My observation, no big shock here, is that there is not a single answer that applies to everyone.

In my own case, the tone, especially for piano, saxophone, trumpet, and snare drums has to be right...or I find my mind wondering away from the music and thinking about "fixes".

On the other hand, I have two friends who don't care so much about the tone.  For one, its all about the bass; if it isn't pushing him into his chair, then he isn't happy.  For the other, its all about the volume; it has to be loud and anything below 90db just doesn't sound right to him.
My understanding of it is like this: To perceive the most accurate quality of the reproduced music, it's necessary to successfully generate the correct harmonic structure - the primary tone plus as many of the original harmonics as possible. The problem with retrieving as much information as possible is that the higher frequency harmonics can have lower amplitude and consequently be more difficult to amplify without gathering distortion in the amplification (and source retrieval) process. These added distortions make the sound harder and brighter and alter the timbre.