High Performance Audio - The End?

Steve Guttenberg recently posted on his audiophiliac channel what might be an iconoclastic video.

Steve attempts to crystallise the somewhat nebulous feeling that climbing the ladder to the high-end might be a counter productive endeavour. 

This will be seen in many high- end quarters as heretical talk, possibly even blasphemous.
Steve might even risk bring excommunicated. However, there can be no denying that the vast quantity of popular music that we listen to is not particularly well recorded.

Steve's point, and it's one I've seen mentioned many times previously at shows and demos, is that better more revealing systems will often only serve to make most recordings sound worse. 

There is no doubt that this does happen, but the exact point will depend upon the listeners preference. Let's say for example that it might happen a lot earlier for fans of punk, rap, techno and pop.

Does this call into question almost everything we are trying to ultimately attain?

Could this be audio's equivalent of Martin Luther's 1517 posting of The Ninety-Five theses at Wittenberg?


Can your Audio System be too Transparent?

Steve Guttenberg 19.08.20


I agree that it is difficult to assemble a great sounding $5K system using new components, especially if analog is included.  HOWEVER, my second system which is CD player based is outstanding using used equipment which cost me about $6.5K ($2K GroverHuffman Pharoah cabling, $1K modified Dynaco ST70 with $150 SR blue fuse/, $1K custom pre-amp, $300 modified Pioneer DVD DV5, <$2K Legacy Signature IIIs).

Another great sounding system is a Yamaha CR620 receiver ($300), Legacy Focus speakers ($2.5K), EAR Acute CD player ($2K) and GroverHuffman cabling (Pharoah $1.5K speaker/power cable).  That's $6.3K, or substitute Legacy Signature IIIs (<$2K).  

I've heard $500K to $1.5m systems which all sound inferior to my main system with an estimated cost of $75K (although the custom room was twice that cost).
Everything recorded has a defined audience, a place it is intended to sell and be heard.  If the intended market is car FM radio or earbuds, you as th4e engineer and producer make it to sound as good as you can on those playback methods.  The effort to target specific markets or groups of people and the systems they most often use is usually the reason it does NOT sound good on your expensive stereo system.  

Contrary to modern belief, music is NOT created to hit some universal sound quality standard.  There are no scientists running around checking things or somewhere you have to send your record for approval.

Katy Perry "Teenage Dream" (2012) was meant for kids listening on earbuds or the car, and it does sound great there.   On your 150K stereo system at home not so much.  You are now hearing what was done to make it sound good on $10 earbuds and FM radio.  They have to boost the bass, boost the treble, compress the crap out of it so its louder than other songs, all which sounds positively awful at high resolution.  This is a bit of over simplification, but you get the idea.  An audiophile might say that Katy Perry record is awful, but Id say it did exactly what it was supposed to do- got enormous airplay and sold like hotcakes to kids on their ipods.  An Audiophile would never have been the buyer of that record even IF it sounded amazing.

So I think blanket statements like "modern recordings are awful"  is a complete myth.  Recording is better now than it has ever been and the analog and digital technology applied is WAY ahead of where we were in the 80s or 90s.  While it might be true there are some bad recordings, the recordings intended for listeners like me- how about Hiromi "Firefly"-  are amazing records! That record was not possible 20 years ago.  I think this "awful recording" comment points out that that recording was intended for someone other than you.  



’You are now hearing what was done to make it sound good on $10 earbuds and FM radio. They have to boost the bass, boost the treble, compress the crap out of it so its louder than other songs, all which sounds positively awful at high resolution.’

’I think this "awful recording" comment points out that that recording was intended for someone other than you.’

Great post, spelling it out as clearly as anyone could ask for.

There’s been some talk here about a recent Rolling Stones reissue being hopelessly compressed, and that’s just another example of what you’re saying.

The fact is the vast majority of major recording stars don’t overly care about sound quality. Mick Jagger’s interest is primarily in revenue from sales, and he’s far from being alone.

As with the Katy Perry example, greater resolution will only let you hear better whatever was done to the track to make it sound like that. Like most Pop music, that’s a far cry from how it was intended to be listened to.

I’m guessing that nowadays commuters are now the major part of their market, and compression works well with all but the very best closed back or in-ear headphones.

Audiophiles are not their intended market or their target. To think otherwise is to seriously misunderstand what the music industry is all about.

Actually it’s difficult to name many major artists that have shown any interest at all in recording quality.

Maybe Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and err... is that it?
music producers of course are commercially driven

they produce music carefully, with defined objectives targeting their intended audiences to drive sales

the issue or challenge for us who have our very high end gear is that much of that music is really not made to sound best played on our systems - we are simply not their target audience

mass market vs niche...
DACs should have switches (kind of like the equivalent of different RIAA curves) that compensate for different genres of music.