How do you know when a stereo sounds good?

When do you know your system is pleasing to listen to? How do you conclusively prove to yourself that your system sounds good to you? How do you determine that you enjoy listening to music through your stereo? Do you have a suite of measurements that removes all shadow of a doubt that you are getting good sound, sound that you enjoy? Please share.


How do you determine that you enjoy listening to music through your stereo? 

I guess I'm not sure what you're asking. Taken literally, this seems to be asking for another perspective besides my own internal voice. It's like asking the question, "Am I in pain?" That's not a question I can make sense of without some kind of science fiction scenario.

If your question is, rather, "What can I do to experiment with my stereo to see if my experience changes for the better?" then there is a wealth of literature available, including many free videos on youtube, etc. 

When Listening to music becomes an “event”, where I experience the music and become emotionally involved.  When the music moves me and my setup pays for itself with each song played..  When there is almost nothing else I would rather be doing.. When my systems disappears and only the music is left.. 

When I’m not looking on here for new gear… 

I know it sounds good when the music coming out of the speakers matches what I think it ought to sound like.

When I play a recording I've heard a million times and hear something new I never noticed before.

When I get goosebumps or chills I know its good. However, the real test is certain songs will bring me to tears. 

hilde45   + 100

A wise and reasoned response.

Questions are bizarro




This is a question that gets me in trouble all the time; maybe in a different way than you are asking. I have had my system set to where it sounded really, really good; better than anything I have ever heard. I am sure from reading this forum that it  isn't the greatest out there but for me and my limited experience it's damn good. But then your question comes to mind and I start tinkering with speaker placement, crossover setting and such thinking it could be better. Unfortunately I usually lose the magic and have to start all over. It's important to me though to get it right with the equipment I have before I start thinking about upgrading anymore.

"Do you have a suite of measurements that removes all shadow of a doubt that you are getting good sound, sound that you enjoy? "

In the spirit of audio as a hobby, you analyze the frequency response in your room. Being a gear head, kinda like having the dyno report of horsepower or the time slip from the quarter mile run.

Beyond that, IMO it's not about the music. Music is emotion. That can be stirred with a minimum level of performance with equipment from Best Buy in a bad room.

Base on some threads, some treat their system as if it's a musical instrument and they're the musician. Not my style.

When do you know your system is pleasing to listen to?

It's when the size of the sweet spot doubles and my S.O. curls up next to me, the corners of her eyes showing promise and mystery.

She turns to me and says, "I like this." And I'm not sure if she's talking about the music. Or something else. 


"It's important to me though to get it right with the equipment I have before I start thinking about upgrading anymore."

It is sad how many people in the hobby miss this point. Equipment flippers, take note.


because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.

Is it clear now?

A stereo system sounds good when the experience of listening is about enjoying the music and not fretting about how the sound compares to some absolute audiophile standard. 

In my experience, listeners can achieve this by choosing their main system components and speakers to achieve the type of sound they most enjoy with the music they most enjoy listening to.  Cables and tweaks will not get you there if the main components and speakers are not aligned toward your preferences.  Once I figured out that tone and dynamics are most important to my listening enjoyment, then putting together a satisfying system became much easier.

when the music becomes so INVOLVING you forget about the equipment, get lost is the experience

Do you have a suite of measurements that removes all shadow of a doubt that you are getting good sound, sound that you enjoy? 


+1 point each time I have to stop typing because the vocals demand my full attention

+1 point each time my foot involuntary taps the rhythm

+1 point goosebumps

+1 point all thoughts outside the music are ceased

-1 point each time I think "is VTA correct?"

+3 points when an album urges a segue (e.g. Listening now to Lowell George - "Can't Stand The Rain". The horns are hitting hard, begging me to grab my copy of Van Morrison - It's Too Late to Stop Now

-3 points each time my brain switches into "critical listening" mode, when I focus on descriptors like how deep is the soundstage vs. relaxing and focusing on the performers playing together

-5 points each time I think "what's on tv?"

@ted_denney even all that is more "measury" than I want to get. The more I want to do math and measure, that's evidence that I'm enjoying the music less. That's your job ;-)



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With this thread, the OP proves that there is indeed such a thing as a stupid question.

Personally, I don't care at all about measurements - I'm the one doing the listening, not a device of some kind. I guess what I listen for when comparing systems to see which I prefer, I probably listen for the bass first, to see if it sounds tight and controlled but still with a physical presence to it.... 

Do you have a suite of measurements that removes all shadow of a doubt that you are getting good sound, sound that you enjoy?

Define "measurements".

Juries often have been known to ask the judge what is meant by "beyond reasonable doubt". Given the answer to my previous question, then what is "removes all shadow of doubt"?

Is there an assumption that I enjoy only a good sound?  Which also may require asking what is a good sound, and this is a personal preference.  I know different reviewers are sometimes quite truthful about the sound they prefer, given a choice.

Or maybe @roxy54 is correct and we ought to perhaps call it out for what it is.

To me it's more of a question of "what am I missing?"  To some a single Bluetooth speaker is all that's required to be pleasing, to others every piece of the system must be analyzed tweaked, treated, compared and modified and it still may never be pleasing enough.  If being an audiophile is your hobby it requires a lot of exposure to a lot of different systems components and experimenting until you are satisfied that the choices you made are providing you with the "experience" you require. It might may be pleasing but still lacking or it may never be pleasing as you continue to obsess for that final 10%.

To be "pleasing" the system is just a vehicle that provides the recorded music you find pleasing.  Your priorities determine if sounds good or not.

Again to me Measurements Smeasurments.  Good sound can't be measured on an enjoyment scale as it's way to personal.  YMMV

4,893 posts

With this thread, the OP proves that there is indeed such a thing as a stupid question.

Is it? It seems the core of arguments here and on all other audio groups revolve around what it is that constitutes good sound with people on one side who all but claim subjective observations of sound quality are meaningless. That people who believe stereos that sound good to them, do in fact sound good, are somehow delusional. Question, where are these staunch objectivists defending their position that what subjectively sounds good is not necessarily the most important criteria where sound quality is concerned?

Yours in music,

Ted Denney III

Lead Designer/CEO Synergistic Research Inc.

This question seems to be asked in the same vain as, what is porn? And the answer is just as simple, I know it when I see it, or hear it in this case.

Question, where are these staunch objectivists defending their position that what subjectively sounds good is not necessarily the most important criteria where sound quality is concerned?

This, together with the previous (unquoted) sentence/s, is an oversimplification to the point of misrepresentation, and amounts to what is known as a straw man argument.

Folk who are not acquainted with this play on words are invited to google straw man. They are kinda "gotcha" arguments should you accept them as being an accurate representation.

I find that I have no need to listen when I know my system sounds good enough as it will always be there for me when I desire to listen to it. No more having to chase the dragon as I've already caught it. 

This question has been asked many times in similar ways on A'gon and I find it a bit amusing when some criticize the OP for asking it because of who he is when they afforded more latitude to others. Interesting. 

As for the whereabouts of the objectivists, who cares? 😀

All the best,


Being objective is a means to an end. It helps one make good decisions based on the information available. No good reason to vilify that. 

The objectivist has internal belief system that regulates audio equipment evaluations, It doesn't matter that nearly every audio system is bespoke, likely totally unique assemblage of  equipment, room, ears/brain etc. I accept I can't know the quality of sound others experience with all these variables in play. I accept at face value they hear what they hear. The internal skeptic in me remains, but I have capability of open mindedness, I can be convinced with new knowledge. Bottom line for me, why should I feel the need to impart my sound quality evaluations to another, I respect their evaluations as credible for them.


As other posters mentioned, a quality system for me is one that involves me emotionally. Sense/illlusion of performers in room has been my goal from the very beginning.

I know it’s good when I have to switch one of these in for extra long listening sessions.





I listen and the music draws me in to stay.

What Mapman said. Plus:

  • There is some magic between the speakers- a heavenly illumination .
  • My wife sings more.
  • More genres are enjoyed.
  • When I still tinker but more to explore possibilities than to look for change.


One other thing. Subjectivity fits my needs as a curious person, experiential learning works best for me. I don't like biblical cannons feeding me the truth.

When is the water warm enough for me to take a comfortable shower? I guess you just know.

@elliottbnewcombjr ,

"when the music becomes so INVOLVING you forget about the equipment, get lost is the experience"


The same for me.

It's a similar experience as watching an involving film or reading a gripping novel.

All of which require a willing suspension of disbelief.

The exact point at which this occurs will, naturally enough, vary from recording to recording, system to system, and individual mood to individual mood as anyone familiar with the Edison tone tests of the 1920s will appreciate.

You first have to know what a good system sounds like. You do that by auditioning the very top performing loudspeakers and equipment. Find the sound you like, then move down the product line until you can afford the product and still gives you a taste of the best systems. 

[@ted_denny] How do you know when a stereo sounds good?

...when I don’t find myself hunting for certain quality tracks of music to try and make it sound better. When its really good, I can listen to just about any song, track, or version of a recording with no desire to jump around to another track. Simply listening to whatever song comes up next is a sign. That’s when I know it sounds good.  


I just don't get up, I have to get up and run for what ever I need. I don't want to pause it, or flip it, or change it, I just want to set there and listen.. As time goes on you just can't keep your eyes open.. THAT'S A GOOD pizza pie....


In the beginning (1970's) I listened for tone. I was playing in band- not "a band", High School band, trumpets, French horn, flute, etc- and was listening for that sound. 

Later on, 90's, I was reading and had the usual audiophile checklist of sonic attributes to listen for, with of course my collection of reference recordings to evaluate the list.

Until one day auditioning a McCormack DNA amp I realized I had forgotten all about the list, and was instead just sitting there tapping my foot, big ol' grin on my face. Aha! 

From then on I listen for involvement. Ideally, catharsis. 

I know a system sounds good when I get caught up in the music, swept away, and lose track of everything else. 


When you forget sound and discover NEW music because the acoustic is so good that you can hear old albums in a new way and new album at the limit of your musical frontiers at their optimal acoustic rendition...



1 step in my audio life:

my audio system was not well embedded mechanically, electrically and acoustically, and my gear was average consumer gear (stereo furniture system of the 1960); then ALL my albums sound almost alike one another... 13 years old my first stereo system...All albums are so mediocer acoustically that even the notion of good and bad recordings is not important... Anyway at 13 years old i was listening music not sound...


Second step:

Almost all my audio life for 50 years i bought very good gear but it was never well embedded mechanically, electrically and acoustically, then all my albums sounded different in 3 categories: badly recorded , very goodly recorded , AND  between these 2 categories the " mediocre" category  for the most majority of albums...The quantity of the "not so good recorded" or "mediocre" category  exceed the few good one and the few very bad one...The diffference between first step and second step is the ability gained with a better systen to discriminate very  bad recording  from  very good well recorded one....


last and third step :

 I only reach this FINAL step  for the last year; BECAUSE i succeeded in using rightfully the CONTROLS for  the 3 embeddings working dimensions , mechanical, electrical and acoustical  with exactly the same basic gear i already owned in the last step.... And  NOW well embedded and well controlled in all his working dimensions, mechanical, electrical and acoustical, all my albums are no more in ONLY  three categories...

They are ALL interesting now, even the bad recorded one are interesting WHY ?

Because i could and will hear MOST acoustic cues worked by the engineer of each recording album , then ALL album are interesting now and because of that i listen music through them and i am no more tempted to discard them because they are not all  so  well recorded...




Dont upgrade anything BEFORE embedding it well in his 3 working dimensions to begin with...

When you can’t wait for some down time to listen to music and have no interest in auditioning equipment that might sound better.   My current state. No pun intended

Stereo sounds good If I am engaged with the music, Engaged means, Not reading, Not typing & Not watching a movie, etc. IOW you are into it. How do I know if I'm into it? I move in time. I tap my feet in time. I play drums on my chair arm. If not Its casual which isn't a bad thing. Sometimes I have to do chores.


"That people who believe stereos that sound good to them, do in fact sound good, are somehow delusional."

That is one of the most stupid things that I have read on these forums. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the way that human perception works.

Me: if a system sound's good, I know it. 

Judge upon asking to define pirnography: I know it when I see it.

Jaco upon asked what music he like's: if it's good, I like it.

Wooden Allen (movie) asked by Psychiatrist if he feel's sex is dirty: Only when done right.

Music is a language of sorts. So when I start grasping the message of the music. In other words, when I am hanging on the expressions of the musicians as if they a reading me an compelling story, it starts to sound good to me. As a person who has messed around with the guitar and heard live music at venues and in person in my or some ones living room, that helps me cull the art from the musicians work. And the better my system does that the better my system sounds. 

dekay, yet another fine humorous post from you. Although ... I wish I could UN-imagine that.

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I get home from long and difficult days and the first thing I do is hit the power switch on my amp, make an espresso, sit down and the whole place disappears. That and how many notices I get from the Condo board warning me......

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I think if you ask a question like this one about your hobby you should find a new hobby that you do enjoy and don't need any approvals. It's like "badge we don't need no stinking badge". I could be wrong, I was wrong once before.

Subjectivist who think that it is their ears who decide and objectivist opposing foes who dictate that it is measurement tools , the 2 groups insist on the importance of the GEAR...Their common difference is about the way the GEAR must be evaluated at some point... By TOOLS or by EARS...

Are all dacs equivalent which measure the same for example? Or are cables important matter or not in spite of the "fact" that they measured the same?


These 2 groups under-estimated completely not only the 2 embeddings controls impact on FINAL S.Q. the mechanical and the electrical CONTROLS, calling them SECONDARY TWEAKS, but more importantly TOSS aside the fundamental role of not only ACOUSTIC treatment but active mechanical control, by Helmholtz method for example, of the ROOM in S.Q. improvement...


If you want to understand the futility of their oppositions this is my argument...



Subjectivist at least trust their ears, but ALAS! they think that the sound come ESSENTIALLY "from" the GEAR...

Ignoring that what they listen to is the image of the inital recorded room + the image of their room/speakers... And the 2 images, the recorded room and the play back room interfere...This is why our room must be controlled for our specific speakers first, and, second, to make possible a better reveletion of the initial chosen choices of the recording acoustical engineer in our own room acoustic settings..

There is no reproduction most of the times of the original recorded event only his TRANSLATION/ RECREATION by our room/speakers relation controlled or uncontrolled...

A live mutiple recorded instruments timbre orchetra is recorded ONLY at the trade-off cost chosen by the recording engineer and these choices make ANY recording UNIQUE by the powerful impact of these choices and trade-off...

In the same way all speakers/room relation are unique...

No albums could sound the same ever save in the same room with the same speakers, and cannot REPRODUCE but ONLY TRANSLATE the experience in the language of your own room....or in the language of a complete different room....Ad infinitum...

In one word: the sound quality is good ONLY when my ears can detect all recording acoustic choices for EACH albums...And this in my own room...Then my system is good...Before that, nevermind his price it is not good...


By the way feel free to correect me, i spoke ONLY by my personal experience and what i discover ONLY by myself....( i never upgraded for the years of my acoustic  experiments  nor bought any tweaks and created mine at no cost for my listening experiments) My evaluation of the importance of the UNDERESTIMATED power of acoustic is MINE....And also the knowledge of any acoustician...


Acoustic is the sleeping princess, all the pieces of gear are ONLY the 7 working dwarves....


When Adele becomes listenable. (It hasn't happened yet but that's my ultimate goal)