Music vs. Components

Greetings everyone. Here's a biggie: When you sit down for a session with your hi-fi, what do you find that you are really listening to most 1) the music, or 2) your components? Where and what is that mysterious, illusive, fine line between 1) simply and wonderfully enjoying the music and.... 2) listening critically for either how "great" your system sounds (such as trying to justify upgrades, tweaks, tube rolling, wire changes, etc.) or listening for all of the flaws and weaknesses of your gear. When does the tweaking stop and the enjoyment begin? Conversely, when is it time to improve and upgrade because, in reality, you would be happier if your system sounded better?
I used to listen to my system when I first got into this hobby but I have grown out of it over time. Now I listen to music more. In fact, I haven't changed my system much in the past 5 years.
I listen to the music.
Both. I usually start out listening to the system then unconsciously begin listening to the music then fall asleep

"Both. I usually start out listening to the system then unconsciously begin listening to the music then fall asleep"

Smart reply, humorous and honest.
I agree with Sgunther. When I first listen, when ears are fresh and just hearing the first track, I find myself getting 'reacquainted' with my system, and therefore am hearing the components. But as time and listening continue, I slip into listening and enjoying the music.

Of course, there are often times when I'm amazed at some of the 'realness' I'm hearing, and I think of my system producing that sound. Or, when something like center imaging is a little skewed I think about my system, and what I could, or should, do to rectify something I find 'off'.
Not sure what you mean by "music." I've got some test tones and warbles and pink noise. I listen to those over and over and over and over. Then I change a component and listen some more. When I finally get this right, I'll buy a recording with some of that music stuff on it. But not yet. Not quite yet. There's this little hump at about 3kHz, and ...
I wholeheartedly agree that the music comes first and is the reason for the whole ordeal. Much, or even most of the time, I am listening to THE music. I love the idea of "losing all consciousness" of the gear and just have the music wash over me in waves. Fortunately, this kind of experience is pretty frequent. It certainly is the goal.

That being said, I think we all know the experience of our minds being distracted from the music, as it wanders to the gear, the room, the recording, the cables, etc. A perceived "little" change, a comment from a guest, something seemingly sounding different or not as good as the last time I think I heard it, etc. can initiate another ride on the roller coaster between tunes and gear. Little whispering voices chatter in the head.... "What if I ...." "If only.... " "I wonder...."

I've also noticed that the "better" my gear has gotten, the more I expect from it. Sometimes my expectations might not be realistic. Maybe I should have just hired the band for a night to perform in my living room... then again, maybe my hi-fi sounds better than the band live!?

Unfortunately, sometimes I found my gear trying to "tell me" what to listen to and what to avoid. This can happen with a piece of music that I really like, but I can't stand the recording. So I don't play it as much anymore as when I had a "less revealing" system. On the other hand, sometimes I found myself listening to music that I wouldn't have ordinarily chosen under the pretenses that it made my stereo sound magnificent! (as in too much Diana Krall) Who picked THAT stuff... my preamp?

Can anybody relate to the above?
some wag at stereophile recently wrote a piece about how different people prioritize intrinsic quality of the music, recording quality and quality of the equipment, utilizing a scale aggregating 100 (thus, for example, you might weigh the music as 40, the equipment a50 and the recording quality a 10). now, when i was a kid listening to great, though often crudely-recorded lps on a portable plastic record player from sears, i was probably music--95/recording quality--5/equipment quality--0. as i got older, and more fetishistic about gear, of course my priorities have shifted--now i'm probably music--70/equipment quality--20/recording quality--10. however much we enjoy accumulating expensive equipment, sacds and hi-rez music sources, i'd venture that most people would still choose good tunes over good sound.
none of the above. i am more concerned with the affect of the sound upon my health, a subject which is often ignored.

also,has anyone asked the question:

"why do you listen to music?" or "what is the purpose of a stereo system?"

thus for me neither the music per se or the components are not, i.e., what happens after you have listened to music ?

what is your mental state or physiological state ?
I can relate to Bside123 but would like to add something. When I had a lesser system I could only listen for 3-4 hrs at a time before fatigue would set in. I also kept saying to myself 'What If' I bought the more expensive component would I want to replace that today?? I can listen all day now and still ask the same ol question 'What If'. Then I look at the cost. That stops me from thinking about it.

Now if someone would share the winning lottery numbers with me I can stop the 'What If' and change to the Nike slogan Just Do It.

Mrtennis I listen to music because I enjoy it like some people may like a good movie or a scenic drive.
Mr. Tennis, Great point!! I fully agree. Many days I use listening to my system as a balm to a particularly difficult day.
Every time my hifi is 'turned on' it is an orgasm for my ears.
Gawdbless: Wouldn't that be "ear-gasm"?
Anyone who listens to vinyl and claims they are just listening to music is full of B_ S__. If you just want to listen to music, it's going to be digital due to the convenience factor.

If you want to hear your system, then you put on vinyl.
Tough to separate the two. The leaps forward in audio keep you running back to the music to hear it like never before. A big step up can reveal details of production that may distract from the music. Above a certain level of audio it becomes difficult to multitask while listening. At this level it's wise to ration listening or risk mental processes and productivity turning to mush.
07-19-10: Mrtennis
none of the above. i am more concerned with the affect of the sound upon my health, a subject which is often ignored....thus for me neither the music per se or the components are not, i.e., what happens after you have listened to music ?

How else would you be experiencing 'the affect of the sound upon my health' or 'what happens after you have listened to the music' without actually listening to the music? Isn't listening to the music producing both of these physiological effects?
listen8ing to music may be neutral to your depeneds upon many variables. there may be other pursuits which are more salutary such as running, swimming, reading, etc. .

there is no asssurance that music will contribute to improvemenets in mnetal or physical state but, obviously, listening can accomplish the aforementioned results.

for example, music may not change a "bad" mood, regardless of the sound. one should be receptive to the affects of the music and open minded to its potential positive impact.
@Mrtennis - I'm not sure I fully understand your qualification of music being 'neutral to your health' as opposed to the other things you mention. I don't see how music is any less salutary than reading, for example.

You mention 'many variables' that music may depend on to make it neutral or not neutral to your health. What are some of those? How is your state of health in this situation affected if not by listening to music? The answers to "What happens after you listen to music", or "why you listen to music", can only be answered by actually listening to the music!
First I listen to my system, say "it sounds good". Then say "it sounds like crap in this way or that" and make mental notes on how I could fix it (usually = $$$). Then I say "Gee, I like this song", and then just listen and have positive mental change Mrtennis talk about. Simple. I am never satisfied, but will tolerate limitations of space, gear, recording and unrealistic expectations for good music... and actually like it.
hi tholt:

listening to music may or may not alter one's health, as is true of other activities.

the reason for saying this is that the poster of the thread posed the issue of music vs components and i wanted to add the affect that music may or may not have on the listener.

you are correct in that reading and other activities affect one's health.

some of the variables that will determine whether music affects your health include physiological states, such as metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, mood and others. cleasrly, e.g., if one has a very low resting heart rate, listening to music may have no affect.

one is not always able to measure bolld pressure, or notice a change in mood after listening to music. there probably are other indicators of mental and physical states that one is unaware of that can not be determined after listening to music.

for example, after listening to music one may not "feel" any different, although there may be internal factors which are changing, biut are uanabled to measured by you, the listener.

this is the best i can do unless you ask me other specifc questions.

my original purpose was to suggest that some people do not listen to music because they like the music or want to "hear" the components, but rather to change the way they feel, so the musical content may be unimportant. as an esample, the sound pressure may be more important than the type of music.
@ Mrtennis - I believe I understand the point(s) you're trying to make. However, my interpretation of the OP's question is that it was narrower than your broadened scope that includes physiological/mental changes based on the act of listening.

My questions to to you were posed in this context. Mainly, that the outcomes you describe are influenced by the act of listening, not that music would change, or not change, how one felt during and afterward. I think it can be reasonably assumed that people listen to music as a form of pleasure, be it for relaxation, inspiration or whatever.
I truly believe that the majority of audiophiles listen to components. People that are only in it for the music don't need hi end equipment to enjoy the listening experience.

I'm not saying that audiophiles don't enjoy listening to music, but that's just one layer in the equation.
When I ordered some NOS tubes because they might run out, I knew I was over the deep end. After over 20 years of listening to capacitors, resistors, and everything except music; I quit. My rig is as good as it is going to get. Since I quit, the music sounds so much better. I had no idea how beautiful music is.
I've noticed just in the last week that when I'm intentionally listening to my new CD player I'm less impressed than when I just have the music on and am doing something else while listening. I find myself having the realization that I'm hearing things in the music that were not there before. I think part of the problem with a direct A/B comparision is that the new CD player has a higher volume level that makes enough difference to be distracting.

Audio components are a hobby and music is a hobby, but I think that audiophiles are component collectors and people that spend their time playing and writing music are all about the music. Some people, I'm sure, do both.
After reading through these various posts, it seems that truthfully, audiophiles really listen foremost to their components/gear hoping to hear them sound musical. Since this is very subjective, as long as the listener likes the sound of the gear, then they say they're not listening to it, BUT as soon as the music appears less "pleasing," the listener is again off on the search to find either gear or upgrades that will again "sound" more musical... claiming that the gear has once again disappeared, and they are no longer listening to it. I believe that my description kind of encompasses each point of view, including Mrtennis, who listens for the "affect" on his health. Surely if you don't like the sound (bad sound), it can't have a positive affect. I would presume you need, at least, reliable components to produce health providing music. It's all part of the hobby, and all good as far as I'm concerned... so long as one doesn't get too twisted about either gear, music, others' opinions of what sounds good, magazine reviews, money, etc.
I always listen to the music my components make.

The line exists within our insecurities.

There is no other significance to our home stereo than the fact that it play's music for us to enjoy. Neurotic behavior is independant.

As far as upgrades go, I find a funny similarity between the typical "audiophile" and the typical cult follower of scientology. Within the cult, you pay your money in the promise of improvements over what you are familiar with. And when the improvements eventually don't live up to your expectations, you are told to pay even more money for the next level up, because only then will you reach and realize the results you are looking for. Of course, soon enough you're not satisfied and of course, the only action is to pay an even higher amount of monies for the next levels which will give you what you are looking for. And on and on until you get wise or grow broke and disillusioned.

And don't even get me started on the cult of scientology. Have you heard of OT III and XENU and the space opera and whatever else that drugaddled crazyfuk l.r.hubbard made up?!


I love my stereo and my wife loves music. She is starting to hate me talking about anything electronic and it bugs me when she sings along to the music because I can't hear it as well. She enjoys the quality of my system, but her enjoyment in music probably hasn't improved over listening to the stock car stereo.

Which one of us loves components and which one loves music?
After tweaking my stereo and room all day today and last night, I've come to discover that 'listening to just the music" is achieved only after all components and listening room are complementing each other in such a synergistic way that they don't draw any attention to themselves. Up until tonight, I realized I was listening to the components instead of the music most of the time because, among other minor things, there was an edgy glare at certain mid and high frequencies, which always drew attention to itself and thus immediately destroyed the illusion of a natural, realistic performance in front of me.

Over the last 24 hours (rest included) i significantly ameliorated the glare issues by rearranging the acoustic treatments in the room and, pretty surprisingly, re-arranging the third party feet I have under everything. The latter made much more of a difference than I would have guessed. Once the glare was cut and things were dialed in, the music just flowed on in. It was revelatory.
It is all about the music. One should never listen/hear his components! Components should disappear into the background.
Jafant - The fact that you think that recognize that components can be prominent essentially proves that you listen to components on some level rather than music. People that are only into the music won't complain unless the CD skips.

Odd thought of the day:

Has an audiophile ever been guilty of not completely enjoying an accoustic performance becase the instrument quality (think violin or guitar) wasn't good enough quality?

I'll admit to listening to David Garrett over Josh Bell simply because David Garrett plays a stradivarius and it sound much better on identical classical music. This observation is from recording since I've only heard David Garrett live and it was amplified. A friend of mine observed that Garrett played a stradivarius while listening to a CD that I have, based on his symphony experiences.
mceljo: 8-11-10 "...proves that you listen to components on some level rather than music..." dude you just blew my mind!

how else are we supposed to listen if not through our components?

and just what are you trying to prove? that we need components to listen to music at home? or that we need too listen to components to listen to music at home? or that we need music, to listen to, through components? or that when I play music through my acoustic guitar i am listening too, and too the music i am making with my guitar i am listening to, through the room i am sitting in too, after the two bowl's I just smoked?

also, a great instrument is fine. a great musician is preferred, too. either don't mean a thing if they ain't got that swing.

Oakleys - I'm not really trying to "prove" anything. It's interesting to me how few audiophiles will admit that listening to components is their primary enjoyment. I'm certainly into music from a technology/science aspect much more than I am for the pure music.

When you're into the music, everything else is gone, not because it sounds good but because you're captivated by it. This doesn't require a perfect sound system.

Have you ever watched a movie on a small or black & white TV and didn't care that you didn't have the 50 inch flatscreen? When a story truly captures you it doesn't matter what it's being played on. Some movies are only great because of the technology they use and other have great stories...some have both.
Mceljo. I understand what you're saying. But I'm actually one of those people who are more into music than gear. I grew up playing guitar and piano, and I approached 'hi-fi" as a musician and music lover. Indeed over the pas 17 yrs or so I have spent considerable time, and attention, and monies into putting together an ok system that gets me high everytime i sit down and listen to music. which i how i approach it, i don't multi task.

also i agree with your next point, to an extent. I've found that with patience and much time spent finding the right system for my interests, I am now able to reach a higher level of involvement with the music i enjoy listening too than with any other system I have ever listened to or owned.

ever read a book? any argument can be made about anything. so why bother? learn to make and/or enjoy music and you'll enjoy life more. or don't.

I get your point. but when a person finds some equipment they really dig, chances are good that they might be able to enjoy listening to their music collection on an elevated level compared to what you are familiar with, or perhaps even looking for.

for me, my atma-sphere otl ma1 mono blocks and mp1 phono stage is the end of the "not so merry go round"

good luck!
I can't help but listen to the components maybe because I love my gear. Not so with the headset, that is all about the music. With the gear, one track sounds great, another, not so great so my mind is constantly wondering what improvements could or should be made. With the headset it is total immersion in the music, with the gear my head is always above water. Can't help myself.
Mceljo wrote: When you're into the music, everything else is gone, not because it sounds good but because you're captivated by it. This doesn't require a perfect sound system.
Tholt wrote: I've come to discover that 'listening to just the music" is achieved only after all components and listening room are complementing each other in such a synergistic way that they don't draw any attention to themselves.
Tholt's comment might be what is key for me--the system can't be irritating to listen to. And Mceljo's observation also corresponds with my experience. The first stereo system I had that was truly satisfying, that let me just enjoy the performance of the musicians and the message of the music, was far from perfect. In 1985, I bought an LP12 with Basik Plus arm, which included the Basik phono cartridge, an AT95 variant with conical stylus. This went to the original Naim Nait integrated amplifier and then to a pair of extremely cheap Jensen bookshelf speakers loaned to me by my brother. Far from a perfect sound system, but immensely enjoyable to listen to. This eventually became an all-Linn system that gave about 20 years of service before components began to fail.

After living for the past couple years with a rather different style of system (Well Tempered, Grado wood-body cartridge and phono stage, Audio by Van Alstine amplification, Vandersteen speakers), I've been enjoying something of a return to that ealier sound: LP12/Ittok, Audio Technica CN5625AL cartridge, the same Audio by Van Alstine solid state amplification, and Bose 301 speakers. The sound is clear and dynamic with great pace and momentum. Nothing about the sound or operation is irritating, and album after album is connecting with me musically in a way I haven't experienced for a while. I'm sure there are limitations in imaging specificity, soundstage width/depth, frequency extension, detail retrieval, and so on, but none of that matters--the music is simply more fun, more captivating, to listen to.
is the glass half full or half empty ? its half full and half empty at the same time.

as applied to this thread it is not music vs components it is music and components. it is the components that let you hear your recordings. when you listen to music you are ;istening to your components.

the question is are you listening critically or purely for enjoyment ?

can you ignore the deficiencies in the componsnts, as none are perfect, or is there something about the sound which interferes with enjoying the music.

thus the thread should be changed to :

analytic vs non-analytic listening

pne cannot avoid the components on the path to listening to music.
Today I stopped by the store where I purchased my speakers with two CDs in hand that I wanted to listen to on the Focal Grande Utopia EM speakers to see what was really on the recording in the lowest organ ranges. I'll admit to not being blown away by the sound of the crazy expensive system compared to mine. I'm not saying that mine is an equal, but I can certainly come home and not think that mine sounds bad in comparison. Even the salesman asked how much difference I was really hearing since he's been spending a lot of time with their demo speakers that are identical to mine and he's really loving them. I hate to say it, but I have not been as impressed with anything they have after the Krell amplifiers were sold and replaced with Asthetix amps, I believe. I really like the sound that they system had with the Krell stuff. One of these days I'll make them hook up some of the Pathos stuff sitting around for a listen. It's all way out of my budget, but if I win the lottery I'd probably start with Krell and Pathos for a demo.

It's listening experiences like this where I can relax about my system and just enjoy.
I listen to the music. Before I added acoustical room treatments I listened to the room.