'musical' components are generally ones that make the listener forget all the other adjectives. the ones that remind people why they liked this hobby in the first place. the first time i ever heard the term 'musical to describe equipment was a salesperson describing the sound of acoustic research speakers in the early seventies.
If you don't know yet, no one will be able to tell you. ;)
This question is among the toughest I have read in a long time. Perhaps, a few members can put down their thoughts so that a consensus answer emerges.
There is a part of the listening experience which is hard to pin down in words, but an attempt to do so with the word "musical" can mean a sense of pace and rhythm which synchronizes with the listener inducing a desire for bobbing, weaving, toe tapping or other responsiveness to the experience. An older way of saying this is that "the music is getting to you".
Another way this is evident is when a listener feels the transmitted emotion inherent in musical performances. There might be a smile, relaxation of facial muscles, or its opposite, a look of attentiveness or flow of tears.
Since it is too hard to easily express in words, these examples can at least focus you on the human emotional response to what is being heard. If you fail to experience something akin to these responses then the item you are auditioning is failing to allow this subtle message through. Was it Duke Ellington who stated "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing?" (apology for any misquotation).
Although it is confusing to bring it up, there are performers who lack musicality due to a lack of expressivity in tone, dynamic shading, rhythmic sense. If you think of a dull or uninspired live performance you have endured then you have experienced a lack of musicality, and better equipment can't help that.
Sometimes you can imagine a definition from its opposite.
Whenever one component or another succeeds in being "musical" each successful designer has his/her own way of voicing the product to please the listener.
Designing great equipment is not just a science, but an art.
Musical means it sounds really, really good but it could be inaccurate and not quite right as far as audiophiles are concerned. Don't let them spoil your fun - Enjoy!
Musical means it sounds really good and you're really happy with the sound your system is reproducing. If you're an audiophile, that means it's not quite right and you're not listening quite close enough, your're not thinkng or feeling properly or you're just confused. If you feel too satisfied you're not doing it right. Try listening very discernably and you'll find a reason to be unhappy - then you'll know you're an audiophile. I think you can do this since many of us have and it's really quite easy. Hope this helps and happy second quessing.
"Musical" means "Hey, I like this one so much, I can't be bothered with trying to explain why." It's a pretty recent descriptor of choice, along the lines of "sounds more like music, less like hifi." Whatever. By itself, it doesn't convey any more information than making contented grunting noises does. To be more charitable, it conveys the sense of "getting it right," even though the piece might not be the ultimate in one or more specific audiophile qualities. The problem is, "getting it right" totally depends on your personal preferences. It's often hard enough to interpret people's usage of terms like "forward," "warm," "compressed"... The word "musical" is pretty much off the charts in terms of subjectivity.
That said, I liked Noble's answer, too.
It's definitely a non-audiophile way of thinking. If a component is "musical" you can listen to and feel the emotion of the music without thinking about the system your hearing it on. I sometimes get this feeling in my 96 Jetta but rarely when planted squarely in the sweetspot of my listening room.
'Musical' means you're in the right mood and concentrated enough to listen to the music you're playing, and not the equipment is is played on. One day my set sounds very 'musical', the other day I only listen to the system's weaknesses. Funny, but true: my in-car cd-changer is more often 'musical' than my expensive, pampered audiophile system.......
Musical = hear music....vs....analytical = hear system and "sound" of recording.
Here is a continuum:
clock radio (hear music only)....................studio monitors (hear system only)
**Musical - the forest not the trees**
You hear the musician's emotions, feelings and expressiveness in what they are playing.
**Analytical - the trees not the forest**
you hear the musician's technique and the quality of the recording. You hear the finest details such as door squeaks, people farting, and singers swallowing their saliva. IMO analytical will always lead to unhappiness as you hear too much. All the faults in the system are exposed since you are listening to the system not the music and no system is perfect. Also results in not listening to a lot of music because of bad sound quality.
IMHO there is some kind of relationship between money spent and systems becoming more analytical. As if, for spending a lot of money you better gets lots of detail to get your money's worth. A corollary would be boomy bass when people buy a subwoofer. They want to hear what their money just bought them.
Musical does not have to mean distorted or euphonic as in poor measuring SET's. You can have "musical" with flat F-R speakers and low distortion electronics the key is that they aren't too revealing. Finding the balance between revealing too much and too little is the trick.
Does the music make you tap your foot ,get up and dance,,,is it fun? Put a big smile on your face? to me thats musical!
I just did a search of the phrase "most musical" on Agon threads, and from that I conclude that "most musical" means nothing more than "best sounding." But I also think Cdc's comment about whether it's the forest or the trees puts well what "musical" usually is used to imply. Still, I dislike the fact that detail often is made the bogeyman for lack of so-called musicality. Increased detail may have the unfortunate side effect of making weaknesses like uneven frequency response or distortion, like graininess, more apparent. But it's not detail per se that is bad. It's these other limitations that distract our attention from the overall musical presentation. The sonic attributes of a system have to be in balance, so I'm pretty much in agreement with Cdc. I would just point the finger at other weaknesses of the system, not detail itself. (Or if there's too much saliva-swallowing in the sound mix, blame the recording engineers.)
Since we're dealing in a medium of words on this discussion board, I really admire those contributors who can clearly describe how a piece of equipment sounds using fairly objective, specific terms. There is so much good-sounding equipment for different tastes -- what a particular reviewer thinks is the best piece often is less important to me than how specifically he can describe the sound of the pieces he's listened to. That is a real skill, in a hobby where terminology is used so subjectively. I think of how "euphonic," which in plain English is very close to "musical" in meaning, here is more often than not used to criticise a component as being distorted. Hifi is a wacky world.