Musicality" in a system? What IS that ?

I thought I would venture to bring a question in, the interest in which unites us all. What has happened, when we describe a system as "musical"? Is it just a subjective and passing state of mind, which fills us with joy as we listen and if so, what does it need for us to get there? System tweaking perhaps or rahter "ego tweaking" like good company, a good wine, a good cigar etc? Both perhaps? Or could there be objective criteria, which have to met for a system to attain this often elusive and volatile quality? I am convinced that there are...but to your mind, what are they?
I think musicality refers to how convincingly our system simulates the musical reality we are listening to... In order to be objective (& I beleive we could) I think we need a benchmark. This could be terms which, together, indicate musicality. Thereafter, these terms can serve to "rate" systems. May I propose a few with some analogy from cars: timing (can we hear the *way* the musicians play); "roadholding" (dynamics, speed, changes etc /can we precisely follow & be absorbed by how musicians drive their specific "musical" auto? as the musicians intended...) "naturalness" are we transported to the original venue (live performance), and/or are we "tricked" into "seeing" the, say, contralto realistically performing before us.
BTW, I beleive we should NOT take into account situational parametres such as, drops in power circuits, atmosphere (a good drink w/ friends)... but allow for optimised conditions as we know them.
In this light, and at normal listening levels (-15) my system falls slightly short @ sudden increases of spl. methinks the amp runs out of juice...
Gregm, thanks for responding. I feel you make sense in wishing to exclude subjective and situational factors as regards this question. Although they do, I believe, play a role, we will not get anywhere if we just concentrate on those. So I think you point out the right way for us to proceed, in order to get some meaningful answers to this question.

Wow. This is sure to be a lively thread. Before we assign objective values to musical performance of a system, we need a common reference. Not easily accomplished.

In the interim, I suggest that we all compare our system's reproduction of music to the real thing. I know too many audiophiles that sit and listen to only the recordings that make the system sound great. Some even proudly declare that they've only stooped down to attending a concert X number of times in the past X years. This person's judgement of what is natural and musical is worthless to me. He couldn't begin to understand what the inside of Carnagie Hall sounds like on a cold dry winter evening vs a beautiful spring day. He's never SEEN the Blue Note, or the Knitting Factory ... never mind that all of these things are only a short drive from us. Even if you don't live in or near a metro, you must go listen to live music. The local community band at the band shell on a summer evening ... the orchestra at the local college ... the list goes on. These are not only oppertunities to calibrate your ears to what instruments really sound like, you'll be supporting the musicians that make this all possible. These are the people that love the MUSIC and the process of creating it. Where do you think the 3rd trumprt player in Mega Orchestra of Metro got HIS start? Community band, college orchestra ... maybe if there was no audience at those concerts, he never got the thrill of performance and went on to be an accountant instead. Support the craft ... love the MUSIC, not just the reproduction of it.

Personally, I feel that there are many external factors that make my system more or less musical at any given moment. My own mood is paramount ... if I can't relax and accept that I am hearing real instruments the illusion collapses and I might as well listen to the clock radio. On the other hand, and I've said this in previuos threads, when my mood and the MUSIC is truely great, I can be just as moved by the music, be it my big rig or the clock radio providing the sound.

I've rambled, as I'm sure many more will. This is easily the best thread I've seen in a while. I give it my highest rating ... but no secret votes ... thanks for the thread Detlof.
Thankyou for your kind words, 3728slingshot, I heartily agree with you, that without an imprint, often refreshed, of the live event in our mind, heart and soul, we cannot really discern a system's "musicality" . However, also live musical events are not always "musical", as you know well. They are not, if - I can only say this clumsily - the spirit inherent in the composition is not conveyed, the rythm and the tempi, the "colours" soemhow don't feel right....Regards,
You are right, many prformances lack the true spirit of the music. Put plainly, a performance can be just the notes ... not the music. This is something I tell my private students all the time. "Sure you can play the notes ... but where is the music?" It is easy to get discouraged listening to concerts at a local level. Every great musician started somewhere ... and you're bound to meet a few along the way.
When you feel emotionaly connected to the music or the performer. The soul that is the essence, that which makes us smile, laugh or weep......musicality can lift the human spirit. It is a state of bliss. Musicality, for me, begins here. How we approach it may be different but the presentation makes you forget about the equipment and just drown in the magic of the music...Mucicality makes you feel good. If can may you feel small and thankful and humble all at the same time......cheers, Bluenose
Put your favourite record on, if you tap yer toes and sing along, you've got it right! simple guy, simple needs
Hi Detlof, very interesting thread. As a professional musician for three decades now (started young) I naturally have an imprint of a "live feel" in my bones, and that is always my first reference. My take on "musicality" is that certain systems reproduce sound in such a way that I am emotionally touched by good music consistently. Granted, great content on the lousiest system can sometimes touch your heart and imagination, but the key word is consistently. I have heard some systems that feel so "live" that even when hearing something for the first time I can anticipate the musicians next moves as if I was playing with them. I've heard systems that let a vocalists expression come through so clearly as to bring tears to my eyes. Criteria for accurately describing musicality is difficult at best, but I have noticed that it tends to happen on systems that are not inexpensive (shall I say usually over $5000, but more like $15,000 and up?) There are also degrees of musicality, case in point: this week I tested 4 optical cables for the output of my Denon minidisc player. Since it doesn't have a coaxial out, I was trying to make the best of the format. I use it for archives, much as intended, as a replacement for cassette tapes. One of the interconnects had what I can describe as musicality. Others were more detailed, or "faster'" with a bit more perceived output (midrange emphasis?) but this one interconnect (Audio One) was balanced at all frequencies and helped to diminish the shrill aspects of the minidisc format, allowing the the soul of the music to come through, even if not as strongly as with higher resolution formats. Also, I have listened to SACD's on many occasions now, and one time my body was actually fooled into thinking that I was hearing a real performance. Now, don't get me wrong I've heard vinyl setups that overall sound better than the best SACD playback, but this was the only time I have ever truly been fooled, be it only for a few seconds. It was a rather spooky experience. I would have to own a SACD player for a while to see if it does something close to that consistently over long time periods, but talk about musicality, Whoa! We have only words to convey the feelings we experience from a "musical" reproduction, but soul, spirit and emotion,are certainly some of them.Bravo!
All the previous postings here talk about getting the spirit of the music, being emotionally connected to the performers, etc.....while I think that all this is true, it really all boils down to personal interpretation...Joe Blow A might think the system A is musical, but Joe Blow B might think that system B is does one, then, differentiate the two systems?..One listener might consider an accurate, crystal clean, ultra neutral-sounding system (ie: Krells, Thresholds to name a few)as being musical. Another listener might consider a warm, sugar-coated, slightly-colored, euphonic-sounding system as being musical (ie: Conrad Johnsons, ARC's to name a few - funny, both these are tube gear). This trully is a tough question to quantify since we're talking about the emotional experience one goes through when listening to audio playback..Having said this however, there seems to be a consensus out there on "musical-sounding" equipment: a lot of the well-designed tube gear are almost always described as "musical". It took me a long time to finally pin down what they really mean by this and having been exposed to numerous system combinations over the last 15 years, "musical" FOR ME only means one thing: EUPHONICS. And a lot of it has to do with how well a midrange is presented on the musical spectrum...considering of course, that everything on the music is well-reproduced, it is the midrange that cuts it for me...then again, I listen almost exclusively to acoustic Jazz...
Good question, Detlof, one that I've thought about repeatedly, since so many reviewers use the term. But I agree with Gemini that, if we try to get more specific than saying "musicality" relates to how well a system can reproduce sounds in an emotionally convincing way, it quickly starts to mean different things to different people.

When used by reviewers, "musicality" seems to me to be a cop-out. In fact, when I read something like "Brand B was more musical," I mentally substitute "just sounded better to me." The latter plain-English phrase conveys as much (or as little!) information and doesn't tempt me to engage in a risky mind-reading attempt to figure out specifically what the reviewer heard and liked. I certainly don't think it's easy or always desirable to reduce musical satisfaction to a bunch of discrete components of hearing. But I kind of resent writers implying that they are doing so by sneaking in the term "musical" alongside narrower and more concrete concepts like "low frequency extension" or "dynamic," or even "deep soundstage", "smooth", "transparent", "fast", "dark", "forward", etc. Notice how the hifi-speak practice of turning "musical" into the noun "musicality" further promotes the perception that we are talking about a well-defined property.

To me, "musical" is an emergent property that sums the performance of a system in the areas that are most important to a particular listener. To one listener, "musical" may be strongly related to PRAT and control of microdynamics. To another, it may be more related to a transparent mid-range and timbral fidelity to live music. I'm sure it's actually more complicated than those examples, or writers would describe more analytically what they are hearing, instead of resorting to the term "musicality" because they either don't have the ability to reduce what they're hearing to more specific terms or they don't feel anything is to be gained by doing so. It's hard to imagine, however, how the latter attitude could be constructive in the context of a review.
To have total musicality in reproduced music, I feel four elements are required:

1) Love of the music being performed
2) Quality of the performance of that music
3) Quality of the playback system in conveying the above two
4) Mood

You must like the music. If not, what is the significance of the other three? The performance is equally important to the music or at least it is to me providing I LIKE the music. The performance is what can touch our emotions and connect us to the art of the composer and interpret to us what is being said. If not connected, distraction may set in and maybe at those times we start thinking about how things sound, a bugaboo inflicted on all audiophiles and to me the major difference between us and the music lover who is less interested in 3, the quality of the playback system, which is ALSO least important to me. Detlof, in the year I have been tuning in to this site, I think this is one of the most important questions and issues pertaining to audiophiles and what we are about. It is a revealing question on our own individual values. I don’t think the above answer is right for all. Musical has become a "buzz” word that has different meaning to different folks as Jayboard says. To some it may mean the “sound” through the system regardless of the music. To me, it most profoundly means the totality of music I love being performed by musicians that communicate it well through a playback system that reveals all the nuances of the recording. Thought and analysis of the "sound" disappear and the art is the total focus. This is my ideal. So in reality, there is no one answer that absolutely defines musical, only different interpretations based on the importance of our own individual criteria. And to REALLY get there there the mood must also be in place then again the right mood can arrive once the music starts playing.
I have heard very "accurate" reproduction on a system with "incredible detail" rob the music of its soul. Maybe electronic music sounds awesome, but despite the fact you can hear the 2nd violinist adjust his music sheet, classcal music sounds mechanical. I think it has to do with tone,"texture" and "timeing". More buzz words of course, but you know what I mean if you have heard a really "musical" vinyl set up. Your system is "musical" if you forget what you were doing and suddenly realize you are listening to the MUSIC.
assuming some music can be characterized as art, maybe we need to back up and define art. for a moment let's say art is any medium that communicates or invokes a feeling in a person. it can be a sense of beauty, disgust, serenity or confusion, any feeling. and sure it can be different for everybody. a good synonym for musical might be expressive. then is musicality the capability of any musical event to convey it's artistic intent? not by itself it's not. listeners develop tastes and are certainly conditioned by their own life experiences. in other words the listener must be receptive to the event too. along those lines distractions can break the link between the event and the listener. in audio these include discernable errors of all kinds. so it looks like we can define audio musicality not only in terms of signal but also in terms of noise or lack thereof. in essence we're dealing with two phenomena at once, the performance and our absorption of it. what really amazes me is that it's so easy to know when the sound is not right. after all, shrillness or murkiness can be intended expressions in performance. but somehow we know when it's wrong; the connection between us and the musical event becomes obscured. hence the tried and true technique when auditioning system changes. use some music that you already have a feel for and see if the comparo evokes the feeling, enhances it or diminishes it. so all in all, i'd say musicality is a certain level of communicative expression.
I find this thread very interesting. In my pursuit of audio perfection, within my means, I find Musicality to be of the utmost importance. What is it? I think we all my have a different view of this.
For me though, Musicality means how well does a system or certain piece of equipment make me forget about the fact that I am listening to an audio system and just simply enjoy the music. I have heard very musical equipment that was very inaccurate(colorations and such) however it really emotionally connected me to the music. With this definition of musicality a system or component could have the greatest detail, incredible holographic imaging, excellent transient speed and response, unbelievable dynamics, and be the closest thing you have ever heard to live music but if it doesn't make you forget you are listening to a system and emotionally involve you in the music then it is not musical. I have heard many systems like this.
Musicality is obviously very subjective. I found my way into High End Audio because I love music. Musicality, my definition, will always be one of the main factors I judge audio components and/or systems by and in choosing to live with that component or system.
Wow, good thread Doug. Coming up with this topic was probably like building our systems. Simple yet quite elusive. I have to add that there have been many excellent points. As others have mentioned, when someone mentions a system is "musical", i think that most of us picture something that is slightly warm and euphonic while "detailed" or "acurate" comes across as being slightly lean and dry sounding with a slight tilt upwards in tonal balance. In reality, a "musical" system is all of the above and a combination of the two AS the recording calls for it.

Live performances are "live" because they have all of the detail, "zing", pace, warmth, "air", "space", etc.. that the instruments, players and hall are capable of. Nothing is hidden or softened ( euphony ) or highlighted ( detailed ) any moreso than what was actually played and the acoustics of the hall presented to you. As to comments about the sounds of specific halls or venues, that is SOMEWHAT hogwash ( no offense intended to anyone ). Just as the acoustics in your room vary from sweet spot to the corners to slightly off center, so will the acoustics or "sound" of the hall. Due to the perceptions of direct vs reflected sounds, two people could have different takes on the very same performance. Changing seating arrangment would alter the ratios of direct to reflected sound and could further complicate the differences between what they heard. Certain notes, frequency ranges or sections of the performers might be highlighted or lost in the mix. Due to the various direct / reflected ratios and how sound works, this would alter our perceptions of tonal balance, harmonic structure, definition & impact, etc.. In case part of this reminds you of an advertisement for Bose 901's, it might give you some idea as to how / why Dr. Bose came up with his theories. While they DO have validity, they lack thoughtfulness in terms of execution and quality of components.

As to what makes a system "musical", i think it is one that is hard to describe. We have all heard systems that sounded well balanced, offered excellent detail without sounding harsh, were full bodied without sounding bloated, had a wide soundstage, imaged well, etc... but STILL sounded like "2 dimensional stereo". The "magic" or "depth" just wasn't there. Quite honestly, i think that this is the VAST majority of systems out there. This includes a couple that i own too, so don't think that i'm picking on everyone else and excluding myself. Like i said, coming up with a TRULY "musical" system is pretty elusive and something that i think that most of us are still working on.

One of the things that i notice about "musical" systems is that the sound appears "seamless" and seems to "float". Nothing calls attention to itself in any special way while the sound just seems to gel before you. You don't even THINK about speakers or where they are. Spatial properties and "air" are very prevalent in systems like this, giving the appearance of increased height, width and depth that you get from the natural reverb of a hall. The sound seems to project itself away from the speakers, making the entire room part of the "soundstage". Evidence of this is being able to go into an adjoining room and "feel" that the performers are right next door. You get the same impression when you leave the main hall where the event is taking place to make use of the bathroom, refill your cocktails at the back or side bar, etc... Your not really "there" anymore but the presence of being "there" is still quite strong. With a good system, you get these impressions even though the volume level is not loud per se.

Timbral balance and harmonic structure also play KEY roles in achieving this effect. After all, having notes that ring or fall off too quickly is what gives our systems the "bloated" or "dry" characteristics that they might suffer from. These characteristics also give us cues as to instrument placement and the overall "pace" of the music. I think that this is a place that most systems fail miserably in.

I also USED to believe that much of what made a "musical" system "musical" was speaker based. While i still believe that this DOES play a key role in the sound due to radiation pattern and room loading, i had to change my mind as of last night. Once again, i ended up re-arranging components in one of my systems and stumbled across something that was quite eye / ear opening and pleasant to say the least. It made me COMPLETELY change my outlook on a few things but further instilled in me the need to experiment within the system if one is truly seeking optimum results. Once again i have to say, you may never know what an individual component or system is capable of until you've truly tried quite a few different combinations. Quite honestly, i've had these components for a while now and never tried them in the configuration that i have them now. It's been my loss too. Then again, that is fodder for another thread if we're going to stay on topic here.

Kudo's to all who contribute to this forum, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences and good listening to all who frequent this site. Sean
I believe JeffL has it covered but to add-synergy has a lot to do with a system being musical. When each piece of gear you may have is in sync with each other there's nothing left but the music. When you go to a live show and the band just clicks, they know it and the audience feels it-synergy. I have played in a couple of bands and I know this feeling. Also I believe this can happen with tubes or S.S. Hope I made sense.
Everything that is important in describing musicality has been expressed here in one way or another by nearly every poster. I awarded most every post with + votes, admiring how much work went into the thought and emotion expressed. This is exactly what Audiogon should be about.

My addition to the topic would be to say that for my own system, my effort has been to achieve musicality to the degree that I may play every piece of music I own. Certainly there are tremendous quality differences among my thousands of pieces of software. A system that can play them all, hear them for what they are, remain emotionally engaged, and on occasion be convinced it is real, is about as good as it gets. Great thread!
Dynamic resemblance to live music. Gordon Holt said: "A personal judgment as to the degree to which reproduced sound resembles live music. Real musical sound is both accurate and euphonic, consonant and dissonant." (Stereophile, Aug. 1993) By euphonic he meant "pleasing to the ear," not necessarily sweetened. (Id.)

So why dont we just say "accurate?" Because, I think, we usually use the term accuracy to refer to tonality, but when we judge a component or system to be musical we are responding to its faithfulness to real life dynamics, more than tonality. The ability to track large and small, even tiny, changes in amplitude that give us the impression we are present at a musical event. As Jeffl implies, timing has a lot to do with it.
"Don't play the notes, play the meaning of the notes".- Pablo Casals. The ability of a performer to communicate the MEANING of the notes is what defines a musical performer; not all performers are musical. MUSICAL: 1. Of, relating to, or capable of producing music. MUSIC: 2. Vocal or instrumental sounds with RHYTHM, MELODY, and HARMONY.- Webster's II. Let's look at those two definitions for a moment. Melody alone, can and does imply harmony, at the same time we know that rhythm alone can in the loosest sense create melody, albeit implied, due to the tuning of the rhythm instruments and the creation of cadences and rhythmic progression. So, what can we deduce from all this? You can have music without melody (harmony) in the usual sense; but you can't have music without rhythm. All music, if it is to qualify for that definition, must have rhythm; not necessarily of the 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 variety, but rhythm nonetheless. Rhythm, IMO is where the soul or meaning of the notes lies. The things that define a performer's phrasing, the subtle or not so subtle inflections and feelings of tension and release that make a performance moving are found in the areas of dynamics; micro and macro. If an audio system cannot do justice to the rhythm of a performance, it cannot be musical. This area is where most systems fall short IMO. I have heard systems that are actually quite accurate, transparent, whatever you want to call it, TONALLY, and still don't covey the message; still don't quite let the music move the way that the performer(s) intended. In my experience most audiophiles (reviewers) tend to use the term musical to define tonal issues, such as wether the system sounds pleasantly smooth and lacking in harshness or not; obviously not necessarily a bad thing. But the system must be able to not only actually sound tonally harsh if that is what the music calls for, but at all times do justice to the rhythm. So, as much as I dislike most electronic music; I can't get around the fact that comparison to "real instruments in a real space", to use that old H. Pearsonism is NOT the only valid test for musicality. Clearly, electronic music created in a studio environment can have the necessary ingredient(s) for musicality; regardless of what I or any other listener might think about the artistic value of the music itself. Did I just defend electronic music? I better go take my temperature.
Paulwp, amazing ! I posted the above comments what must have been only seconds after yours. I could not agree more. Obviously. Cheers.
Frogman, we were both thinking the same thing at the same time. When I saw your comments, I thought, "rhythm, yeah that's the word I was missing."
Great thread Detlof. Defining this is sort of like trying to unscrute the unscrutable, or nail jello to the wall. There are some really excellent posts above and much to agree with on my part.

This months issue of TAS magazine re-states the original goal(s) and philosophies of the magazine as put forth by H. Pearson about 30 years ago, and some of it specifically addresses what the abosolute "sound" is-- the whole article is 11 pages long. I'd just like to quote a short, but germane to this thread, paragraph, as TAS is trying, IMO, to get at the core of musicality.

Quote: "The Absolute Sound' is the sound of unamplified music occuring in a real space, usually a large room or concert hall (small or large). That music can be bluegrass, jazz, folk, big band or classical. (Nor need intrumental music be our only reference: The human voice will serve as well.) Such is "the real thing", and provides us with a philosophic absolute, which means that our descriptions of variations from that absolute are not based on subjectivity, but rather upon observation. That is to say, the basic description of any component's "sound", if scrupulously attended, will be objective, based on perceivable data, rather than that originating from "taste" or "subjectivity".

I don't think I can totally "buy into" HPs philosophy as I don't seem to be able to eliminate such considerations as "taste", and as some other have noted above, "mood". Still, TAS has a lot of influence in high end audio, and HP states his belief and philosophy well. I just don't know if I have the kind of discipline that HP has. I recommend the whole article to all interested in high end audio. Cheers. Craig
Perhaps, "musicality" is tantamount to an intrinsic association of musical memory and musical reality. Assigning "musical" qualities to hardware can be a might ascribe the beauty of ethereal highs and concomitantly, succumb to the visceral appeal of the nadir frequency of which a system is capable. Indeed, it would be the seamless integration of these two with a transparent and liquid midrange which to my memory and reality deliver "musicality." -Sam
detlof: excellent thread! and from a shrink, no less. (you accomplished, BTW, what i set out to do in my reckless youth, and i envy you for your accomplishments. i, alas became a lawyer, saving not souls or minds but perhaps, now and then, a portfolio or, even more rarely, a man’s, a woman's or a family's honor.) perhaps you relate somehow to "analyze this" ? let me at least believe that this is so, until i am dissuaded to the contrary.

there are, as my compatriots have already noted, as many answers to your query as there are among us. it would be easy, more-or-less, if we were to cling to HP's vision of "the absolute sound." the big problem is that nearly nothing's recorded nowadays without an amplified "boost" or a digital enhancement. i go to live concerts, lots of 'em. but i gain little from those experiences but for those heavenly times when i can hear what a 21st century conductor decides what an 18th century composer must have thought, and i usually agree. since i am less capable of entering the mind of mozart or brahms, or even john lennon, than my learned heirs of ‘music,” I accept for the most part the truth of their vision.

"musicality," thus becomes that which we feel is "real," through our ears, our skin, our experience and our desire. it is this subjective view of subjectivity that makes our hobby exciting and valuable to those among us who would otherwise doubt the lack of empirical "realism." for me, at least, we must distrust objectivity in this realm, much the same way as spies create a mythos of believability by rationally rejecting the most unbelievable hypotheses.

i don't wanna get off on a rant here, but, IMHO, the drive to find the “musical” variety of sounds is no less important among us than the search of arthurian knights for the holy grail. monty python reminded us of the folly of this quest, tho i doubt we'll be knocked off course voluntarily 'til we encounter our own knights who say nih." -kelly
In view of the fascinating posts above, may I venture an interim summary at this point, using expressions as well as single words used (random order)?
*effortlessly perceive the (performer's') meaning of the
*Rythm and timbres;
*"naturalness" (my word)i.e., how do reproduced sounds compare with live / reality (real instruments, real space), and relate to our memory of reality;
*(ultimately) does the reproduction transport us and induce emotional reaction.
Detlof, maybe as initiator, you could give a fuller picture at this point?
(Caveat to newcomers on this thread: this post is not intended to, and doesn't fully reproduce the information contained above: newcomers to the thread are heartily invited to read what comes before.)
Yes Gregm, I will do as you suggest. But I still need a little time. Just let me tell you now, that there is much food for thought for me in all of the above posts and that I am also deeply moved by them. Next to enjoying and sometimes enviously marveling at the astuteness of the thinking, I am above all moved by the love and the passion for music which shines through all of your posts. I feel profoundly happy and also honoured to be able to find myself amongst you here, this especially after in time I felt my sensibilities somewhat bruised by all the unpleasant bickering going on elsewhere. I live in a country, where people are pretty close and introvert, so audiophila is a bit of a lonely thing there. So stumbling across Audigon was a lucky stroke for me. Hence: Thank you to you all, not only for responding so in- and extensively but also just for being there. Regards,
Detlof, it is we who are honored to have you on this board. Thank you. I find it interesting that it was someone (you) in an environment that is "close, introvert, and lonely" as you describe, that initiated a discussion on a topic that is if not the most important, then certainly one of the most important considerations pertaining to this hobby. All the best.
Indeed Frogman you speak for me as well. It is a real pleasure having a resident "Observer" on this site.
Thanks, frogman, I, too, second (or "third") yr post. I live in an area where audio seems to be the subject of technical bickering & emotional controversy -- rather than of music; and this, in thinly disguised adolescent exchanges of the "my system's better than yours..", "this or that nationality doesn't know a things about music, likewise for their products..."
The most important subject, music & a system's musicality rarely enters the scene. Thank you again detlof and all others for jumping on Detlof's present bandwagon.
Let's continue this important discussion.
For me, it’s that moment when you’re listening with someone that “gets it” and you’re sharing the sweet spot. It comes to a passage in the music where you both elbow one another slightly or give that “whoa, did you hear that?” look to one another while listening. I tend to close my eyes a lot when listening, so for me, it’s also those times that cause you to open your eyes. You know those moments, when you hear something that you never heard before or you can’t believe what just moved around the room? You can have those listening alone, too, of course, but for me, it’s magnified when you can share the experience.
It really is like meditation, everything else melts away (even it’s just for a little while). and, a good wine doesn't hurt, either :-)
kind regards -
Wow! I am dumbfounded reading all of the above excellent, well articulated posts. I only wish, I could do as good a job as describing what I feel about Musicality.
Although I agree with lot of what is being said (written) above, Sean's Post ( His first para) is as close as to what I think musicality means. System is not Musical when you stare in awe in between the speakers space marvelling at the imaging, details, depth, macrodynamics and microdynamics, crystal clear focus, and finally staring proud at the equipment. Musicality happens when awe factor disappears, you are completely caught off guard, and begining to enjoy the music, develop goose bumps, close your eyes and all that you are there feeling, like when you are attending a great live performance.
I always read musical as not neutral in reviews, with music having warmth, euphonics, distortion, which, thanks to this post, now I think, is a good thing.
I don't know I have expressed completely what I really feel, words escapes me, especially due to intimidation caused by some of the great writing above.
Question: I sometimes think we, the audiophiles and musicians ( I am not, but wish I was) are very wierd emotional special breed , probably at the borderline outright queers. Any one agree?
Scratch that question. I did not mean to change the subject. That is a different post altogether!
Detlof; your 4/7 post above really lays it on the line personally, it's hard to do that as gracefully as you have, thanks. Craig
I agree with Jayboard whole heartedly in that I use the words "musical" and "musicality" when I am too lazy to come up with better descriptive terms. I still intend on using them though, in a pinch, and can only add that sometimes "musical" to me is no more than a feeling that, regarless of how much effort I make, I still find hard to describe it in words. Other than the obvious quality of making instruments sound like they should (right size, tonality etc.) a musical piece of gear (or system) "always" allows me to relax (even with high energy as well as soft music). A non musical piece (or system) causes me to tense (even with soft music) and this has nothing to do with whether it is a bright or dull sound as both types work both ways with me. I have been performing biofeedback exercises for approx. one year now and am very good at it, or so I am told when they monitor me on test machines. A good (or musical) sound puts me at ease as I do not have to strain to be absorbed by the music, nor is it in my face. Instead it (the music) ends up replacing almost all of my concious thoughts and I certainly am not thinking about the equipment (I even forget temporarily the fact that I can barely afford it:-).
Detlof & all other contributors, may I suggest we try digging a bit deeper, now that we seem to have completed the first round? We could test the descriptions mentioned above hands-on (ears-on), and see if we can't take this further. True, it takes time but it seems to me most of the post on this site really border around this same subject...
I'll try recognising the descriptions & suggestions above and get back -- if, hopefully, there's continued interest.
Gregm, this is a great idea. I'll have a bit of time over Easter and will try to get a synopsis of the above opinions and post it here. Regards,
Happy Easter, Detlof and others!
I'm game Gregm. I'll check in shortly. Regards.
Looking forward to yr input, Frogman. Thanks!
I want to thank you all for your fascinating inputs and I wish you good and restful days, hopefully with a "musical" system. I originally thought, I would collect all your posts, take the central idea from each of them and in reporting about it, try to come closer to a definition of musicality for all our benefit. To tell the truth, I haven't got the energy for it right now. I am down with flue, the hearing is impended, the mood subdued. But I'll be back with this question. Warm regards and thanks to all!
I wish you a speedy recovery Detlof. I too will be tied up over the holiday, but will check in shortly afterwards.
About musicality:
Deutsche Grammophone has released all of the Beethoven symphonies with Abado and the Berlin Philharmonics. The recordings are just as horrible as the performance of most of the sympnonies are breathtaking. Abado and the Berliners form a synergy which has not been heard since the days of the Chicago Symphony with Fritz Reiner. I've just finished, listening to Abado's rendering of the 7th. From an audiophile point of view the rendering was just terrible: The soundstage was completely truncated in width and depth and the window to the orchestra was far more removed and veiled than usual. DG at its (more often than not) worst!
The performance however was breathtaking, intelligent, unusual in its tempi, dynamics and phrasing. It took a conscious effort to stop fretting about the system sounding so awful, but when that was achieved,we got carried away by Abado's interpretation of this old war horse and its MUSICALITY. So it seems, its not only the system, its also the performers. If both are right, its a bit of heaven on earth. Just my two cents worth.
Katharina, you make a great point, and precisely the point that I made recently in the "Music to test systems" thread. You also provide a great segue to a "second chapter" in the discussion of musicality; as suggested by Gregm. In the stated thread I pointed out that I tend to avoid using "audiophile quality" recordings to audition equipment, but use instead recordings of great performances of perhaps mediocre, or worse, sound quality. These performances should have clearly identifiable musical traits. The reasoning here is that a great sounding recording is probably going to sound at least OK on any but grossly flawed systems. A truly great piece of equipment, or system, however, will let the music come through in spite of the inferior sound quality; that is, assuming that there is great music in that recording to begin with. Those are the systems that are truly musical and satisfy in the long run. Sounds to me that your system is indeed musical, as it certainly honors the music. But this brings up some interesting points. You state: "So it seems, it's not only the system, it's also the performers". I would qualify that comment in that the performers are never secondary to the system. As I'm sure you would agree, great sound without a great performance is pretty pointless. Also, let's ask ourselves this question, eventhough it may be just a matter of semantics: Can a system really BE musical? To be musical implies a kind of active role in the resulting sound; that is the last thing that a sound system should do. A sound system should get out of the way as much as possible, and simply let the music through as originally performed, as much as possible. This is why I have a lot of trouble with the way that the term "musical" is used by audiophiles. The misuse of the term was well covered in the first round of this discussion. But what about a system that enhances dynamics or is very "alive" sounding and makes one "tap our toes"; as was suggested as criteria for the label "musical". How do we know that this is not really a distortion? There is in fact equipment that distort in this manner, just as some seem to decrease dynamics and make recordings sound bland and lifeless. The real answer to this question is a tough one. The easy answer is "If the music moves me, then it's musical". Hard to argue with that; and in fact we tend to get too involved with the "why's" and "what if's" of this hobby. But hi-fi is a hobby; music listening is far more than just a hobby. I have trouble calling something that can move me to tears, or make me feel joy or anger, a hobby. So the only conclusion I can come up with is that intimate familiarity with the sound of live music is the only way to be able to honestly assess a system's musicality. By sound I don't just mean issues of timbre but more importantly, of rhythm and dynamics. Just as many audiophiles are able to distinguish between small gradations in the "brightness" or "darkness" of a system, as exemplified by the way that say the VTA of a phono cartridge is adjusted; there are just as many fine gradations in the way that a system let's the rhythmic energy of a musical moment develop. One of my favorite recordings for this is Sonny Rollins' "The Bridge". This recording, in mono, is not particularly noteworthy as concerns most audiophile criteria; but man does it swing. Rollins has such a powerful and commanding rhythmic thrust that it is obvious that he sets the pace, not the rhythm section, as is usually the case. On a great system you can hear this clearly. When Rollins turns up the heat in a particular phrase, the rhythm sections needs a moment to catch up. On a lesser (less musical) system, this is blurred; and while you might be able to hear the increase in intensity, it's too uniform, too general. A very important musical detail is lost. But going back to Katharina's point; and this is IMO crucial to this discussion. Wonderful musical energy in a performance might be diminished by a less than great recording or playback system, but it is unlikely that it will be destroyed. That is the power of music.
Katharina, Frogman, thankyou! You've tought me something. I realise now, that hi-fi as a hobby has indeed to be strictly separated from the experience of actively listening to music. It's quite obvious to me, that tweaking my system, placing speakers, considering the pro and cons of equipment, the hobby part in fact, is a means to an end and no more than that. The end would be the musical experience. Without a knowledge of the real gestalt of music through listening to live music in its many forms as often as possible, how will I ever be able to know in which direction to tweak my system to? Memory is closely linked with emotionality and if I am deeply moved by a live performance say of the Alban Berg Quartet playing Schubert's "Death and the Maiden", there will be an engram in me of how a string quartet sounds with all its tonal, dynamic and rythmic nuances. The more live musical performances "get to me", the more an inner, probably unconscious knowledge will be built up through the years, about how a system should sound. So building a system and later tweaking it, is in a way a "remembering", a reemerging of the music's gestalt, which has been dormant in me, until the system begins to "remind" me. Once that has been achieved, I can tweak actively, to get say the sound of the cello, the viola and the violins, their rythms, phrasings, interplay and dynamics from ppp to fff plus their spacing of course as close to the gestalt's engram as is humanly possible. I might not be able to do without "audiophile" software of high recording quality at this stage to get closer to my goal. Here anyway, I will rather be listening to the system not to to the music. Once I'm through with that however, I will be able to do exactly what Katharina has told us about: Enjoy a more than mediocre recording of high musical quality and be moved by it, because even then the system lets some of the gestalt of the performance come through. Maybe the benchmark for the "musicality" of a system lies just here ! Thanks again and regards,
Thanks you Frogman for putting the inherent meaning of my post into intelligible words. I think you hit the nail squarely on its proverbial head and yes Detlof, you describe very well how a "system" can be evolved until it is approaching "musicality". To my husband and I, tweaking has indeed been a process to bring out the components inner musical strenghts, in a way to lessen some of their signature, which they might inprint on the musical performance, which is especially difficult with gear which is seductively euphonic. There comes a point in the development of a music system I think, where you are at a crossroads and must decide, in what direction you want to lead your laborings: An aproximation to the original event as recorded or an euphonically pleasing "sound". Both roads could, I suppose, lead to a "musical" system, but if I follow Frogman correctly, true musicality can only be achieved, if at least some of the original musical performance comes through in its spirit and emotion, as an in part facsimile of its original "living presence" in our home.
An illuminating rendition, indeed! I wonder if we could stretch Katharina's & frogman's proposition to say (borrowing Detlof's term) that musicality is the capability of evoking "gestalt" of a performance in which we did not and COULD not partake.. I'm thinking of recordings, taking place during a specific event or when the THEN atmosphere was emotionally charged, of which, most of us have no similar experiential reference... can something of that atmosphere filander through even for a fleeting moment. I'm thinking, say, of a performance of Beethoven's 5th piano Concerto by Gieseking / Orchestra of the 3rd Reich (!!)/ A. Rother. Allegedly, A. Hitler was present. Gieseking, starts to sound (to my ears) hysterical as of the adaggio, and continues unto the end. There is a disturbing edge to the sound -- it's not the recording which, for the time, is excellent (and in nascent stereo!!). Subjectivity? No doubt. Am I prone to "suggestibility"? I did not read the blurb: this is a friend's CD, he wanted to surprise me.
Thank you for making the exchanges on this thread ever more fascinating.
Greg, I think your point is of great validity and importance. I would say, if we get an inkling of the "gestalt" of a performance, can feel something of the general atmosphere, as in your striking example, especially of course in suroundings and circumstances we are unfamiliar with, then we have a music system of quality.
Thanks to your insight shared with us, you have now given me personally an explanation, why I prefer live recordings so much, inspite of the recording drawbacks they might have. You put out the lights and are often more easily than not drawn into the performance with a superior system at your disposal. Cheers,
Off at a tangent, if I may. The benediction of the NET is we can get together virtually, and communicate. The curse is, we are (I am) still far away geographically. Too bad we can't get together and share the experiences related in our exchanges...
My best to all.
Greg, how true. This however is beter than nothing at all. Warm greetings to all who participated and thankyou. I learnt a lot and got new directions to ruminate on and ponder about. A great gift in itself!!
Regarding getting together, it is true that most of us are separated by distance. Not all though. A group located in the SF Bay Area hooked up via the Audio Asylum and arranged a get together. Everyone brought their own music and a bottle of wine. We spent a very pleasant afternoon listening to our host's system in a variety of configurations (he had more gear than a fellow ought to) and sharing insights and experiences. There were only four of us and the small size was much more relaxed than a big club meeting.

Though about to move, so it will be at least a couple of months before this happens, I'm planning on hosting another of these get togethers. Anyone in the Bay Area that is intersted should let me know if they'd like to attend. Out of towners are welcome to the couch, too.