neutrality vs musicality

I start this thread hoping people will say their views - there are clearly no answers, and this is pure forum banter, but it will be nice to have such discussion.

I had always thought that the 'the Absolute Sound' is the correct sound model - ie based on fidelity to the original source. To this end I have bought products to attain these goals.

However, I do wonder if this aspiration to neutrality is in fact complete nonsense. I say this for the following reasons:

1. In typical living room here in the UK (9 x 4m) the idea of having a system create a rock concert or full orchestra is not possible. We are in essence creating an illusion - and that is the starting point of detraction from the original sound/source;

2. The SPL of live musicians and the dynamic swings, cannot be reproduced unless in the rarified cases of those who can buy large Rockports (or the like) and have sufficient space;

3. When was the last time any of got to hear wholly unamplified live music - Small London Jazz clubs amplify drums, vocals, horns, and pianos in venues no larger than half a tennis court.

When we go on the upgrade path, we tend to get more of something - whether it be more bass, cleaner treble, whatever - so does that take us closer to neutral - or does it bring about the emphasis within that part of the recording.

I had the chance of hearing a modified Lenco and a Funked up Linn on the same day. I had never really given much either attention - always dismissing the Linn for being 'musical' but if truth be told I thought it was absolutely wonderful - truly enjoyable. It may have been musical, but perhaps being musical is actually closer to neutrality than any other perceived notion on the simple basis that Musicians ordinarily seek to communicate a musical message, and no doubt some enjoyment through their medium of music.

So I guess I leave it at this - is 'Musical' the true neutrality?
Too many false gods around for me. When you define 'musical' I'll be in a better position to respond. For that matter take a shot at defining 'neutrality' unless you mean the obvious, replicating the recorded signal.

Of course neither replicating a live performance nor replicating a recording of a live performance, in an absolute sense, can be achieved, but you can at lease get closer to achieving your goal if you are shooting at replicating the recorded performance. But, even then, you really can't get it done, you just spend your time trying, a hobby many here really enjoy. Playing with sound! It really is fun!!!!! But there is no holy grail here in audioland only a bunch of anal and opiniated nuts. :-)

FWIW, 'musical' is for me that time when I sit down in the sweet spot, put on a recording, and really access the performancer's and composer's art without thinking of any of the things so freely attributed to audio systems and the recording processes, i.e. the spacial and tonal nature of the sound created by engineers (and subsequently designers, manufacturers, and end users) to 'enhance' the recorded sound and thereby create an allusion of either bringing the music into your home (not so much I think) or taking you to the performance, usually the latter I assume.

IMHO, the amount of time you spend achieving either of these goals is in inverse proportion to the amount of time you actually spend just enjoying the sounds, i.e. music that just sounds (more) natural.

Enjoy your music.
This has been debated to death numerous times but it still begs the question as there really is no satisfactory answer.

All I can add is to enjoy what you have until you can find/afford better, going slow, gaining insight along the way. You'll find, as others and I have, that you tend to go in circles, covering older ground in the quest for newer.

What was of paramount importance can be swiftly knocked down by some other performance parameter you discover. Once present, it gels with the former which you thought was lacking. It was only needed for that other ingredient to make it whole. It's the old sum is greater than the parts meme.

There are lots of parts and too much can be made of one aspect over others.
Like Newbee says, enjoy the music.

All the best,
If you are enjoying what you are hearing, who cares what anyone else thinks? Don't waste your time and money chasing the "perfect system"!! As others have already said: Sit back and enjoy the music!!

Precisely RLwainwright, but it is a subject that keeps these forums going forever and leads to endless disputes, partly because they are hard to define.

I know what I mean by the distinction, "neutrality" is ultra detailed, dry, does'nt distort any part of the frequency spectrum and for me, is dull as dishwater. Musicality often has some midrange warmth, the music is dynamic and envolving and is ultimately enjoyable, despite it's faults. I am NOT putting this forward as a universal definition, just what I feel about and where my loyalties lie.

The archetypal neutral sound, for me, is what you hear from the likes of Focal and Wilson speakers. I get what they are trying to do, but I could'nt possibly live with them.
Neutrality is a fiction. And it is primarily a fiction because we are dealing with so many complex distortion mechanisms within the recording and playback chain. The reason that there are so many systems and so many components is that we are all matching the distortion type and spectra to a paradigm of music that we have in our head.

If we have two identical systems and one has 3% second harmonic distortion, decreasing linearly with each harmonic out to the 7th and another system with .1% second harmonic distortion .3% third, .1% 4th, .9% 5th, .2% 6th and 1.2% 7th, which is the more "neutral" neutral reproducer. The first has a very linear distortion spectra yet the second has much lower aggregate distortion. I would posit that some of us would find each system more "neutral".

More often than not, I find the concept of neutrality in audio reproduction to be a cloak that justifies buying decisions by the insecure.

Which brings us to fidelity to the source. And if the source is live music in the studio it could be that the el cheapo op amps and miles of wire used in the recording process add odd order harmonics, bleaching the sound. And here comes Johnny Audiophile with his single ended amp that adds second harmonic distortion. Well the amp may be rebalancing the harmonic envelope in some crude way that actually makes the aggregate system of recording and playback closer to the sound in the studio than if a more "neutral" amp was used. This whole concept is a loser's game IMHO.
As far as building a great system, neutrality is something we need, musicality is something we like. Finding a satisfactory amount of both is the trick.
newbee is correct. neither state can be attained. so the issue is academic.

one can aim toward one or the other, but it doesn't matter,as both are elusive goals.
Maybe there elusive to you Mrtennis. But many of us have found a near perfect balance. I won't say it was cheap or easy.
I agree with Newbee. This whole debate is an exercise in futility as inferred in Viridian's post. To me it is always about accessing the performance. Every system I have heard is different in some way. Some access the music better than others. The other issue that is quite clear is taste. In the absence of "absolute sound" we each make choices. Over time these choices may be replaced with new choices. One man's "neutrality" is another's "musical". The real difficulity for me to accept is that replicating live music is impossible but enjoyment and engagement in the performance of music reproduced is not and at the end of the day that's all that matters. Sounds natural = less fatigue = more listening = more enjoyment and less analysis.
IMO it's possible to achieve both even with a modest system. If you can get the tonality and timbre of either voice or an acoustic instrument right you have neutrality that is musical. Male vocals are a good test for mid-upper bass colorations. If they sound slow/tubby or muddy there is usually a bass boost which destroys both neutrality and musicality. Most would agree the piano is the most difficult instrument to reproduce. The highest note reaches 4.186khz to the lowest 27.5hz. This gives you the best test tool regarding neutrality and musicality. If the speaker/electronics fail these tests move on.
Its all semantics. You can't hear written words, so impossible to accurately describe whaqt something sounds like.

Plus recordings are seldom accurate reproductions of what occurred live, rather the technical product of the engineers who created them more than than the original musicians.

The good news is who cares? Does it really matter? Do you have to see the original scene to enjoy a Monet? No. The results either move or affect you or not. That's all that matters. There are many recipes for good soup.
Finally, a reason to use the word "perfect".
Do you have to see the original scene to enjoy a Monet?
Now that's a sensible approach to the subject.
Extract the most you can from the source.......and sit back and enjoy.