Quality system, make poor recordings sound better?

I notice that as I move up the audio chain, poor CD recordings sound worse and the good ones sound superb, should this be the case? Also I on any given day my system sounds different even with the same CDs. Any thoughts on this as well?
Do the poor ones really sound worse or just worse in comparison to how good the good stuff sounds?

AN improvement is an improvement. It can only make things better, though some way more than others perhaps.
This makes sense. The better resolution your system has the more detail you will hear - good or bad. If your system has certain character such as overall warmness it may help a marginal recording but there's only so much it can do. Garbage in, garbage out. This is why audio forum people are so sensitive to recording technique, mastering, pressings, etc.
I notice that as I move up the audio chain, poor CD recordings sound worse and the good ones sound superb, should this be the case?

Yes, this is normal. Increased resolution is a double edged sword. Think of it as putting a clearer window in your home. Your view may be better or worse depending on the view outside the window.

Also I on any given day my system sounds different even with the same CDs. Any thoughts on this as well?

This probably has to do with your power. Many notice it will even sound different at different times during the day. Usually the system will sound better when overall electrical usage is lower, on evenings and weekends.

With respect to your first question, to me it depends on what you mean by "moving up the audio chain". If you're moving up to more and more "revealing" components, or perhaps to wires that might emphasize certain parts of the frequency spectrum, particularly the higher frequencies, then yes, what you're describing can happen. Another upgrade path, though, that I now (after having gone the other way) try to follow is to make sure that you can listen to and enjoy most of your music collection with the new components, and I believe that this can be done while still maintaining high sound quality and even improving it. There are components out there that can let you listen to and enjoy lower-resolution sources like internet radio while still letting great recordings shine. I think this is what people are thinking of when they refer to "musical" components.

With respect to your second observation, there are a lot of factors that can cause this, both related to your system (power not quite up to optimum levels, wear of tubes, etc.) and related to you and your mood. With respect to the former, a really good power conditioner or regenerator, or listening to your system late at night when demands on the power grid are lower, can lessen those differences attributable to "dirty" power coming into your home. But I find that my mood and concentration level when listening vary a lot, and that can definitely affect the way I respond to the same recordings.
I have found just the opposite . The more my system gets dialed in the better all recordings are . I listen strictly to digital . Right now 90% of songs sound fantastic . Last winter i would skip through my playlist looking for the best recordings , A slave to an improperly amplified set of speakers. Proper amps for my speakers and a few other changes made a night and day difference . Something in your system is not jiving , could be room , speaker placement , mismatch of components ,ect... It is not the recordings that are poor . Obviouosly some are better than others . But no recording done for a major record label should sound terrible ,regardless of format .
My experience is the same as you described. As my system has evolved, poor or average sounding recordings have clearly improved (hearing/appreciating more of the music's expression/emotion). The better recordings just became more so.
Some systems I have found mask poor quality recordings to the point they would be tolerable. However, in my experience, I have found that better quality equipment really show how poor the recording (not the music) really is. As I have upgraded, I have noticed that some CD's are just terrible to the extent that I can't listen to them anymore. However, I have also found that better quality (recording wise) cd's are absolutely wonderful sounding. You have to remember that back in the day, the cd recording equipment was touted as "perfect sound" but was really lacking. It is funny when I read so much about the tube vs solid state argument, when many times, the actual recording equipment is solid state based and multiple ICs at that with poor quality components. So yes, I have found in my experience the same as the OP. Love the music, but sometimes the recording quality really sucks and on better quality equipment, one can really hear this.

With respect to the first question, my experience mirrors that of the OP, and John (Jmcgrogan2), and Minorl. I have a not inconsiderable number of poor recordings that I would prefer to listen to via YouTube on my $90 computer speakers rather than on my main system. But as my system has evolved, the great recordings continue to sound ever more realistic and more pleasing.

Regarding the second question, John and Russ (Rcprince) make excellent points. In my own case, though, I have not noticed a great deal of sonic variation from day to day or time to time. Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that there is no industry and very little commercial development in my area, and presumably the quality of my AC is therefore relatively good and relatively constant.

-- Al
can someone who feels as the op provide us with a recording you think is poor . i would like to play it through my system . Thanks
One further point about variations in the sonic performance of a system from day to day or time to time, specifically relating to electrostatic speakers if the OP or anyone reading this may be using them. Variations in humidity can profoundly affect the sonics of electrostatic speakers, especially if they include or are used in conjunction with dynamic woofers or subwoofers. See the post by Georgelofi dated 6-17-14 in this thread.

-- Al
There are no recordings of the thousnds I own that do not sound their best on my main rig. Everything else is a compromise to some degree to various degrees on pretty much everything.

Let's not forget the individual is always a big factor in terms of expectations and how they respond to what they hear. that's probably more easily quantified than any other inherent technical deficiencies that exist in most cases.

Its the sure road to audio hell to not realize when a deficiency can be attributed mostly to a recording and try to make it into something it will never be via technology.

Once you learn to accept recordings of good music for what they are, rather than what you wish there were or expect them to be, it's mostly all good......to various degrees of course.
All i know is last year the same recordings i attributed to poor now sound great . a lot of tweaks since then . Makes me think it is not the recordings. But the system i played them on . When over %50 of my catalog not sounding good last year to being able to listen to pretty much anything now . It is nice . opens up a much larger world of enjoyable listening .
Listen: This really isn't rocket science. it is logical and provable. Some recording engineers used the cheapest equipment, wiring and mikes that they could find and were solely concerned with getting the music on tape. Some couldn't afford or didn't care about the latest and greatest recording equipment. Especially the mikes. You go to a good studio with the cheapest radio shack mixer, mikes and recording equipment vs the top of the line equipment and record the same performance/artist and you tell me that the recordings played back on decent equipment won't reveal how badly the recording was? of course it will. take most cd's from the early eighties and they sound as if a tweeter aimed at your ear with a drill. This is why so many recordings are re-mastered. an attempt to fix the early recording issues. or to make more money, or both. This contributes first hand to "listeners fatigue" Ever wonder why you have trouble sitting for a long period some times listening? Many times it isn't the equipment, it is the recording itself. it simply drives you out of the room. like a magpie in your living room. Don't get me wrong. Many times the music is great. But the recording is really poor.

11-06-14: Maplegrovemusic
can someone who feels as the op provide us with a recording you think is poor . i would like to play it through my system
Although most of my listening is to classical music, I'll cite some examples from among popular recordings that happen to be from the 1960's, from artists I particularly like. All of these recordings are available on CD:

1)The Blues Project, "The Blues Project Anthology" (2 disc set on the Polydor Chronicles label). Particularly the first nine tracks on disc 2, which originally comprised their "Projections" album.

2)The Seekers, "All Bound for Morningtown; their EMI Recordings 1964-1968" (4 disc set on EMI).

3)Matt Monro, "This is Matt Monro" (2 disc set on EMI "Music for Pleasure"). I'm referring particularly to the instrumental accompaniment, not to the reproduction of his voice.

I'll add that I would resist any temptation to blame the 1960's technology for the disappointing sonics of these recordings. As evidence of that, the Chesky remastering of the 1962 recording of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jascha Horenstein (Chesky CD31) is easily among the very best recordings I have ever heard, and shows what the technology of that time was capable of.

-- Al
Thankyou all for the great indepth answers. A few days ago my
daughters boyfriend brought over his IPod and connected it to
my main system. He was thoughtful enough to have downloaded
some of the music I like, new and older recordings. I thought
all the music played sounded spectacular. There wasn't that
big of gap in sound quality between older and newer recordings
that I experienced with CDs. Go figure. I think maybe I should
get an Ipod as a source for music.
There really is a choice to be made when assembling a system. It's an age old argument in audio. Do you want to see the tree or the details on the leaves? It's an individual choice.

If your goal is towards components that are accurate and precise then only high quality recordings will sound good and you will tend to only listen to 50 or so recording that sound good. Reason why, your system will tend to emphasize details revealing anomalies in poor recordings. Such systems will tell you more about the recording process than about musical intention.

If, on the other hand, your goal was toward a musical system then a wider variety of recordings will tend to sound good. Here the emphasis is not on detail and accuracy but on flow, coherence, liquidity and other musical traits. This doesn't mean that the system is not detailed or accurate it's just that these traits aren't being emphasized.

Both approaches tend towards extremes and ideally you may want to walk a fine line between the two.
Digital complicates things a lot in that there are unlimited ways any particular digital audio files may have been processed at various points in ways that have major effects on sound quality. The differences will no doubt be subtler
played on lesser equipment but more significant as the playback system gets better.

For example, there is much less difference between my best digital files and my worst(all lossless FLAC, a few converted from lossy compressed mp3 file download) played back on my Sangean WR-1 table radio, my least hifi playback device, though no slouch as table radios go, compared to played back at home via my main rig laying on teh big OHM F5 speakers. I have a half dozen or so other options in place for playing back those files concurrently. The others all fall in the middle somewhere in regards to overall sound quality.
the recordings must have sounded good to someones ears . more than one set of ears will hear a recording before it is pressed . how does a poor recording get let by ? cheap radio shack equipment in a major studio ?
bands can take years in the studio to make records. you think they are going to let crappy produced music out ? There has to be some kind of quality control. Some times it gets redone by a different producer if the record company or artist is not happy with the final product.
question 1 = yes.
question 2 = variation of power from the wall, thus = yes
A good system should clearly highlight the differences in recording quality, but it shouldn't make a significant number of record sound so bad as not to be listenable. It would be kind of a foolish hobby to end up with an expensive system that makes the majority of your record collection sound bad.

Throughout the day your body is in a constant state of flux and it effects your ability to hear.

Radio Shack mixers in "good" studios? Please.
I could see live venue recordings having sound quality all across the board . Not controlled environments to mic up and room acoustics playing a big part . IE Classical and jazz recordings
This phenomena is something us old-timers have been discussing for decades. This suggests to me that the OP might be a relative newcomer to the hobby. IMO there's 2 schools of thought. The 1st being that a system can be so ruthlessly revealing that it reveals all the shortcomings inherent in the original recordings. The 2nd being that a system has a, for lack of a better word, 'euphonic' sound quality that helps the overall sound of any recording. These are 2 extremes with most systems falling somewhere 'in between'. The debate has raged about accuracy vs. musicality forever and will continue to do so but I think it all comes down to personal taste and the gear one buys based on those preferences. The thought just occurred to me that I learned so much about all this stuff from Harry Pearson during the 80's when I 1st got into this hobby. Thx HP, RIP!
Please reread my response regarding radio shack equipment. I was making a point (clearly I thought) regarding quality of sound recording equipment so that you could see an extreme example of how it would be virtually impossible for anyone with a decent system to not hear the poor recording quality of cheap recoding equipment, vs the same performance recorded with top of the line equipment. Also, many recording artists didn't and still don't have much of a say as to what was recorded, how it is recorded and distributed. So, to say they wouldn't let the poor recording be distributed is missing the point of "they were not in charge and didn't decide". Also, another point is that the playback equipment and speakers in some recording/playback booths were not close to the stuff audiophiles have in their homes, and many times they simply didn't hear the poor recording quality. Also, please remember that I was referring to really poor recording equipment of the early 80s. If you go back an re-read some articles regarding the types of digital recording media used in those times, you would see clearly that they were described as terrible. That is what I am talking about regarding poor recording equipment. Also, go read some audio/music magazines that describe recording equipment in use today and from the 60's and you will see much mention of the quality of the various mikes, from absolutely terrible to masterful. It depends on the experience and knowledge of the master recording engineer. All are not the same. So, yes, you will hear poor recording in your playback equipment's sound. Some equipment mask and some really show it. For example (sorry for the long post), My previous pre-amp was the excellent Audio Research SP 11, which before I upgraded, I compared directly with an Audio Research REF 3 pre-amp. Didn't change anything but the pre-amps. Some recordings using the SP 11 sounded pretty good, but when listening through the REF 3 the same recording sounded really bad. You could really hear the poor recording quality through the REF 3 that was slightly masked with the SP11. but the excellent recordings sounded great on both. I was surprised. And as it turned out, it was typically with older cd's that I heard this. sorry for the long post, but I really thought I was clear in my extreme example regarding radio shack quality equipment vs top of the line. I never said recording engineers actually did this, I was making an example that would be easy to understand.

No, to the basic question. In fact, poor recordings can become unlistenable in a really definitive system. However, I have heard some older tube based systems that seemed to be kind to just about anything that came their way. All the more reason to have multiple systems if one can afford the luxury of space and expense.
I composed the following before seeing Minorl's post just above, with which I agree entirely:

Gentlemen, keep in mind that a key goal in the engineering of most recordings is presumably to make them sound as appealing as possible to as many potential purchasers as possible, when played on the equipment that is used by as many of those potential purchasers as possible. That can be expected to include people listening in cars, on radios, on portable equipment providing mp3 playback through cheap headphones, and on low fi home equipment.

Toward that end, recordings, especially those involving orchestras, are generally captured with an excessive number of microphones, and are then excessively processed in elaborate electronic consoles, the processing involving mixing, equalization, dynamic compression, dynamic range limiting, etc. With the people doing all of this often being possessed of musical sensitivity and basic competence that is questionable at best. A'gon member Learsfool, who is a professional classical musician and has had more direct exposure than most of us put together to the ins and outs of orchestral recording as it is commonly practiced, has attested to and justifiably ranted about all of this in a number of past threads here.

It's not about quality control. It's about intent, approach, philosophy, and in some cases competence.

-- Al
Minorl ,so the equipment change made the difference . Albeit in a negative way . Do not equate spending more money on a new ar pre as being more truthful to sound quality . Your pre is adding it's own sound signature
" It would be kind of a foolish hobby to end up with an expensive system that makes the majority of your record collection sound bad."

I agree. If it can't get the most out of whatever you got, what's the point? Fortunately, it can. If it doesn't, then there is something else going on. The possibilities there are endless. Only a few ways to get things right, many ways to get things wrong.
Alot of studios use ATC scm50 monitors that cost over 20k . So all this talk about studios using inferior equipment is not true . The founder of Stereophile magazine stated the ATC were the closest thing to live sound he heard in his home.
Try listening between 2 and 4 AM, least electrical junk on line most places.
The true test of a good system is that you want to listen for hours on end and "recording quality" is not a deterrent but just part of the artistic presentation.

Also I don;t agree it can't be revealing and musical. It can. Just keep noise and distortion to a minimum. Then what is revealed is only what was intended. YMMV.
good point mapman . noise and distortion is a sound quality killer on any system
Also, one really needs to be a music lover. A music lover loves all kinds of music and will listen to almost anything at least once. That's me.

If you are not a music lover, there may still be good reasons to bother with any of this stuff, but not any that would pertain to me.
Home audio is the only place where the amateurs believe they know what works better than the pros. Go figure.

read this review and take note of the last paragraph about less than stellar recordings sounding great
IMO, the ultimate goal is to find a combination of components that allows one to enjoy as many discs as possible, price be damned. Those of us who have been in this hobby long enough know this!
I great system will always show what the recording IS, good or bad.
There are certainly numerous ways a recording can be of poor quality, especially with digital recordings. If the recording is suffering from excessive Dynamic Range Compression, which is very common with modern pop recordings and even remastering of older rock recordings in particular, then the damage is done and there is no "high fidelity" to be found and reproduced. These recordings typically are more enjoyable via low fidelity systems such as ipods and car stereos.

Much of todays music is engineered for inferior playback systems and not intended to be listened thru systems like the ones most of us attempt to assemble.

This is much less of an issue with Classical music and boutique labels such as Telarc, Mobile Fidelity and the like.
Most of my music I listen to these days is from early and second half of last century so you would say why to use high end system for it? but let me tell you that only the best system will allow you to really appreciate the music which was archived then for us......
It may not be the recording, but the mastering. At least on vinyl (I can't speak to CD or digital formats), I can play some standard reissue of an old pop album that sounds flat and lifeless; but find the right early pressing and even if the original recording has its warts and limitations, you get the breath of life in it that doesn't exist in the mediocre remaster/reissue. These differences are not subtle and involve no 'golden ears' beard stroking contemplation. The differences are pronounced and readily apparent. That then means that you have to research the best pressings, or buy a bunch of them and make that determination for yourself. I have to assume the same issue exists with CD/digital formats.
I'm at a point where I'm in it for the music, not for the sonics- but that said, I still seek out the best pressings of the music I'm interested in. It may not make as much difference for newly released material where the recording started in the digital domain, a lot of dynamic compression was used, and there isn't a wide range of options for different masterings. But, certainly for older stuff, there can literally be hundreds of different versions of a popular recording, issued at different times, from different places (both within a given country and across the world).
Some recordings just didn't start out that great to begin with, so even the best versions (on vinyl) have their limitations. I don't mind that, though I hear the shortcomings. But, there is some distance you can go to improve the source material that has nothing to do with the gear, once your system reaches a level of 'good.'
My experience mirrors OP, Almarg ... In a high resolution system, one can hear the flaws in poor recordings. For me, the most obvious is compression, brightness and thinness.

11-06-14: Maplegrovemusic
can someone who feels as the op provide us with a recording you think is poor . i would like to play it through my system
Most Bruce Springsteen, Heart (Heart, Bad Animals ...), Liz Phair, Garbage V2.0 ...
To Maplegorvemusic, here's an example of a poorly mastered recording: Dukes Of The Stratoshpear.
This is a remastered version done by Carolin Records, whoever they are, and is just awful. To be fair, I have never heard the original on Virgin Records so maybe this sound was intended. Never the less, it sounds terrible on a quality system, or a quality headphone setup. Maybe it would sound fine over the air on an FM radio.
Caroline was a budget imprint of Virgin if memory serves. I think some of the Bad Brains records were on that label at one point- not hi-fi, but low-fi music, cool stuff, though.
Also, one major issue I have regarding recording quality and instruments is that I am well familiar with how vocals, and instruments are suppose to sound. I played concert violin, sax, and other instruments in band and orchestra. It literally will drive me out of the room if the sound isn't close to what it is suppose to sound like. Take the recording equipment, cables, mixing boards (that included really bad circuitry), mikes, etc. and remember that all of that adds distortion, then take the compression and distortions inherent with bad Cd recordings, and the music just won't sound right. Using electronic drums, electronic instruments trying to sound like real violins, etc. and it hurts my ears. So, yes, in my opinion, I don't really care if I like the artist or not. If it is recording badly or using really terrible sounding instrumentation, I don't like listening to it. I went to a concert a little while ago at Red Rock Colorado (wonderful place) to see the Doobie (spelling) brothers and the Steve Miller Band. Each artist brought their own amplification and mikes on stage when they performed. The Doobie Brothers sounded absolutely great. But, the Steve Miller Band (who I really wanted to see/hear) sounded really terrible. It sounded muffled, heavily distorted and the sound engineer could not fix it. Several of us walked out of the venue totally disappointed. Same is true of recorded music. I don't care who it is. If it sounds bad, I either won't buy it or won't listen to it. It hurts my ears and life is too short for that. I want to enjoy my music, not sit there wondering what is wrong.

A recurring theme with this type of topic is the detrimental effects of dynamic compression. This is often genre dependent, with popular and rock music suffering this more frequently. Jazz and classical recordings seem for the most part to avoid/ minimize dynamic compression nonsense. Most of my jazz CDs have a dynamic range averaging 25-30 db and some are 35-40 db with individual selections. It seems many pop and rock recordings are limited to 10-12 db range which is regrettable. I suspect that the good classical CDs are wide dynamic range recordings similar to the jazz genre. So it appears the recording engineers target certain markets by assuming what playback equipment the listeners will use, ipods, boombox, car and portable radios etc.
Knight- Dreamboat Annie on Mushroom records, which I think is a KenDun master is actually a great sounding record.
11-07-14: Whart
Knight- Dreamboat Annie on Mushroom records, which I think is a KenDun master is actually a great sounding record.
I have most Heart but no Dreamboat Annie :-) There are hi-res releases now so quality has improved?? Concerts in Blu_Ray is very good.
The Dreamboat Annie masters were excellent. Nautilus did what I think was the best pressing of that album. Still my go-to for demoing Rock bass resolution(the synth & drum/Fender bass doubling on Magic Man)
there's some very good and interesting responses here but it would be nice if there were a few paragraph breaks for some of the longer ones
11-07-14: Rodman99999
The Dreamboat Annie masters were excellent. Nautilus did what I think was the best pressing of that album. Still my go-to for demoing Rock bass resolution(the synth & drum/Fender bass doubling on Magic Man)
How about the CD? I'll pick one up if also excellent.