Recording Limited?

After several upgrades to my system, I am converging on an opinion which will be finally determined after tweaking my cables: I am recording limited with my playback system.

Specifically, the primary 'quality' differences I am hear are driven by the recording. First, I am sure my choice of source material - Redbook CD - is a key limiting factor. Second, the recording (room, mikes, etc.) and mixing decisions (stereo, mono, various compressions, etc.) are quite obvious. Thus, the primary differences in tone, soundstaging, imaging, blah, blah, blah... which so many of us get hung up about are now limited by my input (garbage in, garbage out ;-).


This brings up a few thoughts (in no particular order):

- Why spend more on a system? (while not cheap, my system is hardly high-end when judged against the monster systems I see in this forum)

- After this point, I am playing a game which deviates from neutral, accurate playback. I would be picking components which accentuate (or mask) certain tonal, dynamic, or imaging aspects of the recording. Why would I want to do this?

- Is this the pathetic last gasp before launching into the lunacy of vinyl? :-)

- There is more than enough fidelity here for me to close my eyes and feel the soul of a recording; after this point, am I missing the point of high fidelity playback?

I'm curious if others have confronted this plateau and what decisions they made; mostly, did you accept your system or move on to another goal? And if the latter, what were your results? Are you happy?

The same issues regarding recording quality have plagued vinyl forever too. I am exclusively vinyl based, mainly because of my age, and not likely to jump on the digital bandwagon any time soon. I would buy the newest Meitner gear in a heartbeat if I had the money to burn though. Listening to this gear has proven to me that digital has arrived. It's pretty cool when I can't tell the difference between SACD and CD with any more than a chance guess.

The following isn't meant as any kind of criticism at all because we all want our playback to be it's best. Are you a music lover first or a pure audiophile that won't play anything unworthy of your system? If you are a music lover then vinyl is a medium you really need to jump into. There is gold in them thar hills partner!
No criticism taken, Lug. Really, when I ponder vinyl, I see it as ideal for Classical & Jazz - particularly the latter (if I'm going to listen to mono or a hard R/L stereo mix, then I want that sucka to be smooooth).

And you bring up an interesting term: "pure audiophile." When I ponder it, I can see how increasing the quality of the playback will increase the fidelity of the recording -- for certain recordings. But if I were to limit my input set to only those recordings, then I would be circumscribing my experience: which I do not want to do. Moreover, *many* of the audiophile recordings I have listend to (e.g. Mapleshade) are marginal performances; they may be contrasted (unfavorably, from my view) to lesser recordings of superior performances.

I really don't want to reduce my musical envelope.

I have an analogue system in storage back in Australia, but I'm just digital (CD and 2-channel SACD) here in the USA.

There's "gold" in those Redbooks too. If you are really interested in a particular album that's been released a few times on CD, you'd probably be aware that these can sound significantly different. "Remastering" does not always lead to a better product, particularly at the current time where the object of the exercise is to simply make the CD as loud as possible.

It's worth hunting down the best Redbook version. That will make a big difference.

A good source of information is on Steve Hoffman's forum.

Closing your eyes to get the feeling sounds like you're hooked on "watching" as much as listening. A few changes ago I found myself doing the same things you describe: especially noting the tonality; focusing on the imaging; blah blah. In short, the presentation was distracting me too much from the performance. Breaking an analytical habit can be hard but it can be done.

Yesterday during a session with my rig I marvelled how little I lapse into the old criticisms of a few years back. It's not so much that my rig sounds better than it used to but it sounds more amorphous, as if it gets out of the way more. Maybe it's less focused than before; there's less etch and more curves, like the difference twixt an engraving and a watercolor. Maybe I'm more relaxed or maybe the smoothing makes me more relaxed.

Feel free to leave the confines of "neutral, accurate playback." That rabbit hole is worth the visit so you'll know to avoid it moving forward. And vinyl has it's own load of adjustable parameters that'll make you just as delusional thinking you've got those mostly right too. Instead, consider that any things which distract you from the musical message are distortions, and that includes tone, staging, mic placement, etc.

You're on the way. Say goodbye to gee-whiz and hello to music appreciation. You're not alone. There is hope. If you need direction, changing the front end or the speakers always makes the biggest difference so they're good places to start.
You said "After this point, I am playing a game which deviates from neutral, accurate playback". Not entirely true. You still need to fill out the bottom octave to have neutral and accurate playback. However, it's difficult to achieve, and you really need a bigger room. Using your current room, you are certainly on the steep slope of the diminishing returns curve.
Metra: thanks for the Steve Hoffman recomendation.

Rock: thanks for the advice.

Nighthawk: you're correct, I am missing the bottom octave. Typically, I say I don't miss it, but that's not entirely true, for when I listen to Ma or Mingus, there is a weight absent from the playback. That gets me thinking about integrating a sub, so thanks a million for that brain splinter!

Then again, maybe I can just let it go....