Rock and Roll Snobbery

Can anyone explain why otherwise high end, musical systems might "not be good for rock and roll?" Or why a system that sounds fine for pop and rock might not do justice to classical and jazz? It seems to me that a great system should sound good with all types of music and that a good for classical system might be deficient in bass which is not exactly state of the art.
hi charles,

i agree w/ewe - a *great* system should do *everything* well. it has to for me, cuz i like small acoustical stuff, as well as loud raucous music. that said, not everyone is like me, & there *are* some speakers - martin logan cls' come to mind - that are excellent, amazing, really, w/smaller-scale music, but they yust don't have the dynamics for large-scale & electronic/rock music.

regarding speakers that sound fine for pop/rock, but not smaller-scale works, *i* haven't heard 'em, but i understand why this could be true for some - as long as speakers can go loud w/out distorting, this is fine for some rock-lovers - soundtaging cues, depth, tonal accuracy, etc, oftentimes take a backseat to the enjoyment of this music, for lotsa folks.

one person's opinion, doug

Seems perfectly logical to me that systems would not be for all music types. Look at musical instruments themselves. Some violins are better for classical, some as fiddles for country music, some for Irish folk music. There are all kinds of guitars for different kinds of music. And so on and so forth.
A system put together with low distortion, wide dynamic and flat frequency response components should be able to handle all types of music. However, such a system is by necessity somewhat expensive (say, $8k plus). It's usually below this price point (and the exact breakpoint is open to argument) that compromises start to set in that may favor one type of music over another. Classical/acoustic oriented system below the breakpoint will most likely favor tonal accuracy over deep bass and maximum SPL capabilities. Pop/rock systems will favor systems that go loud, have a mid-bass punch (80Hz to 120Hz) and a forward midrange. Bluntly put, pop/rock music does not demand as accurate a tonal reproduction as classical/acoustic based music. Whereas, a cello should always sound like a cello, an electric guitar can sound like alot of things. Prior to the guitar signal even reaching tape, the musician has usually added harmonic distortion, digital reverb/delay, massive EQ and dynamic compression. The guitar sound is then usually processed further as part of the mix down. Hence, it's hard to say exactly what is fidelity in pop/rock recordings. Furthermore, most pop/rock recordings are not mixed to be played on high resolution systems. The producers, engineers and the musicians make assumptions about how their music is most likely to be heard (MTV, car radio, boombox, etc.) and they tailor the sound accordingly.
Also, some speakers sound their best at moderate to high sound levels and do not do well at low listening levels and visa versa (amps also effect this nature). Unless you have a great deal of money to invest it is probably best to try and balance your system to your musical taste. I listen to most types of music, but do not listen at super high SPL's and am very happy with Reynaud Twin speakers. They do not have low bass and do not play extremely loud, but on the other hand they have an almost electostatic quality at very low listening levels (but with dynamics at higher levels). This was my goal. Most people think of a "rock" system as being a headbanger system. It does not always have to be that way as my system sounds very good with rock, I just can't blast it to a concert level. My old speakers were great on classical and small group pieces but were not enjoyable with R & R. I opted for new speakers that were more middle of the road.
onhwy61 sez: "...Furthermore, most pop/rock recordings are not mixed to be played on high resolution systems. The producers, engineers and the musicians make assumptions about how their music is most likely to be heard (MTV, car radio, boombox, etc.) and they tailor the sound accordingly....", & he's absolutely right - *compression*, big-time. that's why i have an ol' dbx-3bx which resides in a tape-loop of my preamp, to be used as necessary to help out some poor recordings & radio, as needed. otherwise, it's completely outta the signal path....
Onhwy61: good post! there are some rock/pop groups that do care about sound and produce their cd's/lp's accordingly. 2 that come readily to mind are phish and rusted root. as others have pointed out in other threads: c&w tends to be well-recorded, too, as do some notable blues artists. BTW, i always take some good rock cd's to ces. if the folks displaying don't let me play 'em, i leave.
onhwy61 is correct. It is the way they are recorded and produced (pot smoking punks). Usually to make up for poor musicianship and vocals and the media for which they are heard (JVC,Pioneer lofi electronics). I love RnR and have found the live recordings to be listenable and alot of Pop music. Bands like John Cougar, Sarah Macglaulin, Paula Cole, Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Burton Cummings etc are all produced and recorded well and very listenable. Its not that you can't listen to the music it just sounds like compressed mush. I was a huge Rush fan and was terrible dissappointed when I heard them on my system. But in my car, Rush still kicks. Trust me, a high end system will open the door for you to enjoy all music, just some more that others and for different reasons.
I have five systems in my house. Some will "jam", some won't. They range in sensitivity levels from 82 db's to 104 db's at 1 watt. Power levels go from 30 wpc to well over 1000+ wpc. Any of these systems can play ANY type of music that you throw at them but some will do better on specific styles than others. Each system was built with slightly different goals in mind. I did this on purpose as this only adds to my listening flexibility. There are some discs that i will only listen to on specific systems because of the "magic" that the combination seems to generate. Quite honestly, rock and roll, pop and some blues recordings are not nearly as enjoyable on a "good" system as they are on a "mid-fi" system. The system can be TOO revealing and actually detract from what you are expecting / wanting to hear. Besides that, the added bass "bloom" and slight hi frequency rise common to many "mid-fi" systems actually helps most rock recordings. There is more of a foundation or "beat" with the increased bottom end and the guitars have that extra "edge" or "bite" to put them over the edge. The added distortion by-products of the "lesser" audio gear tend to blend with the distortion that was present when the band was really playing BUT lost via the recording process. That's the reason why most "rock" recordings sounds better loud than quiet. The equipment is actually being pushed harder and coming closer to simulating the overdrive that was present in the studio or stage. After all, let's face it: Rock, pop and blues are all based on electronic instruments and amplification, i.e. guitars, bass, synthesizers, vocal effects, etc... Losing the sound of the electronics would be like removing the flavor from chocolate. Sure, it still looks the same. It just wouldn't taste the same. Sean >
I don't really know what you guys are talking about, my system handles rock just fine using ML Aerius i. Just not loud thats all.
I've given away discs in the past that just sounded horrible on my system, unlistenable (Who's Next on CD, unreal how bad it sounded). My system is revealing, Martin Logan Quest Z speakers that rock just fine; for the most part rock is easy to listen to although I do tend to listen to rock louder than I would classical or blues. I do find myself listening more frequently to music that's better recorded (e.g. Steve Winwood, Frank Zappa etc) but I chalk that up to good taste and common sense more than anything. To summarize, I sure wouldn't want to find myself with a rig that really only played one gendre of music well, that would get boring fast.
No-money: Same with my system as stated above. Last night we had company and listened to the Eagles "Hell" CD at a louder level than I have ever played the system before (a little Boxing Day celebration). After the first couple of songs I had to pull the speakers out another few feet from the wall because of all the bass. Just moved them back this morning for our normal listening levels.
In my opinion, a great system should -- I hope -- handle any type of music well. Such a system may require a great deal of clams. And, it is not so easy to find or build a decent system that can handle every type of music very well although it depends on your preference. The reality for most of people is that you are going to make a trade off. I want my Hard Rock and Metal to grab me by the foot and go slam bang on my head while Classical to be composed, intricate yet sometimes overwhelming with less forwardness, etc. I have not heard a system at reasonable price -- say, about 5K ~7K -- doing both as well as I expect it should. So, I made a trade-off in favor of classical. My system does reasonable well with Hard Rock; nevertheless, it is never able to attack with such ferocity and wallop as, say, a Krell with Paradigms could. If you include front end in the equation, accentuating certain aspects more prominently becomes quite substantial, which determines the trade-off. I am in a situation that I have to stay in CA for about six to 7 months. So, instead of subjecting my system to shipping back and forth, I chose to build an entry level HT system, which I do not have at home, with an Onkyo receiver and B&W's. It does not do well with classical by any means. Yet, relatively speaking, it does better with Rock. But, someone, a couple of days ago, said the opposite. Go figure...
I agree with other poster's thoughts that rock sounds better on a less revealing system. My reference system is great with quite a bit of music that I like, and I have found some older rock CD's that formerly were unlistenable that now sound great on it. I have a vintage a/d/s sytem in my home office with a good reel deck, and a collection of over 400 prerecorded reels. After my Honey crashes for the night it's my time to rock my world! I couldn't survive on one system! Paul
Sorry but I think most modern recordings (rock n'pop) sound great...I cannot think of a single release bought this year that is not well-recorded...could someone tell me what exact recordings we are talking about and what is wrong with them? Most artists take a great deal of time recording and effort perhaps I'm just used to "modern" recordings and they are overcompressed or of the above post talks about Rush I think their re-masters sound well produced and recorded...some of the sounds may have dated but....... Regards, Ben
Ok,I remember when they did the review for Jadis JP80, a pre that costs 18,000 the reviewers said it did classical music better---figure that one out folks!!Not that long ago--last year or so.
Ben: It could be that many are comparing older vinyl to the CD version and come up dissapointed. In regard to the mention of Who's Next, I have purchased two copies and traded in both as I thought that there was something wrong with the first (they both sucked and I could not listen to either). I had the same thing happen with Clapton's Layla and finally settled on the MFSL version. But, anything that I have by Ry Cooder, Steve Windwood and a host of others are good recordings IMO. Just picked up The Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" CD and could not be happier. I do not own any "new" rock. The only new band CD's that I have purchased are The Cowboy Junkies and I like the recordings. I guess that it just depends on the artist and label. I have also noticed that old Elton John CD's are pretty rank when compared to the vinyl versions and Elton is a perfectionist, Guess he got sidetracked somewhere along the way.
i never bought santana's grammy-award-winning cd *supernatural*, cuz i read how dynamically compressed the recording was, so i don't know if it really is or not, but it's supposed to be. i bought it when i found it on vinyl, & the vinyl version seems ok, but not great. i've heard that it *is* much better than the cd-version, so i'm sure that the cd-version of this (and many other new *pop* recordings), get compressed like hell, in order to be played on circuit-city-type hi-fi & car-stereo rigs.
Dug-yes the supernatural CD is compressed sounding.I have it on loan from a friend.I was tempted to get a vinyl copy but I hadnt heard it yet at the time I had a copy in my hands and didnt want to pay the high price for it.I wish now I had! This is one fine accomplishment! Regardless of a compressed sound it still sounds pretty damn good.I have a cheap CD player due to the fact I only own 3 CD's and never buy them.But with my Rogue 99 this cheap CD player sounds MUCH better than it has any right to.Im just mentioning that cause I know how you feel about pre-amps and good digital sound and I agree with you 100%!! This is off course here,sorry...
Cme on guys one CD hardly proves the point.....I don't believe most serious artists would allow their albums to be over compressed just to sound good on radio/boomboxes...many acts have made mistakes with productions but...also the argument about CD issues is we are talking about badly mastered issues..more and more remasters are being released and they sound great..take the early Zep releases to the remasters. Maybe the odd pop band or cash-in merchants might butcher their releases for commercial success but I would argue most modern releases sound very good indeed. Most big artists take their music very serious I can't see record companies telling these guys to overcompress their albums. Even independant labels now release very well produced albums with plenty of "space" between instruments.... Regards, Ben

this *one* cd, by a reknowned rock legend, is the only one i know about that seems to fit the model of what's being released to appeal to the *gen-x* crowd. not much new pop-music interests me, so i can't say i know one way or the other, whether or not it's compressed.

david99, i was gonna suggest ya pick up a dbx-3bx (the earliest versions sound the best, imho - all discrete transistors) to liven up compressed recordings, but then i remembered the rogue 99 doesn't have a dedicated tape loop - it would have to be in the signal path regardless of whether or not ewe were using it... :<( too bad, these things go on ebay for ~$100... and, careful of whatcha say regarding good preamps improving digital sound - yer buddy carl eber mite get riled-up! :>)

regards, doug

I dunno Ben, I've bought some rock/pop CD's that sound pretty bad on my system like 3 doors down - I gave it to my daughter for her car. Also some of my fav artists like Clapton, the August CD is terrible sounding. I bought 3 CD's yesterday, Cowboy Junkies "All Whites off Earth Now", it is recorded live and sounds incredible. Then I put on Neil Young's latest Road Rock - live with friends and relatives and had to take it off after 45 seconds of hell. Then I put on Stone Roses Second coming and it sounded just slightly better than hell. Some band's CD's consistently sound far superior like Cowboy Junkies, Widespread Panic, Mellencamp, Joan Osborne, Sarah Mcg., Sheryl Crow just to name a few off the top of my head. The Junkies for example can make guitar distortion sound great!
Ben - I would agree that there is a lot of rock/pop released that sounds excellent. Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite as universal as you do - there are still plenty of CDs, particularly past but some present, that I find it difficult to listen to based on the quality of recording. However, there are so many good to excellent recordings that I have no problem filling my airwaves. I agree, as well, that recent releases are for the most part very good to excellent - I haven't bought much that has been mastered since, say, 1997 that isn't very good. Tool, Counting Crows, The Tragically Hip, the remasters of many classic rock bands, Dream Theater, all the Rhino anthologies, etc. etc. etc. Lots of great stuff out there.
Hey Ben...unfortunately, over-compression is unbelievably common thse days. The artists don't really (usually) have much say in the matter. The lables want their releases to be as loud as possible to make them "stand out" from other releases (and to make matters worse, most radio stations also overcompress). I've read many articles where all of the main mastering engineers say that it's gotten out of hand. THey realize that they're technically degrading the sound, but they won't get any business if they don't make it sound as "loud" as the labels prefer. It doesn't necessarily make a recording sound "bad" (not if it's engineered well), but it will make it sound flat and they quickly become fatiguing to listen to.
I'm with Sean. More than one system is the easiest and least compromised way to go. (Don't know if I can swing five systems, though.) If you are into the holographic/detail/transparency thang, your system is likely to be developed to maximize the potential of speakers that do this extremely well (i.e. Quads, CLS's, etc). I've recently reached the conclusion that building a second system around speakers that actually move air and have great LF extension is easier, ultimately less costly and infinitely less frustrating than trying to add LF to speakers that weren't designed to go there in the first place (and adding subs always subtracts from the magic that was designed into these speakers). If you think that you have a "great system" that works on all kinds of music, enjoy. There are systems that get both ends of the spectrum "mostly right" and are very enjoyable. But once you decide that you want to be more specific and get certain types of music all-the-way-there, it is always at the expense of something else. The kicker is.. to what degree? That's the fun -- and sometimes really frustrating -- aspect of this endeavor.
Mmmm-I went back and listened to the only CD I had that is mentioned above,the 2nd Stone Roses album and yup it is way overcooked(haven't listened to it in years it's from '94). It strikes me and this is just an observation that it may be distinctly a problem with Artists aiming at the American market..i.e lots of radio play..certainly the Stone Roses album on Geffen was a failed attempt to break the States(almost 4 years in the making)..I guess I tend not to buy some of the artists that are mentioned above..but I can appreciate it is a maybe proves my point that it is still down to those who are aiming for big commercial gain over artistic appeal (I'm going to get in trouble on this probably..)..take artists like Radiohead ,Madonna,(no.1 albums?)it can be done--- good modern recordings....I still find some of the recordings held-up by Audiogon members as excellent,Lucianda Williams, Cowboy Junkies et al as nothing more than ok and maybe a tad sterile but we all like different things I guess...personally prefer Eva Cassidy of that ilk and I still think that even now that a good modern recording ultimately sounds better than that of even a couple of years ago......... Regards, Ben
I'd say it comes to down recording for each of these. Pop music - music promoted over the radio is recorded with tons of compression and limiting to maximize sound for signal strength over radio. AND the frequency capacity of CD's is limited by the format - it doesn't go down as low as "full range speakers" ...'re going to hear more depth, more of the room...things that come from deep bass and sub bass. So...midrange focused systems will be pop-o-licious but their weaknesses will really be displayed by uncompressed unlimited recordings
It is often cited in these threads that you can't (shouldn't) attempt to rectify a major weakness in a component by changing something else that pulls the system in the opposite direction - ie, don't attempt to correct a bright amp by applying extra-warm speakers. If your amp is bright to the point that you really don't like the sound, you have to change the amp. So, it doesn't seem consistent to say that a poorly recorded pop album is going to sound a lot better on a mid-fi system than a high-end one. If a CD is recorded with tons of compression, as many are, it isn't going to sound good on any system, IMO. It's going to accomplish only two "positives" - you'll be able to hear all the parts of the song better in an environment with a lot of unrelated noise (ie, a car) and it will "catch" your ear more quickly wherever it's played, a phenomena most people on this site find appealing for somewhere between zero and two seconds. I find the very compressed recordings I've listened to to sound pretty horrible and fatiguing on every system, and don't find that lowering the quality of the system to make the situation any better.
Kthomas, I agree that decreasing the overall resolution of the system will not correct a crappy recording, but maybe it changes us. That is, perhaps some people go into a different mode -- out of the critical listening phase. The other night I stopped by my local bar'n grill for a cheese-steak san'wich and beer(s),(forget audio, this is the most remakable phenomenon in L.A.), Crapola mass market electronics, equally non-audiophile approved CD's, speakers mounted on the wall, right against the ceiling (ancient bookshelf units with what I swear looked like balsa wood enclosures), ambient noise... you get the idea. Well, I enjoyed the music just as much as sittin in the dark watchin da tubes glow. Maybe more, since I usually don't have a cheese-steak in one hand and a Sierra Nevada in the other when listening at home. Maybe this is what happens in a lower res system... the listener, not the music, is adjusted. Dr. Leary was right about one thing, set and setting are the critical factors to one's experience... Happy New Year, all!
Good post, Jim. I often have very musical experiences with poor to middling stereos, even sometimes with my girlfriend's dreaded Bose Acoustimass, and certainly in the car. The sound gets out of the way, and I hear the musical line, the gestalt of the song or whatever, if you will. And then I scratch my head and wonder WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING with the home system. :-)
It is like "ceteris paribus, music reproduced by better equipments is more enjoyable." :) And, that everything encompasses a lot of things (too many to list). With that in mind, I stopped being a true audiophile (not too long for the audiophile career anyway). This certainly is not an attack on people with different philosophies. I redirect that money into guitars and various related gadgets anyway -- a similar path in a slightly different hobby.
There are two primary reasons for the use of compressors in producing rock/pop music. The first use was mentioned earlier by Phild. Compression is used to limit the dynamic range of music so that the average recording level can be raised to produce louder volume levels. Right or wrong, there are strong economic pressures upon artist to produce loud music. The second use is actually more prevalent. Compression sounds good on rock/pop music. Properly used, compression give rhythm oriented music a wonderful crunchy sound with good body. Compression can tighten a groove. Listen to the early Kinks "All Day & All of the Night" or virtually any period Led Zeppelin. Unfortuantely, some engineers are over doing the use of compressors and too much compression can take the life out of music. Like most things in life, a little moderation is a good thing.