So, a reviewer just said something I need to talk about.

I will not mention the reviewer, nor the specific equipment being reviewed, but this statement was made, talking about sax and strings: "the strings had real body, and it sounded like real strings being played". The tonality of the instruments was what he/she was talking about. I get this. The tone, the spatiality of the instruments, the stage that was presented. All well and good. What about the engagement between the listener and the musician. I have stated so many times here, ad nauseam, that the most important aspect of music listening, for me (and not enough with other listeners) is the "playing of the instruments". The artistry of the musician behind those strings. I just don’t get it. When I listen to Jeff Beck (RIP), using him as an example, what I am attracted to, FIRST & FOREMOST, is his PLAYING. Reviewers talk about "sound". Most people here talk about "sound". I spend more time now on other sites, that speak about the music playing and, the compositions. For whatever reasons, I seem to be realizing, that A’gon members, as so many reviewers, talk about sound. They very rarely mention MY most important aspect of listening. The musicianship and the compositions. Another rant from me. What are your thoughts on this? How do you listen? What do you listen for/to? What does your system convey to you? I know I am out of line again, but........My best to everyone. Always, MrD.

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The ability to hear the strings and body of the violin, for example, creates a conduit to hear the musician, to resonate with their intent and emotion. The better a system reproduces "sound" the more access I get to personality/feeling/intention.

The predilection of reviewers for talking about the conduit (the sound) rather than the musician is, I think, smart on their part. They are telling me something which is a bit more shared and intersubjective -- "If they can hear it, I can hear it" I reason. When a reviewer talks at length about how they had a mind-meld with the musician, well, that just sounds subjective and, honestly, useless for me as a reader.

People get all kinds of squishy feelings about music and artists -- and that's fine -- but in my book, as an audio consumer, it is too much noise and not enough signal.

Not every audiophile (and that includes reviewers) really loves music. It took me decades to understand that fully. Many are just in love with beautiful sounds -- hardly the same thing. Others are looking for some kind of nostalgic experience, like those who listen only to music of one time period decades ago. Sometimes I revisit my young years, too, but I don’t let that determine my musical boundaries.

Of course, it’s also true that reviewers try to convey what is unique about the sound produced by a component. That is difficult enough to express in words without adding an additional layer of abstraction and subjectivity, i.e., how the listener connects with the artist’s musicality.

@mike_in_nc +1 my man! @bolong, very honest and real. He was inviting them to hear his/their playing. @hilde45 "the ability to hear the strings and body of the violin creates a conduit to hear the musician, to resonate with their intent and emotion". As @mike_in_nc stated, not everyone is into the "music", but enjoy the sound. Interesting that I can so much enjoy hearing Sticky Fingers in my car, or on the pool deck, and experience as much musical enjoyment as when I am sitting in my sweet spot. What does this say about me? My system sucks?, I am deaf? Or I REALLY love the music. Some here, can only enjoy music through their system (main rig), and with only the best "sounding" recordings, ex. Chesky, RR, Sheffield, you get the point. Sad. And if you are one of them, that places " sound" 1st, Sad. Have a good day. Enjoy! MrD.

Well I would suggest since he was reviewing audio equipment wouldn't comments on the sound make more sense? I mean sure great playing makes music more engaging but in the sense of objectively reviewing some piece of gear it matters less.

I'm a bit confused when I read reviewers talk about gear that gets them 'tapping their toes'. To me, it's the MUSIC that will get me tapping my toes, just like it did when I was a teenager in the 60's with a handheld transistor radio. I had no problem at all moving to music; the gear isn't what made me do that. 

I love the music… the result, regardless of the skill of the musician.  It inspires my subconscious and causes me to appreciate it. I have a relationship to the music not its creator. Some music is not musical or beautiful in a musical sense, but a musician showing off his skill… for instance how many notes he can cram into a unit of time. I remember when The Art of Noise came out with their first album… what a revelation. Music created with noises. When I go to the symphony, I go to listen to music… I close my eyes. Sure it is fun to watch the performers sometimes… but that is not why I am there. Many people go to see the performers, I understand.  

I remember playing CCR, Cosmos Factory over and over on a red and white suitcase record player. Now I have newer equipment and I still like listening to that album.  

@hilde45  +1

@ghdprentice +!

Audio reviewers aren't discussing the production of sound, they're discussing the reproduction of sound. 

I may be missing the OP's point, forgive me if so but, if I want to explore or discuss music for music's sake, I read music publications and online resources; if I want to explore the potential of a hifi component with a view to that component relaying the music I love, to me, in a manner I happen to prefer, I'd read HiFi publications or forums such as this.

I don't expect HiFi review publications/reviewers to wax lyrical about an artists virtuosity, or the profundity of their lyrics; I need them to relay to me how the equipment they're reviewing works and how it conveys music

On the flip side, when exploring for new music or reading music publications and reviews, I don't really need or want them to give me a review of their hifi system, only the artist and the music they are reviewing.

But that's just me 🤔😊


Regardless of what any reviewer says (or anyone else, for that matter), fact is, the world of high end audio is and always will be all about subjectivity when it comes to the reproduction of sound.  I just concentrate my own audio system, in the comfort of my own home, and how it musically and emotionally connects with me.  Nothing else really matters.  Happy listening.    

It would be ridiculous to judge any music by sound instead of musicianship. Do people actually do that? When looking at a great painting are some simply noticing a bunch of paint colors secondary to the art quality? Hmmm...Jeff Beck kills me playing any guitar from any period...Strats, Telecasters, Les Pauls...all sounding different but clearly it’s his playing that matters. Great sounding crappy music is still crappy music, well played great music is always great. You could arguably judge a system’s tonal qualities for review purposes with beer guzzler belches you were familiar with, but I’d prefer the Danish String Quartet or Julian Lage, and both are well recorded. Win win.

You should just go listen to live music more. Audio equipment to really generate something close to that is over 100 grand to get close to the composition and all the nuances. Gear matters more to make the not only the right sound of 1 element but to reproduce the live recording takes BIG MONEY. 

+1 @hilde45 


Who reads an audio magazine to learn about whether a performer sounds like they are emotionally involved, or whether the music makes one want to dance, or whatever.  I read music magazines for that.  I read audio magazines to get an idea of how the components involved reproduce the sound frequencies produced by the performers.  

Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries,”

Jeff Beck “For We’ve Ended As Lovers,”

El Ten Eleven “Thinking Loudly” and/or “Fanshawe”

King Crimson’s “I Talk to the Wind,”

Nora Jones “Come Away with Me.”

All on vinyl, all original pressings, are just a few songs I use every time I “audition” a new piece of audio gear for just those elements you mentioned.


I’ve listened to each probably hundreds of times. I’m NOT a musician - I did take drumming lessons for a few years from a 92 year old Jazz drummer though - but I can appreciate the compositions, the complexity, the PLAYING details, how the instruments are used, how they “move me.”

No, it’s not “classical music” - As much as I enjoyed Mozart, Bach (JS as well as PDQ), many other Baroque-period composers  growing up, the audio mileau I’m more familiar with is rock-jazz and I’m not a music snob. I mean, Mozart and his contemporaries didn’t leave any LP’s or HS audio tapes around to compare and every player since imparts their own flavor upon those compositions.


I like audio gear to NOT sound like anything, just as neutral as possible, within my budgetary means.

Interesting perspectives and responses…

To be honest about it, I think (for me) It was about the Music when I was Young… It is Now more about the gear….hmmm.


Live music in the room with you,  instant active creative energy in collaboration is what it's all about. That's the magic, that's the thing - that's the clear spot.
That's what one part of what we're trying to reproduce at home, there is more but there ain't nothing like the real thing baby..

@painter24 @mahler123 @hilde45   +1


Other than the equipment reviewer describing why he/she chose particular tracks to evaluate the equipment I have no idea why there would be an expectation of a further deep discussion of the composition and the musicianship in the article. Music reviews cover those.

Also, some of the comments are digressing to why one owns equipment versus the Op's concern about equipment reviews not focusing on musicianship and music composition


Audiophile definition per Merriam-Webster:

A person who is enthusiastic about high fidelity sound reproduction.


Most audio magazines include music reviews as well as equipment reviews. I always read the music reviews first and in those reviews they never talk about the equipment used, so why should the equipment reviewers mention musicianship?

It’s cool you’re into technique, but it’s worth noting that even many extremely accomplished musicians don’t feel they’ve arrived until they get beyond technique into the realm of pure expression.

I very much judge a system by how well you get a sense of the performer as a three-dimensional person, as well as how realistically the actual recording is conveyed.  Whether it's Horowitz in Carnegie Hall, Coleman Hawkins standing at a ribbon mic in 1958 or Charles Munch coaxing a response from the Boston Symphony, I'm certainly more interested in hearing the character of the performers and the sense of their physical presense.  What's the point otherwise?  I mean, what's a stereo for if not to take you to places and hear people you otherwise never could?

And I welcome any reviewer of musical reproduction equipment who takes the same POV.  If a reviewer says something like, "With speaker X you get a clear sense of Horowitz's nervousness after ten years away from the concert platform," I'm interested! ;-)

I have spent many years conducting research to understand how people perceive products of various kinds. The aim of this research has been to provide designers and engineers with feedback regarding how particular product features influence consumers' perception.

Differences in source material may well be factors in the perception of audio system quality. The way to resolve that is with a standardized set of source material that spans the range of potentially relevant audio system qualities. Whether you personally like the source music (or any other acoustic material) is not the issue. Professional taste testers face the same issue. However, they are trained to focus on the physical qualities of products rather than their own personal likes or dislikes. Musicianship might be an important quality of audio reproduction, but, if so, it can simply be included as a factor in the standardized sample of source material. In fact, a formal study to test this would be interesting to do.

So much is written about recreating the experience of having the music performers standing in front of you in your listening room. Perhaps this is possible for un-amplified voice and stringed instruments, but from my experiences in rock bands, this would be deafening. Not just amplified music... having a horn section in front of you in an enclosed space could exceed the threshold of pain. I always played with ear plugs in order to protect my ears. An audio rig that faithfully reproduces a live band in an enclosed space should be able to have enough bass slam to turn your chest cavity into a passive radiator.

Wow, this a true thinkpiece.  Of course the musicianship is important, along with the musician's emotion traveling through the instrument, recorded excellently with precision gear and reproduced by your Hi-Fi.  Everything is important.

I still use early Rod Stewart and Van Morrison recordings to judge my system changes for this very reason…those records convey both a high quality of sonic representation, AND a joy of musical spontaneity that engages and excites me.  “Cut Across Shorty” with its driving drums and 12 string, “Domino” with its Stax/Volt vibe and rhythmic drive, for example. I also need to play “Kucano Oro” from MA Recordings ‘Old Country’ for its ultra-audiophile recording of Howard Levy, Mark Nauseff, and Miroslav Tadic performing unbelievable musical feats.  All these groups can be enjoyed at “loud enough” but not actual live music levels in one’s living room.

_dalek_ wrote:

'So much is written about recreating the experience of having the music performers standing in front of you in your listening room."

Yes, but I think it's important to distinguish between "illusion" and "reality."  It would take a system of exceptional power and resolution to truly recreate a live (or studio) performance.  But even a modest system should give you "the whole picture" as much as possible.  I've heard modest systems that can do that.  I particularly recall a pair of Nestorovich speakers in a well-tuned room that did a very good job of projecting the performers in real space, though certainly not with real-world dynamics.

I'm not interested in reproducing a live gig in my home; I'm interested in getting the best I can (with what I can afford) from what the producer put on the recording. The same live performance can sound completely different depending on the listening/recording vantage point. 

You are talking about two separate issues. I can listen to Maria Caras sing on terrible old recordings and still be brought to tears. The artistry of the musician will shine through terrible sound.

Sound quality is a different issue. Saying violins sound like violins is a tautology. It means absolutely nothing. What I am looking for in sound quality is, with a good recording, the feeling that I am in front of a real instrument or orchestra/band. That takes the right amplitude response for the volume, the capability to image  3 dimensional objects in space with blackness between and powerful bass response below 100 Hz. The Dave Holland Quintet albums are a great example of recordings that can fool you into thinking you are in front of the band on a good system. I have seen the band three times at the Regatta Bar in Boston's Charles Hotel. Those recordings image that band perfectly.

The three octaves below 100 Hz are incredibly important to the visceral sensation of live music. In a residential setting 20 to 40 Hz has to be EQed up at least 6 dB with a low Q to approach the kind of power you get in a live setting. 

What about the engagement between the listener and the musician.

If I am not actually there at the live event, it is the quality of the recording and the quality of the system that the recording played back on, that dictate the level of my engagement with the musician(s). Everyone should be entitled to listen for, and enjoy, whatever it is that floats their boat, but if I play a good revealing recording of a performance in which the artist had a few warts going on, and my system is lays that bare, for me, that is a win.

If I play a poor recording of music I like by an artist I like, I’d probably rather not be listening to it on a revealing system.

I have been to many a live gig that sucked because the musicianship just wasn't there and/or the sound setup sucked. Every time we interact with music we are interacting with those two conditions. It doesn't matter whether we are in a hall or in our living room.

OP my early years on this hobby , I normally listen to rock. Drums and lead guitars attract my hearing and good sound.Once my friend brought country music cd and played it to my system? He said my system sound good but it’s not musical.I did not know what he meant? He invited to listen to his system.Still I did not get it.It took 3 yrs after I knew what he was talking about. That 3 yrs I listen with different music.Later on I met onother guy who introduced me to jazz and classical.Here with so much experience, I was able to accomplish both good sound and musicality as well.Yes it can be done .

This is a great question.

For me the brilliance of the musician is why I listen- His music, execution, cleverness of the delivery- all these are the "hooks" that pull me in.

Music has the unique power to elicit emotion without thought. Another cool side effect, 

However, I am also a gearhead. The art and elegance of high-end equipment is important to me as well. I delight in difficult passages being rendered flawlessly, the glow of the tubes, the engineering. It all thrills me.  

I think of this like driving fast- I love it!  It's even more fun in a Ferrari. 

Op member Skhong has a thread visiting MikeLavigne and download Mike and his system . Those system have amazing sound and musicality.Both audiophile are very knowledgeable .

Number first for me is, I Have to Like the Music.  The performance.  Then, how it sounds and how my system reproduces it.  Yes.  I could nit pick the technical issues of my or "the system" and recording.  But I have a limit to how much "issues" I will tolerate.  If I don't like the Music, I'm not going to purchase it, cue it up, sit and listen to it.

For me the brilliance of the musician is why I listen- His music, execution, cleverness of the delivery- all these are the "hooks" that pull me in.

I'd go along with that . . . and I think that maybe most people would.  But if the recording does not capture all of that and the system doesn't play that back.from the recording, all of that is lost.  

@wolf_garcia "It would be ridiculous to judge any music for sound instead of musicianship". "Do people actually do that?" EXACTLY my point ! Yes wolf, there are many. Too many in fact, which I find sad. However, if they are enjoying their systems, who am I to suggest to them what to listen for. I know what to listen for to satisfy my enjoyment, as everyone does in their own way. ymmv. My best, MrD.

What about the engagement between the listener and the musician. 

Agree that “engagement” is important, but that’s “personal” engagement.  Whether other people’s engagement is important in evaluating gear seems like a bad idea as engagement is highly based on subjective preferences. Even one’s mood can change engagement.  A 300b lover might be engaged, while another might not but instead seeking neutrality and fast dynamics.   

Speaking of Jeff Beck, and later the mention of Rod Stewart, the duo gave meaning to their remake of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". One word describes it. Amazing. Enjoy ! MrD.

I think reviewers often zero in on individual instruments instead of the entire piece? When an artist(s) puts together I good track the finished product far exceeds the sum of its parts. I have on occasion listened for certain instruments or passages but I'm quite sure that is not how the arrangement was meant to be heard, but each to his own liking.

The job of a reviewer is to review how a particular piece of kit reproduces instruments using their reference recordings. Some reviewers will focus simply on that aspect of music reproduction looking for accuracy and resolution. Others will mention how a familiar recording moved them emotionally. In both cases reading and understanding reviews is a skill. You need to be able to read between the lines. Personal preference will influence the conclusion of a review. That’s what we need to understand.

You don’t need an uber high end, uber expensive system to enjoy music. As a matter of fact ultra resolving systems will more often than not steer the listener towards more analytical listening, getting in a way of enjoying a composition and performance. It’s tough to get out of that mode. You begin to listen to perfectly recorded music only because your system will make a crappy recording sound like crap. I’ve been there, done that. Striking that ultimate balance of resolution and musical enjoyment takes time and effort. That’s what the system building is all about to me. Once you get there that system will allow you to appreciate all aspects of music reproduction starting from what the emotions the musicians are conveying by performing a particular piece to the skills of the recording engineer and their ability yo capture that performance to deliver it in its full glory to the listener.
Ultimately this hobby, to me, is both about the music and the gear. It should never be about gear alone. I want to be able to enjoy listening for all the hyper details that are available on Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” but be able to play Bruno Walter’s Mahler and enjoy it for the performance. Just my $0.02

You need to be able to read between the lines

+1 @audphile1 - reviewer don’t choose average gear to review, they choose good-great performing gear.  I paid special attention when a familiar reviewer was unusually surprised at the very positive component performance, commenting why didn’t they review this brand before.  After additional research, I purchased it.  

@audphile1 +1, very nicely said, but "Keith Don't Go" is also a standout to Nil's musicianship and virtuosity as a guitar player and singer. As I still communicate with many of my customers whom I’ve consulted with and folks I have met since, there IS a change over from listening to the musicianship, to listening to the gear. This has been proven time and time again, from my personal observations. When someone makes a statement that to them a recording is poor, they will not listen to it, especially through there rig, I feel sad, for them. So much "magic" from these musicians. I listen to bootlegs of various artists that are recorded poorly, based on audiophile standards, but damn, the musicianship is GREAT. I understand, really I do, but many moons ago, it was all about the music. It is now, all about the sound (for the greater majority of listeners). I will restrain (at least I will try) from harping on this. Those folks who listen to the music 1st, and those folks who listen to the gear 1st, know who they are. As I have stated, if the enjoyment is there, so be it, and that IS what it’s all about. So, thank you all for participating and interacting with me. My best to everyone. MrD.

Check out the latest YT video of Lachan of Passion for Sound, and his latest topic. Enjoy! Always, MrD 

You don’t need an uber high end, uber expensive system to enjoy music.

No, @audphile1  , you don't.  But it is altogether possible that the more you spend the more you want out of it, and if you own a system that cost less than some of the power cords you referenced on a recent previous thread, you may have different priorities and different expectations.