So how can a great system solve less than great recordings

It seems no matter how good a system is, the quality of recording quality takes priority.

Formsome reason nobody talks about challenges of making older recordings sound better.  Classics from 70s and 80s are amazing tunes, but even remastered editions still cant make sound qualiity shortcomings all better.  Profoundly sad.  Some older stuff sounds quite good but lots of stuff is disturbing.

You're over-generalizing. At this level of analysis anyone can say Edison made lousy recordings on his wire thingy, the gramophone sucks, how can even the best system get fidelity from tin cans and string? Fraid you're gonna have to up your game a little to have something more to talk about.
You pay your money. You take your chances! Considering the problems of capturing sounds with a mike it is a wonder that there are so many good - and better - sounding recordings available!
If you’re interested in classical and jazz then you should see the remastered reissues from Pristine Classical. They take albums from the 20s to the 60s and make them absolutely amazing with their XR filtering.  You can’t almost tell the difference between a a recording on the 30s and 60s. 
Their recent Miles Davis reissues are sublime. 
You can also stream from their website. 
The original question is based on a profound and yet all too common misperception about high end audio. It is not about making recordings sound good. The very best cost no object system cannot possibly ever make anything sound good. That is a completely inside out and backwards understanding. What the very best components and systems do is nothing. Nothing. Not one tiny little thing.

Well, except amplify so we can hear. But other than that, nothing. The whole point is to be able to hear the original recording in as much fidelity as possible. Fidelity by the way means truth. High fidelity means highly truthful. Does not mean good. Truth ain’t always pleasant to hear now, is it?

Case in point.
Hi end (and the rest) systems remain at the mercy of lesser quality recordings, past and present.

tried a rolling stones album and it sadly didnt sound so good, ‘ let it bleed’.

its sad. Thats all.

Fortunately, linda ronstadt albums sound really good.  Some stuff from that era were done better.  
Of course high end is about making tunes sound better.  Ie. Effort to eliminate all the crap that degrades sound while on route from source to a driver.

of course its about making it all sound better.

how condescending to suggest people dont understand this point.

"Hi end (and the rest) systems remain at the mercy of lesser quality recordings, past and present."

As they must. Such is life.

I think we have to assume that the people making the original recording got it right.

If they didn’t then no system will ever get it right. Therefore a remaster (or even shock! horror! - a remix) might be required.

But with so many different editions of popular albums now available it often becomes a question of which one is the best.

George Harrison’s 1970 All Things Must Pass album (triple LP) has been reissued many times since and yet there is no clear consensus as to which version is the definitive one (so far).

The original UK vinyl release on Apple might still be the best, but copies are rare.

Some of the digital versions have been simply awful, yet new ones keep on coming every few years.
how condescending to suggest people don’t understand this point.
Actually, it is not condescending but right. Yes its about making the music sound better. But, The music sounds best when it is brought forth in the purest of signal from the source material. This was the goal of high fidelity., to be faithful to the music as recorded. That means not adding or subtracting anything to/from it. Adding things to make it sound better, IE tone controls, is often a band aid to fix something in the signal. However, it brings about distortion. The shortest path of a signal is what is desired. Adding controls IE tone controls adds to the signal.
FWIW, I have found that as my system gets better, my music also sound better. Of course there are some which don't sound as good as others. And some are just...YUK. But the vast majority sound good overall. 
Some may hear it differently. IMO, Some are more into the sonic character of the music more than the music itself. I am into the music itself. I have no desire to hear a  great sounding recording that does nothing for my soul. IE, I don't play Female vocals and have no desire to listen to that. It doesn't move me, no matter how good the recording is done. If someone else enjoys it, then fine. I'll take the lesser recorded music
Get ROON, can use the digital equalizer to fix the poor quality. It works great
Which is why "audiophiles" get siloed into listening to sonic spectaculars. On most boards I participated in, I usually put up a thread called "Non-Audiophile Records" to discuss standard issue pressings from back in the day. 
I take the good with the bad. I'm not a Stones fan, but the early UK boxed label (stereo) is a decent sounding record to these ears, though I haven't listened to it in quite a while.
Ditto, the UK first press of All Things Must Pass has some body and dimension that is sorely lacking from the US copies (bought one of those when it first came out). 
Which takes us into the thicket of finding desirable pressings of records, a subject that is bottomless. 
I find lots to listen to; at the moment, "used" record prices are inflated and desirable or rare records are more expensive than ever. 
My sweet spot, musically, for the last 4 or 5 years has been so-called "spiritual" or "soul" jazz from the early '70s-- that stuff has gotten astronomically priced and many have never been reissued. 
It's fun to find a killer obscurity, especially if it's not on everybody's radar. 
But, there are some records that just sound lousy and if you like the music, you focus on that, not the sonic demerits. 
I used to keep a shelf of known impressive sounding records for demo purposes. I gave that up a while ago-- I just listen to what stirs me and buy what I can, notwithstanding the market. 
OP, if you tune your system to a very high state of tune, you can get to the point where only a handful of recordings sound good. Been there done that. The best tune in my opinion is when only a handful of recordings sound BAD. Work towards making everything sound good even if you loose a little detail or shimmer. 
Agreed @russ69.Nothing wrong with a high fidelity system that is also a bit forgiving of less than stellar recordings. The best recordings will still sound fabulous and the Stones albums will be listenable, fun,and satisfying.
Actually, it is not condescending but right. Yes its about making the music sound better. But, The music sounds best when it is brought forth in the purest of signal from the source material. This was the goal of high fidelity., to be faithful to the music as recorded. That means not adding or subtracting anything to/from it. Adding things to make it sound better, IE tone controls, is often a band aid to fix something in the signal.
Thank you. And well said.
FWIW, I have found that as my system gets better, my music also sound better. Of course there are some which don’t sound as good as others.
Indeed. One thing that really stands out is the way every single record I have sounds so much better now than I ever imagined.

There are several records I always thought were pretty good, but too laid back, reserved, pallid. All three Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle for example, it was like her voice was fine but the orchestra was very background and all the solo sax or whatever was barely there. Now it is just incredible, the orchestra is big and present and detailed, and the sax leaps out in full glory. At the other extreme, Nilsson Schmilsson used to feel a bit edgy and hyped. Now it is just crazy liquid detailed smooth and natural.

One would think anything that "fixed" the reserved Ronstadt would be too much and wreck the Nilsson, but that is not the case. Not at all.

It is one of the more puzzling things, how every recording now is not just different than the others, it is more like it is in its own world. So very different it is hard to believe. I have quite honestly never heard anything like this anywhere else. This I think comes from being genuinely revealing of what is hiding deep down, and not adding anything in the process.

I have a pretty good idea why this is. Frank I am sure has a pretty good idea too. And Krissy, of course. Thank you, my dear. It has nothing to do with being condescending. It is more like, please come swimming, the water’s fine, and oh by the way here is how to not get any up your nose.
Without having to change components, cables are often used to balance the highly-resolving-system vs. poor-recording dilemma.

Although many people are using cables to realize the full potential of their equipment, they are often used to find a balance. Hopefully this simple statement won't start a cable-war dialog; not intending that!
Before I get chewed out for my cable comment, I will acknowledge that many people avoid some of the higher-resolving brands due to this issue, or are careful how they pair electronics and speakers where one or more components are highly resolving. If this doesn't work to the degree desired, then making adjustments with cables is one way to go. I don't see this as a tone control; more of a fidelity control (musical/resolving balance).
A great system will only show the flaws of bad recordings more but that is only a problem if all you listen to are inferior recordings the search for great sound in a system is findings the great recordings to play on it and enjoy them and there are a lot of great records out there.
For me, the saddest part was when I realized that "older recordings" in the OP meant 70's and 80's. My first scan had me thinking that 70's and 80's were fine, but "older" recordings not so much. I guess "older" is relative.
Always look on the bright side of life. Recordings are works of art. Each one is different. Why not take pleasure in discovering as much as possible about each one?  That’s what music lovers do. 
As usual, millercarbon takes the cake! I often look at the threads to read his replies :)
Well, the question was quite ambiguous, as something very different was implied by the title of the post and the explanation (main text body of the question).
I'l try to reply to both.So, a good recording is always a good recording regardless of age. Reissues / remasters can give wider access - ie provide more copies so you can buy, as there is only so many (so few) originals in circulation. My experience with half speed remasters, 180g special pressings etc - they NEVER even came close to the originals. I compared about 5 special reissues to the originals I have in my collection, and in every single case the original pressing won by a huge margin. That being said, having the special remaster is a million times better than not having anything. Yet, all a reissue can do, is to have the least possible loss vs the original early pressings.
As to the title of the question: how can a great system resolve less than great recordings? Well, will less than great results.

However, a great recording does not equal modern recording. In the 50s there were plenty of great recordings. Yet, a good number of ultra-high end systems today cannot do justice on them, as they are most often voiced to match only a very specific kind of recording procedure. (Overspecialization, it's the most common feature of our age in every area.)
Maybe you were wondering what kind of system can read out the most of a recording, even if that was not the most perfect recording ever....

So i will hopefully improve things by getting a network player from lumen with an internal dac and much nicer cables.  Maybe a good thing. And then will get a new stereo tube preamp, leaning toward audio research.  

next i will buyout comcast and install brand new wiring to my house. 

I stumbled upon some interesting info recently, related to record producer Rick Rubin, criticized for recording (producing?) techniques. See "Production Style" near the end of his wikipedia page. What a shame to waste a good recording opportunity on poor-outcome recording/production methods.
OP, you mentioned "album" but didn't clearly state whether your poorer recordings are on vinyl, CD, or streaming (unless I missed it).

I believe there are threads here related to finding better versions when streaming, as a means of avoiding the poorer recordings/productions/CD transfers.
You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I too ask this question. If the recording quality sucks, 6 figure equipment won't improve it I'm afraid. 
i think what great systems can do is to unravel and reveal the musical truth of more complicated dynamically challenging recordings that seem opaque, or harsh, or confused on lesser systems. this can be with any media type.

but great systems cannot overcome poor recording processes or poorly mastered media.....or poor performance.

garbage in = garbage out.

but how can you know when it's the fault of the media, recording, or performance.....or your system? that only comes from lots of investment of time and effort. not a quick and easy thing.

i have a number of recordings that were referred to me (as special and worth investigating) but i could not understand or relate to them until my system evolved to the point where i could hear what was happening musically. i suspect it was also me that had to evolve to appreciate the musical intent.

so viewing any music as less than great might be more about us as listeners, than the recording. but system development has it’s role too.

the best systems can reliably separate the wheat from the chaff. which is a main reason for improving your system, for more music to matter to you. widen your reach and depth of your experience.
an easy example that illustrates how a great system can find the musical truth is what happens with early mono pressings. you might have a few laying around that someone gave you. you play them with your stereo cartridge and they might sound like crap. who could ever want to listen to this?

but find a great mono cartridge, or better yet a great mono cartridge with a 1.0mil stylus, and all the noise and harshness you hear with your stereo cartridge gets bypassed and you can mainline the dynamic magic of early mono. and the early mono recordings are some of the best recordings EVER MADE.

who knew?

you might have a few of these sitting around, waiting for the effort to be made to be uncovered?
who knew?

Perhaps those who have heard well produced  digitally remastered versions of those otherwise obtuse early mono releases on phono. 😉

Old recordings are a goldmine of great music and interesting sound that those who were weaned on music from The Beatles era and newer often tend to completely overlook.   That was the golden age of hifi when it was all new and people cared about good sound and therefore so did the recording industry.  

Poorer older quality cooms from a qobuz stream.  
Is older stuff handled well by qobuz?
I don’t have qobuz nor have I heard it but no reason why it shouldn’t.

Perhaps those who have heard well made digitally remastered versions of those otherwise obtuse early mono releases on phono. 😉

the point being of course that those early mono recordings were never obtuse; they simply required the proper tools to access them. and agree that digital transfers from the tapes is one of those tools.

while those digital transfers (which i listen to too) don’t get close to a proper mono cartridge reading (or the tape itself), they are still an example of the idea of a great system helping to access music thought to be less than great.
Set up a mono turntable using a true mono cartridge such as a Miyajima Zero. You may be quite surprised that mono can surpass stereo LP's.
Of course many may be drinking adult style drinks, and i am not inclined so maybe therein lies a consideration.

so some and probably many may be listening in an altered state.  
so is this being true to the audiophile lifestyle,are there rules?


Poorer older quality cooms from a qobuz stream.  
Is older stuff handled well by qobuz?

I'm not a streamer, so can't help on this.

That's an entirely different subject (new thread?), in terms of streaming services, high-res vs. xxx, and the real issue you're looking for... finding and identifying good digital source material. Different mastering, alternate recordings, and which content providers have more variety and higher-quality material. Must be lots of info on this forum, including some recent threads I believe.
I agree with jbirdman333. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, even with very expensive equipment. Just this past Saturday, when I played a Rolling Stones compilation - hits from 1964 - 1970 - I thought "Sympathy For the Devil", one of my favorites, sounded awful. I could hardly hear Jagger's lyrics over the instruments. So I got a "remastered" CD of the single album, Beggars Banquet, overnight from Amazon. It sounded much better - I could hear Jagger's lyrics more clearly than on the compilation CD.  It just showed me that it basically boils down to the quality of the  recorded source material, no matter how good the equipment is downstream.  I have now ordered several other remastered Rolling Stones CD's to see (hear) whether the single albums outranked the same cuts on the poorly recorded compilation album.
One can only put so much lipstick on a pig.

If you've great equipment, it will only make an old recording....sound really bad really well. *L*

I can eq only so far, process to a certain degree, but....

In the end...what one starts with is what one gets to listen to. *sigh*
Beyond that, one is at the mercy of 'remastering', and all that.
"They" have the really nice toys to knock the dust off of what was once what we recall.....and we all should remember how fallible memory can be, and how it be disappointed so easily when one revisits the past. ;)'re free to have your own. 

Forward....into the past, J
Sometimes it's that old 60's Dansette record player that gets the best out of a recording because it doesn't faithfully reproduce everything. Also if you are of a certain age, that's how you remember hearing it :^)
Why do you imagine a great system can make a poor recording better??

A great system reproduces accurately what is in the groove/pits, that's all.

If you want to go that way, get some new-fangled digital enhancer that makes the recording sound more like what you want to dial in.
And kills the soul of the music.
My goal for a system is accuracy.  If the original recording source was poor, I prefer the system that reveals that.
if I want a system that buries that under a pile of distortion and artifact, I would go back into vinyl 
Some of my best recordings are from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. They knew how to record and master back then, today it is mostly a lost art and most remasters suck in my opinion. So, in answering the question in regards to making old recordings sound better, they already do sound better! Let's take Nancy Sinatra's LP County My Way for instance....I do not think it can be sounds simply gorgeous on my system. 
I think that a lot of music is produced for radio or mid-fin listeners.
Someone has to be particularly focused on producing audiophile quality for it to happen. Since the audiophile community is a small percentage of the audience it isn't a big priority.
Most music I used to like seems to have little dynamic range and limited use of soundstage and imaging.. Sadly I often play music I'm only half into because it is recorded really well and sounds great.

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Mediocre, bad or not so ideal recordings can sound confused, lacking in life and in some cases are barely listenable in lesser systems.
Same material on a better system transforms to something with a meaning with an easy to follow performance and substance.
Compared to the majesty of what a great recording offers they are lacking but at the same time you realize that your music collection has grown considerably.

"Fidelity by the way means truth. High fidelity means highly truthful. Does not mean good. Truth ain’t always pleasant to hear now, is it?"

Dead on MC. And I think the current take away from this discussion is clear - no system can make a lousy recording sound good and any system that does will likely make truly good recordings sound bad.

But what appears to be missing from this discussion is mention of all that happens AFTER the recording is finished. Great recordings poorly mastered sound terrible! I just found a great copy of Neil Young's After The Gold Rush that is a true demo disc. I've had 3 other copies and none of them sounded remotely as good as this one. If you only heard a bad one, which if you consider the odds is fairly likely, then you'd think it wasn't a great recording, which it is.

The fact is, audiophiles such as ourselves need the right records to play first, then we can make the choices about our systems necessary to make those records sound the way they should. That is, IMO, the way forward in audio. And that's why analog is so special! 

If you're interested in more of I have a lot of content on this very subject here:

OP, good topic. To restate your points:
1. High fidelity systems currently don't make up for problems in the source material. Rather, HiFi systems can emphasize problems in production and mastering.
2. Remastering has not solved all the problems in the original production and mastering. 

I wonder if AI upscaling/upsampling in audio is the next step in remastering. I believe that we could begin to see an AI upscaler/upsampler improve poor recordings in ways that past remastering efforts hasn't. Also, I believe that an AI upscaler/upsampler could fit into an existing HiFi system. 

The strides in AI upscaling in the video space could show us the possibilities in the audio space. We've had video upscalers in TV's and receivers for a while, and older versions of upscaling have been impressive for past TV resolution standards. But with the release of 4k TVs (and soon 8k TVs), upscalers haven't kept up. Most receiver manufacturers seem to have 4k upscaling limited to taking 1080i up to 4k. Anything lower than 1080i is SOL. Many TVs today don't even have upscaling anymore. And the quality among the 4k upscalers in receivers and TV is all over the place. 

The best 4k upscaler available right now is from Nvidia, in their Shield TV streamer. It combines traditional upscaling tech with their own AI tech. Nvidia, which was a computer graphics card company, found itself on the right side of history when graphics cards became the best tools for AI research. And their Shield TV streamer arguably started as a streaming box to allow Nvidia graphics card owners to stream their games across their home networks, from the computer in the office to their TV. At the intersection of AI and consumer streamers, Nvidia is the clear leader in home video upscaling. Here's an example of what Nvidia upscaling can do. Make sure to view it on a high res screen:

I know that the HiFi space has some companies that dabble in upsampling. My understanding is that the quality varies widely and that current upsampling offers another audio flavor rather than something so convincing that we leave the upsampling button toggled on. 

But some Nvidia level upsampling could arrive in the HiFi space, one day. The market for high fidelity audio lags behind the market for home cinema, and, as a result, the biggest companies have largely left the HiFi market underserved. Also, due to the software requirements for upsampling, the more boutique a company, the less likely that company is to maintain it's own software and make advancements in audio upsampling. (NAD and Roon strike me and the best pieces of software in HiFi right now.) Here are my takes on where impressive upsampling may one day come from:
1. The home theater space expands its interest into quality audio. (Nah... who am I kidding.)
2. FPGA-based DACs provide the inroad to opensource software, engaging a community of software hobbyists in audio. (Wouldn't it be great if PS Audio or Chord opened up their software to their communities? I should make an effort to pitch this idea to these companies. As an analog, the video game Skyrim was one of the biggest video games of the last decade. Part of the reason for Skyrim's success was because it's smaller developer, Bethesda, opened up its code to the gaming community for modding. That approach turned out to be wildly successful, and allowed Bethesda to compete with the bigger developers like EA and Ubisoft.)
3. The big streaming platforms (in both video and audio) perform the upsampling to their streams. I see this as the endgame. But just like Apple Music and Spotify waited until now to release a CD quality tier, these big players likely won't provide upsampling until they are forced to, or until they can easily check that marketing box. 
All I know is good quality mono recordings still sound like the performers are playing live in my room with my Ohm Walsh speaker setup. This setup has opened me up to so many older recordings that I would probably not pay much attention to otherwise. The best for bringing old mono recordings to life. Example: remastered Muddy Waters CD recordings originally from the 50s. He is there in the room. Not too shabby with stereo either. Coherency and carefully managed wide dispersion in the unique Ohm Walsh CLS design pays off!

I have always been very careful to navigate my evolving system towards greater fidelity but to stay slightly back from ultra detailed / revealing. One step to far and many recordings sound bad... there are at least two kinds of bad... lack of dynamics and noisy harsh. I am very turned off by noisy / harsh. I want to listen to the music not the system... I want an emotional connection with the music, not to be sure I clearly hear the 2nd violinist move his foot. 
Realizing this was critical on my turn to a far greater musically satisfying system. You can get caught up in perpetually evaluating sound and forget what the point was. So I am pretty sure @Mahler123 and I would react completely differently to equipment. We have two completely different design goals.
Just celebrated my 50th year of audiophilia.
With some luck, dedication and, gratefully, this Forum I have evolved my analog only system to a place where there is no such thing as an unlistenable record. All are enjoyable... some more than others.
The most significant evolution came with the addition of my AGD Audions. They were brought to my attention by several Forum member’s rave comments. Then, checking the reviewers, they constantly use the rare phrase “best regardless of price”. I was inspired to order a pair. Unbelievable! Not only the “right on” tone and SQ, I hear something never heard. I hear the musician’s phrasing. Music is made up of phrases tied together. To clearly hear the beginning, end and nuance-the humanness! I always liked Ella but only now do I fully understand her greatness hearing her phrasing. And this critical essence of music is evident in every record. For sure, my speakers, front end, cables and power all contribute. But the real change came with AGD.