Since no one has yet dared to tackle the question, I’ll answer it myself.
I find that, ashamedly, I listen for the sound only a large percentage of the time.
I guess that’s the pitfall of spending a lot of time and money in this hobby.
The two are not really separable. When I listen, I put on some music that I want to hear. Often while listening I'll think, "that album sounds really good" or, "that album wasn't recorded very well" or, "they compressed the hell out of that one."
I even make note of certain aspects of the music. How does the bass sound? Do the vocals sound natural, etc? But that happens while I'm listening to the music.
I have some test CDs but I can't remember the last time I got them out. When I have it's usually to measure the bass at various frequencies with an spl meter on my phone.
I don't have a set of demonstration CDs that highlight certain aspects of the sound that I play to hear how good they sound. I guess you'd say that I notice when an album sounds good or bad frequently, but I don't listen for that specific purpose very often.
I'm always listening for the music. The thing of it is though, music and sound quality are inseparable. A violin is not a Stradivarius, nor is a Strad wrapped in a blanket played in a closet. There's a reason concert halls are built the way they are.
I almost never do JUST one OR the other. It did however take a while to get here. In the beginning it was impossible to hear any difference between things like DACs and CD. All CD sounded just the same to me. In learning to hear the difference there was a lot of time spent focusing on just one thing, like the way a cymbal or guitar note decays off into nothing. When doing this I was pretty much oblivious to the music. It was all just listening to "ting" vs "Tinnnngggggg".
Then tone, harmonics, dynamics, on and on, one thing, one tiny little aspect of the sound after another.
Eventually one day it was not only the improvement of demagnetizing a CD I was hearing, I was also noticing that the improvement dissipated and was gone within about 8 to 10 minutes. It was not just the difference between Cones, it was the difference between using stainless steel vs brass studs to attach the Cones. As impressive as it was being able to discern this much detail at such a deep level it was detracting from musical enjoyment- which was a concern, that being the whole point after all. I was deep in audiophilia nervosa and a hard core case at that!
Around this time I was also starting to blame my equipment, thinking things like maybe you can reach a point where the system is "too good" and you would be better off enjoying music more with a lesser system. One of the most fun systems I ever heard cost only about $2500 so this seemed to be the case.
Right. As if.
My system is about a million times better now than it was then, and I enjoy listening to music on it more than ever. The difference is not the system. The difference is me. I learned a long time ago that just because you can listen for something doesn't mean you have to. Nothing ever is always perfect anyway. So relax and enjoy the ride.
Doesn't mean you don't ever check the tire pressures. Doesn't mean you forget tire pressure affects handling and ride. Just means you understand you are there for the ride, and not the psi. Yes they are inseparable. But one is the reason for the other, and not the other way around.
So to answer specifically, there was a time I listened 100% for the music. Then there was a time when I listened 100% just for the sound quality. Now I just listen. It's a zen thing.
At this point in time, with all of the tweaking that’s been done, I marvel at how real the music sounds.I guess i am on the same boat and anyway sound is not music but music is also sound....
I must confess that for 2 years i look for the sound in my listening experiments but now passed a certain minimal quality point, i am done mostly with the sound.... I dont even contemplate seiously an upgrade...
The piano i listen to now is a real one with the wished tonal timbre when playing notes.....I am conscious of the sound for sure but i listen now to the music .....
My best to you and to all....
I rarely listen to SQ: it just creeps up on me sometimes, as in 'Holy crap, that sounds good'.
But on my crappy bedroom system--a cd player w/ a mixer and computer speakers--I will often adjust everything to make it sound as good as it can sound. I admit, the 'quality of sound' is in this case likely more related to the quality of [I'll just call them ingested sound enhancers] than anything in the system itself.
I would like to say that I always listen to the music first.
However that wouldn’t be true.
Just a few weeks ago I found myself beginning to feel a bit sick listening to the Jam compilation Direction Reaction Creation.
Something felt wrong, despite an apparently nice full sound there was a distinct lack of dynamics, particularly bad on the more punchy tracks such as Start! or Going Underground, Funeral Pyre etc.
I later managed to get hold of a copy of Snap! yet another compilation, but far closer to original vinyl, and all was well again.
Digital compression nowadays seems to be a huge problem with heavy rock as fans of bands such as Motorhead or the Dead Kennedys might testify.
Why anyone would want to deliberately mute the dynamics of music (essentially its life), especially of rock, is disturbing.
If the majority of consumers genuinely prefer that mush, then they need to get to an Hi-Fi dealer and see just what they’re missing.
Who knows, maybe when listening on some weak-assed Walmart system, they might feel that kind of compression is adding some much needed body to the sound?
If so, they’re ruining it for many of us who are not using such systems.
Having said all that I usually can forget about sound quality once the actual listening starts - providing the sound is listenable.
Of course I might never quite stop wanting a little more, I’m a long time recovering audiophile.
Thats why it’s particularly disturbing to me when SQ becomes such a seductive force.This is true ONLY when some optimal point is not passed by... Or when some obstructive negative force working in the audio system impact our unconscious ears...Be it vibrations, too high level noise floor or some acoustical settings problems...
But passed some quality level, sound is no more an obstruction but the vehicule of music....
My system is not perfect, but i was listening yesterday on youtube a very costly system,7 figures one, compared to my 500 bucks system, and even in spite of the youtube formating, i discerned problems in the acoustic of the room that negatively affect the sound unbeknownst to the owner it seems...The instrumental timbre and timbre voices were fatiguing and unnatural even through my own system... 😁
Then listening to this high cost system i was prefering my low cost system in my room.... 😊
This is why there is no more upgrading costly upsetting dreams for me.....For sure if money were on my tree branch i will upgrade but it does not disturb me at all not being able to do so...
Controlling the three working embeddings dimensions of an audio system is way more rewarding than buying an illusion or a small increase in S.Q....
Acoustic controls for example are in general way more impactful than the changing of an amplifier.... Why people never figure it out ?
The answer is simple: consumer conditioning through audio reviews about gear and through audio threads... Couple that with an unconscious depreciation of the huge importance of the controls methods in the 3 working embeddings dimensions, calling these essentials controls methods now secondary addition of "tweaks".... And like everyone know almost all costly tweaks are alleged "snake oil"....😁 All the importance is shifted then on buying the new electronic design.... This is consumers conditioning not audiophile experience at all....
At the end it is not suprizing that most people dont have a clue about how to install their audio system....They end up frustated and never satisfied....
I never listen to what is commonly called music. This is all noise to me.I wonder why in some strech of the imagination the great Maestro Ernest Ansermet, also a mathematician, wrote a 1,200 pages book demonstrating that music is ANYTHING in consciousness except only sound...
I wonder why Celibidache another great maestro was attentive to silence first and sound in second...
Myself i will bet that music and silence are there when we listen to an audio system IN SPITE OF the sound, good or bad...
Always was music, sound quality came second but today both serve the same. Music and sound quality for the ones I like and for the unknown. It is nice to hear how many are involved in a track but to see how they do it together is better. You cannot completely separate them as I can sing the ones I like even in the car but without Sq I would not have broaden my music tastes.
Way too many audiophiles are hung up on "sound quality" to the detriment of enjoying an emotional connection to The Music!It is only so with an exact correlation with their incapacity to create an optimal audio system, except by throwing money...
When an audio system is installed rightfully in his 3 working embeddings dimensions, only music exist, no more sound...A natural timbre playing piano is only that: a natural timbre playing piano; then only music with no more sound problems...
It is impossible to stop any cd or files playing in a very good audio system....The pleasure is too great and the boredom and frustration are at zero level...
My recent tweaks have caused me to take notice of the music due to the change in sound quality.
My office system is mostly for work, but after upgrading my DAC/Streamer/Ethernet/Interconnects, I found myself listening while working and suddenly noticing subtle/positive changes that had me more engaged with the music that before.-And, doing less work...
When music hits me big time emotionally when listening, it's nearly always because the best quality is coming through from it as well.
So both equally for me.
When you get your setup correct you will spend your time listening to the music and forgetting about how it sounds anymore but the journey getting to that point can be a nightmare. It is hard to concentrate on the music if you are worried about the sound so my answer is 70/30 sq to music till you get it right and 95/5 sq to music when all is perfect for your ears and your tastes.
When you are no longer young, as many of us are, We all have a database in our listening history of our favorite music. Many of my favorites have been heard thousands of time over many systems, using many sources.
You know when it is good, and that is what makes me smile. I just calculated that I bought my first serious system in 1969/70. That is over 50 years, or 2,600 weeks.
I know when to listen to the decay of cymbals, or sustain of guitar. I have become much more sensitive to source materials. And I look back and smile at the journey and how lucky I have been.
Initially thought this was a funny question but now I find it pretty fascinating.
I must be truthful: I listen to the sound quality. Would have liked to say music. But I only buy records I want to hear anyway.
I think I have a sheer joy for the way things sound. I also play drums and they’re meticulously tuned. I will not spend a minute playing until they sound the way I need them to sound.
So I give special attention to how each instrument and the vocals sound on any given track. It gives me a lot of joy and comfort to hear beautiful sounds.
Music is sound first anyway.
I in fact agree with everyone. Sound quality is extremely important.
With instruments as well. An example. My guitar playing skill is very rudimentary. Once I was given a custom acoustic classical guitar just to try it. I played a few accords and was stunned by the way it sounded. Incredible, even with my good for almost nothing technique. I could play it for hours, anything no matter how primitive, and would still enjoy it. Had to give it back to the owner, too bad.
Most of the recordings that I listen to are average and below average. This annoys me greatly. Better equipment improves it to a degree but still. Well, not much can be done. Unless I start mostly listening what I don't like much but which was recorded well. I won't. I listen to what I like.
When hearing music becomes transcendent the question becomes moot. When listening at a concert it's the music except for distractions, among them poor SQ having some effect generally briefly, the same with superb SQ unless it leads to hearing. From home the same, except when the poor SQ is system related, then generally longer.
If I didn’t really care about the SQ and only cared about the music, I’d be content with my crappy computer speakers. I surely wouldn’t spend as much money on gear as I do. I do look to be dazzled by the SQ. At the same time, I turn off a song if I don’t like it no matter how good the SQ is. I will put up with lousy SQ on my computer speakers if I like the music. But who wants to listen to a song they don’t like regardless of how great the SQ is?
Oh, tough one, sort of. Being a musician I tend to hear differently. Different things stick out, different things are less noticed. Being a drummer the rhythm is what hits me, lyrical content, hardly ever. So what I hear is very important to what I enjoy. However, I would say it is ultimately about the music. I like all of the relatively few albums I own, and all were very specially purchased. But, I usually grab the ones that SOUND the best overall. So both for me...
As I am still getting my new system up to it’s potential, it’s about 90% sound quality, now.
The goal is to switch that over to much more music listening.
But for me, the hobby of being an audiophile means taking an active role in making my system sound good, testing it for differences, adjusting it to see what happens. Part of the fun of being an audiophile is that experimental activity.
And a huge part of what’s been of value in listening for SQ is, as Millercarbon says, that I am learning how to listen. That feeds back BOTH into (a) listening for SQ and (b) listening to music. Without listening for SQ at least some of the time, I stop learning how to listen better.
In other words, listening for sound quality is a permanent and legitimate part of what I am doing. The percent of how much I’ll do either remains TBD, but the idea that this hobby is "just about the music" is laughable, for me. I love sound, I love experimenting, and so the music is never going to be the only goal.
That said, I understand why it could be a worry that one is not listening to *enough* music. The "grass could always be greener" compulsion can be like quicksand, and the question of how to avoid it is a very personal, psychological question that reaches deeper into our drives and needs than can be answered by questions bracketed at the level of audio.
Let’s ask the question a little differently:
“When sitting down to listen, what percentage of the time do you FIRST choose the artist (perhaps based on genre) that you want to listen to and what percentage of the the time do you choose an album simply for its ear candy factor, regardless of who the artist is?”
I pick the artist I want to listen to first, almost always. I then pick which album by that artist I want to listen to. Sound quality seldom enters into the decision process. The choice of music wins maybe 95% of the time. However, there are times when I just want to indulge in a “knock your socks off” sonic experience and those audiophile faves, even those with questionable (at best) artistic value come off the shelf. Kind of like that weekly dessert.
I prefer to ask the question this way because I don’t agree that sound quality and appreciation of the artistic merit (the music) are totally inseparable. At least, not to the extent that one needs exceptional sound quality to appreciate the music. Of course, this assumes that the recordings in question are of decent enough quality and better than that of grandma’s scratchy 78’s. We have all heard recordings and/or systems that are so bad that the SQ definitely detracts from the appreciation of the music. However, lets be honest and lets be realistic. For example, the often quoted “revelation” that “I can finally clearly hear that it was an English Horn and not an oboe!” Really? I submit that the difference can clearly be heard on a table radio. The problem is that listener has little experience with live performances.
Of course good sound quality adds to the appreciation of the artistic merit of the recorded performance. However, as soon as the audiophile hat comes off the hook there is a good chance that at least some of the attention will be on the SQ and a little less on the music. For me, it can even become a distraction of sorts, away from the performance. Most of the time I prefer to keep the two experiences at least somewhat separate in my mindset. If a recording that I want to listen to happens to have good sound, that’s great; but the attention is on the performance.
None of this precludes putting a lot of energy into having a great sounding system; nor is it a judgment of how anyone chooses to approach the listening experience. In short, I would say that (for me) good SQ has the potential to enhance the appreciation of the performance (the music) much more than inferior SQ necessarily hinders it.
I have two systems. The HT system is hooked to my server and has a Sony multi player attached in case I want to listen to a CD. It’s on at least 40 hours a week.
When I want to listen with my eyes closed and a smile on my face, I listen to the system in the music room. Probably 20-30 hours a week.
I belong to a group on Facebook that focuses on audiophile recordings. Members suggest recordings that have terrific sound. When I first joined the group, I bought several recordings based on the suggestions. Maybe it wasn’t the genre I usually listen to, but I wanted to hear the sound they were so excited about. I did hear what they heard that prompted their suggestion, but I wasn’t crazy about the music. This made me realize that, while I do enjoy good work on the sound board, I enjoy what is being played by the artists more. There is nothing better for me than to have that great mix of good music and good engineering. Steely Dan is a band I have always listened to, but usually in the car or as background music. Now that I have a decent system and take time to really listen to recordings, I find that Don Fagan has a great feel for what sounds good in a recording. I listen to Steely Dan more now than ever because they hit the right mix of great music and great engineering. Dire Staits is another one, Mark Knopfler knows what sounds good. I love how he has instruments playing far off in the distance and off to the sides and how that sound adds to the feel he wanted in the recording. To sum it up, 98% I listen for the music, if the engineering is there, it is especially sweet. I do take time to listen to recordings for the SQ, Metallic Orbs comes to mind, but only 2% of the time.
It would be unusual for anyone to spend the bulk of their time listening to sound quality. 90% of the time I am listening to music it is on as background either in the shop or office. For some reason I can not tolerate a music-less environment. As an infant I would scream my head off at night and would not stop. My mother tried everything including not letting me nap during the day. Nothing worked. Finally in desperation she stuck a table radio in the crib with me, tubes and all. She tied a knot in the power cord around one of the dowels. It worked. Nothing like the smell of tubes in the morning.
Even when I'm in the hot seat I spend very little time actually analyzing the system. I usually do that only after I make a change or something went south. A great system does not have to be analyzed, it just sounds great, every recording being a new adventure. Which brings to mind audiophile candy recordings. I can't listen to mundane music just because it was well recorded. I remember back in the day a 45 rpm Virgil Fox organ recording all the audiophiles were slobbering over. Virgil was the Liberace of organists. His renditions of classic organ pieces was to my ear sickening as was this record. That was the last time I fell for any that that. There are so many excellent recordings of great musicians there is no need filling up your collection with records you will never listen to.
Love how millercarbon put it. And I'm still new enough to the world of high quality equipment that I'm trying to find the balance. I will put something on just because it sounds fabulous and bask in the glory. And I'll pass on a recording because it doesn't sound as good. Likewise, I'll hunt for vinyl pressings and cd labels that I know sound great. Wow, has this expanded my collection, and taste.
At this point, it's getting closer to 50/50, I suspect. Or, at least, I'm not just thinking about SQ before I choose something than I used to a few months ago. A friend told me that I'll get to the point where I do listen to SQ more intently for the first couple tracks, and then focus more on the music itself. But I don't know that anyone can so neatly separate the two. In a year or so I'll have more experience, so I'm still learning.
Like many of the responses here, I find the two impossible to disentangle. A friend of mine hosted a dinner recently. After we spent time sharing music casting YouTube to his smart TV, playing through a sound bar. The sound was painful for me. I wanted to just enjoy the music, but the (lack of) sound quality got in my way. I found this hobby because I was making efforts to enjoy my music more.
I believe the same parallel can be drawn in the home theater space too. I could watch a movie on a poor screen at a poor resolution. But that would probably be painful. Watching that same content in 4k HDR on a quality screen would add to my enjoyment.
I pick the artist I want to listen to first, almost always. I then pick which album by that artist I want to listen to. Sound quality seldom enters into the decision process. The choice of music wins maybe 95% of the time.Very good post.... Thanks...
It is the same for me.... And the reason why is simple in a rightfully controlled audio system ALL sound better even the worst files i have....
My goal was listening music i love first and last.... Some music i enjoy because of the sound quality.... But most of the music i listen to i know it for the last 50 years....I only appreciate it better now...One of my favorite is Scriabin and almost all i have is bad russians recordings....But the sound is way better now even staying the bad recordings they are i enjoy them more....
You have a good system if the sound is no more there,like an obstacle or an impediment, only the music.... This is my experience....
Music is not sound at all, but the relation between sounds,and this relation is not reducible to sound, was written by the great maestro Ernest Ansermet....I read his 1200 pages book.... 😊😎
My son once accused me of listening to the equipment rather than the music. I asked him how that is possible since the equipment is the source of the music? I then asked if he were taking a 500 - 1000 mile road trip, which would he rather have? A economical compact car or an expensive luxury car? I've done it in both. The luxury car was MUCH better. Same with the music.
In retrospect I think I spent far too much time (and money!) worrying about achieving SQ as described by the audio guru's. Not so much now - music selection is my only priority (unless something in my system is failing). My system/set up is very good but has no pretension to SOTA and that works well for me now. In fact I'm more relaxed and enjoy it (and the music) much more. :-)