I hear you. I've been through a lot of gear, spent thousands and still haven't reached the place where I feel the sound is set. Wish I knew back then what I know now.
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If one finds it difficult to get the sound they seek out of a single system, there is no rule that says one cannot set up multiple systems or swap in different components of the same type to help get better results.
WIth teh money many high end audio folks sink into this stuff, the average person could likely set up multiple different sounding systems which each meeting expectations of the moment as needed.
Plus its always useful to have something else good to compare to when needed, for a different frame of reference.
Plus variety is also often the spice of life so why limit oneself to just one fixed system when multiple variations are possible?
SInking more money into one is often not the best approach.
OR, another very viable path to go down when all else fails is good quality digital equalization.
Sometimes, there is nothing that will optimally in a particular room out of the box. Equalization may be the best solution at that point. Results possible with modern digital technology far exceeds what one might have been able to coax out of the various analog parametric or graphic equalizers of years past.
All gear inherently performs its own form of equalization in order to do its job. When its all working as it should, but still sounds wrong, then one might be best advised to take matters into their own hands and disregard the limited and misinformed audiophile perspective that all equalization is bad. Its nice to avoid, if possible, but sometimes.....
IMO the quality/consistency of your incoming electricity sets the benchmark for your system. Cables, room acoustics and vibration control are also very important but if the power issue is not addressed these become band-aid corrections at best. You will never be able to turn a NAD into DarTZeel, but if you address these issues you can close the gap and maybe find a happy medium.
I think that it is impossible to assemble one system that will sound great on all recordings. I have developed this theory over several decades. I feel that the "problem" is in the recordings themselves. Their sonic signatures vary from recording to recording due to processes, engineering, mastering, etc. So while one recording may sound a bit bright with some gear/cables, it may sound just perfect with another set of gear/cables. Obviously you can replace the word bright for many other audiophile adjectives in my last sentence.
I recall visiting a gentleman about 8 years ago who had a 4 armed turntable set up in his main system. 4 different arms/cartridges and phono stages. He was able to vary the sound to his taste by using a different cart/arm/stage on any LP. This is what really started to make me realize that my theory had some merit. The same recording could sound stunning on one setup, and just OK on another. Most recordings could be made to sound very, very good, it was just a matter of setting up with the proper cart/arm/phono stage.
I agree with you that no one system can sound great all the time with all recordings.
All it can do is deliver what its fed accurately or in some similarly pleasing manner.
All recordings are different. There are two many permutations to adapt to, at least manually.
That's where modern digital processing in its many forms provides a unique opportunity that many do not understand or appreciate because its gasp "digital".
But digital gear can be programmed to account for variations and make it all sound as similar as possible , if desired.
Its the if desired part that's an interesting question. I prefer to hear each work of art on its own terms good or bad, not make it all sound similar.
I would not want to transform a Monet painting into a high res photo graph. Why would I want to do that to a recorded work?
It's like that Twilight Zone episode where everyone gets transformed into a similarly beautiful person at a certain time in their life, and the main character who wanted to be uniquely herself, not a beautiful reproduction like everyone else.
Jmcgrogan2-We all know that we are slaves to the recording quality. The possible solution mentioned in your post is not applicable to a majority of us. IMO we should focus on issues we can control. Clearly modifying and properly conditioning electricity is not the most fun or interesting part of this hobby but it's essential to maximize our components.
Dayglow, I did not offer the 4 armed turntable as a solution, only evidence as to just how critical the recording is. So many get stuck looking for the perfect component or cable, and it just isn't out there.
Obviously power conditioning is an important topic, I have dedicated lines and a $5K power conditioner, so I feel that I have addressed that, yet Broadstone's "problem" still survives.
The OP is not looking for suggestions as to how to fix his problem. He has correctly come to the proper conclusion that there is no correction, at least not using one system. Multiple systems, as Mapman originally suggests, is an option. Otherwise, we all just do the best we can to balance the sound to our own individual tastes the best we can. Even then, some recordings will just not sound right. There are some recordings I do not listen to anymore, as it would only frustrate me even more to tune my one system to make those recordings sound more favorable, only to find out that it will make other recordings sound less favorable. It's a game that you cannot win....not with power conditioning, gear, cables or whatever other variable that you can throw in there that you can think of.
Broadstone now realizes that fact, as do I. It does help to get off the merry-go-round once you realize that you are not really going forward....only in circles.
Once again, JMC, we seem to be on the same page. In this case I agree with your comment about multiple systems but, even if I were inclined to do so, I don't have the budget or space for this approach. Some of the music that I listen to with my setup is completely enjoyable and some other recordings I find quite unacceptable. Perhaps the best thing to do, then, is stick to recordings that work well with what I already have and take the rest out of our inventory. There are, after all, already quite a few selections that I don't listen to anymore anyway.
I've tried using selector switching devices enabling me to use different speakers with my best amp and, as it is presently set up, two different amps into the same speaker pair. I have yet to try a full tube amplifier in place of the hybrid that I now use and maybe that should be my next/ last trial.
I can relate and after many deaths of those close to me reality really intrudes and changes ones past paradigm. For many audiophiles these what matter matters are way down the road or so they may think. Soon enough though, it's dehumanizing medical tests, procedures, waiting rooms with old magazines, the "always on" television and disturbing blare of cellphone rings. Audio bling then loses much of its appeal. OK bummer thoughts off. Enjoy the music how ever and whenever you hear it. Chow.
Tubes may get you another "aha" moment but I predict it will be a temporary "fix."
I'm quickly approaching 60 and am happy to say I have been off the merry go round for a few years. Stopped looking to better my setup a few years ago. Even more satisfying, I stopped "listening" to years ago; totally non-productive IMO.
Life changes can have a major impact as Airegin points out. Now I just enjoy my time with my family and am thankful for those rare occasions when I have time for a solitary listening session.