Strange phenomona this hobby.

I can't help but be competetive, that's just me. Not so much with others, but with myself.
Thats why when I heard the MBL system I told myself "self", I have to have that sound in my home.
And I agreed with myself. That was about the jist of the conversation. That kind of realism one does not hear too often or some never hear it.
So where do I stand now?
My system does not scream out "realism realism" like the MBL does. It's quite neutral though, I can play music all day long with out getting fatigued. Merlins are just that type of speaker-great design.
I just recently was forced to change my favorite cartridge, and the sound is different. The sumiko was closer to life-like, but the grado is more engaging.
I am willing to bet the cognoscienti here will agree that live music will not be found in our homes with playback systems that easily.
But I heard it once at the show, actually twice.
So is there a class A++ for those systems that recreate the live event and do I really have to have it. I just went from sumiko to grado and I am enjoying myself more-so.
I am willing to bet that as I gain more experience I will find myself picking up cartridges and cables that don't necessarily cost the most but just work better with the rest of my equipment, no?
Another example is my phono stage the EAR834p. No where near the same price as phono stages in class a , but I would say in the same league with the right tubes and mods.
Now as before I really understand the goners (good way to describe the nuts on this site including myself) owning multiple tt and arms. I was hoping to find one rig that can do it all, but also my intentions from the very beginning were to have three tables at least, for comparisons of arms, cartridges, p. stages and tables. I can't wait to get there, all I need is time because I will catch up to you nuts!!!
I would like to hear your stories or interpretations of vinyl play back. There is some mysticism to this, that may not be understood but is felt like no other thing.
I have had fun hobbies before but this takes the cake!
I can see your point. This quest ís made of true improvements, parallel moves (from A to B you can go by car but the train ís good as well)and real step back. When almost reached nirvana financials grab your shirt and selling one component makes you restart having fun!(or pain). At the end what ís not killing u biild experience. Imho, of course. Good luck!
There is definitely some mysticism to vinyl reproduction (and plenty of ignorance). If I had the time and money, I'd like to audition several turntables/phono preamps/tonearms/carts/etc...

It's sad that my generation (late-twenties) don't have the exposure to high-end audio, particularly in regards to vinyl, and probably never will. I love digital, but there's something inherently pure and natural about the sound of the LP. Vinyl may not offer the dynamics of digital, but the sound can be breathtaking.
..sure is strange. What sounds like music to one person (MBL) sounds like the arrival of the German Panzer division to another. There are no absolutes in this hobby - just nurturing ones' prejudices.
Pedrillo said:

"I am willing to bet the cognoscienti here will agree that live music will not be found in our homes with playback systems that easily.
But I heard it once at the show, actually twice.
So is there a class A++ for those systems that recreate the live event and do I really have to have it."

Well, many of us do indeed have live music in our homes, like guitars, pianos, keyboards and, in my case, trumpets, flugelhorns, cornets and related instruments.

For those of us that hear a lot of live music it can't help but be part of our reference.

If you've only heard live music once or twice then it can't possibly be part of your reference. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just where you come from. If you like music despite the lack of hearing it live, then just listen to it a variety of ways and go the way that pleases your ear.

I'd dare say that most people here on A'gon are aiming for as close an approximation of live music as they can achieve within their budgets and space. That doesn't have to be your goal, but I think you'll have people argue with you on this aspect of your "audiophiluousness". Don't worry, just please yourself.

Well put Stringreen.


I think if you did head to head comparisons you would find that you really do have to pay more for the best products. Whether you choose to prioritize your funds to get them or not doesn't negate that they're better any more than the existence of the best negates that the great but more affordable ones make wonderful music for the money. I'm not saying that quality always follows the price but almost always the best is relatively more expensive than the not quite so good.

For instance, you might find a $40k turntable that is arguably the best thing out there even in comparison with $100k ones, but you won't find a $1k table that will compete at that level, although it might be better than most $2k tables.

And then there is the question of which ones are the best which is subjective anyway as Stringreen so eloquently put. Satisfaction is a complex equation.
Strange stuff indeed!

Forget live, you'll never get it. The best any of us can hope for is SOME of the aspects of a live performance in our playback systems. This is why we all say "listen for yourself". You're always going to be choosing the type and/or amount of colorations that most appeal to you. DougDeacon and I have almost identical analog systems, until you get to the speakers. That's seems to be the component that is most subjected to personal tastes and preferences. Seems strange on the face of it, but perhaps not when you consider we all diverge to some extent when it comes to the genre of music we each prefer and even what we may emphasis within a particular genre.

Then you take those components that sounded so good at the show or at some other place into your listening room and suddenly the magic isn't there. Or vice-versa.

Same with recommendations. We all ask for them, give them and listen to them to some extent. Some of the worst system performance I've experienced in my home has come from components and cables I've tried based on the high recommendation of others whose opinions I hold in high regard. Synergy is important.

On the flip side I've been able to make great improvements in my system based on feedback from people who hear my system. It is amazing to me that I, or anyone, can listen to their system day after day and be happy with the sound. Or maybe not quite sure what is missing, or just plain wrong. Then your friend comes in and within 5 minutes tells you exactly what is going on. Sometimes when this happens you begin to recognize what they were saying. Sometimes this happens right away, sometimes it hits you a few weeks later. Sometimes you can accept it and be happy, sometimes you go to the ends of the earth to correct it. Which sometimes only takes you back to square one.

Maybe it isn't any component or the system as a whole. Maybe it is the room interaction. Do you need acoustic treatments? Probably, but which ones and how many and where to place them?

But with so many other hobbies you can measure in some way the improvement or degradation of a change. In this hobby you can't always find a difference using test equipment or some other empirical data. The only test you have is how it sounds to you in your system in your listening room.

Strange stuff indeed! Sometimes it all makes my head hurt. That's when I try to stop thinking. I pull out an LP or CD that I know doesn't sound "audiophile" and just enjoy the reason I bought that music in the first place. I know I'll get back into the crazies tomorrow.
I think we're all a little self-delusional in this hobby. We have people who swear they are re-creating the ambiance of Carnegie hall in a 10x13 room with a 7 ft ceiling. Personally I like to pretend that Coleman Hawkins is blowing right there between my speakers....there in front of the TV.... didn't you hear that? He was there... I swear...

You can drive yourself nuts trying to capture that level of realism. But the alternative is worse. I hear that recovering audiophiles often take up bird watching.
Wonderful responses, and we all understand each other even though we have different taste or hear things differently.
If I may add, sometimes the very same component will sound different because of caps or resistors having slightly different values or solder work being slightly inconsistent. This hobby is better than competetive chess or brewing beer even more challenging than being a ski
You may have misunderstood me. I meant that I heard systems such as the mbl's (3 times at the expos 2 of those times they sounded like the real thing way better than anything else at the show).
And I do go to the concert hall, my favorite genre is opera and I am fortunate enough to be so close to the met and that tickets can be had for under $30 if I blew my check on some silly component.
Enjoy the music.
I keep wondering why does the mbl system stand out. I believe it is because one thing they do well is image. I never will forget when hearing the beatles in their(mbl room at the expo) room. You could practically see the musicians.
Not only that, I like certain music and anything outside that doesn't do it much for me. Not that it's bad music, I don't believe any style of music is better than other styles. Though I still can't figure out rap? But get this- in the mbl room they were playing music I never cared for, and it sound great. I was thoroughly enjoying myself but I also found the music interesting. I could see myself discovering new styles. I think if only that, that is reason enough to seriously consider the mbl set. I would like to keep discovering new music, shouldn't that be a quest in life. Just like with food of different cuisines, I want to be inspired with new genres.
What other speakers taste eh hum image well?
As many have said, this hobby is quite complex and there are very few absolutes. In my history with the search for the perfect chord, i had thought i had found it many times before only to find (sometimes very minor) a tweak that dramatically improved the quality of the music. My most notable experience was a speaker change that really got me into this hobby over my head. I was one of those bose diehards who felt the bose system was innovative and could make music sound so good. I had a set of 601's and was saving for a set of 901's. I always bragged how good they sounded until I had a friend who brought over a set of
Klipsch speakers that I did a side by side on my equipment. The wow factor was present that day as all of my concepts about music changed. I could not believe the difference as well as what I was not hearing. Many years later i recognize however good i think my system sounds (and i do feel my system sounds great:^) there is a better system out there. My table is a highly modded Maplenoll that sports a zyx cartridge. I am working to audition some different phono stepups since i know those are my weak spot but i know even when I fill that hole, others will be apparent. Most of use will not be able to spend the amount of money required to have the perfect chord but its the pursuit of that chord that keeps us going.
Actually, stereo can bring music to our homes better than live music - in some instances. I am a professional violinist and know that some seats at the Met and/or most seats at Avery Fisher, are just horrible for hearing what the music actually sounds like. In NJPAC (the big performance venue in Newark, NJ the most glorious sound in the hall is right in the middle of the 1st row of the 2nd tier. When you look at the seats, there is no close ceiling and it sounds as though you are suspended in space. NJPAC knows that to be true, because the main michrophones are set up exactly in line with those seats...suspended out in space. The worst sounding seats are the expensive orchestra seats, and the some of the worst seats at the Met are the those 30 dollar back of the hall tickets. My point is one rearely hears the best even at a live concert. A well recorded recording with the microphones well placed will easily beat the pants off of a live concert. (Please go - that's the way I make a living). One of the biggest problems with electronic (especially digital) recordings is the reproducing of the microdynamics of the event. When we talk, the emphasis of a word, or syllable, etc. can change the entire meaning of the sentence. So too does the meaning change in music. If misunderstood emphasis or deemphasis becomes confusing (which happens a lot in recordings), the sound becomes "canned" and not real. I am not talking of ultimate debibels, because in reality, at the concert, the orchestra plays much softer than most stereos are played. Its just that the life of music is compromised many times. Another problem that stereos have are the complicated reproduction of phasing and reflection that is so natural in real life, but so hard to achieve via speakers. Many speakers actually are wired purposely out of phase to make the speaker sound better in the store. Another aspect to critique is the taste - yes the taste of the audiophile him/herself. If one looks at a typical Sony tv, you will see a very nice picture, but one whose colors are purposely bumped in cartoon fashion. This produces that "Wow" effect, but one really can tire of this exageration of nature. Only long term satisfaction can be derived from a natural depiction of reality. A stereo set with boom, sizzle, phasing exagerations, etc. will bring the wow belief to the public, but soon you will find the cartridge, then the speakers, then the cables, etc. on Audiogon..with an "update" in mind.
Very well put.
I found the best seats in the met to be right above the certer tier. The bass sounds full and there are less walls for the music to deflect from before reaching the audience sitting there. I also enjoy the orchestra, you hear a slight delay from the musicians by the time there music hits the ceiling and bounces back. So the voices hit you first.
Fortunately I get to sit in different places at this house and I agree as have always did, live is our reference point but only when you sit in the right place!
...and only unamplified. Most PA assisted gigs are awful, especially the bigger they get, often downright get-your-money-back abominable.
Stringreen, your post brought to mind an experience I had at a concert in Calgary. I have found that the sound received at the Dress Circle level of seats is glorious - I usually try to sit near the middle - but recently my seat was on the extreme left of Dress Circle. At time of purchase I thought that was OK as it was still Dress Circle; but the opening piece had a sound that wasn't quite what I was used to. I think my seat was picking up more of the sounds of the brass section situated on the right side of the stage. It disturbed me. Later my brain became used to it, I think, because I could still enjoy the orchestra though it wasn't the best seat in the house.

Respect for difference of opinion aside, I could not disagree with Stringreen more. Recorded music very seldom comes anywhere near close to conveying the subtleties of the emotional content of music. And isn't the conveyance of emotion what music is all about? I am always perplexed when some discuss aspects of the live music experience with the usual audiophile lingo only. Yes, there are seats in all major (and minor) concert venues that don't do certain aspects of SOUND particularly well. But, I can think of few live experiences that have not trounced recorded sound as concerns MUSIC. The immediacy of the music, the unadulterated harmonic content of the instruments' (or voices') timbre, the hard-to-describe absence of all those resistors, caps, transformers, and wire. One can appreciate a lot of those qualities sitting on the toilet at the local jazz club. What I am talking about has nothing to do imaging or soundstaging; although in the right seats, the concert experience is unequaled in those respects. It's the difference between a drink of cool mountain spring water and city tap water.

Dcstep is correct, one doesn't have to use live sound as a reference to enjoy music. If one hears live music on a regular basis, however, it's difficult to not have it be part of one's reference. To "forget live", as has been suggested, is to miss out on a deeper appreciation of the stuff that is at the core of music making. And there really are components that reproduce those qualities much better than others. It's not always easy to determine why some do it better than others. If we are not intimately familiar with what those qualities are (live sound), how are we to recognize them, or their absence. Think of it this way: When we need to communicate with a person about something really important, wether it is to discuss an important business matter, or talk to a loved one about a deeply personal issue, what is the best way to do it? Is it best to send an email, send a recorded message, make a phone call, or do it in person?
Pedrillo, I agree with that there is some mysticism to all this; although I would not necessarily call it that. The word mysticism, to me, opens the door for the experience to be less than real, and verifiable; perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of the word. I encourage you to continue to focus on those things that you tried to describe; components that engage you, not components that do this or that piece of sonic soup better than some other component. I also use a Singer-modified EAR 834P, and I completely agree with you about it's ability to make music. It seems to let the music pass through it with minimal alteration to what I feel is at music's core. The fact that it is an inherently simple circuit probably has a lot to do with it.
There are some interesting thoughts here. For many of us, our goal is to have our stereo system come as close as we can make them into fooling us that we are hearing live music. We can argue whether that means we are being transported to the recording venue or if the musicans have set up in our listening room. I am fine with either argument, but for the record, I do feel like I am being transported to the venue where the recording was made.

Last Wednesday I was in Old Town in San Diego having dinner with my uncle and his main squeeze at a Mexican restaurant. There was a Mariachi band that seemed to be fixated on the table in front of me as they played there quite awhile. This Mariachi band wasn't what I have experienced before in Mexican restaurants. These guys were real damn good. Both their abilities to play their instruments and sing in harmony was really top notch. What really blew me away (and I don't mean that as a pun) was the trumpet player. I was impressed with not only how good of a trumpet player he was, but also how damn loud a trumpet is when you are only feet away from it. The sound of that trumpet was just thrilling to hear. I also thought about how hard it would be to capture the sound that I was hearing and reproduce it faithfully. I think if the sound of that trumpet was captured faithfully and played back at a realistic level (i.e. at the same level the guy was actually playing it live), most amplifiers would be driven to clipping very quickly. I think it would take wheelbarrows of watts and/or really sensitive speakers to come close to pulling that off. The only recording that I can think of right now that I own that comes close to capturing what I heard last Wednesday is the 12" version of Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long." There is a trumpet blast in that song that will separate the men from the boys in the amplifier department.

I haven't heard the EAR 834P and I am not aware of what Singer does to them. I assume they swap tubes. I believe the EAR uses transformers for the MC input which is a deal killer for me. Oh, I hates me some mc transformers. I want an active gain stage for low output mc cartridges. I am pretty much at the point now that if someone has a phono stage that they think can beat my Counterpoint SA-2/SA-5.1 combo, they need to bring it over to my house and lash it up and prove it to me. The SA-2/SA-5.1 sounds so good it could bring tears to the eyes of man with no tear ducts. I am done chasing wild geese.
Mepearson, your experience listening to that Mariachi band is exactly what a lot of audiophiles miss, and unfortunately don't have as a reference, when judging the MUSIC-expression qualities of audio gear. It really is thrilling to hear those sounds live. A couple of thoughts:

The thrill of hearing that trumpet sound is not just a question of the loudness of it. So, the ability of a component to reproduce that thrill is determined but much more than number of watts, and speaker efficiency. This is a perfect example of numbers telling only part of the story. The thrill you hear is not just because of the instrument's loudness; not because it might read 98 dbs (?) on an SPL meter. It's because of everything that happens between of 0 db and 98 dbs. It's the stuff in between that causes the excitement. The tension, the speed of the air, the extremely subtle little dynamic changes that occur between the point at which the player first starts to form the embouchure, and that very first little bit of air rushes into the instrument; all the way to when he really opens up his diaphragm, and the instrument literally becomes an extension of his breathing apparatus. The human element. This is not "descriptive pornography" as some have called it. This is what really takes place. And if we think that number of watts, distortion figures, etc., can fully explain what is going on, I think we are kidding ourselves. But, to key into this stuff is the best way to appreciate musical expression, and the ability of equipment to let it happen, or not. Experiences such as yours are the only way to have a better understanding.

I lived with the Counterpoint SA5.1 for a few years, and given what you have written about how you listen to music, I completely understand why you like it so much. I did too. I remember taking it to a local dealer to compare to the just released AI Modulus 3, which was all the rage at the time, and being perplexed. The Counterpoint had much better musical flow, and dynamics, of the kind that we are talking about; as well as better tone colors. The Modulus sounded bleached out tonally, and a little dead sounding in comparison. The only area in which the Modulus beat it was in stability of images. That was the only area where the Counterpoint was, for me, less than stellar. But then again, this has little to do with music anyway, and I have been tempted over the last few years to try one again. BTW, mine was modified by George Kaye of Moscode fame, when he was still in the NYC area right after the demise of NYAL. I never tried the SA2 with it. As far as the EAR goes, what I can tell you is that IMO it is easily as good or better in the areas discussed as the SA5 phono section was. But, in a general sense, very similar sounding units: great tonal colors, very dimensional, and with a both easy and exciting dynamic flow. I am listening to Wayne Sorter's "Atlantis" as I write, with a Azden YM-P50VL moving magnet cart. So no step-up transformers in use, and yes it does sound better without the transformers. But still retains those musical qualities with the transformers, when I want the higher resolution of a good MC, for more audiophile jollies.

BTW, that record is fantastic, and easily available. One of the best examples of interesting composition in a contemporary jazz-fusion bag, from one of the geniuses of jazz.
Frogman-I agree with what you said with regards to the thrill of hearing the trumpet was not only related to how loud it was. It was everything else involved as you said. The sound was just so pure and dynamic.

With regards to the Counterpoint SA-5.1, mine has been back to Mike Elliot and has had the line stage and phono stage upgraded with better caps and resistors then were available at the time it was first built. The SA-2 has also been back for a new power transformer as the original gave up the ghost. IMO, the SA-5.1 is the biggest steal in the high end used market today (if you can find one). Forget about the SA-5000. They cost more money and are not in the same league as the SA-5.1. My brother had an SA-5000 and wanted to dump it for an SA-5.1. We found some guy in Canada who was willing to trade his 5.1 for the 5000. My bro had been searching in vain for a 5.1 for awhile but none were available. The SA-5000 trade smoked one out at a bit of a cost to my bro. He could have sold the 5000 straight out for more money than 5.1s sell for when they are available.

I will check out Wayne Sorter's Atlantis.
Frogman-I just snagged a NM copy of Wayne Shorter's Atlantis on Ebay.
Hope you like it. For a great example of Shorter's earlier work, featuring trumpet, try "The All Seeing Eye" with the great Freddie Hubbard on trumpet.
Frogman-Atlantis showed up yesterday and it was NM as advertised. This is a phenomenal sounding recording. I was completely blown away by how outstanding the record sounds and how much I liked the music on the first playing. To think I bought this record for under $6.00 is mind-blowing. I have heard some 15 ips 2 track tapes that can't touch this quality of sound. Thanks for turning me on to this LP.
Mepearson, I'm glad you like it. It really is, as you say, a great sounding record; not to mention, great music. There are a lot of vinyl gems out there for little money. For something different, try Phoebe Snow's self-titled first album. Phil Ramone production, with fantastically natural acoustic piano, bass, guitar, drums, and the unique vocal stylings of Phebe Snow. A wonderfully open soundstage with excellent imaging, and the added bonus of the legendary Zoot Sims on tenor saxophone. I recently bought a NM second copy for $1.90 (!!!). If you like acoustic rock with a folksy vibe, this one is a winner.
No matter how powerful or accurate the system providing reproduction of recorded music, there will always be the simple physical fact that the act of a diaphragmatic/ribbon/other enabled transduction of vibrating air molecules to an electrical signal will always result in loss of harmonic content of timbre, dynamic range due to compression, and a distortion of equalization, among other frictional and lossy characterstics. This is where the greatest loss of the "live experience" happens. I don't care how expensive the Neumanns or Schoepps are. Everything then downstream of that initial lossful capture further distorts the musical from the live experience. There is no way of getting around these simple facts; mechanical energy to electronic energy (often to numbers!) and back again introduces unavoidable transductionally sourced time, phase and dynamic distortions.

I long ago let go the "absolute sound" expectation in favor of simple enjoyment of the playback of well recorded (not perfect) music in my home. Fortunately, the brain can do wonderous processing to make up for upstream losses of the recording process when one is happily listening to music that is truly enjoyable. This is the same brain that allows us to read a good novel and be "in the space" conveyed by words alone on a two dimensional surface. Our single most important and accurate "audiophile" component is that which we received free of charge between our ears.
Stevecham, I couldn't agree with everything you say more. But, using the absolute sound as a reference does not necessarily mean being on an endless, and neurotic churning of equipment, in the quest of an absolute. It simply means familiarizing oneself with the sound of live sound as much as possible to help one make choices when buying equipment. I never understand the implied argument in some audiophiles' argument against using live sound as a reference, that because the absolute is not achievable (it is not), that we should simply throw in the towel, and not even consider the only true reference.
Audiophiles always have systems better than professional musicians who hear live music all the time. Why this is so you will have to draw your own conclusions. John lee Hooker said he liked his sound system "Simple and funky".
Hello, Dan-ed you said, "But with so many other hobbies you can measure in some way the improvement or degradation of a change. In this hobby you can't always find a difference using test equipment or some other empirical data. The only test you have is how it sounds to you in your system in your listening room."

That is not true! You CAN measure in room freq response, which IS important. And it does tell you how the system "sounds".

I measure my room's response all the time. Try getting a 4-way horn system integrated without doing so. It is an effort in frustration. ;-) Still, it is not the complete story else we could all just measure and be assured of great sound, IMO. For instance, a flat response is not necessarily indicative of great sound. But then, what is your idea of great sound and what is my idea of great sound?

But ok, I'll agree that "the only test you have" an exaggeration. Hopefully the point I was attempting to make doesn't get lost.
Orpheus10-The reason most musicans have stereo systems that are less than what we would consider ideal is the fact that most musicans don't have much money. Also, most musicans can hear around the defects in search of what they are after as they are hearing different things than you and I (us) are looking for in recorded sound and their brains are filling in what we consider to be missing.

Stevecham-I don't think there is anything wrong with setting a high standard for reproduction knowing that you may never get there but doing the best you can with what you have. My goal has always been to make my system sound as "real" as possible meaning you can sometimes fool yourself into believing you are hearing a live event. I feel very good about how far I have come over the years and how much closer I am to that goal.