The myth of "best" in audio needs to be addressed by all of us


After spending a year and half deeply immersed in audiophilia (with so much enjoyable benefit), I've identified my tendency (seemingly share by many) to chase the fantasy of "best" in this perfectionistic hobby/pursuit.  It leads to obsessiveness, second-guessing, acrimony between audio tribes, and personal insecurity when reading these forums and all the reviews.  

But, thinking about it, how could there ever be a "best" component, cable, or speaker for listening to music.  This is a subjective experience!!! 

From a purely measurement/engineering perspective -- "best" could mean a lot of things (but they don't automatically mean more enjoyable sonics). 

In listening and enjoying music, there is no "best" -- only "favorite".  And even "favorite" can change -- it certainly has for me.  I've gone back and forth multiple times on all sorts of gear preferences. You can like what you like, you don't have to defend it, and nobody should mess with it!

Anybody else want to fight the harmful myth of "best" in audio?
redwoodaudio
Never heard of that alleged myth. Did you make it up?

Newbie posts sometime include ’best’ when they’re looking for a shortcut. I’ve never heard or read a comment with ’best’ from an experienced audio enthusiast. They know that everything is relative - IME - IMHO - YMMV.
@steakster I’ve seen countless such posts and have been drawn in by that conceptual trap a lot. Newbies especially are vulnerable to it, but old heads report “class A is best” or “vinyl is best” or “r2r dacs are best” all the time...
I never take "best" literally in these threads...though there are a few who do endlessly repeat “best” and do seem to mean it literally 
The first victims of the “ best” virus were the yuppies. Whatever they wanted to purchase it had to be the “best”. This virus is still very contagious among the clueless with lots of money.
The best is the enemy of good enough. My system is good enough for me and that works.
Yeah, but "best" stimulates/animates the conversation. The proverbial click bait. Let the ego rage!
Anybody else want to fight the harmful myth of "best" in audio?



If anybody read my posts i went  fighting that for the last 2 years...

There is no absolute best, speakers,dac,or amplifiers....

There is no absolute supremacy of tubes over S.S.

There is no vinyl supremacy over digital nor the opposite either...

BUT

There is an absolute supremacy of ACOUSTIC science and experience over electronics products, because we all listen to our speakers/room/ears with our two EARS....The most important part of this family being the room/ears by a huge gap....

Fine tuning the audio system, and controlling in the right way the 3 working embeddings dimensions where ANY system is immersed, mechanical,electrical and acoustical, this is the KEY....

Especially ACOUSTIC controls....

Anybody boasting about his alleged superior electronic design, speakers, amplifier, dac, turntables, is naive, not because this is not true, but because this is not ENOUGH.... Any good design at any price must be rightfully embedded to work optimally....

Especially in his acoustical working embedding dimension....

Then i boast about my listening experiments....  😁😁😊😊😎😎

 Do the same, seat and listen, trust yourself and trust your ears and be creative....No cost here....

My best to all....

Anybody else want to fight the harmful myth of "best" in audio?
Anybody else want to fight the harmful truth of nihilism in audio?

Well this is one of the best threads I've seen in a while.  Being new, I was prone to believe that the 'experienced' here would determine what I should buy and how I must assemble my system.  However, enough posts of this nature taught me to evaluate each post, recommendation, opinion or review with a view towards what the component/tweak/system actually sounds like, and whether that sound is one that I find appealing or will work with the component(s) I already have.  Ultimately, of course this is a subjective pursuit -- but where to start?  Even the die-hard discussions as to what the best format is -- digital or vinyl -- and the like, were very useful.  These threads introduced me to the issues at stake and, to some extent, the work and costs involved.  I applaud the passionate, but absolutely value the occasional level headed assessment of this pursuit by those members who have actually tried many different components and approaches.  We are lucky to have them and even the engineers who try to explain what is happening and what the limits of this that or the other thing may be. Not being an electrical engineer, most of this is lost on me.  But, nonetheless in less than a year, by following this forum and reading many reviews I have managed to put together a system that sounds fantastic to me, is tolerated by my wife and thoroughly enjoyed by our guests.  Couldn't have done it without this group. 
"...In listening and enjoying music, there is no "best" -- only "favorite". And even "favorite" can change -- it certainly has for me..."

Very true but some are more better than others.
"It's all in the mind, y'know" - George Harrison, "Yellow Submarine" film, 1968. 
@millercarbon   Ah, what's point...
@redwoodaudio

Relax.  At 1.5 years, your impressions are brand new.  Of course there's no "best," and it looks like you're already putting that idea to rest.  When you see controversies over "the best," just move on.  Good luck on your journey!

With me it’s "The BEST at that time" or "The BEST so far" or "The BEST of that bunch" or "The BEST looking" or "The Best in Show" or "Best be quiet" or :-)

In context, best is OK!!

Regards
@millercarbon  Ah, what's point...

About "the best", I was for a while pretty active in a local audiophile group. This one guy had put together a whole system of Stereophile Class A components. Pretty sure every single thing had been "the best" or darn near it in the last few years. He bought only "the best".   

When I visited one time it was pretty impressive to see all this stuff I had only seen in magazines. Great big Genesis speakers, monster thick cables everywhere, just insane drool-inducing gear. Until I put in my CD. Was all but unrecognizable- and not in a good way.  

This is the same guy who when he came over his wife snuck up to me and said, "I could listen to this all night!" She was so relieved, she had been to some others and was almost ready to believe all audiophile systems were utterly unlistenable. Well I had at the time a bunch of pretty well unknown stuff. Linaeum speakers. Anyone ever hear them called "the best"? Anyone even heard of them? 

So I don't know about "the best" when used by such as Stereophile. But I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. If we lose the idea of "the best" then we might as well throw in the towel. That was the gist of my nihilism comment. Get a grip. Learn a new word. Learn a new concept. Grow up.  
I once stopped and ate at a burger joint that advertised itself as "The World's Best Burger."  I went in with a 'Show me' attitude.

It was, in fact, the world's best burger.

Go figure.
Thanks for your responses so far.

Rather than “best,” what if designers, manufacturers, and dealers were better at really describing what their products actually sound like?  Would that have to mean acknowledging imperfection in some areas?  The death of hype!  Sign me up!

Anybody already doing this?


I have gotten my system to sound better and better. Wouldn’t the limit of “better” be “best”?
Best is most enjoyable.
‘certainly relative to who’s listening .
@redwoodaudio 
Rather than “best,” what if designers, manufacturers, and dealers were better at really describing what their products actually sound like?  Would that have to mean acknowledging imperfection in some areas?  The death of hype!  Sign me up!

Benchmark Media does this and even says some people may not like their approach. The articles with these quotes are in the APPLICATION NOTES of the BM web site.

I agree, there likely is no”best”, not only because people’s preferences differ but also the advance of technologies stands to supplant today’s best with a new-and-improved best.

i tend to lean toward “best for the money”, which is still subjective but closer to achievable.  I understand that $10,000 speakers or a $5,000 DAC is likely to outperform what I have, but given that I won’t be sending at that level, it makes more sense to achieve the best I can within my budget. I leave it to others to extract those final % of improvement with their mega-systems. 
I think it’s a natural tendency to eye the grass elsewhere and perceive that it’s greener.  There are days when I think this can’t get any better, and then the next day playing the same recording having a niggling bit of dissatisfaction.  I also think that there addictive aspects to this hobby.  We make a change, perceive it as an improvement, appreciate aspects of recordings that we didn’t before, and get a type of buzz from that.  Like all addicts, eventually I want to feel that sensation again...
Like others have already said, experienced listeners know there's no such thing as "best" and a component's excellence or lack thereof is partially dependent on system and room context. Our cultural media environment encourages dumbed down and simplistic views of every complicated and nuanced issue, audio isn't any different. 
Class A, Tannoy, a tubed phono stage, and vinyl "IS" the Best! 😁
At least in my little itsy bitsy world.....
MC dislikes this notion because deep down inside he knows that he owns the best and makes it even better with MC certified tweaks.   This is the only truth.  The reason his friends “best” stereo sounded like crap is because MC played his CD, contrary to his continuous crusade against all sources digital.  I am surprised MC owns a CD.
There is no universal best.....just a best for you.  
@testpilot Here's a weird thing about the idea that the only "best" is "best for you." I thought my system was the best I had heard. Then I heard someone else's, then one at a store. My friend said (nicely), "Your system is good, but mine is better." He was right. Better for him was better for me, too. So, the notion that "best" is a completely personal standard was refuted, right there. But maybe "true" is only "true for me"? I don't think we want to go there, truly.
This is an unproductive topic. 
Our cultural media environment encourages dumbed down and simplistic views of every complicated and nuanced issue
@photon46

Bingo, thank you.

Here is what Stereophile says about its Recommended Components list:

Sidebar: How to Use the Listings

The classes each cover a wide range of performance. Carefully read our descriptions here, the original reviews, and (heaven forbid) reviews in other magazines to put together a short list of components to choose from. Evaluate your room, your source material and front-end(s), your speakers, and your tastes. With luck, you may come up with a selection to audition at your favorite dealer(s). "Recommended Components" will not tell you what to buy any more than Consumer Reports would presume to tell you whom to marry! Heaven forbid.



So they are not saying pick a bunch of Class A components and you'll have the best system. 

I hope we all know that there are a many very good systems out there, that many lower cost systems sound better than many higher cost systems, and that we will never get unanimous agreement on which system sounds the best.

Enjoy your music and your audiophile journey!  
@bob540 - even "best for the money" is a fantasy. How would anyone ever know? I've told myself I had "best for the money" gear before, and it made me feel more comfortable, but I realized I just could not ever know. 

I bought expensive tube monoblocks (wavestream kinetics m100s) used because of a recommendation. They're awesome. But because I can't ever know if they're the "best" or even "best for the money" (about $7k), asking myself if they are "best" or "best for the money" is a trap that pulls me into anxiety. I'm trying to stop.

Why do we need this concept of "best" at all anymore? Let the marketers mess with it, but let's take the pressure off in general when we're at home. 
@tomcy6 - well put

I hope we all know that there are a many very good systems out there, that many lower cost systems sound better than many higher cost systems, and that we will never get unanimous agreement on which system sounds the best.
@douglas_schroeder - why not a productive conversation? You don't feel pressure around having "the best?"

I happened to purchase one of your recently recommended DACs, the Wells Audio Cipher, and am very happy.  Despite its manufacturers claims that it's the "best DAC in the world," it would be silly of me to buy into that hype. "Best I've heard in my system," yes, but I've only heard 3 DACs in my system ever!  I'm trying to keep sane by just enjoying it... 
@testpilot said

There is no universal best.....just a best for you
Maybe not even a "best for you," in reality. Maybe a "good enough."  How could you ever know it was "best?"

Maybe I care more about the words we use than most, but "best" has a lot of baggage in audio and the culture generally, as prior posters have stated. 
The best system for me, if there is one, is a "relative best one" determined by a ratio :

I use the ratio S.Q./price....

I am pleased then to own one among the best system in the world....Thanks to my "no cost" embeddings controls.... And vintage gear....

😁😊😎

@mahgister - you certainly seem to be one of the posters with the highest reported satisfaction from their system on the forum... not taken in by the industry hype of “best” gear.
It's a journey not a destination, it's a pursuit of perfection that's never quite within our reach, the designers and manufacturers keep things in a constant state of evolution that continues to move the goal line - thank goodness

Cars, computers, etc best of breed today has a top of the line shelf life of 3-5 years

The evolution of product development will always have a smaller, more powerful or higher capacity, bigger bang for the buck model to excite and entice us

Contrary to popular belief, most of us on this forum have more brains than money and are genuinely concerned about long term price performance ROI than chasing the new shiny object that is described to us by world class word salad spin masters as sexy beyond what our mere mortal ears can comprehend

That said, we typically know our weakest link(s) and turn over every stone looking at all the options at our disposal to move to the next level

It's a lot less ready, fire, aim and we tend to operate more in a trust but verify fashion before investing in the next purchase

Enjoy the journey guys and happy listening
Redwood, it depends on how you define best. Best sounding? There surely is a subjective element to that. But there is also an objective one. Can a system missing the bottom four octaves be "best?" Can a system that is two dimensional be "best."
Then there is best as in built and best as in designed. There can certainly be more than one way to skin a cat but there is an obvious difference in quality between components.
Then what are we comparing "best" to? How many of us really know what "best" sounds like? How many of us have lived with a truly brilliant system long enough to get the hang of what best really does. 
My own definition of best is, when I am happy enough that I do not feel like buying any more equipment.
@mahgister - you certainly seem to be one of the posters with the highest reported satisfaction from their system on the forum... not taken in by the industry hype of “best” gear.
It is simple why this is so...

With the same gear system i go from frustration to ecstasy, in a set of hundreds incremental steps each day for the last 2 years, improving my controls methods in mechanical, electrical and especially acoustical working embedding dimensions...I created a thread where i documented all my "silly" or wise experiments during 24 pages....

Then i know why and how my system transformed itself from night to day in clarity, imaging, soundstage, timbre perception. listener envelopment and source width and all other acoustical factors...

All that at almost NO cost....Then NO SYSTEM at any price can impress me even if it is a better one....Because my ratio S.Q./price is over the roof...And anyway the orchestra filled my room with each instruments distinctively perceived... Then .... There is  many systems better than my 500 bucks system for sure but the price is very high compared to it....

Then my satisfaction is not a resignation nor a relative satisfaction....But truly an ecstasy because i create it myself....

My most powerful device is my "mechanical equalizer" inspired by Helmholtz workd and modern acoustical research... Cost: peanuts....

And i dont boast about the piece of gear i bought like many here, any piece of my gear is replaceable by another one of the same quality anyway, i dont sell costly "tweaks" and branded name electronic design, speakers,or dac or amplifier...All that is half deceptive and illusory, hiding the essential: acoustic....

I sell the idea of listening experiments and homemade devices ONLY and i want to motivate creativity, self confidence, and hearing learning and experiments....

Audiophile experience is more related to acoustic control than to dac, speakers or amplifiers, whatever their price or name...

Most people here dont know that and save for me nobody claim that simple truth clearly nowhere on any thread i know of...

Then people chase their tail or worst they chase the moon....And they par the price in money and deception...

The only two things that are asked for is a dedicated room and time for experimenting....

My best to you....

@mijostyn - my point is that "best" in audio is impossible, given the subjectivity involved. There is no "best." Even with all the optimal measurements involved, my "best" will differ from yours. It's a flawed concept, a myth, that serves only to keep up insecure in our pursuit. 
@mijostyn - my point is that "best" in audio is impossible, given the subjectivity involved. There is no "best." Even with all the optimal measurements involved, my "best" will differ from yours. It’s a flawed concept, a myth, that serves only to keep up insecure in our pursuit.
You are right...

The best cannot be established by measures in electronic design ONLY like some pretend nor mainly by  pricing....It is an illusion at best and blinders at worst....

The best in audio is determined by a ratio: S.Q./price...

I own one of the best system if i use this infaillible criterion....

The S.Q. is defined by the qualitative presence of the main acoustical factors: imaging, timbre perception, soundstage, listener envelopment and source width mainly...If they are there in a relatively satisfying way at low cost the goal is reached....

And it is my sole criterion....
I can think of one counter-example to my above screeds. The AM/FM tuner. There has to be a "best" in terms of picking up radio frequencies with most clarity, precision, and sensitivity. All measurable and I arguable, I'd imagine. Other parts of the audio chain, I don't think the same applies. 
FM tuners ?....nope....MR-85 measures better than my 1965 Mac in every parameter you mention, except sound quality.... You will get a host of arguments on FM tuners.... There are probably ten that have achieved cult best status...Dynalab, Sequerra, Mac, Schotz, Tandberg.....I could go on...
@tomic601 I take it back, I'm no tuner expert 
redwood & Tomic;
FM tuners. How amazing was FM so early on? Yep, we learned long ago that good measurements aren't necessarily predictors of the best sound.

A friend recently mentioned he still has his Magnum Dynalab - hoping to hear it soon.
it’s OK....mine gets some use still listening Sunday nights to KING FM in Seattle to the Compline Choir ( last of the monastic offices of the week )....you can stream this.
In Tacoma we also have All Blues w John Kessler on KNKX ( was KPLU )

yes, I miss quality FM....
Right now I'm enjoying one of Primephonic's playlists curated by one of the website's editors. The focus is on the Other Bachs, the ones whose first names aren't Johann Sebastian. Sound is singularly lovely. Image. Timbre. Cleanliness, Ambience. The music, none which I've ever heard before, is singularly lovely, too. As far as I'm concerned, right now I just don't care what might improve my system. I'm just groovin'.
@yyzsantabarbara great link, thanks!  that about sums it up!