Trade offs?

As I have improved my system the quality of the CD recordings has become more and more obvious; unfortunately poor quality and harsh sounding discs seem to bother me more as the reproduction becomes clearer.
Having recently started using Ultrabit Platinum I find it sustantially improves the sound of better recordings but also reveals the harsness in poor recordings.
This all gets me wondering,on this quiet Sunday morning, if perhaps I'm reaching the end of the line on further upgrades to my Spectral/MIT based system?
For example will a better CD player simply reveal that the quality of the recordings are already the limiting factor in my enjoyment, better Cd players won't provide more enjoyment?
You need to do one of two things...

Either start using a nice tube preamp, DAC, or CD player to smooth out the sound and soften the highs, or buy a turntable, cassette deck, or other analog source that doesn't sound harsh.

If the majority of your recordings sound harsh, then it's your system or source component, not your recordings.

BTW, how is the quality of your incoming AC? Do you at least have a good AC line filter or power regenerator?
Well, I disagree somewhat with Plato. If the majority of your CDs sund harsh, it could be that the majority of your CDs are poorly recorded and your resolving system is exposing their flaws.

I have far fewer well recorded CDs in my system than I do poorly recorded CDs (and the same applies to LPs).

As a system becomes more resolving, it more clearly reveals flaws in source material.

If you want more of your CDs to sound less harsh, then I suggest moving toward a less resolving system intended to please your ears rather than providing the absolute truth of the recordings.
I guess I can agree with Tvad that it is possible that the majority of your recordings are poorly recorded.

That said, there is also the possibility that you have poor AC power or a component (even wires) that is making your system sound that way.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to investigate the cause. If it's a particular component, or trashy AC, those things can be addressed. If it's simply the poor quality of your recordings, you can buy some better sounding ones. If nothing is wrong then you can move to tubes or a less resolving system to help soften the harshness.
I used to find that many of my CDs were poorly recorded. Then through many system iterations, support changes and tube changes, I have arrived at a system that makes music no matter what.

I can still easily tell which CDs are well recorded and which aren't - that hasn't changed - but my level of enjoyment has risen to a level where the recording quality doesn't matter as much as the music: the subtle details of playing style, the communication between musicians, dynamic shading etc. I no longer hesitate to play a CD that isn't a great recording. I now simply listen to the music.

How I got to this point is, unfortunately, too complicated to put into mere proclamations. It is a collective difference of many interrelated parts and not one or two magical modifications.

After having owned tons of equipment and played with setup execution for zillions of hours, it is my belief that a highly accurate system does not necessarily mean poor recordings have to sound poor. Quite the contrary actually - a system that is setup just right will get the essence and the emotion of the music to the point of transcending recording flaws. I am very happy to have finally reached that point, and I hope you will too someday. All you need is luck, persistence and patience.

My experience has been increases in system resolution comes in two phases. The first phase often involves increased resolution that may sound more analytical and unforgiving. The second phase is all about refinement of that increased resolution, this is the more difficult to achieve.

I'm at the point where I don't think there is any limit to maximizing both resolution and musicality. Evolution of one's system can likely go on indefinitely.
Get a quality turntable, stylus and phono stage. You won't like the CD's after listening to it.
Get a quality turntable, stylus and phono stage. You
won't like the CD's after listening to it.
Dfwmediagroup (Threads | Answers)

Let's look at the reality. Is someone supposed to jettison their digital source
and hundreds or thousands of CDs, and buy an analog front end and also re-
buy all their music on vinyl?

Of course not. Anyone other than someone financially independent without
any personal fiscal responsibility would replace their entire CD collection with
records. And please don't come back with the nonsensical "If they cared
about music they would" reply. Music lovers are not divided between
those with digital sources and those with analog sources.

There are as many badly recorded LPs as there are badly recorded CDs, and a
resolving analog front end will reveal it just as will a resolving digital front

Let's try to provide advice within reasonable parameters that are workable by
the original poster.
Thank you Tvad! Psacanli, there is absolutely no reason to give up on digital sound, you just need to find the proper synergy.
03-15-09: Tvad
Anyone other than someone financially independent without
any personal fiscal responsibility would replace their entire CD collection with

"Anyone" should be replaced with "No one" in this sentence.

Sns, after reading your post (and Aball's post), I have to agree with you. I have also noticed my system going from highly resolving and exposing all warts, to highly resolving with less grain and less harshness.

However, in my case, phase two has come with a substantially higher investment in components. Is that your case, as well?

The higher cost (from my experience), is why I suggested going in reverse to a less resolving system, which could make more CDs sound listenable while also not breaking the bank.
Tvad, refinement for me has come with parts upgrades. Duelund, Jantzen and VH Audio V-Cap capacitors have made all the difference. Vishay nude resistors are nice as well. Power supply mods are the latest upgrades.

This kind of refinement doesn't have to cost a lot, DIY saves a whole lot. Parts upgrades also allow for a multitude of voicing adjustments, much greater than cables and various isolation schemes, even some wholesale equipment changes IME.

I can't believe how few modders are out there, equipment recycling is relatively boring, endless and costly, I'm done with it.
"If you want more of your cd's to sound less harsh, then I suggest moving toward a less resolving system...."
WHAT?!?!?! Tvad: Do you really think that someone should totally reconfigure their system to accomodate "harsh" sounding cd's, instead of buying better cds? C'mon. That's like putting $500 tires on a Kia instead of buying a BMW.
I'm not a modder, so I pay for equipment with better parts and better design.

However, the end game is the same.
I think you're analogy should be putting $500 tires (and new rims if necessary) on a BMW; just buy higher profile (higher aspect ratio) tires and made of softer tread. It won't corner as well in Alps but 90% of your driving will be much smoother and dare I say enjoyable.
there is no accounting for taste. i believe our hobby is primarily about enjoyment and not about audio "correctness".

thus, there are many ways to achieve satisfaction when listening to music. there is also no free lunch.

if one chooses to minimize coloration, the quality of recordings will become apparent. the greater the focus the more obvious the warts.

the level of focus is the key. some want more, some less.

you can't eat your cake and have it too.

if one alleges greater resolution associated with less harshness, i doubt that there is either greater resolution or greater ease of listening.

you can't have both. it is foolish to propose unattainable listening goals.

there is a trade off that implicitly or explicitly occurs as one tries to hear all there is to hear on a recording.

i am wrestling with this myself, with my recent purchase of quad 57s. let's distinguish between what is attainable and what is impossible to achieve.

it's unfortunate that designers of preamps do not offer a focus control. such a capability, i believe would solve a lot of problems. it is possible that the issue of tubes vs solid state would no longer be an issue.

most recordings are replete with timbral reproduction errors. it therefore comes as no surprise that a high-resolution system will reveal such errors to an experienced listener.
Aball, I'm 100 percent with you on what you said about systems and recording quality. Congrats for explaining it better than I did. :)
Thanks for the comments, and I do understand where Tvad is coming from; however I should clarify, it is through the use of "exceptional" AC power conditioning and isolation, as well as the clarity gained using the CD enhancing fluid mentioned, that I came to this question. As well, I did not say that 'most' of my CDs sound poor- it's quite the reverse in fact - with the efforts I've spent so far more & more Cds reveal the beautiful musicality of the CDs(and I do have a Goldmund turntable as well) and artistic talent of the performers.
My question remains however. Am I reaching the end of the line for CD playback based on the comments I made?
I certainly would not consider moving to turntable use only.
How would I access the 99% of new classical & jazz recordings that are not on vinyl?
Just sticking to cd playback. Your can get both high resolution and musicality, I've heard it with GNSC modded top-of-line Esoteric and Wadia players (my highly modded digital setup is pretty close). High resolution is relatively easy with digital, add refinement and your talking big bucks.

I can also understand where Tvad is coming from with the less resolution comment. I've had a couple tube DACs, more refinement with slightly less resolution, give up a bit here to get a bit more there.

Recording quality certainly needs to be accounted for as well, some recordings will always sound like crap.
Plato, I much appreciate your comments about AC power conditioning. Certainly there is "nobody" out there getting great CD sound without exceptional conditioning and isolation of the digital.
03-15-09: Tvad
Well, I disagree somewhat with Plato. If the majority of your CDs sund harsh, it could be that the majority of your CDs are poorly recorded and your resolving system is exposing their flaws.

I have far fewer well recorded CDs in my system than I do poorly recorded CDs (and the same applies to LPs).

As a system becomes more resolving, it more clearly reveals flaws in source material.

If you want more of your CDs to sound less harsh, then I suggest moving toward a less resolving system intended to please your ears rather than providing the absolute truth of the recordings.

Well said Tvad, I could not agree more. Highly resolving systems point out how poorly a recording can sound. Similar to watching a standard DVD on a 1080p plasma vs. the same recording on a Blu-Ray. If your output is high resolution, you need a high resolution source (recording) to show this. A low resolution recording will be seen/heard warts and all.

"If the majority of your recordings sound harsh, then it's your system or source component, not your recordings."

I'd have to agree.
Mr Tennis,

Let me be clear about this. Yes, you can have a high-res system that sounds "musical," and you can even more easily have a "high-res" system that makes a lot of recordings sound poor.

But the two are not mutually exclusive... you just really need to know what to do in order to set up a system to be both extremely musical and extremely revealing. It is my experience that a lot of so-called "high-res" systems that are so revealing that they make most recordings sound bad are actually systems with "high-res capable" components that are put together in such a way that they lack the synergy needed to sound musical. It's a big complicated equation... how may of the variables have you addressed and how many have escaped your scrutiny?

My system is exposing more detail than it ever has, and it sounds very musical at the same time. So, as I said, musicality with high resolution is an attainable goal. Some audiophiles have apparently attained it and some have not.

That said, the redbook CD format has a definite resolution ceiling and floor, but it can sound quite detailed and musical within its envelope. One need only look at the many comments from 'philes who know CD as a first language and were disappointed when trying to get equivalent or better performance out of a turntable-based system.

Wide dynamic swings, low-noise, and low-bass extension are the CD format's good points, while great analog excells at midbass through high-frequency definition. It seems that the highs can be smoother and more extended with vinyl, and that is the basis for a lot of what we audiophiles perceive as "fine detail and/or immediacy."

I've been told that the Chesky downloadable HD tracks are very promising, but have not been successful at setting up that system as yet. Hopefully I'll be able to check it out in the future. To date, I've had no luck getting Chesky to answer my e-mails about system requirements or set-up issues. They seem to do a lot of promoting, but are not at all good about answering e-mail regarding trouble-shooting their software.
I'm with Plato on this.
there is either a semantic issue or logic issue.

first, let's discuss musicality:

music refers to pitch, timbre and harmonics. other by products are dynamics and tempo.

achieving musicality requires recordings which are accurate respect to timbre and harmonics. no recording can be accurate , as in 100 percent accuracy, because of the recording process. thus, one is left with an inaccurate recording. when listening to an inaccurate recording through a stereo system, the result is some degree of error with respect to perfection . can you call some presentation musical ? it is a matter of opinion. it all depends upon one's standards. it is my contention that if you don't have perfection, you have something less. calling something less musical is arbitrary. there are too many variables.

resolution is another matter. there is resolution, inaccurate resolution and accurate resolution. since stereo systems are inaccurate, the resolution attained has errors, with respect to the recording.

thus, an inaccurate stereo system, produces some level of resolution which is not 100 percent accurate and certainly not 100 percent musical.

calling something musical when it has timbral errors is not very useful.

since our hobby is enetrtaining, it could be sufficient to say that a stereo system achieves inaccuarcy of resolution and musicality but its errors do not prevent one from enjoying the music.

unfortunately it is not possible to quantify how inaccurate or how far off from 100 percent musicality any stereo system is and it is difficult to compare stereo systems with respect to these variables.

if the term "musical" has another connotation, please define so that i understand what is meant by that term.
after my long rant, i forgot to add the following:

if a stereo system is highly resolving, it can't always sound "musical", because all recordings are not in themselves, sufficiently "musical", to reveal the attributes of music.

if instead, a stereo system always sounds "musical", whatever that means, it cannot be highly resolving, as colorations intrinsic to a stereo system will render problem recordings "musical" in their presentation.
I'm waiting for more and better remasters, things are complicated enough trying to balance a system, it can be fun, or a pain in the ass.
MrTennis, while your contentions may be logical, they are more an academic argument than applicable to what we're discussing here.

I understand the jargon of sonics to be understood as semantics rather than objective descriptions. Therefore, musical means the ability to enjoy music rather than listening to the 'sound' of music.

As far as resolution relates to musicality, you hit the nail on the head. If a stereo system is highly resolving it can't always sound musical. 'Can't always' is the critical element, yes, too many recordings aren't inherently musical, ie. can never sound musical. As for many other, or perhaps most recordings, they can sound musical on a highly resolving system, they have some amount of inherent musical quality.

I doubt any system can always sound musical. You contend some recordings have no inherent musical qualities, any system that could make these somehow musical would be capable of performing magic. Colorations of a less resolute system would only add further color to amusical recordings, certainly not make them musical.

A system that is both musical and highly resolving allows one to enjoy the maximum number of cds within one's collection. Extracting maximum musical enjoyment, along with maximum information is the goal many of us are seeking. I'm not sure that adhesion to some perfectionist and objectivist ideal is what many of us are after, as you say, way too many variables to drive that delusion.
"...some recordings have no inherent musical qualities...."

Comedy recordings I suppose?
words lose their meaning when they are too inclusive.

the idea that one can enjoy music when listening to a highly resolving stereo system does not imply that the sound of that stereo system is musical, or is accurate with respect to timbre.

if the criteria for musicality is "i can enjoy listening to music", almost any stereo system will be acceptable, especially to its owner.

the word "musical", as has been used on these forums no longer means accuracy of timbre. in fact, many recordings are not musical.

calling an apple an orange does not suddenly transform the orange into an apple.

perfection is not the issue. the issue is the meaning of words. it may feel good to use the words resolution and musical in the same sentence, but the word musical in that context is watered down.
It seems musicality is only your perogitive to define for yourself. In looking up the definition of musicality I find there are so many meanings that it is mostly undefinable. Rather it is a feeling, thus, a semantic and/or subjective term.

It is perfectly fine to use the term musical as it is so often understood in these forums. It seems to get across the point quite effectively, most people seem to get it. Now, whether it meets your definition of musical is another issue entirely.

And if it doesn't meet your defintion, please tell us what term or terms you would use to define this feeling?

I also doubt "almost any stereo will be acceptable" in regard to this meaning of musicality is widespread. Look at all the system changes always being undertaken, something must be less than acceptable in order for so many to be undertaking so many changes.

In the end, some words simply have no agreed upon, universal meaning, we all do the best we can in using less than perfect language. How I long for a world in which all words have some perfect meaning, just think how much less confusion and conflict there would be!

And yes, I still contend, as do others, that this feeling of a system being musical and maximum resolution are not inherently exclusive, we feel music and hear resolution at the same time, quite an achievement!
Discussions with MrT along the lines of this one regarding the definition of
musicality are like running on a hamster wheel.

The hamster never gets anywhere.

Neither will readers of this debate.
musicality means accuracy of timbre. an oboe sounds just like an oboe, a tenor does not sound like an alto sax, and of course frequency response is balanced.

it seems obvious to me that if 2 people say: "my stereo system sounds musical", one might disagree with other as to the sound of the "other" stereo system.

what anyone says , in the end, does not matter, as we return to our stereo systems and listen to music.

if each one of us considers his/her stereo system musical, that is all that matters.

as to how so many stereo systems could be considered musical and yet the components within change so much. a stereo systemn can be musical, less musical and more musical, according to the way the term has been used.

"musical" is based upon opinion. let's leave it at that.

as an absoluteist, i think all stereo systems are flawed and not musical, because of errors of timbre.

as for resolution and musicality, from what i surmise of the relativism of terms, i understand how a system can be deemed musical and highly resolving.

it's just words and its all a matter of opinion.

also, it is worth noting that one may be able to fool others, but it is hard to fool one's self.
I think if you play an instrument, musicality's meaning is quite clear and if given, a high compliment indeed. It's not very difficult to play every note correctly with correct tempo, following the dynamics and have a piece not sound musical. I wouldn't say the timbre and its accuracy is the defintion of musical. It wouldn't be right to describe it that way, since you're listening to the live instrument. Yet one can easily hear musicality or not. Muscicality is simply getting the music out of a piece.
Wireless200, I'm with you on that; and luckily, lots of 'musicality' comes through most stereo systems. Many of us Audiogoners are just into refining the playback quality for ever increasing our enjoyment and feel of the music.