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The way I see it, you got to put the oscilloscope down and listen to music/voice/anything else, both live and recorded. Take your time. Let your ears be the guide. Keep in mind that source material may not be all that perfect, either, and there's no reason you shouldn't be able to deviate from the technical straight and narrow to optimize the source material your heart likes the best. Putting it another way, are you at the doctor's office or in your living room? Then there's the matter of the associated components and the room they sit in.
I believe it’s just a personal choice that is initially made by amp designers, about whether their goal is accuracy or a certain flavored sound recipe that is targeted toward a particular segment of audio equipment consumers. We as consumers then make an almost identical decision about which amp designs best match our personal overall system sound preferences and vote with our dollars.
Personally, I preferred the flavored camp for years, using a VTL with expensive NOS Mullard tubes rolled in, although always paired with various good quality and powerful class AB ss amps due to using inefficient 87dB planar speakers. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed listening to music via a high quality all tube system, however, they were never my system due to my preference for inefficient planar-magnetic speakers. Currently, I use a neutral and accurate Parasound Halo P-5 preamp paired with neutral, accurate and powerful ss class D monoblock amps and find the overall sound just as enjoyable.
After migrating from a flavored system to a neutral and accurate system, my main lesson learned is that I perceive both types of systems about equally enjoyable in my room. They both are able to convey the same sweetness, warmth, dimensionality and slightly euphonic nature on most of my familiar music. The only prerequisite on my current neutral and accurate system is that the recording be of high quality, a bad recording will obviously sound like it on my current system.
The main reasons I’ve chosen to remain with a neutral and accurate system are because I have a large collection of mostly very well recorded music, typically hi-res files recorded direct to digital, and because I’m able to so clearly perceive any effects of system changes such as recording quality, component, interconnect and speaker wire changes.
There are no audio paths through which "nothing" is ever added that wasn't part of the original signal. Vinyl, tubes, transistors, tape, digital, wiring - you name it - all of it can be said to color the sound to one degree or another. It's simply a matter of personal taste as to what, or when, colorations might be preferable, tolerable or offensive and to what degree.
Then there is who is designing your gear are they older with natural hearing loss or younger with much of their hearing still intact. that's something I've always wondered as many of our more famous designers are well past retirement age so their hearing is in question IMO. lets take for example a person reviewing some gear, what's that persons age ?do they have hearing loss ? that makes a huge difference in what they hear and what they report. lets not even get into environmental influences.
Someone with hearing loss in one area may report other areas next to those frequencies as elevated.
Do you honestly think an elderly male is going to be able to hear much above 15k (if that) so how do they know if the treble is extended or not? or harsh or not?
I'm 54 i know from testing that I have a slight loss at around 5-6khz in my left ear do I notice this when listening of course not my brain fills it in (probably not actually correct but that's our brains).
Moral of the story we all hear differently so finding a designer with similar tastes and hearing is essential to our enjoyment. So get out there get your hearing tested correctly (not the push the button when you hear a tone test that's not accurate enough) find out were your lacking and use that information to help you select equipment.
Hi. Thanks for responses. This is how I responded to John, crossing over with some of your points it appears.
...John, methinks you want someone to give you "your" answer, so you may never be satisfied with ours. As a subjective music lover, I truly believe that our hearing is more veracious and capable of perceiving sounds and spacial cues than instruments using hard science. Let's remember that audio playback is an illusion, hardly the real thing, as we cannot crawl into the same space that the microphones attempted to capture. As with our others senses, how can I tell how you perceive, say, the taste of a particular wine; assess a Rembrandt; or identify the preference of a scent of a fine perfume? I will say this. Back in the later 70's, I purchased a powerful new McIntosh MC2200 solid state amplifier to drive a pair of McIntosh XR5 floor standing loudspeakers. The new amp had a glitch, and I was handed a little McIntosh 45W tube loaner to drive these inefficient speakers. Yes, the highs were rolled off and the bass was flabby, but, oh my, that mid-range was clearly way beyond the abilities of the MC2200. Back to Maine, a few years later, I had upgraded to a pair 45lb Chapman 2 way monitors that were far more revealing than the XR5's. I discovered that Transparent Audio was importing the Electrocompaniet Ampliwire II, a small, high current, 45w solid state amplifier that was getting raves in the burgeoning underground press of the day:
The differences in "my truth" between the McIntosh and the little Ampliwire II were astounding! Some further modifications turned the little amp into a world class amplifier, which I used for 20 years. Yes, the sound was tube-like without the downsides of "old tube sound." Okay, just what does that mean? Having recently experienced, at length, some of Nelson Pass's best efforts vs the wonderful Audio Matiere Equilibre tube amp, and some lovely 300B tube monoblocks, I can confidently say that the gap has joyfully closed between the two approaches.... I could easily live in either camp. Tubes no longer sound tubby, restricted and rolled on top. Transistors no longer sound metallic, dry, lacking in leading edge transients and soothing decay. The high resolution possible today exposes so much more of the timbre, nuance and holographic nature of modern high fidelity, does away with the congestion and boredom of early hi fi, allowing these advances full advantage over stock retro gear. Mix that with the access to quality streaming, and, man...what a time to be a music lover! More Peace, Tim (Pin)