What does it take to have a revealing system?

I have to heard it said that a system is not revealing enough for a certain component to really show off what it can sound like.

What does it take to have a revealing system?
Take your pick of the following possibilities:

1. You're not hearing much of a difference in a component that someone else swears by. The other person's a priori assumption is there is something wrong with you or your system.

2. Whatever characteristic a component has is offset by an inverse quality elsewhere in a system or otherwise masked.

3. Your priorities as to what's important in music reproduction aren't in the same order as the other person's.

Ultimately, the whole point of a stereo system is to play back recorded music in a manner that allows you to suspend your disbelief and imagine you are hearing a real performance (or what was intended to be heard by the artist.) There are many paths to that place, grasshopper. ;-)
A good deal of it is resonance control. Everywhere. Some is mechanical and some is electrical. If you ever experience ringing from a transformer or other such device you'll understand that removing those echos reveals more of what is or isn't in the recording. Even speakers mis-placed can cause this kind of interaction at the listening position.
Glory, my experience has been that systems become more and more revealing as components are selected consistently over time for neutrality and not complimentary colorations in an ongoing effort to compensate for existing colorations of other items already in the system. After this, systems that strive for simplicity of circuits and connections tend to be more revealing than complex systems, or at least it's easier to achieve in simple systems. By simple, I mean fewer switches, fewer connections, more direct circuit designs.

And, systems whose components use higher quality parts (often leading directly to higher cost, unfortunately) tend to be more revealing. These components are adding LESS extraneous noise and distortion to the signal path.

As a system becomes more resolving of lower level detail, better able to pass the nuances of micro-dynamics and shadings of timbre, it becomes much easier to hear other changes in the system and to appreciate the benefits of changes in other components in the system.

As an example, a friend has recently been on an upgrade journey. He replaced a basically "okay" solid state preamp with an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp. Suddenly, he was hearing much more of the information on his LPs than he'd heard before. Then he replaced his basically "okay" cartridge with a Lyra Titan. Now he had a leap in additional information coming from his LPs. At this point, he is now able to hear that his current turntable and tonearm *may* be limiting the resolution the Titan and the MP-1 are probably capable of delivering. (My experience says, "Yes." He won't know until he makes the change.)

If my friend had added the Lyra Titan cartridge before upgrading to the MP-1, I doubt that he would have been able to hear how much of an improvement the Titan was capable of giving him. I've heard the Titan mounted on a better arm and turntable, so I can suggest to him that he has more enjoyment in store as he makes the move to a better arm.

At each step, the new component was able to pass more information with higher resolution of lower level detail and limitations elsewhere in his system became more apparent. It is the classic never ending stair-stepping of our audio hobby. To some extent, we don't realize how much we may be missing until we hear it or until our systems make that next step in transparency and resolution that allows us to hear it.

I very much agree with Dan_ed that resonance control is another significant contributing factor. Most of us do not get the resolution of which our CURRENT systems are capable until we invest the time and effort in optimizing resonance control. The magic is in the details.

Hope this helps a bit.
Your components have to be able to resolve detail. That is absolutely the first requirement IME. After that, room setup, and acoustical, mechanical and electrical tweaking make the difference, but the first requirement is resolution in the gear.

You can have a very enjoyable system that does not resolve musical info completely, of course.

My small experience suggest a rule of thumb: I can fall asleep while listening to an enjoyable system. I have a harder time falling asleep while listening to an enjoyable _revealing_ system.

It takes an across the board purchase of all new, high margin equipment, cables, power conditioning equipment, tweaks and accessories from the salesman who told you that.
You have to keep in mind a lot of the differences in new components come from the excitement of having a new device in the system. I'm not saying there are no difference in sound quality between components, there is, just that they are not always as pronounced as most think. Perception is a big part of the listening experience in my view.
Money and an obsessive compulsion disorder.

Get a decent pair of headphones and a suitable amp.

There is no more practical way to reveal what is in the music.
Just remember, the information on that lp or cd was not put there by God.
A lack of modesty.
Finding and eliminating the weakest link in the chain over a long time, can lead to a high resolution system.
For example, i bought a Sony SCD777ES ten years ago.
All that time it has sounded only as good as the other CD transports I own via an Adcom DA700 (tweaked with antistatic foam, and all via power conditioners)
Well FINALLY the Sony sound a little better than the DAC. After upgrading nearly everything else!
So the Sony always did have the ability to sound better.. I just did not have the rest of a system that could show it.
So it is ALWAYS some parts holding back others. Finding and fixing those problem parts is the key.
There is always some weak link in a system to some degree. There is a loss of sometimes 25% to 50% of the original event due to losses in the recording limitations we have today. This according to a friend in the recording industry. Thus, do not be overly concerned with "revealing" but with musical and whether you continue want to listen to music. That is the test. Enjoy, jallen
Hearing the drama and nuance that live, acoustic, unamplified musical intruments create can help you identify the distortions that prevent your audio system from sounding like the real thing. Get up close and personal at your local piano bar, bistro or coffee house.
A lot of money.
good ears and Jim Smith's 'better Sound'.
A system that is not revealing enough is not capable of showing off any component, nor the media being played on it. :)
I'm an advocate of using the "system foundation" approach to audio reproduction which IMO is the only sure method of obtaining optimal performance from audio equipment. Of course the more sophisticated the audio equipment, and the degree system foundation improvements are implemented, the more revealing the audio system.

In order of importance:

Symmetrical listening room positioning minimizing equipment between and around primary speakers, primary speakers away from room boundaries, proper toe-in, and equi-distance from listening position. With careful listening this will promote a more linear frequency response, coherence, and imaging.

Room acoustics to control sound reflections that "smear" audio diminishing dynamics, presence, and articulation.

Dedicated audio circuits with power conditioning to minimize electrical line noise that reduces dynamics and resolution.

Synergistic cabling (power, ic, speaker) to ensure design philosophy continuity throughout the electrical path.

Resonance control to isolate audio equipment electrical noise and vibration which smears the audio signal. This signficantly improves presence and articulation.

I'm convinced this is a sound approach because after attending a RMAF 2008 seminar and implementing most of these changes, my audio system sound has improved exponentially.
Lwhite's list is pretty good but also demonstrates how much work can be involved.

REgarding what or how much it takes to accomplish a revealing system, starting with headphones as a baseline simplifies things considerably.

Then you can focus on teh remaining room acoustics related things needed for speakers from there using the headphones as a reference for what to expect to be able to hear.

I'm a big fan of OHm Walsh speakers as a great starting point for many in terms of being able to well integrate speakers effectively into typical listener's rooms at home in a manner that is cost effective yet revealing and will tend to naturally draw you into the music and details repeatedly when you listen.
"revealing enough for a certain component to really show off what it can sound like"
most likely i am not into components yet but i am curies about this:
recently i was going through thread from 2011 CES, and the person took recordings from different manufactures and equipment. i was listening to these on my laptop using headset with mike (pc type stereo headset for 20 usd). Now, i got really surprised that i could here the difference in all equipment recorded - some sounded better, some so so, some quite terrible....
does that mean that my head set is so good because from listening to these high end speakers/cables/components i can tell the difference in the way the sound?????

something definitely dont make sens here....
1) Good setup.
2) Well matched gear (doesn't have to cost a fortune for most rooms)
3) low distortion.
I appreciate LWhite's input and agree, for the most part. However, I will be purchasing the new Emotiva XMC-1 HT processor in the next 7-8 months because this piece will incorporate the TacT Room Correction System.

Having experienced the astonishing benebfits of this waaayyy back when it was first introduced, I am thoroughly stoked that I can now afford to have this incredible device in my system (the UMC-1 sells for $1499 and I have a 40% discount card - I will pay $899 for it).

WHile I do not have the greatest system on this site, far from it, I do think that what I have is more than adequate to be called revealing. And having the TacT RCS in the mix will surely result in an even more revealing, and pleasing, presentation...

A lot of good comments have been offered above, most of which I agree with. However, I would add that references I have seen in the past to the ability of a system to be "revealing" have often confused the ability of the system to reveal musical detail and information with its ability to reveal differences between components, cables, tweaks, etc. They are two different things.

While a reasonable level of quality must be present for a system to be revealing of differences between hardware, there are many ways in which an increase in the ability of a system to reveal hardware differences can have nothing to do with the ability of the system to reveal musical information. And in fact an inverse relationship may often exist, such that increased ability to reveal hardware differences may in some cases reflect deficient design and the likelihood of reduced sonic quality.

Some examples follow. In each case it is assumed that everything else is equal:

1)A component having high output impedance will be more revealing of cable differences than a component having low output impedance.

2)A speaker having low impedance will be more revealing of cable and amplifier differences than one having high impedance.

3)A speaker whose impedance varies widely as a function of frequency will be more revealing of amplifier differences than one whose impedance is relatively constant.

4)Electronic components whose design is more susceptible to ground loop issues will be more revealing of interconnect cable differences than those that aren't as susceptible.

5)Unbalanced interfaces will tend to be more revealing of cable differences than balanced interfaces.

6)A component having greater susceptibility to emi/rfi problems will be more revealing of differences in cables, power cords, placement, and other factors than a component that is less susceptible.

7)Likewise for a component that generates more emi/rfi than another component.

8)A component having greater sensitivity to AC line voltage variations will be more revealing of power cord differences than one that is less sensitive.

9)A reason that is often cited for sonic differences between power cords is the constraint that the inductance or other characteristics of the cord may impose on abrupt changes in AC current demand, that may in turn occur as a result of the dynamics of the music. Class A power amplifiers will be much less revealing of those differences in power cord behavior than Class AB or Class D power amplifiers would be, because their AC current draw varies much less as a function of the amount of power that is sent to the speakers.

10)A moving coil phono stage that can't handle ultrasonic frequency components gracefully, without intermodulation effects resulting at audible frequencies, will be more revealing of differences in the capacitance of the phono cable than a phono stage that has no problems handling ultrasonic frequencies.

11)Sonic differences between digital cables depend greatly on the happenstance of a complex and largely unpredictable set of relationships and interactions between the parameters of the cable, including length, impedance accuracy, shielding effectiveness, shield resistance, propagation velocity, etc., and the technical characteristics of what the cable is connecting, including signal risetimes and falltimes, impedance accuracy, jitter rejection capability, ground loop susceptibility, etc.

Many other comparable examples could be cited.

-- Al