wht is the difference between good and bad sound ?

is it all subjective ? is sound quality dependent upon the ear of the beholder, or are there standards for judgment ?

in essence, if one does not like the sound is it bad sound, and cobnversely, if one likes the sound then it is good sound ?

does this also apply to components as well, i.e., if one does not like the contribution a component makes to the sound of a stereo system then that component is a bad component ?
Over the years, I've come to believe that people differ in how they experience sound reproduction, in somewhat the same way that some foods taste good to some people but are disagreeable to others.

The simplistic answer to your question is: if the sound quality seems good to you, it is. And if it doesn't, it isn't.

Beyond that, there are a variety of qualities that high-end audiophiles value: wide dynamic range; excellent midrange, with full bass and clear highs; transparency; accurate frequency response; soundstaging; PRAT; etc. The extent to which each of these properties matters to a person can be pretty subjective, and does vary between listeners.

In somewhat the same sense, the way a given component "contributes" to sound reproduction may, or may not, be pleasing to a given listener. It will depend, I think, on what importance the listener places on each of the respective audio properties. For example, some people love the warmth of tubes, while others prefer the sound of solid state gear.

Chacun a son gout...
It's sort of like the difference between thick and thin... The trick is that one needs to decide where to draw the line.

There are very few sounds/components that are entirely good or entirely bad. Most include varying amounts of good and bad, so one needs to decide for him/herself which quality is domimant.

If one does not like the sound, it can still be good sound, and conversely, if one likes the sound, it can still be bad sound.

I hope that clears it up for you.
Lisa, stay away from that jazzman.
plato, you are confusing me. on what basis does a component
posess both good and bad qualities, if the listener doesn't like the affect of the component upon the stereo system and therefore asserts "it's a bad component" . your view is still subjective. its either "A", or "B", or part "A&B".

you certainly are entitled to your philosophical perspective. it is one of many.

i say the beauty is in the beholder and therefore if someone doesn't like the sound it's bad.

the fact that we disagree supports my thesis that there are no absolute standards of quality but only standards with which one can disagree.
Mrs Tennis,

The simple answer is an emphatic YES. Good sound is in the eye, or in this case the ear, of the beholder. In the High End world this becomes increasingly convoluted. It is a matter of taste. Alas, we reach an epiphany. We begin to realize there is no such thing as the "BEST COMPONENT." It comes down to enjoyment and how best to maximize YOUR system and taylor it to your tastes. Which strengths do you value and which are you willing to sacrafice. Lightning fast transients, Transparency, musicality, Soundstaging, Nonfatigueing, Accurate bass, Tight bass, extended bass, etc... These are a few adjetives used to describe top notch "Audiophile systems." The problem is how many of us listen to Audiophile recordings exclusively. Ideally, you would like a system that is nuetral and passes only the signal that is sent to it. Once you have heard a system that does that, sometimes you spend more time listening to the recording or the shortcomings of the recording than actually listening to music. Here is the Paradox of the High End world. How do you make a piece of Gear Accurate, but also able to sound good with the variety of genres of music as well as the wide array of recordings in the marketplace. Some of these recordings are very good and some are downright horrendous. That is why we get back to the original discussion.

Audio is arguably the most subjective hobby out there!!
Good sound engages you, and makes you want to stay in the room. Bad sound makes you want to leave the room and go out to play tennis. :) Subjective for sure, but that's audio, like everybody says.
Mrtennis, if you play a poor recording on an excellent system and it sounds bad, what does that mean? If you are unfamiliar with the recording would you just assume that the excellent system is "bad sounding"?

Then if you played a really great recording on a poor system and it sounded "good," would that make the poor system a "good" system?

What about if you heard a great system in a room that had poor acoustics? Would it still be "good"?

Why don't you do the "wife test"? Play your system at a moderate listening level when your wife is in an adjacent room. If your wife asks you to please turn it down, it's a bad system. If she comes into the room and listens with you, it's a very good system. And if she starts asking for requests, while sitting next to you in the sweet spot, it's an excellent system! If you're not married, perhaps you could substitute your sister, mom, or a friend's wife...? If any of them tell you that the highs "hurt their ears," that's the kiss of death, and you can assume the system is "bad."

lets use logic. if i play a good recording and a bad recording on a stereo system and don't like the sound in either case it is a bad stereo system.

a stereo system is only as strong as its weakest link. if a stereo system sounds bad with a bad recording it is a bad stereo system. if it sounds good with a bad recording it is a good stereo system. the issue is what does the stereo system sound like with a recording. it's still subjective.

we can agree to disagree, but until absolute standards are established.

a system can sound bad with a bad recording or a good recording. it is irrelevant with the recording sounds like. one can not know what a recording sounds like anyway, just as one cannot not know the sound of an individual component.

knowledge cannot come from experience. only opinion comers from experience.

it's all just opinion.
plato, i missed the obvious flaw in your first sentence.

you posit the existence of a bad recording and that of an excellent stereo system.

you can't make that ssumption because the term excellent and bad is the result of experience, not knowledge. you are assuming the existence of an excellent stereo system, but that determination would be made subjectively, after listening to many recordings--in theory both good and bad.

if the system were excellent it would not sound bad with a bad recording.

with regard to a recording on what basis is the detrmination of its sound quality. there is no way to know this.

you are caught in a logical dilemma, assuming what you are trying to prove.

if everything is a matter of opinion, the evaluation of a stereo system would be subject to disagreement. a stereo system could be judged excellent and poor by two serious listeners. thus the stereo system is neither excellent or poor, just judged to be and its inherent sonic quality would be unobtainable with objective absolute criteria. unfortunately they do not exist
Mrtennis, this thread is starting to remind me of that Monty Python skit, the one in which a man [Eric Idle] comes in for an argument [with John Cleese].
Hmmmm, well, I can see that nothing gets by you, Mrtennis.
Mr Tennis, I will answer your question as soon as you provide me with a concise definition of your terms. Please define 'good sound' and 'bad sound'. When I understand this I will have a basis for reaching a conclusion about what differences, if any, may exist.
hi newbee once i have defined the terms good and bad sound, the difference will be apparent to me.

you are asking me to answer my own question.

its obvious that such a question is philosophical and has no answer.

however, there are 3 answers to this question.

1) pure subjectivity as previously stated--an attiude toward the sound of a stereo system. if favorable, the sound is good, if unfavorable, bad sound.

this does not indicate what good/bad sound is because there would be disagreements as to the evaluation of a stereo system, and the same listener may alter his/her attitude toward the same stereo system over time

2) good and bad sound relate to intrinsic qualities of the sound a stereo system produces. the problem here is to specify what criteria conote good/bad sound ?

has anybody so far specified criteria for good sound ?

standards could be presented, but there may be more than one set of valid standards, so which prevails ?

here lies the essential problem, namely that inherently good sound is not an absolute state.

3) the affect of the sound of the stereo system upon the listener. thus the actual sound of the stereo system is not a factor but rather how a person reacts to it. surely we all have some awareness of what "good" is , so applying the concept of good, certain behaviors, physiological states and physiological states would determine whether a stereo system has good sound or bad sound. of course, how does one distinguish the affect of the music from the affect of the stereo ?

one would have to select sources which would be neutral as to content with respect to lyrics.

the probelm with this concept is the possibility that the same stereo system could produce inconsistent behavior bewteen listeners and among listeners over time.

thus one comes to the conclusion that there is no definitive answer to your question but rather the subjective state of personal judgment and opinion.
The difference between good and bad sound is mainly in the skill or luck of the person putting the system together. Neither the Toyota nor the Merc are bad cars, but you can drive a bad Toyota or a bad Merc. Of course there is gear that will always give bad sound, but it is rare. For me bad sound becomes a dense wall of sound where I cannot hear into it in arder to distinguish the sounds of different instruments and how they are being played, where I cannot hear the different textures each instrument possesses. This can happen with expensive gear more frequently that inexpensive gear can sound good, but both can sound good and both can sound bad. As I say the skilled or lucky audiophile can make good sound with a small budget, but this is not to say that he can make as good a sound with a bigger budget. The dense wall of sound effect occurs IMO when the brain cannot decode what it hears, ie the distortions are too unnatural or too numerous for the brain to make sense of them. Good sound can be distorted too, but if the brain can make sense of what it hears then it matters a lot less. Real music in real rooms is distorted too, but in a way where our brains have learned to cope.
hi redkiwi:

suppose someone likes what you call bad sound, either a) because someone else's brain can hear thru the dense wall of sound or b) likes the sound that you describe as bad sound.

in that case we are back to square one, which is one man's bad sound is another's good sound.

now back to the toyota. if a toyota is not a bad car, how can there be a bad toyota. doi you mean a toyota that needs repair frequently , or something else ??
Within the scope of subjective preferences, there are still qualities that could be universally accepted as bad. For instance, one could argue that odd order and IM distortion are bad although the significant amounts of even order distortion that tube equipment adds might be subjectively desirable. Jitter is always bad because there's no form of jitter that is musically satisfying. Huge, peaky resonances are also bad although small resonances are unavoidable and can be largely ignored.

I think the subjective aspect of Audio enters because it is impossible to acheive perfection. There's no such thing as a perfect listening room or perfect components. Different people balance the imperfect elements in ways that minimize the imperfections based on their own experiences, auditory systems and musical preferences.

Adding to the subjective nature of this persuit, recordings are made without any kind of absolute reference for the type of playback system that will be used. The recording engineer tries to balance the imperfections of his equipment, acoustics and artistic intent with what he thinks the typical system will reproduce.
hi jlambrick:

when you decribe certain phenomena as bad, isn't that an arbitrary standard. suppose someone like bright sound, or likes the effect of jitter. maybe you and i don't but you can't have it both ways.

if its all subjective--jitter, harmonic distortion, frequency response imbalances, sound is only bad when someone doesn't like it.

if there are standards, they are not absolute. the fact that many agree with them merely denotes popularity which is subjective.

until you are in a quantitative mode, such athletics, where faster can be construed to be better than slower, universal acceptance, as you say neither conotes good or baad.

again logic dictates deduction and if you have a postulate from which you draw a conclusion, i can posit another postulate.

the concept of good and bad as applied to any endeavor of life is philosophical. there is not definitive answer. it is just an exchange of ideas.

i happen to agree with you regarding harmonic ditortion, but i have heard evidence of jitter which has sounded pleasant to me.
I've never heard of anyone liking the sound of jitter or odd harmonic distortion. These seem to be universally accepted forms of 'bad' distortion. What type of jitter have you found to be pleasant?
years ago i became a member of the bmg music club.

i compared cds issued to the club to commercially available cds on the dgg label. these were classical cds. i noticed a difference between the sound of the cds.

in a nutshell, i would describe the diffference as a loss of detail or veiling for the cds from the club as compared to those commercially available.

these facts were reported to bob katz, a recording engineer at chesky records.

he did some research and concluded that the club cds had more jitter than the commercially available cds.

i found the losss of detail on the club cds a benefit, making the sound more pleasant than that of the commercially available cds.
Mrtennis, I wasn't trying to enter into the existentialist debate, just describe how good and bad sound occur for me - no more and no less. Good and bad are generalised terms to describe what must be a continuum and may have several dimensions. You can describe any observation as 'in the eye of the beholder'. Is this sheet of paper white, or is the only fact that I perceive the paper to be white. Me perceiving it to be white does not preclude another person perceiving it to be grey. So where does this get us? Not far unless you just like such debates. But the counter-factual, which could be that noone should ever describe here something as sounding good/bad, or better/worse than anything else seems to me to lead to reducing the sum of our enlightenment. Just because we cannot prove many useful facts about sound does not mean we cannot discuss the observations that have occurred to us. Take everything with a grain of salt, but don't dismiss all reported observations as meaningless.
observations are not meaningless. our experience is basically all that we have. there is very little knowledge. most of us know very little.

there is sound. it is neither intrinsically good or bad.

the terms are used to express a subjective reaction to listening. there are disagreements between serious listeners as to what is good and bad.

the point of this and other similar philosophical posts is to get people thinking about different perspectives, and rid themselves of rigidity and dogmatism in their thinking.
of course debates are stimulating and keep our brains sharp. remember use it or lose it.

one could do worse than engage in philosophical discussions.
It's like asking what is the difference between good and bad food. I have no idea what "you" like to eat, but whatever it is I am sure you truly enjoy it.

I would have to agree with Mrtennis' point about experience. If we didn't have opinions based on experience all we would be left with is just sound.

Opinions derived from observation, experience and communication is what makes the world (and Audiogon) go round.

Anyway, bla bla bla, this is a bad thread...... or is it?
Mrtennis has waaaay too much time on his hands. Plus I think he watched too many Woody Allen movies and saw too much dialog between Allen and Diane Keaton. Only those were pretty well done and actually made sense. Mrtennis just likes to toss out crazy notions and see how people react. We should probably ignore his silly posts and leave him to his boom box and therapy sessions.
ok 9rw you win. my next post will not be silly, academic or philosophical.

i don't think ideas are crazy, but perhaps of interest in an academic environemnt, hence not so practical. still, it is interesting to discuss the abstract once in a while.
To me, more transparent sound is better sound. You will have less headache after a long listening session. Generally, bold and thick sound (in same loudness) is better. They have bigger sound images. Thin sound is OK for easy listening. Thicker and vivid sound is higher end. Don't confuse with peaky, scratch, and confused sound. The good sound is musical. The sound makes you good feeling or tapping toes is a good sign. It doesn't matter how the sound is impressive or has big sound stage. If the sound is boring after 10 minutes, it's not a good sound. However, a good sound system sounds sometime boring with different music and condition. The good sound is described as transparent, clear images, clean sound, palpable, define stage, huge sound stage, sweet, refine, delicate, PRAT (musical timing), etc.
If your sound system has some degree of above qualities, then you want these qualities such as tight or generous bass, beautiful mid range=human voice, more details of sound, correct tones of musical instruments, deeper 3D sound images and stage, more live sound or more illusion of acoustical beauty, etc.

I've been in audio for 25 years. Above qualities are what I want from my sound system. I expect other audiophiles are looking for something similar. Please you audiophiles add some more qualities of good sound that I missed.
i have thought about this and there is no definitive answer.

there are basically three different judgment criteria:

the subjective

fidelity to the recording

realism of timbre
This kind of question is good for everyone. What is your idea of good and bad sound? It will be helpful to know for new or even seasoned members. Why do we upgrade equipments constantly? This thread can be a good guideline for upgrade path for many members. Please participate and explain your sound system's good and bad sound. Or what sound quality you want in your future upgrade.
This kind of question is good for everyone. What is your idea of good and bad sound? It will be helpful to know for new or even seasoned members. Why do we upgrade equipments constantly? This thread can be a good guideline for upgrade path for many members. Please participate and explain your sound system's good and bad sound. Or what sound quality you want in your future upgrade.
For myself, in literary terms, it's called suspension of disbelief. Which doesn't mean convinced but real enough and engaging enough to, as Sculley said, "I want to believe". Makes it expensive for a skeptic.
It's all just a difference in opinion.
Good and bad taste on part of listener.
Nobody knows.
Good sound is your system. Bad sound is someone else's system.
i think you can make a case that as the sound of your stereo system gets closer to the natural timbre of instruments, sound quality improves.

who would not want to turn on a stereo, close your eyes and have the illusion that you are present at a live event ?
Why do we need good sound? The good sound makes people happy. The good sound will make you and your girlfriend romantic! It makes people very easy to get close each other. You fall asleep on music easily and wake up refreshed when you are tired. The good sound is something like a beautiful singer is singing only for you right in front of you, and the song touches your heart. Also, you can see and hear (in your imagination) singer’s watery and long lips and soft and strong tongue hit each other and saliva splashes in sound details. When you listen an orchestral music, you can hear and see specific location of many musical instruments as if you are in the main seat of concert hall.

If you have a good sounding system, you will not eager to come home to hear your sound system and crave for music because you are satisfied in sound and music. If you are not satisfied with your sound system, you will have upgrade bugs. If you are analytic about your system sound and keeping you from listening and enjoying music, it’s not really a good sound system. There is something wrong with the sound even if the sound is beautiful.

There is no listener's fatigue with the good sound. I get easily tired when the sound is thin because I (my brain) try to hard to catch/listen the sound. The good sound will come to you. You don't need to concentrate or anxious to listen the sound. With the good sound you will just relax without much effort to catch the sound. Thin sound isn't easy for your brain. it's opposite. Thin sound is OK for background music at the bookstore or market.

Thin sound can't be match with a powered sub-woofer. The main speakers' sound will wash off easily with the powered-sub. Naturally, high and mid freq. stand out better with a powered-sub. Many audiophiles don't want the powered sub. because they want cleaner (but thin) sound. Without sufficient low freq., people will never musically or sonically satisfied. Again, if you are not satisfied, you has a upgrade bugs.

If main LR speakers are normal phase, the phase of powered-sub will be 180 degree. I don't want powerful sound waves hit me directly. Let super low freq. waves come from everywhere. This way I can set the volume of powered-sub much higher. It's much more enjoyable.
Your assessment is an interesting one in that your description of 'thicker and vivid' as opposed to 'thin' is my observation with the Acoustat TNT200's I'm using. But I'm referring to the ability to 'dial in' the sound I prefer with the bias setting. These are mosfet ss amps whose setting is a stated 300ma per ch.. I run them at about 291 ma. Less is 'thin' sounding, more is too rich wherein the leading edge of transients become softened and slightly obscured. I had no idea I could tailor the sound this way until I recently stumbled on it reading a thread on DIY Audio. Excellent new tool to play with:)
The closer the sound coming out is to the same sound in its natural, pre-recorded state, the better it is.

That's why they called it high fidelity.
I think that's a bit wishful if you're suggesting that's possible with play-back gear. Hi-Fi is all about the play-back gear. But I do agree with your initial statement.
Stupid question
I don't think mrt knows or he wouldn't ask.
I think he's suggesting 'you' don't know. I think he's right.