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How does fidelity relate to musical enjoyment?

post #1 of 68
Thread Starter 

Something that I've wanted to find out since I got into this hobby is the question of how much I'd have to upgrade before I was satisfied. So my enjoyment of this hobby was twofold, first to meet my personal requirement in audio gear of bringing liveliness and vividness to my albums, and secondly to upgrade beyond that point to make sure I am not missing anything. I was not interested in the sort of benefits you get from $500+ audio gear, like black background, nice soundstage, or good detail, I was just hoping maybe some of the benefits of higher fidelity gear correlated to greater musical enjoyment at least to my ears. Even after having experienced different tiers of gear I do not consider my mind and ears to require the qualities of $500+ gear to enjoy reproduced music to a very high degree. That is not to say I do not appreciate the benefits of higher end gear, it's just I think they aren't "essential" for me the way I usually listen to music.

 

So now I have new questions.

 

What is it audiophiles really want out of audio gear (different for everyone)? How should they go about achieving it? In what ways do higher fidelity, detail, and/or resolution correlate to greater musical enjoyment?

 

Some may think this doesn't belong in sound science, but I am interested in psychoacoustics explanations here. For example, I think the way low fidelity gear do pianos can be quite pleasing, and some people may not actually like a very high fidelity reproduction of certain piano music.


Edited by haloxt - 9/2/10 at 8:27pm
post #2 of 68

I went with the owner of Musical Fidelity Antony Michaelson's view on music reproduction. I have been lucky enough to speak to him on a couple of occasions, he is a former professional musician and is very passionate about what he does.

 

He said that he named the company after what he felt were the main aims of music reproduction; musicality, so that you enjoy the experience and fidelity, so that is as close as possible to the original sound. But that is a clever balancing act, like setting a cars suspension to get both handling and ride comfort.

 

He stated that the midrange was all in music. He was mainly talking about orchestras and classical music and how the bass and treble do not overwhelm the midrange. They are there for support, to provide rhythm and detail. If bass is needed, then bass will be heard, but it will not be as dynamic as other systems (in other words big, fat BASS). Instead it will be detailed and I should listen out for the plucking of strings, the resonances and echo. I can now hear the likes of kick drums as individual strikes and at times, can even pick out some strikes that are not as hard as others.

 

He said that is fidelity and it would often put me in the studio as if I was there when the track was being recorded. I know exactly what he means and the differences between say Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Gomez, Pure Reason Revolution and Pink Floyd and how each records their music.

 

He argued that many audiophiles go out and out for musicality and ignore fidelity and how his products are sometimes criticised as being less dynamic and a bit lifeless, particularly in direct comparison with other kit in an audition. But he felt that was wrong and is down to the loudness war and more modern music being BASS heavy.

 

So fidelity can reduce musical enjoyment in the same way suspension set for the track can spoil the ride home. Or you can decide to go for fidelity, let your ears get used to the sound and find you could never readjust again.

post #3 of 68

Very interesting take on this, Prog Rock Man.  I tend to like fidelity more than musicality, coloration and euphony.  The musicality part is enjoyable, but I've found that I only enjoy it in the short term.  The RS-1 was a hell of a lot of fun for a couple of years, then I began to think of it in the same way as a song that I loved and eventually burned out on.  I still love them in a way, but the desire to listen to them is gone.

 

I think this spurs a lot of upgrades, too.  People burn out on a particular flavor and then they think they need to buy something more expensive to recapture that excitement.

 

The better fidelity or more neutral gear tends not to get boring in time.  It just conveys the music as it was intended.  It doesn't grab the ear the way that euphonic equipment does, but neither do you burn out.

post #4 of 68

for me, the higher the fidelity (or inebriation ), the deeper the immersion into the song If it helps you get to that point of deep emotional connection where the songs resonates with who you are at the moment you are listening to it, without anything distracting you from such an experience, would be the nirvana we're all attempting to attain.

 

I think the key for me is the distraction part, where fidelity usually steps in.

post #5 of 68
Thread Starter 

Good points, I hadn't considered some.

 

Does anyone have a low-fi setup they think they could live with forever? What sound characteristics does it have that makes you like it?

 

I think I could be happy with a cowon q5w mp3 player and dampened pro 900 or pfr-v1, even though it doesn't do the sort of things higher fidelity gear do, because I mainly look for a presentation of music that allows me to mostly understand, and feel a little, of the musicians' original intent. Texture and extreme speed are not things I personally find necessary. The main thing I would really miss if I could only have a cowon q5w is the ambience of higher fidelity gear, but this isn't necessary for me either.

 

Also good to point out, mp3 players are an all-in-one box (minus headphones), they don't suffer the obstacles and theoretical shortcomings of other audio gear like power from the wall, spdif, or digital and analog cables. I suspect well-built mp3 players may suit most head-fiers requirements. When you consider the lengths gone to in order to deal with some of these obstacles in bigger audio equipment, to a certain price point it may be better price/performance to circumvent these obstacles with an all-in-one box.


Edited by haloxt - 9/3/10 at 5:51am
post #6 of 68

If you regard an ipod as low fi, then I can and have lived with that and a Logitech mm50 speaker dock. I was and still am stunned by how good it can sound. It can walk itself off a shelf with the bass from a Groove Armada track without distorting the bass. My Bose Sounddock has a very 'coloured' sound, but I still have it as my 'speaker' system in the living room. Again, it does really good bass and is the only system that I have heard which does not distort with the opening to Massive Attack's track 'Angel'.

post #7 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post

Good points, I hadn't considered some.

 

Does anyone have a low-fi setup they think they could live with forever? What sound characteristics does it have that makes you like it?

 

I think I could be happy with a cowon q5w mp3 player and dampened pro 900 or pfr-v1, even though it doesn't do the sort of things higher fidelity gear do, because I mainly look for a presentation of music that allows me to mostly understand, and feel a little, of the musicians' original intent. Texture and extreme speed are not things I personally find necessary. The main thing I would really miss if I could only have a cowon q5w is the ambience of higher fidelity gear, but this isn't necessary for me either.

 

Also good to point out, mp3 players are an all-in-one box (minus headphones), they don't suffer the obstacles and theoretical shortcomings of other audio gear like power from the wall, spdif, or digital and analog cables. I suspect well-built mp3 players may suit most head-fiers requirements. When you consider the lengths gone to in order to deal with some of these obstacles in bigger audio equipment, to a certain price point it may be better price/performance to circumvent these obstacles with an all-in-one box.



Hi haloxt,

 

I have a bunch of super-expensive equipment and enjoy that the most, but I could live with low-fidelity systems as long as they are mushy and inoffensive. I think I'll create a new post about that---about listening the way a musician does.

post #8 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post

Good points, I hadn't considered some.

 

Does anyone have a low-fi setup they think they could live with forever? What sound characteristics does it have that makes you like it?

 

I think I could be happy with a cowon q5w mp3 player and dampened pro 900 or pfr-v1, even though it doesn't do the sort of things higher fidelity gear do, because I mainly look for a presentation of music that allows me to mostly understand, and feel a little, of the musicians' original intent. Texture and extreme speed are not things I personally find necessary. The main thing I would really miss if I could only have a cowon q5w is the ambience of higher fidelity gear, but this isn't necessary for me either.

 

Also good to point out, mp3 players are an all-in-one box (minus headphones), they don't suffer the obstacles and theoretical shortcomings of other audio gear like power from the wall, spdif, or digital and analog cables. I suspect well-built mp3 players may suit most head-fiers requirements. When you consider the lengths gone to in order to deal with some of these obstacles in bigger audio equipment, to a certain price point it may be better price/performance to circumvent these obstacles with an all-in-one box.


I have a terrible 5.1 system in my living room, and I am completely happy listening to music on it. I have never really been driven to find the "perfect" sound. I wouldn't consider anything I own to be "hi-fi" but what I listen to most, which is my computer set-up, brings me much joy. Others may hate it, be indifferent, but to me its wonderful. I guess in a way you could say I am blessed that I am not obsessed with the "ultimate" sounding set-up. Others might scoff at it, but if it makes me happy, that is all that matters. I have been bitten by the upgrade bug a few times, which is why I've gone from the M-Audio AV40s to the BX5A deluxes to the CX5s. Other than that, I haven't upgraded too much. As long as the music is good, I can be happy listening to it on anything. To me, this hobby is about the music more than it is the equipment, and I think people tend to blur those lines. I would rather listen to good music on a crappy system, than crappy music on a good system. 

post #9 of 68

It's going to vary for person to person - here especially.  To get a great measuring system can amusingly be cheaper than some "tailored" systems so to speak - at least in regards to headphone listening.  With speakers the trouble is much greater obviously as you have to consider room size, shape, acoustics, and all those little goodies.

 

If you want special "bells and whistles" (which I use tongue in cheek) like fast transients + slow decay, odd dispersion characteristics, "bright" or "forward" sound, or "slamming bass" without it being native to the recording you're going for a tailored system and that's that.  If you want the end reproduction to be as close to the final recording as possible you're going to be following the numbers game very closely.  I've passed up "high-end" gear and sold my Xciter DAC for much less expensive gear that I know measures as well or better.  I also have gear that can distort, roll-off, add forward soundstage, decay, etc, but my primary system will always be my reference listening system.

post #10 of 68

Quote:

Originally Posted by haloxt View Post

 

Does anyone have a low-fi setup they think they could live with forever? What sound characteristics does it have that makes you like it?


I left my car stereo exactly the way it came from the dealer.  It has a few not-so-hot EQ settings (you can't simply leave it neutral) and it is bass heavy.

 

But it's OK and I'm thinking about sticking with it.

 

Most of the time around town I have NPR on and the vocals are alright.  Colored, but I'm more focused on the news or discussion anyway.

 

I don't think I'd be happy with a really hi-fi setup since the extra bass helps cover up road noise.  I've been tempted to drop in some nice Vifa drivers and a new head unit, but I don't know if I'd actually get the full measure of enjoyment from them unless I was parked somewhere quiet with the engine off.

 

So I think I'll just leave the stock stereo in there.  It's good enough.

post #11 of 68

The fidelity to the original performance it totally out of reach of current technology. This is brillantly demonstrated in Floyd Tool's book "Sound Reproduction", figure 3.3 page 36, with the directionality of a violin at different frequencies.

 

From 200 to 400 Hz, a violin is omnidirectional. You hear the direct sound, plus the sounds reflected on the lateral walls, the wall behind the performer, the floor and the ceiling. At 425 Hz, however, the violin doesn't emit in the back-down direction. Reflection on the back wall is lower, and the secondary reflection that bounces on the floor, back wall, then ceiling is severely attenuated. At 500 Hz, however, that's the dominant direction of emission.

And the directionality changes drastically many times given the frequency range. No speaker can reproduce the same soundfield with the same directions of emission for each frequency.

And that's for violin only. Other instruments are completely different, and emit different amounts of energy towards the walls, floor and ceiling.

 

A practical consequence : violins used to be recorded with microphones situated aboveand a bit in front of the orchestra. In this direction, violins emit a lot of energy in the 2500 - 5000 Hz range, that is not at all emitted in direction of the audience. Therefore the recorded sound was very different from the sound emitted in the direction of the audience. Recording engineers knew that in such recordings, it was better to attenuate treble. It could be thought to be a modification of the original sound, but it was not. On the contrary, this helped to artificially remake a violin sound that sounds like the one that is percieved from the audience.

 

So what if we record directly from the listener's position ? This way, we capture exactly what should be heard by the listener. The problem is that the original acoustic adds up with the acoustic of the reproduction room in a way that is completely unbearable.

 

Therefore, recording music is an art of recreating a soundstage, given an average listening room with an average two-channel setup, that is necessarily very far from the original, but still enjoyable. For example, the reflections on the wall that is behind you can't be recorded and reproduced with a two-channels system. They are replaced by new reflections created in the listening room. Which means that it's better eliminating the original ones so that they won't add up with the ones in your own room, coming from the front.

 

Try to record your own hifi with a stereo microphone from your favorite listening position, and play the recording back in the hifi. No, the microphone is not crappy, that's your room that sounds that way ! Make another recording with the left and right microphones just in front of the speakers to check. This experiment was one of the biggest surprises of my audiophile life : I had the microphone in hand, closed headphones on the head, and was moving the microphone from the speaker to the listening position back and forth, and I didn't understand what was happening : why did the sound change so drastically from the microphone point of view, while it didn't if I did the same thing with my own ears ?

The answer was that the brain is extremely good at eliminating the tonal balance of the room from the listening experience.

 

All these things make us reconsider the original question about fidelity to the original performance. Most of this fidelity is actually in the hands of the recording and mixing engineers, that have no other choice than to recreate an artificial soundstage and an artificial tonal balance that simulates a good listeneing experience, given that it is going to be used on a two-channels system in an average room.

 

So we are left with fidelity to the recording instead of fidelity to the live performance. If we can define fidelity for a speaker, it is not possible for a room. In low frequencies, rooms have very strong resonances that amplify some frequencies and not others. Even anechoic rooms are not very anechoic in low frequencies. And anyway, stereo recordings, as made in studio, are not suited at all for listening in anechoic rooms. They have not enough reverberation. Making a room that is neutral in low frequencies in very difficult. Some advise the use of as many subwofers as possible, scattered in strategic positions, so that they don't act on the same resonant frequencies in the room.

 

For speakers, the basics of good quality are quite undertood : they must have a flat frequency response in the axis, and a smooth frequency response outside the axis. How must attenuation must they have outside the axis ? I am not sure that there is any standard about this.

Also, in France, a story goes about Cabasse loudspeakers. Some models were claimed to have an excellent frequency response, but were not appreciated by audiophiles. The reason was that they were only good at realistic listening levels. But since home listening is usually performed at lower levels, these speakers seemed to lack bass and treble, because the human ear has not the same frequency response at different levels. This is easy to see on Fletcher-Mundson curves. Thus, a coloured speaker allows a listening experience that is closer to the original than a transparent speaker at domestic listening levels.

 

All these parameters makes the question of fidelity a very complex one.

post #12 of 68

That post deserves to be wikified, it's so very true, and yet many audiophiles forget about that fundamental issue, soundstage is often re-created by the recording/mixing engineer and not directly recorded.

post #13 of 68

How much to upgrade? Well I only enjoy the music fully when the sound is clear and I can hear most details - and I get annoyed when hearing something I like on one substandard MP3 rip.

But contrary to the music industry try to claim, finding something good makes me go buy the album - it is the best marketing they ever had and so much music I never would have found without the MP3 distribution networks on the Internet.

 

Yet back to the subject. Oh it certainly is a bit of status and coolness also for so many, and I have to admit it play a small part for me as well.

Yet the now I found that the limit is the absymal quality of most metal CD's, I guess that I reached my limit on how far that I can go.

As headphones are the main thingie on this forum, I'd say the AKG701 I got is smack in the the ballpark of that 500 dolares you haloxt mentioned. =)

As the headphone amp was another 400 buxx, I ended up near 1000 in the end though.

 

Now my search is for a portable setup to use on flights, trains and buses - lets see what I end up with, I stand tuned for the stuf you guys talk about here. =)

post #14 of 68

Fidelity and enjoyment for me works off two main factors:

- circumstances making access to better fidelity impossible

- I always enjoy things even more, the better the fidelity

 

'Ignorance is bliss' also plays a roll since I'm usually having a lot of fun at a particular level of fidelity, only to have that fun taken away when I encounter what I think is better.

 

I very much enjoy music with less fidelity than I've heard before, in circumstances where better isn't available.  However, I'll not settle for less if I don't have to.  Excellent fidelity always makes listening that much better.

 

Be that as it may, it's been tougher and tougher of late, for a new piece of gear to make me happier than I was before getting it.  For this reason, I think I'm at or very near the limit of how happy I could ever be with fidelity and my current personal flagship setup, cans and all, is still less <$5000 total.  


Edited by aimlink - 9/5/10 at 9:32am
post #15 of 68
Thread Starter 

Imo, the most difficult question in this topic of fidelity in relation to enjoyment, is what kind of music particularly sound "better" out of hi-fi equipment. "Better" cannot be concretely defined, and the ways to determine it are only indirectly and subjectively. Complexity in the sound is the most obvious method, but I personally rely on music that walk a fine line to convey emotion, and which require the sort of technical benefits and/or sound signature of higher end gear to "make complete sense" and not go over the edge. Even this is difficult because if one were to, for example, hypothesize the reason why a certain album sounds more "right" on higher fidelity gear due to more precise PRaT, or soundstage quirk, he must thoroughly verify that his gear does indeed have more precise PRaT, or soundstage quirk, through many hours of gear swapping and recordings with different characteristics. The reason I listen for "more sense" instead of "more detail" is because I realized the higher end I went, the more I was able to enjoy music I once thought were infantile. Imo, once I get to $500 in neutral audio gear, 90% of albums will no longer sound "wrong" to the degree that I dislike the music. But I say this knowing full well hearing is variable and fallible, and preferences variable, for different people and for the same person over time.

 

My preferred way of illustrating the benefits of higher end gear are chilly jazz albums with each song conveying an invariable and concise emotion. Chilly because most low-end gear I have tried try to warm over the micro-detail and convey it like typical pop music. Jazz because notes are usually chosen carefully and ambience is usually vital. A single emotion with no ornaments or flourishes because any audio gear colorations will manifest more apparently this way.

 

http://magnatune.com/artists/albums/mercy-mercy/

 

If you want the lossless flac version, let me know here or in pm, Magnatune allows uers to share music freely, but I will only give away 10 copies max.

 

If anyone knows a better way to illustrate the benefits of higher fidelity gear, let me know. My second favorite option is to watch movies with good sound :).


Edited by haloxt - 9/5/10 at 12:54pm
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