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The "chasing rainbows" effect

Poll Results: When was the last time you actually listened to an entire album, concert, or live performance?

  • 50% (40)
  • 35% (28)
    Within the last 7 days
  • 12% (10)
    Sometime this year
  • 1% (1)
    Never, I just play music in the background.
  • 1% (1)
    Never, I only use music to test headphones, IEM's, speakers, cables, DAC's, Amp's, sources or other related audio gear, I love gear, not music.
80 Total Votes  
post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 


There was a time, very recently in terms of human history, when high fidelity promised to free the music lover from the constraints of the concert hall and the local repertoire, allowing him to choose at his whim any orchestra in the world playing any work he desired under the baton of any conductor he preferred. "All the pleasure of concert-hall listening, in the comfort of your home," was the way one display advertisement painted this musical utopia which, only 20 years ago, seemed right around the corner.


Three years previously, the stereo LP disc had broken through what appeared to be the last barrier between the home listener and the concert hall, by allowing the reproduction of spatial and directional information. Instead of listening to Symphony Hall, Boston through a hole in the wall, stereo removed the wall, transforming the space between the loudspeakers into the front of the concert hall. Now, we were, assured, all we had to do was sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. But somehow it never came to pass.


Ask yourself: When was the last time you sat down to listen to a recording for the sheer enjoyment of the music? Not as a pleasant background for reading, or as atmosphere to facilitate a seduction, or as a test of the imaging or trackability or detail of your latest combination of components, but simply for the kind of enjoyment you experience routinely at a live concert. If you have done this within the past 30 days, or can honestly say you have done it four times within the past year, you are an unusual audiophile indeed! On the other hand, you may he a member of that other group that subscribes to Stereophile: the music listeners.


The typical music listener owns a very good stereo system, but he will be the first to tell you that it is by no means state-of-the-art. He will also be the first to admit that the reason he hasn't bought a Berning TF-l0 preamplifier is because he buys records instead, and thus never accumulates the necessary $1300 for a SOTA preamp or cartridge or power amplifier or what have you. And interestingly, he does listen to his system quite often for musical enjoyment.

It would seem that high fidelity brings listening pleasure only to those whose dedication to perfection is, let us say, alloyed. There are exceptions to this of course; but in general, the more critical of reproduced sound one becomes, the less one is capable of enjoying reproduced music.


To the person whose concern for fidelity borders on the obsessive, the fact that the playback system is not perfect, and that the imperfections are audible, dilutes the pleasure he derives from listening to music through it. But the distress of the audiophile who can hear imperfections is as nothing when compared with the anguish suffered by the compulsive perfectionist who knows that his system has certain shortcomings but is unable to hear them (footnote 1).

Another reason for the perfectionist's unhappiness is often the growing realization that, as of April 1982, perfection is not really possible. Of course, we all mouth that platitude from time to time, but it is difficult to accept the wisdom of it on an emotional level while we dump ever-escalating globs of money into one state-of-the-art component after another. The dismay is heightened, in the more-introspective, by the recollection of those halcyon days of ignorant bliss when, unaware of the mediocrity of our system, we were still able to listen to records for enjoyment.


Those days, like the naiveté of youth, are gone forever, and the hard fact of the matter is that perfection, like the end of the rainbow where the pot of gold is stashed, is always just a hilltop away. As you advance, it recedes, because every subtle improvement in the fidelity of sound is reciprocated by am enhancement of the perfectionist's ability to hear ever-more—subtle imperfections. The whole high-fidelity game takes on the appearance of a rather nasty sort of marathon race where the finish line advances as the runner advances, to keep his goal forever beyond his grasp. Small wonder that many audiophiles have wearied of the chase and turned to the more-achievable attractions of video or home computing.

But pride being such a potent force, few continuing audiophiles who have dumped $10,000 into a state-of-the-art system which still fails to satisfy, will admit their disappointment, even to themselves. "My system sounds better than it ever has," he will tell you with apparent enthusiasm. Which of course is true. What is also true is that he finds it no more enjoyable to listen to than was his system of 10 years ago.


Yet we look at the music listener with his 2000 records and his gnrr-lined Grommes amplifier and Stephens TruSonic speakers, we shudder with disbelief that anyone could listen to so primitive a system, and we wonder how he is able to enjoy his records so much that he'd rather listen to high fidelity than read about it. The answer is: Expectation.

It isn't that your music-listener is oblivious to his system's shortcomings. It's just that he has accepted the fact that perfection is unattainab1e, he opted for a lesser degree of it than you did, and he doesn't expect it from his system. Thus, he can ignore its flaws and listen through them to the music. Perfectionists could learn a few things from him.

All of us like to think that we pursue high fidelity as a hobby for the enjoyment of it. When it starts to become a driving force in our life, reaping one frustration after another, it is time to think seriously of switching to another avocation. If you haven't yet reached that point and don't care to, a few bouts of creative introspection may be worth the time and effort. Consider at length: If your system isn't perfect, who cares? Okay, so you do. Why? What hideous misfortune will befall you, your family or your friends if it isn't? The human condition—the whole world, for that matter—is imperfect. Oo you lie awake at night suffering about it? Do what you can to improve matters and accept what you can't do. Try to dwell more on what your system does superbly than on what it does less well.


You might even buy one of those little wooden plaques they sell in artsy-craftsy shops, and use transfer type (from an art supply dealer) to make a sign reading "I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent" (footnote 2). Place it in a prominent spot between your speakers, read it often while listening to your TIM, transient smear and vague imaging, and remind yourself that it is an apt description of even the best stereo system. Intellectually, it's cute. When it penetrates your mind to the emotional level, you may find you're starting to enjoy reproduced music again.

It's worth a try.






post #2 of 29

I'm going to be honest and say I didn't read your whole post, I got through 4-5 paragraphs and skimmed the rest.  I do have to say that this article makes a huge point, we are chasing rainbows in a sense.  As we are chasing it to attain it's perfect goodness, it will eventually fade away and disappear and we will eventually acknowledge that perfection is unattainable.  How long we chase for will be determined by person and circumstances. 


As for the last time I listened to a full album for enjoyment...  Yesterday and today I listened to the whole Staind self-titled album  front to back (track 1 to track 13; skipping music videos).  Really amazing CD if you are into a more hardcore, classic-Staind sound. 


Here's another little thing I've noticed on myself.  If I am listening analytically for a long time, I eventually drop the analytic listening style and just listen to the music.  I find myself doing this all the time when doing reviews.  If I cannot find myself listening to the music, it's normally a huge flaw in the headphones that really makes me dislike them.  It eventually happens though, I end up listening to the music, not the headphones as if all the flaws of the headphones disappeared.

post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 



This article was written in 1982 btw.

post #4 of 29
Originally Posted by kiteki View Post



This article was written in 1982 btw.

Still applies to today.  It's human nature to want more and want better (part of the greed in a sense).  We don't want to stop until we have the best of the best.  It's been almost 30 years, but we're still chasing the rainbow.  As things get better, we want better than the best, and know it's out there. 


post #5 of 29

I listen to a full album from someone just about every day, and I purchase new music much more often than new headphones. I think that's why I'm actually quite happy with my midrange desires, and don't really want anything in the upper strata of cost. The returns are too diminishing and I'm in it for the music anyways.

post #6 of 29
Originally Posted by soundstige View Post

I listen to a full album from someone just about every day, and I purchase new music much more often than new headphones. I think that's why I'm actually quite happy with my midrange desires, and don't really want anything in the upper strata of cost. The returns are too diminishing and I'm in it for the music anyways.

I listen to a full album almost every day as well.  The gear makes it more awesome, but for me it's all about the music.

post #7 of 29

That could apply to any person that is passionate about a hobby (photography, fishing, hunting, etc).


While better hi fidelity may expose more flaws it also makes crappy music sound much better wink.gif.


I would say I am still about the music but I am very cognizant of a great recording versus a bad recording.  Something I do not recall really caring about before I became an audiophile.

post #8 of 29

With a lot of music I listen to, I listen because the music puts me into the frame of a certain mood or reinforces a feeling I am having. I'll very quickly skip the track once I've gotten what I've wanted out of the track - to hear the chorus that makes me laugh, or when I'm finished with how the beat sustains some kind of anger or stress I'm feeling. Sometimes though, with the right kind of music - and this can be anything from intricate electronica to classical for me - I will find myself in a sublime state where I am just lost - following the music, feeling the kind of shape and structure of the whole sound. If the whole album is like that, I will listen to it like on some kind of journey. Having better equipment can be thought of as a 'gateway drug' to this feeling, and whenever I upgrade my gear I am again lost in finding whole new things to appreciate in the tracks.


I do agree that is tremendously diminishing returns though. These days I spend more effort and energy trying to find more music. But for me it is still very very exciting getting a new piece of equipment. Chasing rainbows is a lot of fun.

post #9 of 29

I always listen to entire albums as a whole.


and At least o nce at night I listen to at least one album, this night was Moon Safari - Blomljud, at work I had a break and relaxed with Ozric Tentacles - waterfall cities.

post #10 of 29

When you have something like this:


Original Undergound Music from the Mysterious South.jpg


The original pressing LP, and you've recorded it at 24/96, and it's flawless... it's easy to listen to the entire album. Again and again.

There is a lot of amazing music out there. Some recorded, mixed and pressed with perfection (or close). Musicianship is paramount and this disc has it in spades.

Assisted by a relatively good rig and cans, this is bliss and a rewarding use of my time.

post #11 of 29
Originally Posted by tinyman392 View Post

Still applies to today.  It's human nature to want more and want better (part of the greed in a sense).  We don't want to stop until we have the best of the best.

It's not human nature. It only applies to males.


post #12 of 29

That's human => greedy.. we never satisfied with what we already have..

post #13 of 29

" The richest man is truly not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. "

post #14 of 29
First off, I play several entire albums every day. Some as background but I'll pay attention to one or two seriously. Today, it was the "Skol" SACD of a performance by Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson and others. Good stuff! smily_headphones1.gif

I take significant exception to the term "state of the art." That just means whatever is trendy today. Further, the gear is regressing somewhat. The height of fashion today is running 1930s technology - tubes. Don't get me wrong, I'm tubed backwards and forwards. I do, however, concede that solid state has better measurements. But I won't call my warm sounding power amp state of the art, though I do love it. Further, manufacturers are tacking largely decorative tubes onto solid state amps to introduce distortion.

Then there's vinyl. Obsolete and not as good as the best digital recordings. Again, it sounds good and I'm a devotée, but SACD (which is marginalized and not popular with the masses) is better. So is Red Book, provided it isn't brickwalled. The Loudness War has destroyed the quality of popular music. Assuming you can stomach popular music, the recordings are awful. Further, horribly compressed music is usually offered in lossy formats. Yuck.

Topping it off, the quality of transducers has been going downhill. Now, it is possible to make wonderful transducers today, but many aren't. The vast majority have artificially boosted bass. Part a product of popular music (it is way bassier now than it was before 1990 or so) and the demand of consumers who think sloppy bass is how bass is supposed to sound. That includes this place. A lot of the most popular headphones - even here - are bass disasters. Some of the most accurate (as in true to life) headphones are dumped on for being "bass light" and a lot of those are out of production now. Speakers can, and often are, just as wretched with bass.

So what we have as "state of the art" are some inaccurate amps pushing lossy brickwalled music to headphones that add bass that isn't on the recording.

State of the art, my foot.

And don't get me started on the mystic wonderland of magical reality that is present in a lot of audio. The grifting fly-by-night manufacturers and feeble-minded consumers who gulp fraudulent advertising as gospel know who they are.

Finally, reproduced music will never equal the live experience.

That's OK. Listening at home is an event in itself. It is separate from live performances and can be thoroughly enjoyed.
post #15 of 29

I think I am at the point where listening to different gears and enjoying music have became two hobby. Chasing rainbow is fun on its own but I have found peace between music and iBud as well.

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