Originally Posted by SomeGuyDude
My point isn't whether or not those nuances exist. Although, as a quick sidebar, that's also heavily dependent upon the recording itself having been made and mastered perfectly. You get a spot-on perfect reproduction of an imperfect recording and all that extra fidelity adds up to a hill of beans. I'm a metalhead, and there are tons of recordings that INTENTIONALLY overblow, using distortion that clips the signal on purpose, or is lo-fi by design. You can FLAC and DAC a Burzum album all you want, it's not gonna get much "better".
The point, though, isn't whether or not they exist, the point is when do they become trivial? At one point does the difference in separation and soundstage become minute enough that unless you're actually A/Bing the equipment you can't differentiate between the two? I'd argue it happens at a lower price point than people think. Now if they want to spend the money, then by all means do so, there's no reason to earn money if we can't enjoy spending it (life is about finding the little things that make each day more enjoyable), but my point is that we all need to recognize exactly what we're doing. I've seen posts where people listened to LCD3's on an expensive amplifier with lossless recordings and were thoroughly underwhelmed, and rather than accepting that just maybe all that extra money on the equipment didn't add a helluva lot to the experience, people attacked the poster for being "wrong" somehow. It's absurd.
And no, the painter creating it isn't the equivalent of the concert. The painter creating it would be the composer WRITING the piece. Paint on canvas is purely analog, it's not a recreation. You cold actually touch the paint and see its three dimensions as they lift away from the canvas where they were laid on extra thick. You're not hearing the music as it's being performed live for you, you're listening to a recreation, thus we're talking about a digital recreation of the painting in some fashion.
Based on what you've written in this thread so far, you seem very much like a headphone guy. Understandable since this is Head-Fi after all. I on the other hand am very much a speaker person despite originally getting started on headphones and still enjoying them daily. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to me the things you are saying when it comes to true high-end audio would seem to be largely based on speculation rather than actual experience. What you say about differences in quality becoming trivial once you get past a certain point is the exact opposite of how I see it. Many people might disagree, but I feel that if we try to define audio quality as a percentage where 100% represent "perfect sound" which is something we'll never be able to reach, even though we are using a linear scale, I feel that a mere 1% increase near the top-end of the scale say from 90% to 91% is radically more significant than going from 50% to 51%. The amount of change in quality is the same (barely noticeable), but that small improvement near the top matters more.
For me there is a point in audio quality, where once you pass it, everything stops being "amazingly good" and becomes… magical, everything ascends to an entirely different plane. Reaching that point is not easy; once you get near, achieving even a minor improvement in performance will require a lot of effort and sadly often quite large monetary investments as well. Whether you are willing to strive for this depends on how much you truly love music. No, not just music, sound. For where does the boundary even lie between the two? The mere question fascinates both me and my musician friend with whom I converse almost daily even if we currently live countries apart.
I can very casually listen to most music on a quite mediocre system, say a laptop and a pair of sub-$100 desktop speakers, and I think I could live a reasonably satisfied life on a deserted island if I only had my pair of B&W P5s with me along with an iPhone's capacity of 128kbps AACs. However, certain recordings I simply would find pointless to even try to listen to on a setup that can't convey the music with a certain minimum level of quality. For me in fact the stages between what is "adequate" i.e. the bare minimum for most music, and the point after everything gets transcended, have become meaningless. If I'd have to try to attempt critical listening on a system that can't quite go beyond the magic point, it wouldn't make much of a difference to me if I listened to a much more modest setup and tried to concentrate purely on the musical attributes instead. If a system can't take me to that special place, it no longer matters to me how well it performs. When I listen to music I want to forget the gear is even there and concentrate solely on the music. If a person is listening to their system instead of their music, they are doing something wrong.
As a big fan of Burzum (I would place him in my top 10 artists of all time), I must say I strongly disagree with what you said about a better system not being able to make his music sound better. "Filosofem" is one of my favorite albums of all time. If I ever found myself in a need to ever again audition a piece of gear (if you look at my speaker rig in my sig you can probably see why, I do want a better cartridge one day though), I would most certainly use "Jesu Død" as one of my reference tracks. On most systems I find it to be incredibly irritating on the ears to the point of being unlistenable, but on a fine speaker rig one would be surprised by how astonishingly good it can sound especially considering the album is intentionally produced to have a very lo-fi sound. It is pure bliss to my ears even if you leave out the musical qualities of the song. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to it on a truly high-end speaker system, I highly recommend it. It might be a revelation for you. Unlike the new albums he made after getting out of prison, the CD reissues of his old catalog don't suffer from ridiculously horrid mastering. Having not heard the original CD issues I suspect they are the same master with possibly a removal of some unnecessary headroom if the original happened to have that. I'm not talking about compression or limiting, just a change in gain. Having only listened to the recent vinyl reissue once, I would say I think I actually found it even better sounding even if I thought that wouldn't likely be possible, but I didn't do a direct side-by-side comparison to the CD so take that comment at face value.
One of my other favorite albums of all time is "The Olatunji Concert" by John Coltrane. It is also hands down the worst-sounding recording I think I've ever heard in my life, far worse than most bootleg recordings most people have heard. The sound does however add to the experience and really intensifies the ferocity and urgency of the music. Like most free jazz recordings however, I find it absolutely unlistenable on anything but the best of the best full range speakers out there. You're listening to such a dense and complex sheet of sound you seriously need a system that can reproduce every instrument separately from one another without clumping everything together into one huge mass of noise. The ability to fill the room with sound is also an absolute must (I'm not talking about volume but rather ability to "project" sound into the room).
I love my Grado GS1000s, but unless there are headphones out there that can perform a hundred times better than them that I haven't heard, they offer no contest to my B&W 803s whatsoever. Headphones and speakers shouldn't even really be compared to one another, but still a lot of people do it. However, I don't feel any headphone that is ever going to exist is going to be able to offer me what a truly great speaker system delivers. A pair of speakers costing a couple of grand can't compete with most (good) headphones out there, and that is why I can understand the appeal of headphones, but when you get into the big leagues at least for me the tables are turned. Others may feel differently, but like I said, I don't feel my Grados offer even one hundredth of what my speakers do, and I consider the GS1000s to sound phenomenal. I say all this to try to explain why I keep talking about speakers all the time, but that is the background I'm coming from and I feel there's a need to try to explain that in order to make sure everyone is on the same page here. To bring out a third music example, Bear McCreary's score for the reimagining of the Battlestar Galactica TV series is absolutely stellar. If someone wants to hear a reference record that will absolutely floor you, try one of the soundtracks (I recommend 2 and 3). That being said, listening to any of the soundtracks with headphones is one of the most underwhelming experiences I've had in my life, to the point of making me sad. There are no headphones I'm aware of on the planet that can even begin to convey the scale of the music. Fans of classical music who have heard a lot of orchestral music probably know what I'm talking about.
Sometimes you also just need to feel the music. Not emotionally, although of course that as well, but physically. On some drone records for example with long, extended bass notes that just go on and on just to be repeated, on a speaker system with extremely low bass extension (quality is just as important!) you can literally feel the low frequencies making things vibrate and resonate in the room. You almost more feel the sound in your body rather than hear it. It is an entirely different kind of experience. It is physically just impossible for headphones to create the same kind of sound pressure. Since the drivers are so close to your ears, you would have hearing damage long before that, and that's assuming you could drive such small drivers to such levels without them breaking or the sound becoming incredibly distorted.
Apologies for talking so much about speakers versus headphones; that was not my intention at all. But I thought it was necessary to bring forth points people might not have considered – for example that music isn't necessarily just about tone and timing but scale and physicality as well, among other things. One final thing I will add is that a good audio system will also reveal true nastiness of awful recordings. Personally I think this is how it should be. Some people do not like this, and feel that having invested a lot of money into their "hobby" (for me it's a way of life) they should be entitled to have ALL of their music sound stellar, because they think their audio setup is stellar. There are systems that to a large degree do this, but that is only because they are masking the limitations of the source material and don't in fact give a faithful interpretation of the material. It is the age-old "Do you want a beautiful lie or the ugly truth?" dilemma, to which I say garbage is garbage no matter what you do to it.
These are just my thoughts. Feel free to comment guys. Also apologies if any of this seems disjointed. It is difficult to try to wrap everything into a single post.