Coloration: Where & Why
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shivohum

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Every recording system is flawed. Every audio system is flawed. A key audiophile decision in system building is to select which flaws are acceptable and which aren't. I want to better understand how other people have, consciously or unconsciously made these decisions.

1) What are the most important audio qualities in a system for you? Which are you willing to compromise on? Possible qualities might include:

High range frequency response
Mid-range frequency response
Bass frequency response
Microdynamics
Macrodynamics
Soundstage
Imaging
Transient Attack
Decay

Why do you choose what you choose?

2) Are so-called colored components enjoyable because of their coloration or in spite of it? For example, are tube amps whose frequency response is less than flat enjoyable because of the deviation or because they possess a higher degree of accuracy in some other area (e.g. better microdynamics than similar solid state amps) that sufficiently compensates for the warm coloration? Or is it both?

3) Some people think that the music itself is so damaged by the stereo recording process that coloration is a perfectly legitimate way to "fill in the data." Thus they believe that an intentionally colored system done properly can sound even better than a theoretically perfectly accurate system, since the information has already been lost upstream. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

4) Is accuracy more important in some components than in others? Or are certain TYPES of accuracy (frequency response, timing, etc.) more required in some components than in others? For instance, would you prefer a warm amplifier or warm headphones? Why? Would you rather have a slightly hashy high-end on your CD player or a slightly hashy high-end on your speakers?
 
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CRESCENDOPOWER

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Man! I'm sittin' here relaxed drinking a beer listening to the tunes thinking that my lazy ass will not have to make a post where I will actually have to think about what I’m gonna have to write. And, along comes a great post with no responses, so here I go.

What are the most important audio qualities in a system for you? Which are you willing to compromise on? Why do you choose what you choose?

Without a doubt, decay, and midrange frequency response are by far the most important to me. I believe these two elements are the main reason why I even listen to music at all. For me, it's about who's doing the singing, and band is in the background.
Without decay the midrange has no life, unity, or emotion. The midrange is pretty much 7 out of the 10 octaves, or most of the music, so getting it wrong means you have failed substantially.
As for high frequency response, and bass frequency response to a certain point I can forgive them if they are not perfect. Adding something that is not supposed to be there is worse than taking away something that is supposed to be.
As for soundstaging, and imaging a large room dedicated totally to a stereo speaker system is the only way to do it right; otherwise, forget it.


Are so-called colored components enjoyable because of their coloration or in spite of it? For example, are tube amps whose frequency response are less than flat enjoyable because of the deviation or because they possess a higher degree of accuracy in some other area (e.g. better micro dynamics than similar solid state amps) that sufficiently compensates for the warm coloration? Or is it both?

Tube amps do the midrange right, and solid-states are great for the extremes.

Some people think that the music itself is so damaged by the stereo recording process that coloration is a perfectly legitimate way to "fill in the data." Thus they believe that an intentionally colored system done properly can sound even better than a theoretically perfectly accurate system, since the information has already been lost upstream. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

I totally agree; I feel that coloration is great as long as it makes the music sound good. Everyone knows that most recordings are not made for audiophile type equipment anyway.

Is accuracy more important in some components than in others? Or are certain TYPES of accuracy (frequency response, timing, etc.) more required in some components than in others? For instance, would you prefer a warm amplifier or warm headphones? Why? Would you rather have a slightly hashy high-end on your CD player or a slightly hashy high-end on your speakers?

Many high-end dealers believe that putting a bunch of neutral components together will achieve the best results. Most of these components cost almost as much as a car. I believe that synergy is the key. For example, I believe that many tube amps sound great with super-sensitive horns, but terrible with a lot of low impedance, low sensitivity speakers.
As for accuracy, or specifications in CD players I think they are meaningless. I believe that even budget CD players sound phenomenal, and your money is better spent elsewhere, unless your source is the weakest link in your chain.

For instance, would you prefer a warm amplifier or warm headphones? Why?

I would prefer a smooth amplifier with analytical headphones, and a detailed amp with forgiving phones. My profile is a perfect example of what I am trying to achieve, a balance between detail, and musicality; solid-state with the Beyer DT-770s, and tubes with the Senn HD-600s.
 
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Dusty Chalk

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Some damn fine questions. Short answer -- to each his own, there is no right (set of) answer(s). Quote:

Originally posted by shivohum
1) What are the most important audio qualities in a system for you? Which are you willing to compromise on?


Overall frequency response. It can't gyp me on the high end or the low end, but the low end is more important. However, I am listening to the W2002's right now, and I don't think I'm compromising anything (via Reference Tools out of my Musical Fidelity A3^CR pre).

I do believe it is possible to get balance out of a system, and the trick is not so much to put up with compromises, but to find components that balance each other out well. This only works in areas like frequency response. No good component will make up for a bad component screwing up soundstage or detail. But you might be able to get a combination that gets more, E.G., detail out of the music than either of the components separately would, even when paired with other high-quality equipment.

Things I am willing to compromise on -- soundstage! Most of the music I listen to has no sense of soundstage, mixed in ProTools with artificial reverbs, different ones on different instruments, sometimes effects based on entirely different sounds than is being played "dry", etc. So I have long since stopped caring. This is easily the biggest compromise I am willing to make, and couldn't care less about. As has been said repeatedly, even more important than having good quality audio components, is having good quality music. I do agree with this, however, because of my choices of music (a lot of electronic music, industrial, synth-pop, contemporary pop, etc.), I am screwed in the area of soundstage. I have come to grips with that, and I accept it. Sure, it's nice once in a while, when someone puts something on like the Weavers (?sp) and you hear everything fall into place, but I have gotten so used to that not happening, that it almost sounds like a novelty. Quote:

2) Are so-called colored components enjoyable because of their coloration or in spite of it?


This sounds like you could be talking about both tubes and/or upsampling. My answer to this is yes, I like the colorations that both introduce. I'm not sure it's so much the frequency response, though. I just prefer the sound. SS equipment (at least, all but the highest-end SS equipment) sounds like it has a distortion to me that tube equipment does not. It might just be that I find those frequencies annoying, and I like the fact that tube amps temper them, but I've been listening to equipment that has "air" lately, and I haven't been as annoyed. So I don't think it's that. Quote:

3) Some people think that the music itself is so damaged by the stereo recording process that coloration is a perfectly legitimate way to "fill in the data." Thus they believe that an intentionally colored system done properly can sound even better than a theoretically perfectly accurate system, since the information has already been lost upstream. Do you agree or disagree, and why?


Sort of. The problem is, since no-one agrees on what perfectly accurate is (I.E., if you have a perfectly accurate headphone, on which amp is it perfectly accurate? Or if you have a perfectly accurate amp, on which source and headphone load is it perfectly accurate, and how does the output impedance of the source and the sensitivity of the headphones affect the "perfectly accurate-ness"), there has to be an attempt made on the part of the person making the purchases to choose equipment that give them the sense of accuracy as a system that they need. Quote:

4) Is accuracy more important in some components than in others?


Yes, definitely. With headphones, headphones are the most important component. Because they are the easiest to get wrong. If accuracy is important to you, then one should start with as accurate a headphone as possible, and build the system from there. But not at the cost of system synergy.
 
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neil

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My immediately response was: Level3. Why? Fantastic facility. 18" raised floors, huge backup battery room, 1000 gallon sub-terrainian diesel fuel tank, climate control, palm-scan access, workstation area with telephones.

But then I realized that you said "Coloration" and not "Colocation".
 
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bootman

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Quote:

Every recording system is flawed. Every audio system is flawed. A key audiophile decision in system building is to select which flaws are acceptable and which aren't. I want to better understand how other people have, consciously or unconsciously made these decisions.


You forgot our ears, they too are "flawed"!
No two ears have the exact same frequency response so doesn't the choice just come to which gear "matches" the best with our individual hearing response?
How else can you explain this mad hobby of ours?
 
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Tomcat

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shivohum,

you have asked your question negatively: what flaws are we willing to live with? I'd like to answer this in a more positive fashion: what are the merits I look for? I believe that asking the right questions will play a large role in building a musically satisfying system. To me, the main question is simply this: is the component musical? If we focus on the flaws of our equipment, we seem to set in motion a strange self-fulfilling prophecy, and we will end up with components and systems that are capable of highlighting flaws in the reproduction or - this is my pet theory - actually produce the flaws we like to listen for. Audiophiles like us, we are obsessed, neurotic, we suffer from an eternal inferiority complex. Deep in our hearts, we just know that there is always something better out there, and we are convinced that our systems just aren't quite good enough. Our systems stink - and so do we. Every audiophile is convinced that, as an audiophile, he is a failure. And we are all too willing to accept any component that mercilessly reveals flaws as accurate, because we cling to our belief that there are flaws to be exposed. Whenever a component is deemed analytical, it is not considered analytical in regard to music reproduction (as a matter of fact, analytical and musical are often used as mutually exclusive qualities – and in my opinion, they are polar opposites), no, the term analytical is used in regard to common criteria applied by audiophiles: is there more detail than before, is there better decay, better bass response, more instrument separation, a wider soundstage (shivohum, you may insert any term from your own list here), and - this is most important - do I perceive errors in those areas that my system didn’t let me perceive before? I feel there is an obvious question: if one changes one component in a system and the result is musically worse, couldn’t it be the fault of the new component? What if the emperor was naked?

If we listen for flaws, that’s what we’ll end up with: components that lend themselves to such a listening approach, components that will show us flaws (as I believe: most of them completely new ones caused by the new component). But what about listening for music? What about judging the degree of musical satisfaction a component provides? Isn’t this the only form of accuracy that makes any sense from our perspective as listeners: musical accuracy? Many of the qualities you listed may play an important role for our musical satisfaction, but they don’t do this on their own. If we only measure frequency response for example (or try to listen only for things like tonal color or neutrality or perfect pitch), we get results that are based on a very limited psycho-acoustic model of human hearing. There’s infinitely more to the sonic properties of our musical experience than can be described by measuring frequency response. I’d say time domain phenomena or phase linearity are notoriously underrated, for example. But no single measurement or criterion and not even any set of measurements or criteria will be sufficient. The only way to find out whether a component will facilitate a musical experience for a human listener is to listen to music with it.

Now that I have questioned the relevancy of isolated criteria and critical listening in general, I’d like to mention two criteria that, to me, seem somewhat more important for a convincing and satisfying reproduction of music. One is transparency, the other is cohesion.

I define transparency as a component’s ability to let the music through and leave the musical message and emotion intact. What I ask myself when I judge a new component is this: do I hear more of the music, is it easier to get emotionally involved, is the performance more captivating than before, does the component step back behind the music, are there less effects and sonic fireworks, is there less distraction caused by the component’s sonic signature, is it easier to just hear the music?

The other quality I’d stress in regard to musicality is cohesion which is, I believe, closely related to transparency. I define cohesion as a component’s ability to preserve the integrity of the musical signal and to convey a performance as a musical whole. When there are instruments playing together, I want to be able to perceive the musicians as playing together. I feel perceiving a harmonic and rhythmic cohesion of all the instruments in e.g. a symphonic orchestra is crucial to musical satisfaction and essential for perceiving the true relationships within a musical piece. Analytical components seem to stress the opposite: the individual character of individual instruments and sonic details instead of the musical whole.

To me, musicality and accuracy are one and the same thing. This non-scientific idea might be a designer’s nightmare because it robs him of some easy guidelines during his designing process. And for audiophiles, it doesn’t make it a lot easier to choose the superior and more accurate component either. But I strongly feel that there is a human and thus highly subjective dimension to music listening. And the only way for judging whether a component or a system facilitates a musical experience is to judge whether we experience it.
 
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