Use music you don't particularly like for the initial evaluation
Apr 23, 2003 at 4:28 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 30

Tomcat

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The following has been posted by Peter Qvortrup at Audio Asylum in March. Qvortrup is the owner of Audio Note UK. I have found many of Qvortrup's unconventional ideas about what to look for in music reproduction and how to go about evaluating systems and components very helpful in the past. His philosophy is at least thought-provoking. And Audio Note systems tend to be very musical and engaging to my ears. A couple of months ago, I have even bought one of Audio Note's non-oversampling, digital-filterless CDPs. So, I guess he has a point.

Quote:

http://db.audioasylum.com/cgi/m.pl?f...neral&n=260281

Posted by Peter Qvortrup (M) on March 11, 2003 at 04:48:45

In Reply to: Re: Use music you don't particularly like for the initial evaluation... posted by Rob Doorack on March 09, 2003 at 07:50:52:


Dear Rob,
Thanks for remembering that!

I shall expand on this if I may?

I work on three basic methods when doing serious evaluation work.

1.) Comparison by Contrast, main tenet is the fact that no two recordings can be the same and therefore the better the equipment, the greater the sonic difference between recordings.

I know that this flies directly in the face of current wisdom, which favours "consistency" which can only be interpreted as homogeneity or "sameness", something which the digital media do particularly well, however, in my mind there is no question that if one's main purpose in owning an audio system is in order to listen to and explore music in all its variety and glory, then this is the last "quality" one would want, as it reduces the greater performances to the also-ran.

2.) The use of unfamiliar music or music you do not like, the better system will normally engage you better thus keeping your attention, if it does not then chances are that the system is not making the most of the source material.

It is important to see the broader issue here, because in order for any listener to be allowed access to new music or music which was previously rejected as uninteresting, unpleasant or irritating, a system which suddenly changes this has on offer a staircase to a greater appreciation of a wider range of music and thus an expansion of ones understanding of oneself.

3.) Use of music which is VERY badly recorded, preferably recordings from the early part of the 20th century, on all these recordings the noise competes heavily with the music, and the system or component that makes more "sense" of the music by "separating" it from the noise the best, IS always the better.

An interesting observation, two things happen when you play 78's or 78 transfers at hifi shows.

A.) The vast majority of visitors walk out immediately, without giving the music or the system a closer listen, and normally misinterpret the sound of the recording as the sound of the system.

B.) The few that stay for long enough to listen more seriously are normally struck in amazement by how good the underlying sound and the quality of the performances are, once they have allowed their brain's natural filter time to work.

Over the years, as I have studied and refined the various aspects of the evaluation process, I have also come to the conclusion that the greatest artists somehow manage to "punch" their art through an otherwise inadequate medium much better than the lesser ditto and my experience has been that the better sounding the system the greater the difference in the quality of interpretation and emotional expression between recordings.

It is not that most of us are incapable of being touched by these great performances, but we are so distracted by the noise initially that we rarely give ourselves the time to listen beyond that, the "seasoned" audiophile is especially prone to dismiss anything unfamiliar when walking into a room at a show.

In contrast, interpretatively poor and musically shallow performances on technically excellent recordings actually benefit from the audiophile obsession with sonic "packaging" such as, low noise, imaging, sound staging, bass slam etc., and favours equipment that provide these sonic elements to the detriment of the music itself.

To me this is a compelling argument for why the audiophiles are rarely music lovers and the music lovers almost never interested in equipment.

As a fairly serious music lover and record collector myself, I fall into the latter category were it not for the fact that I decided to make equipment myself, which has always caused me to consider and analyse both sides of the argument.

Whilst I agree that absolutes do not exist in terms of "perfection", they do exist if one sets the lesser goal of making equipment that makes the best use of a wide variety of recorded music and provided that the "best" is defined this way, not by the more common single criteria review processes, which mainly address simplistic and fashionable criteria such as "Rhythm, sound stage, imaging, detail, slam etc." it is in my opinion comparative easy to establish whether one product, circuit, component or system is better than another.

This bias towards and blind favouring of totally artificial and perceived differences between equipment, rather than music based and musically relevant issues has lead the audio industry into what I see as a blind alley where the sound of the equipment has become far more important that the music it is playing to the point where the recording process and technological development have become biased in the same way.

Sincerely,
Peter Qvortrup


 
Apr 23, 2003 at 7:56 PM Post #2 of 30

Matthew-Spaltro

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2.) "The use of unfamiliar music or music you do not like, the better system will normally engage you better thus keeping your attention, if it does not then chances are that the system is not making the most of the source material."




I think a lot of people here are going to disagree with this particular statement!
 
Apr 23, 2003 at 8:41 PM Post #3 of 30

ServinginEcuador

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Quote:

Originally posted by Matthew-Spaltro
2.) "The use of unfamiliar music or music you do not like, the better system will normally engage you better thus keeping your attention, if it does not then chances are that the system is not making the most of the source material."


I guess the thinking here is that a cheap system will make a bad recording sound REALLY bad, while the better and more expensive systems will make the bad recording sound somehow better in comparison. I would tend to think that a chepa system would gloss over details and microdynamics, thus maing poorly recorded stuff sound a little better and less edgy. The more expensive equipment is normally much more revealing and detailed, thus making a bad recording sound worse.

OTOH, listening to something I just don't like or prefer kind of makes sense to me. Why did I not like the music or genre on a different system? Was it merely because the system didn't extract enough detail, or just made it sound bad? If so, then a system that makes it sound better is therefore better? I don't know. Music I don't like is music I am unfamliar with. Music I am unfamiliar with is music that I don't know how it sounds in my system, therefore how will I recognize it and like it better if I hear it through something more expensive? I don't like music because I don't like it, not because it necessarily sounds bad in the recording or playback. Case in point is the Charlie Brown Christmas Album. Very bad recording, but very enjoyable all around. I still love this album and listen to it often. I hate gangster rap, and doubt very seriously that listening to it thru a set of Krell amps and some seriously expensive Magnepans won't help me enjoy it any more.

but, that's just my .02 worth. I like some of his ideas a lot, while others are just the opposite of conventional wisdom. I guess I like this guy's thinking.
 
Apr 23, 2003 at 8:58 PM Post #4 of 30

guzzler

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unfamiliar music would probably make you both more and less critical of a given system:

More because you'd be listening more carefully, but less because you don't know the music...

The problem with auditioning I find, is that your appreciation of the music is coloured by your previous system. Even with the crappy stuff I used to use, I found it quite hard to make the change from bad to good, simply because I knew how the music sounded, even though I knew the new stuff was infineately better!

ah well, this could be a long debate!

g
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 6:20 AM Post #5 of 30

Dusty Chalk

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Quote:

Originally posted by Peter Qvortrup
The use of unfamiliar music or music you do not like, the better system will normally engage you better thus keeping your attention, if it does not then chances are that the system is not making the most of the source material.


I would have to disagree with that particular statement. (Cue to Matthew, "See?!?")
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 12:53 PM Post #6 of 30

morphsci

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I agree with Dusty (about disagreeing)
biggrin.gif
. My take is that when listening to music I am familiar with I also have heard it on a number of systems and therefore have a larger base for sonic comparison.
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 1:06 PM Post #7 of 30

Hirsch

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I actually take the middle ground (no backbone here
tongue.gif
) I've found unfamiliar music to be invaluable in judging a component. For turntables, there's nothing like a truly crappy LP to judge how well the table rejects noise, and separates music from grunge. I won't set up a table without one anymore.

For gauging the specific changes a component produces in my setup, I need familiar music just so that I have a baseline to work from.

However, I have also found that as my setup improves, I'm able to get what the artist was trying to do on some music that just didn't work for me previously. Music that previously didn't work suddenly makes sense. So, I'd have to say that Qvortrup's approach is a very useful adjunct for the more traditional methods of evaluating components. I've been doing some of it since long before I heard of Qvortrup.
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 2:51 PM Post #8 of 30

tom hankins

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I like listening to music i'm familiar with and comparing the sound of the equipment i'm auditioning to what I already own. As far as poorly recorded material, it seems to sound even worse as my 2 channel system gets better.
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 5:23 PM Post #9 of 30

Tomcat

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Quote:

Originally posted by tom hankins
I like listening to music i'm familiar with and comparing the sound of the equipment i'm auditioning to what I already own. As far as poorly recorded material, it seems to sound even worse as my 2 channel system gets better.


Tom,

I guess that's what Qvortrup is getting at: the superior system will convey more of the musical message, more of the musical information, more of the artist's intent, even with what we have come to regard as sonically bad or mediocre recordings. If an upgrade doesn't get get you closer to the music, it just wasn't an upgrade. Qvortrup's point is that we cannot possibly choose the superior component with the traditional hi-fi criteria we have learned to apply. If we listen for greater soundstage separation or more slam, that's what we'll end up with. His question is how all this can possibly relate to the task of music reproduction: Quote:

This bias towards and blind favouring of totally artificial and perceived differences between equipment, rather than music based and musically relevant issues has lead the audio industry into what I see as a blind alley where the sound of the equipment has become far more important that the music it is playing to the point where the recording process and technological development have become biased in the same way.


Playing 78's or 78's transfers might be crazy enough for most and ought to be sufficient to discredit him, but here's another example: Qvortrup actually believes that many older recordings are musically superior, and not just in terms of interpretation or artistic value, no, he believes they tend to be superior in terms of musical information. He tends to prefer recordings that have been made on analog tape using tube equipment, recordings from the late fifties or from the sixties, to modern-day recordings that have been made digitally and with solid state equipment. Again, he might have a point there. Some of my CDs with the subjectively biggest dynamic range and greatest lifeliness have been recorded in that era. They are flawed in other regards, certainly, but they seem to have a more organic, natural and musical quality than most modern 24bit/96kHz recordings. Somehow, they manage to get the artistic content across. It seems that high fidelity music reproduction has taken quite a few turns for the worse throughout its history. I guess the basic paradox here is that the hi-fi-enthusiast's approach is always in danger of losing sight of the objective. Listening for the sound isn't the same thing as listening for the music.
 
Apr 24, 2003 at 8:00 PM Post #10 of 30

tom hankins

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Tomcat: I understand his point, I guess we just go about it from two different directions. When i'm auditioning new componants I listen for the good and bad to be increased. (not changed) The reason I use music I no is because I know the good and bad things already. I'm going to try his ideas though because i'm looking to upgrade my source on my speaker system.I have to much invested to leave any stone unturned. I just havn't got a clue what music i'll take yet.
 
Apr 25, 2003 at 12:05 AM Post #11 of 30

Ebonyks

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My view is the opposite to some extent, I don't care per se how accurate the reproduction of music is through my system, what i care about is how the essance of music is captured, and presented in a way of which i can truly become involved in it. So far, i'm yet to find a system that truly disapears, and i can only hear the music, not the well reproduced sounds.
 
Apr 25, 2003 at 6:15 AM Post #12 of 30

Dusty Chalk

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Quote:

Originally posted by Hirsch
I actually take the middle ground (no backbone here
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)


Freakin' Libras.
 
Apr 25, 2003 at 4:41 PM Post #13 of 30

markl

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I disagree pretty strongly. I can't imagine why you'd bring music you are unfamiliar with to test a new component. You need to control as many variables as follows because you are not in your own environment, and some of the equipment you are using is also new to you. For me, it's crucial to know the music I'm using to audition like the back of my own hand. How else could I tell how well the new component is doing its job relative to the gear I am familiar with?

Mark
 
Apr 25, 2003 at 9:38 PM Post #15 of 30

Tomcat

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Quote:

Originally posted by markl
I disagree pretty strongly. I can't imagine why you'd bring music you are unfamiliar with to test a new component.


Mark,

Qvortrup's "comparison by contrast" method works like this: you don't AB the components or ABA them or ABBA them (you especially don't ABBA them
wink.gif
) but you take a couple of different recordings, preferably ones you're not familiar with and thus have no preconceptions about, and listen to them with component A, then you take all the recordings and listen to them with component B. In essence, you're comparing recordings and the quality of the musical interpretations, not components. His goal is to find a way to listen to the music and not to the sound of the equipment when comparing components. This comparison by contrast method becomes more practical if one owns tens of thousands of vinyl records, hundreds or even thousands of which one has never listened to. I have never really tried it.

But I see his point. The danger when listening to just a few reference recordings of presumed audiophile quality is, that you develop an idea what they are supposed to sound like. Actually, that's what many audiophiles end up doing: they're chasing after the elusive goal of the perfect reproduction of their single reference recording. What for? There is a lot more music captured on what we tend to consider mediocre recordings than can be unearthed by conventional high-end systems. Most of them can impress with their sonic attributes but they fail to reproduce the music. I believe most recordings are a lot better than we give them credit for.

Many audiophiles use the intelligibilty of lyrics as a criterion. That's not a bad start. What Qvortrup's method tries tro find out is whether there is an increase in musical intelligibility with a new component. He believes that the better, the more resolving, the more neutral component will do a better job of conveying the individual artistic goals, and that it will, at the same time, show greater differences between interpretations captured on different recordings.

I'd say there are two ways to find out whether musical intelligibilty is increased. You either listen to music you like: do you like it better now? Or you listen to music you didn't know or didn't like before: do you get its meaning, does it touch you now? Listening to music one isn't familiar with seems illogical at first, but there's something to it.
 

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