Does and Audiophile system sound worse of bad recordings?

November 26, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

26 comments on “Does and Audiophile system sound worse of bad recordings?”

  1. I agree garbage in garbage out but I also don’t think a bad system makes bad recordings sound better than they do on a state of the art system. It’s still going to sound bad. The state of the art system will break away when it comes to great recordings and show it’s stuff.

    1. Joe,
      I use a Marantz – ‘SA12 SE’ (SACD/DSD player) for my average to excellent CD recordings & a Marantz – ‘CD6006’ CD player for my poorly recorded CDs.
      Using the slightly less detailed player does go some way to smoothing out some
      of the ‘etchyness’ of the poorly recorded CDs…not all the way, but some way.

  2. My favorite group is a folk/jazz group from the 70s, Pentangle and it turned out to be my first lesson in how badly mastering can foul up a wonderful recording.

    The Pentangle was the 1st non-classical recording reviewed by Gordon Holt in Stereophile. He gave it a good review calling the sound excellent. But many readers wrote telling him he was badly mistaken.

    A few years later I met an audiophile in Reading, Pennsylvania who it turned out lived 2 blocks from me in Philadelphia. And he had 2 copies of the record, the original one from England that Gordon had reviewed and a remastered American version done by Warner Brothers which was the one that the readers had heard. It was so bad that a deaf person could almost have heard the difference instantly. Detail and transparency were way worse. Width was obviously reduced. And while the original had awesome depth the Warner Brothers version had no more depth than the thickness of the jacket it came in.

    It was an awesome lesson for me. Up till then I had no idea how much a recording could be screwed up. Fortunately for me as my system improved over the years I was able to listen to almost any recording as long as I loved the music.

  3. I have what I think is a great system. It certainly compares very well with the other systems I’ve heard from members of my audiophile club. So please take my word for it.

    I have some bad recordings. One of them is the Brahms violin concerto played by Yehudi Menuhin recorded in the late 50s. In this recording the orchestra is strangely muted while the violin is so emphasized that it sounds like Menuhin playing with a table radio as accompaniment. Mind you his playing is fantastic so that comes through very well. However, the record also has lots of surface noise. I have played this piece of vinyl since I was twelve. On my current high end system it continues to bring me great delight. I don’t care about the surface noise. I’m pretty much able to ignore it. The weird balance between orchestra and soloist is just an idiosyncrasy. The joy of the music is much greater through the high end system compared to the console stereo I first listened on or any of the other intermediate systems using an AR turntable and harsh transistor amp etc. The high end system makes the bad recording sound better than it ever has. So there you have it.

    1. I agree with this. I rather listen to a poor recording through a great system than an average or poor system. If the recording and the system both suck that’s not a good combination.

    1. Good afternoon Joe and others!
      I’m most likely the youngest member of our grate hifi family.
      But at the same time, I’ve been around the block more then a few times.
      I grew up in a time that portable stereos were cool to have.
      Especially if yours was the biggest one in town.
      But they couldn’t reproduce music like say, a vintage Fisher 500-C vacuum tube stereo receiver and a quod of Bosack 210 speakers could.
      Fore one thing, not even the biggest portable stereo system could give you the slam that a vintage system could.
      But now, let’s move from what happened 37 years ago in to what’s going on right now.
      The Walmart stuff leaves a lot of things to be desired.
      It lease to my ears.
      But like Paul said, there are some work arounds that you can do.
      And still be able to enjoy the music.
      No matter how badly it was recorded.
      If your system is way too reveeling to music that’s out here today, there is something you can do about it.
      But on the other hand, There are jazz musicians that are very picky about how their records are made.
      I’ve heard tell of one of the jazz musicians that was going to record his music at BlueNote Records, kicking the producer out of the studio.
      He didn’t like the way he made him sound.
      And so, he got someone from Verb to produce him.
      But that was something I heard at the top of the nineties.

        1. Good afternoon John!
          Heresy?
          Before I take it back as you suggested, let me ask you one strate right to the point question.
          Just how old are you?
          Just to be fare, I’m only 50.

          1. Hi John,

            It was a humorous poke, so don’t take it personally.
            I’m Paul’s age – 72 or so 😉

            Keep posting your younger perspective – it’s always appreciated.

            1. Good afternoon again John!
              Please don’t worry, I didn’t take it personally at all.
              In fact, I got a little laugh out of it!
              But on a serious note, you’re 22 years older then I am.
              And do to this fact, I will always look to you for your wisdom.
              It least, you don’t put me down on here.
              And I love you for that!
              I wish I could say the same about a cupple of men on here, and be honest about it.
              The sad truth is, I can’t.

              1. JP, I’m sorry to hear that last sentence.
                I’ve not seen any derogatory comments here, but hope we all can stay civil.

                And yes, I understand your situation and hope for the best of success in spite of it. You seem to have done so.

                1. JW, sometimes JP comes out with too much BS & I just have to pull him up on it.
                  Like some politicians, when he’s questioned about certain things that he has said here on ‘Ask Paul’ he reacts badly…what can I say?

  4. I really appreciate the comments above but one thing I’ve heard is if you have a high end turntable and cartridge it will bring out the worst of bad recordings. so for that reason, would it be a dumb idea to have a less expensive turntable for those records or is this not true ?

  5. Good Points all.

    For better or worse…
    38 years and counting for this man.
    Can you say, “compromise”?
    Like Paul says, Terri is behind all he does, and I can relate.

  6. Interesting discussion. Of course I own music which is partly distorted and or compressed because recording studios were using the tape recorder with maximum volume setting in order to get a good SNR but some distortion too. This changed slightly with the upcoming Dolby and other noise reduction systems for analog tape recorders. With the event of digital CDs one could hear clearly what was done by the mixing engineer. There I have CDs with very good clean sound and not so good ones. With LPs the whole thing was even worse. The last quarter was in general more distorted due to the inherent problems and known errors of LP recordings. Funny was a LP with 45 rpm which had better sound quality at the expense of recording time. It may not surprise that 45 rpm singles sounded pretty well. With todays recording gear there should always be a clean good sound possible except sound modeling was intentionally done by the mastering engineer.

  7. I’ve been interested in high fidelity sound since I was in high school (graduated in ’72), and firmly in the “audiophile” camp since college. But I’m ashamed to say the distinction between realistic and spectacular recordings was largely lost on me until middle-age. Anytime a remastered album came out, I expected it to provide sonic fireworks, or at least take each individual instrument or voice and render it as though it were under an “aural microscope.” If the recording didn’t do that, I was disappointed, and deemed it unworthy of my time in listening.

    Most of the time I was happy – early audiophile pressings of classical music tended to focus on large-scale works with a lot of musical bombast, and those were fun to hear. Most pop/rock music had bombast built-in as well, and so those were fun as well. But I recall buying a Sheffield direct-to-disc recording of banjoist Larry McNeely and some friends, performing like they were sitting in a jam circle, and because the sound of that record wasn’t “in your face,” I concluded it wasn’t a very good recording. It took me far too long to learn I was wrong about all of that, and I’m forever grateful I didn’t sell that album, as it is one of the most natural-sounding acoustic instrument and voice recordings I own, and I now understand that quality – a faithful rendition of the original sound – is what I value most in music reproduction. Sure, there’s a lot of bang and boom in all genres of music (well, perhaps excepting the lute), but that’s not the be-all and end-all for me now. Timbral accuracy, proper scale, a solid and three-dimensional soundstage – those are the things I value most. And recordings like that McNeely album provide it, much more than, say, a remaster of “Crime of the Century,” as much fun as that is.

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