One of the most important aspects of learning to evaluate high-end stereo systems is paying attention to discontinuities in sound–things that jump out at you. Horns are a good example because few are free of lower octave tonal colorations. The next time you listen to a horn loudspeaker, play an orchestral piece and notice the sometimes dramatic tonal balance changes as the orchestra extends down into its lower frequency registers. Cellos and bass instruments often take on a hooty, boxed quality relative to the open and natural sounds of voices and pianos (which is why many horn loudspeaker owners are very selective with their musical choices). And what's disturbing about this is the discontinuity of tones. When we listen to live music, discontinuities rarely exist. It's only when we try and reproduce natural instruments that colorations appear. And yet, all loudspeakers are colored. The problem isn't so much the coloration–we can adjust to consistent coloring of sound–it's the inconsistent colorations that jump out like a slasher in a horror film. When we do extensive listen testing, the one factor we look for is discontinuity in the sound field: instruments that are suddenly muted, frequency ranges that bark, bass notes that fall off the proverbial cliff as the artist plays down the scale. Our senses are highly trained to spot differences in crowded environments: the different voice in a noisy conversation, the gem in the rough, the particularly loud player, the vibration on the steering wheel at a precise speed. We can adjust to much, but it is the discontinuities that jump out at us.
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