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A good friend of mine popped over to hear the big speakers in Music Room One but the woofer system has gone fritz and I have it torn apart to try and fix (sigh). As an aside, my director of engineering watched me struggling to figure out what's wrong - saw my exasperated look - and said "what did you expect from a 30 year old system?" I guess I was hoping it'd just work. In any case, I was unable to play any music so we went to the newly renovated Music Room Two with the Thiels and subwoofer to spend some time listening. Both of us were delighted with the sound from the system and thus he pulled out an old Jimi Hendrix recording he brought along to hear. The recording sounded like, well, an old recording. My friend Robert was disappointed because at home his system didn't show the age of the recording and the finer details of that presentation. In some ways, his home's system smoothed out all the warts of the recording and he just listened to and enjoyed the music. On my system you can do the same, but the age of the recording becomes obvious and until you can get over that fact, enjoyment may not be at its best; expectations different from reality. We're all familiar with the idea that the better the system gets the more we hear all the good and the bad of our recordings - and in some cases this may limit the music we listen to - which kind of defeats the whole idea of having a high end music system in the first place. What I've come to understand over the course of many years is that high-end systems can be broken into three types:
  1. Oatmeal. Everything sounds acceptable, nothing sounds great.
  2. Highly detailed. Great recordings sound spectacular, not so great recordings are not very enjoyable and over time get avoided.
  3. Enlightened. The system is perfectly balanced, the electronics and loudspeakers capable of playing everything in its naked glory, giving the listener a more distant view. Pretty much everything can be played an enjoyed for what it is.
The third state is what I always shoot for. Here you get the best of the first two categories with the added benefit that instead of getting immersed and agitated by a poor recording's failings, you have a more distant view of it as an observer of the recording and thus can enjoy it for what it is, not how it upsets the system - and in the bargain you get all the detail there plus some you may not have heard in system 2 - so accepting of the sound you become.
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Paul McGowan

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