I have been listening to a lot of vinyl as of late - we're getting ready to launch a new phono preamp - and the evaluation process if ongoing.
Unfortunately I do not have the big reference system setup yet so I am relegated to sound room number 2, which isn't as good. To make matters worse there's a big hole in the ceiling with a ladder poking through it to access the wiring for the big room, as these two music rooms sit side-by-side. There's a lot of noise from the servers next door coming through.
But despite all the background noise and people coming in and out while I am trying to listen, there is something I wanted to mention: the separation of sounds. On only the very best systems does one hear the separation of sounds and it's one of the benchmarks I use to evaluate equipment - particularly vinyl.
On most systems the noise of the recording, the surface noise of the record, the mic techniques of the engineer, the playing of the instruments arehomogenous - they blend together as one presentation - pretty much what you'd expect. But on a handful of systems and electronics these elements become detached from the whole and separate themselves into separate entities.
What I am describing is hard to imagine if you've never heard it - and I am struggling now to hear it on this second rate system - but having trained my "ear" to look for it the task is a bit easier and can be accomplished.
Imagine listening to a vinyl recording of something and noticing, for the first time, that the surface noise of the album appears separate and distinct from the music. If this were happening it would give you the advantage of being able to listen into that surface noise and evaluate its quality - or ignore it completely and just focus on the music. In the same process we could switch our attention to the recording itself and focus on just those qualities. Separation has many advantages if you can achieve it.
Most of you have probably heard something like this phenomena before with a digital or vinyl based system: separation of instruments in the soundstage presentation. When people move from a good/mediocre DAC to an excellent one perhaps the first attribute they notice is this increased separation of the players in the orchestra or group. The same can be said when you get power conditioning right - you get a greater sense of separation.
The ultimate separation happens when not just the individual instruments get untangled, but the other elements in the recording as well.