Analytical vs. resolving

January 9, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

The terms we use in high-end audio are often confusing.

When I listen to a pair of studio monitors like the ATCs I find them analytical, meaning they are cold, forward, in your face with about as much emotional engagement as a doctor listening through a stethoscope.

When I listen to a pair of our FR30 loudspeakers I find them highly resolving, meaning they are so emotionally engaging I am drawn into their sound so that I might hear deeply into the music.

Both speaker types are very detailed.

One engages me with the music in the same way I might interact with a university textbook.

The other draws me in like a great novel begging to be read.

Analytical vs. resolving.

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43 comments on “Analytical vs. resolving”

  1. Analytical has a stigma in high end hyperbole and that relates to the cold side of yin and yang. Resolving is a term that instructs to reveal everything the microphone captured.

    For example, Wilson Audio loudspeakers have an uncanny ability to deliver music and sound outside of the speaker enclosure. Call it imaging, soundscape, soundstaging what have you, but this does not imply resolution or musicality. In fact, the higher up you go in the Wilson speaker line, the more unforgiving the larger speakers are to the source.

    While listening to Magico speakers i can still hear the source of the sound, an extremely rigid enclosure. However, there is more tonal color, midbass pop and dynamics associated with the sound. I guess this goes back to yesterdays post regarding voicing.

    For voicing to be a more complete science, one has to consider the amplifier, speaker cable and speaker as a system whose resolution is dependent on these critical components synergy.

    The most balanced sounding and forgiving Wilson speaker imho opinion is the Sasha W/P. The top models Alexx & Chronosonic absolutely benefit from being fed a music signal from a pair of top line VTL Siegfried monoblock tube amplifiers.

    In this way, one can have it all. Accurate timbre, high resolution, dynamics and a transparent three dimensional soundstage. At this juncture, the final consideration is which speaker cable to complete the system synergy. Nordost for upper frequency lilt and extension, or a network cable for musical warmth.

    I guess that depends on musical taste and speaker placement within the listening room.

  2. Paul, I know what you mean. I once bought an expensive $8K pair of highly rated studio monitors and could never get used to their etched sound. Rather than being drawn in, I was repelled. They actually gave me a headache. I sold them as quickly as I could to recoop my investment. They were razor accurate, but could not create a natural soundstage.

    It wasn’t just a distance thing. I found that my Harbeths and Von Schweikerts sounded much better to my ears than the studio monitors even when I positioned them close, the same close distance as the monitors. I don’t think studio monitors are designed to be enjoyed. They are designed to reveal every flaw in a recording so the recording engineer can quickly sort out what needs to be corrected.

    1. Joseph,
      Harbeths do have excellent ‘everything’ for their price.
      The Von’s I haven’t heard & so I can’t comment but I’m sure that they are also an excellent loudspeaker to listen to recorded music through.
      Interestingly, I’ve heard some excellent comments from many people about the
      Joseph Audio – ‘Pearl 20/20 Graphene’ Floorstanders…I’m guessing ‘no relation’ 😉

      1. My Vons are one-of-a-kind, custom made, and sound better than the Harbeths. But the Harbeths work better as mid-field monitors. The Vons need more breathing room and a more distant listening position.

        I haven’t heard the best ATCs. For all I know, I might love them, with the right set up with my particular gear and in my particular room with the types of music I listen to. I’ve auditioned several different brands of top-rated studio monitors but not the ATC. They all sound VERY different, even though they all have flat frequency responses. You’d think since they all measure flat that they would sound pretty much the same, but they sound more different to me than when comparing regular audiophile speakers. Obviously, speaking from the choir, there is much more to obtaining great speaker sound than a level frequency response curve.

  3. **Attention ‘Barsley’**
    I wish to apologise for my harsh 6:45 am reply to you yesterday; it was not deserved.
    Ideally I should’ve just stfu.
    Now that I know that Floyd Toole can’t hear properly, I’m not able to take him seriously
    about home audio or loudspeakers, however that was no reason for me to speak to
    you in the way that I did.
    Best regards,

    **On Topic**
    Analytical or ‘Warm’,if the loudspeaker(s) are detailed & resolving &
    I like the music coming out of them, well that is all that I require to
    enjoy the listening experience.

    1. Transference is something I’m familiar with, it happens sometimes. However, Toole’s hearing or his position on the cables he uses on his home theater really have nothing to do with the conversation. And a single person’s subjective viewpoint is useless. Who’s opinion can you trust in the myriad of choices out there today? Yours? Mine? Toole’s? Paul’s? Do you claim to have “perfect” hearing? Let’s see the results of your hearing assessment. We are back to the irony of it all.

      To take a position that discounts measurements, as if only one person’s ear can define and subjectively evaluate a speaker, is absolutely nonsensical. The content of this post, which is simply marketing, is evidence of what I have said. Having spent enough time in and around the anechoic chamber in the development of speakers, I know the indispensable need to have one, if you are serious about speaker design. Measurements are the only repeatable benchmarks we have to escape the “circle of confusion” in the market. And the spinarama can give invaluable information on a speaker’s performance.

      1. I agree that measurements are an integral, & indeed necessary, part of the design & development process but that’s where it stops.
        The last bit of the design/development process & indeed the end purpose of a pair of loudspeakers is only about how they sound & for that all you require is your ears.

        Home audio is all about subjective opinion, since we all perceive sound differently.
        Trying to define sound objectively in a subjective domain is, in my opinion, a futile & pointless exercise.

        1. You cannot argue out of both sides of your mouth, that is to say, you cannot claim that electronics and cables make a drastic effect on speaker performance and then discount the effect they have. If they do effect the performance, then the synergy of the system, including the room, is what your are hearing. If Speaker A in Room A, sounds this way, and in Room B sounds that way because of the electronics and cables used, and Speaker B sounds better in Room B than A for the same reasons, who defines which is “better?” So again, we are back to the “circle of confusion”…

          Measurements through the entire process are required, not just at the design or development phases.

          1. Hello Barsley…..
            In answer to your question…

            [“Speaker A in Room A, sounds this way, and in Room B sounds that way because of the electronics and cables used, and Speaker B sounds better in Room B than A for the same reasons, who defines which is “better?” ]

            Right or wrong, the person doing the listening does the defining. Whether they are to be believed is where the circle may have been born. How one chooses to get out of that roundabout is up to them. It could be Measurements, listening, reading marketing spiel, taking someone’s word for it, Or a combination of all. The odds of universal agreement are pretty much zero.

            1. So the question comes, how does one even the playing field, (from an evaluation perspective) and derive some rational information concerning how a speaker will perform, outside of the subjective viewpoint of a listener? That’s the point I made yesterday, show me the spinarama. With that data, I can glean the basic information on how the speaker will perform, regardless of the room. In fact, I can predict how it will respond in the room, and certainly see the shortcomings of the design.

              This is why so many manufacturers won’t deliver spinorama data, it reveals the true performance of their product. You know, let’s not confuse the subjective view with such things like introducing actual data of the performance, or play fudge factor of over 6dB of wiggle room… rather, let’s use emotive words like “resolving”…

              1. Barsley,
                I can tell you who defines ‘better’ – the person listening &/or purchasing.

                This is my last reply to you on this subject as I believe that you just wa-a-ay over-complicate the whole process.
                You & I could go on & on & on ad naseum & I’d rather be listening to music than discussing something to which there is no complete or ultimate answer.

                I’ve sold & set-up home audio systems for 22 years & as far as I am concerned experience, observation & critical listening beats science & measurements hands-down once that loudspeaker comes out of the box.
                It would be interesting to know how many high-end loudspeaker brands ‘do’ their products your way & how many ‘do’ them my way.

                And so I will agree to disagree with you & I’m happy to leave it at that…now, where’s my remote?

              2. So Barsley,

                unlike others I’m not set in my ways. The way I see it, measurements are a great and quite essential tool, but not the absolute final word in the final environment the speakers are to be used in. If I prefer a little bump in one area and a little suck out in another then that’s my call. I’m not selling to or advising others. In addition, room sound can be manipulated by treatments and / or by electronics, and by set-up.

                As far as a spinarama, I’m certain there are many things you can tell. When you look at such measurements do they take into account all of the room furnishings and real world situations? (Suspended floors, concrete walls overstuffed recliners to name just a few ). How well do they articulate the disappearance factors or the phantom images that so many enjoy? Or do you propose some sort of room measurement and a predetermined algorithm to define the sound into that room?

                If the latter is best, then sooner or later that will become the norm. If not, some portion of the audio world will continue to wallow around in its present state and choices will still abound.

                It seems to me these discussions become a north / south or east / west issue. Neither side giving ground. Those of us paddling down the river of the great divide are often shot at. Most in that river just want to have an enjoyable home audio experience… and learn along the way. The ‘sides’ will never budge… they need more converts, for ‘proper educating’ in their camps.

                  1. Thanks for the link.

                    You wrote:
                    > So the question comes, how does one even the playing field, (from an evaluation perspective) and derive some rational information concerning how a speaker will perform, outside of the subjective viewpoint of a listener? <

                    I’m not sure rational info needs to be on an even playing field. (Obviously not for many) If you’re buying or home demoing a pair of speakers sight unseen or unheard then maybe the measurements help. (Internet sourcing so to speak) If you blindly accept unheard or just accept others subjective opinion then you deserve what you get when the research isn’t done.

                    If the goal is to standardize some measurement that someone thinks is important – then there’s probably many other measurements that should have that done also. If the goal is eliminate any design done by “voicing” then I would suggest that’s extremely narrow minded and probably self serving to some level.

                    Find enough people to fund all the measurements you want (print or other media subscription) and let the cards fall where they may.
                    Or ignore any manufacturer that doesn’t do what you would consider essential.

                    1. As I pointed out to FR, that IS the Industry Standard as defined by ANSI…

                      ANSI/CTA-2034-A – Standard Method of Measurement for In-Home Loudspeakers

                  2. In response to your last comment since I couldn’t post there.

                    As I researched farther two things pop up…. CTA….

                    and then ANSI ….
                    A recommended standardized way… if you’re going to measure.

                    In fact lots of audio bulletins that are there… All CTA / ANSI or just CTA published.
                    So there is a business in the background behind all of this….

                    It also seems that what is being suggested is audio manufactures fully comply with the suggestions of CTA and ANSI.

                    1. Generally, most don’t like to comply with industry standards because it more times than not, reveals that their baby’s ugly. (doesn’t perform well) And no marketing department wants their “ugly baby” disclosed.

                      Back in the late 90’s, in the US, we passed Federal Law 16 CFR Part 432 concerning the misleading marketing claims concerning amplifier power, since the manufacturer’s didn’t want to comply with Industry Standards set as far back as the 70’s.

                      I find it fascinating that in other posts in this very thread that folks are so quick to discount the objective measurements that are, in fact, Industry Standards in lieu of subjective viewpoints. That’s not to say that there is not a place and time for listening tests, but the fact remains, that a speaker that has poor off-axis performance or plagued by resonances or poor response, regardless of it’s appearance or location will continue to exhibit those qualities. Again, what method do we have to sort through candidates? Industry Standards are a good start. And it’s revealing when a manufacturer of multi-tens-of-thousands of dollars speaker has no spinorama. (complying to Industry Standards testing)

        2. “Trying to define sound objectively in a subjective domain is, in my opinion, a futile & pointless exercise.”

          Our home audio music systems reproduce music recordings. The ultimate basis of comparison is the sound of musicians and vocalists performing live music.

          Therefore, if an individual has extensive experience performing and recording live music and thousands of hours assembling high end audio systems, designing and building listening rooms, then that persons experience qualifies their listening and hearing acumen as objective when they use their live music recordings as a point of reference.

          I’ll take this point one step further. While listening to reasonable recordings on youtube of high end music systems recorded at industry trade shows my ears are able to discern issues with the room, timbre fidelity accuracy and whether the loudspeaker has seamless coherency, aka you don’t hear the crossover points.

          What you can’t judge is the systems soundstaging ability without being in the room.

          1. dr. g,
            Agreed. If you have all that experience then you don’t need all of that industry standardised measurement crap as far as I’m concerned.
            But more to my point about Floyd Toole is that if he can’t hear the differences in cabling (wires) then I have no time for his opinion.

            1. Floyd Toole is a measure-mentalist who has influenced many audio designers and measurement freaks including fellow Californians Siegfried Linkwitz, Brian Elliott and Keith Yates to name a few. Personally i’ve never met Dr. Toole, but his tribe speak highly of his engineering skills and psychoacoustic prowess.

              All academic considerations aside, i’ve listened to Revel speakers and they’re decent, Infinity and JBL not so much. I’m just not fond of the majority (99%) of metal dome tweeters.

              My first early career trade show experience was visiting with Mark Levinson at the 1974 CES Show in Chicago. His room was empty and he spent a good 1/2 hour indoctrinating me to his philosophy, music recordings and system methodology. I proceeded to invest four decades of my life in pursuit of his vision.

              The next memorable trade show experience was while working as a Rep alongside Saul Marantz in the Dahlquist suite at the 1978 Chicago CES at the ripe age of 21.

              1. I turned 18 in 1978; my final year of high-school.

                I wonder how much importance brands like Magico, Wilson, Von Schweikert, Harbeth, Joseph Audio, MBL, Martin Logan, Magneplaner, etc. give to Floyd Toole…not much, I would imagine.

                I don’t care how much study he has done in the name of loudspeakers or even home-audio.
                If he can’t hear the difference in wires I’m not going to be influenced by his opinion(s).

  4. Maybe the terms should be analytical and engaging.

    Analytical implies maximum resolution. Maybe to the fault of too much for the average listener.

    Engaging could imply being drawn into the music with resolve.

  5. JosephLG pretty much summed up Paul’s excellent post. Having used Harbeth and then Wilson in recent years, they provide a broadly similar listening experience and the sound is never etched. A design goal of Harbeth is not to fatigue the listener, and I once listened to them for 14 hours pretty much non-stop. Harbeth are designed using basic cable from Amazon, worth bearing in mind if you think cables matter.

  6. I have the ATC 40. I use them triplewired. I have a big 300 watt class a to the woofer and Italian soft sounding amplifiers to middle and tweeter. All my wires are also neutral to soft. Then you have a natural resolving sounding system. Verner Ory

  7. I have just received notification of the passing of Max Townshend, another brilliant Australian engineer & designer, a few days ago from ‘yorkie’.
    If you’re not familiar with his groundbreaking work check out, ‘Townsend Engineering Hi-Fi’ & see what magnificent anti-vibration/isolation loudspeaker stands, amongst a few other bits ‘n pieces, that he designed & brought to the world of home audio.

    RIP ‘Max Townshend’ (1943 – 2021)

  8. I’m absolutely with the headline. It deserves endless commentaries.

    Although I agree there is HW, which falls into extreme camps, I wouldn’t assign the above differentiation to different brands or kinds of equipment generally.

    My experience is, that we often find some HW or more resolving HW analytical, as long it works in a little optimized surrounding and so we rather search for compensating HW there. Exactly this HW later limits the ability to resolve in a better overall setup (I could name very well known brands).

    As soon as the setup is optimized at several points, the same HW previously perceived as just analytical, may deliver a perfectly resolving and musical result.

    It’s important to understand that an overall extremely resolving result is not achieved by perfectly compensating choices, but by the right choices (which is less easy to explain) and the completeness of important measures.

    The decision for a whole chain of a manufacturer of trust (you heard such a chain before in comparison to others and know that’s where you want to go) can make the process much easier for those less experienced.

    I think as long as one’s not ready to go above its price level or knows quite good what to combine, PSA is a very good choice for such a one manufacturer decision, as, different than with some other brands, there are no pure alibi or completist products offered which don’t hold a certain level.

  9. Sorry Paul,

    While we all have the individual freedom to call cow a horse because we can ride it, I personally see your semantic math as the equivalent of 1 + 1 = 3.

    From Webster’s, the definition of “resolving power”, which I believe is the root of the terminology you wish to apply:

    1 : the ability of an optical system to form distinguishable images of objects separated by small angular distances
    2 : the ability of a photographic film or plate to reproduce the fine detail of an optical image

    Applying the terminology of optical resolution to audio is valid, however both good studio monitor and audiophile speakers are resolving. The difference between the two is in their presentation. Studio monitors are often sterile or analytical, while good audiophile speakers are pleasing or engaging.

    Using your literary metaphor, studio monitors are the equivalent of a college text on astronomy, while audiophile speakers are books on astronomy written by Carl Sagan, or Neil deGrasse Tyson.

  10. Paul, On this post we are going to have to agree to disagree. In my video system we sit about 8′ back from the screen because for a 60″ screen 8′ is as far back as you can sit and still have the human eye be able to resolve 1080p. I have never been big on surround sound so my audio in my video system is a simple 2.1 speaker arrangement. For the main speakers I bought a pair of 2 way near field monitors from ATC. They are passive speakers that I bought from their consumer line, however, the same speakers are available in a active version in their professional line as studio monitors. The speakers I have got rave reviews in audio magazines one of which is Stereophile.

    Even though I disagree with your characterization of ATC speakers I do hope the FR30 gets excellent reviews.

    1. Thanks, Tony and I should be careful about my bashing of other manufacturers. My intent was only as an expression of my opinion. There’s not many speakers I do like and the ATC are among them. But that’s me. I am certain that if I were to come to your home I’d probably like very much what you have.

  11. The truth is different. How resolving is a live performance? How analytical is a live performance? Well, that is where the truth lies. Any system that comes close to this truth is the goal to achieve. The rest is just dependent on the function the speaker is made for which is certainly not to represent the truth. Regards.

    1. IMO there are many aspects of a live performance which are superior to a playback of a recording. But the revealing character usually is not one of them except you’re sitting in a very excellent concert hall on the best seats or as close to performers as mics usually record (but then you’re loosing oversight).

      There usually is no holographic imaging, no highly resolving cymbals, rarely a really layered soundstage, no breathing of artists heard, no touch of a violin bow etc.

      If bla the revealing character of a live performance was the goal, it wouldn’t need very good gear. It would just need very dynamic, effortless, relaxed and uncompressed sounding gear.

      Much of comparing the demands of recorded playback with the live event is a superficial metaphor. But anyway we strive for much that’s between sitting aside a musician and sitting in the audience. This combination is not possible live, it’s only possible when hearing a recording under high end conditions.

  12. To inject a non-audiophile-focused analogy, I am writing a book with a colleague that is about cultural analysis. In this day and age of data and measurement, many people want to make decisions on how people should live based on statistics or facts, that getting into emotion or feeling or empathy are too “squishy” and subjective to be used. However, think of it this way: as humans we are guided more by our emotions and feelings than by facts and figures – we can’t help it. To take feelings out of the equation is to take the human out of humanity. Sure, some speakers might “measure” according to certain characteristics, and that’s good information to have, but where they really deliver is in feelings.

  13. I have not heard the FR30 loudspeakers yet and are unable to pass judgement on their sound.
    However having lived with my ATC SCM150A Pro’s and a Meitner rig I am in heaven listening to Gus Skinas’s work which is awesome.
    Perhaps Gus could chime in here?

  14. Genelec 8341’s when fed directly with an AES digital signal sounds analytical, and is ideal for its intended monitoring use.
    The same monitors fed an analog signal from a Directstream Jr DAC sound engaging and enjoyable.

    Hoping to get a listen to the FR30 sometime soon, and hope they do well, however one manufacturer criticising another’s products for marketing purposes is very unnecessary.

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