Bad recordings and great systems

November 5, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

We often think of the revealing nature of a great system as a double-edged sword: wonderful recordings sound better while poor ones sound worse.

The idea of a system's ability to magnifying a recording's good and bad points is problematic when it comes to simply enjoying the music. This is why a lot of folks narrow down their musical choices.

To the extent our systems bring us pleasure to enjoy all recordings can, in the end, be a good yardstick by which we measure success.

Fortunately, it isn't always that black and white.

In my experience, systems go through three evolutionary phases:

  1. Phase one we go from a mediocre consumer setup where nothing sounds great yet nothing sounds bad. Oatmeal.
  2. Phase two we have upgraded systems and setup so the great recordings sound spectacular and the poor recordings are exposed.
  3. Phase three we elevated performance such that truly great recordings are breathtaking and poor recordings don't irritate us—they can be appreciated for what they are without reaching to turn down the volume control.

Where is your system?

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78 comments on “Bad recordings and great systems”

  1. 1/ Oatmeal...up to AU$5k
    2/ Honey Prawns...up to AU$25k
    3/ Chateaubriand...serious money...or as one person said, "an obscene amount of money" AU$90k+

    I use a Marantz - 'CD6006' player that smooths-out the etchyness of the poor recordings
    & make them more enjoyable to listen to & I use a more expensive Marantz -'SA12 SE' SACD player, with DSD conversion & internal galvanic isolation, for the good/great recordings.
    This way I can enjoy all of my CD library without having to spend 'stupid' money to do so.
    A reasonable compromise to enjoy the good, the bad & the ugly ✌

  2. This is the old "choosing music as a test signal" syndrome. I don't see the point of having a stereo system if you worry obsessively if the recording quality is going to be good enough and are evaluating it when you are meant to be enjoying the music.

    The number of times I stop listening because I don't like the recording quality is extremely small. The last thing I listened to on Thursday, Rachel Podger recorded in a parish church in Folkestone by Jared Sachs/Channel Classics, was sublime. We were actually listening to Cowboy Junkies an hour ago waiting for the cricket to start and that was very enjoyable. I know some recordings will be equalised because they are intended for people listening in bars, clubs or walking in the park, but I take them for what there are.

  3. Yes, completely right.

    As I have active speakers where I can adjust the levels of the chassis (and more), I’d say I’m at “4.”. If necessary I can make any recording sound more or less right in tonality. It’s not needed often, but sometimes it rises a listen from ok to great.

    “2.” or between “2.” and “3.” unfortunately is a status many high end customers have in my experience. It usually means repeatedly spending too much money mostly at the wrong places, often implementing compensating compromises avoiding to reach a certain level and feeling restless and unsatisfied.

    As getting out of there includes the influence of one’s personal environment and can’t be bought by deciding for a brand/concept or similar, it’s mostly just possible by own decades long experience or meeting the right people and getting the right consultation.

    And all of this is certainly a question of the own demand where also those are satisfied who don’t bother about not getting the quality they could (which they often didn’t ever experience) for the money they spent.

    1. I have Legacy Audio speakers which are active too. The Wavelet Processor allows me to adjust for bad recordings etc. It’s wonderful to have these features. People who don’t have this feature don’t know what they are missing.

      1. Yes indeed! Mine is all analog, no digital processing.

        You’re right, active speakers can even make setups in the 1. or 2. category be fully satisfying with all kinds of recordings and avoid spending a ton of money in repeated compromising new purchases, just curing tonality issues caused by component changes etc.

  4. I thought I was in phase 3, but after learning that most recordings suck 😉 I’m probably in phase 2 Point 99.

    In my case the grotesque recordings of music I like are relegated to something resembling a class 1 or low 2 category system. The are relegated to the car, the barn, the garage, or a portable ear bud player. The actual number of those recordings is low. Well Less than 1%.

    I look at things this way now. Music I like is 1st and foremost. A great recording is like icing on the cake. (a bonus) Listening often to a technically great recording of music I don’t like doesn’t happen or make it anywhere, except on a hardrive.

    I have noticed that my exploration and appreciation of other genre’s than my ‘norm’ has grown with my system and good(ish) recordings. Maybe I should regress. ✌️:-D

    1. "but after learning that most recordings suck ". I want names. Cn't slag off the recording industry that easily. From here far more music sucks, sometimes entire genres.

      1. Look for the names, you’ll find them, and it won’t be hard.
        As far as sucky music, that’s in the ear / mind of the beholder.
        It’s easy to slag off an industry that is largely faceless and in many cases anonymous.

    2. I have been finding better quality recordings that appeal to my musical senses more often now with the advent of streaming, Roon and Qobuz. Sometimes I hear a great song while I’m in my car and then I check it out online when I get home. On occasion, I get a recommendation from a relative or a friend and that’s how I start the journey to find my next purchase. I don’t rush out and buy vinyl records or CDs anymore unless I listen to the entire album via this method first, then I read the reviews of this particular recording, the musicians involved and how to locate the best versions that have been released. After I go through this process, if everything comes together for me, I’ll make the purchase so that I have the physical media to add to my collection which is quite eclectic. Purchasing for demo purposes is no longer part of my philosophy. It actually never was.

      It’s quite amazing how often I’m finding recordings that I enjoy listening to over and over again over the course of years and not just listen to once only to file away. Most of what I purchase now are all real keepers and I want them on physical media. There are literally thousands and thousands of great recordings out there if you know how to go about finding them.

  5. In my experience, the more you improve the sound of your hi-fi system, the less bad recordings you hear from this high end audio system.
    If you listen to your hits from the 60s or 70s, they usually sound better on systems from that time. I assume that our hearing has developed a memory for this?

  6. I have more than one system set up, my primary being in a room dedicated to music, but also a more modest system in our living room. And then there is my office. None of these have the same source devices, but my ripped music collection is common to all three. On the scale proposed by Paul I would rank two of the systems as 2.0 and the one in the music room as 2.7. I have given up reaching stage 3
    And I know that I listen to different albums on the three systems because of sound preferences

    1. Indeed. My car system is worth more than my car, good recordings are spectacular and bad recordings are still spectacular. Sometimes a .17 km drive to the corner store takes 45 minutes.

  7. Could it be that many sound engineers have no clue how to get PRaT optimized for stereo (!)? 🙂 I have many sometimes noisy mono recordings which have incredible PRaT and which immediately trigger foot-tapping.

    1. PRaT is audiophile BS. That may explain why sound engineers have no clue what it is.

      Lots of music has no rhythm at all. Heard four pieces by György Kurtág on Thursday, no rhythm, very little pace, but often extreme dynamics.

      1. Ha, that’s a great way to look at it. While imo the first part of your post is wrong, the second is right. There is music with no prat and it wouldn’t be possible to judge a setup’s prat quality with it. 😉

            1. I don't know what PRaT is and I don't care.

              Listening to Burna Boy, mastered by a young genius called Gerhard Westphalen, who is also an acoustic engineer and designer and multi-instrumentalist.

              When it comes to Paul's dismissive views about the recording industry I think he needs to get out of his shell a bit.

              1. It’s fine if you don’t care. If you don’t know it, that just means, you never had the chance to compare good with bad prat (which you could easily do. You’d just need a good and a bad example, then no one even would have to explain anything. But that’s not necessary if you have no interest in experiencing it.

                Regarding bashing the “recording industry” (I think only the not much caring average recording industry is meant, not the many caring), one can argue if it’s polite and if,as a starter in this business one should shout the loudest, but I love to hear the truth and I think for the average not much caring recording industry, sticking in habits which just make the work easier, it’s justified to bash them a bit 😉 We all know all the bad examples resulting out of “not caring much”.

                1. I don't care about PRaT, it's nonsense, I do know a bad sounding recording if I hear one or a poorly recorded one (the Octaves I bought have basic mistakes). To say recording engineers don't care is also just complete nonsense as well. It would be far easier to say that Paul is unqualified to work in a recording studio, he's said he's learning the technology, whereas in any reputable studio they could do it in their sleep. Nowadays you get a degree in Recording Technology and serve and apprenticeship.

                  1. I’m always surprised when people who don’t know and don’t care about something say it’s nonsense. To say so, I think they should/must have cared before and have a good reason for their opinion other than “I didn’t want to know and care”. If I don’t care let’s say about the different tastes of pepper, then that’s my statement…but I wouldn’t say different tastes of pepper is nonsense, as I’d not be qualified.

                    Regarding the recording industry, I recently watched a YouTube interview with a semi famous abbey road engineer (not Miles Showell). He not so long ago got a 3 month occupational retraining from a shop floor job. Although he already is one of the better engineers, he has quite a few opinions I’d not count as state of the art high quality (he still uses pro tools for vinyl mastering if it’s easier). He has extremely superficial knowledge only about DSD certainly and doesn’t care about sampling rates higher than 96 kHz. Even the well known Showell, digitizing any of his half speed vinyl remasterings, is not what I’d call someone who really cares for the best sound.

                    I think Paul after 3 months was further (even if just theoretically, not practically) than 90% of the average engineers and as far as I understood from her own input about her average colleagues, Cookie would agree there.

                    1. DSD came and went almost completely 10+ years ago. Linn Records used it most, they now prefer 24/192. Now 24/96 is very common with superb results. Can't edit it, hardly anyone wants it (clients or users), can't stream it, Pyramix DSD suite is expensive, serious waste of money training people to use it.

                      DSD folk can sit in their ivory towers, listening to files that probably went through PCM anyway. I can only see one DSD mastering studio in the UK.
                      https://www.superaudiomastering.com/about-super-audio-mastering/

                  2. The low prevalence of DSD is out of question. But unfortunately not rarely (as here) low prevalence and low interest of masses means quality.

                    The problem of argumentation I see is, that people tend to end their logic at a point where they personally stop caring or simply decided pragmatically. So people might own expensive, low prevalence speakers, turntables and DAC’s/amps, but don’t extend the same aspiration to e.g. cabling or digital format…and declare it irrelevant or nonsense…simply because after all previous comparable quality steps of low prevalence, they took…they personally didn’t decide for other similar ones (like caring for DSD vs. PCM).

                    That’s ok, but it doesn’t make the step they didn’t decide for, worse or irrelevant.

                    1. I've tried DSD and expensive cables. I have some expensive power cables and $10 ethernet cables.

                      I tried listening to Octave "Things Worth Remembering". It's dull as dishwater, especially the vocal, a thin voice without any individuality, and the lyrics are cringeworthy. I tried DSD64 (gets converted to 40/384 PCM) and native PCM, no difference. It's not really my genre, but for relief I'm listening to Roseanne Cash "The River & The Thread", sounds great streamed (24/44), although I have vinyl, an excellent production and proper songs.

      2. I am not generalizing that every genre of music generates foot-tapping but talking here about music whose essence is “generating foot-tapping”. And indeed, they’re a mono recordings of a song which generate foot-tapping while the stereo version doesn’t do it. There are even vinyl record tracks generating foot-tapping while the digital mix from the same analog master is just boring! Thus my conclusion is: when there is the expected foot-tapping-effect the sound engineer has done his job and is aware of phase problems and timing errors and he has finally preserved and conserved the original PRaT!

        1. Yes, the second half is correct imo.

          Regarding the mono/stereo thing, try to find out if it only occurs for you if the bass in the stereo one is on a particular side. Could be that one of your speakers causes a more extreme room node effect in bass than the other, which is relativated in mono.

          But otherwise it could indeed be that at least in multimic’ing for stereo it’s more difficult to get prat right.

          1. Thanks. Indeed, stereo mandatorily requires 100% symmetry in all aspects - even hearing abilities! (Our hearing systems hasn’t been designed for 2-Channel Stereo by two loudspeakers trying to simulate a single sound source). 🙂 I have established this symmetry and I have controlled the bass nodes using room measurements. I also can add corrections via my Trinnov Audio preamp-processor. And not to forget: I can activate XTC (crosstalk cancellation).

        2. Any YouTube of boogie woogie with Dr K is supernaturally foot tapping. Even at YouTube minus- sonics.

          Trust me. Then end up spending a joyous hour with Terry, Ladyva, Ben Toury.

      3. Related to that…. Just last month I listened to someone’s system. They played 3 tracks that I don’t even know constitute music. I asked what it was, the response was “Who knows. I don’t really like it but it sounds cool”.

        There is a lot of that going on. People listening to the same stuff over and over again, making constant changes. The enjoyment for them is not necessarily the music, but the “chase”.

  8. I think #3 doesn’t make sense. The “poor recordings don’t irritate us” piece is a mindset one reaches, that has nothing to do with system level. You can come to that mindset with #2. I would consider myself in #2, and I listen to bad recordings all the time for the enjoyment of the music.

    I also find that as I make improvements to my systems, recordings don’t suddenly jump from good to poor.

    1. The point is, in a less good system (e.g. 2.), the tonality aspects of a bad recording rule, as it’s often more or less the main thing one judges and notices on such a setup.

      On a great setup, one of the main quality aspect is the 3D transparency and realistic character of a recording. As in such setups bass control is great and dips and bumps little, tonality differences get much less annoying and many more recordings which previously just stood out by average or sucking tonality suddenly have a more fascinating imaging than before, attracting the focus.

      Recordings are then rather differentiated in “flat or fascinating” sounding ones than in “bad, average or perfect” ones in terms of tonality.

      A bit too generalized, but maybe it helps.

      1. I guess that makes sense. It’s just not how I listen. I tend to look at the forest, not the individual trees. I know from listening with others, that’s not the case. I could get equal enjoyment from a good mono version of a recording as I could stereo, sometimes more.

  9. Bad recordings also sound crappy on bad systems and good recordings don't sound all that great on a bad system either. So I will take the great system. Bad system's dont take the edge off a bad recording, they even make it worse so I will consider those that do take the edge off as being quality sysyems even if they are not as revealing of the best recordings.

  10. I've always thought of the irritation as a mindset also but recently have been thinking about this topic a bunch because my system went from #2 to #3 overnight...literally. I use a DCS Bartok as my streamer and preamp and they recently upgraded the software to what was on the top end of their product line. The quality of the transformation was absolutely startling to me and one thing I noticed was that those poorly recorded CD's that were avoided no longer made me cringe! It's funny that after spending years adding tweaks that on occasion made a nice difference, the biggest change by far didn't cost me an incremental dime.

  11. Although very generalized rating stages, I'm definitely in the Phase 3 system camp. The many great recordings of my music library consistently illicit chills, breath catching, ho..sh.., Live-I-Am-There moments! To my surprise, my aged CD library of great genre (started 40 years ago) now displays wonderful redeeming listening qualities that are very enjoyable and listenable...it's All Good!

  12. This is embarrassing. Based on Paul's description I would have hoped my system is Phase 3, but it looks like it is Phase 2. When I got the PST I was amazed at how much the lower noise floor improved the sound of my SACD's. I was like hearing them for the first time again.

    So this is a case of once you hear it you cannot unhear it. I have the George Harrison "Live in Japan" double SACD. The first time I played it after getting the PST, my wife and I looked at each other in horror. With the PST it was much easier to really hear George's voice and he was singing way off key. I have no idea what was wrong ( he had a cold, his earphone feed was bad, or what ), but I cannot listen to the album anymore.

    Thus, I am stuck in Phase 2!

    1. I am new here and this is my first post. I think I am like you, stuck in #2. I have a nice system though certainly not high end. However, the acoustics in my living room sucks. It's small and needs room treatments but there is not a lot of space to work with due to windows, doors etc.

      I love my Marantz SACD player and almost everything sounds good if I keep the volume down to less than 10 watts but at higher volumes things get edgy and at times downright annoying.

      So I have to ask, what is PST?

      Of note, I have been trying to find better quality recordings, SACD when available, vinyl when SACD is not, and regular CD's if options one and two are not options. Dali, the speaker company, has recently opened Dali Music and they have a very short library, but the recordings are masterful and they produce both high quality vinyl and CD's. Of course Octave Records is doing direct from DSD to master and the recordings are stunningly good. I prefer the SACD's to vinyl based on the one vinyl album I have purchased so far, but will try more before passing too much judgement.

  13. We should not forget, how genre dependent the relevance of tonality for overall sound perception is.

    All who have rock/pop as their main and favorite genre certainly have a lot more need for adjusting tonality between albums if they want it sound right. I guess it’s because in this genre the quality demand of engineers (and maybe musicians) is more average.

    1. He’s funny…but his argument why prat is BS, lacks..everything.

      He says, because kids tap their toes even when their music comes out of a Samsung TV, there isn’t gear with better or worse prat. Which certainly is a BS argument.

      It’s as always, if people who never experienced something, talk about that it (therefore) doesn’t exist, it usually means little 😉

      1. I've listened to £500,000+ audio systems (the one I heard on Thursday was probably around £400,000) and still think PRaT is BS.

        I did enjoy the video, he gets lots of views, makes sense.

        1. The point is not to have listened to expensive or different systems or not, the point is to have experienced a system with good prat vs. one with bad prat. Only this shows that it exists

          For proving the opposite, you’d need the same. A good and a bad prat system of which half of the listeners say it differs in prat. If the other half then declared they don’t hear a difference, they at least have a prove that for them, prat difference doesn’t exist.

          But as always, not being able to see, hear or feel something, can’t prove that it doesn’t exist. It only proves that it doesn’t exist for oneself.

          1. When I say I don't what PRaT is, I don't know what "Pace Rhythm and Timing" is meant to mean. It's nonsense. I know when I hear a good audio system and a bad one, and I've heard some bad expensive ones (Magico M3 and Acapella Einstein come to mind).

            1. I also first had problems to understand what prat means…until I heard it.

              Bad prat makes a rhythmic track sound like elevator music, as if the musicians are tired, good prat makes the same track sound rhythmically lively, as if the musicians have fun playing. This difference can be night and day. It seems to be a question of phase coherence and the simultaneous transfer of different frequencies e.g. through cabling.

              I have similar experience with Magico (not bad, but also not fascinating) and yes, horns are often weak sounding, but can sound great, too. The Einstein amps are marvelous, kick ass, I use the pre- and phono amp. A reviewer saying “possibly unbeatable in terms of three-dimensionality and dynamics“ made the best ultra short description.

  14. I believe I am at point 3. Great is great and everything else is more than acceptable, but my ears/brain are mine and others may be different providing a completely and perfectly reasonable audibly different perspective.

  15. I sort of take issue with any recording being a "bad" recording. They all are at the end of the day the "best" that could be done by the engineer or archivist given the limitations of time, money, and equipment. Plus say 40 years ago, they were mixing for vinyl mostly, and knew what they could "get away with" that wouldn't be audible to 95% of people.

    Only with the advent of super high-resolution formats and systems do any "flaws" become obvious.

    I have several early CDs from the 1980s that are AAD or ADD and yes, you can hear all the tape "punch ins" and "punch outs", but I never let them distract me from the music.

    It's sort of like all the TV shows that were DESIGNED for the old NTSC standard that had 480 lines of image resolution in theory (while most consumer devices were lucky to actually display maybe 300 if they were lucky). You didn't see the wires holding up the spaceships, or notice that the rocks were made out of Styrofoam. Well, today you can.

    If you let that distract you from the show, it is your problem, not that of your fancy new OLED 8K TV, and it isn't a reflection on those who produced the original program.

    Just sit back and enjoy.

    Now, of course, the fact remains that today far too many studios are still taking part in the idiot "loudness wars". So sad. We have the best equipment for capturing sound that has ever existed, yet they insist on making much of popular music sound like crap - intentionally. Most of my CDs from the 1980s (when they took advantage of the format) sound much better than most music I've heard today.

  16. Dear Paul,

    Respectfully, I am not sure this classification structure has much explanatory merit. How have you come up with this? Is it based on any comprehensive or remotely statistically valid survey of groups of audiophiles at different stages in their hobby career?

    I could think of numerous alternative hobby evolution hypotheses which could be tested. For example, how systems evolve over time as one is able to afford more expensive components as one gets older. Another is how one’s system becomes less fatiguing over time, as one focuses initially on hi-fi attributes such as frequency extension and dynamics and detail and black backgrounds, and as one’s preferences evolve over time to focusing on musicality and emotional engagement.

    I think there are many different ways to categorize, and to slice and dice and describe, how audio systems evolve over time.

    Have a great weekend, Paul!

  17. For me at this time :-
    Laptop, Audirvana, Focusrite DAC, decent cables, active speakers and sub...for me near audio heaven, love it!

    Thanks Paul, you have 'opened' my ears and mind to what digital hifi can be.

  18. Kind of strange seeing Paul use "oatmeal" in a quasi-negative sense. Makes me wonder if he sneaks a piece of bacon with his breakfast once in a while. I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm looking forward to the coming oatmeal season. 😎

  19. Perhaps my most revealing speakers???? that sounded excellent on the best recordings and terrible on bad recordings were my BG Radia LA-600 line sources (for those unfamiliar think in terms of something one would expect to be a newer version of Infinity IRS only about a foot shorter and only 2-8"woofers per speaker. Also, these were designed to be in-walls) and were in my Home Theater/Stereo room. By the way, the BG speaker line is gone now also.
    Do I miss those speakers? Yes on movies, including sound tracks in movies. I do not miss them on music overall. I miss the idea of what I thought they could be, but my guess is the IRS's were much better on mediocre and even bad recordings much like all the other larger classic Infinity speakers I have owned have been.
    I have kept classic Infinity's that I still love to this day and ML Monoliths that are still extremely revealing but much less harsh on bad recordings. I would also consider another pair of Vandersteen 2's for a good all-rounder on a reasonable budget assuming the new ones are like the older ones I had in the 90's.
    1 systems are a mixed bag to me. Either not good enough or sometimes enjoyable. I usually experience this sound at somebody else's home and when I enjoy the sound I doubt it would be enough to please me at my own home environment.
    I feel as though I have found 3 a few times without spending $25-100k on all new gear, but that comes with a price of repairing/maintaining old equipment and speakers. I would never sell my customers vintage gear for this reason.

  20. The system needs to serve music first and sound second imo. I've gotten to the point that great records sound great and bad records still relate some of their musical aspects that make them listenable, think Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" which is musically great but possibly in my top ten of bad recordings. If all you can listen to is Diana Krall then something is amiss.

    1. Yes. Like real estate is location, location, location a hi-fi should be all about music, music, music. It’s getting a bit late to be posting about this at length and it seems to have been pretty well covered already, with a few fireworks. What I have found though, since my last change of all major components, is that I now find myself listening to albums in their entirety rather than just selecting my favourite tracks. Even some stuff I didn’t like is listenable which points towards a much more enjoyable musical experience.

  21. My gear is approaching phase three, sadly my room is about the size of an oatmeal pot. Life is full of trade offs. Sigh. The MOST expensive upgrade? A house. I was getting close to that 1200 square foot upgrade. Then the bank interest rates said ya….. no you’re not. Sunnuvabiscuitbox. I’d probably get all wobbly legged in a house with non-sloping floors anyway. Besides, it is way easier to make a good omelette when your pan tilts at 17.245 degrees. Fun fact, the house & 5 acres on which I live, my father bought in 1972 for about the same price as my M1200s and 3.7i’s. Yup, normal people really do think we are all nuts. My system, in my house is kinda like putting a $10,000 paint job and a $25,000 crate motor into a wratched out dented & falling apart 1972 beat up Ford Pinto, but I’m OK with having priorities that are completely all out of whack. Hey, it’s paid for, it’s warm, dry, it houses all my toys and women refuse to live in it; it’s been a pretty good formula!

  22. Since the late 70s when I had the resources to purchased my first real stereo, I had a good solid upper mid five stuff.
    This spurred me on to get better gear, but also due to the excellent Direct Disc recordings of that day it caused me to branch out into different music musical styles that I had not paid attention to before.
    It was a combination of very decent gear as well as stunning recordings.
    It’s somewhat like the computer industry where the hardware drives the software which then again drives the hardware.

  23. I learnt over 3 decades ago how a digital system can 'snap' into a magic mode, where everything on the recording makes sense. This is when you get 100% invisible speakers, 3D, holographic - the works. And this also means 'difficult' recording are no longer bad; often, they then become the most intense, powerfully engaging efforts, with tremendous drive and energy.

    You can, these days, buy your audio "stairway to heaven" with plenty of dough - back then, and just as much these days, careful and fastidious troubleshooting, tweaking, and optimising can evolve just about any half decent rig to this state. And especially now one can do it with pretty ridiculously cheap gear. I've done this sort of thing over and over again, with various kit - it's a challenge to push equipment far beyond what most people think you can get out of it.

    So, I go in and out of level 3, depending upon what I'm currently working with - but at least that standard is always the goal :-).

  24. As others have said, Phase 3 might take an adjustment of mindset, but I think there's more to it than just that. That mindset has to be fostered, and bolstered, by actual performance - the kind we get when we have a system that transcends simple playback. By that I mean a system that more often than not, on the right recordings, can produce aural stimuli that have characteristics our brains recognize from live musical events. The combination of the hardware's capabilities and our brain's physical and psychological reactions to the sounds the system makes, allows us to hear previously mediocre recordings with "new" ears, which in turn allows us to focus on the music and its performance. It may be largely psychological, but it has its basis in the physical. We're not simply fooling ourselves when we reach that elusive third phase. Attitudes and expectations don't exist in an empirical vacuum. We need actual system performance as the basis for those attitudes and expectations.

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