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Why do some speakers sound like music while others sound like anything but music?

My chief engineer Bob Stadtherr was trying to find a problem in one of our DACS and was having trouble hearing the issue on his bench setup which uses one of our GCA power amplifiers and a small set of Mirage loudspeakers. I brought my $500 powered B & W desktop speakers and connected them to the DAC and within minutes both of us could hear the problem – turned out it wasn’t the setup but the choice of music that prevented us from hearing the problem.

I have a copy of Anne-Sophie von Otter singing a Handel aria on one of my libraries and we used that piece to hear the problem in the DAC. Whenever she starts to sing and the small ensemble that is backing her up starts to play, my heart flutters. I just love it! Put a smile on my face and this from a set of self powered $500 loudspeakers. Lovely.

Once the problem was identified we took out my speakers and reconnected the Mirage loudspeakers to make sure Bob could still hear the problem – which he could – but when Anne started singing again the hair on the back of my neck went up in horror. This was no longer music! It was total crap. The strings sounded as if they were produced by a synthesizer, the beauty of her voice all but ruined and I found myself turning it off.

I am not picking on Mirage as they have made many a fine loudspeaker – just not in this case. But how is it that between twosimilarlypriced loudspeakers one sings and the other grunts?

My guess is that in one case someone who cared about music did the final voicing and in the other, someone who clocked in at 9am and clocked out at 5pm approved the product.

If we cannot produce products that honor the music then we should go get a job in another industry.