Defining personalities

May 14, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

We all like to imagine our choices in HiFi equipment are completely neutral, transparent, and without sonic colorations.

Yet, we know that’s simply not true.

Like it or not (and I tend to like it) the designer’s essence, soul, tastes, and biases towards music are a part of the final product. Their tastes influence musical performance in the same way a recording or mix engineer’s decisions determine what’s going to get your foot tapping.

People, recordings, equipment, and even room furnishings imprint their personalities on the music we choose to listen to.

The challenge then is to make sure you like the personalities of what you choose to surround yourself with.

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21 comments on “Defining personalities”

  1. I think that it’s more basic than a designer’s soul or personality.
    I’d go more for a designers hearing…pure ‘n simple.

    Imagine there’s no colouration
    It’s easy if you try
    No noise floor below us
    Above us only Pi
    Imagine all the people
    Listening for the day
    Hey, hey..ay..ay..ay
    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope one day a ‘straight wire
    With gain’ will be for everyone.
    (Apologies to John Lennon)

    I managed to pick up 2 fantastic second-hand, near mint condition, CD’s a couple of days ago for AU$5 each.

    1/ Al Di Meola – ‘Greatest Hits’ CBS 466995 2
    2/ Doobie Brothers – ‘Listen To The Music (Absolute Greatest Hits)’ Warner Brothers 9548-31094-2

    Obviously both are compilation albums, however the Doobie’s one sounds like the whole album has been remastered, as all 18 tracks on this CD sound absolutely STUNNING…incredibly clean, clear & crisp with all the treble & all the bass; I am gobsmacked at the reproduction of this Redbook CD.
    There is no mention of it being remastered, but when you listen to it it is plain to hear that it’s not the original 1970’s recording.
    I detected no ‘Loudness Wars’ over-compression.
    Honestly, it sounds like my hero Bob Ludwig had a hand in remastering this CD.
    The only mention is that it was “Mastered by Adrian Von Ripka”
    I’ve never heard of this guy but my God does he know what he’s doing behind a desk!
    Highly recommended!

    1. I love the Doobie’s!! 🙂

      Must Listen Too 🙂 Also, if you like that, you must check out “live from Darryl’s House” from the Hall and Oaks duo… It’s on YouTube, however the sound quality will surprise you.

      Keep Listen 🙂

    2. I’m going to start hunting for a copy of the Doobie Brothers recording. One of my favorite rock groups. Love Michael McDonald’s voice.

      Seems like there’s so many personalities involved in the production of any recording (unless the same personality records, mixes and masters) that you need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce who’s the dominant personality. I think we all know that a Bob Ludwig fingerprint on any recording usually results in “excellence”.

  2. So true. And people should also see that a purely neutral reproduction of a non perfect signal (and there’s enough non perfect happening from mic to media) mostly isn’t even desirable.

    There wouldn’t be so many most experienced folks (with no interest in marketing a certain story) preferring concepts of sources, amplification and speakers which don’t have the best reputation of being most neutral.

    However, this doesn’t mean, coloration is a virtue itself and anywhere. People just should not cheat themselves about something like neutrality, which not even the designers of their products and the engineers of their recordings honestly claim.

  3. Defining personalities includes liking the performers,too. I’ve enjoyed many, many years of Van Morrison’s music, including seeing him live in 2018 (first time, great time). But he seems to have lost it with his COVID singles and his new album. If he’s really anti-Semitic, I am out. Far cry from, When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God days.
    Fat Rat, tx for tip on Doobies sound quality on compilation. I’ll check it out.

  4. PS Audio states: “PS Audio amps bring the real sound of music to any type of speaker, any size system.” In terms of personality, isn’t “real” what most of us are pursuing? Assuming the music is well-recorded, I want neutrality, transparency, resolution and natural dynamic response in my playback system, to allow “the real sound of music” to come through, not a designer-flavored hyped-up or sweetened rendition of the original sound. I want the personality to come from the recording, not the playback gear.

    1. Joseph,
      From my experience in audio retail & set-up I would suggest that what most people want, more than accuracy, from their home audio rig is primarily a ‘pleasing’ sound enveloping them & if this requires a little, or a little more, colouration then so be it.
      However YMMV & each to their own, since audio is so subjective.

      1. To me “real” is both accurate and pleasing. If it is not accurate it is not real. The reason I like PS Audio products is that I regard them as well balanced, neutral, transparent, accurate, resolving–true to the original music. The BHK Signature preamp with the right tubes, for example, is utterly transparent in my system. It does not impose a sound signature on the source signal, at least to my ears. The whole point of Paul’s Octave project is to record sound as close as possible to how it sounds in real life. To reproduce that accurately recorded sound requires a system that does not add sonics, but preserves the original sonics. If you like to change the original sonics, by all means, season to suit your taste buds.

  5. So the take away from today’s post is that anything in the audio record/playback area is subject to some designers or engineers influence. (Then add in the individual listening area so everyone can have some culpability) Deciding what is most transparent or true becomes one of the most subjective decisions in the world of audio today. If you’re a ‘layman’ What do you judge against?

    Concerning audio…. Do you compromise? Do you continue to chase your tail? Is it a never ending quest? Is there always something else out there that sounds better? Are you in control of the whole process from recording to playback on equipment of your own design?

    In the end the choices are immense as to which way to go. Everyone has their own preferences and goals. Some goals are realistic, some are not.

    In the audiophile playback world everyone sits in judgement of everything audio. Sometimes there is consensus in that world, but most often not. (Sometimes the judgement oozes into other areas)

    Paul’s last line above sums it up perfectly.

    1. Mike, For almost all of us there will always be something that sounds better out there. Why? Because there will always be the financial issue. Unless you expect BG or WB to shower you with a cool billion or two so that you can build the ultimate listening room and then be able to buy any gear that you want, there will always be something better out there. The quest is to do the best you can within your financial means to do so.

      1. Tony,

        I don’t question any of what you state. I ask the questions because obviously we all have different ways of looking at things, different expectations, desires and budgets. Even if budgets don’t matter then every so often something ‘better’ comes along and you’re behind again. The subject of today’s post is what caused me reflect the way I did. What personality am I?

        This being mainly a testosterone driven hobby, the need to be ‘right or most correct’ seems to always be lingering close by.

  6. Seek ye perfection and then, in the immortal words of Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts, “Get used to disappointment.” It just ain’t gonna happen. And is that really what we want? If every single recording of, say, the Beethoven symphonies by every single conductor and every single orchestra sounded ‘perfect’ and therefore exactly the same, how deadly dull would that be?

    1. Exactly. So why not have a system that accurately reproduces the imperfections of those conductors and orchestras, rather than a system that masks their imperfections and makes them all sound “better”? Most of us want to approach the sound of the live music. That takes a system that is accurate in frequency response, dynamics, tonal coloration, and all the other tangible and intangible qualities that we associate with real. The intangible is where “listening skills” of the designer come into play. 🙂

      1. That’s the part about seeking perfection. Even if you fall short, and you will, acknowledge the fact that it is not and never will be perfect. Do what you can with the resources available to you, but don’t obsess over the shortcomings to the point where you fail to enjoy the ride, bumps and all. I know that my relatively modest system (that has been upgraded in fits and starts over the decades) is nowhere near the state of the art, but it is more than adequately good. Having limited discretionary funds and being an unrepentant physical media kind of guy, I choose to invest in new music and fill gaps in my library as I am able.

  7. I do not want “neutral.”

    I want something fighting for me.

    A sedate person enjoying knitting is not looking for a system that will kick ass.

    Anyone who has heard recordings of himself knows NOTHING is neutral. Quite often, recordings can sound better than the actual performance, and visa versa.

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