Genre based system

January 3, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I am often asked if a particular system setup is appropriate for a genre of music. Or, put another way, would this or that amp or speaker be a good choice for Jazz? Or this one or that one for classical? Rock?

Of course, the obvious answer is we want a system that does it all, but that’s not always easy.

Definitely, there are some systems better suited to one genre or another in the same way some systems are vinyl-centric while still others digital-centric. A small bookshelf-based speaker arrangement that works great for small chamber ensembles but probably best if we don’t try for symphonic rendering.

And while all this is true I would still maintain that we can do better.

We can focus our efforts on equipment and setup choices for a broader range of music without sacrificing sonic qualities essential for a particular kind of music.

The trick to pulling this off is to build your system in stages.

As always, start with the speakers.  Go for midrange clarity and transparency first, sweetness and openness in the treble regions second, and bass last on the list (because we can always supplement lower frequencies with a sub).

If we can manage to afford the speakers we want we can over time build the balance of the system with an ear towards the broadest of rangest.

I think this is pretty sound advice (to make a pun).

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39 comments on “Genre based system”

  1. “ Of course, the obvious answer is we want a system that does it all”

    My system is unashamedly focused on my tastes in music, which excludes most rock, all heavy rock, and large symphonic. I only need enough bass for jazz (think stand-up bass and baritone sax). The last thing I will do is add a subwoofer, I had one and sold it last week. I don’t want a system that can play thunderous bass and have no intention of spending any money to do so. The speakers, easy to drive, were chosen partly to avoid any need to change amplification. The answer is for manufacturers to make a range of products that provide different customers with cost-effective solutions for their differing needs.

  2. If you do have a specific genre of music that you prefer it can help to get ‘the right’ gear for your purpose, if your budget is limited.
    If, on the other-hand, you’ve got a large-normous chunk of money to spend on a rig then yes it should be able to do all genres at any gain level very competently.

    I prefer to get the right (best sounding) source first, as I have found that even cheap/average loudspeakers can sound incredibly good, even excellent, with a clean & proficient high quality source, whereas great loudspeakers with an average source wont sound as good; that’s where Paul & I differ.
    Get the source right (Octave Records) DAC/Phono & amplifier & the US$28k loudspeakers can come later…when your finances allow.

    **OFF TOPIC**
    Yesterday’s Labrador picture reminded me that Apollo is the luckiest dog alive in Colorado.
    There was an avalanche in Colorado yesterday & a dog was buried under the snow.
    Skiers started looking for ‘Apollo’ & they couldn’t find him.
    When they finally gave-up the search & started packing up, thinking that Apollo by that stage was probably dead, one man suddenly noticed the tip of a black nose protruding from the surface of the white snow & the rest, as they say, is history 😀
    My first ‘feel-good’ story of 2022.

  3. In the dim and distant past I went to a hi-fi show at the Heathrow Penta Hotel. As I walked in the first person I saw was Andrew Lloyd Webber enquiring about some equipment, but I digress. Wharfdale we’re demonstrating the latest iteration of their ‘Diamond’ loudspeaker. Despite the room they sounded good, really good. How was this possible. I never imagined a budget speaker could do so well and had never heard the Diamonds put on such a display. How had Wharfdale managed it? I needed to get a pair.

    On leaving the room tucked away low down in a corner where they probably hoped it wouldn’t be noticed was the front end. A two box CD transport and DAC which weren’t especially common at the time. It was one of the best you could get, Marantz, and very expensive. Not something that any consumer would logically or realistically pair with the Diamonds. Did the trick for Wharfdale on the day though. Never did discover what amplifier they were using, nor did I end up getting a pair, but it’s an example of Fat Rat’s point about the front end; which has tended to be the way I’ve gone over the years.

  4. Sound advise indeed.

    Focusing on a broad range of musical styles and genres in the beginning can be tough, Especially if you’re younger and starting out.

    For myself, without having the benefit of Paul’s advise 30+ years ago. I unknowingly did exactly what he talked about in todays post. I found a pair that of speakers that excelled in the upper bass, the midrange, and the highs. Adding subs later and getting the proper balance and synergy with those speakers has (had) been a major ongoing challenge, but has now paid off in the long run. The good news (in retrospect) is as my music tastes changed and expanded, genre’s I never thought I would listen to as a rock-n-roll youngster, now reproduce with sonic qualities that are realistic and enjoyable.

    From that initial start the journey has continued. The pieces in front of the speakers ( all cables and cords included) have been changed, rooms have changed, subs have come and gone. Sources and source material have changed. All these years later the speakers still are are able to convey the changes made in front of them and still retain the sonic qualities that attracted me to them in the beginning.

    The one thing they don’t do well is sound stage with great width. But do soundstage with great depth. Should they be changed? Sometimes I think so, sometimes I don’t….

        1. Hard to get. The opinions about “the right way” are way too different 😀

          But it’s indeed very interesting how much the personal music taste can change over the years. As a teenager I had my times hearing rapmusic, over the used samples I found the way to funk, soul and jazz. I listened to blues, blues rock and classic rock, had a very intense time with electronic music and now there’s nothing wrong for me to enjoy Beethoven und Mahler. And all the audiophile forums/ reviews give me new ideas what to discover. The record collection grows and grows and the hifi-setup changes slowly.

          What I have now at home is not highend, but it’s decent and it’s getting better every year. All the different types of music make it so interesting. With the added sub, there are almost no limitations in hearing all these different musical genres.
          My old speakers give ever again enjoyment. But the merry goes round doesn’t stop. Now I’m heading for a new phonostage.

          And, who knows, there’ll be one day a pair of new speakers. What if the rest of the system won’t fit anymore?? That’s almost philosophical.

        2. Count me in Mike. I think we all have enough knowledge that when we have an issue, it doesn’t take us long to just jump right in and start working on it.

          1. You count Neil. 😎

            The knowledge is still being gained. The issues can and do crop up. Some of the fun begins with how those issues are resolved. (At least for those who enjoy issue solving)

    1. [Mike: The one thing they don’t do well is sound stage with great width. But do soundstage with great depth. Should they be changed? Sometimes I think so, sometimes I don’t….]

      IMHO, Great Depth + Great Width (and Great Height) = Consistent Mind Blowing All-Genre-Music Reproduction!!! 🙂

      1. Theo,

        I didn’t mean to imply that the width completely is not there. It just doesn’t extend way out past the room boundaries like the depth and height can. Some of that may be my perception as I’m very literal. Some of it may be due to the recordings I most enjoy. Some of it may have to do with the electronics. Some of it probably has to do with the room dimensions. Some of it may have to do with the speaker design.

        So the chase to acquire that one ‘sound phantom ’ is over for me. The openness, the tonal balance, the detail and most every other sonic quality you want to describe is very acceptable or better. Can things be changed for the better? Probably. Am I going to spend the rest of my audio life chasing? Probably not….That is until the room changes or something major happens or let’s go.

        I’m happy you found what you’re looking for.

        I’m just going to enjoy the music presentation I have and ‘play around’.

        1. Mike,

          What I’ve achieved in Soundstage is mostly by luck, as the room acoustic variables that mean “So Much” just came with our home package (dedicated music room)…my mid-fi component compliment from these past 30 years, probably not so much. Certainly, System Synergy (room+setup-especially my summer upgrade tweaks) has played a key role in bringing it All Together! Maybe as PP’s today suggest, I simply have a non-amplified “Acoustical based Genre System” that works well for me and my Ears!

          “Sounds” like you have a great arrangement that is well satisfying and enjoyable, that’s what counts the most!! Certainly, no need to go in a different direction unless as you stated, there are future changes that need addressing! 😉


          1. Ted,

            Luck is always a good thing to have on your side.
            Having a system one enjoy’s and is happy with is the key. In reality maybe that’s the ‘grail’ that is often talked about.
            The labels of midfi / hifi / ultrafi are just labels. Overall satisfaction and contentment seem to be often overlooked in many of these discussions.

  5. Given my slightly limited funds I stick with my old Harman/Kardon integrated amp. I purchased? 43 year old Sansui speakers. The treble on these is fine. Better midranged was obtained by changing the crossover-caps. Few months ago I added a Rel sub. Now Not only Jazz and Electro sound fine, but also orchestral music and organ-based music. And yes, the source matters a lot!!

  6. In my retail days I would have customers come in who would say things like, “I listen to classical so I don’t need a lot of bass like those rock guys.” Then I would hear from the next customer, “I listen to rock, I don’t need a lot of bass like those classical people.”

    It’s not what you listen to, it’s what you listen for.

  7. Today’s post is the story of the weakest link in the chain that will largely determine the quality and character of the sound.
    Saying this or that is THE most important part of that chain is like saying this or that organ in your body is the most important.
    Over the years I learned that an amp can never be “too good” or has “too much” power for the speakers.
    Small speakers can (and will) benefit tremendously from a powerful (well built !) amp.
    Having said that, I feel that some speakers are more suitable for classical music, some more for rock. I personally wouldn’t listen to Beethoven with JBL. Nor listen to heavy metal with B&W.
    Hopefully the FR30 is the jack of all trades we’ve been waiting for (“it has been a long wait, but in the end it all paid off). Time will tell.

          1. Good to hear stimpy2, but you gotta be careful.
            Remember what dr. F. Rat taught us today.
            You don’t want to miss this particular part of the body 🙁

                  1. There’s an old, long-winded joke (goes back to the 1970’s from memory) about all the organs of the human body getting together & arguing about which one was the boss.
                    The arsehole made it’s point loud & clear when the other organs laughed at it, by refusing to allow any faeces to exit the body for a number of days & this resulted in the rest of the organs slowly shutting down…even the brain ‘went foggy’ & so the arsehole won the position of ‘boss’ by holding the other organs to ransom…in a fashion; which is typical behaviour for an arsehole 😉

      1. My next door neighbour is perhaps the leading Colorectal surgeon in the UK. Once he told me he wanted to form an organisation called Anal Rectal Surgeons of England, so he could put ARSE after his name. He also had in mind writing a book called Anal Rectal Surgery Explained. You just have to be careful no one puts ARSE before your name.

  8. I must say my modest little system sounds great on anything i throw at it. In a bigger/better room it would be even better.
    Paul’s recs for speakers pretty much describes Maggies.

  9. Let’s not forget the wife approval factor (WAF) or spouse approval factor (SAF). We had Magnepans for decades with most current being 1.7s and absolutely loved them. When the conversation moved to 3.7s, my wife’s tolerance for room dividers hit its limit…Now have Revel 228 BEs….different, less physically intrusive, but wonderful, as well.

    1. 3.7’s… One of the components that I may want to update to from my 3.6R’s. One of the problems with the large Magie’s is soundstage beyond the outside width of the speakers. Don’t get very much. The other issue is trying to tighten up the mid base which sounds unbelievably good on great recordings but not that good on ordinary ones. I think the 3.7‘s have corrected this issue to some extent.

      I’ve never heard Revel speakers but I know they are excellent from all of the positive reviews.

  10. Of course different genres have different requirements in spectral, timbral, dynamic, and transient characteristics and different sensitivities to distortions. This is more prominent in speakers and rooms where one size CAN’T fit all, but to a lesser degree storage media and electronics.

    I am a quantum leap beyond genre based optimization. I design speakers optimized for specific INSTRUMENTS. I have so far built matched pairs of percussion, acoustic guitar, cello, and viola speakers; four violin speakers; six various contrabass speakers, including speakers for electric and electronic insturments; and a pair for vocals. I also have 14 specialized commercial PA speakers, so I can replicate many genre orchestrations by mixing and matching these in one instrument per speaker configurations. (string sections can be represented by one or two speakers; a piano speaker is a cello speaker and a contrabass speaker spread to represent the length of the sound board)

    For electric music this requires voicing amplifiers like Vox AC15 and Bugera Infinium guitar amps; Ampeg B1R and SVT III bass guitar amps. EQ is also accomplished by microphone selection and placement, and room reverb can be enhanced by amplifying the room.

    This is like the original rock format, where there were separate amplifiers and speakers for the lead guitar, rhythm, guitar, bass, and keyboards – and a PA system optimized for vocals, that only handled vocals. The ultimate PA system was Owsley Stanley, Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner’s “Wall of Sound”, which had a separate speaker array for each insturment. This reduces distortion (particularly Doppler distortion), improves projection, and enables optimizing each speaker for the spectral, timbral, dynamic and transient charecteristics of each instrument. For example, Phil Lesh’s bass had separate pickups and speaker columns for each string so he could play chords with ZERO inter-modulation.

    I have taken this concept one step futher by building speakers that have spatial projection that matches the target intrument. They fill the room the same as the target intrument – so they also record the same as the intended instrument, and matches the musicians’ expectations for how they should sound in the room.

    If you play a multi-track recording through these speakers at one speaker per track, you can reproduce the sound with PHYSICAL SPATIALITY – that is, real reverb and real “imaging” to every ear that knows what music sounds like without mixing. If you want the sound of a Marshall Stack, get a Marshall stack and plug in the clean direct guitar track. (note to Geeks: you still need a Marshall stack for the recording to get the amp feedback into the guitar pickups).

    Granted, this is not a home system. It is for “destination audio” where you can go and listen to the ultimate sound. It works for a full audience, there is no “sweet spot” like in pan-pot multi-mono mixed fake stereo.

    It can also be used for concert recording and ACOUSTIC mixing of multi-track recordings into a near coincident pair of room mics, which is the maximum amount of real stereo information that can be encoded into two fixed channels. (IALD and IATD for direct and reflected vectors).

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