How many wows?

February 27, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

While thumbing through forum posts, I ran across this comment in the FR20s are here thread:

“I’m also driving my FR20s by M1200s. I don’t remember how many times I said “wow” while I’m listening music.”

In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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48 comments on “How many wows?”

  1. Yesterday my wife and I were in the music/reading room on a cold Sunday afternoon, I was in my chair, she was lying on a chaise longue. We were listening to Schubert piano trios and reading, she more reading, me more listening.

    To me it’s about the everyday enjoyment of music, not an electronics party trick. We don’t go “wow” when listening to live music, we just enjoy it for what it is. If we can do that at home, so much the better.

    I’m not interested in different formats or different pressings of the same record (I think I own 2 or 3 duplicates, maximum), which is an obsession with technology for its own sake, if the recording is well produced and a rewarding musical experience, then we’re happy.

    1. I went a bit crazy with buying remasters 6 years ago when I still
      had my Celestion – ‘Ditton 66’s, being driven by a ‘D’ class amp.
      The remasters really made ye olde Celestions sound crisp & airy
      compared to many of the originals.
      However, now that I’ve got the SA12 SE/M6si500/Orangutans
      combination, I’ve had to repurchase some of the original CDs because
      some of those remasters can sound a little etchy on my current rig,
      whereas the originals sound just as detailed but smoother, ie. not etchy.
      That’s the only reason that I would have more than one release of
      the same album.

  2. I’m getting ‘wows’ from my rig too, but maybe not as many
    ‘wows’ as I might get from a DS DAC Mk 2/M1200/FR20 combo.
    However, if I look at the price difference between my rig & a PS Audio
    rig then the ‘wow’ factor is pretty-much price appropriate.
    Oh dear, there’s that Law of Diminishing Returns thang
    raising its ugly head once more.
    How many ‘wows’ would you get from driving a Ferrari
    compared to driving a BMW…& what’s the price difference? 😀

    Remember that “Everything is built to a price.”

    1. Honestly, if people want “wow” all the time, why not just put the 1812 Overture on repeat and listen to that all day, every day?

      I’ve bought components because they reduced the noise floor, produced better transients, lowered the bass threshold and improved low volume dynamics. Also because they took up less space, have better operating software and are a more appropriate colour. Once done and installed, I can’t say I give it a second thought. It becomes the new normal.

      Is there a name for people who use music as a test signal?

      Conversely, the best audio systems I’ve heard don’t have “wow” moments, because they make music sound natural and effortless, and you don’t need cheap thrills (or expensive thrills, more like) to provide the psychological justification for buying the audio system in the first place.

      It may be why audiophile recordings often don’t sound natural, they sometimes focus on the cleanest possible recording of an instrument, but we don’t listen with our head inside the piano. Real music in real venues has air and reverberation and often a clearly identifiable acoustic.

        1. But just think of those transients and cannon balls flying across the living room.

          It’s a piece I’ve only heard live once, the combined forces of the New York Phil and the Israeli Phil, Zubin Mehta, proper cannons, about 100,000 people in a park in Tel Aviv. Don’t think I’ve ever listened to it at home, don’t think I’d want to.

      1. My wow moments are typically the quieter passages where the sweetness, air and rich texture of the tones of a smaller ensemble come through, or when the air vibrates with a sustained below 20 Hz pedal bass note underpinning a delicate string passage. Those are the experiences that ordinary stereo systems cannot deliver.

    1. That’s usually a double wow.

      I never lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of people spend a lifetime enjoying music on very modest systems, including many professional musicians who can’t afford expensive audio equipment and probably have far more insight into music than most audiophiles. Maybe they go “wow” when hearing something in a recording beyond my limited knowledge of music when they are listening on a $200 pair of earbuds.

      1. Steve this must be my day for responding to you. I have several friends who are jazz pianists with catalogs of recorded work. One night after one performed at our home for a circle of enthusiasts, I played her one of her CDs on my main system. She burst out in tears about two songs in stating that was what she always wanted to sound like. But did not know that she actually did. Quite a memory

        1. I’m curious, when she recorded her CDs did she never go into the recording booth and listen to the playback? I was recently reading an article by a recording engineer who works with a violinist I know well, who said one of the joys was working with an artist who knows what she wants her recording to sound like.

          The Chief Engineer of Linn, who is a Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music, teaches student musicians how to work as a professional recording artist with engineers to get the sound as intended.

          I’ve had one friend who was curious to hear my audio system, and he had a “wow” moment as he’d never heard anything like it, but the same would probably have happened with a much more modest system. He knows his music, a bluetooth speaker serves him just fine.

          1. Steven, you have asked the obvious question. I was afraid you might as the answer is not short. First let me say that:
            • As posted on this site previously, I believe good musicians know exactly what their instrument sounds like. I have been to a number of mater piano classes where the instructor, especially Karl Ulrich Schnabel could reproduce exactly what a student (already an advanced pianist) just played on another piano.
            • The jazz pianist under consideration here is a very discerning listener. She can instantly recognize other pianists just a few notes into a song and can (and has) show me on a piano how they achieve their sound.
            On the night under discussion, I tried to understand what it was she was hearing on my system that she did not hear in the studio or on her home system, admittedly modest but still a better than average system.
            Now we are at the controversial part. We “know” that with a piano once the hammer strikes the string there is no further contact and that the pianist can no longer change the note by keyboard touch. Yet many pianists work on this issue with slight sideways motions to create vibrato (technically not possible). She explained to me that prior to the recording in question she had been working on what she did with her fingers after striking a note and that she was hoping to achieve something that eluded her. On my system she thought she had actually achieved it.
            Why on my system, but not in the studio, is the obvious question. I think the answer is that more than 50% of my listening is to music where piano is either the solo instrument or an important element. I worked very hard on optimizing the sound of the system using recordings of an in-home 7 ft 5 inch piano as my reference, paying special attention to the initial attack and then sustain of the notes. Perhaps my system just emulated pianos better because of all the setup care. And what she heard must have been quite subtle

  3. Yes!

    We read a lot of the two sides today…musical experience and sound experience.

    For me, why we spend all the money for our hobby, really is the wow effect, when nearly every recording (not just a few spectacular ones) sounds fascinating and real. This also for a big part contributes to the understanding and enjoyment of the musical content and performance.

    We partly spend dozens of thousand $’s for our Hifi rigs and then everything else than a wow effect at the end would be wasted money for just musical background enjoyment imo.

    This wow effect gets us closer to the music, even lets us explore music which we possibly wouldn’t listen to without the magic and reality of great playback.

    Our choice and enjoyment of various performances is a level besides the one, ensuring great sound quality.

    1. Well stated JN! The emotional connection, entertainment and sheer enjoyment music brings can happen for me anytime, anywhere and on any source medium (live venue performances or a recorded system playback)! When the amazement and appreciation of talents and musicianship exceed my experiences and expectations, I often mouth the “WOW” at live concerts or verbalize it listening to my home system! The MUSIC is always the emotional motivating factor, but everyone reacts differently/uniquely to this soul stirring auditory medium!!

      For me the musical art form, and as Steven says, the “electronics party trick” (aka: the stereo), have always been Mutually Inclusive while listening and enjoying recorded music! However, that party trick recently turned into, “Holy Shit, I am live In the recorded venue”…a realization of an on-going 47 year goal for me! After these past 5 months, the “wows” and playback amazement are still consistent as I relisten to my library of acoustical and amplified music!

      As JN says, “This wow effect gets us closer to the music, even lets us explore music which we possibly wouldn’t listen to without the magic and reality of great playback”…I Agree 100%! Ted

  4. All this time and I’ve been spelling WOW backwards.
    If you’ve added or changed (as in this case FR20’s and M1200’s) and replaced something else with them…then wow moments will be more prevalent.
    Pretty soon the newness will wear off.
    The wow’s will come from the music itself. The highest compliment….
    The next hardware change may bring forth as many wows. Or not…
    Normal creeps in…

    1. Addressing your first question, Jim, I was driving on the gravel road across the western part of Badlands National Park with my Doberman in the passenger seat when a herd of hundreds of buffalo thundered across the road about 200′ in front of us. The dog became transfixed on the sight of those huge foreign animals. I’m not sure if she was having an “Oh, wow!” moment or a “Holy Shit” moment, but she was definitely impressed and showed zero interest in getting out of the car to chase them. Perhaps this answers your question. 😎

  5. Wow moments are universal and cross many categories.
    1. Sunrise sunset … both the celestial body and a great fiddler on the roof performance.
    2. Live musical program where one piece caught everyone’s attention. There’s often time a buzz in the audience following that WOW! Performance.
    3. WOW , when I hear a new and spectacular cover of a great song. ie., Wayfaring stranger.
    4. WOW, when I wake up happy and healthy. 5. When Alexa or Siri will, at my command play a variety of musical performances

  6. This post seems to have brought up the debate of is it about the music or is it about the gear. Some how it has become accepted that if it is music first and gear second then it is good, however, if it s gear first and ( as Steven said above ) music as a test signal it is bad. Says who? If having good audio gear is what excites you, go far it and use music as a test signal.

    There are people who own very high performance automobiles such as a Ferrari. I know someone who had a Ferrari. He told me he got so sick of having people tell him that some puny little four cylinder car ( insert whatever puny little car name you like here ) would get him from point A to point B just as well as the Ferrari. Guess which car I would take ( if given the choice ) from point A to point B? WOW!

    1. Probably not in the snow. 🙂
      I always looked at it as a level of gear to get the highest attainable and acceptable musical qualities from any given recording. There are minimal qualities most everyone here accepts. The maximum qualities are as varied as the people posting.

  7. Quintuple D day – Dopamine Delivery Dude Did Dropoff
    My Perfectwave Power Plant AC regurgitator arrived today…. Wow!
    Unboxed here at work as all my packaging lives here…
    The thing looks sexy just sitting there. You know you’re an audio geek when you gently press all the buttons and you haven’t even plugged it in yet.
    Except for the one lil spittle mark drool stain.
    I don’t know about you all, but I’ve always thought setting things up as almost as fun & rewarding as listening to it.
    Tis gonna be a long day.

    1. That is incredible, man! Or should I say “wow!” Alright I’ll stop. Seriously though. Have a terrific day. Pretty fun situation you’ve got there.

      When I got my P3 power plant for my headphone rig it was on a Tuesday and I stayed up till 2am. I work at 6am.
      Wow. Lol.

  8. I live in Southern California. Lately we have been saying “Wow!” to the weather. Los Angeles hasn’t seen this much rain (and snow in the mountains) in years. People are starting to think, “What drought?”

  9. I can remember when audio systems made me say “wow!”, but that was back in the days when I only went to concerts once a month, and most of them were amplified by PA systems that are fair to poor by today’s standards (1970s Colorado). By1978, I surpassed “High End” audio and got to WOW monitoring live concerts in the 24 track mobile that I tuned flat ACOUSTICALLY with bi-amped, 350WPC monitor system.

    The best sounding end-user music in those times was through reproduction systems with speakers like Quad 63, B&W DM6, and Dahlquist DQ10. Common factors: dipole or sealed box for low group delay, good diffraction control, good transient and phase response, and good off-axis response for the latter two (but not enough dynamic range).

    After I moved to New York and was going to two Classical concerts a week with a room mate who played harpsichord daily, recordings lost their wow factor except for extreme systems like Ralph Glasgal’s eighteen Sound Lab electrostats in an Ambiophonic array, Atmosphere circletron amps driving big dipoles, Dunlavy SC VI in a large room, and Andrew Lipinsky playing his recordings on his speakers – and even then, I was aware of shortcomings since my ears were “broken in” to symphony, opera, and a lot of chamber music; so the best of audio was more “quite good for a recording” or “not bad for a PA”. Listenable was the new pinnacle.

    As for recordings, my years of studio experience combined with re-training my ears to the standards of my acoustic youth meant that any and all knobs are un-listenable. Panning, mixing, eq, compression, limiting, artificial reverb, and file compression are a no-go. I can listen to subtle gain riding, but besides that it has to be strictly one mic to one speaker with zero processing. No splitting, combining, splicing, overdubbing, just waveform fidelity and room reflections. This is still only 10% of the SQ and affect of being there, but there are no artificial colorings or flavorings allowed!

    My test for “WOW!” is to make a recording of the playback in the listening room, and compare to the original Near Coincident Pair capture. If it is hard to tell which was live and which was the live recording based on the timbres and balance, then the intermediate playback system is approaching accuracy. There is a more stringent test, which is playback or live amplification for conservatory trained musicians, who know what real music sounds like better than any and all speaker listeners.

    I understand the WOW factor of removing veils, and most systems have myriad factors obscuring the musical truth in the grooves, magnetic domains, or bits so you can pursue a string of wows; BUT, if a live concert does not get a much bigger WOW (and not just from the LOUDNESS), then your ears are leading you astray – or it’s a bad room, a bad PA, or the musicians are not controlling the sound; or more often, all of these factors.

    1. Always an interesting read I think many here would love to have your insights and experience. All those that had a room mate who played harpsichord daily please form an orderly queue. For me and possibly others I feel that excellence is expected at a live concert, even if not always delivered. It’s when our systems come close that we get our wow moments.

  10. There was a very short Wow! period in my audio journey – and that was decades ago, when I first got convincing playback from a setup. The difference from the normal stereo standard, which is what you still get today from 99.9% of rigs, blew me away at the time – and led more into long periods of frustration as I tried to understand what precisely was required to elevate or evolve a combo of gear to that standard.

    The Wow! is actually in the recording. Always. The rig doesn’t make it better than it actually is; it’s merely a tool for revealing what was captured – it “takes you to the place where the recording took place”. Get that right, and the specialness of the musical occasion “archived” is always on show …

    1. [fas42:The Wow! is actually in the recording. Always. The rig doesn’t make it better than it actually is; it’s merely a tool for revealing what was captured – it “takes you to the place where the recording took place”. Get that right, and the specialness of the musical occasion “archived” is always on show …]


    2. I keep telling musicans and other recording engineers the same message: music comes from fingers and lips. There is nothing a recordist can do to improve on a good performance in an appropriate room – the best we can hope for is to NOT SCREW IT UP.

      I am so far the most extreme fanatical engineer that I have heard of, designing acoustics, speakers, and systems to make better live recordings of acoustic, amplified, electric, electronic, and electro-acoustic music.

      The logic is simple: the better the stage sound, the better the performance and the better the sound quality of the recording. The better the audience sound, the better the feeling in the room, the better the performance, and the better the SQ – since the audience space is where the sound is captured for fixed channel (“stereo”, “surround”, and “immersive”) reproduction.

      I have had testimonials from Classical recording engineers that the audience sound using my speakers was BETTER than the sound in the mastering studio for the same material; and also from FOUR TIME GRAMMY WINNER Judy Sherman that she could not tell I was amplifiying one of her projects for the CD release concert.

      What I can’t understand is that record label executives have told me flatly that they would never release an album made by my methods because the sound does not conform to “industry standards” – that is, people who buy Classical and Jazz albums are now “broken in” to mixed multi-tracks with compression, equalization, added reverb, overdubbing, and splicing to make a fantasy sound more like an AI rendering a MIDI stream generated from the score than a living, breathing, emoting human.

      Further, I strongly believe that the audience reaction, however faint, is part of the musical experience. When I am listening by myself to the recording I want to hear that the performance was shared by others. I have even been known to record concerts of “fixed media”, that is compositions that only exist in electronic form, either pre-recorded or generated by an algorithm without human intervention.

  11. As others have intimated here, there are probably as many different “wows” as there are listeners. The bombast of “audiophile” recordings of the 1812 Overture is only one, and when it was mentioned here, it made me recall my early days in hi-fi, many long years ago, when I thought the goal was achieving sound that was larger-than-life, crisper-than-life, more-“present”-than-life, more dynamic-than-life – big, bass drums, cymbal crashes and left-to-right train sounds. And I remember buying some audiophile records at the time and being quite puzzled and disappointed because they didn’t boom and tinkle as I expected (one very good example was a Sheffield direct-disc recording of banjoist Larry McNeely and some pals in a loose, jam-like string band session).

    I don’t know what event changed my focus or when it happened, but in looking back at that time, I realize that what I wanted was to hear instruments reproduced with levels of detail that are almost never heard in real life – kind of like a photographic equivalent of judging the quality of a portrait by the degree to which I could distinguish individual hairs on the head, or pores in the skin.

    I don’t mean to suggest pursuit of hyper-realism in audio is a bad thing. I think that’s up to the listener. I was happy pursuing bombast then. I’ll just say it’s just no longer my thing, and now I’m much happier pursuing realistic timbres and textures. What causes me to have “wow” moments is when the combination of recording and equipment (and whatever else might contribute to the moment) fools that portion of our auditory systems that recognizes sounds of instruments and voices as real, regardless of whether they’re big and loud or small and soft. These days, that Larry McNeely album is one I cherish listening to, as it comes as close as anything I’ve heard to the sound of the players sitting in my room. Those are the things that snag my conscious attention momentarily and prompt me to say “wow.” And then I re-immerse myself in the music and go on.

    1. In 56 years of pursuing “Audio Verité”, I have not heard a system that could reproduce life-sized musical dynamics nor the spatial attributes outside of full scale venues. “Larger than life” is constrained to micro-sounds and the visual domain, where closeup shots frame faces and Nature’s miniatures that are now a meter or more high on large screen LCDs and projection screens.

      Symphony Orchestras, Big Bands, and Rock bands spread across 30 meter or larger stages, and top out over 125dB, EVEN IN THE TOP OCTAVE. The pant-flapping, body shaking bass of a big drum, bass section, bass amplifier wall, or 64′ organ pip; the crack of a snare drum; and the thunder of a piano played to the limit of the sound board are WAY beyond the capability of 90dB efficient speakers, 1″ domes, 12″ woofers, and/or smaller rooms – and can’t represent sound sources like orchestras and choirs wider that the spread of the speakers.

      Plus, phantom center is a learned delusion from which I freed myself. To reproduce larger groups than fit in your listening room, the answer is to spread an array of speakers across a real sized stage.

      1. What most playback chains have trouble with is maintaining the integrity of low level sounds which accompany the “big stuff!”. Real life has no issues doing this, it’s how the mix of sounds your ears pick up all through the day works. But rigs have difficulty mimicking this; that’s why they sound, “not real”.

        Can one overcome this? Yes, a resounding, yes! It’s the preserving of the integrity of the dynamic contrasts which are very much still intact, in the recording itself, that is absolutely vital.

        An array of speakers spread across a large stage is a workaround that can solve the problem. But it *is* a workaround – two speakers, driven properly, will do it correctly … it is up to the individual whether he wants to get there by evolving the normal method to the required standard – or use something else.

      2. Acuvox,

        From your 10:24am & 10:48am postings above, seems a real and viable solution to Your home sound-reproduction dilemma is to only go out and listen and experience live acoustical performances every day and night!?!

        Attending live musician/singer performances “every now and then” is certainly desirable and great! However, 100% music listening to just in-person daily live musical concerts Or having a huge auditorium venue in my home, with speakers/equipment spread all over the space, is not very practical for me…or most other lovers of the musical art form!

        Do what you must do to enjoy your music listening sessions. Believe whenever the opportunity to attend live performances is not practical (actually, rare for me), I’ll just thoroughly enjoy my humbled Mid-Fi 2.1 playback system that can make my 90sf listening room sound like I-Am-There in the acoustical 10K sf orchestral hall!!! 🙂

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