Personal standards

October 22, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

We all have our personal standards by which we determine whether or not something lives up to our expectations. When I play a new track of music I expect a certain level of musicality, transparency, tonal accuracy, and overall believability. If I listen without any preconceived expectations I can either accept or reject the new music.

Sometimes, however, I manage to let my expectations get a bit out of hand. I struggle to separate high-hope expectations from personal standards.

Or, put another way, I might have unrealistic expectations of a new recording or piece of equipment. If that happens it’s hard to then accept it based on those minimal personal standards.

Why does this sometimes happen?

I think most of us are on the lookout for that undiscovered gem (I certainly am). We hear from those we respect how great a new piece of music is or how much better their equipment sounded when they added this or that. Our expectations might soar and we give it a shot. If the results match our high hopes, bingo! But, if not, we sometimes reject it out of hand (despite the fact it meets our personal standards of acceptability).

All this to suggest the more we approach expectations with a touch of caution the more likely we are to discover the new that meets our personal standards.

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36 comments on “Personal standards”

  1. Paul,
    Because you have the means with which to build home-audio gear that meets your
    standards, it could be argued, why should you have to listen to anything less?
    Fact is, you don’t have to.
    If you want something done properly/correctly, then you’ve usually gotta do it yourself
    …or in SntbcwS’s case, make sure that you pay the right people to do it for you 😉

    I tend to allow for more compromise, since I’m very aware of fluctuating standards
    within the recording industry, financial limitations or endlessly trying to find synergy.
    For some, it’s quite a journey of ‘Snakes & Ladders’.

    1. Indeed, my default option is to ask my audio dealer for his advice, he lends me nothing, sometimes I buy it.

      I don’t have standards. Paul’s explanation is more complicated than my brain can manage. If something sounds good, that’ll do for me.

      1. “he lends me nothing”…really?
        He doesn’t let you take anything home for a two-week audition?
        Well that’s just mean, for a reputable home-audio dealer 😮

        1. Sometimes an in-store demo, sometimes I pick it up, sometimes he delivers. The last thing I bought he brought a demo unit round, I ordered one, he installed it two weeks later and collected the demo unit. He then sent me an invoice and I paid it. Not complicated. No messing around with couriers and having to unpack stuff.

          1. So, your lifestyle is to avoid burning calories at any cost?
            You won’t even walk to your coffeemaker to push a button…
            tsk, tsk…type two diabetes is not far away…
            ‘Alexa, where’s my insulin?!’ I hear you shout.

            I’m sorry, I’m not in a good mood…
            Australia just got its arse kicked by NZ 🙁

    1. I love the term musicality. What it means to me is hearing the weight and slam of percussion or the individual sound of each string without smear as the musician strums an acoustic guitar. Just two examples but I know it when I hear it.

        1. Probably. I know it has nothing to do with frequency response or a tilted up frequency response. I love linear speakers that seamlessly analyze a recording while being colorless. I have some vintage EPI speakers with dual 8″ and 1″ tweeters and also the famous EPI 100 that has a single 8″ and 1″ driver with nearly no crossover that does that extremely well for box speakers. My NHT 2.9 do it well too. Certain B&W speaker’s and their expensive cabinets do it well and all are very musical too without limiting dynamics. They will blow themselves out or damage themselves before compressing dynamics, so don’t clip the amplifier. High energy low colorations.

          1. I suspect that the largest factor in sounding live is dynamic linearity, not just the ability to play loud cleanly, but the ability to change loudness levels accurately(from micro to macro). It’s not flat response(although that is highly desirable). Just change your seat at a live concert and the frequency response changes. Or listen outside a room and you know if it’s live or a recording.

  2. Expectations vary based on many factors. When it comes to equipment the personal expectation should not be hard to meet. Where the line gets blurred is in the marketing and promotion. The mistake is in believing what is read, or worse communicated by a person whom you trust.

    Regarding equipment, If you rely on someone else to dictate or coerce your expectations then disappointment can reign supreme. If you take many more points of view and experience into account then it’s much easier to set personal expectations.

    Regarding music and recordings. It’s much easier to let personal expectations rule. It could be the greatest technical recording ever, by your most favorite artist ever, and if you don’t particularly like the music or subject you’re not going to listen. You might set the expectation that it’ll ‘grown on you’ – maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

    Worse of all is meeting or exceeding your expectations, and those around you aren’t wowed.
    (Any more discussion of that concept leads to the participation trophy syndrome or other societal downfalls not meant to be discussed in this area 🙂 )

    Are my expectations for what I read here daily too high, too low, or don’t really matter?

  3. I have long thought and said something similar the other day. High expectations can only be met, are rarely exceeded and if not met only lead to disappointment.
    Low or no expectations are where the magic happens.

    Hidden gems are hard to find but when you do that’s definitely a happy moment. 🙂

  4. With regard to setting expectations, I highly recommend a documentary that I watched last night about the legendary bass player Ron Carter. He gave me quite a bit of insight about how musicians set expectations for themselves, their fellow players and their audience. It was an enlightening experience and I hope that some of you get a chance to view this story of one person’s life journey.

    https://www.pbs.org/show/ron-carter-finding-right-notes/

      1. You won’t regret it. There are so many jazz luminaries in the video including Sonny Rollins, Huston Person, Miles I could go on. My friend Emmet Cohen did an Duo album with Ron and I am going to be speaking to him today to find out if he saw the video. He probably doesn’t have the time he’s so busy.

  5. I’m going to talk about expectations in the world of technology R&D.

    When I was young and still working on my Ph.D. I was given a book about the history of Porsche automobiles. On the first page of the book was the Porsche motto,

    “Excellence is expected”.

    I still have the book and adopted the motto as my own.

    In the last ten years of my career, my job was to lead R&D teams. I became known that of the three or four team leads that my boss had working for him I would always have the most difficult projects to lead. For this reason I was allowed to pick my own teams. I always explained to new team members what my motto was. I found that some people could not handle it even though they were very smart and very talented.

    One young woman stands out in my memory. She was very smart and very capable. I told her about my motto when she joined the team. She said she understood, but after about two months she came to me and asked why I never complemented her when she did things right. I was shocked. I explained to her that she was a very talented well payed professional and that “right” was the minimum standard of performance that I would accept from her and that I expected excellence from her. She went to my boss the next day and said she wanted off of my team ASAP. He spoke with me and she was off of my team the next week.

    Now, in case you think I was some kind of monster to work for ( I probably was ) the project I was leading had a budget of $52M and the VP that my boss reported to was riding heard on the project and me real closely. He expect excellence and then some. 😮

  6. Expectations.

    The Taoists and Buddhists had a good take on that.

    Some will say that “no expectations” has no hope, but I have experienced this quite differently.

  7. I heard something like that saying and I can’t remember from who But it went like this.

    “We strive for perfection… Excellence will be tolerated”

    1. Interesting. For me, it’s about the culture you breed in a company. Individuals may be brilliant, inevitably some will fall short. It’s not really about the me, more about developing a culture to enable people to achieve the exceptional sometimes and fall short sometimes. Square pegs can be hammered into round holes, but surely better to find round pegs?

      1. Your reply is quite valid to my sensibilities. I owned four retail stores in New York City for 22 years and it was the culture I created not only with my valued employees but with my customer base. I don’t mind saying that our culture was exceptional and it showed. For many of those years we had more customers than we knew what to do with because of the culture that my business portrayed. Can’t be right every time but working your hardest to help your clientele really shined through because we speaking the truth to them and so was my staff.

              1. Tony,
                I know that that saying sounds profound, however, often I believe that it is far too simplistic to be true because political parties promise ‘This’ before they are elected & then they give you ‘That’ once they’re in power.

                We would get the government that we deserve only if the bastards would tell us (the public) the truth.

          1. I have realized that there are companies that do not deserve my business. If dealing with a company causes you more stress than satisfaction, they do not deserve your business.

      2. I have found that is is always the people on high who determine the culture, whether the company is 10 people of 100,000 people. It is impossible for an underling to set a culture without the approval of those who they report to. Companies are not democracies.

  8. We’re all in a hobby based around so much subjectivity. People I find, especially in the audio realm, are all over the place with standards and hype trains.

    I enjoy experiencing something first hand before I shoot my mouth off about it. That way I can properly engage with the persons feelings, especially when it comes to music and equipment.

    If I may say I think this recording is the bees knees for guitar tonal accuracy, understanding air and depth in a soundstage and guttural low end bass response.

    SRV is a total audiophile experience and his music doesn’t suck. 🙂

    https://youtu.be/LNX4Bl4T1q0

    When I listen to something like this on a good system I have high expectations cause I feel it should sound amazing. 🙂

      1. Absolutely my pleasure, my friend.
        And that is another thing in this magical hobby of ours. Commonalities. 🙂
        Makes the journey more worth it.

        Cheers Martin.

        I’m off to go warm up the tubes. 🙂
        Staying up late tonight with my old friend Mr. music.

        1. More power to ya, my brother in music (well, in some music 😀 ) & home-audio.
          I’m up to track 3 in Weather Report’s – ‘Heavy Weather’ album (YouTube)
          Like Gabe Mervine’s – ‘Say Somethin’ album, it’ll take me a few listens to really
          get into it ✌

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