What are you hoping for?

July 25, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

I get a lot of email requests for advice on what to buy, how to get more out of a system, or how to solve a problem. The conversation typically starts out with the desired end product.

“I was thinking about a new amplifier.”

One of the first questions I ask is “what is it you’re hoping for?”

“Better imaging. I can’t seem to get the music detached from my speakers. I want that effortless 3-dimensional sound you always write about.”

Turns out the person’s amps are probably the least of their problems. Instead, I might recommend a new pair of speakers, or preamplifier, or even just setup.

The point is, knowing what it is you’re hoping to achieve is a huge step forward in figuring out how you’re going to get there.

It might seem obvious but you’d be surprised.

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31 comments on “What are you hoping for?”

  1. I always thought that a buyer of a stereo system is primarily interested in a holographic sound image. And a buyer of a hif-stereo system additionally requires state-of-art sound quality. However seeing the arrangement of a pair of loudspeakers in most living rooms or the replacement of older stereo systems by a wireless loudspeaker I come to the conclusion that holographic imaging isn’t a must for the majority. Those who require holographic imaging opt for a home theatre system. Then there is a large group simply requiring most impressive bass levels. I guess 99.9999 % of all music lovers don’t care about core aspects of HiFi-stereo and the basic requirements for benign room acoustics.

    1. ps,
      You mean your choice of “core aspects of HI-Fi stereo”?
      I had the pleasure of listening to 3D holographic soundstaging & imaging from the home-audio rig that I owned back in 1993 until 1999.
      However, because my priorities are elsewhere, due to my preferred genre of music, & the fact that often attainable 3D imaging is recording dependent, I am more concerned with clarity & dynamics than I am with holographic 3D imaging & soundstaging from my current rig…I’m just saying ✌

        1. Then we definitely shouldn’t get started on I-phones & ear buds 😉
          A proper holographic 3D soundstage can not be fully achieved without
          the recording engineer being ‘on-board’ & doing a ‘proper job’ in the
          recording studio…I wonder if “the inventors” took that into account
          given that many recording engineers don’t get it right?

          1. That is true. Binaural recordings add to that experience of a holographic 3D soundstage.
            Chesky records has a bunch of them. 🙂
            I only own one though. I remember that the music has to be interesting to me. 😉

              1. Oh goodness me. Another video to watch with my arms crossed when I get home from work.
                Also Martin. I recently splurged on a couple of Octave Releases. I’ll let you know what I think in relation to my system by how they sound, but I have a feeling they will most likely fall with in your previous point.

                A lot of audiophile grade recordings really fall under exaggerated mood pieces for me. The replay value is few and far between and that is a steep price to pay for something like that.

          2. Strange that, listening on my iPhone, Chord Mojo2 and Etymotic ER3-SE IEMs. Handy for a very low level recording (Pavel Kolesnikov playing Reynaldo Hahn).

            One reason for them is some driving this summer. Unfortunately the day before the FR30 go on public display at the UK Audio Show, we head off to Italy.

    2. I also think 90% of installations (due to the placement too close to the front wall, asymmetrical or generally unable to provide a proper stereo image) are not suited to reveal characteristics, 90% of the communication in reviews, forums etc. accounts for in terms of soundstaging or even tonality matters.

      I think most in this context have a kind of Porsche at home just for driving to the next bakery around the corner while anyway having fun discussing theoretical race track experience online. Finally it’s a hobby as any other and e.g. also not few amateurs have the most professional photography equipment, some pro‘s would be jealous of.

      Great audio/music illusion (not meaning great Hifi sound) for standard living environments would be the next innovation needed.

  2. Tell me about it Paul.
    “What are you hoping for”…in conjunction with, ‘What you are prepared to outlay financially?’
    Step One: follow the instructions in ‘The Audiophile’s Handbook’ & the accompanying CD 😉
    I can not recount how many customers of mine had unrealistic expectations of what they
    should get, soundstage-wise, from a one to two thousand dollar home-audio rig.

  3. “I was thinking about a new amplifier.” if this is a question I am asking, I might already hear something “missing” or “strange” in my system. So, I might already have an answer on “what I am hoping “
    In fact, my situation came with this “I need a new amp, because current one is broken”. And the following up question is “can I try something to make my system sound better with new amps ”. In fact, I have no idea on what this “sound better” I am hopping for.
    So, after getting a new pair of pre/power amps replacing the broken integrated amp. I played with those typical tunings on my room, and find a setup I feel comfortable with. Does my room missing something, I don’t know yet, since no reference point for me to compare to. Maybe, one day, a trip to PSA music room, then I can know what I am missing, then the question will come “do I need a new gear?”

  4. It seems a little unreasonable to walk into any endeavor with just hope.

    A little self education, a little research, a little planning, a little advise, and a little sweat equity go a long way to making hope reality.

  5. Here’s a fun exercise to support Paul’s point. Go to AudiogoN or US Audiomart and look at the speakers for sale. Look at the pictures in the ad. Do they look set up “right” to you?

  6. What is lacking here are actual examples and experience with them. When I moved to NY about 40 years ago I started going to NYC on weekends. There I found so may audio stores that I could not visit them all on a Saturday afternoon. Sadly, they are becoming harder and harder to find in today’s world. The best of them had listening rooms where the gear was setup properly and you could hear an entry level system, a mid level system and finally a high-end system. You could learn how certain gear sounded, how much it would cost to have a certain system and what kind of room was best.

    Books like Paul has written can help as do the occasional article in magazines like Stereophile and TAS. But, there is no substitute for an actual demonstration. A key factor in having the audio system I have today is the audio stores of NYC.

    1. I agree with you. We used to have several brick & mortar type places here to go and listen to systems. The few that we have now are at least 50% home theater. I walk into most places still around and see the standard BMW, McIntosh, Classe, etc. setup.

      I pretty much have to drive at least 1/2 a day to listen to stuff in spot places still open.

      1. What is so crazy today in NYC is it is NOT the internet sellers that are killing the B&M audio stores, but the high lease cost that the landlords charge. Many were driven out of the first floor store front locations to second story ( or higher ) locations and some have basement locations. Many are appointment only.

  7. I would argue if you are looking for a sound change with any significant departure from your current equipment setup, you need a speaker change. The listening room & treatment is also important. The only point where the system is creating sound waves is the speakers. Those sound waves interact with the room producing what you hear. Additionally, as Paul mentions, proper speaker positioning is crucial.

    Assuming you have a decent source, any other changes simply refine and improve what the speaker does.

  8. If someone were to ask me “What are you hoping for?” the answer would be “Better everything.” And then, “Money to buy better everything.” 🙂

    1. That would be my answer too. I didn’t upgrade my system because I felt it had obvious deficiencies, I just wanted better sound. You know it’s out there.

      1. Having hope for something better connotes a belief that there is something better out there. I’m not convinced there is. Until I see and hear it, I am very happy with my current system.

    1. Interesting. I wonder. I suppose it’s all a matter of taste, in which case you could say that the electronics are like the condiments of a hi-fi, one DAC is saltier than another.

  9. I went to the New York Philharmonic last night here in our Vail outdoor amphitheater as they tackled Mahlers 6. I had unfortunate seats 4th row from the middle of the first violin section. I remembered Arnie who always sat in front of the bass fiddles always said “Why would you want to sit in front of the screechy violins?” Anyway the dynamics were pretty good as was the frequency range and talk about holographic it sounded like the violins were right in front of me and the cellos were way over to the right, brass and woodwinds were somewhere else. I measured 104db peaks on my trusty SPL meter during the hammer strikes.

  10. I agree Paul. So many sell or trade out their old systems just to find out they miss that old system. Better be certain you know what you’re doing before entering into a new purchase.

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