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I Want My Audio System to Sound Like Music - Real Music! | by Michel Vanden Broeck

I Want My Audio System to Sound Like Music - Real Music! 

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Let me begin by describing what real music is to me.  Music exists in many forms.  Whether a performance of a band, orchestra, choir or your favorite artist in a club or concert - these all qualify as real music in my opinion.  Any performance where musical instruments of any type are being played, good or bad, qualifies as real music to me.  Yes, even a child practicing their music lessons qualifies as real music!

Musical performances share seven common elements:

1 Rhythm

2 Dynamics

3 Melody 

4 Harmony

5 Tone Quality

6 Texture

7 Form

These elements can be used to describe music from every genre from Classical to Rock.

Audio recording captures these combined elements as a physical dimension - either as an electronic signal for real time playback or as storage media for playback another time.  In each case hopefully closely matching the original physical acoustic state.  Along this path many real challenges exist that interfere with achieving accurate reproduction - as every Audiophile has learned the hard way.  For the simplicity and the purpose of this discussion, however, let’s assume the recording of music is near perfect!

Audiophile’s primary objective is for audio reproduction that is in every way just like the original performance.   To that end, a new vocabulary has developed to discuss the deficiencies of the playback process which includes, but not limited to, the following:

1 Leading Edge Detail

2 Bloom

3 Air

4 Speed

5 Resolution

6 Transparency 

There is nothing wrong with any of these terms other than perhaps it shines considerable light on the OCD in all of us and not sufficient light on the musical experience as the end game.  Maybe this is where the problem lay with many Audiophiles and why it is almost impossible to enjoy the music unless it is played back perfectly.

Some would say a minimum of 10,000 hours is necessary to become an expert on any subject matter or craft.  This applies to music too.  I presume many Audiophiles often spend considerable more time constructing and critiquing their audio system then actually enjoying the music the system is built to play.  This quest becomes one with limited reference.  After all, how does one make a system sound like real music when one doesn’t really have the experience of what real music, in all of its elements, actually sounds like?  Perhaps this accounts for the primarily focus on only two of the seven elements (Tone Quality and Texture), rather than on all of the elements of musical composition.  

Building a High End Audiophile system is analogous to a car enthusiast building a customized hot rod.  The assembling of precision parts doesn’t always guarantee performance but it is believed in most cases that it will.  Many Audiophile systems are assembled this way and many of them sound really really good.  Sadly, a vast number simply don’t sound like music!

Many of you read David’s Musings at www.tenoraudio.com.   I proclaim quite often that High End Audio is like Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s Clothes.  I use it to describe people believing in something that simply is not true!  In this case, that the original recording is reproduced accurately by an expensive High End Audio system.  I also worry about the marketing hype and reviewers giving assurances that seem to change monthly regarding what amplifier is best.  Perhaps High End Audio is simply expensive gear attempting to reproduce the original recording. Whether it is better than some of the lesser priced gear, I am not sure!  One thing for certain, Audiophiles have learned the hard way that expensive gear does not necessarily make for musical!

Over the past forty something years in this industry, I dare say I don’t think many of us are any closer to the original musical goal.  In fact, I think you will find, most of us are perhaps further from that goal today as a result of digital equipment and mass marketed equipment which are marketed as the closest thing to live music.

A large problem with many Audiophiles is they simply do not expose themselves to sufficient live music to become an expert and use that expertise to choose their gear.  Notions of what music sounds, good or bad, drives most equipment auditions and purchases.  Attend any audio show of late and you will find room after room of dubious sounding playback equipment.  Many reviewers publicly keep score of each show as to whether this current one is the worst sounding one so far.  Many audio shows feature live bands which I always find very curious.  Anyone really listening to the live music at these shows would know immediately how far from the stated objective this industry really is!

Is there a point to High End Audio if it doesn’t actually sound like real music?  Well, if High End Audio didn't cost so much I wouldn't even be writing this article.  I have experienced many lower priced systems that are seemingly closer to the musical truth and sound much more enjoyable than many High End Audio systems of late.  Nonetheless, to hear a truly wonderful High End Audio system is something perhaps even better than a live event itself as you can control the performance playing that night!

For many, the real end game was never about enjoying music but successfully assembling a system that actually sounds like real music.  This accounts for many Audiophiles constantly trading electronic gear almost for the sake of change itself.  I call those people Gear Heads!  I say often that the primary objective is supposed to be about forgetting the gear and immersing yourself in the music.  Only then does the real musical journey begin.  When you have the right High End Audio system your musical journey becomes ones of the greatest experiences of your life!

My goal is to provide assistance to help guide Audiophiles as well as music lovers to achieve a musically satisfying system within an affordable budget.  I derive incredible pleasure from all genres of music and have been known to compose as well!  You can say that music is the DNA of my life!  

Recently, I came out of semi-retirement after experiencing a life changing High End Audio experience!  I believe it to be my most profound musical experience of my career!

Tenor Audio recently received The End of Life Award from Mike Malinowski of 6moons.com for their Phono 1 phono stage. This sounded awkward to me initially.  An award for end of life … why would this be?  Thinking this through … this is the last phono stage that one will ever need to own!  It makes complete sense to me now!  Tenor Audio is the last amplifier purchase anyone will want to make!  There is no nothing so true to the music.

Happy listening,

David

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