Buying a high end audio System is not quite as simple as one may first think.
Where do I go … who can I speak with … and how much will I need to spend … oh … and what will work for my musical taste?
In the beginning I was the so called ‘Master’ - mixing brand A with Brand B, then Brand C and finally choosing Brand X for the speaker. Oh yes, there were also numerous brands of cables depending on what sound I was going for. What was I doing you may ask?
Well, I was matching components in a way that I felt was complimentary to the best final outcome. I would tell my customers that it’s like a car, different tires, different engines and different suspensions … kind of like building a hotrod! Seemed to make sense and it was better than simply putting a one branded preamplifier and power amplifier system together. Or was it?
Real un-amplified music always sounds natural … sounds right! It does not change - even in poor acoustic environments. I have played an acoustic guitar in a very lively hall and it sounded like the Martin D-35 that it was. I also played in a very damped room … and it still sounded like my Martin D-35! This same guitar was very recognizable - albeit with more weight in one room and more lively in the other. The Martin was clearly identifiable as the same 40 year old D-35.
So, why is this important you might ask? A truly great stereo system should sound great in various environments. Yes, some will be more lively. Some too reverberant. Perhaps some too damped sounding. The stereo system will still be recognizable nonetheless for what it puts forth - regardless of the type or room it is in. In other words the basic fundamental sound is the same!
When one has to balance forms of distortion in electronics it becomes a very slippery slope!
Taming a bright top end … well, what does that do to frequencies just below what you are trying to tame? Matching a tube preamplifier with a solid state power amplifier to soften the overall sound while keeping the punch in the bottom end. Where does it all end? Truth be told, it doesn’t end, one just keeps tweaking until you are realize you are spending more time tweaking than listening to music! We tweak so much we don’t know where to go next so we keep throwing more equipment at the problem until it becomes a cacophony of distortions! Somewhat counter productive I think you agree!
The most important question is: “Does the stereo system sound musical”?
Listen to the preamplifier and power amplifier combination with a pair of speakers … and really listen for the musicality. Use music that you like and play at home and not a demo disc or a special download as you want your system to play regular music properly. Buying a system based on these special recordings creates a high probability of becoming bored with your system - as the music you love and enjoy never sounds quite right! Compare your equipment pairing to another combination while maintaining the same speakers. The same room is easier but not always necessary based on my discussion above. Playing your music selections in different rooms can often tell you which system is most musical. Many times there will be more of a “good feeling” since your brain interprets the missing elements subconsciously. Choosing a system that your brain has to rely too much on “learned sounds” to correct the deficiencies and fatigue will prevent you from ultimately enjoying your music.
It is my belief that knowledgable an engineer / designer of a particular brand has designed their company’s components so they work best together. If it doesn’t sound right to you perhaps your ears (and brain) are telling you something is wrong. Always trust your inner guidance system. The subconscious mind doesn’t have the biases that cloud our conscious mind!
Cables should be about rightness and not about frequency shifts - or they simply do not perform their basic fundamental objective! Fixing off sounding systems with cables is definitely a slippery slope. Cables should minimize loss and possible contaminations - not alter or shape the sound!
Even good skiers have to watch for the slippery slope!