Lyrita Audio

Whither This Search For Musical Ecstasy

(This is a collection of my views from a thread in the Hi-Fi Forum).


The title is purposely chosen to emphasize that music listening should be fun. We should all be enjoying music - to that end our equipment is just the means. However, too many of us, along the way, end up listening to equipment.


I have a few years behind me, and hope to share my thoughts with a lot of the younger members of the forum. Each of us has to find his own way to musical satisfaction - I can only point to one.


Somewhere along the line, the audio high end industry has lost its way. Past history and accomplishments are thrown aside, a new language is created to describe musical phenomena, music is deconstructed to suit this language. Specmanship rules, brute force engineering abounds, with prices to suit. What gets lost in the process - music!


Music listening is a wholesome experience. You cannot deconstruct music - break it down in parts like bass and treble, detail, and solidity of image! Instead, music communicates - emotions, interplay between musicians, melody, and rhythm. Spontaneity, interpretation, surprise changes in rhythm and dynamics, harmony, are all elements of music making. Collectively they all communicate the sense of music.


Listen to live music in a concert hall. Do you concentrate on the quality of the highs and lows, the specificity of the image? No, it's the collective sound of the ensemble, the creativity of music making that astonishes.


It's this essence of music that we should be seeking through our audio systems. It's recognised instinctively and emotionally - no golden ears required! It's this sense that the high end industry has lost.


We now have systems that scream artificial detail to your ears; produce clinical sound with all emotion squeezed out. And an entire industry to promote such sound to unsuspecting consumers.


There are alternatives.


Here's one in the words of renowned designer Lynn Olson : "More so than ever before, I came to realize that the ultimate musicality of a particular amp transcends conventional engineering models. In an audiophile culture fixated on the notion that bigger is better, that more watts equates with better dynamics, the truth is hard to accept. Listen and believe: it's that first watt that makes all the difference in the world. The microdynamics of the music are all encoded in the initial power rush. Get it wrong out of the starting block and another 99 boring watts are hardly going to compensate. That's why a low-powered amp, when mated to a high-efficiency speaker, can actually sound much more dynamic than a conventional high-power amplifier."


Most of the old tube amplifiers still communicate music far better than most modern day solid-state amplifiers. Why were they discarded so easily? Technology rush. For whose benefit?


Please don't loose sight that it's the enjoyment of music we are all after.




Why do people automatically preclude musicality from accuracy? For me, there is absolutely no dilemma.


How can an audio system which is musical also not be true to the recorded music? Any deviation in tonality, timbre, timing, will be heard as an artificial sound. That will certainly not be musical.


Accurate to what? To the music, or to some artificially held notions of frequency response and harmonic distortion? Does a sine wave equate to a complex music signal?


Again, tune your ears to live music. Listen to a performance in a good concert hall. With ensembles of a hundred voices, the dynamics, and the sound levels can be stupendous. Do you come home after that concert with warmth in your heart; or a painful buzz in your ears?


Try and capture that warmth in your audio system at home. It will make you alive, and want more music to come into your life!


You react instinctively to naturally reproduced sound, especially sounds you encounter in your daily lives - that of human voices. Familiarity with acoustic live music does the same.


Another measure of good reproduced music is the amount of effort your brain has to make to listen. If the music flows around you, envelops you, you get drawn in, your body relaxes, and the pleasure hormones kick in - then the system is doing its job well. You needn't get any more technical than that!




Starting this topic, in part, was a reaction to all the requests that come in to this forum for selecting components. And comparing them in terms of bass response, loudness, soundstaging and all. I feel we should be talking instead about how enjoyable, and real, music was from one system to another.


And do look at audio systems as a whole. I know it is difficult when you are upgrading a component, but the only meaningful way is to judge components together in a system.


Here's another interesting item that follows the path of this discussion :


In the March 2006 issue of Stereophile, Art Dudley reviews the Yamamoto A-08 power amplifier. This is a tube SET amp made by Yamamoto Sound Craft of Japan. Let me paraphrase Art: "The Yamamoto A-08 was fun to have, fun to use, fun to look at, fun to swap tubes in and out of, and, most of all, fun to listen to. ... The Yamamoto A-08 is a fine alternative to dense, boring, unmusical high-end audio products. It stands with other handcrafted amplifiers in its aspiration to transmit the soul of music by embodying some of the soul of its maker. That's all there is to it, really: It has soul."


And here's John Atkinson's take on it in the Measurements section: " The spectrum of distortion is heavily second-harmonic, though at low frequencies, odd-order harmonics are also apparent. ... The A-08 performed dismally on the high-frequency intermodulation test... I don't think I need say anything more about the Yamamoto A-08's measured performance. It does look very handsome and it is beautifully made."


Whose take would you take home with you?




This search is far from being a cult, though it does have it's share of irrationality (as against the scientific method). We are all guilty of indulging in it!


Music making is creative - it's art! It's part drama, since it's enacted by humans in front of you. What sounds emerge are solely through the collective efforts of the musicians there. There is a certain charge, a flow of energy, to this creative effort; which is sometimes reciprocated by the audience. By being present at the event, you participate in it. You live in it!


This charge is missing when you listen to a recording of the performance. The act of creation is done, the music is laid bare in front of you, the sense of anticipation is gone. Not totally, but substantially diminished. How can a recording come close to the actual performance!


But, irrational beings that we are, if we can get a sense of that energy, that involvement, in the recording, our stupid brains transport us to the actual event. Vicariously, we participate once again.


And, it's the job of good audio systems to help take us there. By golly, these systems do exist! You just have to seek them out!