|So what is high end audio, then? I know for some it is the quest for
the perfect soundstage, but let us exclude them for the moment. Rather,
is it a way for us to become more connected to the Sound? In a sense,
like a crutch for an invalid whose legs are too weak. To be used until
he can regain the strength of his own legs, then to be discarded as
Will we all at some point dispense with high end audio because we no longer need it to be connected to the Sound?
Or is there something else that draws us to our high end systems?
Who can say? There is no general answer. Depends on what an individual needs to do at the time.
I have spent years geeking out on technical concepts and I have been doing it here. There is a time for so called "technical listening" or "evaluative listening" and I do that a lot too, when evaluating.
What I was saying about being beyond that is that I don't do it all the time anymore. I used to sit there carefully picking apart my sound and freaking out on imaging and whatnot. This is a cool illusion that stereos can produce. At the time, I found this kind of self-conscious "Absolute Sound" listening very rewarding and I learned a lot about what a stereo can do.
Eventually I got to a point with my Altec 1505/288/416A rig with the EQ crossover and whatever that I could appreciate these technical things but did not obsess about them anymore. Then I realized it wasn't the speakers, it was ME.
Somehow, I learned to give up constant evaluation and just listen to music.
So yeah, I can listen to and enjoy stuff that I clearly recognize is inferior, like my Volvo radio with the dead driver's side woofer. But I enjoy a really good system more. If there are no obtrusive problems, it makes for easier listening.
This is why I am drawing a line between being "Joe Audio Critic" and just listening to music. I think that being in the reflexive, consciously evaluating state that we audio nerds learn to put ourselves into detracts from pure musical enjoyment and replaces it with sound appreciation activities.
So where I try to get with a system that I consider a "serious" music enjoyment system is where I am not even thinking about the system.
One of the systems that did this for me was a pr of cheapo Loth-x bookshelf speakers with Malaysian paper cone 6" driver and a junky dome tweeter, driven by a stereo globe 71A SE amp at 650 mW output. This was my office system. It was as natural and unforced as can be, to the point that I forgot it was on, even though I was diggging the tunes.
Anyway, that is my ideal now, a system that does not get in my face and just plays me some music. Vivid and engaging but not screaming for my attention. If I really focus and evaluate, maybe I can point out some faults or limitiations, but they do no force themselves into my listening space.
This recent discussion about bad driver integration...THAT is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. If I hear the edgar mid bass horn tooting away (yeah, that is a problem item--bad chunk of spectrum to cut into its own horn, IMHO), it will distract me from my goal to relax and music listen.
I might change again. I might get back into the audio spectacular stuff that used to turn me on, but I hope I retain the appreciation for what strikes me as natural and no more dramatic than the music I am listening to, because it a lot more fun.
So when I rag on "imaging nuts" and what have you, I know the kind of pleasures that sort of evaluative technical listening can provide, but I found something more rewarding for myself in not doing that 24/7.
I also feel it is my duty to point out when this is not music listening and deconstruct arguments that try to give it the color of music listening, when it is actually sound appreciation. The "live music" comparison is one of the vectors where this kind of manipulation takes place. A dead giveaway is when the audiophile starts extracting bits of frequency spectrum for commentary or other forms of segmenting the continuum that do not come naturally when listening to an actual musical performance.
At CES, we had three guys from a speaker company come by after closing to listen to the Aporia. These cats were professional speaker nerds, but they brought some very well recorded actual good music, Nils Lofgren and such. They stayed for an hour and we listened and chatted. At the end, the official evaluation was "Wow, this speaker really has some remarkable qualities" even though they couldn't exactly define what they were and neither could I. It was a radically different flavor and, for those of us who probably spent too much of our lives evaluating, a refreshing experience.
Just to be clear, I really don't care if anybody buys this damn speaker or not, but I feel pretty good about putting the word out because it breaks the mold and presents something different that explodes prior conceptions, especially among people who think they know the Manger, single-drivers, or backhorns. It is more than the logical sum of the parts. It was good but it was good differently and in a way that encouraged music listening instead of "wow, check out those highs" or "heavens, what imaging!"
As I have often said, there is a lot of good stuff on this site and an appreciation for quality. The owner is pretty clear that he is an evaluative listening dude and is in a stage where that is rewarding and useful. Perhaps this round of evaluation got him somewhere promising. I know how that can be.
Eventually though, I think most old heads realize that all systems are imperfect and come to grips with that, even if they demand a level of imperfection that is way above average quality and one that is tuned to their personal acceptable compromises and priorities. That for me is the goal of evolution in audio life. It too me a while to get there, so I like to imagine that this is a worthy goal, but maybe this is just the rationalizations of an audio burnout.
Anyway, you asked....