Written by 7:00 am Audiophile News

Dealing with Implausible Sonic Changes in an Audio System

Face it, there are times, and under certain conditions, when our system’s sonics simply fail to entice or cajole us into prolonged listening. Something is just not right. Something is amiss. Something’s inherently yet minimally wrong. We may not especially be able to put a finger on the problem, but we know for sure it’s there. 

Some systems, for whatever inexplicable reason, almost seem as if they play one genre better than another. I’ve heard audiophiles make comments like “it sounds great, but it doesn’t play rock and roll as well as I’d like.”

As improbable as it may be, it almost seems the system knows when it’s playing one certain genre and randomly decided to lessen the sonics on its own. Some may even suspect traditional recording techniques of a particular classification of music are not in keeping with what their system does best. 

On the surface, I find the whole concept of a system playing one type of music better than another ludicrous. Audio systems play whatever is recorded. Excellent recordings will sound excellent. Bad recordings not so much. Electronic components don’t have the ability to pick and choose what music will play with commanding authority and which music will not. 

Yet it certainly seems to happen. 

I firmly believe there are times with some of my past systems where I have heard and felt one genre was subpar compared to others. I both tell myself this is a ridiculous notion, and that it has occurred. Interestingly, such incidents have never happened with my current system. Hmm, is that the system or has my own personal belief structure been altered? 

Another seemingly hard to believe scenario is where a system can sound better at one time of the day than others. We audiophiles, being the collective assembly of experts we are, have any measure of reasons why this presumed condition exists. Perhaps the power into the home has less load or the voltage is more stable at certain times of the day. Perhaps atmospheric conditions changed the home’s pressure and humidity, thus affecting reflected sound. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

If we are anything, audiophiles are never in short supply of creative solutions to presumed problems – be they real or imagined. 

Audiophiles also need to make some semblance of sense in explaining what our ears are obviously telling us. We have no realistic way to know if the electrical service into the home is in some way compromised. We are not typically sitting in our listening rooms taking barometric pressure readings to decide which genre of music should be played. 

We humans are guided by our primary senses. Sight certainly being the most prominent and probably hearing the next. In the absence of the former, we’ll yield to the second. So, when our ear / brain sound processing mechanism tells us “it sounds like…” we accept that assessment on its merit. We don’t question what we are hearing because we are almost preprogramed not to do so. 

It is very likely on those days, we don’t listen as long as normal or maybe we choose classical over rock. We feel something does not sound exactly like it should but don’t really know what or why. We frustratingly hear what we hear. It is, oddly enough, not nice to argue with the ear / brain listening mechanism.

What happens if we do? 

For many of us, hearing a discrepancy in our system’s sonics launches an investigation into why. Knowing something sounds off yet not understanding the fundamental reasons are ultimately unsettling. We seek insight. Human nature is filled with curiosity. And the audiophile hobby itself practically demands increased knowledge. 

So, we set sail on a sea of trying to figure out why our systems do not sound as suitable playing rock as opposed to jazz. Or why, for whatever inexplicable, unlikely reason our systems sound better at night than during the day. 

Oh, sure, there are any number of seemingly plausible theories offering some measure of reason. Really though, are any of them conclusively, totally, demonstrably believable? On the whole, I’d have to say probably not. 

Many audiophiles will associate a particular component or cable with a predictable sonic character. We read about that all the time. One speaker cable makes the system sound bright so it should be replaced with one somewhat darker in nature – thus smoothing out the top end frequencies. Never mind the room, the likely source of the condition in the first place. 

That brings up a whole different dilemma. If we feel like the sonics are not right in some way, is it really the system at fault? Or is it the room? Let’s face it, if we believe the system sounds better at night than during the day, how has the room changed? 

Logic therefore dictates the power supply into the home is in some way compromised. Calling the power company demanding more stability is a fool’s errand. We accept the power issue as an inevitability and simply listen to music after dark. 

Maybe we little by little, cable by cable, component by component, speaker system one for another, continually make changes until our systems no longer display the deleterious sonic qualities we are loathed to accept – at whatever the cost involved in making that happen. 

It is an unfortunate fact we are sometimes forced to accept – that is, our systems, on occasion, categorically don’t move the needle. There are times, for whatever litany of reasons we purport as logical, we just don’t like what we hear. It is in those times it might be an advisable practice to press the stop button, turn off the lights in the listening room, and walk away. Maybe there is a ballgame or movie on TV. 

Who knows, tomorrow will almost certainly be a sonically better day. And let’s face it, sometimes, we have to learn to live with the disappointment. Stereos included. 

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