If High Performance Audio Makes Good Music Better, Does It Make Bad Music Worse?

Audio systems, particularly audiophile caliber systems, are often described as resolving, dynamic, and some, hopefully perhaps, that all too elusive lifelike. We seek those descriptions through use and purchase of a wide variety of equipment, brought about exclusively by the likes and perceptions of the individual user. Some of us, and I am certainly somewhat guilty myself, play system merry-go-round until our own personal definition of musical wonderment has been circuitously fulfilled. 

AR-SoundSmallFormat.jpgCommon sense might somehow allow the notion that the better the system, the better the listener will like the sonic presentation. That, however, is clearly not the case. I have read and heard numerous and widespread comments how the owners of relatively inexpensive, entry level systems quite absolutely gush over what they hear. As I see it, that is exactly how it should be. The cost of a system should not be a condition by which the measure of musical satisfaction might be defined by the listener. "Music to my ears" is not only a popular saying, it's something all audiophiles should embrace in their listening goals irrespective of equipment cost. Of course, any of this easily applies to music the listener actually likes. What happens if the music is unconditionally despised by the listener? Does system quality help promote the feeling of "I can't stand this song" or does it not even matter - at least from an audiophile perspective? 

"I can see further into the music." Ever heard or perhaps said that phrase? If so, how did it come about? Maybe the use of anti-vibrational devices helped lower the noise floor. Maybe the addition of a perfectly placed and tuned sub-woofer added a new and as before unheard dimension to the music. However it might have happened, "seeing further into the music" should, by the presumed definition of the phrase, make music more enjoyable. It should also go without saying the music seen further into was music the listener liked and enjoyed.  Suppose, however, the listener hated the music? Who would want to "see further" into music they despised? Given that definition, does a better sounding system increase the level of dissatisfaction with the song? 

AR-MusicFromSpeaker.jpgI would speculate most any audiophile will agree with the notion that high performance audio sounds decidedly better than a handheld Mp3 player, and significantly better than Mid Fi audio. If an Mp3 player is only capable of a level of musical reproduction I like to call the "skin of the snake," would listening to something not particularly enjoyed be worse, better or not even noticeable on a handheld device as opposed to a high end system? What about Mid-FI? 

When I develop a play list on my music server, my common practice is to let the software do so for me. I enjoy not knowing what song will be playing next. Letting the software do my musical bidding also means there will obviously be selections I will not like. My music library is full of tracks included on full length works to which I refuse to listen. When one comes up and I think, "I hate that song," the remedy is very simple - press "next." LP's present a more determined challenge as I am far too lazy when listening to the turntable to get up, walk over to the system, and move the tonearm forward one song. Of course, my system, at least to me, is quite resolving and sounds remarkable. "Seeing into a song" is, generally speaking, pretty simple. So enjoying a song I like is a task easily accomplished. Would I dislike the song less if the sonics were not as good? If I could "see into the song" by only a fractional amount, would something I disliked be less invasive to my musical tastes? Would I hate it any less? 

The obvious fact that some music is disliked is supportable regardless of genre. I like music others despise just as there are most certainly genres I will avoid like a plague. What I know to be true is when I hear a song to which I am endeared and seemingly cannot play often enough, I have an enjoyment and a greater emotional connection when the presentation is more "lifelike." When I hear a soprano hit that song ending high note with supreme power and authority, the feeling I have in the effort is heightened with a high performance system as opposed to a handheld device. With high performance I get an "oh wow" feeling and with Mp3,  my level of enjoyment might best be described as "ho hum..." 

AR-WhichIsRight.jpgPerhaps the key to all of this is the largely undefinable concept of "emotional connection." What is it about a song that makes the listener think "oh wow?" Why is it one song might make that happen and a different, not as well liked song the sonic equivalent of bad coffee? 

When we become immersed in a song, our sense of musical satisfaction can be increased as the playback quality increases. Personally, I see that as a stands to reason condition. Hearing greater detail, better resolution, more dynamics, more accurate tonality and overall a better musical presentation enhances the sense of wonderment brought about by a highly enjoyed song. Those who only listen to some lesser form of playback system, and not a high performance one, quite simply is unable to hear the difference. It should also follow, therefore, when a song is disliked and even one or two bars is more than enough, a high performance system will make the listener reject the song with greater discord. If a better sounding system enhances musical enjoyment, is the absence of such a system a solution without a problem? Or is the most expedient resolution simply pressing the "next" button?

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