Have you ever bought (or done or made) a tweak for your System that, as soon as you put it in place, made such a clear and obvious difference that you found yourself hearing things ― even on recordings that you thought you were thoroughly familiar with ― that you’d never heard before?
Sure you have; so have most of us. And you think that sounding better means that it was an improvement, right?
If so, how could it be that when, at whatever time and for whatever reason, you took out your tweak and changed your System back to the way it had been before you put it in, THAT sounded better, too?
That isn’t always what happens, but it HAS happened to almost all of us, and all of us who have experienced it have wondered how it can be that a product or a tweak or a way of doing things that sounds better when you put it in can also sound better again when you take it back out.
Is that odd? Certainly. Is it a little unnerving? Unquestionably. But, is it magic? Not at all! It all comes about because of just a few simple truths:
The first is that music is not simple: The faithful and believable reproduction of the sound of even the simplest recording — a single instrument or a single performer of whatever kind — involves a truly vast range of characteristics, including ambience, imaging, soundstaging, dynamics, frequency response, harmonic accuracy, transient attack and decay, tempo, and many, many more.
The second is that, regardless of how it may seem, we don’t ― and probably CAN’T ― ever listen to all of those things at the same time. Instead, music and our perception of it is like some great buffet of delights (or difficulties) that are all constantly vying for our attention, and upon which our notice will focus for a moment or more and then move on, as something else attracts it ― whether because of a change in or a new feature of the music, or of some part of the sonic presentation done especially well or even noticeably poorly.
The third fact, and possibly the most important of all, is that we all have our sonic and musical preferences and ― unless our attention is specifically dragged elsewhere by something that somehow overcomes those preferences ― we PURPOSELY listen to that part of the music that most appeals to us. One perfect example of this is the words of a song: Have you ever noticed that although men may or may not have any idea of what the singer or the group or the chorus is singing, women almost always know the words and can sing them right along with the performers? The reason is obvious: (most) women care more about the words than (most) men do, so the words are what they listen to while the men are concentrating on something else.
The things that I, personally, am most likely to listen to are the imaging and soundstaging of the system, with the music, itself, being just one part of a total gestalt. Other people I know, including a goodly number of audio manufacturers and reviewers, are into harmonic richness, or “flat” frequency response, or transient attack and decay, or any number of other subtleties of the music or the presentation, and still others are (as I have written elsewhere) most likely to listen for such, less subtle but certainly no less thrilling, aspects of the music or the presentation as huge thumping bass or just plain world-destroying volume.
Whatever it is that you listen for, it’s likely that you WON’T be listening for anything other than that unless something happens to specifically call your attention to it, and most likely what that thing will be is some kind of a DIFFERENCE between what you expect or have become accustomed to and what you’re actually hearing at that particular moment.
That’s why that tweak sounded better when you put it into your System: Whether really better or not, it created a difference from what you were used to; that difference called your attention to some new aspect of the music or the performance or the sound that caused you ― just as I had said in the first paragraph of this article ― to “…[hear] things, even on recordings that you thought you were thoroughly familiar with, that you’d never heard before”, and you, in the happy spirit of discovery, took those things to be a new revelation and, as such things may actually be, an improvement.
It was the same sort of thing, only backwards, when you again listened to your system after taking the tweak out ― another difference from what you were used to, so another “improvement.”
See? Two improvements from one tweak – twice your money’s worth! How can the trolls possibly complain?