Do you pursue Transparency, Accuracy, or Musicality?

So seriously, when you audition a piece of equipment… what grabs you as “good”?

Do put on a recording and listen for the click click delineation of the Phil Ramone-produced Güiro in Dusty Springfield’s Look of Love from Casino Royal? Or crank up Whole Lotta Love and throw back some beers?

Bruce in Philly

For me, it is a bit of all of the above (referencing your message title). Assuming a good recording (for comparison purposes), I have to hear the music, the artists work if you will; and there has to be a sense of clarity (some might call it resolution). If I the music or kit projects something that is more like a wall of sound coming at you as opposed to a crafted and distinctive tune, with discernible but synergistic parts and pieces, then I get fatigued and/or lose interest pretty quickly. I hope this makes some sense.


How is this different from What's the Goal of a High Performance System?

It is different as I am asking about what you look… your technique… for as apposed to what you are trying to achieve? I only really care about enjoying music. How I get there is … well a technique.

I pursue accuracy, but only accept musicality. Pursuit of say accuracy means I use music that I think I understand the recording… listen for accuracy… but if it doesn’t move me, I don’t buy it. If it is musical but not accurate, I don’t buy it.

An example: I heard, many years ago, Wilson Watt/Puppies at Sound by Singer a long time ago. Wow… I was shocked at what I heard… never heard anything like that before… Then the sales rep put on some Beatles… barf. Yes, they were accurate all right and totally ruined the experience. It caused me to really re-think this whole crazy hobby… one of the three major experiences I had that led me to all tube systems.

Bruce in Philly

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I tend to agree…but, more importantly (to me), if it is accurate, but not musical, I don’t buy it. Tomato/Tomato.


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I pursue balance without any frequency or instrument overpowering another, unless a solo piece is part of the recording itself. Any solo instrumental music tires me after 5 tracks. So I never indulge on any solo strings, wind or piano instruments for that reason. I love lots of different instruments to be in harmony and a system that can reproduce that harmony with accuracy.

PS: voice is an instrument.

If it is accurate and transparent, it is musical. That is, if you want your playback system to sound like actual, real music. :slight_smile:

Some, of course, prefer inaccurate playback as they find this euphonic.


I completely agree with Elk.

It surprises me that, in many audiophile circles, this idea is anything but obvious.

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Kinda like asking me if I prefer food, water, or oxygen. I need all three to function. If one is in short supply, that’s the one I focus on.

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I once had speakers (electrostats) that were extremely accurate but terribly fatiguing and not what I would think of as “musical”. I kept them about three months.

I look for an accurate tonal and timbral presentation of well-recorded acoustic instruments, and I look for an accurate and detailed playback of recordings I made in my then garage-apartment of musicians I worked with in the late 'eighties–I know the room, the players and the equipment and instruments and these recordings tell me a lot.

That is my point…I have not found highly accurate systems that are musical… that is the crazy dichotomy of it all and why I use tube equipment… and yet pursue accuracy within this inaccurate technology. Goofy.

Bruce in Philly

I’m with all of you more or less.
I understand Bruce as indeed a lot of components or setups which are told to or claim to sound accurate sound lifeless, sterile, anemic or boring. Usually this either means they are not accurate but still somehow error affected (remind early digital) or they are great, but another component within the chain is still somehow error affected.

So for me accurate isn’t in fact accurate if it still sounds bad somehow to the listener. Accurate must also be accurate in terms of tonal colors or richness or whatever someone”s missing compared to the real thing.

Why do we think some component or design concept is accurate if we know at the same time that it will still improve further for the next 100 years? No clue. It can’t be accurate now.

Accurate finally is what sounds accurate to you. If “more accurate” setups lack musicality, they still have some inaccuracy inside.

And I understand ELK, as more accurate means better…it’s just …as long as more accurate is not “perfect” yet, it’s not always better regarding some aspects others mentioned here.

Due to the fact that the very initial source (the recordings and following processes) are very unperfected and euphorically colored or not enough colorful) I tend to prefer accurate executions of slightly inaccurate concepts (tubes, cartridges, record players etc.) and euphonic executions of rather accurate concepts (electrostatics, DAC’s etc.).

But what are euphonic DAC’s if all are accurate by definition but all so different sounding and was the DS accurate at the beginning and is euphoric now with Snowmass or was it inaccurate at the beginning (when fans also claimed it was accurate) and is in fact accurate now? Is the DS accurate with all the different sounding firmwares and a more anemic sounding Chord is inaccurate and less musical? Or is the Chord accurate and the DS euphonic?

Again…accurate finally seems what sounds accurate to you or what you declare accurate in your own logic.

To answer the initial question (that probably won’t satisfy you): I pursue what my ears hear as the most accurate, transparent and at the same time musical sounding component. If I had to choose and couldn’t tweak my setup to differing component characters, I’d choose the one that makes my setup sound more musical in the way you understand it. A tweak’able setup (active speakers or DSP bass units etc.) prevent from too compromising decisions for the time “accuracy” is just an uncertain proposition.

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If you have not found “highly accurate systems” that are musical, they are not in reality accurate.

Assuming the recording is true to life, an accurate system will play it back true to life. The playback will be just as musical as the original event.

I suspect what you have actually experienced are system with elevated treble, etc. which falsely exhibit excessive detail. These systems seem “accurate” as you can hear into the recording, but they are not accurate and often unmusical as well.

Of course, you may also like systems which are not true to life and interject euphonic coloration. These systems are inherently inaccurate, akin to viewing photographs through a sepia gel - warm and fuzzy, but far from accurate. There is nothing wrong with this if this is your thing.

How many times does Elk have to explain this for the benefit of others?

Personally, I don’t know what musical is or means. I know fatuiging, because it makes my ears hurt, and bass boom, as bits of me start flapping around, and a good midrange as I’m almost convinced I’m listening to something real, but musical? 42nd Street is a musical.

Photographs that are soft and distorted at the edges focus the eye on the centre of the image. It’s a good trick and adds a sense of reality to the image. There are lenses designed to give that effect, or you can just apply filters.

That may work for photography, but with inaccurate amplifiers that focus on the midrange by softening the bass, like things with valves, you lose the lower end detail that makes the sound image real. We hear it at a lower loudness, but we need the accuracy of the sound. You need sound sharpness throughout the frequency range.

As for the treble, brightness is like sharpness in photography. It’s nice to start, but eventually becomes irritating. Guaranteed.

Transparently, I find, tends to be lack of distortion. For those who use multi-colour calibrated printers, you will know that if the colour calibration is not 100% accurate, dark blacks go a bit green or purple. You need absolute accurate printer profiling to get a real dark black black. With audio, I find you really have to get everything pretty much right to get true transparency. It is a very rare bird indeed, but blatantly obvious when you hear it.

Key factors for me are dynamics and transient speed. That’s what makes music sound real.

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I’m on this camp. 100% very well related to imagery.

Very nice similes.

And FWIW, each release of the DS FPGA code get’s closer and closer to the original material - there’s never been a software release that took a step away from more faithfulness to the original material.

When you hear a live recording session and a good DSD recording of that session and can compare, DSD closer to the original material than tape… It’s just as musical, accurate and transparent as the original experience. Still many like the things that take a recording away from the original state for releases to various media, etc.


I’ve been resisting adding my comments to this thread and I think I’ll be considered a grouchy cynic but two of these terms have never sat right with me.

To me, accurate would be sitting in the mastering suite, listening to an album using those electronics and speakers in that room’s acoustics. I have never pursued accurate because I don’t think it is possible. I think the term “reference” applies to this as well.

Musicality? I think we should find a descriptor to replace this one because all the musicians involved in any recording would consider their playing musical or at least that was their goal. Including the term “musicality” when describing playback seems problematic to me.

Seems nonsensical to me.

Paul uses it in his videos all the time.