In the past, my poorly recorded CD’s sounded worse, while the excellent ones improved, and I thought the system is just more revealing now, so of course the bad CD’s are going to sound worse. My last major upgrade were my speakers, which are the Alta Alecs, and despite the fact that these are the most reveling speakers I’ve owned to date, most of my poorly recorded CD’s now sound much better, and the excellent ones are to die for. So that outdated belief is out the window. I now think it’s equally as important to play your crappy recordings, as well as the cream of the crop, when evaluating a new component. That’s not to say that every crappy recording will or should sound better, some are so bad that nothing will improve them, but I was surprised to find that many of my unlistenable recordings had improved enough to be more than tolerable.
IMO there are mainly two reasons why from some point on also bad recordings improve.
It’s the point where simultaneous frequency dependent signal transfer and phase correct playback improve with an effect in tonality improvement even in contradicting directions (e.g. some recordings have a less boomy bass while others have more bass where it lacked) as well as prat improvements and the point where air/transparency and realistic, palpable imaging improve (effect in improved realism and air which rules over many then smaller perceived negative aspects). For many this comes late or not at all. Until this is reached, setups do improve (detail, dynamics, soundstage, control etc.), but in a way that rather separates good from bad recordings, as the realism doesn’t rule yet. At a certain point of setup development one stops to judge recordings tonality wise, one mainly judges them in terms of realism then.
Just an attempt to explain what I experienced over time.
How do you like your Alec’s? I was looking at these:
In my experience, the better the system the better the sound period. I got old MP3s on jRiver that sound fine. Not great but very easy to rock too. And those are mostly older rock songs. I stream almost 100% but when I get an urge to go back to my old collection, I do.
I have heard some speakers/setups will punish your ears for a bad recording. I may of had one or two in my lifetime but usually the ones that go uber detail.
I did a pretty big upgrade in 2020/21 and I think its a mix for the crappier recordings in my collection. Some sound a bit worse than they did before (only a couple that I can think of though) and some don’t necessarily sound better, but have a quality to them that sounds a bit like they are “DIY recordings” - charming in a way.
I do think that a lot of stuff from the 80s sounds better - such thin recording preferences then, especially with new wave/punk/alternative bands. That thin quality seems to get more fleshed out - more bass coming through perhaps
At their asking price of $10,000, I consider them a bargain. If you can get them used for $7,000, I’d grab them. The only thing this speaker has going against it, is its perceived value, due to their relatively small size, and being a two way. Every time I listen to them I shake my head in disbelief. The bass is taught, fast, impactful, along with being detailed and textured. Soundstage is huge and layered. They’re also very dynamic and transparent. Don’t see myself upgrading speakers any time soon.
Perhaps what sounds “crappy” on your crappy recordings doesn’t extend to all audible frequencies and the improvement from your new speakers does. So the improvement that you’re hearing outweighs the crappy.
My catalog has its share of MP3 files. As my rig has improved with my DS, Aurender, and Matrix, the MP3s also sound better to listen too although not my format of choice.
I find my wife and myself listening to music more in the evenings than her watching TV.
For me better gear makes everything sound better. Crappy recordings dont necessarily mean crappy music.
Great point. And I’m not not sure super recordings provide anymore “joy” than a old MP3 song that perhaps you grew up with. I have a 32-bit/768kHz capable DAC and love DACs tweaks etc. But I have yet to even try DSD. I’m sure I will someday as I’m curious and I bet 128 or 256 would sound great. However streaming and good ole jRiver sounds so good that I have yet to experiment.
Also I try and limit any sort of crappy music. Unless somehow I got a Wings album in there somewhere (lol)
The more I learn about the recording industry mechanisms in general the more I think that most recordings are made with a “playback sound” in mind that isn’t what you would hear if you were at the recording studio and listened to the artist or band live.
So what we are expected to hear isn’t the “as if you were there” sound but “how it is supposed to be heard” sound. Hopefully that makes sense to some here.
I heard Alta “Adam” speakers at Axpona, and they were, for me, one of the highlights of the show. They sounded just phenominal in all 3 rooms they were in (2 different S.S. Class A amp rooms and a tube amp room). I cannot emphasize enough how really good they sounded.
I saw these on tmr also, but am not ready to spend funds at this time, going “down” for me from 2 drivers plus ribbon tweeter down to one driver plus ribbon tweeter, and the split in one of the cabinets… but could definitely go for Alta (or PS Audio) in the future
I would agree 100%. Even pretty obvious on good live recordings vs studio. Studio everything seems perfect. Live has that avant garde feel.
Haven’t heard Atla’s new Adam speaker yet, but if it’s better than the Alec, which I’m sure it is, it must be phenomenal. If I ever decide to upgrade my speakers, the Adam is at the top of my list.
Just checked out the split on the cabinet, that’s a no go. Don’t believe they’ll sell them for the asking price.
Kinda like used cars. The split does not matter much as the sound is “excellent” until you try and trade up. Then they are 4500 dollar speakers…
I’m mostly in the old camp that you used to be in. My more lofi leaning recordings don’t sound fabulous on my system right now. They seem to have gotten worse as the upgrades came. That or maybe I’ve changed as a listener. I still listen to them because I love the music but compared to the better recordings, they sound compressed and crunchy. They’re never something I would play my friends if I’m trying to show off the system, but I still enjoy them.
Paul is always mentioning how he is after the music invoking emotion. My system does this very well whether it’s a good or bad recording. It’s much more dependent on the mood I’m in and if I want to be engulfed in a fabulous recording or if I’d rather jam to some indie band that wrote some darn good music and just didn’t have the means to record it too well. I love it all.
Those old crunchy recordings are why I have come full circle and want some tone controls. Good old-fashioned tone controls. Or an outboard equalizer in a tape loop. Equalization or simply turning down the treble can tame most of those old bad recordings.
Regarding sounding better or worse when upgrading… sometimes. I am 62 and been in this hobby since a teenager and discovered that when I moved to a tube preamp (my first was a Conrad Johnson PV11 with phono), most of that biting sound in old recordings was ameliorated by whatever distortion those tubes imparted. Moving to tube amplification helped even more. So, upgrades don’t “reveal” more badness now.
With tubes, accuracy does not make my ears bleed.
Bruce in Philly
My crappy recordings have always been crappy as I’ve upgraded my system. The deal is, though, that some of my crappy recordings are among my all-time favorites because I adore the music and have played them so often I know every bar. Familiarity with a recording is very high priority for me when assessing upgrades. If I can hear deeper into the crud (I often can), I know I’ve made progress. Contradictory as it may sound, when I evaluate gear I want to enjoy what I’m listening to from an artistic perspective and have a ton of listening experience with it, great recording or not so great. It works.
But on good sounding recordings, instruments sound much more real with tubes, which, in my book, is detail …and I also love my newer solid state preamp that has tone controls, and bought it specifically because it has tone controls