Evaluating a system - what do you listen for?

I have been in this hobby a long time and my opinion of what I want to hear in reproduced music continues to evolve. Having owned many systems - and critically listened to many, many more - I am now looking for an overall sound that as accurately as possible captures the tone and tempo of the music with enough of a bass foundation to convincingly portray an orchestra at full tilt or club beats while still nailing the timbre of an upright bass. Decent portrayal of leading and trailing edges is nice, and a high end that’s fully present and balanced without stridency is a big plus. Detail’s good, but hyper detail without musical flow can be distracting. Airy treble and pinpoint or large soundstage are also nice to have, but if what’s coming out of the speakers doesn’t make me want to tap my toe or cry a little bit when a vocalist holds a note just so, then what’s the point? That’s what I’m looking for these days - what about you?
Ag insider logo xs@2xknownothing
I would add two more Randy---violin and cymbal, to test a systems ability at high frequency timbre. Piano and snare drum also tell you about that, but not to the same degree. Getting the ping/click of a drumstick tip on a cymbal right, and the sheen of violin string overtones, is very telling of the behavior of tweeters, pickups, and amplifier circuits. To get the combination of detail and sweetness, without etching and/or hardness, is a tricky balancing act.
I find two instruments especially good for analysis.

I listen to live piano every day.  If a system reproduces believable piano that makes you think it is in the room with you, you've got something!

The other instrument is violin, and the same criteria apply.  If you close your eyes and can believe it is in the room with you. you've arrived!

I was playing some well recorder piano on my big system and my wife called down and asked it I was playing her piano (she should have known it couldn't have been me due to the quality of playing).

For violin, I find my Martin Logan CLS based system very believable.
Our goal for building our system is to get the truest, the most realistic music we can within our budget. The starting point for me are the speakers and how good the sound quality is. If you don't succeed on the speakers, the music will not be as good as it could be. The sound has to fill your room completely.

Next you have to pair the speakers with the best amp/receiver you can get. I would buy as much WPC as my money will allow. The speakers and amp/receiver will be the heart and soul of your audio system. Also keep in mind, you should not get higher watts that your speakers cannot handle.

The Sources, such as turntable, cd player, tuner/network audio player, will be personal choices. What works for one will not work for all.

I hope this will be helpful.