Is a highly discerning system enjoyable?

I argue that in terms of musical enjoyment, connection, feeling the musicians and composers maybe a highly discerning system is going too far? Maybe I want the warts airbrushed out.  Maybe I like a system that lets me listen to a broader range of recordings  without whincing?

Then there’s systems which are discerning of performances vs. discerning of upstream gear. I personally feel they are not the same thing at all.

Lastly, if your room is an acoustic mess, how can you tell?

If you feel strongly either way I'd appreciate examples of the gear that made you go one way or another.


I had JSE Model 2's, they measured and sounded the most accurate of any I owned. Whoopie! I drove them with McIntosh SS, 300 wpc. McIntosh SS Preamp.

After a few years, I missed my vintage speakers, extremely efficient, driven by vintage McIntosh tube preamp and more modern Cayin tube amp. They have 2 level controls each (balance mid horn to 15" woofer, balance tweeter to that result, I balance them with SPL and Test Tone CD. 

Gotta say, I prefer the vintage horns to the very accurate JSE's. My friend has those JSE's, updated them, he loves them, yet when he listens here, he finds these very involving. Involving has been my criteria once I clearly understood that factor so many years ago.

It depends.  You can have a system that lets you hear every detail on a recording and also engages you emotionally, or you can have a system that gets all the detail but none of the emotion.

I have a pair of speaker cables that I can hook up with no other changes to my system that somehow manage to filter all the music out of my music.

I think that there's a place for a receiver and sound processing to make poor recordings more enjoyable.  Whenever I've made a change that I felt was a significant change/upgrade I've found that my favorite albums and songs tend to shift a bit.  There's also an aspect of simply becoming more annoyed with poor recordings as a more critical ear is developed from listening to systems with a high SQ.

When I got my Denafrips Ares II DAC a pleasant surprise was that several of my favorite albums that are not great recordings became enjoyable again.  I guess it would be fair to describe the DAC as being "musical" in my system.

What you need is a system that can separate the instruments, but still give you emotional enjoyment, that way you have all the details without the fatigue.

I feel lucky that no matter how bad the recording, my main system seems to reproduce it in a musical and involving manner. Having a second tonearm helps. If all else fails, I move to the second, less incisive, but equally musical rig in the same space.

Which system? There are probably many highly discerning systems that you would not like more than your current one.

When it comes to resolution the lousier the better. I don't need to be forced into a this or that personal discussion about what I hear every time I play a song. You need to learn to dumb it down when you involve yourself in trivial pastimes especially when you are trying to convince yourself  that you do this for enjoyment, unless you don't.


Like others have commented, I think you can have highly discerning without engaging, in which case some recordings may be unpleasant. I have found that some equipment plays all the notes well, but the music not so much. On the other hand, some recordings are not salvageable on high resolution systems. 

On the other hand, some recordings are not salvageable on high resolution systems. 


Can't we argue though that the high resolution system in some cases IS what makes a recording sound a lot worse?

I was assuming everyone had imaging down.

Balance, missing in a lot of newer equipment, is a wonderful feature for occasional errant tracks that benefit a lot by a small adjustment. Remote balance is wonderful for when needed, so easy to hear the results of a small tweak.


On the other hand, some recordings are not salvageable on high resolution systems. 

Can't we argue though that the high resolution system in some cases IS what makes a recording sound a lot worse?

Yes, we can agree on that. I realize that I am somewhat contradicting myself. I guess my point was that there are some systems that provide high levels of detail, but are just not that musical, resulting in a greater percentage of recordings sounding not so good. Hence the journey of finding the right components that provide the sound that suits us as individuals. I am in a pretty good place with my system right now, but still looking for that next level of musical splendor.

A truly high performing hi res system will let you hear how bad some recordings are but is not the cause….only the messenger. It’s also possible the particular high res system is just not one’s exact cup of tea, no different in that sense than any other. Each system is at least a little different in some regard.  Even the “high res” ones.  Let’s not generalize.  

 Think it depends on your definition of “hi res”? A good system w/ solid state electronics can sound quite different to one of similar caliber but tube based. I’ve a few examples of each that to me sounded great & some that didn’t. It’s similar to a good turntable/ arm / cartridge set up vs good digital ( streaming or disc or whatever). Both can be considered “ hi res” but sound sound differently although in my system, they’re getting pretty close.

I personally like good , highly efficient horn loaded speakers powered by good tubes & their unmatched dynamics & live sound which for myself, is a must to be considered hi res. For others, that’s not important & really extended frequency extremes & detailed imaging & depth is a must. This variety is one of the things that makes this music enjoyment hobby fun!

Hearing the occasional wart in a recording shouldn’t ruin your appreciation of music as a whole.  And it’s fun to notice new details in familiar recordings.  So I emphatically answer No! To the thread title

I would think any system that makes bad recordings sound good, will also be changing the sound of good recordings...

Since discerning and emotive are not mutually exclusive, within a budget what drives my component selection? Fun with the music, then fun with the sound. I know when music takes control - involuntary movement, my spirit lifts and life is good. An upgrade must retain that quality and add to the shock and awe of the system.

So many remixes loose that quality while being a spectacular technical showcase. Like some systems.



Often when I bring this up I think of U2 War.  Great album, mixed for boom boxes.  Is a greatly revealing system going to prevent me from hearing this album?

I don't want my main system to ruin good recordings, so maybe a secondary system to make bed recordings sound better...

this conversation reminds me of one of the amp setups i use at times is the lyngdorf gear, in my case the tdai 3400

in addition to the best feature it provides (the easy room correction capability), the second best and also terrific feature is easily tappable, selectable contour or sound shaping profiles on its control app -- this allows for max clarity or ’neutrality’ for the 85-90% of the time, for focused, intentful listening, then a quick tap provides a subtly smoother sweeter response when needed on the other occasions, when a more ’background music’ tonality is preferred, or a shrill recording is being played

modern day version of the ol' tone controls or loudness button... but a much more precise, tailorable, controllable for positive effect on the musical presentation

there is much to be said for taking problem recordings, digitizing them, removing the problems, then burning them onto a CDR for future listening. then there is "tone control courage." case in point is the 1999 columbia rerelease of the famous 1938 all-star carnegie hall jazz concert which has abysmal sonics, conventional tone controls/EQ weren't up to fixing it, so i ran it through CEDAR declicking and decrackling with judicious restraint, used parametric EQ to get rid of the telephonic coloration those old transcription discs were noted for, mild digital NR/spectral editing to get rid of the hashy surface noise and chuffs. BIG DIFFERENCE. 


Funny you should bring up U2 War.

Always loved that record, until I bought a first UK pressing of it.

Realized that I’d only ever listened to it in a car, when the tracks happened to show up on the radio. Worked so well in the car. Not so great in my home set up which at the time was a tube integrated (Cary SLI-50) going into Decware DM946’s from a Clearaudio Concept.

Going to revisit it with the current set up which is completely different. DIY heavy plinth Lenco into upgraded Cary SLP-30 pre to DIY Hiraga Super 30 class a to DIY Seas coax sealed enclosures. 

Will be an interesting revisiting of War as this is a more revealing system, but also more musical to my ears than the previous set up.



Ok this thread made me give “War” a quick streaming.   Oh my! Glorious!    Who even knew all that was there!

The producer for U2 at the time and Pink Floyd had extremely divergent opinions of what to do with bass.  It is so incredibly apparent. 

I went for accuracy in my system because after all the (lost) years of listening to ‘lesser’ systems, I realized that all-the-while I listened I was filtering the sound through my imagination to render what I heard into what I knew (thought) it should sound like.

So now a bad recording sounds bad on my system; but then, it sounds the best it can sound, or maybe it’s best to say, I’m hearing all of it.

I recall my Dad’s Wharfedale W60Ds and a second-tier Pioneer integrated, and I don’t recall ever thinking, ‘what a terrible recording!”

I enjoyed my Dad’s system; it sounded warm and soft, often quite pretty, and all who heard it agreed.

But that system could not and cannot do what mine does: good recordings sound great and great recordings sound amazing.

It never caused me to search into the soundstage and marvel at the remarkable depth, or to ‘see’ the orchestra players in their correct positions, or to say out loud, ‘Wow!’ as I often do now.


"You can have a system that lets you hear every detail on a recording and also engages you emotionally, or you can have a system that gets all the detail but none of the emotion."

This approach is entirely incorrect.  Listening to an audio recording with no visuals,  all record of emotion in the performance is transmitted to us by the recording and our play-back system.  We can perceive emotion in the performance only by what we hear.  Therefore if we wish to obtain an authentic impression of the emotion it is essential our system is 'discerning' - OP means 'accurate', discernment is not within the province of inanimate equipment.

It is also essential the recording accurately reproduces the emotion in the original performance.  In many cases this does not occur and failings in the recording cannot be put right by even the most accurate system.  As @prndlus points out, where this occurs we have no way of knowing what was the emotion in the performance.  If you like, the original emotion is fixed but there are two variables and both have to be fixed before we can say anything about the original emotion.


My system is very revealing for most wha I play, bad sounds bad, vice versa.,…..

then I play Bathory or some odd demo starts on some of my re releases, and wow, it’s horrible!

not horrible, but it definitely sounded better on my Panasonic rx-c45 back in 83 on a 6th gen cassette from some friends in London, or Budingen.


just,play it, there is no perfect, only to us, if you like the music, play it.

enjoy what we have, how far we have come.

my very first stereo was a foot of the bed red fluffy arch which 2 plush sliding seats rolled under it.

had I think 2 8 “ speakers, one on each side for my 8 tracks at the time.

then Santa brought my Panasonic and turntable, and I found every Columbia house add in k-mart mags, filled em out to my house, neighbors, friends, etc, man that was fun.

I still play,some old so,e what beaten up records with so many pops, ticks, it sounds bad, but I ignore the noise and enjoy the tunes,


metal on













metal is a lifestyle, not some fad!

"Is a highly discerning system enjoyable?"

It is to me. But then again,  I am highly discerning ;)

Have any of you ever listened to a system built by an audiophile who kept chasing details?  They end up in some very weird places.

I have built systems where I chased details and ended up in very weird places. I usually didn't realize how weird until I quit listening to it for a while and then fired it back up a few days later. "Discerning" can have a lot of meaning in terms of audio reproduction. You can have stuff that's discerning in all sorts of different ways. By masking one thing you may be able to better hear something else. This seems like a win until you become very aware of the masking effect and suddenly find it unacceptable. Certain tonal colorations can make things pop, and this can get tricky because I've found some of these setups to sound tonally weird for the first few minutes but then I adjust and can listen in bliss for hours. Conversely I've found some setups to sound very open, spacious, and airy in the first few minutes but then become fatigued within 20 minutes. Too many early reflections in the higher frequencies I think. It sounds great at first but then my brain stops trying to interpret it and everything starts to sound flat and homogenized.  It's complicated. As for specific equipment, it's mostly DIY speakers and various combinations of cheap amps in my case. Playing with a quickly adjustable EQ and then having your ears quickly making adjustments to your new settings can lead you down a rabbit's hole. I've been going through this lately - coming up with a killer EQ curve in the evening and then removing it after hearing it with fresh ears after a 24 hour break. I've listened to high end gear and heard ghastly sound in some rooms. At the last trade show I was at some of the best overall sound I heard (almost the best) was from $600 self powered bookshelf sized speakers with bluetooth built in. The best was actually from some $12000 bookshelf speakers which were being fed a signal from a cheap dongle dac off a macbook. That proved to me that a good amp and speakers can make a cheap dac sound fabulous rather than "reveal" the faults of the dac. Another close contender were some KEF bookshelf speakers. In all these cases I think the secret ingredient was small speakers listened to at fairly close range, limiting the effects of hotel room acoustical issues. If all your equipment is decent and nothing is hooked up wrong it should sound very  enjoyable on almost anything you play through it. If it doesn't sound good, and especially if it sounds bad in a consistent way on most material, then I'll bet that's probably a room acoustics issue. 

Got home after a few days away.

Yes, got my copy of War out and listened to it on the current set up.

So much missing in the production. Preferred it in the car…

Tried listening to it on two different systems. My main set up, as well as on a vintage set up I’m playing with. Ariston RD11S, Marantz 2230 and Dynaco A25’s.

Main system far more revealing, and showcased the complex production that lies hidden in all that upper midrange. Vintage system did not reveal all that detail, and because of not revealing it, kind of made it into a bigger jumble of noise.

The problem I have w this recording is how there seems to be a heaping amount of mid/lower midrange tone that is missing. It’s missing in both systems.

But given the choice, would rather hear the clarity in the detail, than not.

Just my experience with one recording as I explored this questIon.

So much missing in the production. Preferred it in the car



The problem I have w this recording is how there seems to be a heaping amount of mid/lower midrange tone that is missing. It’s missing in both systems.

And to think this was before digital drums were really a thing.  I mean this is the producer making drums sound awful.


Could be so very much better sounding. I get the raw quality to the production. But there is something very engaging by the layering of the sounds in the mix. So that kind of brings the raw quality of the production into question, perhaps they made a bad decision. 

Yeah, drums sound terrible, and it sounds like the mic was put inside a tin can for the vocals. 

If there was ever a recording that could benefit from a remastering, War should be on that list. 

Production kind of reminds me of how Chicago’s Greatest Hits sounds. So much “stuff” going on in the mix, but oh so very bright and lacking meat. This was from a Rhino re release. Then I read up somewhere that the 77’ Japanese pressing was apparently the one to get. Got ahold of a copy and man, what a difference. 

Anyway, think I prefer the system that is more revealing. At least I get to hear what they did w the mix. 

Perhaps I’ll drag my Cornwalls out and try War w those, though I doubt that will be any better. Adding a 15” woofer ain’t gonna matter if there ain’t no tone there to amplify. 


And great, now I have to pull out my copy of stop making sense…

Also a 1st UK pressing. 

If there was ever a recording that could benefit from a remastering, War should be on that list. 


@perkri  If memory serves, it was remastered, but AFAIK it was just a marketting gimmick.  It was not in any way I could tell better.


Too bad. More I think about it, the more it seems like an incomplete idea


FWIW, listening to Talking Heads, and it sounds fantastic! Night and day compared to War. 

@perkri It is a better sounding album overall, but the bass is still just more of a hint of what drums sound like instead of actual drums. 

The lyrics and guitar caries it.


I may need to listen to another copy/version. This is sounding very dynamic to me?

Perhaps it’s just because I just listened to War previously. Although, I was playing Depeche Mode Delta Machine in between, which has an insane amount of bottom end…

@perkri  I only heard these on CD, if you have vinyl you may be having a totally different experience than I did.


Yeah, on vinyl. Been keenly listening to the drums on Talking Heads, and I’m feeling like they, and the percussion are well balanced in the mix? 

Im now wanting to pull out other live recordings so I can listen to the drums :)


Oscar Peterson “The way I really play”, Japanese pressing up next. 

Regardless of mix etc, forgot how much I liked the Talking Heads. So thank you for that :)


Interesting observations

Often when I bring this up I think of U2 War.  Great album, mixed for boom boxes. 

What does this mean?

Can't we argue though that the high resolution system in some cases IS what makes a recording sound a lot worse?

Maybe true. So why would you want to spend a lot of money to enjoy something LESS?

OCD Mikey addresses this question further in the video. Take a few minutes and decide what you think.