Music first or sound first?

I just thought it might be interesting to take a poll of those that put sound first and those that claim they put music first in listening to their rigs.


I’ll go first. 

Speaking for myself, I invested in my system because I’ve always loved music. I think there are many people in the world who are indifferent to music. There are those of us, however, whose lives have a soundtrack to them. We associate music with time and place. Our lives develop a soundtrack that mirrors our feelings and journey. It’s deeply personal, emotive and anchored in our identity. 

That’s where I started. 

I think we become sort of obsessed with “sound” when we realize all these small variables that can make that music even more emotional, poignant, and meaningful. Admittedly, it becomes a bit of a razor’s edge when we start fixating on the sound and equipment. We can lose touch with the unadulterated enjoyment of what we purportedly wanted to enjoy in the first place. 

Over the last few years, I’ve unfortunately found myself guilty of this. 

In the end, the equipment should just be a means to an end: a soulful enjoyment of art. Music is art. 


I don't separate 'em. Can't hear music without sound, so both are of equal importance to me these days. Of course when I was a lot younger and listening to music on handheld transistor radios back in the 60's, that was not the case! 🤣

Sound while upgrading and music in the years between. although that isn’t entirely correct because when I’m listening to the sound during upgrade, I’m also making sure the music is coming through since that is the point. Much of musicality is Rhythm and pace and mid range bloom as well as detail and tonal balance..

in my experience our love of the music pushes us to want better sound. then as we pursue music, and our tastes expand, the improving performance of our systems enables us to enjoy a wider and wider musical horizon.

so the better sound opens up musical opportunities, and that process is never ending.

this was my path. when i heard my 60’s and 70’s rock sound (graduated H.S in 1969) better as a budding audiophile in 1994, i started reading about jazz and classical recordings, which i knew nothing about. these were the most accessible versions of jazz and classical. but on my system they sounded good. it was something new to me. and as i improved the sound in my system, i ventured wider and wider with new music.

15 years later i’m into avant-garde jazz and 20th Century classical. this was made possible by improving the performance of my system. now 30 years after becoming a serious audiophile i listen to 70% classical, 20% jazz, and 10% pop/rock.

music and sound are an enabling partnership.

sure; i can enjoy ’demo’ sounds for short periods, where the focus is on sonic parlor tricks. my system is capable of doing very large scale music, and has really no practical limitations. it’s 3db down at 7hz and 6db down at 3hz.

but my system and it’s performance serves the music, and my enjoyment of it. as my system has improved i'm getting more and more immersion in the music.

I have become obsessed with the sound quality so much, I barely enjoy music as I used to. 

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@grislybutter , re "I have become obsessed with the sound quality so much, I barely enjoy music as I used to."

This syndrome is what causes me to back off from thinking about upgrades all the time (i.e., the search for the Holy Grail). Also to consider cancelling my Absolute Sound subscription...their bias toward gear I am unlikely to ever afford is frustrating! It is audio p0rn. I don’t have a huge budget, and if I did I would probably hire a consultant to help me pick a forever system, and then set it and forget it. I also resist listening to systems that I can’t afford, to both avoid frustration and to reduce dissatisfaction with my current system. By most measures, my "modest" system (Vandersteen 2CE SigIII, Odyssey amp, good DAC/preamp) sounds better than any system owned by any of my friends or family, or anyone in my neighborhood.

The changes I consider making are more subjective, like adding a tube preamp, or room tuning. I am ALL about bang for the buck, and making my dollars go far, so spending many $1000s for small incremental improvements isn’t my thing.

So, I always try to focus on enjoying the music. The end, vs the means to the end. Of course, I wouldn’t be unhappy upgrading to the Vandy Treo CT (or Quatro/Kento, or Magicos, or Rockports, or... 😎), and think about it often and other upgrades. I have trouble prying the dough out of my wallet!

@mikelavigne - Maybe! I make one exception to not listening to systems I cannot ever afford—yours! I am only 3 hours away and I would make the trek. 😎 How is that for subtle?

I have followed the evolution of your amazing system with fascination. I have had to admit that I don't have the "tweaking gene" and in that regard am too lazy (and distracted by other passions) to do it. In addition, I get analysis paralysis, which is SO frustrating. Oy. 

@mikelavigne I wish!

But I sure could make a lot of fun of audiophiles and myself about how weird we must look to the outside world. 


it's always important to not take ourselves too seriously. and have fun. life is short.

For me sound was the way i like my music to be heard...

Acoustics basic and good synergetical choice of gear save me from the upgrades race...

I am totally happy because i learned how to be creative and i appreciate my system which has no relative evident defect and work at his peak potential...

Upgrade is always possible but some have a budget...😁

Anyway i dont feel my system as a stopgap at all , and i listen hundred of new music albums each month i forgot the sound which is very good anyway...

my 1000 bucks system can only be upgrade with 15,000 bucks changing my actual headphone and actual speakers with a better dac... But so good it is now i dont feel frustrated at all as i was before learning acoustics basic... I can die with what i had created myself now...

Then acoustic paradise at low cost is possible ...

Gave me 15,000 and for sure i will improve it all but music take all the place when the system /room is BALANCED between all acoustics parameters.. ...

To improve all these parameters in the same balanced ratio  will cost 15,000. But the secret you must understand is this one :  any system at any price is enjoyable as such if all acoustics parameters at play are BALANCED with one another , not one lacking or in excess...

Now we must learn how to recognise and use these acoustics parameters related to the system/room/ears ...This is why acoustics science matter ... The price tags of system will not change acoustic principles and concepts nor my journey ...


I use this simple method/process to balance the two (music/SQ).





Well it’s the qualifier “in listening to their rigs“ that changes my answer. With that it is always the sound over the music.

There are many ways, for me, to enjoy music. But when it comes to my rig, I want it to sound like nothing else, as if it’s an experience. Nothing is better (with my audiophile hat on) than playing music on my system to someone who’s not familiar with what these system can do and getting them, inevitably, to go: OH WOW, what the heck is this?!

@patrickdowns I am OK with looking at expensive gear now. I used to feel jealous or envious because I knew I could never afford it (anything over a $1000) but now I enjoy it like I read car magazines. Technology will trickle down and I will be able to enjoy some aspects of expensive gear and so it's mostly fun to read and watch reviews. I am fairly certain I wouldn't enjoy music more if I had more $$$ to spend on gear, or at least not in any way proportional to the cost. 

It's definitely sound first for me. Good sound always makes a song more enjoyable and I'm not afraid to use external gear to help me shape a song to the way that I want it to sound. 

Music makes me feel something or it’s just sound. It can be perfect sound, amazing sound and surreally real sound. A car starting, a hammer dropping - just noise. A heart beating, a wish, a lost love, a triumphant victory. That’s music. That the system communicates it well is paramount.

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There is no “first”, or a “major - minor” binary choice. The music appreciation is a direct function of the necessary system IMO. 

sure ,  can technically listen to the best “ music” on a “system” composed of a POS build and worse POS+ audio, performance Airbuds from a crap smartphone. 

Rather, you can actually enjoy the music played on a high-end system 


The two factors are irrevocably equally stapled together…full stop. 



There is just something magical about a perfect sine wave…. was it 440 or x ?…

@mikelavigne  I must’@patrickdowns with the MIB memory eraser before he left my place….. memory is fleeting….they say

On a much more serious note for those coming down on the side of MUSIC, i am finding this book to be excellent:

This is What It Sounds Like by Susan Rogers and Oge Ogas

Treat yourself to the audio book and light up a different part of your brain…. 

Thanks to you i bought it and it seems very interesting read...

i recommend it too ...😊


Original book about what our choices in music revealed about us and what are the factors that attract us toward some music...It seems stimulating read but fun too ...


This is What It Sounds Like by Susan Rogers and Oge Ogas

Treat yourself to the audio book and light up a different part of your brain….

I am both equally. Being very honest here - I have found that as the music system gets better, I have started liking genres of music that was "meh" to me before. It may be the age - who knows. But I like the eargasms my system is able to provide. If I was all about sound, then I would have changed components frequently. I have been wanting to change my DAC for quite some time. But the music drives me so much that I stick with my components for a long long time and am never in a rush.

Now that my system is up to snuff, music first! 

that's a good summary, when you are satisfied with your setup, the perspective changes. 

For me it has always been about the love of music. From the 70s when I was a kid,.to me now who is 58. The love of the music has made me seek out the very best system I can possible afford. Because I love MUSIC.

For me, performance's quality, musical composition, and sound quality cannot be separated. However, I find performance the main driver … where I can enjoy a lesser composition and recording quality if the performer draws me into their, and draws out of me, emotions   That said, my enjoyment is greatly enhanced with excellent sound quality. 

If I don't like some piece of music there's no audio rig that's gonna change that...I'll just not like it in higher fidelity...briefly...Conversely, if something is really great to my ears it can be coming from a crappy source and it's still great.

When the sound is right, the music is first. When the sound is off it gets in the way and takes our attention and we find it first.

Last night I happened to listen to Street Corner Talking, and Sticky Fingers.  Street Corner was wonderfully recorded, given it was 53 years ago, and totally engaging still.  Sticky Fingers, while being one of the top 3 Stones recordings (IMHO) is hit and miss, track by track.  Do I love the music?  Absolutely.  Does the sound make it less desirable for me.  Absolutely.   

Would have to be music first. I'm perfectly happy working on projects around the shop listening to a cheap Ali-Express bluetooth speaker, but the real magic is when I go to the listening room, sit down, and LISTEN. 

Myself having 40 years in Audio and having owned a Audio store.

I find it distracting and find myself picking apart my system at times and looking to rebuild my system to my standards,  being  semi retired it is not as easy now to buy as frequently as I would like to .for myself $40-$50 k is what I consider a good midrange system by today’s standards,especially since everything went up by 20%+ since covid.

@tomic601 was very kind to invite me over to hear his Vandersteen 7s. That Vandersteen sound I like ... to the max! I could afford a used pair if I financed them over 10 years or sell a kidney. 😂. But he has the Treo CT’s too and has convinced me I would be very happy with them. I have decided to buy and not buy them alternately at least 50 times. Torturing myself is my main hobby.

He also turned me on to new music, and that is where my pleasure comes from now—discoveries. Streaming has rocked my world, and I have discovered more new artists and music than I ever thought possible. An embarrassment of riches!

Being a drummer, music for me. Sound is important for sure, it’s all got to hit the buttons. But I enjoy music on my system, in the car, headphones, live, you name it. The thing providing the sound is not the end all be all. Music first.

I'm a musician and songwriter, so music without question.

That said, I'm heavily involved in domestic and pro audio.

However, I can listen to music without a hi-fi system but I can't listen to my hi-fi system without music.

So, QED, music is most important to me.

It's the music first and we buy systems which hopefully will give us more from the moving piece of music we are hearing. Is there more enjoyment to be had from this wonderful musical piece or not. I have to know.

Music is first for me.  Roon might not have the best sound quality,  but I use it because it is the best tool for discovering new music.  Gear and sound quality is important, but it is secondary.

Sound or music first?

I no longer separate them, they have become both equally important. If one or the other is missing in quality, I just don't enjoy it anymore. No way I listen to bad music with good sound and no way I listen to good music with bad sound. It didn't use to matter, but I guess with age, I've become much more selective  to save the few years left I have of decent hearing.


I can enjoy great music on a lousy system, but I prefer a great system, and I am blessed to have one--and blessed that it was less than $50k all-in.  I am also blessed to not have fallen prey to the perpetual dissatisfaction that can be a part of the experience for those who are drawn to great reproduction, though I can certainly sympathize with it.

I was beguiled in my high-school years (late 70s) by ads from Marvin Electronics in Ft. Worth, Texas.  I still recall their ultimate system consisting of Macintosh electronics, Studer Revox RTR, a Gale turntable, and Dayton-Wright electrostatic loudspeakers...So I have a pretty deep legacy of interest in the highest end, which has always been (sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly) beyond my financial reach.

@Larsman   +1.   Looking at the other side,  what good is a great stereo if you don't play music that you like?  

A synergistic interaction between the two goes on, each driving my desire at different times.

@rvpiano - GREAT QUESTION!

The responses have been quite interesting and entertaining as well. I believe in some ways the sound and music go hand in hand. If you don't like a particular genre of music, I don't believe you'd enjoy it no matter how wonderful a system is. However I don't believe the converse to be 100% true. Someone mentioned listening to music on a transistor radio in their youth... How many times have you turned up the volume on your car radio when a favored song or band started playing, even though your car's system is likely not nearly as good as your home rig? 😉

For my part, as I've improved my system over the years I've found my enjoyment of music has blossomed. Additionally the past few years I've branched out into jazz and classical as well. It's all a fun adventure, eh?

Happy listening.