Real or Surreal. Do you throw accuracy out the window for "better" sound?

I visited a friend recently who has an estimated $150,000 system. At first listen it sounded wonderful, airy, hyper detailed, with an excellent well delineated image, an audiophile's dream. Then we put on a jazz quartet album I am extremely familiar with, an excellent recording from the analog days. There was something wrong. On closing my eyes it stood out immediately. The cymbals were way out in front of everything. The drummer would have needed at least 10 foot arms to get to them. I had him put on a female vocalist I know and sure enough there was sibilance with her voice, same with violins. These are all signs that the systems frequency response is sloped upwards as the frequency rises resulting in more air and detail.  This is a system that sounds right at low volumes except my friend listens with gusto. This is like someone who watches TV with the color controls all the way up. 

I have always tried to recreate the live performance. Admittedly, this might not result in the most attractive sound. Most systems are seriously compromised in terms of bass power and output. Maybe this is a way of compensating. 

There is no right or wrong. This is purely a matter of preference accuracy be damn.  What would you rather, real or surreal?


When I'm at a concert I don't hear precise locations of each instrument but can tell their decay easily. In a home system I'm trying to get all the small details as I can that to me makes listening more enjoyable. So I'd take hyper detail but not etched sounding over anything else. Each one of us has our own set of biases and that's why there are thousands of different types of speakers and tubed vs ss gear. We build our system to enjoy it ourselves not for others. 

I see a personal preference. What one likes is what one likes. It’s not going to be the same with every person.  
“Accuracy,” within the context of this, is a dubious definition to begin with.  
Unless we were in the studio at the time something was played, we have no reference in determining how “accurately” our audio playback represents those performances. Even if we were in the studio at the time a performance took place, thusly providing such a reference point, after a few weeks (heck, depending on someone’s capacity for retention and auditory processing, maybe even after only a few hours) we have “forgotten” how it “really sounded” in the studio anyway.

I say, “have fun with your music, however that may be.”

Mahgister and hilde45:

I'm not a "nominalist," either, nor was I trying to suggest that either of you might be. ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") My philosophical intuitions are mostly Kantian these days, after half a century contributing to the discipline. But this is not a philosophy forum.

Reality "in itself" (in the Kantian sense) is inaccessible and not worth even trying to talk about anyway, since it's inaccessible. Still, for practical purposes, "reality" can be said to be the source of the "source," as it were: the performance which the recording attempts to record and that our audio systems attempt to play back. Now, obviously we were not present at the recording session, nor do we have access to the acoustics of the recording studio in which mastering decisions were made. Etc. 

Nevertheless, a violin has a slightly different timbre than a viola (violists and violinists would challenge that qualification "slightly," but I presume you see what I mean). For that matter, a Guarneri violin has a slightly different timbre than an Amati, or a Stradivari. BUT...a "live" violin has a characteristic timbre, whether played in one's living room or in Carnegie Hall. If you are familiar with the sound of a live violin—especially if you are familiar with that sound in the acoustics where your audio system is set up—then you know, in your own head, whether or not, and to what extent, your system reproduces that timbre (mutatis mutandis: again, the differences between a Cremona instrument and a good modern "copy" are subtleties we can argue about in a different thread, and one can parse those differences in terms besides "timbre"). 

Bottom line (for me): I want to be able to hear the "voice" of the first violinist as against that of the second, and I certainly want to hear the voice of a violin in a string quartet as against that of the viola, or the cello. That's partly a matter of timbre, but also of imaging: I like to be able to "see" where the sound is coming from in the recreated "soundstage" of my listening room. That's essential to really following the music: I need to be able to discern the "voices" that make up the Gestalt. And that point bridges the "audiophile" concern for sound quality with the music lover's love of the music: it's difficult to fully appreciate what's in the music without a high level of fidelity to the subtle features of sound quality.

"Reality," as I was using the word (without all the philosophical asides), simply refers to the signature features of the live instrument as a perceptual baseline, against which the "accuracy" of the reproduction must be judged. 

Is this really problematic? Or unclear"

I’m not a "nominalist," either, nor was I trying to suggest that either of you might be. ("Not that there’s anything wrong with that.") My philosophical intuitions are mostly Kantian these days, after half a century contributing to the discipline. But this is not a philosophy forum.

@snilf  Didn’t think you were! I’m a Deweyan pragmatist, so, Kant plus more practice and no ding an sich. I’ll go as far as Peircean Secondness but that’s where I get off.

Your post was not problematic or unclear at all. In fact, a real pleasure to read and I'm 100% in agreement. We see and seek the same thing in audio, no doubt.


The recording engineer take also a perspectival angle on this reality pie which is also himself ...My system is a link between my acoustic perspective and his own trade -off...And the recording engineer and me we can partake the same conscious inner core through acoustics knowledge...

The timbre of a violin dont exist in itself in some inaccessible absolute reality or truth over all others ... The violin timbre is always a relativized perspective from some location , for some ears, from some material violin design wood etc... Even the violonist does not have the truth about the playing timbre experience..His near position implicate a trade-off exactly as each musician playing around and exactly as any listener will have their "truth" experience about the timbre experience and they will recognize it and they can analyze it psycho-acoustically and acoustically ...

We are what we experience together, there is no absolute inaccessible material or sensible reality OUTSIDE , there is only only relatively inaccessible levels ;it is consciousness itself on his many layered levels...But they are all synchronized and manifest each one as different consciousness at different level...The core is ONE for ALL ...

Nobody had access to his own whole being to his own core save God ...Material reality is not the reflection of a head-set as claim Donald Hoffman, a Kantian too...Reality is a musically synchonized event...I like Cassirer who being more than just a mere Kantian add a Goethean perspective ... For Goethe there is no theory BEHIND the phenomena , there is no theory without the phenomena either , the phenomena are themselves the perspectival potential and manifested theory... The meaning and the sensible sign then are related through symbolic forms which are read as many possible synchronized perspectives ...This view is so deep... Husserl rediscovered it without refering to Goethe phenomenology, Henri Bortoft the physicist explain it for EVERYONE in few books...Read them...



The Infinite is scary because we cannot be outside of it, and we are held captive of it,if we dont recognize that we are it... We are chained by our own acts and we may free ourself by another act; this is why we need the act of thinking, the producted content on which we may focus to free ourself and be conscious of what we are doing...

This is the reason why the qualitative content of any sound must be created anew inside the listener perspective for example but it is also why the qualitative content of a sound reflect the vibrating body source qualities ( wood,metal, plastic , hard, soft, empty, full, and these qualities inform us about our relation with the world and ourself ...

We need air for the fire to awake, but the fire is not the air; we need air for the sound to travel but the air waves or their abstraction content  are not the sound experienced  qualities...

I will stop here...😁 And i apologize for being a bit too much... 😊