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Audiophile Music

It's Easter and I'm thinking about music. Specifically, bad music. Okay, not bad, exactly, but the tracks that I have heard played to death by audiophiles at audio shows. I think it's taken pretty much as read that the music you're liable to hear at an audio show is dreadfully boring. I think it's taken pretty much as read as to why that is, too -- audiophile manufacturers have no taste in music. Pardon me while I chortle into my coffee. And yes, I'm kidding. The reason the music at a show blows is that it isn't the music itself, not per se. No, it's a special class of music that earns this level of dismissiveness from me. Demo Music. "Demo Music" has one and only one purpose -- to make the rig showcasing it sound as good as it can, given the constraints. And by constraints, I mean, the room and the gear. Small room? No deep bass -- play tracks that feature a "female vocalist". That sort of thing. If you're a smart exhibitor, you strictly control your musical repertoire to a select playlist that shows no flaws. If you're feeling a bit friskier, you play whatever the attendee wants and just hope for the best. Which might mean Metallica. Or, even worse, Diana Krall. The horror! [edit]Before I wander on, let me note that I'm not harshing on the choices made by exhibitors so much as poking fun questioning the why of the selection. It's different. If you play Stevie Ray Vaughn because you're a huge fan, great. If you play him because this particular track is particularly well suited to show the particular strengths of this system, then, yes. I'm talking about you. You're doing something with that selection. Or, perhaps better -- something has been done to you. Let me explain ....

morcheeba

I was unpacking a bag of crap from AXPONA and pulled out a bunch of my CDs — that handful that I cart around with me on the off chance I have the opportunity and desire to sit and listen to a given demo (not always possible or advised). I tend to bring at least two discs — my copy of Chris Jones’ Roadhouses & Automobiles and Jem’s Finally Woken. The Chris Jones I bring for a couple of tracks that I’m now-overly familiar with and which can give me a pretty good indication of detail, tone and timbre. Both discs have some great bass/mid-bass stuff — but if I want to torture a system’s bass response, it’s the Jem disc that gets me that.

The third disc I’m likely to bring around is Morcheeba’s Blood Like Lemonade. Yes, it has great bass and some terrific effects and vocals, but I don’t listen for that. I bring that disc out when I am well and truly sick of everything I’ve been hearing — it’s like a palate cleanser. That happy little spoonful of lemon sorbet before the next auditory insult onslaught. It’s also hilarious. None of the exhibitors seem to have heard of Morcheeba, which is a terrific oversight if you ask me, so the whole puzzled/head-scratching thing I see in the room during playback of the title track I tend to view as a public service. That’s how I roll.

But I never want to hear “Keith Don’t Go” again. Just sayin’.

Anyway.

I think that what happens at an audio show — music gets selected to show the strengths of a system — happens kinda “all over” in audio’s high-end. For example, when was the last time you pulled out an LP of music you wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to when you were 30? This happens with rather alarming regularity, to me at least. I have an incredible box set of Nat “King” Cole LPs called “The Nat King Cole Story“. I love these records! But not too long ago, I would have cheerfully lumped Nat in with Bing and Julie Andrews. But I love Bing Crosby — and Julie Andrews has the voice of an angel ….

See what I mean? What the hell?

Dude, when I was growing up, CSNY was still on the air. Like, all over the air. And Zeppelin. The Stones, Van Halen, Boston — these were the records my older brother was “selling me” but letting me keep in his collection “so they’d stay safe”. Thoughtful, my brother. Pink Floyd, Heart, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull were supplemented with U2, Eddie Money, Billy Idol, The Cult, and The Scorpions. When I finally had hair worthy of a shave, Nirvana had taken over from the hair bands.

This was “my” music. Yeah.

So, where did all this Patricia Barber, Holly Cole, and Shelby Lynne come from? Nat “King” Cole?!? Distressing. I think this sort of thing happens to audiophiles. What sort of thing? Audiophilization. No, don’t Google it — I made that up. But the idea is fairly simple — your system drives your music.

I have a huge collection of jazz. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Clark, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and about 20 other amazing artists, and none of it I owned before I bought my first audiophile turntable. I love jazz … now.

Is that weird? Yes! Well, no. No, I don’t think it is. And no, it’s not because “I’m catering to my system’s strengths” or “showing off” or whatever. No, I think there’s a another driver here — the hobby.

If you hang out with audiophiles, which many of us don’t, you’re exposed. It’s as if an audiophile’s music collection is a contagion and simply being near it changes you. Worse, hearing selections from it played back via a superior sounding system is like having someone sneeze into their hands just before reaching to take yours while they cough directly into your face. I guess you could say that the chances of infection are … high.

That’s how I got into jazz. I was infected by an audiophile.

I enjoy visiting Jeff Catalano, Sean Casey and Philip O’Hanlon at audio shows. Each of them are (in-) famous for their music demos at audio shows, and I often leave with one or two suggestions I’d like to take home. As a result, I’ve broadened my “musical horizons”. I’ve always liked music — pretty much just like everyone else on the planet — but it wasn’t until I got into hi-fi that I started exploring.

I’m still not a fan of 20th century classical — but now I can tell you why (atonality is irritating, not “challenging”). I still don’t like listening to opera (it’s really meant to be watched) and soprano singers still set my teeth on edge. I still love Rebel Yell and the Sisters of Mercy. But now, I know that there are days that only Chet Baker can fill. Joy that can only be matched by Count Basie and his orchestra. Norah Jones, Lori McKenna, and even Diana Krall, all claim their time in the High Spin Zone. And, yes, there are times when a little Morcheeba is just what the doctor ordered.

Oh, in other news, I’ve started calling myself “doctor”.

So, I’m curious. How has Audiophilization corrupted you? How so? What do you listen to now, and truly enjoy, that you didn’t before you “became an audiophile”? The doctor wants to know.

My bet is that there’s a lot of crap in your collection that you wouldn’t have bought — like, in a million years — that is now in your High Spin Zone, and for no other reason than it makes your system sound great. But there’s also stuff in there that bears no relationship to anything you listened to — ever — but that you absolutely love. That’s new, or new-to-you, which is pretty much the same thing.

I’m always interested in new-to-me music, so feel free to make suggestions. I’m open.

Get your Occasional now

42 Comments on Audiophile Music

  1. Alan Morgan // July 3, 2013 at 5:26 PM //

    Really love this post. There is no doubt my system has moved me to search for better mastered recordings. I also beleive the mastering loudness wars have influenced me to become a jazz and blues fan also. Interestingly I recently took steps to correct this madness to some extent. I pushed my ultra revealing too fatiguing for rock integrated ICE amp out of the A rig and went with an A/B integrated known for it’s more pleasant and forgiving demeanor. I also now have tone controls and I use them. Blasphemy I know but I am rediscovering my music all over again and my rock n roll days have made something of a comeback. I’m driving my wife nuts selecting Diana Krall to Alman brothers and over to Rythyms Del Mundo with a smile on my face as I do my Audiophile thing.

  2. King Punk // May 12, 2013 at 2:12 PM //

    One of the biggest mistakes made in hifi (I have made it myself) is when you go to an exhibition & hear a piece of music that sounds so ambient , pristine & crystal clear & you go home thinking yr system & music is lacking. If good hifi has turned you on some music you would have never tried before then fair enough enjoy , however if you are someone who stopped listening to Deep Purple in Rock because yr hifi shows it up to be a poor recording then chances are you have moved away from the original goal of getting a decent hifi. NEVER serve the music , the music must always serve you & whilst we are on the subject, all listening rooms sound different & no album was ever mastered on yr equipment so use tone controls when you see fit

  3. Dave Sheehan // April 4, 2013 at 4:57 PM //

    Oh man, I always just assumed audiophiles had the worst taste in music! OK not really but wandering into a room that JA was parked in at the last Capitol Audiofest made me want to drive spikes through my ears! Same with a couple of big name manufacturers who were “spinning” horrible soundtracks off of their very sophisticated computer audio interface that were basically meant to show off the bass response to the same 60 year olds who already owned Red Ferrari’s. I kept expecting Judge Reinhold to pop out and pitch me on the Dominator X-10!

    I got into audio equipment because I loved music, and if I own gear which doesn’t sound good on most of it I switch gear not music. So I’m probably an infidel because I like the fact that my current speakers may be more forgiving than some I’ve previously owned, but it’s about my musical enjoyment rather than hearing the master tape exactly as it was laid down.

    I hope that’s why most get into it, but there does seem to be the unholy alliance by some who attend shows between musical and equipment snobbery that creates the souless drones of the audio community. Not that I really have an opinion.

    So while I try and hit as many rooms as I can, I end of staying in the ones that play music I can actually stand. Even sometimes with equipment that is not something I’d actually buy. It takes stones to roll with “The Legendary Pink Dots” at an audio show and I gotta say I respect that!

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 4, 2013 at 7:04 PM //

      When it comes to great stereo, you can’t beat big speakers.

  4. It happened backwards to me, I enjoy music, almost any kind, as long as it’s music, composition, soul touching, message, instrument mastery, etc. The music I heard as a teenager I still play from time to time, not as often that’s true, but still play it. It makes me happy when I find a better version of some of the oldest records in my collection.

    This love for music got me into jazz, where I can find those aspects mentioned above more often than not, in the great ensembles of old, and also in today’s jazz scene. After falling in love with jazz I then learned that I could listen to it much better than a minidisc player and $30 sony earbuds. A few dollars later I now enjoy great music, from Thelonious to Cannonball or Ray Brown (Soular Energy is probably my favorite of all jazz albums, what a Trio that was), and then jump to some latin jazz from Chucho or Bebo (r.i.p), slow folk from Colombian Marta Gómez, or some “Son” from Cuba, and also jump to some music from my teens like Fito Páez, Angra (headbang!) or even some Nirvana from now and then.

    So I evolved and learned, music grew into my taste, and later came the audiophile bug, as a mean to enjoy what I learned. This process will never stop, and that’s how you get to find gems from time to time like Yuon Sun Nah in music or afford some new piece of hifi gear, and that’s my drug.

  5. Soundminded // April 2, 2013 at 9:46 PM //

    Musical preference is a strictly personal thing. We’re poles apart on this and I’m not surprised. I sensed it from reading your postings. If this is what you like, good for you. Enjoy it. I can’t. This woman’s singing sets my teeth on edge.

  6. Soundminded // April 1, 2013 at 2:42 PM //

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that while for audiophiles this is a hobby, for manufacturers it’s a business. Whether or not they started out as audiophiles, even if they still see themselves that way, bottom line is, it’s the bottom line. Therefore it is only natural for them to display their products in what they feel will put them in the best light among prospective buyers. The shows, the setups, the recordings are marketing tools, no more. They will say and do practically anything to make a sale no matter how little technical sense it makes to an engineer. Therefore as exhibitors they’re likely to select certain types of recordings including those they feel their market is most familiar with. They may even to an extent design their equipment around those recordings to make them sound good in shows and at dealers showrooms. Since they all do the same market research it isn’t surprising if you hear the same recordings over and over again in one room after another and after awhile they all start to sound pretty much alike, a kind of mental blur. The show will not change because the attendees don’t like the way they are conducted. You accept that this is how it will be going in.

    I’m thinking about going to the New York Show in two weeks, I haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s probably pointless to bring even a few CDs, they’re not going to want to take a risk and play them. Last time I did that a few exhibitors played a couple of my CDs and I was underwhelmed.

    So what’s the remedy? Accept these shows for what they are, don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

    Once upon a time long long ago many of the hobbyists in this area consisted of red blooded American tinkerers who like to experiment with electronics (and cars) and did a lot of things for themselves. I can’t count how many people I knew in high school who were getting general class radio licenses, building their own shortwave receivers and transmitters. For those who did not want to learn electronics, build from hobbyist magazines like e/e and Popular Electronics there were lots of kits including from major manufacturers. These included not only Dynaco (the poor man’s McIntosh), Eico, Heathkit, Lafayette Radio, Allied Radio, but HH Scott, Fisher, Harman Kardon, even ElectroVoice. This helped keep manufactured product prices in check. For example a Scott LK72 Kit was also a Scott 299 assembled amplifier. Today in this “let George do it” world, simple circuits you could build yourself from a box of parts if you could handle a screwdriver, pliers, and a soldering iron are selling for many thousands. Instead, build them yourself and then you can take that money you saved on equipment and buy a lot more awful recordings 🙂

    • I can imagine the board meeting in the cynical audio corporation;

      ‘Have you concluded your market research?’

      ‘Yes Sir, we have’

      ‘So what have you got?’

      ‘Diana Krall’

      ‘Brilliant! OK, send a memo down to R and D. From now on all products have to be designed to make Diana Krall sound great. We will only use Diana Krall during listening tests and we will only play Diana Krall at shows. Oh, and tell them we’re prepared to say and do practically anything to make sales no matter how little technical sense it makes.
      Thank you for your excellent work gentlemen. This is sure to give us a competitive edge. Make sure this stays within the company.

      ‘Er, there might already be a problem there Sir…….’

      • Soundminded // April 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM //

        Do you think that’s far from the truth? Then watch this video. Atkinson’s account of Michael Fremer playing Diana Krall on his $120,000 record player through his Wilson megabuck speakers;

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5VKvkd7WRc&feature=relmfu

        Did you get yours yet? I mean your record demagnetizer? I don’t know what it did to the record but what do you suppose it might have done to the magnets in the phonograph cartridge? Hardly matters, if something’s wrong even if it was Fremer’s fault for exposing it to a strong magnetic field I’ll bet he has no problem getting a replacement without cost, fuss, or bother. Funny, Atkinson never bothered to study it, take it to his lab bench to see what was really happening if anything (move a few inches or a foot and you’ll hear different bass in most rooms even if nothing changes.) I think I’m going to go demagnetize my wristwatch so I don’t loose track of the time. Oops, I forgot we don’t have to do that anymore, they don’t get magnetized.

        One recent audio show on AV Showrooms it seems like the exhibitors must have bought out the entire production run of Ann Bison’s recent vinyl pressing Winter in Canada because all of them were playing it. That’s what this year’s models are calibrated to play. Not your favorite tune? Wait until next year’s models. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

      • Part-Time Audiophile // April 2, 2013 at 7:09 PM //

        Not sure where you’re coming from or heading to, but it seems like you’re definitely catching a ride on the Snark Train.

        As for Anne Bisson — the reason “everyone” was playing it was pretty simple to uncover. She was given away hi-res files at the show. She’s a lovely person and remarkably unassuming. Having met her two or three times before, I suppose she recognized me — and I now have my very own hi-res copy of her latest. It’s pretty good.

  7. OneThousandAnswers // April 1, 2013 at 12:38 PM //

    Great topic and for me there’s been some ‘homogenization’ with standard audiophile fare as well as diversification to jazz, classical and a lot of music from other cultures/countries (I dislike the term ‘world music’). I have my fair share of schlock left over from my younger days which rarely gets into the system either because the music is crappy or the sound of the CD is itself crappy. Another factor is simply age… I can’t get away with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other classic rock from my youth being in constant rotation. Family harmonies won’t permit it (although I’m sure the kids will bring it back around sooner or later).

    There’s also the question of whether the quality of mainstream music has deteriorated over the years. I can’t answer that definitively, except to say that a lot of the pop music in my old CD folders is pretty bad and on par with what I hear over mainstream radio. That said, there’s also a lot of good music out there that just requres a bit of digging.

    Finally, I’m constantly on the look out for new material. Part of this search consists of looking at what others use as references. I can easily sort out the audiophile standards (many of which have been listed here), and then test out the other citations with Spotify, YouTube and other online sources. From there I can purchase whatever tickles my fancy. Playlists are therefore welcome.

  8. I avoid audiophiles like the plague. I listen to music, not to good sound. The idea that I would buy something simply because it makes my system sound good is anathema to me. Count Basie’s Decca recordings from the 1930s are going to sound exciting out of an AM radio or a $10,000 system. No amount of expensive equipment is going to make me like anything more or less.

  9. Sometimes I feel that I’m the only audiophile (granted, I live at the lower end of the price spectrum here) who doesn’t care for jazz, opera, etc. A few years ago, when I took a step back at how I *actually* listened to music, I realized that 90% of my listening was done at my computer desktop. I rebuilt my system accordingly, and I’m happy. Not everyone wants the experience of sitting in a small club listening to a four-piece jazz combo. Sometimes I just want my internet radio and my games to sound lively and involving. People who sound the alarm about the shrinking and greying of the “audiophile market” might keep that in mind.

  10. The Audiophile Contagion.
    I grew up in England. In 1977 I was 13 years old. The first album I bought was Hot Chocolates Greatest Hits, the second was Black and White by The Stranglers the 3rd,4th,5th etc was every other punk/new wave album I could buy, borrow or otherwise get my hands on. It was not cool to like any of the prog-rock dinosaurs that represented The Musical Establishment (which was convenient for me because I didn’t like them anyway). Rock n Roll was out, Heavy Metal was out, pop was out. I had very narrow musical tastes. I had a crappy record player.
    Luckily for me I’m not stuck in a time warp and my tastes have considerably widened. I now like Jazz old and new, Classical, Indie, Ethnic etc, etc. and I freely admit to having been struck by the audiophile contagion. Early in my audio career I would buy music that made my systems sound good or that demonstrated a particular attribute but I often ended up liking the music and it would lead me to other interesting music. I would often visit clients and other members of the audio business and come away with a list of things to buy.
    There’s something about a great audio system that makes me want to search out more music.
    I’m also sure if I still had a crappy record player, I would never have developed an appreciation for Classical or Jazz or some of the other things I regularly listen to now.

    Shows.
    At AXPONA this year I played Morcheeba, Mahler Symphony No.2, Boccherini Cello Concerto, Tracy Chapman, Art Pepper, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges/Gerry Mulligan, Beethoven Symphony No.3, Yello, Dave Holland, Liz Wright, Paul Weller, Mark Johnson, Madeleine Peyroux, Elgar Cello Concerto, Sonny Rollins, Leonard Cohen, Minu Cinelu, Richard Bona, Nick Drake, Winston Ngozi, Baaba Maal, and a few others, plus requests. Hardly radical but not exactly mainstream either.

    I was criticised by different people for playing: ‘demonstration music’, ‘classical’, ‘only good recordings’, ‘female voice’, ‘music I don’t know’, ‘only things that make it sound good’, ‘old stuff’, ‘no rock’ etc, etc. I’m sure you are criticising too, as you read the list.

    I was complimented for playing things that the listeners were not familiar with. I was complimented for playing things that the listeners were familiar with. I was asked for the names of the artists and the CD titles. I was asked for Norah Jones and Diana Krall.

    It is really hard to know what to play at shows. It can be soul destroying when someone walks in and immediately walks out again (???) and really gratifying when someone sticks around, asks questions and genuinely seems to be enjoying themselves. Is it the music or the system that is responsible for either of those responses? Who knows?

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 1, 2013 at 10:06 AM //

      No, Gary — not dissing you. Or any other exhibitor. What I’m saying that it does feel a bit like the tail wagging the dog — the music gets selected by the system, not the other way ’round. Which is weird. And perhaps a cause for growth. I mean, not like “a growth”, like some kind of boil on your neck, but more “an expansion of your musical horizons”. I wasn’t expecting that.

      • No diss taken. I actually do agree with you. Music should be the driving force behind what we do. How many exhibitors do you think go home after a show and play Diana Krall? Not many. Did you go home and listen to Chris Jones? Probably not.

        On the other hand, which exhibitor will play something that makes their system sound like a pig’s ear? Whether it’s the systems fault or the recording, its not going to happen. How many times do you see the exhibitor cringe when someone requests their own CD? That’s because they have no idea what’s on it and how it will sound. Believe me, because I have been there many times, agreeing to play that CD is often the best way to empty the room.
        I remember getting into it with a co-exhibitor at a London show. A guy handed me a CD and I said ‘OK I’ll play it, but if it sounds bad, I’m taking it off.’ The co-exhibitor had a go at me for being rude (moi?) and not understanding customer service. We played the CD, it was terrible, and everyone left. Great! Job done!
        You can’t win. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And for the record, I do play requests.

        Good systems can play a wide range of music well, and that’s something I try to illustrate with a playlist that incorporates varied music genre’s, but most visitors, and press, stay in the room for less than two tracks, form their opinion about the music and system in less than 5 mins and leave for the next room. I have a 5 min window to grab someones attention. They don’t hear me move through the genre’s. Or they mutter something like ‘not more classical, everyone’s playing classical’ and walk out.
        What I’m trying to do is to keep bums on seats during the dems till hopefully someone can identify with something that gets played. Then maybe someone might buy some equipment. But people’s tastes vary so much. If I play inane drivel, they should walk. If I play avant-garde, they will probably walk. If I play some horrible compressed indie tracks, they will probably walk and if I play a panoply of audiophile twaddle they might walk but at least they have a reference point.
        I’d love to be the guy that plays the obscure but fabulous music that no one knows on a system that makes it sound great and has queues forming down the hall to get into my room. Tell me how to make it happen!
        Finally, you should melt your Chris Jones CD into an ashtray. I know you don’t smoke, but still. And don’t make Morcheeba the next Chris Jones: It’s too good for that and you will regret playing it to death.

    • Gary,
      Loved the way your rooms sounded and the music that was played at AXPONA in Chicago. Jonny, from Snake River played me some Joanne Shaw Taylor, kickass blues guitar, WOW!

      P.S. – Thanks for explaining the virtues and importance of power supplies. I appreciated your time and not speaking too far over my head.

  11. Soundminded // April 1, 2013 at 8:12 AM //

    Listening to recordings has made me a much more critical listener. I do not consider recordings of music to be the same as music, they are facsimiles just as looking at a photograph of the Grand Canyon is not the same as being at the Grand Canyon.

    I listen for four things that I consider the critical elements of music. 1. Composition; the idea of the person who wrote it. Is it powerful, coherent, subtle, or is it imbecilic, vulgar, or boring? That alone eliminates most recordings and performers. 2. Tonality; this is largely created by the makers of instruments or in the case of a singer their own voice. Is it pleasing, have frequency and dynamic range, does it hold true no matter how loud or soft, is it clear and pure, does it have subtle character, nuances or is it irritating, blaring, crack up at loud passages, or weak and feeble needing electronic amplification to be heard? It usually requires instrument makers hundreds of years to create a new instrument and then only the greatest and rarest of craftsmen to perfect it. 3. The artistry of the performer. Does the artist have complete technical command and control of the instrument (anything less is not acceptable, inferior, not worth my time.) And then there is interpretation which includes understanding of the music turning notes on paper into the composer’s intent. Is it powerful, does it have nuances, does it modulate rhythm, tone, dynamics, have interesting phrasing, or is it flat and dull, lifeless and boring? And last I listen to the acoustics of the performance venue. This is critical and usually overlooked because most of what we hear is the result of reflections of the place the music was played. It affects the way a performance must be arranged to deliver the composer’s message. A performance that does not take into account hall acoustics is usually unsatisfactory. For recordings I also listen to the technology used to capture music as faithfully as possible, how badly does the recording distort what would be heard live?

    Mostly I listen to classical music but I listen to other types as well. My standards are impossibly high. I compare the best performances of the best music to listen for how they are interpreted differently. I have more than enough recordings on both vinyl and cd for the rest of my life but more just keep coming. Many will never get heard by me. I don’t care if people call me a snob or elitist. That’s just how I am. I expect the highest standards from others just as that was expected of me. Fancy packaging, advertising hyperbole, past reputation, accolades of others, and other fluff carry no water with me. I make my own judgments of what things are worth based on my own experience just as others are free to do the same. On rare occasions I will read or solicit the opinions of others I know and respect and consider what they have to say.

  12. Mediocre people will claim music is subjective and their numbers are great enough to make that statement factual. An audiophile understands the synergy that is created between the recording and the equipment. Your choices in music are now based on the quality of the recording rather than the popular fad. The good thing is now your choices are timeless.

  13. I can’t say for sure that an expensive system has modified my listening habits all that much. I never did have much in the way of a defined taste, so my collection and play lists were always chaotic. The stock in the local record stores, on the other hand, has always been a major influence. Kirsten mentioned the infinite flow of decent jazz vinyl in Philly, for instance. Living there made jazz available to me, and, because it hadn’t been my thing, made it completely novel.

    Did I think I’d be listening to Nat King Cole when I was old? Yeah. I did. Did I ever think I’d spend fifty bucks a pop buying special-snowflake pressings of those records? No. That part of the disease would make the teenage me cringe in embarrassed despair. But teenage me was an idiotic dick. Who cares what teenage me thought? Teenage me listened to far too much Bob Dylan to be taken seriously.

    So for me, at least, the music drove the stereo. If the stereo wound up helping me enjoy even more music, or enjoy music in even more ways, I don’t find that at all weird. That’s pretty much why I bought a stereo in the first place.

    I will say that having a halfway decent rig hasn’t improved Diana Krall one little bit. If I start talking up her back catalog, call a doctor for me right away; I’ll have had a stroke.

  14. Tom Lathrop // March 31, 2013 at 6:36 PM //

    I listen to a great deal of jazz, partly as a result of this hobby. I own a very good SACD player, and prefer that medium for most of my listening. I search out whatever jazz is available on SACD, which has exposed me to artists and recordings that I probably wouldn’t otherwise buy.

    On the subject of demo recordings at audio shows, “Keith Don’t Go” and Diana Krall don’t tell me a lot about the system that I’m listening to. They sound good on any decent system. When I go to a show or visit a dealer, I carry a compilation CD-R and a thumb drive with cuts from my own collection. My favorite is “Caught a Touch of Your Love”, by Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra. It’s an up-tempo big band piece that sounds way better on a really good system than it does on a system of lesser quality. Another one like that is “Diggin’ on James Brown” by Tower of Power. That’s not really my kind of music, but it sure sounds good on a system with a good amp and speakers that can move enough air. If that cut sounds good, the system can probably handle most rock music. I look for music that can “separate the men from the boys” with audio systems, not music that makes every system sound good.

  15. I’ve been a jazz fan for a long time, but when I got into hifi, I really started buying a LOT of jazz (it also helped that Philly is pretty much the best place I’ve ever shopped for used jazz vinyl). It’s definitely a case of the system driving the music, in a way, because the music sounds so much BETTER on a good system. I’ve tried to listen to Bud Powell in the car, and I can’t do it — it sounds boring. But I can put the same Bud Powell album on in my living room, and it’s glorious.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // March 31, 2013 at 4:40 PM //

      I think this is the reason I got into jazz — on a “regular” stereo, it can seem rather … muzak … if you know what I mean. But good recordings on my stereo, and it’s whiplash-inducing. Stereo-driven music. Weird. Lovely. But weird.

  16. This hobby has totally changed what kind of music I listen to:
    High School : Harmen Kardon Receiver; Dual TT: Doors, Stones, Who, Police, U2, Sex pistols, Descendants, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedy’s, ect
    College: Sonic Frontiers Tube amp, Audio Research , Mission CDP (Got read of TT and vinyl): Tears For Fears, REM, Lets Active, John, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Eric Clapton, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jane Monheit, Billie Holiday, Ella
    Now: TW Acustics TT, Aspara Horn speakers, Artemis Labs , Audio Projkete Amp: I have a Classical section, I have a favorite cellist – Daniel Shafran, Jazz vocals second largest section. Most albums by same artist – Ella Fitzgerald followed by Billie Holiday. Still like my rock/alternative: live in PDX: Typhoon, Shins, Decembrists, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, Builders & the Butchers, Thermals, Esperanza Spalding.
    This hobby has definitely changed what I listen to. Good, bad I love a lot more variety of music.
    My latest trend: Anything that is a great pressing. Think QRP, ORG, ect.

  17. Soundminded // March 31, 2013 at 3:00 PM //

    One of the problems ANYONE has whether at an audio show, in a lab, or at home is the inconsistency of spectral balance from one recording to another. In the bad old days of vinyl phonograph records most large record companies used the same or similar monitor speakers in their mastering studios and checked their equalization using 1/3 octave equalizers, calibrated microphones, analog spectrum analyzers, and signal generators typically once a week. While there were differences, this created a certain degree of uniformity from one recording to another, even one record company to another. Yet each major record company did have a “signature” sound. My personal favorite was RCA Red Seal monitored on RCA LC1A speakers. Many companies used Altec A-7s. In Britain they liked Tannoy Gold Concentric Monitors. Today spectral balance on CDs is all over the map. Find me ANY sound system at any price and I’ll find you recordings that will make it sound awful. With audiophiles convinced tone controls and equalizers are the root of all evil there’s simply no way to compensate for the wrong recording that will leave a bad impression on visitors to an audio show or a dealer showroom. Why wouldn’t people who make a living selling these products want complete control over what people will hear from them?

    What do audiophiles do instead? From what I see, it’s endless mixing and matching by trial and error of every component including wires. Out of necessity equalizers are being reintroduced but they are being called “room correction” instead. Do they work well? I don’t know but the few reports I’ve read aren’t exactly encouraging. Personally I’m still using the old manual ones which I adjust by ear. (It’s so nice to be able to buy them used on e-bay for next to nothing.) It takes a lot of practice, listening to live music as a reference, and patience to get them to do what I want. BTW I don’t consider myself an audiophile, part time or otherwise. I’m what I’d call a “former” audiophile. The newest piece of equipment in my main system is over 20 years old. It’s a $200 amplifier I built from a kit to replace one that blew up I didn’t care to repair.

  18. You have to check out a young Jazz singer named Cyrille Aimee

  19. Dan Rubin // March 31, 2013 at 12:59 PM //

    Audio shows have nearly ruined the blues for me,certainly SRV. I’m as guilty as the next schlub of gravitating toward things that sound good, but I must delightfully take this opportunity to cast a stone at our blog host for his role in promoting that Chris Jones song, “No Sanctuary Here.” When it starts playing, it’s time to leave.

    When I evaluate systems or components, I try not to focus on how the good recordings sound but on how the music I like sounds and, more importantly, how it makes me feel. So while I have some standard fare I’ve used over the years, I generally concentrate on what I’ve been listening to most recently, particularly music that’s new to my collection — or newly (re)discovered.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // March 31, 2013 at 2:26 PM //

      LOL — yeah, that track “No Sanctuary Here” is an “audiophile demo track”, for sure. I’ve heard it so many friggin’ times … it’s definitely time to retire it. Touché.

  20. Soundminded // March 31, 2013 at 12:50 PM //

    “I still don’t like listening to opera (it’s really meant to be watched) and soprano singers still set my teeth on edge.”

    A soprano like any other opera singer spends a lifetime perfecting the SOUND of her voice. That voice is meant to be heard. It is judged and compared to others of her type by its sound alone. The best of them can stand on the stage of the New York Metropolitan Opera, possibly the largest room in the United States specifically designed for the performance of unamplified music, and project sound to a live audience of 3500 on the strength of her lungs alone with such effortless power and purity to the point where even a person sitting in the back row of the highest balcony can hear it clearly. That sound produced for each note can bounce around that huge room such that its reflections can be heard for more than a second, that’s how powerful it is. And she can do it up to the highest notes she has to sing. It’s something pop singers can only dream about. Without tens of thousands of watts of electronic amplifier power and many arrays of loudspeakers a pop singer’s voice would be lucky to reach beyond the first few rows and without other electronic enhancements the people who can’t hear them might be better off than those who can.

    It is small wonder then that when such a voice is recorded and played through a small box or panel ten or fifteen feet from you projecting most of its sound directly at you, its highest overtones in a pencil thin beam, that it will set your teeth on edge. It’s a wonder if it doesn’t loosen your fillings too. The technology to recreate the sound a soprano produces for the audience at an opera house from a recording played in a home doesn’t exist yet. The best available technology doesn’t come remotely close. Instead it produces a pale facsimile that’s immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the real thing. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again decade after decade, manufacturers of this equipment don’t offer any hope that it’s likely to change anytime soon. So the best recordings to play through home audio equipment just might be those where the original performance needs massive electronic help to begin with. Diana Krall does not have as good a voice as Julie London or Peggy Lee IMO but she can play the piano. I guess that’s something.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // March 31, 2013 at 2:23 PM //

      Note that I didn’t say “I don’t appreciate the art of it”, just that it makes me cringe. 😉

      • Soundminded // March 31, 2013 at 3:08 PM //

        To each his own. For me personally, the sound of a great operatic singer heard live in an opera house is of the same remarkable tone quality I’d expect to hear from a great violin made in Cremona Italy hundreds of years ago or a Steinway grand piano heard in a great concert hall. In the right hands these are among the most pleasing tonalities I have experienced. What I don’t like are the raucous sounds of most electronically amplified instruments, the screaming and screeching that passes for singing, and the insipid untrained often weak almost toneless voices that seem to dominate pop music. I also don’t like “songs” with melodies so weak I can’t remember them 30 seconds after they’re over and wouldn’t care to if I could.

  21. Pardon me on Easter……but I hear the talk about he repeated Diana Krall stuff. She just comes across to me as COLD…..brrrrrr.

    The one thing I keep looking for is a wonderful, beautifully voiced singer. Of course, that would be Linda Ronstandt. Her later recordings are truly gold, just biding time to get through the pop stuff, and that was when I was heavily into ‘pop stuff’. She is outstanding on ‘great’ music.

    Could we please have some more of this type?

    • I am one who also thinks Diana Krall is over rated. No feeling or emotion comes through when she sings. Now Ella is a different story. Love her stuff and I am listening to her singing the blues as I type this. I also like Ronstadts 80’s stuff. She does a great job with some of the old standards.
      I grew up on rock back in the day but Salsa has also been an important part of what I grew up on. After getting into this hobby jazz and other types of music started to creep into my collection. By the way one of my favorite albums is a Bing Crosby Lp titled Songs I Wish I Had Sung. Worth hunting down.

  22. You know my feelings on this topic. I actually used “Keith Don’t Go” as a direct example in my recent What is the Future of the High End Part IV (which is actually part V, LOL) – of something that should be tossed in the proverbial audiophile demo dustbin. I think the purpose of demo music is more than merely to show off a systems sonic merit. You should also pick music that maybe not the best recording, but something that’s emotive and engaging. This is why Philip and Sean are so good at what they do. I had more people walk away from the CEntrance booth excited about the “great music” I was playing years ago than anything else. I even had a guy ask for the playlist on CD – and we did it for him! I just made a mix for Holger Stein on Stein Music – and it had everything from Eskmo to Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Ben Frost, Aphex Twin, Joy Division, and all sorts of other cool stuff – and he LOVED it!

    WE need to excite people. The system will do that if we feed it some LIFE.

  23. If one surfs the audio system videos on You Tube, one can witness what you are talking about. Seems like everyone is showing off their systems with “songbird” stuff: Krall, Holly Cole, Jane Monheit, et al. Makes for a pretty effect, but doesn’t really tell you much about the systems. As for myself, my interest in jazz preceded my entry into audiophile land (such as it has been), but it has happily coexisted with it since. Classical music almost demands better gear. Putting together a system that happily accommodates Art Blakey, George Solti, Metallica, and yes, Diana Krall, is the neat trick.

  24. I was shocked to discover that I actually like Mel Torme. It’s pretty funny that I can start a day listening to Starf*** ker and end it with the velvet fog. Go figure.

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