One of the first remarks I hear when people come over to listen to my stereo system is that when they sit down, the music suddenly becomes 3-D. If there are drums present, they’re kind of pushed to the back wall and to the sides, with the snare on the left or right and the toms and cymbals spread across the room.
If there’s a main vocal, it appears hanging in thin air between the speakers and in front of the rest of the music. Other instruments like guitars or keys are placed exactly where the mix engineer put them in the stereo field.
On a well-tuned system the music sounds incredible from all places in the room, but there’s a special depth that happens when you sit down into the “sweet spot.”
Unfortunately, lots of recorded music out there actually has problems with it that will hinder this experience, so a well-tuned stereo is best shown off only when playing excellent recordings and production.
And the sad truth of this is that it just costs a lot of money for musicians to be recorded on world-class equipment, which will preserve all of the important details and keep the sound waves unmolested in their journey through the labyrinthine circuits of the mix and mastering engineers’ gear.
Affordable equipment exists out there that is “good enough” to record sound and get the job done, but when inferior recordings are played back on well-chosen stereo gear feeding a perfectly placed pair of speakers, the low quality shows through.
Another remark I hear a lot is, “Why doesn’t this sound very good? I thought it was a good recording.”
Average-quality stereo playback equipment imbues a character on all the sound coming out of it, usually one that makes everything sound “exciting,” and can make poor recordings sound more spendy.
And when you play a truly excellent recording on an average stereo, the circuitry and the abilities of the stereo simply cannot reproduce all of the details present, and excellent recordings can actually sound boring on a system that isn’t dialed in correctly.
It’s a strange paradigm that exists in this hobby. To experience the best of the best recordings, you need to assemble a stereo system capable of showing it. But a system that can show off the immense beauty of a world-class recording is going to lay bare all of the problems contained in a bad recording.
“OK,” you say, “so why would I want to spend more money to be less satisfied with some of my music?”
A fair question. You really don’t have to go down this road if you don’t want to, and that’s a point I want to make sure I include here.
The audiophile hobby or endeavor is a rich experience for the senses and a glorious feeling, but it’s not for everyone. Just like getting serious about wine is not for everyone — I’m a local beer drinker, and I’m good with that, thanks. I certainly understand.
But for those of you who love music and whose thoughts wander to wondering whether your stereo as-is could get better or sound more appealing, this field of interest may just be for you.