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  • Musicality: Friend or Foe?

    Of all the terms thrown around in audio, few are more used more and understood less than the word MUSICALITY. Tom Miiller tried to tackle the term (I'm not sure the last ever saw the light of day) and define the musicality many years ago in TAS. Three article later (I'm not sure the last piece ever saw the light of day) and I'm not sure he did much to solve the confusion surrounding the use of the word. But at least he got people talking and thinking more about when they use the term musicality. Much of the issue is that musicality is a catch all term that means different things to different people. To some people, musicality seems to be a pleasing coloration. To other audiophiles, it's tonal accuracy. Yet to other listeners, it's a lack of mechanical/reproduced quality to the music.

    But what is most important is that we all should be on the same page when using musical terms or otherwise reviews won't make sense to us or even newbies to the industry. In fact--and all special niche areas have their own jargon--sometime these words make them feel disconnected from the hobby. So it's not only important to use them correctly but not to invent new terms for the sake of inventing new words when we already have a vocabulary that can be describe what we hear if we use it accurately! And in fact, are audio components become more musical or not?

    What do you all think?
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
    ________________________________________

    -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
    -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
    -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
    -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

  • #2
    It's really hard to say without knowing the person using it. I know one guy that was so allergic to sibilance even if it should be there that his top end was all but gone. To him that was musical. He eventually realized that he was robbing himself of the emotional impact and the ambience the highs bring to the table. So his definition changed and he made the necessary adjustments. On the other end I know more than a few that went fidelity chasing, did 180s and went with warm and fuzzy, some only to 180 all over again. I swear it's like watching crack addicts relapse. Ultimately it appears "Musical" just happens to be the synonym for "what I like at this point in time". Not very useful to others but useful to them I think. Personally, when I hear the term what comes to mind is a sound that is not aggressive, almost too smoothed from a well placed dip and with a lower midrange bump to go with it. Not that I think that is musical to me but rather that such tuning while not making the best recordings sound their best, makes the average recording more palatable. Personally I shoot for somewhere in between, I try to dial in a bit of forgiveness since a lot of the music I like is less than greatly recorded. I suppose that's why for 8 years I've been using speakers that have controls to do just that as well as listening mainly to analog on arms with very easy adjustability too. So yeah, basically to me "Musical" is "what I like at this point in time" as well. Having a bit of production and engineering background, I don't think it's a sin to "get involved" with the final outcome. I exercise my right to have a good time

    Comment


    • #3
      Here is what I know: The word "musical" will always mean different things to different people and we aren't going to be able to assign an audiophile definition to it that will be accepted by more than a few head bobbers. For some it will remain a pejorative term and for others it will be a compliment to how good a system sounds.
      Micro Seiki SX-8000 table with flywheel, SME 3012R arm, SME 312S arm, Lyra Etna SL and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, ARC Ref 3 phono stage, Otari MX-55 tape deck, Ampex 350 repros, Roon Nucleus Plus server, PS Audio DSJ DAC, ARC Ref 6 pre, ARC Ref 75 amp, JBL 4345 speakers, and Def Tech Ref subs.

      Comment


      • #4
        "Musical" to me means its sins are one of omission rather than commission, the system may not be the most resolving, detailed or transparent but does justice to 80% or more of the music played through it rather than a few select 'reference' recordings. SOTA and "musical" need not be mutually exclusive, what some consider mid-fi can also be "musical."
        Simon Yorke S10 + My Sonic Lab Eminent GL + B.M.C. MCCI Signature ULN | Simon Yorke S9 + Koetsu Rosewood Standard + AcousticPlan Phonomaster | Wadia X-32 | Innuous ZEN Mini Mk II | Valvet Soulshine2 | Linear Tube Audio ZOTL10 MkII | Avantgarde Uno Fino XD

        "One of the great challenges of this world: Knowing enough about a subject to think you are right, but not enough about the subject to know you're wrong" - Neil deGrasse Tyson

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        • #5
          And a system doesn't always sound "musical" either. It's an interpretive word for the emotion created by both the media and components.
          Dynavector DV20x2L MC cartridge - Genesis G7.1f speakers - Marantz Reference PM-KI-Pearl Int. Amp. - Oracle Audio Paris MkV turntable - Various Morrow & Valab/King cables

          Comment


          • #6
            It's a term I use a lot, but it's easier to demonstrate than to explain. Fist time I really heard it was years ago when I got to do a side by side, comparison of two well set up turntables (mine and a friend's, no need to say which two, but it was the mid 1980s, so you might be able to guess, both had Tal;isman S cartridges mounted). My friend's was possibly technically better, and on audiophile grade demo LPs had deeper bass, larger sound stage, and was better at certain "sound" aspects. However, on the LPs I brought to the demo, ones that I knew well, and loved the music and had an emotional connection to, it wasn't close. My turntable connected with me, moved me, and made me want to listen. It was far more "musical" in it's presentation.
            Funny part, is the person that owned the other turntable, who was far more into the TAS type Audiophile music and sound, couldn't understand how I couldn't hear the "clear superiority" of his turntable, and I with my much loved but not necessarily audiophile music, couldn't understand how he couldn't appreciate the flow, the emotion, the total grip on the meaning of the music, that my turntable expressed.
            We stayed friend's and still appreciated each others system.

            Over the years, I've heard many expensive, real high end systems, that did all the high end audio stuff incredibly well, but lacked the ability to play music in a way that had any connection or emotion behind it. I've heard other systems that would just make you melt in your seat, adnd leave you emotionally drained. Those are the "musical" systems.
            Steve Lefkowicz
            Senior Associate Editor at Positive Feedback
            -
            Analog: Linn LP12 (MOSE/Hercules II), Ittok, Dynavector 19a, iPhono2; Pro-Ject RPM-1 Carbon, Sumiko Pearl, iFi iPhono.
            Digital: Samsung 300E5C notebook, JRiver Media Center 26, Tidal HiFi and Qobuz Studio), iFi iDAC2, iFi iUSB3, iPurifier2.
            Electronics: Burson Conductor Virtuoso, DIY switch-box with TKD 10K pot, Antique Sound Labs MG-SI15DT-S, Burson Timekeeper Virtuoso, Jolida JD1000P, B&K ST140.
            Speakers: Tekton Double Impact, Tekton Lore, Magneplaner .7, ELAC Debut2 B6.2, Debut F5 and Debut B6, Emotiva Airmotiv B1, Sound Dynamics 300ti.
            Interconnects: Morrow Audio MA1, Vermouth Audio Black Pearl, Nordost Solar Wind, Audioquest Evergreen
            Speaker cables: Morrow Audio SP4, Vermouth Audio Red Velvet, Nordost Solar Wind, Nordost Flatline, Audioquest Q2.
            Digital cables: Straightwire USB Link, Aural Symphonics Digital Standard xxv USB, Belkin PureAV.
            Accessories: Sound Organization turntable shelf, Mondo racks, Pangea Audio Vulcan racks, Pi Audio Group Über BUSS, Monster HTS2000 power conditioner, Sound Organization speaker stands, Pangea Audio speaker stands, Kinetronics anti-static brush, Pro-Ject VC-S record cleaner, Spin Clean record cleaner.
            Headphones: Schiit Valhalla amp, Meze Audio 99 Classic and 99 Neo, Beyerdynamic DT770Pro, 1More Triple Driver Over Ear, 1More MK801, 1More Triple Driver IEM

            http://www.audionirvana.org/forum/ti...ounding-system

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Johnny Vinyl View Post
              And a system doesn't always sound "musical" either. It's an interpretive word for the emotion created by both the media and components.



              A good system gets out of the way and allows the music to bloom. In my world, good or bad sonically. Other worlds prefer everything sounds pretty.
              Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
              Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
              ________________________________________

              -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
              -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
              -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
              -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
              -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
              -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
              -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
              -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
              -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
              -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

              Comment


              • #8
                When I review gear, I always think of musicality as a lack of artificiality--that element that comes between us and the music and won't allow us to suspend disbelief. In reality, for me musicality is the ability to accurately render instrumental overtones.

                For instance, take that early digital CBS recording of Bernstein conducting Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. I reckon everybody and their uncle went out and bought it for Bernstein. But this early digital recording was horrific and didn't sound at all like music. Totally artificial. The sound was simply not believable. (or unbelievably bad in this case.) There were zero, zip, nada instrumental overtones. And when you sat down and listened, all the music was washed away. In fact, it was so bad, the turntable actually sounded like it was playing at the wrong speed. It wasn't. I had to check though.

                Maybe another way of getting at the subject is what do people consider amusical?
                Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                ________________________________________

                -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
                -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
                -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
                -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I think we are on parallel if not the same thinking Myles. Specifically, I'm sensitive to compression, not just the applied kind but also driver and thermal compression. I think that goes back to my editing days. One thing that can yank me out of the moment is when a system fails to sail through a passage. Mainly it is caused by two things in tandem, a lack of headroom and inherent lack of resolution capability especially in the lower treble and upper midrange. Once things get "pinched" I can be knocked out of the zone. These are like momentary stage collapses where for brief instances it's like all the elements are fighting for primacy. It's no wonder that there is love for systems that are smoothed out. The pinch is there but at least it isn't painful. Then there's what I call full bandwidth crowding where even at low to medium levels there is a constant or prolonged crowding. In a loud venue it's normal to get this overloaded feeling but it is just downright weird to have it when it isn't loud at all. In hindsight I think that is the reason small ensembles and female vocals are so popular. They are relatively easy to assign headroom in both recording and playback. No stress, no pain. I certainly don't envy the job of the creatives. It must be extremely difficult to maintain continuity of sonics in an album where say a ballad is sandwiched between two power tracks. Typically we get a nice life sized vocalist on the ballad but when the heavy stuff comes in, that same vocalist is shrunk to make room for all the other elements. Still, they have to be practical because people don't like having to ride a volume control constantly. Well, we do the best we can to mitigate all this and thankfully there are many ways to skin that cat, the cat being a well thought out and integrated system along with knowing and respecting the limitations of the said system. There's always a silver lining

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JackD201 View Post
                    I think we are on parallel if not the same thinking Myles. Specifically, I'm sensitive to compression, not just the applied kind but also driver and thermal compression. I think that goes back to my editing days. One thing that can yank me out of the moment is when a system fails to sail through a passage. Mainly it is caused by two things in tandem, a lack of headroom and inherent lack of resolution capability especially in the lower treble and upper midrange. Once things get "pinched" I can be knocked out of the zone. These are like momentary stage collapses where for brief instances it's like all the elements are fighting for primacy. It's no wonder that there is love for systems that are smoothed out. The pinch is there but at least it isn't painful. Then there's what I call full bandwidth crowding where even at low to medium levels there is a constant or prolonged crowding. In a loud venue it's normal to get this overloaded feeling but it is just downright weird to have it when it isn't loud at all. In hindsight I think that is the reason small ensembles and female vocals are so popular. They are relatively easy to assign headroom in both recording and playback. No stress, no pain. I certainly don't envy the job of the creatives. It must be extremely difficult to maintain continuity of sonics in an album where say a ballad is sandwiched between two power tracks. Typically we get a nice life sized vocalist on the ballad but when the heavy stuff comes in, that same vocalist is shrunk to make room for all the other elements. Still, they have to be practical because people don't like having to ride a volume control constantly. Well, we do the best we can to mitigate all this and thankfully there are many ways to skin that cat, the cat being a well thought out and integrated system along with knowing and respecting the limitations of the said system. There's always a silver lining



                    Yes definitely see where you are coming from and certainly explains in part why different people have different ideas about musicality. Guess you could say, especially now that playing an instrument makes me much more attuned to rhythm, that say something in the treble area that affects pace would also destroy musicality. (and bass too.) So in general terms, any issues that prevents you from connecting to the music is a loss of musicality. Or vice versa, allows you to connect to the music is musical.

                    My only issue is say with someone who might enjoy a SE tube based amplifier system and thinks that "coloration" makes the sound more musical when in reality all it does is make all the recordings sound the same.
                    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                    Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                    ________________________________________

                    -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
                    -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
                    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                    -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
                    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                    -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I think all of us have days when we take our hats off and just have the music there to help create a certain atmosphere as opposed to be totally engaged in the activity of listening. My wife and I bought a lot on a ridge with a distant view of a lake. We hope to build there someday. What I envision is a total escape. My dream system for that place is a low fuss system that's built around tone and harmonic richness rather than the proverbial holodeck. Part of the escapist vision is a time warp to escape modern trappings (save perhaps high speed internet, air conditioning and hot water, can't do without THOSE! LOL!). I want it to look mid-century and feel mid century too. As such I've been naughty and gradually growing my mental vintage database. The system will most likely be low or medium powered tubes, el34s or if SE probably 211s driving alnico stonkers that can be put right up against the wall. Simple with no pre-flight checklist LOL. I think that would be really cool. I'm pretty sure that system will be musical in its own great way listening to Coltrane scotch on the side table, book in hand or Dean while whipping up a good supper. When the music nerd in me wakes up, I can just go home! As Marty says, we can all dream right?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        You forget, it's hard to turn that part of me off. That's why I do try and take a week off between reviews and every so often just to listen to music. That said, sometimes that week off turns into two and then three weeks.
                        Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                        Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                        ________________________________________

                        -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
                        -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
                        -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                        -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
                        -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                        -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                        -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                        -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                        -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                        -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It all depends upon how many Valins are lifted
                          Brian Walsh
                          ttsetup.com

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            So is musicality so difficult to define because emotional impact eludes measurements?
                            Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                            Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                            ________________________________________

                            -Magico S5 Mk.2 speakers with SPod feet
                            -Goldmund Telos 280 stereo amp
                            -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                            -Doshi V3.0 phonostage
                            -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                            -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                            -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                            -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                            -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 5, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                            -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA platforms.

                            Comment


                            • mkuller
                              mkuller commented
                              Editing a comment
                              Exactly. And that's what we're all looking for.

                          • #15
                            Unless you're a Borg

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