Monday, July 13, 2009

The audiophile in me

Am I really a music lover first instead of an outright audiophile as ascribed by me in my earlier blog posting? I'd certainly like to believe so although I must admit that I love exploring different audio equipments and had already spent a not-too-meagre fraction of my hard earned money on them. I have changed audio equipments numerous times over (it's not how much my present system costs but rather how much was actually lost in the process of changing gears) and up to this very moment, although I am quite contented with my existing ones, I wouldn't discount off not replacing at least a component or two in the near foreseeable future. This problem is compounded by fact that I tend to get excited rather easily over audio equipments be it the sonic quality, looks or perceived value for money and not helped by my increasing interest in vinyl playback which I only ventured into few years back.

IMO, my present audio system sounds quite musical and engaging which could be listened to for a long period although it may not be the most transparent, highly-resolved, tonally superior and whatnot. To me, a musical system must not attempt to curtail our music tastes and dictates what we should listen to but instead connect us to all aspects of any performance in various genres of music and enables us to feel recharged after listening (for music nourishes our souls) especially after a stressful day at work. It should also be quite balanced in term of muscularity (yang) vs. femininity (yin). When we setup our system in a dedicated sound room, the tendency is we'd seek details and transparency as the lower frequencies are well-contained in the room. As my system resides in the open living area, I opt for fullness to the lower midrange and bass weight which represents the foundation to music. This is an acquired taste (of which not everyone may concur) and explains why I love vdH cables a lot.

Spot-on timing is paramount. Music is a melodious expression of emotion and when we listen to live music, we tend to get connected with these expressions (the melody from its relationship to notes and beats) as musicians there synchronize in time; the more they satisfied or exceeded our emotional thresholds and the better we would feel thereafter. When we listen to recorded music at home, all frequencies ought to reach us without any fluctuation in timing so we could enjoy them. Our system must be capable of sounding fast and slow enough when music demand for such contrasting speeds in timing; reason why I strive for PRaT excellence. I found an interesting interpretation of PRaT online: "PRaT is commonly associated with the toe tapping. Some seem to equate PRaT as the equivalent of dynamic swing which contributes to musical climax, but it is actually more than that. The progression of a musical note can be roughly seen as comprising three elements: the initial attack, the main thrust, and the subsequent decay. Audio equipments with good PRaT capability get the correlation of the three elements in correct proportion, and contribute to the involvement and pleasure when we listen to music. Some have opined that single-ended audio equipment generally has better PRaT than push-pull counterparts. I tend to agree. That makes PRaT the more elusive factor in audio is largely the situation that all elements could be there, and therefore nothing seem missing, but they are not in the right proportion to one another. When this happen, audiophiles may detect something not right about the presentation, but the exact "what's wrong" may well elude them. For example, when the initial attack of the musical note is de-emphasized, music may seem lifeless or sluggish. Conversely, when the decay of a music note is not given its due, music may seem fleeting, dry or tense. On first listening, every part of the musical note seem to be present, only after careful audition does it become apparent that something is not right with the presentation. I have not read this, but my search of the "textbook definition" has lead me to the following long article by Martin Colloms on the subject:"

When one first embarked upon the audio journey, he or she would tend to seek power adequacy, centre imaging, soundstage size (width, height and depth), resolve and absolute clarity, timbre and tonal balance, analogue sounding, midrange liquidity and tone richness, PRaT and other sonic qualities. I am no different and have paid not too insignificant amount of "tuition fees" to get to where I am today. The equipments I'd part my hard earned money nowadays must be "Jack of all trades" to sound acceptably good in all areas. To demand for more, one must be prepared to spend silly money for "Law of Diminishing Return" would kick in and be very applicable. I have also mellowed down significantly over the years and my present day motto is to ENJOY THE MUSIC instead of continuing the elusive search for the perfect sounding equipments.

I'm not here to boast that I already owned the best-sounding equipments nor they are giant killers as it's without any doubt that there are so many better-engineered and finer-sounding equipments available out there, many of which I'd love to own if affordability is not really an issue. Many of us love giant-killers but the big question here is, is there really one in the first place? The adage of "we get monkeys if we only pay peanuts" rings very true indeed even in hifi. For instance, I recently heard a Tom Evans Groove+ phonostage and I fully concur with claims like: "faint nuance and details are brought into a high resolution focus" and "you have really not heard what is on your records". It's that good but its price is a deterrent to many would-be buyers. Me? It's surely tempting but at this juncture, I'd try to convince myself that the money could be better spent on my son's quality tertiary education few years down the road or towards paying off my housing mortgage.

From my observations, I notice that many audiophile folks do spend a sizeable amount on cables, footers and other sound-tweaking accessories to fine tune their systems apart from their main equipments on one extreme end. I always advocate in getting the basics right and do not subscribe to such acts as I thought many of these gadgets are under-engineered and overpriced. IMO, these folks are in for a rude awakening if one fine day they were to remove every single accessory and just site their equipments directly on our solid Malaysian home floorings! On the other extreme end, there are few electronic-inclined folks who must equate science to system building and claim that our hearings are flawed and not to be trusted. I do not buy such logic at all. System building is a dynamic process and continuous improvement is never static. It's ongoing and enjoyable and we should be having fun ourselves!

I embraced the vinyl LP playback not too long ago and the sound quality from this medium has never fail to amaze me since. After having gotten accustomed to the analogue sound, I now find the CDs sound clinical and sterile, not organic enough and rather 'predictable'. I strongly feel that a newcomer like me must not be a miser but is willing to spend on both the hardware and software to enjoy this analogue medium in the digital era. What have I been listening to lately? I picked up 8 LPs within the first week of July itself with all of them either brand-new reissues, sealed NOS copies or in mint and hardly-played condition. They are Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 - Emil Gilels/Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Walton Facade - Suites from Orchestra / Lecocq Mamzelle Angot - Suite for the Ballet, 曾庆瑜 - 誰會想你, 銀霞 - 你那好冷的小手 (第三張專輯), 銀霞 - 蝸牛與黃鸝鳥 (backed by 旅行者三重唱), 陈慧娴 - 花店 (1985) and 邝美云 - 再坐一会.

Anyone who is keen to walk down memory lane or in picking up some great-sounding but very scarce Chinese NOS vinyl LPs should visit Nova Hifi S/B located at No. D-9-1 Jaya One, PJ or call Mr MK Lai at 019-222 6129.



albertwui said...

i would like to hear the vinyl in action if got chance. particularly interest on the last 2 titles in ur vinyl list :)

Y.C. said...

Hi Albert,
Find a weekend, preferably a Saturday afternoon for a listening session together.