Can a hi-fi be too revealing?

I find myself being a bit of a Jackdaw , I like to go to Hi-Fi fora and read what people have to say....

I found myself reading a post "Can Hi-Fi Be Too Revealing " from AV forums and I found myself resonating at the same frequency.

I always feel that compared to what I see on this forum, I have quite a modest system and yet I too find myself doing quite a bit of critical listening....and I too find I can hear a lot of detail and as the writer of the article says I can hear quite a lot of "background events "...people humming off mike.... the odd clatter....tapping along...other things too ! I wondered what others find ? maybe too maybe my "modest " system is not so modest ?

I took the liberty of quoting the post I read ....from "Arcam_boy"

"I've had my new amp two weeks now and been doing quite a bit of critical listening to my system playing only CD's, most that I'm quite familiar with now.

When I had a good listening session on some disks I could hear things (its quite hard to explain 🤦) that I've not heard before on the disk. One of the most predominant is birdy's album. I could hear things in the back ground which didn't sound quite right.

I had a friend over and he had a listen and could hear the same rustling/tapping noises - which he put down to noise leakage from the sound booth when the tracks were recorded and also to the artist moving around in the booth.

I've just been listening to Adele's 19 and could hear one of two bits that didn't sound like they quite belonged there! I'm 99% certain the sounds are in the music and not from anything else. I'm using a separate mains spur and balanced cables. Its not a distortion type of sound and it doesn't happen on every disk.

It is getting a little off putting on one or two disks and I don't actually know if I like it. :rolleyes: I've also bene up and down like a yo yo just making sure its not something my systems picking up causing the sound :(

Any suggestions - re-assurance.

Can anyone listen to Birdy's - Skinny Love and see what they can hear?

Cheers
Mark
"
 

JoeThePop

Known member
Seems plausible that a system that is super-resolving, or whatever you want to call it, will pick up things in recordings that go unnoticed in less revealing systems. I don't have enough experience with different systems and components to comment much on what I feel is too revealing, but I just read an article in Stereophile about a jazz label that included some interesting notes on a supposedly well known (in the jazz community), recording engineer; Rudy Van Gelder. He apparently became known for leaving in the mix "little noises or interruptions, little glitches that I called 'Van Gelderoids.' Maybe these are not so noticeable in some less resolving systems.

 
Seems plausible that a system that is super-resolving, or whatever you want to call it, will pick up things in recordings that go unnoticed in less revealing systems. I don't have enough experience with different systems and components to comment much on what I feel is too revealing, but I just read an article in Stereophile about a jazz label that included some interesting notes on a supposedly well known (in the jazz community), recording engineer; Rudy Van Gelder. He apparently became known for leaving in the mix "little noises or interruptions, little glitches that I called 'Van Gelderoids.' Maybe these are not so noticeable in some less resolving systems.


It is not in the Jazz department but I have always been amazed what is buried in The Beatles repertoire....George Martin had a great studio technic and so did those that worked for him . However The Beatles were just "Four working class lads from Liverpool' and they said George was a bit like a school master having to control their behaviour. With that said it is most interesting to hear what is in there and it is not just open mic things , there are some very interesting and often curious "extras " that some systems can reveal....
 

JoeThePop

Known member
It is not in the Jazz department but I have always been amazed what is buried in The Beatles repertoire....George Martin had a great studio technic and so did those that worked for him . However The Beatles were just "Four working class lads from Liverpool' and they said George was a bit like a school master having to control their behaviour. With that said it is most interesting to hear what is in there and it is not just open mic things , there are some very interesting and often curious "extras " that some systems can reveal....

I watched a documentary on George Martin and his Beetles recording techniques, and it was fascinating. At one point they explained how he altered John Lenon's voice for I think it was "Strawberry Fields". It was something like he sped it up and the re-recorded at a slower speed? I don't really remember, but I remember thinking "analog Auto-Tune".
 
I watched a documentary on George Martin and his Beetles recording techniques, and it was fascinating. At one point they explained how he altered John Lenon's voice for I think it was "Strawberry Fields". It was something like he sped it up and the re-recorded at a slower speed? I don't really remember, but I remember thinking "analog Auto-Tune".
George was very pioneering in his approach and was a great advocate of The Heath-Robinson approach. His team first developed ADT through phasing which The Beatles nick-named "Phlanging" which is a term still used today. George also was able to harness several tape machines together to mix down his four track recordings onto one track of a four track to provide a kind of 7 track recording. There were many things he did and achieved for EMI including the first live feed mixes with Tomorrow Never Knows. .....
 

Olson_jr

Active Member
I really don't think that it takes a 'too revealing' system to hear these little artifacts, just an accurate system.

Something interesting I have noticed is that once I hear something, like the chair creak, or the thumping foot, or whatever that is in Birdy's - Skinny Love, I never can un-hear them. It gets lodged into my audio memory.

There is a Bill Frisell song I enjoy, with a bit of editing fail, and I hear that irritating glitch every time the tune plays, whether I am listening critically or not.

I have to wonder what amp(s) Arcam Boy went from and to for him to make this realization? Could it be as simple as having a much better signal-to-noise ratio in his new amp?
 
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I really don't think that it takes a 'too revealing' system to hear these little artifacts, just an accurate system.

Something interesting I have noticed is that once I hear something, like the chair creak, or the thumping foot, or whatever that is in Birdy's - Skinny Love, I never can un-hear them. It gets lodged into my audio memory.

There is a Fill Frisell song I enjoy, with a bit of editing fail, and I hear that irritating glitch every time the tune plays, whether I am listening critically or not.

I have to wonder what amp(s) Arcam Boy went from and to for him to make this realization? Could it be as simple as having a much better signal-to-noise ratio in his new amp?
I think the "unhear" thing is very true......once you have found this sort of additional noise it is very hard to unhear it again.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I think the trick is to figure out whether it’s revealing or if there’s a frequency response aberration that’s emphasizing something. A lot of old LOMCs seemed to do that. A spike in response somewhere that highlighted “detail” but that actually wasn’t natural or accurate.
 
Titles like this one, for me at least, showcase the ignorance that exists in this hobby. To the OP and others, I am not suggesting the negative connotation of ignorance here, just simply that you don't know what you don't know.

A system that is 'too revealing' is one I relate to having a bump in the upper midrange that 'extracts' details from the lower registers and spotlights them. This is unnatural and I have gotten into arguments about this on a few occasions. Those details were not meant to be showcased - that's why you've never heard them before. They were subtle things that were either designed to be subtle or were very minor mistakes that were so subtle they never worried about them interfering with the music.

When building a system, it is paramount that you get the harmonic structure correct. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Once that is in place, you can work on those TRUE revealing characteristics. As a rule, I have three major foundations for the system itself: the room, the rack, and the cables. You will never hear your system's full capability until those are taken care of.

The most important element in revealing those fine details (at the frequency they were recorded at) is what Robert Harley calls a 'low self-noise'. He used this term when he described the Elba 2 and their ability to reveal those details and the space and I think its a relatable term. In speakers, this equates to a very well designed and implemented crossover. In electronics, it equates to a superbly built power supply. In cables, it equates to excellent rejection of EMI/RFI.

This 'revealing' tendency also equates to how your rack and vibration control is implemented. If you do absorption, you will lose proper decay and your sound will end up dead. If you do isolation, the vibrations stay in your components and smear those details. Most common vibration solutions deal with these elements and get it wrong IMO. If, instead, you implement mechanical grounding (coupling), you are able to maintain details as well as atmosphere (the opposite of dead/black) and the system becomes much more revealing and real.

Another side note is that I think all too often people simply relate revealing to minor elements that were recorded. That is not all that can be revealed, but the rest of it is much harder to pull out of a system and requires components that are capable of present it. I am talking about the spatial elements. These are far too often completely hidden by a system's inability to open up front to back. Music is presented on a flat plane and it completely ruins the realism.

At a show I did in 2019, I was getting exceptional front to back sound, leaving other exhibitors recommending attendees go to my room, threatening to 'pack their SH** up and go home', and yet another sober up and become entranced immediately upon hearing it late one night. What happened with attendees? Maybe 5% of them caught it. The rest talked about minor tonal issues here or there, which I did have a bit. I was OK with that given the incredible spatial performance I had. The issue is so many in this hobby do not know what this can sound like or simply try to convince themselves they are getting it. This is the big reason why I spend 90 minutes to 2 hours on a demo with Rosso Fiorentino and Norma Audio because I have to introduce them to the sound and what its actually doing. Once they catch on, we listen to their music and their jaws are on the ground.

I'll end that by saying I'm half deaf in one ear and have a blown eardrum in the other. Golden Ears do exist, but they are extremely rare (I have three friends who have this trait naturally). The true quality is not in what you hear though, its what you listen for. That latter part does require some training for us regular folk, but you don't have to have exceptional hearing to be a good listener.
 

240sx4u

Technically It's LexusGuy
Titles like this one, for me at least, showcase the ignorance that exists in this hobby. To the OP and others, I am not suggesting the negative connotation of ignorance here, just simply that you don't know what you don't know.

A system that is 'too revealing' is one I relate to having a bump in the upper midrange that 'extracts' details from the lower registers and spotlights them. This is unnatural and I have gotten into arguments about this on a few occasions. Those details were not meant to be showcased - that's why you've never heard them before. They were subtle things that were either designed to be subtle or were very minor mistakes that were so subtle they never worried about them interfering with the music.

When building a system, it is paramount that you get the harmonic structure correct. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Once that is in place, you can work on those TRUE revealing characteristics. As a rule, I have three major foundations for the system itself: the room, the rack, and the cables. You will never hear your system's full capability until those are taken care of.

The most important element in revealing those fine details (at the frequency they were recorded at) is what Robert Harley calls a 'low self-noise'. He used this term when he described the Elba 2 and their ability to reveal those details and the space and I think its a relatable term. In speakers, this equates to a very well designed and implemented crossover. In electronics, it equates to a superbly built power supply. In cables, it equates to excellent rejection of EMI/RFI.

This 'revealing' tendency also equates to how your rack and vibration control is implemented. If you do absorption, you will lose proper decay and your sound will end up dead. If you do isolation, the vibrations stay in your components and smear those details. Most common vibration solutions deal with these elements and get it wrong IMO. If, instead, you implement mechanical grounding (coupling), you are able to maintain details as well as atmosphere (the opposite of dead/black) and the system becomes much more revealing and real.

Another side note is that I think all too often people simply relate revealing to minor elements that were recorded. That is not all that can be revealed, but the rest of it is much harder to pull out of a system and requires components that are capable of present it. I am talking about the spatial elements. These are far too often completely hidden by a system's inability to open up front to back. Music is presented on a flat plane and it completely ruins the realism.

At a show I did in 2019, I was getting exceptional front to back sound, leaving other exhibitors recommending attendees go to my room, threatening to 'pack their SH** up and go home', and yet another sober up and become entranced immediately upon hearing it late one night. What happened with attendees? Maybe 5% of them caught it. The rest talked about minor tonal issues here or there, which I did have a bit. I was OK with that given the incredible spatial performance I had. The issue is so many in this hobby do not know what this can sound like or simply try to convince themselves they are getting it. This is the big reason why I spend 90 minutes to 2 hours on a demo with Rosso Fiorentino and Norma Audio because I have to introduce them to the sound and what its actually doing. Once they catch on, we listen to their music and their jaws are on the ground.

I'll end that by saying I'm half deaf in one ear and have a blown eardrum in the other. Golden Ears do exist, but they are extremely rare (I have three friends who have this trait naturally). The true quality is not in what you hear though, its what you listen for. That latter part does require some training for us regular folk, but you don't have to have exceptional hearing to be a good listener.

Great post, you hit on several things that run right in line with my experiences and opinions.

My experience has also been that systems that have certain types of FR anomalies manifest themselves as being too "Forward" and or "Revealing" as well. These are the same systems that people usually assign "listener fatigue" too as well.

So to answer the OP's question, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This hobby is extremely subjective, so much so that my system will absolutely send some of the members here running for the hills. I also know people with great rigs that I barely find listenable. As masochistic as it sounds, half the fun in this hobby for me was figuring out exactly what I preferred and then trying to pare that down to perfection.

So "woody's" system might be perfection for someone. It may also be a matter of him taking the time to adjust to it and see if it's to his liking. We often single out the dramatic changes when we implement a change, and sometimes those dramatic changes are the ones we ultimately find to be too much of a good thing.

YMMV.
 
For me it was a choice--stay with mid-fi and not hear the "warts" yet not be satisfied with the sound (tonal balance, timbre, fine details, etc. all lacking), or get "warts and all" and be happy with the sound, which is where I'm at now. I would consider anything extra heard in the recording to be an artifact of its production, so it doesn't bother me much if at all. And I've also noticed that if I hear it on my "big boy pants" system, I'll later hear it on my desktop or car system, to a lesser extent. I can't say it ruins the experience for me to have heard it, though.

Side note--a friend's system used a pair of bi-amped Totem Arro speakers. I never said anything to him, but he mentioned that some listeners felt those were bright. He says, in their defense: "They're not bright--they're revealing." After I left his house I'm thinking, "No, dude, they're bright. And what's more, they have no bass!" With those dinky woofers in such a large room, they never had a chance, and I shouldn't have to sit and "imagine" the bass while listening to music.
 
Titles like this one, for me at least, showcase the ignorance that exists in this hobby. To the OP and others, I am not suggesting the negative connotation of ignorance here, just simply that you don't know what you don't know.

A system that is 'too revealing' is one I relate to having a bump in the upper midrange that 'extracts' details from the lower registers and spotlights them. This is unnatural and I have gotten into arguments about this on a few occasions. Those details were not meant to be showcased - that's why you've never heard them before. They were subtle things that were either designed to be subtle or were very minor mistakes that were so subtle they never worried about them interfering with the music.

When building a system, it is paramount that you get the harmonic structure correct. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Once that is in place, you can work on those TRUE revealing characteristics. As a rule, I have three major foundations for the system itself: the room, the rack, and the cables. You will never hear your system's full capability until those are taken care of.

The most important element in revealing those fine details (at the frequency they were recorded at) is what Robert Harley calls a 'low self-noise'. He used this term when he described the Elba 2 and their ability to reveal those details and the space and I think its a relatable term. In speakers, this equates to a very well designed and implemented crossover. In electronics, it equates to a superbly built power supply. In cables, it equates to excellent rejection of EMI/RFI.

This 'revealing' tendency also equates to how your rack and vibration control is implemented. If you do absorption, you will lose proper decay and your sound will end up dead. If you do isolation, the vibrations stay in your components and smear those details. Most common vibration solutions deal with these elements and get it wrong IMO. If, instead, you implement mechanical grounding (coupling), you are able to maintain details as well as atmosphere (the opposite of dead/black) and the system becomes much more revealing and real.

Another side note is that I think all too often people simply relate revealing to minor elements that were recorded. That is not all that can be revealed, but the rest of it is much harder to pull out of a system and requires components that are capable of present it. I am talking about the spatial elements. These are far too often completely hidden by a system's inability to open up front to back. Music is presented on a flat plane and it completely ruins the realism.

At a show I did in 2019, I was getting exceptional front to back sound, leaving other exhibitors recommending attendees go to my room, threatening to 'pack their SH** up and go home', and yet another sober up and become entranced immediately upon hearing it late one night. What happened with attendees? Maybe 5% of them caught it. The rest talked about minor tonal issues here or there, which I did have a bit. I was OK with that given the incredible spatial performance I had. The issue is so many in this hobby do not know what this can sound like or simply try to convince themselves they are getting it. This is the big reason why I spend 90 minutes to 2 hours on a demo with Rosso Fiorentino and Norma Audio because I have to introduce them to the sound and what its actually doing. Once they catch on, we listen to their music and their jaws are on the ground.

I'll end that by saying I'm half deaf in one ear and have a blown eardrum in the other. Golden Ears do exist, but they are extremely rare (I have three friends who have this trait naturally). The true quality is not in what you hear though, its what you listen for. That latter part does require some training for us regular folk, but you don't have to have exceptional hearing to be a good listener.

I think you have missed the point here...I think it is not a case of "How To build a System "...it is case of what your system reveals ....when you get to a critical point in this, you find that your system can reveal things that the team that recorded/engineered the recording didn't think you could hear or would ever be able to get out of the recording.....To quote George Martin from an inte4rview ...he said he knew that these things were there on the recording but who had a system that could find them and reproduce them....he said very few ...now that was in the 70s ....He went on to review that statement saying that in the intervening time a lot of people now had systems that could easily reveal the faults in the original recordings....he said this as he attempted to produce the very first English Beatles releases on CD. I have a further note ...I was fortunate enough to be a good friend of Chris Simpson of the band Magna Carta....during the time that I was with him ...we talked about his project of re-mastering himself the early Magna Carta albums.....we came to his album "Seasons" and Chris had with him a demo copy of his re-mastered album. I had a clean copy of his original release on vinyl.....We sat and played both on my system...Chris said he had gone through the re -master himself but would value a comparison of the original and his re-master. We listened and I pointed out the sibalence on the vocals on the vinyl and a few minor edits and odd sounds. We played the re-master from a CD and although it had been adjusted it too had the same problems as the vinyl. Chris was surprised as to how much could be revealed on both . He went back to the UK and later in the month phoned me from Abbey Road where he was re-mastering....He was sat with the engineers doing the re master and had explained the basis if our conversation.....both he and the engineers had indeed found the same as we had found when he played it with me........They said they had spent the day working on the problems and had done their best to try to doctor the problems but they were there in the original recordings and not too easy to remove. They had listened to the recordings on several set ups and said yes there were systems that had more emphasis on these than others but their reference system did clearly show them.....they also said they had not noticed the problems too much on the original re-masters and confirmed that when the original recordings were made few engineers etc would have worried as they thought few had the gear to reveal them.
 

240sx4u

Technically It's LexusGuy
I think you have missed the point here...I think it is not a case of "How To build a System "...it is case of what your system reveals ....when you get to a critical point in this, you find that your system can reveal things that the team that recorded/engineered the recording didn't think you could hear or would ever be able to get out of the recording.....To quote George Martin from an inte4rview ...he said he knew that these things were there on the recording but who had a system that could find them and reproduce them....he said very few ...now that was in the 70s ....He went on to review that statement saying that in the intervening time a lot of people now had systems that could easily reveal the faults in the original recordings....he said this as he attempted to produce the very first English Beatles releases on CD. I have a further note ...I was fortunate enough to be a good friend of Chris Simpson of the band Magna Carta....during the time that I was with him ...we talked about his project of re-mastering himself the early Magna Carta albums.....we came to his album "Seasons" and Chris had with him a demo copy of his re-mastered album. I had a clean copy of his original release on vinyl.....We sat and played both on my system...Chris said he had gone through the re -master himself but would value a comparison of the original and his re-master. We listened and I pointed out the sibalence on the vocals on the vinyl and a few minor edits and odd sounds. We played the re-master from a CD and although it had been adjusted it too had the same problems as the vinyl. Chris was surprised as to how much could be revealed on both . He went back to the UK and later in the month phoned me from Abbey Road where he was re-mastering....He was sat with the engineers doing the re master and had explained the basis if our conversation.....both he and the engineers had indeed found the same as we had found when he played it with me........They said they had spent the day working on the problems and had done their best to try to doctor the problems but they were there in the original recordings and not too easy to remove. They had listened to the recordings on several set ups and said yes there were systems that had more emphasis on these than others but their reference system did clearly show them.....they also said they had not noticed the problems too much on the original re-masters and confirmed that when the original recordings were made few engineers etc would have worried as they thought few had the gear to reveal them.

So they heard the problems in the studio as well after you told them? Seems to me you're better at critical listening than they are.
 
So they heard the problems in the studio as well after you told them? Seems to me you're better at critical listening than they are.
In some ways I feel you are right , but also I feel that there has been a steady increase in the resolving power of systems from the 60s through to the 90s and also how available these systems are. Today, we really can get things that maybe in the 60s/70s were beyond most even in studios?
 

240sx4u

Technically It's LexusGuy
In some ways I feel you are right , but also I feel that there has been a stead increase in the resolving power of systems from the 60s through to the 90s and also how available these systems are. Today we really can get things that maybe in the 60s/70s were beyond most even in studios?

Oh I don't disagree with you there at all! Mainly I was highlighting that critical listening is a learned skill that comes with experience.
 
Oh I don't disagree with you there at all! Mainly I was highlighting that critical listening is a learned skill that comes with experience.
Yes ....however it is a bit like the faults etc you hear......somewhat hard to turn off or unlearn ...so it is not always a blessing. :panic
 
In your case it is an issue of poor recording practice and nothing else. Regarding not correcting the issues, it sounds like a poor excuse to not try and do something about it.

My comment still stands though. If you build a system around detail retrieval first and foremost you become too revealing and hear things that might be there but should slip into the night mostly unknown. My point was that some things were not intended to be highlighted and by creating a spotlight in your system, you cannot get around it.

In a properly built system, those elements don’t disappear but they are not glaring issues.

I’ll also add that all those similar threads revolve around this system issue 99% of the time. Audiophiles in general tend to think about the playback performance first and foremost and not recording performance.
 
We have to remember something else, especially with pop music--the engineers mixed these tracks to make a hit record, not to appease audiophiles. In hindsight and now on better equipment, I'm sure many had wished they recorded those tracks just a little bit better.

Thing is, once they get into "fixing" things or worse, remixing, they are taking away the essence of those original releases. A few nudges or some cleanup here and there isn't a bad thing, but if the sound drastically changes, the tunes no longer sound like listeners remember them, warts and all. Sometimes it's even in the mastering--a few changes to a "dead" sounding release might be clarified if the mastering is improved.
 
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