This article will attempt to describe many of the things that make a difference in an audio system. Getting good sound is not an accident. You have about as much chance of buying what the salesman says to buy, putting it in your living room and getting really good sound as you have of winning the next big lottery jackpot. But if you know how tricky it is to get good sound, you can increase your chances of getting there. So let's talk about how to get good sound and see what kind of stuff pops up.
People are usually surprised at how important the room is. People who attend shows where high end manufacturers setup up incredible systems in not-so-incredible hotel rooms (beds, desks, TVs, etc. are removed for the shows) know that these rooms rarely sound good. And when they do sound good, more often than not the speakers are smaller models. This should tell you something. If you have a bad room and you can live without deep bass, smaller speakers are going to be a LOT easier to work with than big 100 lb.+ models. But small speakers may have limitations you might find unacceptable.
Now before I go too much farther, some true beginners aren't going to understand what I meant by that first paragraph. So let's take a short sidebar.
So this is just a little background about what is meant by small, medium and large speakers. When viewed as groups, they tend to follow a loose set of "rules" and you can make some general assumptions about the limits of their performance. But like most things, there are exceptions to the rules and generalizations.
And returning to room size and bass reproduction... the general rule of thumb should be "the smaller the room, the smaller the speaker". As with all generalizations, this usually holds up, but there are exceptions. What does this mean to real life speaker selection? If your listening room is perhaps an unused bedroom that is 13' x 11' with an 8' ceiling, you have a better chance of being happy with a smaller sized speakers. If your room is 30' x 25' x 12', a small speaker will be a very big mistake if you want large scale music played back at realistic levels with deep bass. Even the expensive small speaker won't help. The $8,000 small speaker is made for the serious music lover who is limited to a medium to small listening room, but who wants the best sound possible in that room. But if your budget is more limited, you can buy a small pair of speakers for $200 (PSB Alpha) that sound uncommonly good for their price. But you must connect them to good sounding electronics with good sounding wires. Connecting the little PSBs to common discount store electronics won't be half as nice as using better equipment.
Now we'll move away from the discussion of how speaker size and room size relate to each other. Everything about the room has an influence on the sound you hear at the listening position. The stiffness (or lack) of the floor, walls and ceiling are significant factors. What materials are used in the floors, walls & ceiling are important. The number, size and location of windows is critical. Too much glass in a critical path will sound really bad to the listener. Especially bad if the location of the glass is not symmetrical. For example: a sliding glass door on one wall with a normal wall opposite the sliding glass door. These 2 very different surfaces sound different because they do not reflect sound the same way. The sound in the room will always be unbalanced to one degree or another. If you cover the glass with curtains there can be a huge effect, sometimes too far into the opposite direction. Glass covered with very heavy drapes is perhaps better than "bare" glass but a moderate window covering is best. Z-pleated shades or light curtains are examples of better choices in many cases.
The dimensions of the room are far more important than people realize. This is different than the "size" of the room. You can have 2 rooms that are both 400 sq ft, but one could be 20' x 20' and the other 15' x 26.67'. The 15'x26.67' room will sound quite a bit better (for this example assume the ceiling height is a "normal" 8' for both rooms). Dimensions like 9x12x15 or 8x16x24 where there is 1 number that divides evenly into each dimension will sound MUCH WORSE than rooms that are not easily divisible like 9 x 16 x 25 or 8 x 13 x 17.5. This has to do with the science of acoustics. Rooms with "bad" dimensions have many frequencies which are reinforced and diminished by the natural resonance frequencies of those dimensions. Rooms with "good" dimensions spread out those resonant frequencies so that there is little or no strong reinforcement or diminishment of any frequency.
I don't want to get into a lot of detail here, it is a huge subject. You may or may not have options when selecting the room to put your system in. If you do have options, at least do some quick division tests on the room dimensions. If a single number divides evenly into any 2 room dimensions, try a different room if you can. If one room has all 3 dimensions evenly divided by the same number and another room has only 2 dimensions evenly divisible by a single number, use the room with 2 evenly divisible dimensions. 9.2' x 16.1' x 23' is a bad choice, 2.3 divides into each number evenly. 9' x 14' x 17' is better.
This just barely scrapes the surface of room issues and questions. A more complex consideration is how sounds reflect around the room axially. That means how the sound reflects multiple times from different surfaces. Somewhat spiral (axial) paths occur from those multiple reflections. This is very difficult to calculate or predict. Most audiophiles never even consider it, but it is a factor. Books on room acoustics are the best reference for someone willing to build or remodel specifically to get good sound. Home theater has a whole additional set of concerns and considerations that could lead to a room that is significantly different from a 2-channel music-only room. When designing the room, be sure you understand how it will be used. There are a lot of things to consider.
Bare floor vs. carpet? Carpet wins every time. At the very least get carpet covering the floor area between the speakers and the listener. This area is responsible for a lot of "floor slap", a particularly bothersome type of reflection.
Whenever there are 2 hard surfaces opposite each other in a room i.e. front and rear walls, ceiling and tile floor, sound will reflect back and forth between the hard surfaces many times before dying out. This will damage the sound quality in the room. Room Tunes "Echo Tunes" and "Corner Tunes" are designed to stop this repeating echo. They are very effective at this and not too expensive. There are 2 or 3 competitive products that are also effective. Treating a room with purpose-designed tuning devices is definitely recommended. "Echo Tunes" and "Corner Tunes" are a great place to start. For more info, ask the Room Tunes people for their booklet "Let's Tune Your Room", in the US call 1-800-724-3305 (outside the US 215-297-0227 voice or 215-297-8661 fax).
What do you hear in a room with well chosen dimensions that is properly "treated" with acoustical devices? Less "confusion" in the sound. Individual instruments and voices are clearer. The tone of the instruments and voices becomes more natural. When using "better" equipment, there is a heightened sense of space and position and depth. It is easier to follow 1 particular instrument through an entire song. Lyrics are easier to understand. Music does not get "cloudy" and smeared together during climaxes ("better" equipment helps this area of performance a lot also). All of this helps build the emotional connection between you and the music. How you "feel" about the music you listen to is an important element of how much you enjoy the music. And after all, the point of all the equipment you buy is enjoying music. When you hear a properly "treated" room for the first time, you will never want to go back to an "untreated" room.
THE EQUIPMENT - HARDWARE
Something interesting has happened in the last 20 years or so. We used to be buried in inaccurate, misleading, it-all-sounds-the-same equipment reviews in major audio magazines. Today, only one surviving "old school" mag is still trying to perpetuate one of the longest-lived lies about audio equipment. That lie has been that well engineered, similarly priced components sound pretty much the same. That is completely incorrect, but it sure made reviews of receivers easier. You didn't have to line up 3 or 4 similarly priced models and decide if there was a "winner" sound-wise. Amps do sound substantially different, one from another, as do speakers, preamps, receivers, CD players and every other component.
Reading Stereophile just might make you paranoid though. In a recent interview in Stereophile, the point was made that people pick up Stereophile and read about the audible flaws in a $1,000 amplifier, or flaws in the sound of a $7,000 pair of speakers or flaws in the sound of a CD playback system that costs $5,000 or more. People in general tend to expect that equipment that expensive should be flaw-LESS. Reading about the flaws does not make them feel real good about spending a lot of money on good high end equipment when they could spend, say, $500 on a receiver that nobody has had anything bad to say about it. What these people don't realize is that the $500 receiver is AWFUL sounding in comparison to good high end equipment. SO BAD sounding that "real" high end magazines devote little or no space to them. Judged by the same standards applied to equipment in high end reviews the majority of "mass market" electronics components (primarily sold in large electronics discount chains or department stores) would be "unacceptable". If you decide to take the plunge into high end - do not forget this. You may never see this mentioned anywhere else. Do not let discussions of very small shortcomings of expensive equipment allow you to assume that it does not sound better than inexpensive equipment. The expensive equipment is being judged using unbelievably high standards. Those standards applied to Circuit Guys kind of equipment would expose some pretty bad sound imports.
What hardware is the most important? This question is impossible to answer, it's like "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Speakers are important. The kind of music you listen to is important - it can have a huge influence on what speakers and electronics are best for you. The equipment you drive the speaker with is important. But you can't really do a good job of selecting this equipment till you know what speakers it will be used with. And the type of music you listen to and how loudly you like to listen is a strong influence on the equipment too.
An example: Let's say that you grew up listening to Motown and psychedelic music from the 60s and 70s and after all these years, you still listen to that kind of music almost every day with a sprinkling of newer music for variety. You take your time picking a speaker that works well for you, then find an amp and preamp to drive the speakers. You are in heaven. Then one day you are visiting a new friend who happens to like jazz and you get to talking about music and you ask to hear a couple of things that someone who doesn't know much about jazz might appreciate. Your new friend does what most jazz lovers in the same position would do. He pulls out original Columbia "6-eye" LP pressings of Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and Dave Brubeck's "Time Out". You are knocked out by this music (and well you should be, these are 2 of the most creative and successful classic jazz performances of their time). On the way home you stop at a used record store and buy a copy of "Time Out" (no copies in Kind of Blue in stock at the moment) and ask a sales person about classic jazz. He goes to get the owner who selects another half dozen titles for you (MJQ, Coltrane "Ballads", Monk, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, and Count Basie). The owner cleans the LPs on a VPI cleaning machine for you as a courtesy and you head home eager to hear the new LPs.
You sit down for a listen and the music is... boring. Throw on the Grateful Dead live in Europe for a quick sound check... yep it sounds wonderful. What the heck happened? Bad karma. You just outgrew your original speakers. Just like that. You found something else you like and didn't even know it till today. And now your system is suddenly obsolete. If you find a different speaker that works well on jazz AND the other music you already liked, you might find your amp and preamp aren't right any longer. It's a vicious circle. Because of this, I recommend caution. Go slow. FORGET that you have receiver or speaker money burning a hole in your pocket to get spent. TAKE YOUR TIME. What's the rush? People are always looking for quick canned answers so they don't have to think or learn. Buying audio equipment is a good place to set that attitude aside and HAVE FUN with the learning/buying process. A bad decision on audio components can be an expensive mistake. A good decision will make you feel warm all over - and your music will sound great. When you shop for speakers or electronics take the music you like, but also take other types of music (or rely on the shop's selection) to make sure OTHER music sounds good on that equipment too. This will help prevent surprises in the future.
A word about home theater... people in general are WOWED by large screen video displays. Everybody seems to want one, the bigger the better. But none of them can fool you for even 1 microsecond into thinking you are looking at something real. The picture is completely and obviously fake to your brain. Even the very best quality displays in the world will not fool your brain for a second. Now think about sound for a minute. If you have ever heard a really good audio system, there are moments when the system can reproduce sounds that are so close to the real thing that the hairs stand up on the back of your neck... then you grin. You can be COMPLETELY fooled by a good audio system. Not constantly, not 100% of the time, but often enough to know that your audio system is approaching the sound of "reality". So consider the role of audio in a home theater. You are stuck with a video display that will NEVER completely suck you into a "virtual reality" immersion experience so matter how good it is. But, you can enhance your home theater experience by doing the audio part right. The better you do the audio, the more you will be sucked in to the "experience" of the movie. The unrealistic video display won't be forgotten, but the "being sucked in" quotient will be much higher with better quality audio. Never underestimate the importance of great audio in a home theater.
ALL THE OTHER STUFF
Yes, all of it makes a difference. But not necessarily in EVERY system. And sometimes the difference is not an improvement. But in a lot of cases there will be improvements from carefully selected "other stuff". Let's look at different items one at a time. These aren't being listed in "order of importance" or anything, they appear in the order they came to mind.
RACKS / SHELVES
This makes more of a difference than you can believe. If you aren't in a good isolation/damping or mechanical tuning rack, you have no idea how good your system can sound. You can pretty much forget traditional high end racks with welded frames and fixed particle board (usually black) shelves. Avoid anything with glass shelves at ALL costs. The racks/shelves/bases/stands I know that work best are Bright Star racks and isolation bases and Michael Green Designs JustaRacks and Clamp Racks. Both do their thing VERY differently. Which one is best for you.... don't ask, I can't tell you. It is all very complex. Both rack systems have the potential to move the performance of a well matched system from nice to wow. It isn't so much that the difference in sound is huge, it is more a matter of the system being able to do subtle things it could never do before. And those subtle things help build the illusion of a live performance in your room.
I used to be a DISbeliever in the importance of the right racks/stands. You won't catch me without them now. Consider them essential. But only if you select the right ones. Other racks may be more convenient or cheaper or look cooler, but the Michael Green racks and Bright Star racks can, when installed properly, make your music sound better. The other racks will hold your equipment. Some of them will be "neutral" soundwise, meaning they won't improve or hurt the sound you get. But beware the "designer" racks, these will actually make your music sound WORSE.
WHEN, you might ask, should I worry about racks/shelves? Well, it depends on your situation. You will have plenty of things to do with a new system to amuse yourself for a year or two before you really HAVE to begin thinking about a rack or shelf system (or supports for your amps to get them off the floor). If your budget can't deal with the additional cost of shelves right at the beginning, start with something effective and cheap like mdf (particle board) shelves supported and separated by bricks. Save some money for "real" shelves while you experiment with cheap tweaks to find out whether mechanical grounding or isolation/damping works best in your system/room.
FEET - SQUISHY... HARD... POINTY... ROUND
One thing I can tell you... the stock feet on your audio components (regardless of price) are almost always THE WORST thing you could use for feet. In fact, when you do find good sounding feet, you should consider REMOVING the stock feet to help further undo their evil sound corruption (literary exaggeration, but the first time you hear this you'll swear you are either: brainwashed, psychotic, an alien abductee, or pretty darn observant).
I have had no success with soft absorbent rubber feet. I used to think things sounded better on soft absorbent rubber feet until I tried Michael Green Designs AudioPoints. These brass cones improved everything I tried them under including my video monitor (better picture, not much change to TV sound), 2 VCRs, CD player, laserdisc player, preamp amp, surround decoder, surround amp, center channel speaker, front l & r speakers, & turntable. I was wildly skeptical at first. But every location I tried them in sounded better with them replacing either the stock feet or soft absorbent rubber feet. Now the soft feet sound: slow; lacking in detail; uninvolving; unfocused; less-quiet background.
So feet really do make a difference and they all sound a little different one from another. This makes a REAL hard choice for someone trying to get good sound. How could you EVER figure out on your own what are the best feet for YOUR equipment. There must be 10 kinds of soft feet available and 15 or 20 different flavors of hard feet, usually cones. It just isn't practical to try all of these in your system. Advice? Find some you can actually afford and ask a dealer to loan you 3 soft ones and 3 hard ones (maybe 2 kinds of hard ones) and try them in your system. Try them under different components to make sure you select hard where needed and soft where needed. From this test, just pick one and be satisfied with your decision. If you can afford $10 feet, $20 or $40 feet aren't going to sound 2x or 4x better, maybe 1.2x and 1.4x better is more realistic. But if your budget can deal with more expensive feet, the accumulation of all those small improvements becomes pretty big when the whole system is outfitted.
WIRES - NO WAY, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET ME TO SAY WIRES MAKE A DIFFERENCE
One of high end audio's great debates... how can wires POSSIBLY make a difference unless they are such wacky designs that the audio signal is modified by them? I don't know how. Maybe nobody knows for certain. But the evidence is indisputable. Wires do not sound the same.
If you doubt that wire is a factor in the sound of your system, try a cheap experiment. This will work on ANY system I've ever heard including boom boxes. Go to the hardware store and buy enough stranded 14 gauge electrical wire to connect your speakers. Then buy the same amount of 14 gauge solid core wire. When you get home, hook up the stranded wire and listen to music for an hour or so to get used to the sound of the stranded wire. Now disconnect the stranded wire and hook up the solid core wire. Again listen for an hour or so to be sure you are really hearing what you are hearing. If you have doubts, try the stranded again. I think you'll find a significant difference.
Pig headed know-it-all types may try to tell you that resistance, capacitance and inductance are the only 3 things that could POSSIBLY cause wires to sound different in an audio system. These guys are pinheads, plain and simple. The dielectric (insulation) that is used in the wire has a big role in the "sound" of a wire. Electricity flowing in a wire causes a "field" to be generated around a wire. If the voltage is DC (constant voltage, never changing) the field generated is also constant. However, audio signals are always changing. This causes the field around the wire to be constantly changing. In fact the audio signal is "+" half of the time and "-" the other half of the time so the field around the wire is not only shrinking and growing, but changing in polarity constantly. The dielectric "insulation" has an inherent property (explained by physics even!) that causes it to momentarily store a little energy then release it back into the conductor. This would be relatively insignificant with a signal that was constant or at least always "+" or always "-". But when the signal constantly changes AND constantly changes from "+" to "-" and back, this store-release function of the dielectric becomes significant. The whole point is that wires do matter.
More than anybody, I'd like to be able to tell you that wires aren't all that important and cheap ones are just fine. I can't. Just this week I listened to a $6 pair of interconnects from a national chain store, a 7 year old $40 pair from a famous national brand name manufacturer and a $95 pair from a small new company. The $6 pair sounded congested and smeared. Listening to music was not a pleasure. They lacked bass and the higher frequencies were rolled off and indistinct. The $40 pair was clearer and cleaner but sounded "fuzzy", dark, and opaque. Music was more enjoyable, but still had a lot of irritating qualities added in like loss of detail. The new $95 wires were gems. Open sounding, clear, clean, transparent, dynamic with a richness of sound that closes in on real life. These wires were a lot better than much more expensive wires I have. When you shop for interconnects, be sure DH Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 is on your list. To save money, you can buy their RCA plug and bulk wire and assemble them yourself (soldering required) for about 30% less. To locate a DH Labs dealer near you or arrange a mail order purchase if there is no dealer, contact their distributor in the US, Terry Ross at 301-601-4745. This is a seriously good sounding interconnect. Even if you are considering interconnects costing 10x their $95 price you should try them.
The know-it-all pinheads will write this "test" of as complete hooey because I knew which wires were which when I changed them. So of COURSE the most expensive wire "won". I was psychologically predisposed to assume the more expensive wire would sound the best. HAH! I didn't tell the whole story. The $95 wire sounded better than $179 wires. Are you smiling yet? And the $95 wire sounded better than $350 wires. The know-it-all pinheads are just seconds from having anuerisms - the blood pressure is phenominal. But I'm not done yet! The $95 wires sounded better than $600 wires too. Stand back, the pinheads are about to blow...
In wires, like many other high end audio products, usually the more you pay the better performance you get. Not necessarily in proportion though! You can pay double and get only a 3% improvement. Only you can decide if the improvement is worth the expense. This is true for all high end products, I just happened to mention it here in the discussion of wires.
Well chosen wires will help you get more enjoyment from the music you play on your system. They can bring together a slightly disjointed sound into a wonderful "completeness". There's no other way to do this either. Wires are an essential element of the entire system. Think of wires as more components to be evaluated and selected. But perhaps not as "primary" system components. Wires are something you can "fine tune" with after you have the system setup and sounding good.
POWER CORDS - THE INSANITY STOPS HERE?
Another I-wish-it-wasn't-true situation. Power cords may not need to be #1 on your list. But as you refine and tune your system over the years, do not overlook what power cords can do for you. The Cardas (their web page is as unusual as their advertising) Hex 5C power cord on my OCM-500 amp is indispensable - it just makes the amp sound "right". Without it there is a hashy, mechanical character to the sound. A roughness and a-musical coarse edge that makes the amp less satisfying. You don't notice this at first. It begins to become noticeable after you have tuned up the system a bit and you are getting pleasant, detailed, musical sound. You begin to note a dissatisfying edge you wish was not there. I didn't know what it was at first. My dealer (Hi John!) suggested trying the power cord... and the objectionable character was gone immediately. Oddly enough, the power cord made the amp sound even better the next day and there was more improvement for the next 3 or 4 days, especially when I left the amp running 24 hours a day. After the 4th or 5th day, the improvement peaked and leveled off where it has been ever since.
WHAT ABOUT LUNATIC FRINGE DEVICES?
Tuning Dots and Belts and the like - I've not had the opportunity to try them yet, but goofy as they may seem at first blush, there are actually quite good reasons why they would do some impressively useful things to the sound of your system. Some manufacturers of top notch high end equipment use them in their products and these guys aren't just playing around. Can be AWFULLY pricey though and this is why I've held back.
Magic Discs - ditto, no first hand experience, but people I trust say they are effective. I don't see HOW, but if it was obvious they wouldn't be so unique in the market. This product SEEMS to be very high on the dubious list and I would completely understand your feelings that these are nothing by "Emperor's new clothes" devices. But if you haven't tried them (like me) you shouldn't pass judgment.
Purple Silk Purses & Ferrites- silk purses wrap around interconnects, power cords, etc. - smart people say they work... better than plain old ferrites? don't know for sure. I dislike the sound of ferrites on interconnects or speaker cables. Not sure why silk purses would be OK in those locations. Ferrites on power cords should be mandatory. Make the silence more silent, more obviously cleanly silent. Lets details be heard that you couldn't hear before, not because they are louder but because the haze that obscured them is gone.
CD Mats of various descriptions - yep, they work, maybe not for the reasons claimed by the manufacturers, but they do work. I use a <$10 one and get 95% of the performance of the expensive ones. Typically the sound with the "topper" will be "cleaner" meaning the silence is quieter which makes the detail in the recording easier to hear. They tend to remove a percentage of the negative character of digital sound that people who like the sound of analog (LPs) object to. Music becomes a little less mechanical and a little more musical.
Power Line devices - Here's another one of those "it depends" answers. For most people using 100-120v 50/60Hz AC, there is probably a benefit most of the time. Sometimes the benefit is quite substantial. If there is a limitation, most often it will be with amplifiers. There might be a little loss of dynamics and punch with some amplifiers. If this is more objectionable than improvements in other areas, plug the amps into the wall and everything else into the power line device.
Record Cleaning machines - yes, yes, yes. LP fans need one of these. I like the VPI machines. A friend who owned the other brand switched to a VPI after he saw my VPI cleaning procedure and how much more effective it could be (brush in the direction of rotation and backwards to help lift more dirt than otherwise possible).
Record clamps/weights - I don't use one. My turntable does not support the label area of the LP. This accommodates LPs with slight warp without need for a weight. Other people I know of who have experimented with weights/clamps say each one sounds different and what works well on 1 turntable is probably not best for a different turntable design. Another try before you buy situation.
Vibration Isolation bases - yep, these work too. As always, try before you buy. Some are air suspension devices, others use dead mass like sand for damping, others use magnetic suspension. Results vary from system to system and component to component. In some systems where vibration from external sources is constantly present (i.e. as in large cities) they can be revelatory.
Contact cleaners - yes, use SOMETHING which is always preferable to nothing. Gold plating does not stop connection problems from happening. Gold plating is soft and porous. base metals can penetrate the plating and "gunk up" the connection over time. You can do expensive cleaning with tiny bottles of 2-part cleaner that cost a lot of money and get good clean connections. Or you can go to the grocery store and buy the fuzziest brand of pipe cleaners they have and go to the hardware store and buy a pint or quart of "cleaning solvent" (often in the paint department). look for "trichlor" or something longer that begins with "trichlor" on the label. Dip the pipe cleaners in the trichlor and clean your contacts. Follow instructions on the can. It's highly flammable. Don't breathe vapors. Use in ventilated area. Change the pipe cleaner end for end after every connector and get a new one after cleaning 2 connectors. Do this every 6 to 12 months.
If you want to eliminate this repetitive cleaning task for years (literally!), get Caig Labs ProGold spray (about $16-$18) and spray on CLEANED connections. ProGold is a preservative, not a cleaner. Clean first, then spray with ProGold. ProGold bonds with the gold plating and stops base metals from migrating through the plating and makes a thin air-tight film over contact points to keep oxygen out of those points where contact is actually made. I don't hear an "improvement" from using ProGold, but connectors do stay clean over long periods of time and I don't have to keep cleaning them every 6 months. I do hear an improvement from cleaning connectors if it has been over 6 months since the last cleaning if ProGold was not being used.
ALL THIS SOUNDS LIKE WORK. WHY BOTHER?
I assume you have read this far for 1 of 2 reasons: you are obsessed with audio equipment because you were abused/deprived/mistreated/misunderstood/ignored as a kid; or you love music. If you are obsessed with audio equipment... fine go off and do your thing: tweak your system endlessly and listen to your 5 LPs or 5 CDs. If you love music, all this "work" is a means to enhancing your enjoyment. I know people who come home from a tough work day, put on some of their favorite music and are either in a total trance-meditative state or giggling to themselves or playing air guitar within seconds of dropping the stylus or lighting the laser. The learning, comparing, testing process is a means to an end. The end is maximizing your emotional connection to the music.
EXAMPLES and, finally, THE END
My only exposure to classical music when I was growing up was the occasional portable (mono of course) record player a music teacher might use or the annual high school band concert in the auditorium. Based on those experiences I figured classical music was the ultimate in boring. In the early 70s I bought a Consumer Reports magazine with evaluations of "affordable" hi-fi components. I went out and bought "best buy" components, a receiver, speakers and changer/turntable. One late night when I was spinning the FM radio dial (manually!!!! no remote control in those dark ages) looking for some Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Yes or Hendrix I whiffed by a station and heard something unfamiliar but compelling. I backed up and dialed in the most incredible music I'd heard since "Third Stone From the Sun". I sat transfixed with speakers very close, almost like headphones. I listened for more than 20 minutes and learned that I had been listening to Schubert's 8th (Unfinished) symphony. I liked classical music and never knew it because the emotional connection had never been made before. I went on a 10 year classical music rampage that included several years of season tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra. I didn't give up the other music I already loved, but I embraced classical music. And made up for lost time.
This same kind of thing happens now almost every time somebody who doesn't listen to particularly good equipment or different types of music comes to hear my system. One of my first questions is "What kind of music do you listen to?" and they will say jazz or rock or soft rock or new age. There isn't usually too much passion in the response. Next I'll ask if they like some specific things: Brazilian music? zydeco? bluegrass? Celtic? classic jazz (if that wasn't one of their earlier answers)? progressive rock? English dance music from the 1600s? harp? organ? baroque? chamber? Most people say "not really" multiple times. Then I put that music on anyway. And that is where the fun begins. People become either giddy or nervously excited. The experience of hearing something irresistible that they thought they didn't like is as much fun as an amusement park ride. I find that most people who own high end systems because they love music (rather than just being obsessed with the equipment) typically own many different types of music. I'm not really a country music fan, but I have a Mavericks LP (Music for All Occasions) and Willie Nelson LPs (Stardust and others) and CDs (Across the Borderline and others) and an Emmy Lou Harris CD (Wrecking Ball) that you could never take away - it is really good music.
The point of this closing ramble is to help you understand how your relationship with music could be shaken by a well selected, well setup and "tuned" audio system. Shaken in a good way. Most people will either accidentally or intentionally discover musical interests they never knew they had. That's the kind of thing that makes life interesting - the kind of thing that makes life worth living. Sometimes I laugh out loud over how much I like a type of music I "shouldn't" like. Something like Ladysmith Black Mambazo's "Shaka Zulu" album. 20 or so African men singing (a cappella) in their own language, stomping enthusiastically on the stage, clapping hands, slapping body parts. Pure joy. Getting your system "right" is a lot like fine tuning your own transporter / time machine. It can take you places you never thought you'd go.
.....Doug Blackburn - The Noisy Audiophile