I thought it might be handy for you to know what my listening biases are to aid you in interpreting and decoding my hi-fi writing.
My hierarchy of importance is aligned more closely to how well a hi-fi rig plays the musical content of recordings (I know, it’s a heretical concept), rather than how it ‘sounds’ in the more traditional audiophile ‘sonic’ sense.
My “music-first” listening perspective has been a minority opinion in the enthusiast Hi-Fi community of North America, which has largely focused on a “sonics-first” listening perspective over the last three or four decades.
I have not been shy about sharing my “music-first” perspective, and as a result I’m finding out that there are a lot of you out that are in the “music-first” ranks with me, which encourages me.
As a result of my being drawn towards the musical content of recordings, I tend to be a bit more of a timbral listener than is typical for a lot of Westerners, meaning that the reproduction of the textures, colors, and tones & overtones in the music are really important to me.
To this end I look for timbral realism at the band level (the band’s signature ‘sound’) and at the individual instrument level (the unique ‘voices’ of instruments). I want them to sound recognizably like themselves in tone and texture, so that their full tone color can develop, which I think helps lend a feeling of beauty and expressiveness to the music.
I like the melody (the tune you ‘whistle while you work’), harmony (treble & bass accompaniments to the melody) and rhythm (the steady beat that determines the tempo) to have a life-like flow and connectedness in how the musicians interact—just like in real life.
I want dynamics (variations in loudness) to evoke that which I hear in life for an emotional connection to the melody and rhythm.
For loudness I like my music playback to be similar to live loudness levels, which for the kind of music I listen to the most, jazz, usually means 80 dB or louder.
Finally, I want tempo portrayed so that both the mood and speed of the music are conveyed through it, just like it is with music in real life.
I consider the sonic performance of a Hi-Fi rig on the non-musical artifacts of the recording process to be of value, but of less importance to me than the performance on the musical content of recordings (as above).
So things like transparency (being able to ‘see’ into the recording), soundstage (the three dimensions of the recorded space in width, height and depth), soundspace (the acoustic ‘space’ of the soundstage), and imaging (the feeling of solidity and localization of instruments & musicians on the soundstage) are important to me, but they are not my primary focus – the musical content is.
So I like my cake (the musical content of recordings) with a little frosting (the sonic artifacts of the recording process) for a balanced taste treat. Too much frosting and not enough cake puts me off. So that’s me, and you might be different, but at least now you know how.