Listening Bias


I thought it might be handy for those following my writing at Positive Feedback Online to know what my listening biases are to aid you in interpreting and decoding my reviews. Just to alert you, my listening perspective is somewhat of a minority opinion in the Hi-Fi community of North America, but will be more familiar to those listeners in Turkey, Africa, and Japan, who tend to be more familiar with timbral ways of listening. 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.

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.

 Posted by at 3:24 pm

  16 Responses to “Listening Bias”

  1. Jeff,

    This is, without a doubt, an interesting view. Counter-intuitive in the traditional audiophile context. Yet, as I weave my way through the jungle of audio, I seem to find my way meandering toward a similar conclusion.

    After stepping out into this valley of insanity, I’ve configured the following set-up:

    Amp – Pass Labs XA30.5
    Pre – Wyred4Sound STP SE
    Phono – Ray Samuels F117 (battery)
    Turntable – Rega P9
    Cart – Dynavector 17D3
    Speakers – Zu Audio

    But now I am looking to upgrade the phono stage, and would like to consider Tubed products to balance out my system. One product that interests me is the Leben RS-30EQ phono stage, which I understand will need a step-up transformer to work with my MC selections. That said, I find your directional bias interesting, and wanted to pick your brain on this match.


    • Hi Jonathan,

      It does seem that music wins out in the end, although it can take a while to navigate the jungle of audiophilism before that happens … the first step is to recognize there’s a problem with that approach. 😉

      That’s a nice Hi-Fi system you’ve got there, and I think that the Leben RS-30EQ would be an excellent match to it. I’m using an Auditorium 23 step-up tranny when I use my Denon 103 MC, and it’s terrific, but most of the time I prefer my Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood MM without a step-up.

      I think for step-up transformers tailored to a specific cartridge the way to go might be to get one from Bob’s Devices . If I remember correctly, Art Dudley reviewed one of Bob’s trannys in the last couple of months, and my buddy Stephaen has one from Bob that he seems favorably impressed with. The word on the street is they sound great and that the price is very fair.

      Thanks for posting, and let me know how things work out for you.



  2. Jeff,

    Thanks for the kind words about my equipment. It’s really my first, serious effort to delve into “hi-fi”. And, perhaps not something I should be proud of, I have put this all together during the past 12 months. Thankfully, I’ve not jumped in too deep, but find myself looking for that peace that comes from listening to music and not equipment…

    Originally, and perhaps ignorantly, I was running a class D amp from Wyred. With that, everything just seemed sterile and lifeless. That drove me nuts, which is why I found myself looking at the Pass product. And while I was seriously interested in a tubed amp, I just felt a little under prepared to figure that whole field out. As such, we just chose the most tubed like SS product… Still, as soon as we plugged the Pass in there was an appreciable improvement in the tonality of the whole system. I will likely make a switch to a tubed amp or mono blocked amp, but for now, this is where I’m at.

    For now, I’m tweaking 2 critical areas – the phono stage and then the speakers. I figure once I finalize on these two, coupled with my P9, I can really begin to find that synthesis that I am striving for. But, as you work your way through all of this, you find you start quickly identifying weak links…

    That being said, I’ve already put my phono stage on waivers, and have acquired the Leben RS-30eq and A23 SUT, which are both on order. And now I’m going back and forth with waiting on that to determine if the Zu’s are the next to be “waived”, but at the same time, I just can’t imagine they’re anything like the upper Tannoys. Which is why I’ve been seriously looking at the Yorkminsters, and now, the Canterbury’s. In fact, I may end up ordering the Canterbury’s this week, because it will take upwards of 2 months to build and ship.

    That said, can you see anything (aside from Smith’s book, which is on order) that you might suggest I look at to seek out the musical vibe?

  3. Came across your site while looking for reviews of the Maestro outlet. Wow, I don’t come across many who share a similar sense of priorities in sound. I call it the sound vs. music divide, although I think your use of timbral accuracy is better put. Stated another way, I’m looking for natural, not neutral – I cringe at that meaningless term – and a degree of warmth that one hears from humans and their instruments in acoustical performances. My perspective has been there all along, but really came to the fore again recently when trying out a couple of lower end line conditioners on my desktop audio setup, the Mapleshade/Clearview strip and a Panamax 5300. Each to different degrees added to clarity, soundstage, quieter background, etc., but both had that sharp coldness, what Clearivew’s designers call the “leading edge” sound (their strip was also bright bottom to top). I’ve also recently sorted through some unbalanced ICs, using the long eight person dinner table discussion in Julie Delpy’s Before Midnight on my very mid-fi 2.0 TV-dac system to compare them for voical timbre. The differences were stark: the one with the widest soundstage was the least timbrally accurate, and vice versa (Teresonic silver). So, glad I found your site, and while it’s more upscale than anything I need, I’m sure there will be useful ideas and pointers.

    • To avoid misunderstanding, I should clarify that my dislike for the term ‘neutral’ stems from its being vaugely used all too often, depending on the speaker. It’s one thing to use it, as you do elsewhere on this site, where the context is clear, i.e., in a dark-neutral-bright continuum. However, I find more often it’s not clear from the context or used to describe a component as “playing what’s on the recording,” as if the writer could possibly know what’s on the recording. That’s why I look for the term ‘natural,” then I know what the speaker is talking about.

      • You’re right on, Gene, and I like your use of ‘natural’ to describe what music is supposed to sound like.

    • Hi Gene,

      I’m totally with you that natural – not ‘neutral’ – sound is where it’s at.

      A great comment – thanks for stopping by!

      Kind regards,


  4. Not sure where to post this… I’m on the list to hear the Sablon’s, but in the meantime have gotten some HiDiamond power cords (P3) and have more and their D8 IC coming. Have you heard them, or even heard of them? I think their top of the line and next down – my region – are something to behold and would make for a good comparison with Mark’s cables. The HiDiamond are considered top of the line for the price – much less at the second level than the Sablon’s – among quite a few Audiogon regulars. Several have outfitted high class systems completely with them.

    • Hi Gene,

      I haven’t heard of them. Thanks for the tip!

      I probably will not be doing too many more cable reviews – at least in the near future – with the exception of the Acoustic Revive review I’m working on now to fulfill a previous commitment.

      I’m really satisfied with the performance of the Sablon Audio Panatela cables, and can’t even imagine using something else!

      Let me know how you like the HIDiamond.

      Kind regards,


      • Never got back to you about HiDiamond. In two systems, computer and 2.0 TV, I use one of their top power cords (P4), and a number of their second line PCs and ICs (P3, D8). All are really good. Just like virtually everyone on Audiogon that’s tried them says (several full set users). And until distributor Robert Neill outside of Toronto gets his website redone to reflect Euro/USD changes, No. American pricing remains far below what the retail price sheet online says.

        Just noticing you’re on the east side of Washington. For some reason I thought you were in the Chicago area. I’m in soutwest MT.

  5. Hi Jeff, I’m the current President of the Pacific Northwest Audio Society . Someone told me that you live here in Washington, is this true? If it is I would love to talk to you about possibly speaking at one of our meetings.

    Thanks, Jay Hope

    • Hi Jay,

      Many thanks for stopping by ‘Jeff’s Place’ – much appreciated!

      I am a resident of Washington State, but more on the East Side than the West Side of the State.

      It is very kind of you to ask me to speak at one of your meetings, although I’m not sure when I’d be able to do it at this point, things are pretty crazy busy around here.

      What area is the Pacific Northwest Audio Society in?

      Sounds like it would be a fun thing to do one of these days!

      Kind regards,


  6. Completely agree, this is my objective as well. I would add that to me a realistic sibilance (particularly in female voices – say Diana Krall’s, Ella Fitzgerald) is a key component of my musical enjoyment.

    Two questions:
    1- Any recordings you would recommend that have proper piano tonality and presence? I find many seamingly high quality recordings seem to have piano all over the place. One of my references is Jacky Terrasson’s Jacky Terrasson… But would like recomendations here if you don’t mind
    2- Any recordings you’d recommend otherwise for, say, drum bass tonality and purity?

    Thanks a lot.


  7. Hi Jeff,

    I just found a post which you might find interesting since both Tannoy and Altec speakers are discussed. No idea who “waj” might be but I found it quite interesting, and it seems to align with your perceptions.

    • Hi Tim,

      I read through WAJ’s article at the link you sent, and would say that I share quite a few of the observations that WAJ mentions on loudspeakers.

      Large, sensitive, horn-loaded loudspeakers are pretty hard to beat from a musical realism perspective, or as Yazaki-san likes to say, a ‘real sound’ perspective.

      Thanks for posting the link!

      Kind regards,


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