The music versus the machines

I have been floored by the set-ups pictured here and the discussions concerning the audio quality of different set-ups. My own headphone use is to listen to new music or special late at night when I don’t want to bother my rent-paying tenant. In the last couple of weeks,I have been doing a lot more listening through my headphones and I will say that I can hear more details of the MUSIC versus my listening through the standard speakers,amplifiers etc. So,I can only say that my new exploration through headphones recently, due to this site, has been still to listen to new music and I place audio quality as secondary to listening to this music. So,just like the question of what comes first,the chicken or the egg. The question I ask is; it the music first or the technical qualities of a set-up?

I would say music, then the rabbit hole that is higher, and higher quality headphones and amps/DACs. You can get an amazing low impedance headphone that makes music sound amazing, then when you get a good amp/DAC it changes again!


I would say that I would rather listen to poorly recorded/reproduced good music than well recorded/reproduced garbage.

Doesn’t matter how good a system sounds, nor what it is capable of, if I have to listen to “English Recorder Classics” instead of a badly EQ’d CD transfer, of the Beatles or an old mono-cut of Ella Fitzgerald, then I’ll pass!


Good answer. But I like the early Decca recordings of Ella with Chick Webb or Benny Goodman. That MUSIC is important and good. Ella’s recordings with Goodman are priceless despite the technical deficiencies compared to her Verve recordings.

I think it’s split into three groups:

  1. Some (like me) are driven by greater sensitivity, awareness, or discomfort with average consumer-grade audio. Cheap headphones/speakers have always made my ears hiss or ring. Good ones, not so much. Others simply hear more imperfections and seek better products. I personally distinguish between bad, mediocre, and good setups based on pain alone. (And for me, quality is moderately correlated with prices up to $500 or $1,000; with diminishing returns beyond that.) I love music, and want to hear it comfortably and pleasantly.

  2. Some dwell on the perfection of a moment (art/emotion), and consciously or unconsciously prioritize very subtle and arbitrary nuances. This group very much focuses on personal expression and the physical appearance of their products. Cost be damned! These are the stereotypical subjective audiophiles. The gear looks fantastic and may sound great to THEM, but NO ONE OBJECTIVELY CAN HEAR THE DIFFERENCES! (i.e., Double-blind testing)

  3. Some are gear-heads/engineers and look for new or better ways to do things. There’s genuine value to these efforts, and progress has been made decade-by-decade. However, there are a lot of dead ends and sideways moves (i.e., spend a lot of R&D money for little value). Vendors and salespeople also hype any new technology to pay their bills/make a profit, regardless of human-level value. But, you honestly don’t know until you try…

People combine these 3 characteristics in different proportions. Casual listeners (as with fast food and domestic beer lovers) may never have experienced better quality or may not perceive the differences in quality. This varies dramatically between people and with exposure/training.


Thanks for the reply.Your response is so well written that it may take me a few days to absorb it.

Music first. This hobby has certainly helped me to find new types of music to enjoy from all these audiophile track recommendations. I may listen to it and appreciate the recording quality the first couple of times. But if I come back to it, it’s because I liked the actual music.

Some of the best experiences for me have come from listening to well mastered versions of songs I already know and love, but using good gear. The high quality gear brought out new aspects I never noticed before and got me to love the music even more.


thanks for your thoughts.

  1. Music
  2. Source (a good master)
  3. The machines

You can enjoy Darkthrone’s Under a Funderal Moon on any crappy headset. But even on a crappy headset Steely Dan’s Aja will sound glorious, because the source is great.
I grew up listening to tapes on a Walkman, which I could barely afford. Not really high tech by today’s standards, but the music I was listening to went straight to the heart and head. Rock on. Or whatever. :sunglasses:

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ok…i agree with those standards. I listen to mostly classical but also vocals(Great American Songbook-Sinatra,Ella etc).

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I’d like to add that there is a category of songs I enjoy purely because they sound bloody fantastic and make me all tingly, even though they’re not musically within my tastes. “Musicmagic” by “Return to Forever” is an example of this.

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What about Music Machines? Can’t we all get along :wink:


Wow that’s some contraption.

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I keep watching that video. Something so musical yet at first glance you think WTF, yet it’s incredible and very clever at the same time.


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I feel the same way, it is mesmerizing. I get a kick out of things like this.

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another interesting piece… using technology to recreate all the iconic sounds of this song on one (ish) guitar

For me it’s always the music first.
That said it’s also the machine that is the vehicle for the music. A decent setup at any price point
brings out more of the subtle details of the recorded music, I hear more of the music. I’m definitely in the emotional camp, a great recording without any ‘soul’ just leaves me cold.


Bravo! English Recorder Classics are garbage. Not at all comparable to GERMAN Recorder classics. I have spent hours trying to render passable Georg Philipp Telemann with my Mother playing guitar, my Dad on the Soprano Recorder, and me on either Alto or more usually Baritone Recorder. And let’s not forget J.S. Bach from the Duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, not some pedestrian English countryside.

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" Amen " to that.