A Thoughtful Contest

Brian Gluck at Headphones.com shot me an email last week suggesting we make the contest more open ended by asking a question and selecting a winner from the various answers. D'oh! Why didn't I think of that?

So I thunk and thunk, and thunk some more ... and I think I've thunk of a question. It's actually one I've thought about for a long time.

Art, and Audio Fidelity
Every once in a while I find myself thinking it's pretty weird to have dedicated my professional life to headphones. Sometimes it just seems a bit silly. But then I think, no, it's not silly, because at its finest you are serving the art of music and its makers. Helping people find good headphones is actually helping people get in touch with the music they love.

Music somehow touches our soul. Maybe music makes us feel whole, or connected to our humanity, or makes us feel bigger, or something. I'm not sure ... I just know that when I set up an office or some place to be, the first thing I do is set up a way to listen to music. Sometimes it's a really nice stereo, and sometimes it's just a little speaker in a hotel room, but always there's some way to listen.

This one time I was painting an office space and I had set up a boombox. It was in the other room playing some Muddy Waters as I was cutting in door frames down the hallway. It was late at night, and the place was empty of furniture. Waters was twanging and hollering away at some blues tune, and as it echoed down the hallway I was bobbing and weaving right along with the music --- just diggin' it.

Then it hit me: the music was coming out of a crappy boombox; I heard no direct sound, just the reverberant echoing; and I was totally into it. The fidelity of the music didn't get in the way of my appreciation of the art and artist creating the tunes in the least.

I listen to a lot of old school Jazz --- Django, Wes Montgomery, Diz --- and many of the recordings are poor and some mono. I've got some very good gear, but it makes little difference with these tunes of technically inferior quality. I've stopped thinking about the grungy recording though, I've come to just accept it and listen to the tunes. It's just not a problem for me anymore; I love the music and I listen. Which makes me wonder ....

The Question
What is the relationship between ones ability to appreciate the art of music, and the fidelity of the reproduced audio heard?

Rules

  • Answer the question in 500 words or less.
  • Contest will run until my next contest post sometime next week.
  • I'll choose the winner based on the comment that made me think the most.
  • Winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Headphones.com
Good luck! I look forward to your thoughts. And thanks for the suggestion, Brian.

EDIT: The Winner Is!

Pretty tough question, I admit. Let me take a stab at it before I reveal the winner:

I think it's important to realize is that reproduction fidelity and artistic intent have a common intersection point, as expressed nicely here by SAS:

    Performers also put a lot of time and effort into the nuances of their sound. Taking the example of a jazz solo, the artistic expression is not only in what notes the musician chooses to play, but how he plays those notes -- dynamics, emphasis, changes in tone, etc. differences in performances of the same piece in classical music rely almost entirely on these finer points.

Let's call this technical competence. Both the musicians and the engineers designing the signal and signal flow do have technical expertise. Those techniques serve to provide a foundation upon which the the art may be painted, so to speak. This technical stuff has objective measures.

But these techniques are brought to bare in producing subtleties that are only interpretable subjectively. For example, a voice stress detecting device and a person technically expert in using one may be able to look at the data and see the stress in someones voice. But the machine won't be able to describe the nature and nuances of the stress as the subject is experiencing it. I takes a psychologist to experience by proxy what the subject is experiencing to be able to decode the subjective situation and then put words and meanings to it. But even then, the words and meanings aren't the thing in itself.

The point is, the art exists in the experience domain, not the physical domain, except in so far as it takes the physical thing and mechanisms to have an experience. The experience is a meta-level supported by, but floating above the physics of the situation.

The experience itself is meta-physical, not physical. It needs the physical, but it is not physical.

One way to look at music is from the physical signal flow point of view. Musicianship; recording gear; mixing and mastering; reproduction; your hearing acuity. But there's another way of looking at it as well from the experiential point of view. How and what the artist felt and meant when creating the tune; how they were feeling during the recording and the emotion they put into the performance; the astuteness of recordists and producers in understanding what the artist intentions are and their intentions and effort expended in adding to the artistic intent. And how you felt when listening --- all the reproduction fidelity in the world makes no difference if your bored, tired, not listening, distracted, whatever.

So, if a boom box is a bed of nails, and a great stereo rig is a Lay-Z-Boy, which delivers the best ability to meditate on the art? Some might say the bed of nails, once you master it.

So here's what I think:

  • There are pleasures derived technically from listening to exquisite fidelity that are rather like listening to a Ducati. We are audio motorheads; we like high-fidelity; but that's not pleasure derived from the art. Nothing wrong with technical satisfaction, but it's not art appreciation.
  • Experiencing the art is far more about your willingness to engage with the experience and forget about technical matters, than it is about reproduction fidelity.
  • Great fidelity essentially helps the process by disappearing into the thing experienced. Flawed reproduction doesn't damage the opportunity to experience the art, but rather provides an opportunity for the listener to be distracted from the opportunity to experience the art.

Here's some comments I liked:

SAS on fidelity in support of the art - "As the fidelity of the chain -- including recording and reproduction -- increases, more levels of this layered artistic value are uncovered. So, while it is possible to appreciate the art in music through a low fidelity system, greater fidelity has the potential to bring a fuller realization of the content of the music and performance and, therefore, a greater potential for appreciation thereof."

I think Donunus is looking for technical appreciation, but missing out on the art - "Nowadays, if the recording sucks, then the experience is more likely ruined. I then try to find a better pressing of the song, some different equipment, or whatever means to make that song sound better and make me feel some goosebumps rising. This habit is sort of like being a crack addict looking for that first time high again. The song will never be as enjoyable as when one heard it before he became an audiophile unless one miraculously loses the addiction and can just totally enjoy the music for what it is. That is probably impossible but nevertheless, I'm enjoying the trip anyways..."

LFF on art transcending noise - "I rather stick to a beat up 78 of a Robert Johnson recording or a Louis Armstrong recording than purchase another hi-fi demo album of random artists much like most cinephiles would rather watch a bad transfer of "A Clockwork Orange" than a high definition transfer of "Transformers."

IM testifying to the love of the art, and the pleasures of the reproduction - "Though the level of fidelity affects how I experience any given performance, does it really change my ability to appreciate the underlying art of the music - the rhythms, harmonies, and structure? I’m not really sure. When I really want to listen to one of my favorite pieces, even a poor quality recording suffices..... the emotional impact doesn’t live in the recording."

"I have to agree with LFF though, that though the fidelity isn’t the main factor in appreciating the music, it is natural to want to find better recordings/equipment and not just keep the ‘crappy boombox’ forever!"

My good buddy johnjen on learning from the broader experience audiophilia has to teach - "Because while the music was just music at the start of my audio journey, along the way it became more, it morphed into an experience that had not only lasting impact but expanded to include additional meaning and emotion which has more value to me."

scompton more mature than most - "Now that I can afford pretty much anything I want, I still spend much more money on music than gear. Up to a point, increase in fidelity can enhance enjoyment, but I could be satisfied with an iPod and PX-100." (Don't let him fool you, he may not spend money, but he spends lots of time modifying old Ortho phones for his listening pleasure.)

acs explaining that fidelity improves the opportunity to expeience the art - "I do not need to hear the soundstage, the slight dynamic shifts of the drummer, or the nuance of vocal timbre to be able to sing along, to take notation of the musical notes being played, or to listen to the lyrics, but the more information that is imparted through my stereo system, the closer I am to listening to the performance the way that the artists involved intended."

But the winner is Fiat247, who's whole post is stellar, I'm going to edit down to it's spectacular bones here:

"A good friend of mine once said, “Art has value only to the extent we interact with it.” Could it be that the essence of music is none other than a potent form of communication? Why would a Muddy Waters blues tune stir the soul? Could it be because of the meaning of what these artists have to say? – a meaning which says to the extent that it is listened to?

A recording is in fact a virtual testimony to an original event of music-making. The more precisely a recording reproduces the original event, the more praiseworthy is its testimony. However, the original event gives itself regardless of the quality of sound reproduction. A person gives oneself through music in order to express herself – to say something in a way that words alone may not be able to adequately convey. The words of a lover stir the soul the same, whether through a faded letter, a crackling phone line, or face to face.

Finally, I would submit that we love music ultimately because we love one another. Deep down we long for the good of one another and yearn to communicate that goodness. That is why we make music; that is why we listen to music.

Pure win! email on the way!

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COMMENTS
Tyll Hertsens's picture
Changed the rules to 500 words ... I don't think I could do it in 200.
dalethorn's picture

I'll offer my impressions right away, so the smarter folks can come in and improve on my thoughts. The ability to hear instrumental and vocal tones in their full harmonic spectrums requires close-up hi-fi listening, or turning the volume way up on speakers further away that still beam directly toward your listening position. Without that closeness, listening from another room or the hallway for example, you have a different dimension of experience where imagination fills in a lot of blanks, like reading a book instead of watching a very good version of the book on film.

The analogy that pops into my head here is looking at a beautiful fashion model from 20 feet away versus being snuggly close. When close, you can see every crack in the skin, every blemish and imperfection, but when 20 feet away that person may look stunning and perfect, and your mind says "creamy smooth skin with not a crack or blemish anywhere." Not to forget that there are serious advantages to being up close.

But it's not just the articulation of instruments, voices, and tonal qualities that matter - there are also the subtleties that can help make a recording fun or sad or some other special quality, which occurs often in live recordings. These subtleties are most often missed when not listening to a hi-fi system close-up or directly at high volume. At the end of one of Muddy Waters' live recordings of "I'm A Man" someone in the background says "Got that ___ (expletive deleted)." You don't want to miss that. Another example of subtleties in music is the recording of Neil Young's "After The Goldrush" by Prelude, where they change a few words like "Look at mother nature on the run in the 1917" - also a "do not miss."

But it's true that sometimes the experience of listening out in the hall or the next room can be unique and enjoyable and have no equivalent in close-up listening. And this is not true just of reproduced music. Some years ago a co-worker and I at the office were doing a spontaneous improvisation of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" (Righteous Brothers) when in walked another co-worker, at which point we stopped singing. He then said "Don't stop now - it sounded really great from down the hall." And believe me when I say, it would not have had that "magic" up close.

SAS's picture

I, too,am probably giving up the opportunity to win by giving others somewhere to start their thought processes. Oh well...

We must first consider what we mean by "the art of music." The example that Tyll gives -- and I think most of us have experienced -- is focused on the enjoyment of music, which may not be the same thing as fully appreciating its art. I may very well enjoy a tune that has little artistic merit for any number of reasons. Perhaps it is danceable. Perhaps it winds me up or calms me down. Perhaps it evokes some particular memory -- either musical or unmusical. These associations are well documented in the psychological literature, and I think that most of us have ample personal experience with emotional reactions to music being completely unrelated to the music itself.

A well-crafted bit of music usually contains a great many layers. If it is a song, there are lyrics which may have artistic value simply as poetry. In that case we may appreciate some of the art in the music regardless of any other truly musical qualities it may possess. In Aaron Copland's book, "What to listen for in music," he identifies four basic elements of music -- rhythm, melody, harmony, and texture. Melody can usually be conveyed by even the meanest audio system. Harmony requires the system resolve multiple instruments playing at once. Rhythm requires accurate timing -- at least on the macro level. Texture requires accurate rendering of instrumental and vocal timbre -- which is not a trivial thing to ask of an audio reproduction system particularly if a full orchestra is involved. Music is, of course, made up of more than just these four blocks. For example, macro dynamics are important to convey the full meaning of large orchestral works.

Performers also put a lot of time and effort into the nuances of their sound. Taking the example of a jazz solo, the artistic expression is not only in what notes the musician chooses to play, but how he plays those notes -- dynamics, emphasis, changes in tone, etc. differences in performances of the same piece in classical music rely almost entirely on these finer points. Through the considered selection of their instruments as well as the constant effort to refine their technique, musicians develop particular sonic signatures.

As the fidelity of the chain -- including recording and reproduction -- increases, more levels of this layered artistic value are uncovered. So, while it is possible to appreciate the art in music through a low fidelity system, greater fidelity has the potential to bring a fuller realization of the content of the music and performance and, therefore, a greater potential for appreciation thereof.

Perhaps the requirements for fidelity depend upon the music being reproduced.

Finally, listening to familiar recordings through a low fidelity system may actually be evoking memories of hearing it through a higher fidelity system -- allowing your brain to fill in many of those missing elements.

donunus's picture

I'll say something different altogether from what Dalethorn and SAS said. In fact I'll say something Blasphemous to the Audiophile Crowd. Audiophilia is a curse and an addiction! I have come to accept that I am one of these people that are cursed.

Before I was ever an audiophile, a good song was a good song. Nowadays, if the recording sucks, then the experience is more likely ruined. I then try to find a better pressing of the song, some different equipment, or whatever means to make that song sound better and make me feel some goosebumps rising. This habit is sort of like being a crack addict looking for that first time high again. The song will never be as enjoyable as when one heard it before he became an audiophile unless one miraculously loses the addiction and can just totally enjoy the music for what it is. That is probably impossible but nevertheless, I'm enjoying the trip anyways...

donunus's picture

Sorry I couldn't give 500 words but thats basically the gist of what I had to say. I really feel that all I said was totally true and the people here that this does not apply to are either drunk or high while they listen to music, or just could planly be in denial. I don't really need high end sound when I'm drunk for example because alcohol diverts my attention from the technicalities once I start enjoying the music.

dalethorn's picture

I think I remember Gordon Holt once remarking that most musicians have a tin ear when it comes to hi-fi. I don't know if that fits here, but there you go.

SAS's picture

I've been an amateur musician for most of my life, and I have the great fortune to have many friends who are both amateur and professional musicians -- some at the very highest levels. Every last one of them to whom I've put the question does hear the difference. Every hi-fi is so far away from the real experience that we are exposed to frequently that it is difficult for most musicians to get excited about it. Also remember that most working musicians are not earning the kind of money that good hi-fi costs. If they have the money, they'd rather spend it on instruments.

dalethorn's picture

Great points - thanks for that. It does seem to me that we are developing new monitor headphones that have even less realism than the older headphones, on average.

fiat247's picture

In light of Tyll’s ‘crappy boombox’ experience, as well as listening to the old school Jazz recordings, one cannot help but wonder if there is something which lies deeper than mere sound reproduction. A good friend of mine once said, “Art has value only to the extent we interact with it.” My friend’s claim may bring to surface the gist of Tyll’s dilemma. Could it be that the essence of music is none other than a potent form of communication? Why would a Muddy Waters blues tune stir the soul? Why would a particular performance of Diz captivate in spite of its reproduction through inferior recording technology? Could it be because of the meaning of what these artists have to say? – a meaning which says to the extent that it is listened to? In other words, for musical meaning to happen, there must be those who perform the music and those who listen. Even when the performers themselves are the listeners (e.g. in the case of a rehearsal), communication characterizes the essence of the event called music. In the visual arts, would van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ perform its genius without someone to behold it? In the literary arts, would Dr. Seuss’ ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ unfold its creativity without children to receive its well-spun tale time and time again? Art has value to the extent we interact with it.

So what does this realization have to do with fidelity of audio reproduction? I will contend that audio reproduction is a medium of music, and music is a medium of communication. Audio reproduction extends musical performance, allowing original performances to become alive again and again. Audio fidelity is therefore extremely important to the degree that a particular performance is given its full amplitude to be resurrected. A recording is in fact a virtual testimony to an original event of music-making. The more precisely a recording reproduces the original event, the more praiseworthy is its testimony. However, the original event gives itself regardless of the quality of sound reproduction; the original musical event gives itself even when its testimony is preserved through a kind of oral tradition alone. Music means. Music gives meaning because it is an intended form of communication from one person to another. A person gives oneself through music in order to express herself – to say something in a way that words alone may not be able to adequately convey. The reason music stirs the soul in spite of the medium of a ‘crappy boombox’ is because its meaning is given in spite of the quality of its medium. The words of a lover stir the soul the same, whether through a faded letter, a crackling phone line, or face to face.

Finally, I would submit that we love music ultimately because we love one another. Deep down we long for the good of one another and yearn to communicate that goodness. That is why we make music; that is why we listen to music.

dalethorn's picture

"Sittin' on the outside, just me and my mate, I made the Moon, honey, come up two hours late. Ain't that a man!" -- Yep, that's love all right.

LFF's picture

Many would think there is not or should not be a relationship since they are not inherently connected. I think critical listeners need to step back and differentiate the terms of arguing over the "correctness" of opposing artistic viewpoints as opposed to arguing over which of the opposing viewpoints of reproduced audio is more "truthful".

In one relationship you are looking at the quality of scholarship inherent in music. In the other relationship you are looking at the complete accuracy inherent in the process of reproducing audio.

I would argue that ones ability to appreciate the art of music promotes better constructive argumentation and better listeners. In order to have a valid point you must have a certain number of facts. This also means that there may be many valid points of view. Thus, the more number of facts to back up your point of view, the better your chance to sway someone in favor of your point of view.

In this regard, I feel the better ones ability to appreciate the art of music, the less one relies on the fidelity of the reproduced audio but, ironically, one also strives to achieve better fidelity of the reproduced audio. If it were the other way around, we would all only buy Chesky recordings and hold those performances to be the pinnacle of the art of music. I rather stick to a beat up 78 of a Robert Johnson recording or a Louis Armstrong recording than purchase another hi-fi demo album of random artists much like most cinephiles would rather watch a bad transfer of "A Clockwork Orange" than a high definition transfer of "Transformers".

im's picture

Until fairly recently, I never gave a lot of thought to audio quality. I recognized that boombox and laptop speakers produced only a poor approximation of the original recorded performance, but in my listening, I did not expect to recapture the essence of a live performance. I listen to a lot of classical music, and when I wanted to hear music in the highest fidelity, I attended concerts. When I listened to other types of music, it was usually because of a specific emotional connection or because I found the lyrics or basic melody intriguing.

Now that I’ve done more listening on hi-fi systems, I see more of what I am missing when listening to the boombox speakers. I can listen to historical recordings, performances that can no longer be experienced live, and take more away from the experience. The level of fidelity does enhance my ability to appreciate the artistry of any given performer. Not only can I better hear the nuances of the performance, but often also gain a sense of the space where it was recorded.

Though the level of fidelity affects how I experience any given performance, does it really change my ability to appreciate the underlying art of the music - the rhythms, harmonies, and structure? I’m not really sure. When I really want to listen to one of my favorite pieces, even a poor quality recording suffices. Maybe I’ve listened to enough live music to fill in the some of the missing layers. To a certain extent, it can be interesting to fill in the layers myself, and imagine my own interpretations. When I want to experience a performance, higher fidelity does enhance that. When I want to experience the piece, the process is partially aural and partially mental; the emotional impact doesn’t live in the recording.

I have to agree with LFF though, that though the fidelity isn’t the main factor in appreciating the music, it is natural to want to find better recordings/equipment and not just keep the ‘crappy boombox’ forever!

im's picture

a

johnjen's picture

In Kung Fu there is a saying…
In the beginning a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.
But during training a punch is more than just a punch and a kick is more than just a kick.
And after a degree of mastery has been achieved a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.

So what does this have to do with “The Question” at hand?

When I started out listening to music, the music was just the vehicle or medium for the experience. It was a means to an end. It allowed me to hear inner details, and the character and the tonal interplay between the various ‘voices’. As my music library expanded, and the equipment improved, and new secrets of extracting more detail and subsequently the quality of the presentation improved, the music became the ‘more’, of the sum of the parts. It provided an ever more significant portion of the experience, it presented a wholeness to the totality of the experience.

In some cases I could hear more into the music, hear nuances and details that present a whole new level of involvement in the music, in other cases the music acted as a background layer to provide a distraction to help in focusing upon other tasks at hand. And all of these experiences (and more) are derived from the same music.

In short it became the culmination of the interplay of the voices, the lasting impression left in my mind and my heart of the accumulated impact the music had left me with.

Now the music has become a vehicle for experiencing desirable states of being, a means to more of an end of sorts.

Because while the music was just music at the start of my audio journey, along the way it became more, it morphed into an experience that had not only lasting impact but expanded to include additional meaning and emotion which has more value to me.

Now the enjoyment of music is not just the music anymore because I have associated it with additional aspects of myself, which have changed ME as I experience the very same music. The music wasn’t changed, I have, not only with my ability to experience it with more resolution and detail, but thru time it has accumulated more meaning. And to a certain extent while the specifics of the presentation of the music is not secondary, it isn’t the primary focus to the exclusion of all else either. It is more about being an aspect in the mix of the experience of what music has to offer.

JJ

scompton's picture

I don't consider myself an audiophile, so it probably won't come as a surprise that I think fidelity is not at all necessary to enjoy music. I've always spent a lot more money on buying music than on gear. For years, when I didn't really have enough money to buy good gear, I had a near bottom of the line MCS series stereo system from JC Pennys.

Now that I can afford pretty much anything I want, I still spend much more money on music than gear. Up to a point, increase in fidelity can enhance enjoyment, but I could be satisfied with an iPod and PX-100.

Too much fidelity can make some music unlistenable. The first meet that had HD-800s, a new Norah Jones album had also just come out. Since I like Norah Jones, and I use meets to listen to new music as much, or more, than new gear, I popped to Norah Jones in and put on the HD-800. Five seconds later, the headphones had to come off. It was like fingernails on a chalk board.

Listening to Norah Jones on my gear is listenable. With the HD800, it isn't. It made me realize I'll never buy TOTL gear.

acs's picture

A simple answer to a simple question. The better the fidelity of the reproduction of a recording, the closer one gets to the intention of the artist. I do not need to hear the soundstage, the slight dynamic shifts of the drummer, or the nuance of vocal timbre to be able to sing along, to take notation of the musical notes being played, or to listen to the lyrics, but the more information that is imparted through my stereo system, the closer I am to listening to the performance the way that the artists involved intended. Just as Picasso was a master of the canvas, whose every seemingly errant splash exists on the canvas because he desired it to be just that way, a great musical artist is a master of their instrument, and every dynamic shift, breath, subtle change in bowing, is there to express their interpretation of the music. The better the fidelity of the playback system, the more information the listener receives from the performer, and with more information, the listener can better understand and appreciate the art and communication of the performance.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Pretty tough question, I admit. Let me take a stab at it before I reveal the winner:

I think it's important to realize is that reproduction fidelity and artistic intent have a common intersection point, as expressed nicely here by SAS:

    Performers also put a lot of time and effort into the nuances of their sound. Taking the example of a jazz solo, the artistic expression is not only in what notes the musician chooses to play, but how he plays those notes -- dynamics, emphasis, changes in tone, etc. differences in performances of the same piece in classical music rely almost entirely on these finer points.

Let's call this technical competence. Both the musicians and the engineers designing the signal and signal flow do have technical expertise. Those techniques serve to provide a foundation upon which the the art may be painted, so to speak. This technical stuff has objective measures.

But these techniques are brought to bare in producing subtleties that are only interpretable subjectively. For example, a voice stress detecting device and a person technically expert in using one may be able to look at the data and see the stress in someones voice. But the machine won't be able to describe the nature and nuances of the stress as the subject is experiencing it. I takes a psychologist to experience by proxy what the subject is experiencing to be able to decode the subjective situation and then put words and meanings to it. But even then, the words and meanings aren't the thing in itself.

The point is, the art exists in the experience domain, not the physical domain, except in so far as it takes the physical thing and mechanisms to have an experience. The experience is a meta-level supported by, but floating above the physics of the situation.

The experience itself is meta-physical, not physical. It needs the physical, but it is not physical.

One way to look at music is from the physical signal flow point of view. Musicianship; recording gear; mixing and mastering; reproduction; your hearing acuity. But there's another way of looking at it as well from the experiential point of view. How and what the artist felt and meant when creating the tune; how they were feeling during the recording and the emotion they put into the performance; the astuteness of recordists and producers in understanding what the artist intentions are and their intentions and effort expended in adding to the artistic intent. And how you felt when listening --- all the reproduction fidelity in the world makes no difference if your bored, tired, not listening, distracted, whatever.

So, if a boom box is a bed of nails, and a great stereo rig is a Lay-Z-Boy, which delivers the best ability to meditate on the art? Some might say the bed of nails, once you master it.

So here's what I think:

  • There are pleasures derived technically from listening to exquisite fidelity that are rather like listening to a Ducati. We are audio motorheads; we like high-fidelity; but that's not pleasure derived from the art. Nothing wrong with technical satisfaction, but it's not art appreciation.
  • Experiencing the art is far more about your willingness to engage with the experience and forget about technical matters, than it is about reproduction fidelity.
  • Great fidelity essentially helps the process by disappearing into the thing experienced. Flawed reproduction doesn't damage the opportunity to experience the art, but rather provides an opportunity for the listener to be distracted from the opportunity to experience the art.

Here's some comments I liked:

SAS on fidelity in support of the art - "As the fidelity of the chain -- including recording and reproduction -- increases, more levels of this layered artistic value are uncovered. So, while it is possible to appreciate the art in music through a low fidelity system, greater fidelity has the potential to bring a fuller realization of the content of the music and performance and, therefore, a greater potential for appreciation thereof."

I think Donunus is looking for technical appreciation, but missing out on the art - "Nowadays, if the recording sucks, then the experience is more likely ruined. I then try to find a better pressing of the song, some different equipment, or whatever means to make that song sound better and make me feel some goosebumps rising. This habit is sort of like being a crack addict looking for that first time high again. The song will never be as enjoyable as when one heard it before he became an audiophile unless one miraculously loses the addiction and can just totally enjoy the music for what it is. That is probably impossible but nevertheless, I'm enjoying the trip anyways..."

LFF on art transcending noise - "I rather stick to a beat up 78 of a Robert Johnson recording or a Louis Armstrong recording than purchase another hi-fi demo album of random artists much like most cinephiles would rather watch a bad transfer of "A Clockwork Orange" than a high definition transfer of "Transformers"."

IM testifying to the love of the art, and the pleasures of the reproduction - "Though the level of fidelity affects how I experience any given performance, does it really change my ability to appreciate the underlying art of the music - the rhythms, harmonies, and structure? I’m not really sure. When I really want to listen to one of my favorite pieces, even a poor quality recording suffices..... the emotional impact doesn’t live in the recording."

"I have to agree with LFF though, that though the fidelity isn’t the main factor in appreciating the music, it is natural to want to find better recordings/equipment and not just keep the ‘crappy boombox’ forever!"

My good buddy johnjen on learning from the broader experience audiophilia has to teach - "Because while the music was just music at the start of my audio journey, along the way it became more, it morphed into an experience that had not only lasting impact but expanded to include additional meaning and emotion which has more value to me."

scompton more mature than most - "Now that I can afford pretty much anything I want, I still spend much more money on music than gear. Up to a point, increase in fidelity can enhance enjoyment, but I could be satisfied with an iPod and PX-100." (But don't let him fool you, he may not spend money, but he spend time modifying old Ortho phones for his listening pleasure.)

acs explaining that fidelity improves the opportunity to expeience the art - "I do not need to hear the soundstage, the slight dynamic shifts of the drummer, or the nuance of vocal timbre to be able to sing along, to take notation of the musical notes being played, or to listen to the lyrics, but the more information that is imparted through my stereo system, the closer I am to listening to the performance the way that the artists involved intended."

But the winner is Fiat247, who's whole post is stellar, but I'm going to edit down to it's spectacular bones here:

"A good friend of mine once said, “Art has value only to the extent we interact with it.” Could it be that the essence of music is none other than a potent form of communication? Why would a Muddy Waters blues tune stir the soul? Could it be because of the meaning of what these artists have to say? – a meaning which says to the extent that it is listened to?

A recording is in fact a virtual testimony to an original event of music-making. The more precisely a recording reproduces the original event, the more praiseworthy is its testimony. However, the original event gives itself regardless of the quality of sound reproduction. A person gives oneself through music in order to express herself – to say something in a way that words alone may not be able to adequately convey. The words of a lover stir the soul the same, whether through a faded letter, a crackling phone line, or face to face.

Finally, I would submit that we love music ultimately because we love one another. Deep down we long for the good of one another and yearn to communicate that goodness. That is why we make music; that is why we listen to music.

Pure win!

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