READER REPLIES: Does an Audiophile system sound worse of bad recordings?

Here is where you, our readers, can comment on matters of mutual interest.


My favorite group is a folk/jazz group from the 70s, Pentangle and it turned out to be my first lesson in how badly mastering can foul up a wonderful recording.

The Pentangle was the 1st non-classical recording reviewed by Gordon Holt in Stereophile. He gave it a good review calling the sound excellent. But many readers wrote telling him he was badly mistaken.

A few years later I met an audiophile in Reading, Pennsylvania who it turned out lived 2 blocks from me in Philadelphia. And he had 2 copies of the record, the original one from England that Gordon had reviewed and a remastered American version done by Warner Brothers which was the one that the readers had heard. It was so bad that a deaf person could almost have heard the difference instantly. Detail and transparency were way worse. Width was obviously reduced. And while the original had awesome depth the Warner Brothers version had no more depth than the thickness of the jacket it came in.

It was an awesome lesson for me. Up till then I had no idea how much a recording could be screwed up. Fortunately for me as my system improved over the years I was able to listen to almost any recording as long as I loved the music.

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I have what I think is a great system. It certainly compares very well with the other systems I’ve heard from members of my audiophile club. So please take my word for it.

I have some bad recordings. One of them is the Brahms violin concerto played by Yehudi Menuhin recorded in the late 50s. In this recording the orchestra is strangely muted while the violin is so emphasized that it sounds like Menuhin playing with a table radio as accompaniment. Mind you his playing is fantastic so that comes through very well. However, the record also has lots of surface noise. I have played this piece of vinyl since I was twelve. On my current high end system it continues to bring me great delight. I don’t care about the surface noise. I’m pretty much able to ignore it. The weird balance between orchestra and soloist is just an idiosyncrasy. The joy of the music is much greater through the high end system compared to the console stereo I first listened on or any of the other intermediate systems using an AR turntable and harsh transistor amp etc. The high end system makes the bad recording sound better than it ever has. So there you have it.


A3: Interesting discussion. Of course I own music which is partly distorted and or compressed because recording studios were using the tape recorder with maximum volume setting in order to get a good SNR but some distortion too. This changed slightly with the upcoming Dolby and other noise reduction systems for analog tape recorders. With the event of digital CDs one could hear clearly what was done by the mixing engineer. There I have CDs with very good clean sound and not so good ones. With LPs the whole thing was even worse. The last quarter was in general more distorted due to the inherent problems and known errors of LP recordings. Funny was a LP with 45 rpm which had better sound quality at the expense of recording time. It may not surprise that 45 rpm singles sounded pretty well. With todays recording gear there should always be a clean good sound possible except sound modeling was intentionally done by the mastering engineer.


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