Let the best be your guide

All of us have had to come to grips with bad sounding recordings. They can be disabling and make you question your whole system. The trick is to accept them for what they are and not to generalize. I try to listen for the music and skim over the imperfections. When confronted with a clinker, to save my sanity, I play a recording i know to be superior sounding. That restores my faith  in the system and brings me back to reality.


I have to disagree. Twice, I’ve let my system drift towards being too bright, and then you have too many recordings that sound that way and very few that have too much bass. IME, getting your system in balance in terms of tilt (bass/treble balance) is the key to making more recordings sound listenable. The trick is how. I just use a large mix of my favorite and well recorded popular (mostly rock) recordings like Steely Dan, Peter Gabriel and aim for overall EQ that works best with the largest sample size. Maybe it’s different for classical lovers, but it seems like this approach could work there too. I’ve also learned the hard way to choose cables and components that don’t deviate too far from neutral because it’s too hard to correct.

I’m also having trouble with the concept of balance between resolving and forgiving. Some may conclude that too much resolution makes too many recordings unpleasant, but that’s not me. I find that more resolution helps most recordings and have learned to listen thru distortion and imperfections. I can’t do that when the EQ is way out of whack.

If digital resolution is throwing you off, just turn on upsampling. 1/2😀 It will smooth out little imperfections and make music more sonorous, but take away some of that detail. I usually prefer NOS because I like resolution in spite of the digital noise inherent in the recording. It helps to have a really good digital front end to reduce system noise.

I agree with you dhite71. I bought some new speakers also and most of recordings have revealed new sounds and things like artists talking in the background that wasn't relevant before. 95% of the recordings are better but the rest isn't up to my liking. Sure there are better speakers out there but $4200 is enough spent in my world without breaking the bank.


I just posted to your records and CDs thread

This one is connected and so relevant to my day.  I upgraded speakers a few days ago.  My previous were so consistent where most everything sounded good.  My new ones are much more revealing.  Some albums blow me away and some piss me off that I have listened to 100 times and now can't stand.  I am at a crossroads where I am not sure if I can accept these lesser recordings to relish in the others.  Damn this audiophile curse lol



Many Classical recordings from the first few decades of stereo were mixed with following assumptions in mind:

1) Listeners would be using AM Radios 

2) If using a Hi Fi system, speakers would be bookshelf models, in small rooms, with very limited bass potential 

 3) Vinyl would be the source, and dynamic range, particularly bass, needed constriction due to groove spacing issues.


  It was interesting to see the return of intentionally bad mastering reoccur in the 21st century, as the assumption was that listeners would be using iPods with free earbuds

It’s possible to strike a balance between resolving and forgiving. It just takes time and effort in matching components, cables, room acoustics. I like an accurate but not analytical system. I want to be able to listen and enjoy a crappy recording of a great performance such as Mahler’s 5th conducted by Bruno Walter (1947) and not have to start looking for a modern better recorded but lesser performance version of it. And when I’m done listening to it, I can play Diana Krall and be amazed by the recording quality and the resolving power of my system. 

And by the way…everything will color the sound - components, cables, room. Don’t chase neutrality - it doesn’t exist.

I can enjoy music on the car radio or whatever mediocre source. But in my system at home I want everything to sound as good as possible.For subpar recordings I'll choose to "color" them via eq.After listening to live music as a teen I began to think about if and how to recapture that aliveness at home someday.

FWIW, I have my stereo system in a room 2 walls and 12 feet away from my large office. My system is on all day to FM or a multi play CDP. I thoroughly enjoy my music in the office. Then I go into my music room and sit down in the 'sweet spot' and get all the 'audiophile addict' tendencies which I have sort of trained myself not to be absorbed by. That sweet spot and the focus on soundstaging can be the real killer of the 'music'. In a perfect world listening off axis and in mono would be the preferred methodology, and you could fill your room with the 'sound of music'. :-)

Before we became audioholics we could listen to music and fill in the gaps of sound that were missing from the recording. Our remembering of the real thing was there to supplant the missing fidelity. It would be nice to go back that way again. It’s very hard but I think, at times, some can.

You wonder how these crappy sounding recordings get made. Presumably there are sound engineers who know what they’re doing. Yet some recordings are released with a lack of bass, or shrillness or some other defect. How does it happen? Are they aiming for the lo fi market or what? Hi resolving sets bring out all the flaws.

 I have a Loki equalizer which I took out of my system because there were getting to be too many wires.  Maybe I shouldn’t have.

@rvpiano It looks like our brains are wired the same way. I do exactly as you describe.

Many of my favorite recordings are from decades ago when the technology was quite primitive or later recordings done by independent artists who had a low budget or wanted a "low fi" sound. I love these records and CDs but after listening to one or two I find that I need to put on something that sounds really good. It's like driving my Charger R/T around town for a while, never getting over 35 mph, and needing to get on the freeway and floor it just to make sure that the kick is still there.

Life is too short, I don’t waste my time listening to bad recordings wishing they would sound better. There is a whole world of music out there with Tidal and Qobuz to choose from and discover new talent and genres. I also have many vinyls from the 60’s and up and listen often to the ones that are pleasant to my ears. I invested in a nice amount of Blue Note, Tone Poet, High Fidelity, UHQR etc… and I m good with my analogue .My listening sessions are never short and I enjoy every minute of it.

It’s a conundrum in that poor recordings exist, and the better systems reveal all the warts.  For example the CD transfers of Wilhelm Kempff stereo recordings of Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann are barely listenable on my two channel system (and the one lp I have isn’t much better bud adds the joy of surface noise).  When I really want to hear them I use my mid fi systems which are more “forgiving “.

  DG should remaster these to see if they are sonically salvageable 

I enjoy the good recordings and if I find something that isn't a good recording, if it's so bad I can't enjoy it I don't play it.

I had a guest who really liked Dolly Parton and some of her early songs you can tell the recording is subpar but not her performance.  I've also hear updated mixes on Tidal where I thought the mix was horrible and moved on.

I view music like food - I'll enjoy it and if I don't I don't consume it.  Certainly try something new but just because it's doesn't mean you have to like it.

I dont try to "fix" any recording. I accept the imperfections. Any system that makes everything sound good is a colored system.


A bad recording is a bad recording no system, speakers to boot will improve that situation, old age, hearing, or forgiving tolerance might factor though lol. Compare the likes of vintage Rolling Stones vinyl to current mastering abilities, might pass in a mediocre car but on a high end revealing system… laughable.

I use a Mclntosh MQ112 Environmental Equalizer to fix some recordings. Just what the doctor ordered. Love it. 

I think the trick is to be able to enjoy great performances where the recording is less than ideal. where the system pulls the good stuff out and allows it to come through even where there are flaws. so much pop/rock/??? is not especially natural or honest....but there can be special things happening. or maybe we have a connection that hits us? and you can still hear the intent and artistry and be drawn into the experience. the system needs to capture all the information and allow our minds to filter what is not musical.

any other approach is missing the music. we can’t narrow our listening to technical perfection.....yet we appreciate it when everything is working.

and sure...there is plenty of all around 'dreck' out there to avoid. just noise. YMMV.

I do have plenty of relatively flawless music that I love, but also enjoy exploring too. and my ears have to be open to be amazed however it happens. my system makes the most of great recordings, but also reveals the deeply obscure magic too. the system should get out of the way of the music.

I could not agree more with your assessment. I come from the digital world and I have found that quality recordings are most key for getting good sound. Of course, investing research and often times more money to find better playback DAC and streamers will yield better sound …..but a quality recording and engineered piece of music, album or venue will make your system, modest or refined, sound so much better.

I have had my share of bad-sounding cd's and "some" vinyl as well. But thanks to my superior brain (Ha Ha), I don't "hear" bad stuff any more (with some truly horrible exceptions of course). What I mean is just that I can enjoy the music coming out of my Tivoli Radio or a pair of HT JBL's. The scratches on records also don't bother me much. Anyone with a collection of Charlie Parker albums is either going to concentrate on his gift or go crazy wishing he hadn't died so young. I guess I'm half-audiophile and half- Stack some 45's on my ancient old RCA record player and wonder how music comes out of it at all. 

Good topic.

The vast majority of albums… I mean vast majority of albums sound great on my system. That is something that has varied a lot over the last fifty years. Over the last couple decades I recognized that my choices in components strongly influenced how much of the music sounds good.

About fifteen years ago I called my system “my reference system” because I could instantly tell everything about the recording and the venue. The micing technique, the size of the venue, what color the conductors shoes were. But also many albums did not sound good…they lacked musicality and details stuck out… unnaturally… but I didn’t realize that until it was gone.

After a nearly complete turnover in my system, it is forgiving and musical and my system disappears and the music sticks out not the technical imperfections. Thank you Audio Research and Sonus Faber speakers. Maybe one in a thousand sticks out as a bad recording now.