Top two most important sound qualities

In case you didn't know, it's 2023 and this website still hasn't implemented a polling feature, so I can't define a selection of sound qualities to choose from and see results in a grouped, organized fashion. Boo hoo!


If you had to pick two of the typically referenced sound qualities that are most important to you to optimizing the enjoyment of your system, what are they? You know what I mean, right? Could be a certain frequency range and some particular quality that you for in it, or any quality that applies across all frequencies, etc.

(Note: "Sound qualities" mentioned here do not include anything that refers to physical attributes of your system or listening room, such as acoustical treatments, types of components, types of source material, physical tweaks, etc. It's only a reference to subjectively appreciated qualities.)


Clarity is number one for me. When that is achieved, everything else falls into place providing you have number two: a somewhat full range speaker that can handily reproduce that clarity. It's real magic when it happens.

All the best,

They took a poll on whether we were infavor of polls and we weren't so polls were discontinued.

@carlsbad2 Wait, are you serious? Hahaha I think they would be so useful and easy. You just click a button and get views. Rapid engagement with easily delineated subject matter and instantaneous statistics. Why vote against that?

Lack of grain, tonality, soundstage depth.

I used to be big on soundstage width, pinpoint accuracy, and hard hitting bass. For some reason these have become less important over the years. Not sure why.

Tonality and ability to produce individual rhythm pattern of each instrument. 

@gladmo I'm not a big fan of polls because I have no faith in the opinion of the majority but I was just joking.

Part of my intent here was to see how many choose tonality over all the other options they can think of...

Rhythm & Pace, and tonal balance.



Good question… but two is pretty limited. But I understand what you are trying to get at. If you had asked me over the years starting in the 1970’s to now I think each decade would be different. Probably starting with details and slam… then my focus changed to micro details (as my equipment got better) and imaging, then, then… then… most recently midrange bloom and musicality as I was finally able to really grasp the entire range and put them all together. 

It would not surprise me if you couldn’t correlate the time pursuing the high end and the answer to your question. It took me decades to “get” rhythm and pace.



My first draft --

Fidelity to actual timbres.

Spacial accuracy.

Unimpeded dynamics.

@ghdprentice Two selections being limited is the whole point here. 🙂I know you see that, given your whole response and the experiential learning involved. Listing a third or fourth quality without indicating priority is fine, but it's dilutive because it's that much closer to listing all the attractive qualities one can think of.

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You're right. Poll taking is for morons and all those people that would click on a poll should be expelled permanently.

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@viridian I am so sorry that I didn't meet your standards. I will try harder to please you. My next sentence will be full of substance and punctuation.


Something magical happens when tonality is just right, from top to bottom. Not easily achieved. Not easy at all, especially when trying to improve on multiple other qualities at the same time.

In a related point, I got tone wrong in the first sentence of the original post, but I can’t edit it out now. It was meant lightheartedly, but it sounds whiney. Sorry about that guys. I’ll be adjusting my own tone. 🙂

You need only one: a sense of realism. As in 'suspension of disbelief'.

For this to happen everything else needs to fall into place. Without correct tonality no realism. No clarity, no realism. Limited dynamics, no realism. Etcetera. To get there you will need electronics that are completely neutral and speakers that are 'hand in glove' with the listening space. And of course you will also need a recording that already captured this realism at the recording event. Good luck!

True. And not to criticize or disagree, but to me, choosing "realism" is almost like cheating lol. Isn't it almost like choosing "perfection" or "the ideal sound" as a single sound quality? Maybe not. I've always been aiming for realism for my sound because it is necessarily a composite of getting so many essential sound qualities to a very refined state.

Great thread! I was going to start one that was a top 5 so I’ll list my top 5 things that I want to achieve with my system. From least to most although they no doubt all fit together 

1- great center image 

2-clean sound with superb clarity and detail with no grating highs 

3- wide soundstage with as much depth as my room will do  

4- great tone and midrange magic

5- speakers disappear so it’s just me and the music 




'Realism' would never work for me as there's no way I can fool myself into thinking my living room is the venue for a Metallica concert. If I'm enjoying the sound, it's all good and I don't worry about all these characteristics. 


Thanks for that. Those were my 2 points when at my low point in hi-end audio.

Currently. . . . how to describe? I like a system which lets me connect to the emotional and musical content of the song. Auditioning, I put in a song and don’t really listen for anything. It plays tunes, nothing stands out, and I don’t think about the system. The 2 things I aim for are:


1) Top to bottom even.

- Flat frequency response.

- The more full range the better. No sound below 70Hz is not "even".

- No integration problems between drivers.

- Meaning well designed crossover (better yet none)

- No change in sound quality between drivers.

- Potential problems like: Metal tweeter and poly woofer / Ribbon tweeter vs. cone midrange.

- No change in tone going from low volumes to high volumes.

- Harmonically correct. This again relates to even sound with higher level harmonic in balance with the fundamental. Resulting in instruments and vocals sound like themselves.


2) Immediacy - means the music’s is "there" and you can feel what the musicians are trying to convey. What they are thinking when they play. Achieved by, IMHO- minimal crossover components, clean power, not trying to fix one problem component with another, and minimal system components in general. This encompasses:

- Transparency.

- Clarity.


- Soundstaging.

- Dynamics / lack of compression.

- Black background.


It’s all about choosing where to compromise and no system can do it all. The more differences between songs the better. Also better spatially means the system is dong something more right.


Looking at this list, I come up with something like Quads or single driver speaker run with a chip amp or SET? Maybe horn speakers or omni like MBL / Ohm / 3D mutli speakwr systems.

@larsman No, of course you can’t. Just as you can’t fool youself into thinking you’re sitting front row in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam (to give an example I’m familiar with) hearing a performance of Mahler 6 (or any other large scale orchestral score). But every once in a while you sit in front of your speakers and your usual disbelief gets suspended for a moment and you almost feel teleported to the venue. That’s when the ’gestalt’ of the live music event is somehow faithfully reproduced in your own space. When this happens your brain gets tricked into thinking it’s hearing the real thing. It’s those moments when even your cat takes notice and this experience is what any audiophile aspires to. These are usually few and far between, but a well balanced system can get you there more often.

@cdcimmediacy’ is an even better word for the kind of realism I was trying to describe. One could say immediacy is what distinguishes the real thing from a recording. Just think of street musicians. Even from a distance and without visual contact you simply ’know’ when they’re playing live. Whether they use amplification doesn’t matter. It will sound completely different from recorded sound, even when it comes from speakers outside the adjacent store just a few feet away, no matter how loud they go.

This would seem to suggest that ’live immediacy’ already gets lost during the recording process. So any playback system, no matter how good, is at the mercy of the recording quality.

Indeed - the best you can possibly get is what the producer and other tech people can put on the source. And of course the 'source' can sound very different even in the same venue and performance depending on where you are. But yeah, that's great when you can get transported that way! 

Going into detailed descriptions of the meanings given to a couple qualitative terms and the factors needed for enhancing them is really interesting.

Well said, guys. Expressive and colorful articulation without getting too poetic or prozaic.

Timbre, ( covers tonality and clarity)

Dynamics, (what music isn't dynamic other than heavily compressed recorded music?)

When I listen to my system the most special times are when I experience an emotional response to the music being played. If it doesn’t then it draws my attention to setup or something other than the enjoyment of music. Trying to put labels on it seems diminish or make things clinical when I just want to play music. I understand the need to take the necessary steps to ensure quality music reproduction but the sooner that is done the better. For me it’s like going to an art museum. I don’t actually look to close at the brush strokes I just enjoy myself and sometimes actually experience the artist’s intent if I am really lucky. Now if you want to know what’s important to me is manageable treble. I seen to be able to fill in the blanks when necessary but harsh, etched treble is my nemesis.


Thanks for showing up. I was trying to explain your system "immersion" concept when making suggestion on how to achieve.


Even from a distance and without visual contact you simply ’know’ when they’re playing live.

Well said.

This would seem to suggest that ’live immediacy’ already gets lost during the recording process. So any playback system, no matter how good, is at the mercy of the recording quality.

Pretty much. You can do things like go with metal drivers to compensate, But on another recording it may be "too much of a good thing". Reducing components, clean power supply, or going with horns is a systemic way to reduce the loss.


True be told, I came up with these two when recently auditioning mini-systems for work. Maybe partly cos they mix songs to sound good on a boom box??? The home stereo (typical set-up we all use) obscures those qualities. Distractions due to:

1) Produces too much detail

2) Room effects

If I stick my head directly between the mini-system speakers, I get the same "detailed" effect as listening at home. So I know is a feature of setup.

My epiphany came when, as @tubeking1 said about emotions. I was just working, listening to LCD Soundsystem, not really thinking about the music when OMG it just hit me. I could feel the coldness, the emotion, the poignant beauty or whatever they were trying to express.


Tone is the most important aspect in my system.

Having spent most of my life 20’s and 30’s in night clubs in New York and seen/heard most of the bands of that era, when I listen to music, my musical/aural emotions draws from those experiences.

I’m not trying to recreate the live performance experience of my past since my aural memory is dim but bring out the emotional experience from my memory when I first heard that song.

The right tone is the only aspect of the music that brings back those emotions, not soundstage, clarity, detail, etc.



Me too.

For me instrumental tone/ timbre/ textures is both 1 and 2.

Everything else ie dynamic range, transient speed, lack of sibilance, lack of overhang, full range bandwidth, image depth are all of far lesser importance.

That's why I can sometimes prefer a $40 portable speaker which has a vivid tonal palette to a $4000+ Hi-Fi that doesn't.

Seriously, it's inexplicable to me just how so many of these so called 'High End' systems fail miserably in this regard.

Getting the most accurate instrumental tone would always be my first priority as a manufacturer.


This is a good question and one of crucial importance in determining the relevance of the various responses we often read here.

I tend to skip any published review that does not offer a few words about tone. Strange as it seems, it would appear that, for far too many people, precise instrumental tonality seems to have little or no relevance, whilst to a few others it's almost everything.