Judge the Music

Judge the Music not the sound, or, why we can choose completely unsuitable hi fi systems by carefully listening to them.

The subjective evaluation of audio is ultimately the only sensible way to choose a system. Otherwise, like we discovered in the 1970s, you end up measuring the wrong thing, and consequently engineer ‘perfect’ equipment that sounds awful.

Once you decide to evaluate subjectively, you can choose two possible paths. Depending on the path you choose you are likely to end up with two completely different systems.

Evaluating by sound:

Listening to a system and relating to it through the noises it makes. Often this involves describing a performance through use of terminology invented by hi fi reviewers to describe what they hear. Terms like liquid treble, smooth midrange, holographic stereo imagery, subterranean bass …. will often be read in the course of a subjective review.

The alternative is…

Evaluating by music:

This is listening to a system and evaluating how effectively it plays the music. In this case we do not need to invent new words, a thousand years of western music has seen to the availability of descriptive terminology.

So what are these musical criteria?

Well, the basic elements of music are a very good place to start, namely: melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamic and timbre. When we develop a new MusicWorks product, it has to improve in these areas, for example:

  • tunefulness – are pitch intervals better reproduced. Does the musical interval ‘feel’ right as well as sound right.
  • harmonic accuracy –  Do several coincidental, but differently pitched notes sound like harmony? More importantly does it ‘feel’ like better music because of the harmony?
  • timing – are simple time signatures more easily heard? Are complex time signatures rendered more understandable? Can subtle timing changes be heard as a musical or emotional effect?
  • dynamic – when a musician is playing quietly, does the piece still retain emotion? When several instruments play at different volumes, can they each be followed better? Can implied rhythms be heard by slight differences in how loud notes are played?
  • timbral accuracy – is the tonal envelope of instruments better conveyed? Are different instruments in the same section differentiated better?
  • performance – this is a measure of how involved the players are in the musical event. Can the energy of the performance be heard? Do instruments really sound like they are being plucked, bowed and hit?

These examples of what a MusicWorks product is designed to do, and we feel, represent the only ways in which any Hi Fi product can be evaluated.