Too Cool?

April 14, 2011
2 mins read

They say it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much Indian food? Too much Scarlett Johansson? Too many Crème Eggs? Well I suppose that all those things are theoretically possible but how could it be possible to have too much resolution and detail in a hi-fi system?

Offhand, I’d say that it’s not. In fact, more insight is surely one of the goals of the audiophile. To hear exactly what’s on the recording without the system editorializing is the hi-fi holy grail isn’t it? Roll out the old ‘straight wire with gain’ cliché if you like but every audio move I’ve ever made has been a step in the direction of more resolution.

I always thought that I’d never get enough but the problem is the recordings.

When I had the Usher P-307 in my system, the sound was as cold and thin as a skinny vampire chick from one of those silly teen vampire movies but that’s not the case here. Since I placed the StereoKnight Silverstone Balance Transformer Volume Control (review coming soon) into my system, I’ve been plagued by what I initially thought was “not enough warmth syndrome” but the more I listen, the more I’m convinced that I’m hearing the recordings, not any limitations in the system.

Basically I’m dealing with a very accurate and transparent system, which just plays what it’s fed without adding much in the way of its own thoughts on the subject. So thin recordings sound thin, bight recordings are bright, while horribly compressed recordings are just bloody horrible. On the other hand, recordings with a rich, warm acoustic are as warm as anyone could want, with a deep resonant character that seems to be entirely in keeping with what’s on the CD or record.

In the past, with my Yamaha A-S2000 integrated doing preamp duties, everything was slightly warm. Not overly so, certainly not too lush through the mids or rolled off at the top but just warm enough to gloss over any recording related issues without making the rest of the collection sound bloated.

This is a nice problem to have but obviously the Yamaha is adding something and from a purist’s point of view, that something really shouldn’t be there.

What this comes down to is that audio systems are tailored to suit the listener and let’s not kid ourselves here – that’s what we’re all doing every time we change anything that affects the sound of our audio systems.

The question then is this – are we trying to achieve perfect fidelity to the original performance or to correctly reproduce the recording (and these are almost always very different things)? Or are we striving to find a sound that we like?

The difference between powered studio monitors hooked up to a digital workstation and a domestic system using vinyl and a valve amp is just one example of how wide the variances in music systems can be. I daresay that most of us would prefer the sound of the latter even though the sound of the former may well be closer to the musical truth as it was recorded.

So back to my current dilemma. I can easily pop the Yamaha back in or keep looking for a preamplifier that makes all my music “pain free” but that’s not going to happen, at least not for the moment. If I’m hearing what’s on the recording, then I’m going to live with it because it’s what I’ve wanted for so long. Viva fidelity I say!

That said, I’m curious to see how the other half lives and to indulge my high power valve fetish. I’ll be in the UK in June and I think I’ll be poking my head in the door at Icon Audio to listen to a set of the MB845 valve monoblocks, which would likely be a far different sonic beast to the much loved Viganoni and Viganoni Sachem monos I’m using now. An interesting session awaits…


  1. You can never have too much Scarlett Johansson. Repeat after me “Scarlett be thy name!”

  2. “…..could it be possible to have too much resolution and detail in a hi-fi system?”

    When, for example, you have an interconnect cable that is way above the class level of the gear connected. The cable will simply show the weaknesses of the partnering gear. Then it’s whole chasing-the-tail-scenario.

  3. When I have been able to be close to a studio monitor during a recording, I notice that the sense of presence and weight are often the first two things that are lost even early on in the recording/playback chain. For this reason I have for many years used the Signature interconnect by Chord which adds something in both these areas. With Digital only input I use wooden cones under equipment for a similar reason. Finally I think we (unconsciously) voice our equipment to early memories of (recorded) music. Being old enough to have grown up around valve equipment I like some added warmth. John.

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