JV Audio Lingo Question - Does "beautiful" and "gorgeous" mean colored?

David Matz -- Sun, 04/17/2011 - 22:42

Mr. Valin has stated in a few recent reviews (technical brain and others I don't currently recall)  that he values highest gear that is most transparent to source and will reveal the last bit about the recording. 
 
So when he says something sounds "beautiful" (see comments about comparing Tidal to Wilson in CES gear issue), does he mean it doesn't sound real, lifelike, or reflecting what is on the recording?  Or am I reading too much into it?
 
Ever since his blog breaking gear into "Beautiful", "Lifelike", and "true to recording" categories, I have been confused. 
http://www.avguide.com/blog/lets-call-the-whole-thing
 
Thanks

Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 04/18/2011 - 02:52

 David,
 
When a component--be it a piece of electronics, a loudspeaker, or a source--makes every recording sound "beautiful," it is adding what we use to call a "euphonic coloration." This kind of presentation can be very appealing to many listeners, and I have no argument with them if that is the kind of reproduced sound they prefer, Where I do have a bit of an bone to pick with them is when they call such a presentation "high fidelity." To me, "high fidelity" means (and can only mean) fidelity to sources. To me, a true high-fidelity component will reproduce what's been recorded--good, bad, or indifferent--without adding a consistently "dark" or "beautiful" or "liquid" or "golden" color to timbres, without goosing up dynamics by exaggerating the midbass or reducing aggressiveness by rolling off the treble, without, in short, any extraneous tone color or dynamic emphasis or smudging of detail or tailoring of pitches.  In our next issue of TAS, I go into this subject in some detail and I would urge you to read my review of the Magico Q5 in that issue for a more complete presentation.
 
This said, let me repeat that I have no argument with people who prefer a less "transparent" sound than I do. Most do. 
 
JV

David Matz -- Mon, 04/18/2011 - 10:34

Thanks for your prompt reply. Not to get too philosophical on an audio board, but I always thought of the idea of the "absolute sound" as an idea from Plato's Republic -an idealized sound that most systems shoot for, but ultimately cannot reproduce. With that said, I agree with you that the goal of most audiophiles is to emulate a concert in their home, and not to hear every last detail on the recording (although I do not have any hard data to prove this). I always was aware of certain brands - Bryston, Sanders, dCS, Levinson, etc., that claim to give you that last detail. And personally, I found them mechanical sounding and un-enjoyable with my already "honest" electrostats. Furthermore, I find it a lot easier "letting go" listening to Bose in my car than to these audiophile brands. (The dCS, however, has recently managed to break out of the pack and make that detail come through as part of the musical whole.)

As far as the "Absolute Sound" vs. the "Beautiful" categories, I assumed that most companies were trying to make it sound "real", but the differences were due to the ideas the designer brought to the table to create the sonic signature and the cost of parts to hit a price point in the market place. The lower end BAT amps sound much more sweet than their high end gear, which is much more transparent. Same with CJ. My high end preamp may be "more forgiving", but it is certainly not "golden" sounding. But as an industry insider, you may have more insight.

Coming back to reviews, I appreciate you clearly identifying the sound "category" in your Technical Brain review and RH clearly identifying the sonic signature of the Levinson mono-blocks he recently reviewed. And I hope this practice spreads to other writers in the magazine. Knowing the category helps narrow down auditioning choices and saves time and travel. Thanks.

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