I went to the Milan Hi Fidelity show last weekend and the same 3 things struck me as happens in just about all the Hi-Fi shows I attend.
1) Some absolutely dreadful Muzak is played just because they are excellent recordings. This means that when I request a decently-recorded CD track I know well to be played, I am nearly always disappointed compared to my own system.
2) Some systems have impressive bass; more than I am used to. From experience, having owned some bass behemoths in the past, I know that – for me at least – it is just a novelty that soon wears thin. I much prefer a fast, transparent bass to room-shaking depth and the compromise in midrange clarity that comes with that. The unrealistic desire many have to recreate orchestral scale in their rooms detracts from the delicacy needed for World Music, Jazz or Folk.
3) And now for my most controversial point. I am used to what some would dismissively call ‘pipe and slipper’ speaker designs such as old Spendor BC1s, Harbeth HL Monitors and Rogers LS5/8s. As often happens, I heard a track I knew well at the show, a viola da gamba track played by Jordi Saval. The speakers were Brave New World designs built from what looked like solid aluminium billet. The natural resonances and reverberations I expected were, for the most part, bleached away! Many recordings seem to lose much of the natural resonance and 3 dimensionality of the music. The approach of most modern Hi-Fi systems is to be clean, focussed, tighter-than-reality and rather uninvolving. Valves add a global 3 dimensionality often lost.
There is an intuitive understanding that for music to sound real something more Yin and Yang than simple resonance control is required. It is not that subjectivists condone adding colouration, as many objectivists claim, but that they instinctively seek that extra connection and engagement you get with the original performance which the recording often lacks. Furthermore, valve amps generally sound more natural than transistor probably because the signal travels through a vacuum rather than silicone.