The What, Who, How and Why of Music At Home

During these difficult times I have been reflecting on my hifi journey and the milestones in music reproduction in my home over that journey. As I have improved my system over the years from an Amstrad receiver to what I have today, I can crudely categorise those milestone in SQ improvement into the ‘what‘, ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ of music reproduction in my home.

I will try to explain those milestones.

With my most basic system, I could hear what was being played and could start to hear the words in lyrics. I could hear what notes were being played and what instruments were in the mix, although this would all fall apart as the mix became dense.

Improving the system and I could hear who the vocalists were, and even start to recognise who the musicians were when I heard a piece for the first time. That ‘signature’ of a musician or a singer became more apparent.

Upping my kit even further I started to appreciate how an instrument was being played and how a vocalist was singing on a particular track. The texture and tone of different instruments were becoming more distinct, the inflection and expression a vocalist would impart was becoming clear.

Why was an instrument being played in such a manner? Why did a vocalist use those lyrics and sing in that way? These clues were of course to express and communicate thoughts and feelings. Joy, sadness, love, depression, hope. Now some basic systems are capable of this but I have found as I improved my hifi over the years, it is the ‘why’ that has moved on the most.

It is fair to say that these stages didn’t follow in strict sequence and some of the latter stages I started to recognise in some of my earlier systems. But it was clear to me that ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of music in my home really started to take off with my more recent hifi upgrades. That is not to say these facets of music cannot be heard in a lower cost system, they can, and I can attest to that. But where I am now, I hear so much more into the music and where before a piece was a little muddled and confused, I now suddenly ‘get it’. Like a light bulb coming on.


I understand what you’re saying, although I can’t help but feel what you describe is a very analytical way of listening to music which I have difficulty relating to. It reminds me of visits to art galleries - I know instinctively what I like and what gives me pleasure to look at. I don’t need to know how it was achieved.

I agree it’s important to be able to hear what makes up the music, and there’s little doubt that better quality equipment, all other things being equal, will give a better listening experience. Whether most of us even attempt to listen in the way you describe is probably debatable. That said, I’m sure there is no right or wrong way.

You have a point and when I sit down to listen to music I try not to analyse why something appeals and something else doesn’t. In fact I find active listening rather tiring and often am doing something else while listening, lurking on here for example as I have my iPad next to me.

As I have time on my hands at the moment I have been listening to a lot of music and started to idly mull over what I got from my hifi over the years and came up with ‘what, who, how and why’. It is certainly not how I listen to music and is purely one reflection of what I got from my various sets over the years.

I almost never listen to music whilst doing nothing else! Although I prefer to listen alone, in the comfort of my lounge, reclining in my ‘comfy seat’, I invariably read at the same time, whilst the music washes over me. I have absolutely no idea what 95% of the lyrics I hear are saying! Whenever I’ve read an accurate transcript of most lyrics I’ve invariably found them to be banal, trite or totally meaningless. I tend to listen to vocals simply as another instrument, giving ‘colour’ or mood to the ensemble.

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Whenever I discuss song lyrics I can’t help but think of Peter Kay’s sketches!

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In The Beginning, there was a red and beige vinyl covered Dansette, followed by a series of various top end Japanese offerings, culminating in a first tentative step into Naimworld with some entry level kit from Fleabay, and the predictable subsequent series of upgrades.

There’s no doubt that the music has never sounded better, or more “real”, whatever that means, but more exciting and engaging than it did to a 12 year old with that Dansette?

Hmm, not too sure. :thinking:

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Lyrics used to pass me by much of the time with my earlier systems as many of the words were unintelligible and I would insert words that made no sense, bit like Peter Kay. As my kit improved, lyrics became more intelligible and hence made more sense, so I tended to listen more to lyrics as they gave meaning to a song.

In fact a combination of poignant lyrics, beautifully sung, set in a wonderful melody has the power to reduce this old fool to tears.


Interesting area to discuss and I’m still after some 45 years not sure what I’m aiming for. :slight_smile: I know what I like when I hear it, but I don’t know what is missing until I do hear it.
The 252 had been a real revelation. I thought I could hear everything I needed to enjoy my music with the previous 112/150, 202/200 amd only marginal improvements would be possible as I went up a notch. Completely wrong! I’ve always wanted to hear the lyrics, so the extra clarity and seperation has been a real benefit. Who knew Police’s song wasn’t about Sue Lawley? :slight_smile:

On the other hand I wonder if I am now hearing something that wasn’t intended? Did Phil Spector, or Beethoven, want me to hear each voice or instrument precisely positioned and heard individually, or did they intend me to be overwlelmed with the flooding of musical inputs?

At age 65 I am still enjoying the journey though. Digital? Bring it on.


Brought up with AM Radio, I rarely knew the real lyrics. Sometimes there is disappointment when I now find that the lyrics are totally different to the made up versions I thought they were - is that just me?

Radio Caroline and the sound of 45’s coming in and out. My brain learned to fill in the gaps without 24/192 transcoding. Anything now is a benefit.

I know what you mean brus.

I always want to expand my collection, even if it saved as favourites in ‘My Albums’ in Qobuz. With time on my hands and with the help of the WAYLTI2000AWMABI thread in the Music Room, I have been listening to a lot of music and artists new to me. I know what I like but cannot explain what makes an album or artist appeal to me, but it is so obvious when I hear an album for the first time and it knocks my socks off.

I just discovered Lisa Mills (thanks again @johnt) in the Music Room. If I started to explain what I like about Lisa’s music to a friend, then that friend would say their favourite artist within the same genre has the same qualities. I would listen to that artist and wouldn’t get the same feeling.

Can’t define it, can’t explain it, just have to do the leg work and explore yourself! Listening on a great system also helps of course.


It’s a bit like friendships and relationships. I worked on a site with 5000 people…hundreds and hundreds i used to see and greet each week, there were about 10 people i used to want to sit and have coffee with. Only three i am still in contact with. Could not put a finger on what makes these people special to me.

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A perfect comparison, Gazza.

Your journey explains my recent forays into classical, and semi-recent into jazz. Before the increase in quality of my system(s) they didn’t appeal or make much sense to me compared to the emotional power of rock, punk, hip hop etc, much of which is dependent on the lyrics.

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I’ m just listening to Rod Stewart unplugged, a recent outing by Rod. Every picture tells a story. The lyrics, the nuances of him singing it in the present, against the raw version of all those years ago. It both takes me back to my youth and reminds me of my age in the present. All of this is conveyed in Rods voice and phrasing. It’s a journey we have both been on ( as many others have). Would I hear all that with a lesser setup? I doubt it.

It’s (almost) funny when a song-writer is considered a great lyricist. Although a lot of my music enjoyment is from singers with great vocal voices, the words are rarely my main concern. I just don’t pick up on the words and even more to the point rarely analyse what they are or do mean. All the same, I do appreciate that my system is at a level where small details/inflections are noticeable. and contribute to the total experience.

I do agree that many a lyric is poorly constructed, meaningless or just puff. But there are lyrics that are sheer poetry and are a key part of understanding a piece of music.

Indeed such songs are pretty meaningless without the lyrics. When I actually can make sense of such lyrics (i.e actually understand the words being sung) a song can mean so much more to me

I would agree, although the other day I played the whole Kate Bush Album Dreaming, while following the lyrics, and I was completely baffled. So next time, at least for that Album, I’ll go into dumb listening mode

Yep, some lyrics are bonkers and only mean something to the author. That’s when it gets self-indulgent and that is when I lose interest in the words and focus on the music, assuming that can hold my attention.

Interesting. Right from the start, I think I was into all of these things and more all at the same time.
Might be what compelled me to draw, paint, look and take up playing musical instruments from bongos to didgeridoos. Perhaps wanting to see a way it fits all together.
My stages of getting better at it - listening, has mostly been met with affirmation of how I’d imagined it through the hifi upgrade stages. Although, I’m still barely out of the Nursery slopes - so I would like to look forward to some surprises.