Variability in sound quality

I am interested in different timescales of change in audio systems.

I believe that all changes to all parts of the sound-producing system have the potential to change the sound.

The sound-producing system includes the hifi components, the room, the air in the room, the listener, the electrical environment, what surrounds the room, etc.

Some changes are not great enough to register as changes to the listener, and are therefore not audible.

Whenever the listener perceives a change of sound quality, there will be an infinite number of changes to the system (if you include all possible scales of size of parts of the system).

Interesting questions concern which of the changes were responsible for any actual changes in the sound that a microphone might pick up - and which changes were mainly changes to the hearing system and mind/brain of the listener?

What is also of interest is the idea that an excellent home hifi system will change every day sometimes more and sometimes less.

So there is a significant range in the daily, weekly and monthly amount of change, owing to change in the rate of change of things like:

  • quality of hifi components and media, and how they work together
  • temperature and pressure
  • EM noise
  • background noise (soundwaves)
  • seismic activity and vibration and movement in and through the room
  • drying out of caps and other thermodynamic changes (entropic and negentropic) to the system
  • mood and concentration of the listener
  • whether the listener enjoys that music at that time
  • presence of others in or near the room
  • hearing ability of the listener
  • changing ability of the listener to tune into different aspects of sound due to musical education (or stagnation) - inc. changes in understanding of musical instruments, composers, musicians, etc.

Given all this it is no wonder that it can be hard to remember all aspects of the sound quality of the sample of music (e.g. PRaT, timbre, tonality, volume, harshness, balance, etc.) and compare it to another one.

It’s also not surprising that people find it hard to discern the effect on SQ of changes to one component over days and weeks - as all components are changing in some ways all the time.


Just two days ago in the evening I returned home from work by bicycle like every day. I turned on the music. It sounded flat and I was noticeably and immediately underwhelmed. This was puzzling as it had sounded great the same day in the morning. Then I swallowed, there was a slight “plop” in my ears and it sounded great again.

My sinus system works rather well nowadays after two sinus surgeries in the past two years. Pressure equalization would not have happened as easily and naturally in the past. Had the plop not happened, it might have sent me on a crazy quest finding the problem in the system. And during to the huffing and puffing caused by this, the pressure equalization would probably have happened unnoticed sooner or later - might have convinced me that something I did caused the change


I too have to ‘clear my ears’ to listen properly.

1 Like

By far the greatest variable is the listener…:smiley:

When I have a cold it all sounds awful. When I have had a skinfull it sounds sublime. Same music in the morning not so. Myself and the mood I am in along with the company at the time has far more dramatic effect on the sound of my system than any cable, switch or tweak. This will include temperature as no one likes being cold, and warm relaxes you more. It may play apart in how the equipment operates but I dont really believe it’s making the big changes we often think we hear.

Changes I often do and you think it makes such a difference. You then another day undo and roll back to how it was and to your horror it will not change or sounds better.

Hardware upgrades play key parts such as amp, and speakers having more dramatic effect than streamers and DACs. But these can be out of proportion to for what they achieve also and we all get carried away with new stuff.


This —>>>> * mood and concentration of the listener
Audio quality stress is the most expensive and frustrating part with this hobby. When you can let go of listening to SOUND and instead listen to MUSIC everything will calm down and suddenly sound better. No air pressure, No MI6 polluting the grid, no cable metal mumbo jumbo. I’m suprised about the lack of understanding in how our senses work and people go like “My cable sound better after 1 week of burn in”. Yes might do, but it’s not your cable that has changed.


Indeed: As I have noted a number of times, people’s hearing does not remain constant day to day, and can and typically does improve or worsen frequently, which may be small changes or major - as a good extreme example, when you have cold causing congestion with that ‘blocked up’ feeling, a yawn to clear your ears can have a dramatic effect.

In my view hearing changes alone are enough to account for much if not all variability given consistent listening room content/layout, other than gradual (and one-way) effect of genuine ‘burn-in’ of speakers and to some extent some electronic components, and the psychological effect of becoming accustomed to a new sound.


This all sounds like a convoluted way of saying you haven’t got any new interesting music to play.
It could be worth learning how to read music and picking up scores of your favourite recordings.
But yes, without being glib. This sounds like skating on ice blindfolded, you would hope that the hifi and music is like a waiting muse always ready for you.

But consciousness isn’t set in stone - unless of course if it’s as a capital.

Mercury in retrograde isn’t a great time, I always get unlucky with silly slip ups - yet sitting down for a listen. You would think that’s a safe place to be.

Solar winds is a very real thing. This could be behind many unexplained and inexplicable aberrations over almost everything.

Scientists have recently discovered super massive unidentified objects floating within the earths core. These could be of a substance alien to everything else within our world, perhaps from an encounter with a piece of galactic debris during earths formation - who knows what complications that could mean for our hifi ?

Reading through so much hifi specifications. Minerals feature frequently. Iron. Silver. Copper. Gold. Magnesium. Etc.
Since our Human bodies also need mineral sustenance to function properly you could look into the hifi appropriate supplements.

So true! This is indeed one significant factor.

Au contraire…
It’s a bloody good album!



Naim isn’t known for being the most detailed but musical, engaging and emotive presentation. Unlike some other systems, I don’t get sick of it after a song or two, digging at details at extreme ends, just listening to the equipment. Rather, I don’t want to stop.

1 Like

@JimDog maybe just ignore all that have a couple and chill.

I suspect if that was ever the case I would take the system back… it’s broken.
A good system is communicative and engaging… for all audio not just music. It needs to convey detail and emotion, presence and insight, nuance and feel.
Naim can do this, as well as many other quality manufacturers.
A system that provides no detail or insight but simply euphoric waves of emotion to my mind is equally broken… you might as well take a sedative in my opinion if that is all you want,

To my mind I think your own personal mood at the time of listening profoundly effects perception…

1 Like

I agree with perception… it is like preparing to watch a film, if you are not ready to be receptive you are unlikely to get much out of it.
I remember once going to a planned evening with friends to the local cinema… I was so not in the mood, and I was agitated over some problem solving I need to do at work… I just couldn’t get into the film at all, and I simply had to walk out about 20 mins in… all it was doing was giving me a headache…

1 Like

I’m like that with movies to. Had to go back to a lot when my mood was better and then actually enjoyed them. Some however where just gash regardless of my mood.


The other factor … is not be in the perception of not needing to be impressed all the time…in this regard I think it important to listen to lots of varied unfamiliar music … to open your mind…it is always a joy for me to find new amazing tracks…


Every day for me. Never stop discovering new music to me. Recently I have been branching out more to classical, never been much of a listener of it and really enjoying it.

Yep… expecting to be constantly impressed is surely doomed to disappointment.
But listening to new music, absolutely, but once you get to know some music, or a play etc through multiple listens, you can listen in and then notice nuance, technique and detail. I love that in music recordings… just listening into the layers and picking up on a player, a playing technique, a production technique, the moving position of a vocalist to the mic…
I do the same thing in concerts, I find my self gravitating to one of the musicians and focussing on what they are doing. In an art gallery I can enjoy a picture, but then adore going in close to look at the detail. Bruegel, Canaletto, Lowry and Constable to name but a few are excellent for doing this.


Yeah I totally get that …I do that as well…I get a real kick hearing things which I did not hear before…its like an inner discovery that can be a real joy. When you get that … the track becomes very personal … and a journey…