Why Spend More On Hifi When Some Music Is Poorly Recorded?

I did the same thing myself yesterday in an email.

I think the idea of reaching a final state of audio reproduction doesn’t work, it’s too boring.

And there are always new ways to progress.

This reminds me of many happy moments in a second hand record store. Half the fun was the discovery process and picking albums and auditing them yourself.
Many sounded great on those store Technics with some nondescript headphones. Often they then sounded crap when I brought them home. So I started buying quality (new) vinyl online sounding great most of the time, apart from some duds. But yeah you then give up something to gain something.

In hindsight I guess that’s why we loved FM so much here for most listening, 70% or so. All various music is filtered / processed / equalised through the radio station’s transmitters. The only variable is then the different flavours of sound colouration of various FM stations. With a selection of those and a great Naim tuner into the Nait 2 life was good. Now exploring internet radio but somehow it’s not the same.

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I started reading the thread and then have come back a day or so later to 150 unread so I am just going straight in with the reply from my perspective…

I listen to music. I enjoy the journey of finding more music from artists even if its poor sounding live stuff. I actually buy bootleg recordings and listen to those also. Do they sound great, noooooo, but there is still a connection and a vibe that beats listening on my QB when I listen on my ND system. Compared to a decent recoding some stuff I listen to is ‘horrible’ but after about a minute and some volume you soon forget and just enjoy the show! I listen to audience tape recordings, demos & properly recoded stuff. It all has its place.


Before I buy something I try to check the DR level, although a lot of what I buy is from bands and engineers/producers who don’t tend to brick wall stuff to hell.

Nevertheless, the nasty surprises will continue to ambush me because that’s just how it is. Since I spend a lot of my time in my office with the Muso Mk2 singing away, the loud stuff isn’t so bothersome because it’s supposed to sound big on a small device. This still can’t rescue albums that are so hot I can hear distortion.

As to other types of badly recorded albums, where the DR range may be high, or the recording thin, muddled, too boomy, to spikey, etc… as a general observation I have found that the better the equipment, the more I am able to look past the sound balance and hear the what the musicians were playing and how they were playing it.

Fast, incisive, revealing, uncompromising, laid back, polite, etc. I hear these these terms applied to equipment, particularly in reviews, and to me they sound like descriptions of sub optimal musical communication. Sure, I’ve got some very sharp and spitty recordings. And muffled efforts. But the ability of the system to coherently musically communicate can overcome a lot of it. Recording quality, personal taste and the room will inevitably play their part too. As will the mood of the listener.

Some recordings will always be beyond my ability to comfortably listen to them, although I might get better enjoyment in the car or in the office. I’ve also got a QB in the shed, this can also hold a tune rather well and flatter material which is too loud to listen to in the lounge.

From as young as I can remember (probably age 3-4) I have loved music. It has fascinated me, entertained me, moved me, informed me and motivated me. I can listen to music on anything, including MW transmissions on a crap 1960s transistor radio. And I can listen to and enjoy crap recordings of good music - if I have no alternative.


An interesting and informative response, Harry, and it goes to show how personal these things are.

The addition of my 500DR has made nothing sound worse. Most of my treasured music sounds way better, with some lovely surprises unearthed. However anything that was unlistenable or irritating pre 500DR is still the same post 500DR - hence the question raised in the OP.

Here’s a nice example of a fundamental upgrade

This sounds familiar. There’s nothing like a new music collection, particularly when not anticipated. It makes me wonder how much more is buried in there.

Some stuff is irredeemable. Or at least to date. This is also why I get jumpy when something like streamer FW is released with a new DAC-DSP. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get my music and room in good balance. Then I update FW and I’m dying by a thousand cutting leading edges. User configurable DSP would be awfully nice. I can do it to my car system with a laptop and USB cable and my local dealer has it down to a fine art with a number of Linn installations. Maybe one day.

True - so the answer to the original question is “because the good stuff sounds even better, and the bad stuff sounds no worse - and may sound better”.

That is a decent summary of where I have arrived at, and I have already stated I’ve no regrets getting the 500DR, but going from 250DR to 500DR is a big leap.

I suspect however future upgrades are going to work their magic on a smaller and smaller proportion of my music, due to the limitation on reproduction quality due to variable recording rigour, although I have had no in-home demonstrations (yet!) to support that, just the experience of the 500DR’s arrival.

Future upgrades I would consider are DRing and servicing my 552, new speakers and a second PS555DR on the ND555.

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I mostly agree with Nigel. I only listen to classical music, but I think there are many that are truly awful. Some of the best are Decca in the 60s, and then the recordings started to be over-miked with terrible results. Digital brought on another bad trend. If you want to hear consistently excellent recordings, try the Naim records recorded by Ken Christianson in Chicago’s Pro Musica. But, I haven’t found in general that lower end hi fi makes the bad recordings more listenable. Just my .02, but there you are.


I am sat here listening to a few demo/previously unreleased tracks from the ACR:Box compilation (look, I do listen to other stuff, lots of it, but I’m catching up on this one since buying it a few months ago and never getting round to listening to it all the way through, all 7 discs!) The mixing & production on some is most definitely not the same as a studio album, “even” my XS3 tells me that, but it’s great music, and the track’s relationships to the studio album versions is really fun to listen to. And my feet are tapping.

I suspect I’m close to the point of diminishing returns for my chosen level of investment in HiFi gear, and it’s a great place to be 8)

I reckon that says more about the listener than the audio. I think I’m as close to audio nirvana as I’m going to get within what I’m prepared to spend. Am I bored? Of course not, just spending too much time enjoying music for that.


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That’s great.

Anyone who is happy and just enjoys the music has nailed it.

I was like that with my first Naim system that I bought new in 2004 - until I stupidly came onto the old forum.

Up to that point, I had decided not to research either hifi or music because I found that a thirst for knowledge (e.g. categories of jazz, how amps work, etc.) ends up getting in the way of just listening to music.

And, to be honest, I’ve just reached the limit of what my wife will let me spend on hifi, and I’m on an audio contentment plateau that will keep my foot tapping for years to come.


Since joining this forum, I have upgraded my system twice.

A revelatory moment for me was when I was listening to the Tord Gustavsen Trio album Being There.

I played this album several times in a week, just loving the sound of the instruments and the music as a whole.

At some point I felt the urge to find out who the producer was, because the production was crystalline.

It was Manfred Eicher.

I’d never heard of him, or his label, ECM.

Until then I hadn’t realised that some labels have a unique house sound because of their approach to music and production.

That led me to listen to many ECM artists - especially Keith Jarrett, but also dozens of others.

And to pay much more attention to labels - e.g. Steeplechase and Blue Note - and to recording quality.

I also read the reviews of Thom Jurek, whose taste in music is very similar to mine, and who is brilliant at helping me tune into what’s occurring in some of the greatest jazz recordings.

At that time I also started reading up on how Miles Davis worked with Teo Macero on editing and production of the Miles albums I most like - the ones from 1968-1975.

In short, my taste in music has taken a quantum leap.

Part of that is a definitive move towards much higher quality recordings of mainly acoustic instruments, with minimal overdubbing, and a lot of live recordings.

I am very happy about this change.

Somehow this process has also alienated me from some of the music I used to listen to, including stuff that was badly recorded, heavily compressed, etc.

But I’m happy with that too.

These changes were influenced by hearing more because my system was revealing more of the recordings - but in the end is mainly about discovering whole new fields of music that I hoped were there but hadn’t yet found.


A highly-resolved system, is usually always a double-edged sword.

I came to the realisation, we can’t have the best of both worlds in everything in life. We could strive for it, but more often than not, it’s usually a compromise.

I just make do and be happy and contented with my music and enjoy the system-building process as it comes, when it comes. Before that next upgrade, I enjoy tweaking the set-up till I have maxed all I could do. It’s fun.

But it is also true, some recordings are just awful … despite being great music - a pity as I find some unlistenable but it is what it is.

I love remasters. Always looking for them.


Phil P



Or even dancing occasionally!

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Hell yeah… when the system just compels me to get up off the listening chair and try and do some head-banging contortions to some good rock, Wacko Jacko… James Brown… the list just goes on… sometimes a wash of Debussy’s Clair de Lune just puts me into a trance-like state… because the Naim just gets me there so emotively, whenever.

Phil P

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I too have expanded the repertoire of music I enjoy, expanding into genres and sub-genres I hadn’t previously considered.

But this change was mostly due to the availability of good quality streaming services (Tidal, and thereafter Qobuz in my case), and, to a lesser degree, to hifi upgrades, allowing me to fully appreciate new (to me) music.

Streaming services allowed me to listen to unfamiliar genres and better resolving kit allowed me to listen into unfamiliar genres, if that makes any sense.


Perhaps there is an answer to the original question in a response to a letter by the editor of Stereophile in the latest (March 2022) issue?

A letter from (JE) notes that ‘while some current releases on CD are very good, many do not sound better than those made in the early days of CD’, to which the editor of Stereophile writes:

“…I respect and share your rejection of the conventional wisdom about early digital. Yes, many early digital recordings were bad, even if many of us (not all, Mikey!) at first enjoyed the novelty of that pristine sound. Subsequent remasters took bad (and good) early digital and , in an effort to alter the sound, made it worse. An underappreciated fact about this hi-rez Golden Age we are living through is that many of those hi-rez files we enjoy are better not due to higher resolution but because they’re “flat,” unprocessed masters. As much as I appreciate the art of skilled mastering engineers, sometimes they’re paid just to make recordings sound different and often louder.”- Jim Austin