There is no perfect speaker . . . because no two recordings are alike. This became crystal clear when I installed a Mac Mini in my rack that I use as a music server. Having instant access to hundreds of different recordings makes it quite apparent just how different each album was mastered. I don't how many times I've heard someone say that they want to hear what the artist / recording engineer intended, and then they set out to buy the most accurate speakers (and front end gear) that they can afford (myself included).
While this is an admirable goal, I really think we are fooling ourselves. There are just too many variables, that come into play. It's a moving target. There is the tonal balance of the monitors (and the microphones I've recently discovered) used at the recording studio vs. the speakers you own, the type of speakers the engineer / artist expects the music to be played back through, and the level that they mastered the music vs. the level you like to listen to. There are probably other factors as well, but these are enough to make the point.Recording studio monitors vs. your speakers
- If the recording monitors are tipped up in the treble (for example) and you have speakers that are flat through the treble, there is a good chance that recordings made with these monitors will sound dull through your speakers. Are you hearing what the artist intended in this situation? Not unless the frequency response of your speakers matches the studio monitors. And how will you ever know unless you were there? So even if your speakers have perfectly flat response in all directions from 20Hz - 20KHz, it is highly unlikely that you will ever know if you are hearing what the artist intended.Microphone quality / character
- I recently picked up the 1st Stereophile Test CD. Track 5 is a reading of an article the was recorded using 18 different microphones. It was surprising to hear that many of them imparted a distinct character on the sound. Some obviously sibilant, others sound closed in, and some sound very transparent and natural. If this is the case, and you have some reference tracks that sound overly sibilant, thin, etc., it might not be your speakers at all, it could be the mic used for the particular recording you are listening to.Engineer's / artist's assumptions of the consumer's playback system
- This one won't be news to many here. I think many have heard the tales of sound engineers having intentionally crappy speakers on hand to emulate what they think there music will be played through. If you listen to only audiophile recordings, you're pretty safe, but if you like Rock / Pop, there is a good chance that the master was intentionally mucked with to sound good on an iPod or Boom Box. So those highly accurate speakers you own are about as far from being able to provide the "intended" sound as you can get.Reference volume
- Dance club music is expected to be played at party level, while jazz at moderate to low levels. Since the human ear is less sensitive to bass and treble at lower volumes, the recording engineer may boost the extremes to get the balance right on the Jazz album. If you like to listen to your Jazz at high-ish volumes, they will likely sound bright and boomy, or you may unknowingly buy speakers that that are rolled off a bit in the extremes to compensate for high level playback of recordings that were EQd for a lower reference level.Hearing ability of the recording engineer / artist
- If the engineer / artist has any hearing loss, they may compensate for the loss in their EQ of the mix and what you hear through your system will not be what the engineer heard. Hopefully the engineer is responsible enough to have their hearing tested and apply the compensation needed to the playback system rather than the recording, but there is no guarantee of this.
Considering all of the above, and with some help from conversations with fellow AVSer "mpmct", I've come to accept that EQ is my friend. It's pretty broadly accepted these days that EQ can be helpful in compensating for the effect of the room on the sound, and this can give you a good foundation to work with (I use room EQ), but I'm talking about good old manual EQ.
I've typically owned somewhat bright speakers because I have a thing for detail and like an "open" sound, but I've found that there were many Pop / Rock / R&B recordings that sounded edgy and aggressive through these speakers. Now that I've changed to speakers with more balanced treble response (with some help from room EQ) very few recordings are offensive, but the recordings that sounded balanced on the bright speakers now sound a little shut-in and lacking detail. This is where something like iTunes EQ comes in quite nicely. Since I listen to all of my music through a Mac Mini (all lossless files), with iTunes as the interface, I simply assign an EQ curve in iTunes to those albums that need a little help, and leave it flat for those that don't. The cool thing is that you can have iTunes automatically engage a different EQ curve for each song or album.
We all have those recordings that are obviously bad, but it's those tracks / albums that sound pretty good overall, yet they leave you wanting in some way-- those are the dangerous ones. It was these subtle deficiencies that often lead me down the path of thinking I needed to change speakers, when all that was needed was a little "personal remastering" of some of my music. Artist's intent be damned!
For instance I have the original CD pressing of the Scorpion's "Blackout" album, and the recording quality is crap. I don't think anyone would expect a better set of speakers to change this. I had to really goose the upper/mid bass and slightly raise the overall treble level to get it to state that was even remotely enjoyable. On the other hand, I've come across a couple dozen albums that sound slightly dark or shut-in (out of the hundreds of albums I own). When I hear a few of these tracks in a row, they get me thinking that there is something lacking in my speakers. Thankfully, all it took was a 2-3 dB boost of the treble region to make them satisfying. It wasn't same for all of them, as some responded better to a lower treble lift, some mid treble, some high. So it takes some fiddling, but it goes pretty quick once you get familiar with how the different filters affect the spectrum of the music.
If I would have come to this realization sooner, I probably never would have gone through roughly 13 different sets of speakers over the course of 8 years in the search of the perfect speaker. What can I say, I'm a slow learner.
Now I'm not saying that EQ will fix every problem, as I've had some speakers in the recent past that had "character" that I couldn't EQ out of them. And there are attributes to speakers that have nothing to do with their frequency response curve, such as the size of the soundstage they project, their dynamic capability, their resolution, etc., but if you are considering a new speaker purchase because some of your music is dissatisfying, EQ is worth a try, and it may save you some money and heartache.
Below is a link to download that microphone demonstration track from the test CD I mentioned. There is no notice as to when a different mic is being used, other than a slight pause in the reading, but it should quite evident when it happens. It's an ear opener for sure.http://www.mediafire.com/?zmua3zmikmh
PS - the title of my thread is in no way intended to be disrespectful to the the perfect speaker thread started by Nuance. That thread is full of a lot of useful info and insightful speaker reviews, and I very much enjoyed being a part of it.