April 24, 2010

What's Musicality?

Can you do without musicality? Not me or Odiosleuth though.

Both of us have been often chided by a few objective minded audiophiles over our often praised value of musicality in a component on review. For us, musicality is one of the most important sonic attribute, especially for source components. If there's no musicality in the source to start with, one can't add it in the later stages of amps, speakers or cables. One could, however lose the element of musicality easily, if the signal from the source is not carefully preserved thru out the audio system chain.

What's musicality? How do you guys define musicality? Can you measure musicality? Does feelings qualify as musicality? They often asked.

Our standard line of reply would be without musicality, it'll be hard to enjoy music through our audio system. Musicality is an important factor for us because we need to feel emotionally connected to the music we're listening through the hifi system. Granted, the term musicality could mean different forms to different people. Some wanna tap their feet, other's feel like getting up to dance to the music and for me, I just wanna sit there in the sweet spot, just trans fixed by the music that I am hearing. We cannot elaborate further.

I have a true story to tell. One of our objective minded friends have owned a Linn Soundek LP12 for the last 20 years or so. Recently, he itched to upgrade his turntable, citing the Linn as passe, and the latest turn table designs would supersede it in terms of sound performance. He happily disposed the Linn to THIS friend for a song(thank you!), and went turn table shopping.

He aimed for all those massively loaded, solid high mass designs and set about picking his choice. He eventually bought a unit of highly reviewed, and well regarded high end designed turn table. I am not allowed to name the said turn table here for a reason, which I'll disclose later.

The turn table arrived, it was set up, we were all happy for him. He raved about the excellent transparency, low noise floor, good detail separation, refinement and neutral uncoloured tonal accuracy of the new toy. The sound stage is walk thru too! he texted me.

I went to listened to the new turn table after he had it for 2 months. I heard everything that he raved about, except I thought to my self, it just needs to be more musical. However, I didn't wanna be Dr. Kill Joy either, well if he is happy with what he heard, I should be happy for him too. I left the audition without telling a word.

I recently got a call from him to invite me for another listen. I went, and I was shocked! There it was, sitting on his hifi rack, was another Linn LP 12! "What the f...?" I asked him. He said "sit down, have another listen, tell me what you think of this LP 12 over my new toy?" which now ironically sits idly on the floor. He played his usual demo tunes as he did the last time, I sat in the sweet spot, listening to the music curiously. After listening we went for a cuppa, where he intensely wanted the truth from my mind, the whole truth! I knew he was ready for it.

I told him that his new toy of latest design had sonically beaten the Linn LP12 flat on all audiophile sonic attributes except, that the Linn is just some how more musical! Despite of all it's sonic imperfections, I could some how connect with the music played back thru the Linn LP12 where else all I heard with the other table, was good "high end" sound, which left me feeling somewhat in different to the music being played. He said "I agree with you, after the first few weeks of new toy "euphoria" I found my self listening to music less, and less, I realise I was spending my couch time watching the idiot box instead! It came to a point, where I could not even finish listening to one side to the LP!" He continued "with music played back via the Linn LP 12 which I had just bought again, I found that my old listening habits came back, meaning I wanna listening to at least 3 or 4 LPs before calling it a night, every night" My reply to this friend was " well, that's musicality for you, I think you've answered your own frequently asked question brilliantly!"

Both Odiosleuth and my self got no further "crap" about our advocate for musicality in hifi from the objective minded audiophile group after this little episode. And by the way, since this dear friend is now set on keeping his "old flame" called Linn LP 12 again, his new latest is greatest design, and highly reviewed, high end turn table is now for sale. Any takers???

Now you know why I can't reveal the name of the product in question?


mikelau.2 said...

Big E,

- Musicality

- Melodious or Tuneful

To best describe the 2 sounds would you say the Linn LP 12 as melodious/tuneful and the 'high-end tt' as musical ? I think 'musicality' is too general a term to describe music in hifi ? In my understanding a musical piece of music or setup may not necessary be tuneful or melodious ? Thus a tuneful setup is quite different from a musical setup and the former is more pleasant listening ? Hope I am making sense and correct me if I am wrong.


mikelau.2 said...

Big E,

Your (or friend's) 'discovery' is in line with mine too. It applies not only to tts (which I have little experience) but to most other equipments, esp high end.
Paying the sky and at the end of the day having to tweak like mad to get back the distinquishable melodious part of the music. I guess that is part of the hifi hobby ? Heh heh.

Big E said...


Melodous or Tuneful is part of musicality, I guess. There may be other parameters too, but most interestingly, my dear friend had put it just right, "A musical system will make us music lover wanna keep listening to the music".

Some high end equipment will respond, while others simply show no signs of improvements to musicality tweaks. Believe me, my friend told me he did tried.

GCK said...

Big E, you are right. You need to tweak the correct way to get musicality. Ones life will be easier if the components itself was tuned with musicality in mind during its development stage.
Musicality covers a wide set of parameters like presence,flow of music,low noise level, PRAT,vocal expression,

mikelau.2 said...

Big E, GCK,

Meaning an 'unbalanced' system or setup cannot be musical ? It can sound 'musical' to many unsuspecting ear !


GCK said...

Mike, what you mean by 'unbalanced'? We never mentioned anything about unbalanced sound.
When is Big E coming over to my place? This Friday (holiday for me), maybe? He got something to collect.

Big E said...


Friday noon is O.K. for me say about 3.30pm?

mikelau.2 said...


What do I mean by unbalanced ? My apologies. I should have stated it more clearly.

- PRAT (as you quoted) and perhaps tonality too ? (Guess many other parameters too but just to quote a few.) If any one of these are seriously deficient the music can still be musical but not necessary tuneful or melodious ?

I have heard a megabucks setup overseas and in this case the mids were the focal point. It was impressive and I cannot say it was not 'musical'. The highs and lows were noticeably lacking. This setup to me was 'unbalanced' yet sounded 'musical', to my ears. Perhaps it was the type of music played during the audition for reasons best known to the host.

Was it tuneful ? - Not quite. Musical ? - yes, to me.

Perhaps its my wrong perception or understanding of the term - musicality.

cheers, Mike