Despite the amazing number of variables in assessing Hi-Fi equipment, there are products that consistently win great reviews from a large cross-section of magazines in the UK and worldwide. Room acoustics and equipment synergy will not completely wreck a good product.
Where performance between two items is close, then yes, these factors are critical. However there are certain aspects of music that transcend others. You may have 10 things you want your system to do in terms of reproduction but if you know your top 3 then you will probably end up happy and evaluating equipment suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.
It’s always best to use a top quality source whether analogue or digital as information lost at source can never be retrieved - no matter how good the rest of the system is.
Beware of products that just sound good on certain kinds of music. The best products work as well for classical music as they do for rock and jazz. It should be realistic, engaging, addictive and organic like live music.
Examples of Common flaws in sound quality
When listening to different systems there can be flaws in the sound that are not immediately obvious to some. However in the long term these become apparent with the realization that something is missing or intrusive in the music. It may help if we list a few of the most common offenders:
Ferocious treble – usually mistaken for fantastic detail or clarity.
Lack of bass – People often think a drum strike is a bass note. In fact, it really encompasses a bundle of frequencies stretching from low to very high treble – the percussive (high frequency ) part of a drum strike is commonly called “great bass”. Real bass gives music a depth, authority and sense of real power. It is not lightweight, ear piercing, harsh, aggressive or wearing. These qualities can fool people initially as they can sound very impressive on first audition, but ultimately they are artificial and far from real music.
Timing in the music – A common example of poor timing is the way in which bass notes can lag behind the rest of the music, leading to a sense of disjointedness.
Improper Tonal balance – Good tonal balance is important for pitch sensitive listeners. It’s also essential to conjure up front to back perspective of sounds (otherwise known as image depth).