The Music Lovers
For those of you who haven't yet come across the Music Lovers articles I've been penning for 6moons over the last year or so, the articles are about audio equipment of exceptional musical merit. They're not about equipment voiced for audiophiles that will impress you with exaggerated whiz-bang sonics during a 20-minute audition in the showroom and then leave you wishing you'd never seen it after a few months of listening cuz it doesn't play music worth a damn. Music Lovers reviews are dedicated to hifi gear that will give you life-long musical satisfaction so you can forget about the gear-buying merry-go-round and focus on the music you love.

Music Lovers articles are about gear that possesses a high level of musicality. A piece of kit that has musicality is simply one that emphasizes the musical aspects (timbre, melodic flow over time, emotional impact etc.) of recorded performances over the non-musical artifacts of the recording process (ultra low level detail, soundstaging, imaging, more aggressive sonic balance etc.). This voicing process for music lovers versus audiophile gear is a little like the dayparting techniques used in radio broadcasting (which you can read about at Radio World Online here).

In dayparting, the goal for radio stations is to make their signal stand out from that of the other stations so people will tune in and listen. As the above referenced article points out, the closer you push audio technology to its maximum limits sonically, the more noticeable are the sonic artifacts. Some dayparting techniques that grab listeners' immediate attention also induce listener fatigue rather quickly, causing you to tune back out. This is not unlike those annoying exaggerated television commercials that only have a few seconds to make their sales pitch but make you want to reach out and touch the mute button on your remote. So to attract and keep listeners, a radio station has to achieve a balance that will both attract listeners and keep them listening for the long term.

Some of the sonic artifacts of dayparting are very obvious (like in the commercial example); others are more subtle. Broadcasters have found that the subtler ones are the most disturbing to listeners over the long term. When radio listeners become fatigued from listening to those subtler sonic artifacts, they tune out of the offending station to find a more pleasing one. This reaction occurs more at the subconscious level, with the listener getting restless without really knowing why.

For example, if radio stations want to attract female listeners, they tailor the sound a certain way (subtly rolling off the highs and so forth). If they want to attract testosterone-fueled young men with limited attention spans, they tailor the sound to grab their attention, knowing full well that it will be more of a short-term listening session and that long-term fatigue-free listening is not a major factor with the young lads.

I suspect you've noted the parallels of these dayparting techniques to the way hifi gear is voiced for music lovers versus audiophiles. Audiophile gear uses a couple of dayparting-like techniques to grab attention: boosting the presence of the non-musical artifacts of recordings over the musical attributes of those same recordings; and by tweaking the frequency balance. To accomplish this audiophile-style of voicing, the soundspace, soundstaging, imaging, low-level resolution etc. are exaggerated over what is heard with music in real life. A more attention-grabbing boom & tizz emphasis in the overall balance is used to spice up the presentation instead of the more realistic contour that would appeal to music lovers and musicians.

This type of voicing is done very artfully with audiophile-style gear so the listener isn't immediately aware but listening fatigue develops in time and the result is that the owner of said gear wants to sell it and get something else. Audiophiles tend to like this style of equipment voicing in their often short listening sessions and the adventure of the equipment buying and selling merry-go-round but it drives music lovers bonkers with frustration.

To keep music lovers happy with their hifi for the long term, the gear has to be voiced to achieve a musical balance; a balance that emphasizes the musical attributes of a recording more than the non-musical artifacts of the recording process and a more natural and life-like contour of the presentation. I'll not cover the differences between hifi equipment for music lovers versus audiophiles in detail here as I've already done it here .