What Makes This Better Than That?

Perhaps this question has a simple answer, a little bit of everything, but maybe someone can postulate a more detailed answer :p

I know measurements are not everything, and we cannot measure everything we hear, but a recent experience has me questioning just what was responsible for what I heard.

I visited a local high-end dealer where I listened to music I am familiar with on a system consisting of Magico S5 mkII, all MSB components including an uber expensive digital stack, MSB's M204 amps and Kubala-Sonsa cables. When I heard my Blue Man Group CD on this system, I could literally hear the first 10-12" of PVC pipe resonating with each note. It sounded exactly like it would in real life. That is a specific easy to hear detail that I don't get on my system at home.

My system is an OPPO universal player, a Mac Mini running JRiver, an Audioquest Dragonfly, Audioquest some-famous-bridge interconnects, Firstwatt B1 Korg, an Akitika GT101 LM3886 chip amp, and a wide variety of speakers including Jeff's Continuums, Zaph's Sea's TMM waveguides, and some custom ESS AMT/Peerless 3 ways.

The BMG CD was ripped via FLAC to my computer for playback.

Now, if, as many people believe, all DACs sound the same, wires alone cannot make such a difference as to hide that specific above mentioned detail from my system, my chip amp supposedly has nearly the same distortion levels and S/N ratio as the MSB M204 amps.....then what exactly allowed the demo system to reproduce that musical detail which is missing from my system? Are the Magico's that much better than the DIY designs? Is a pure class-a no-feedback discrete amp (like the M204s and my upcoming Pass BA2/3) going to be the magic component to elevate my system to the next level? Is my Dragonfly holding me back?

Just curious as I have a goal to aim for ;)
I am currently in turmoil over recent changes in my own system, very expensive ones.

Thinking about what is going on, I posit that our own 'audio evolution' affects the way we perceive sound*; I'm not referring to the system, but more to our own experiences starting from very early on, as a child that is. We are imprinted by our formative surroundings, and these can affect our sensibilities, perhaps permanently.
If we have specific sensibilities about audio, these may then go on to affect our choices later in life. I spent over ten years listening to loud music on my then Tannoy Gold Lancasters, and in '79, at the MoD had my hearing measured. The graph showed an altered mid range which was near the inverse of the well know Tannoy coloration.

The Magicos are well regarded, and may well be purer than many other cheaper speakers, but any change can lead to things being noticed previously not noticed even if the new revelation event is not with better equipment.

I have found that differences occur when listening analytically compared with casually. I may be in the kitchen and hear stuff going on in the lounge next door which had previously not been noticeable, which could of course just be the FR change and lack of masking.

I do think that the real mark of a better system is repeatedly hearing, and on many different materials, details previously not heard, and what you report may be just a one-off anomaly.

*What we hear is very much a 'software' brain function.

I hope you do not find this irrelevant.
Fascinating video! I agree too, that I have heard new musical details when listening casually; like when I am building a puzzle with music playing in the background I can concentrate on specific parts the music that I normally do not.

I personally only know one other person with a high-end system (B&O's Beolab 5) and this track on that system did not produce the same hyper-detailed sound the Magico/MSB system did, but neither does it consist of any where close to the same level of components. His system sounds very close to mine.

Personally I have trouble hearing the difference between MP3 and high res of the same song, and I have heard that song dozens of times and never once in any circumstance did it sound like it did on that system. Perhaps it was just a random experience, I need to find a reason to go back just to check :p

I used to think my chip amp was the item holding me back the most in sound quality, but the more I read the more I question how can that be possible? The chip amp simply measures with lower distortion than the Class A Nelson Pass amp I am building. It should at least be more transparent to the source even if it doesn't recreate other aspects of the sound the same way. I just need to build it and find out ;)
I listened to the Beolab 5 when I had ATC100ASLs, which I had also rebuilt and improved. (I've had four pairs of ATCs). I listened to the track Brothers in Arms, particularly the intro, and it was so different on the Beolabs that I thought they had put on the wrong track, I was amazed.

I have recently, after years of working on my own design, decided to buy a pair of expensive speakers after winning a legal case, and considered the Beolabs, despite the previous experience. I lashed out and bought ADAM Tensor Betas, and have been thinking about Revel Salon2s. I worry about the ICEpower amps in the Betas being OK, somebody on the site referred to B&O as being money obsessed.

MP3 tis not that much of a compromise, but it is noticeable, and with all our aspirations here most would I think rule it out.

Our sensitivities to different types of distortion may also vary, and be dependant on our experiences, particularly early ones.
I would think the PVC pipe resonance would be more of the midrange focused sound, but can my $50/piece Peerless woofers compete with $300/piece Audio Technology (Maybe?) woofers/midranges....ahhh...probably not :p. But that is exactly what my question is related to.....could it be that the Magico speakers are the main thing that contributed to the extra detail in the sound, and not the DAC or the amps? (Assuming of course my experience is repeatable and it wasn't my imagination)

I wish I could take a few hours and a few parts and experiment just to satisfy my curiosity. Listen specifically to Blue Man Group's TV Song and see at what point the quality disappears....does it still appear with YouTube quality sound? Could I replace the MSB DAC with my DragonFly and still hear the PVC pipe resonance?

If I remember correctly, that detail was the only part of the song that was drastically different than any other time I have heard this piece of music. The imaging and soundstage was very similar to what I expected. The BeoLab 5's had different presentation to the imaging with a somewhat more dryer sound but I didn't hear an increase in detail over what I own.
Here is my ESS AMT/Peerless speaker. It is a 3 way, two bottom woofers (ported) in series crossed over around 300Hz woofer/400Hz mid with 2nd order, same driver used as midrange in sealed enclosure crossed over to tweeter at 3KHz with 4th order on both sides of midrange to tweeter. It is tilted back 5 degrees to help time align drivers. That tweeter was very hard to work (possibly due to its housing); it is flat on baffle from about 1.5KHz to 5KHz where it rises steeply between 5 and 6 then it remains flat till it naturally rolls off. I ended up compromising a little with a dip between 3-5Khz because the crossover just didn't work if I ran the Peerless higher to mate with the rise.


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