Better sound, or merely different?
Oftentimes reading an audiophile review of a component or speaker is more akin to Romantic literature than factual analysis. In technical terms, how do you define a “warm sweet elegance”? The problem with subjective testing goes beyond mere personal preference and is directly affected by room related audio issues. Whatever it sounded like in the reviewer’s room is not an indication of how it will sound in yours, or any others. Another more important question might be “Is the sound quality truly better when compared to another similar component, or merely different?”
Assuming that you’ve invested in good components, the speaker/room interaction will have the biggest impact on overall sound quality. When choosing monitors for the studio or home, it’s not a matter of specs, but personal preference. All high quality professional monitors can produce very accurate sound, but there are subtle differences between them. After auditioning several pairs in a row you begin to realize that different recordings sound better on different monitors. No one monitor excels at reproducing every recording in a way that pleases your ears.
In the audiophile world the differences between recordings has resulted in an endless quest for the Holy Grail of speaker systems: one that does everything perfectly. It doesn’t exist. The best you can hope for is a compromise in sound quality with certain types of recordings. The best speaker system becomes one that, in your opinion, does the best job with the types of recordings you listen to most.
So why do audiophile reviewers make such sweeping positive declarations about some components, while finding others to be just okay? It’s a matter of subjective criticism. Science and engineering would suggest that most amplifiers, DACs, etc. all sound exactly the same. If there are differences, they are not significant, and what is perceived as better by one person, might be perceived as merely adequate by another.
Our advice is to not get caught up in any of this. Focus your money and efforts on things that will make a difference, such as speaker placement, room correction, and equalization.