Saturday 28 March 2020

MUSINGS: On art, artist appreciation, and "core music"... by 24bitbob

I received a wonderful E-mail from reader 24bitbob in Australia just before the clock turned 2020; considering how the world has changed this year, it feels like the message came ages ago!

As I've mentioned over the years, it is wonderful chatting to audiophiles from all around the world. It's great to hear and consider the insights of others. Ultimately appreciate what the audiophile hobby has meant to them (you!) as a source of joy and love of the music...

Mon 12/30/2019 4:56 AM

Hi Arch,

I’ve followed your blog for a while and made a few comments / observations along the way under the pseudonym ‘24bitbob’. Truth be told I’ve enjoyed hi-fi as a hobby since 1970-something, and I’ve learned at various times the trap of getting caught having to upgrade things. If taken too far it leads to frustration more than happiness, so I dabble in the hobby; in and out, in and out.

There’s a matter which I’ve been wrestling with for a while which was impairing my enjoyment of listening to the extent that I often didn’t even bother. I wondered if you or your followers had thoughts on this.

I have too much music, far too much. Roon tells me I have just over 2,300 albums, which is not a large collection. The truth is that I listen regularly to around about 30 or 40 albums, but if I call it 46, that represents around 2% of my music collection. Then I have my Tidal subscription which I use a lot and take joy in uncovering great artists and albums I’ve never heard of before. Then I have a few box sets of TV shows that I need to catch up on; movies too, and I buy books at a rate faster than I can read. I’m allowing myself to be overwhelmed with content.

I often see people on hi-fi forums who declare they have 10,000 albums or whatever. At two albums per day, every day of the year, it would take 13 years and 7 months to listen to that lot. That’s without buying new stuff, only listening to an album one time and actually listening to two albums every single day. I have a job and a family, most others do too (though perhaps now most hi-fi buffs are well into retirement) and that is a big call.

Marie Kondo deals with tidying and de-cluttering, but she deals with physical things. It’s not so easy to get advice on decluttering your hard drive, or internet connection, never mind a precious LP or CD collection.

I’ve come up with my own solution. I have identified a set of ‘core music’ by really strong artists each of whom has made a great contribution to music, and I’m going to ‘appreciate’ each of them. I mean listen to their music; read bio’s; read about the making of the albums, etc., and really get to know what made them tick and the contributions they have made to popular music and culture. I guess each artist will become a mini project that I can spend time on and I’m hoping that by doing this I can gain awareness of music that has hitherto avoided me. Also, when I just want to listen, I’ll use Tidal and do my serendipity thing.

Take David Bowie, a favourite of mine for a number of years. Earlier this month I visited London on business and found time on a cold morning to go walkabout. It took 2 minutes on Google to find numerous Bowie landmarks, and a little under 3 hours to walk round them all: the Bowie mural in Brixton; the house in Brixton where he was born (46 Stansfield Street, Brixton); the location where the Ziggy Stardust cover was shot; and Trident Studios in Soho where he recorded his early greats.

Finally, The Ship in Soho which is the pub where he reputedly went for a drink after his recording sessions and where I enjoyed a nice pint and the conversation of a spritely and heavily tattooed young lady.

Also take a look at the poster from the window of Trident Studios, that’s a heck of a list of rock classics. I’m now working my way through a couple of Bowie books and have a new appreciation for his 80’s and later albums. I’m actually doing more listening, but it’s more focused and more enjoyable. Next to 'appreciate' will be Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads / David Byrne, Talk Talk and who knows after that. Add up their catalogues and what do you have, 70 or 80 original albums?

Maybe less is more; maybe others do listen to all sorts of music all of the time and get through 10,000 albums. How about you or your followers?

Thank you for reading this far. I hope you have a wonderful year and wish you every happiness for 2020 and beyond.


Wow Bob!

Thank you for the beautifully written sentiments bringing out not only one of the "issues" we have these days as audiophiles/music lovers but also your remedy for this. The "issue" is of course an "embarrassment of riches" which we face these days. There is just so much music available at our fingertips that it's impossible to have everything. As "collectors", some of us, especially the more obsessive ones will need to curb hoarding impulses to reach a point where it's "good enough" so that we spend time on the actual enjoyment of the music itself rather than some hope of ownership which we might want to correlate with satisfaction or joy of the musical experience. (This general sentiment I think should be applied to hoarding of hardware as well!)

As I mentioned a few years back, there's just so much music already recorded out there available, that we can go through a lifetime exploring great stuff from over the decades even if we never touch "new music" these days. I suspect this is why it's hard being a musician and making money; supply of music plentiful while demand is not exactly booming considering all the artists alive today and the recordings left behind by the "greats". The one thing we most lack is enough time. Everything around us demands our attention. For our entertainment time, we need to consider not just "which album should I put on next?", but also "what medium should I engage with?" be it music, movies, TV, books, games... One could of course add sports, Internet surfing, audible books, podcasts, Netflix in bed, live concerts, etc. into this as various forms of entertainment and pastimes outside of necessary activities of daily living, school, work, and maintaining relationships.

I totally agree with your solution. We need to be mindful and "triage" for ourselves what really matters. Who are the artists we enjoy and respect? Perhaps what genre of music most speaks to me? Over time, I think as music lovers, we begin to appreciate both breadth (easily satisfied with streaming) as well as depth (this is harder as we have to be more mindful and deliberate as per 24bitbob).

Personally, I'm trying to enhance my "depth" in classical music. Years ago, I bought the full Bernstein box set with the intent of getting through the 12 CDs, all ripped to my music server, but still have not done so to this point. Along the way, I was hoping to get through Jens Fischer's Mahler biography. Maybe this year if the COVID-19 quarantine continues much longer than expected, this could be the project ;-). Another artist I want to explore with intent is the music of Astor Piazzolla and nuevo tango; many excellent sounding "audiophile" recordings of his work (like this)! Again, over the years, I have purchased a few Piazzolla albums which I'll need to dig up again and dive into... You've already listed some incredible artists whom I have deep collections already ;-). Talking Heads / David Byrne among them as I enjoyed David's book How Music Works a couple years back.

It's great that you mentioned Marie Kondo and managing the physical world. We're living in a time of social change. Values of the past including the hoarding of "things" will not be as meaningful as the world reaches (perhaps even already reached) the point of saturation. While this can apply to all kinds of things in this world, for us in audio, the hardware has reached a level where even moar performance is simply not going to yield audible differences (despite audiophile Industry claims), and some people are back to old physical media like vinyl. Simply put, not only are we saturated with music, but I think the hardware has reached a plateau. Evidence of hi-res beyond CD-quality remains lacking. Vinyl as a (non-biodegradable petroleum-based) medium satisfies the impulse of collectors but the push for buying new vinyl was IMO always more about a money-making scheme for music labels than "better" sound quality. And seriously, do people still bother with yet another remaster of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme or Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in 2020 - both of which received 2-channel MFSL SACD releases in the last couple years!? Surely, even the "remastering game" along with the "new format game" (like MQA) must be near their terminus.

As per 24bitbob, I am certainly curious to hear what you, dear readers, are doing? Is there a musical PEP ("Personal Exploration Project") that you're engaging in currently?

As usual, stay safe out there friends. Hope you're enjoying the music despite the anxieties of this remarkable time in history. In my days off, I'm also going through Vincent Verdult's book Optimal Audio and Video Reproduction at Home - very good "no-nonsense" reference for audiophiles (and videophiles!) who want to understand how things work instead of hanging on to typical snake-oil silliness. I'll likely write a little "review" of the book next time.

Remember to get me your listening impressions for the Harmonic Distortion Blind Test! About 1 more month for the data gathering - closing off at the end of April... Something to do perhaps if you find yourself having some extra time at home :-).


  1. For me this has always been firstly about the music. I buy gear so I can listen to music with it – and not the other way around like a lot of people take, that buy music so they can listen to their gear with it. I never understood that mindset.
    My way of listening and collecting music is mostly about finding bands to obsess about. I guess my taste is kind of selective, but not in a way that I consider myself a connoisseur of high arts or anything like that. There is a lot of stuff that I like that many people would consider as noise or unsophisticated music, but I don't care. When I hear a band that I really like, I get their whole discography and listen to it until I can't anymore. I also have about 2,000 albums in my digital collection (that are comprised of about 250 artists), and I know several hundreds of them quite well. I try to keep in the collection only the ones that I actually listen to. An artist that I haven't touched in 2-3 years and I don't see myself listening to in the future gets deleted without mercy.
    There are some number of core artists (bands mostly) that I consider the foundation of my musical taste, and on those bands I've read extensively and know most of their albums by heart. In most of these I research the career of their members and try to listen to other project that they were involved with. once in a while I take one of the bands that I like but don't know well enough, and read about them, thus adding them to this group of core artists for me.

    1. Well done Fluffy,
      Great that you've developed the discipline right from the start!

      I agree about the importance of:
      "I guess my taste is kind of selective, but not in a way that I consider myself a connoisseur of high arts or anything like that. There is a lot of stuff that I like that many people would consider as noise or unsophisticated music, but I don't care."

      I don't believe there should ever be snobbery when it comes to anyone else's preference in music. That truly is a subjective opinion. This is also why I have no fear commenting about my love for pop music and the comments above about the tunes I actually like :-). There is a reason why pop music is "popular"... They do sound good and with good equipment, they will definitely sound different from cheap car speakers for example.

      Great to hear that you're able to "deleted without mercy"! I can do this too sometimes but must admit that my neurotic tendencies make it harder than it should!

    2. Just a couple of months ago I went through my local collection and deleted around 30 artists that just don't do it for me anymore. In these sweeps I only think about what music I like, not giving any thought about what's considered "good" or "important". Bands like Pink Floyd and Rush (that bore me to death) went right out the window! Then again, I do have a Deezer account, so I can always listen to stuff I deleted if I really want to. But 99.99% of my listening is from the local storage.

      I think there is a lot of snobbery in the audiophile world, especially towards genres that just don't try to be well produced or sound realistic. Over-produced pop is on one side of the scale, and on the other side there are niche genres like Power Metal and Djent. I say, if I like the music, then I don't care if it doesn't abide to high sonic standards. There are also pieces of music that I like that some would consider audiophile, but this is has nothing to do with why I like it.

    3. Gasp... Pink Floyd and Rush deleted...


  2. I had asked a teacher/friend whom I recorded as part of a university wind ensemble if she would be willing to pick song that she really liked playing and I would come over and record it in MP3, redbook, 16/96, 24/96, and then 24/192 and without doing anything to the files, just play them back and see if we could truly hear a difference between them. Unfortunately, covid-19 and put this on hold, but I really wanted to make a concerted effort to do this and make an honest assessment of each file type. I prefer my 2496 self-recordings and concerts, but it was time to really do it in a controlled environment and not at a concert with all the ambient noise concerts have.

    My family is in self-quarantine for over 2 weeks and we will continue all through April. I don't trust China's numbers and have read that their crematoriums are running 24/7 so I am more concerned than ever. All any of us can be is careful as we can. Wishing all of you to be safe.

    To show you how bored one can be, I even pulled out my Sony Mini-Disc recorder (and portable player) and fooled around with it yesterday. Pretty sad.

    1. Take care Jim,
      Very uncertain and worrisome times...

      I saw those reports about the crematoriums in China as well. If true, that means we're looking at at least 2.5x greater deaths than the official numbers (2500 --> 6250) in Wuhan alone. Yikes, that's nasty if true and I'd have to scale my estimates up as well though I'd still be more optimistic than the government's low end number of 100k deaths; maybe <50k deaths still from COVID-19 even with a high multiplier. Regardless, I'm sure the health care systems will do their best and hopefully it's less than 100k deaths.

      I hope you get a chance to run that test with the friend. Not sure if you were planning to record the music multiple times. I would recommend just taking your original/best 24/96 recording and converting to those different versions like MP3, 16/44, etc. rather than separate recordings... Saves time and also this is how the studios do it starting with the best recording and reformatting from that to whatever the consumer might want.

      Take care and have fun with the MD recorder. Remember that the ATRAC compression is lossy and similar to MP3... Stick with the higher bitrates of course for quality.

      COVID-19 cases in Vancouver area now starting to increase but not like NYC of course. Hospital ERs still relatively quiet but bracing for what's ahead.

      Again, take care and good health to you and yours Jim.

  3. When we get to do this we are going to do each file on its own and not do any conversion so as to not make any of the formats subject to "computer DAW error".

    Here is a test I did this AM using my Yamaha P515 digital grand with the CFX 9ft sample with slow strings and then I can back and added a chorus and strings at a lower level. I am going to give away this experiment in that I first recorded the piano and strings layer with my Sony Minidisc MDS-JE330 recorder and then came back and played the Chorus and strings over that original track into my Tascam DR-40 at redbook, into my computer by USB and then normalized to -1.5db Nothing else. I remember that Janis Ian had recorded one of the tracks to one of her albums on a Sony Minidisc recorder for an ad on "how good" the minidisc sounds????? They are all just toys anyway. The mini disc is fine for capturing "song ideas".

    Later today I am going to go the same thing with the piano and strings at 2496 and then layer the chorus and strings into my second DR-40 at 2496 and see how that plays out. Hope my sharing is OK with Arch?

    1. Great work Jim,
      Yup, no problems with sharing here!

    2. Beautifully done! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Music is probably the fastest way to link you with other times, other places,... deep and good feelings. Most of those links were built when you were younger, with friends, family, ... or related with great holidays, good experiences, etc...

    As easy as that. It's not necessarily related with hits or universally aclaimed artists. Your good memories are triggered when you listen again music you listened in those moments or stages of your life. Just like a ticket which instantly moves your mood to really great places.

    So no more than 30,40,50,60.. maybe 100 albums at best.

    That's the magic of music.

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