Can Amplifiers be “musical”?

Very often you read how “musical” an amplifier or any other audio component sounds. What does that mean? On first thought this is a huge insult to composers, musicians, conductors, etc.! This term should be reserved to express “musicality” to human beings and not to machines. Even used extensively “musicality” for machines has never been really defined in any of the reviews using “musicality” as an attribute of the object under test. One thing pops out: it is always a positiv notion. Consequently in most cases it can be substituted as a disclosure of personal preferences. It probably says something like “It sounds fine”, not more. But this explanation leaves a gap in the reviewer’s vocabulary: what does an amplifier being attributed as being “musical” really sounds like?

Terms like analog, warm, silky, smooth, euphonic etc. are often used to complement musicality. But do you really want to listen to an audio component or system which sounds warm, silky, smooth or euphonic for an extensive period? Probably not! But in a strictly neutral sounding chain the terms mentioned are basically vocabulary to describe the musical performance, the recording venue or the recording chain which may be tuned in a way that leaves a clearly audible footprint or even coloration on the record. Fair enough for a record as an artistic expression of  musicans, producer, recording or mastering personel but not as an attribute of an amplifier working in a music reproduction chain in the truest sense of high fidelity.

But what is analog sound? Sound is by nature analog. Otherwise it could not be perceived by us humans only equipped with analog sensors, e. g. our ears. Of course this attribute is mostly assigned to digital components sounding perhaps like an analog source the author has in mind. But to make sense as an comparison we have to know which analog source the author is referring to. Otherwise one might assume that all analog sources sound the same which is far from truth.

Analytical is also an often used term but mostly in a negativ sense. But why negativ? Being able to perceive and analyse what’s on a certain record is the basis of any understanding of music. The more musical information a listener gets the more he is able to understand the contribution and intention of composers, musicians, conductors, recording and mastering personel etc. and enjoy the objective and subjective musical experience. Analytical should be used a synonym to transparent. There is no “too much detail”. If those details are on the record and an amplifier is not able to to reproduce them, this amplifier is not transparent!

Leave a Reply