This is a topic which is debated a lot on the internet. Also a question I'm beeing asked often. Many people are wondering why I write so little about the sound of the amps and preamps which I'm showing on my blog. The reason for that is simple: Perception of what is good sounding is so different among people. Preferences vary a lot. Over the years I attended many listening sessions with others. It is amazing how different the perception of sound can be. Some people get excited by a difference between two components while others can hardly distinguish them.
Also what value is in there if I write about the sound of my own equipment? This description would be very subjective and biased and I would find little use in it for others. Yet I understand it is difficult for someone to get an impression how things might sound if they don't have a chance to listen them themselves.
So I decided to give some information about what I'm looking for in sound. The series about favorite records will also help to get a feeling which kind of music I prefer. I'm after a high resolution and detailed sound. It should be neutral and transparent. Yet the details should not distract from the whole music representation. All must be integrated and harmonious. While many people believe high resolution and an emotionally involving sound exclude each other, I strive to get both. In voices I want excellent articulation, especially in the s-sounds. Many amps and especially phono preamps tend to fail there. They can hardly distinguish between s, sh, ch, sch, z and ts like sounds. All is merged into a tsingy kind of noise. Good preamps can resolve these slightly different sounds clearly. Especially LCR phonostages excel in this regard.
I'm not much into sound stage any more. I used to be years ago, but lost interest in that. Often I don't even bother to sit in the sweet spot. But people who use amps I built, tell me they love the sound stage they produce.
I want my equipment to sound as detailed as possible, yet smooth. I want all the colors in tone, the tiny vibrations in amplitude and frequency a vibraphone creates. The attack of piano notes when the keys are hit hard, the soft flow of the pianos notes when played gently. Both the wood and the steel sound of the piano. I don't want the bass sounds to be black and dry. There is no black in sound but thousands of nuances from brown to grey to dark. Dry is boring. I want a sound which is wet.
Another point I listen for is ambience. This is the silence between the notes. A good amp lets you feel the ambience even between the sounds, the presence of people, of the room. Summarizing, what is important is that the equipment can draw you into the music and let you forget about the system. Then it does the job right. For me this works if the properties mentioned above are fullfilled. When I have a new amp or preamp finished, I hook it up to the system and let it play. I then make myself a coffee and light a cigar. I sit on the terrace with the door to the living room open. If the amp is good, it will sound convincing even from that listening spot. This is a quite good test all amps have to pass.
I'm more after the big differences. Those which can be heard from the next room. There is a tendency in the audio scene and especially in the glossy magazines to concentrate more and more on silly details which create miniscule differences in sound. Like wire, power cords, equipment stands and lately even fuses. Don't get me wrong, my experience is that almost anything in audio makes a difference in sound. But as long as I can achieve larger scale sound differences I find it boring to play with such details. My focus is on circuit topologies, different tube classes, etc.
Many people believe that especially amps have advanced to a level that there is little difference in sound, so all you can do is play with different wire, power cords and stands. Especially glossy hifi magazines fuel this belief. I don't think so. I think there is still a long way to go. I also think that if any amp reacts sonically to such things, it is rather a sign of poor engineering than of it's quality. A well designed component should not react much to changes in it's periphery.
I only present amps, preamps or circuits here on my blog, of which I like the sound. The more elaborate designs have more of everything, the simpler and less costly designs still have the same basic characteristic but with some compromises, typically in resolution. So the description of my preferences might be helpful. Yet I encourage everybody to listen for himself, only then you can say if you'll like it ot not. Don't rely on other people's judgement. I've seen very different judgements by different people. What one person regards as high resolution and neutral sound can be annoying to someone else. I also once listend to a preamp with someone which supposedly has good 'pace rythm and timing' to me it just sounded nervous.
Also be aware that human listening is an extremely complicated system which is amazingly high resolution but can also fool you. Sometimes people just want to hear a difference, then you can be sure it is heard. Also vice versa. If you don't want to hear a difference you won't. One thing I learned through the many years I'm into audio: Don't take anything for granted. If you can't hear a difference, it does not mean that there really is none. Also the opposite holds true: If you do hear a difference it doesn't mean that there really is one.