How long does it take you to get an idea of a component's true musical character?

Federico Cribiore's picture
Some people think that an audio component, like a good wine, reveals its full bouquet only when enjoyed and evaluated at length. Others think they can immediately tell whether or not a component is to their liking. Reader Federico Cribiore wants to know: How long does it takes you?
How long does it take you to get an idea of a component's true musical character?
No time---I can tell instantly
4% (8 votes)
10 minutes/1 song
13% (27 votes)
1 hour/1 CD
16% (33 votes)
1 day
15% (32 votes)
1 week
22% (46 votes)
A lot longer than that . . .
29% (61 votes)
Total votes: 207
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Comments
Joe Plaziak's picture

Most of the sound of a component or system is apparent within the first few seconds. It takes a few weeks for me to assess the real character, and I think that's because I need to hear the system under different conditions: setup, time of day, mood, humidity, moon phase (not), etc. I also am aware that my attention and actual aural acuity varies from day to day, affecting my perception. So I try to gain a "true" picture by averaging my perceptions over time in a decidedly unscientific manner. But I don't listen to too much new equipment, having escaped the vicious circle of upgrades a few years ago. So, not only is my method unscientific, it's not even practiced. Never mind. See you at the Show.

Justin Horvath's picture

Multiple CD's and multiple hours, but less than a whole day. Many different types of music and instruments is the key

Craig Copeland's picture

In most cases I can tell very quickly (less than a minute of listening). Certainly I can tell by no more than one song in most cases. Since no one piece of music, however, can in all cases not demonstrate the full value of some components/improvements occationally it is necessary to listen to numerous different types of music to get the complete picture. The longer it takes to reach a decision most often means the amount I would be willing to pay for the improvement afforded will decrease proprotionally.

Marc Phillips's picture

I've been fortunate in that every upgrade I've made was not only noticeable immediately, but a step in the right direction . . . unless you count the time I traded in my Dual CS-510 on a Technics linear-tracker. But that was back in 1979, when I was only 17, so it doesn't count . . . right?

John Crossett's picture

It all depends on if the component has been broken in by my dealer or not. If it has, I can usally tell if given a whole day to play, what a piece sounds like. Well, a least well enough to make an informed buying decision.

Howard F.  Goldstein's picture

This is not rocket science. It is just enjoying the music.

Julian I Spring's picture

from the look to the sound it reproduces. i can tell almost instantly when a component is a keeper.

JKH, Santa Clara, CA's picture

The character of a component is usually immediately evident, but it takes a song or two to understand the reasons for the first impression (e.g., overly warm, too forward, etc). Ears don't usually bleed in 10 seconds, but take some time to succumb to a sonic assault.

Brad Day's picture

I don't think that compnents are sounding better and better, just sounding differently.

Yongfei's picture

The process of searching for an audio component is like finding your significant other: there are too many patterns and factors involved. You may have a love at first sight. But for me, I haven't found a compent that I really like AND within my budget. Trying to own an IDEAL component is like dreaming about marrying your movie star . . .

Randy Wayne's picture

This is a hard question to vote for since it varies wildly from componant to component. I'm sure most would agree that the quality of a given piece of equipment may be apparent within moments in one situation, but take days or weeks to judge in another. I put down "One Day" because that is probably the closest to an average that I can get.

Troy McHenry's picture

It takes me a week just to play all the music I require, to audition a particular piece of equipment.

Mike J.'s picture

I'd choose two answers to your question if I could: the first ("I can tell instantly") and the last ("A lot longer than a week"). It just depends. Some things are very clear right away; some things have to be dropped into different system contexts to separate innate characteristics from intersystem synergies, and/or listened to at length to really get the full measure of what they're doing. More often than not, though, it doesn't take me long at all. This question points up one of the most amazing oddities in stereo for me: the fact that some people still like to read reviews AFTER they've heard the component for themselves. For me, primary research takes precedence--if I've heard a speaker, for instance, for myself, I don't need to know what somebody else thinks of it or how it strikes them---I know for myself "what it sounds like." It really makes me suspicious that so many people still want to know what OTHER people think of a component even AFTER they've heard it for themselves---it makes me think that something much different from mere sonic evaluation is going on; perhaps pegging its status-point or something. One further thing I'll say is that I've been fooled several times by amp-speaker combinations---believing an amp was really great just because it was paired to just the right speaker when I heard it, or vice versa. This is now something I watch out for before making quick judgments.

Brian Boehler's picture

I can often tell some initial impressions within a week, but to really get a handle on a component can take a couple of months. Sometimes I can fool myself into a quick impression that changes with longer exposure. A quick example can be a speaker that seems to have really strong bass. At first I find it a lot of fun and get a quick initial impression that the bass is really good. With longer-term exposure I find that the bass is too strong, not tight, and not all that well integrated with the rest of the drivers to form a cohesive whole. I find that longer-term exposure allows you to test your initial assumptions with a variety of musical sytles and ensure that your overall final impression is based on a balanced long-term exposure and not quick first impressions.

Al, Montreal's picture

It depends. With some components it takes a weekend to sort out the musical weaknesses and strengths. On better components it takes me months. To me this is a good sign: I am enjoying the music and I will be satisfied over the long term.

Matt H.'s picture

It takes a lot of music and listening.

Hans-Peter Schmid's picture

I go through the loop every time I get a new component or cable: I plug it in, listen to it, and am puzzled. Letting the component warm up, giving myself a rest, and waiting for quiet moments lets me come to a clear picture within a week, on average.

Jeremy Close's picture

The components I end up buying I liked almost instantly - but then I check and compare to make sure I'm hearing what I thought I was hearing.

Scott Higgins's picture

If what we read about "burn in" is correct, then several weeks might be needed. The 1st ten minutes certainly is influential, but I'm a believer in the need to own a piece to properly evaluate it.

Ken Kirkpatrick's picture

If, after a week, I can no longer remove the component from my stereo without a big letdown,then I know it is a good one. But often I unplug the component after a few days and take it back to the store. If it is really bad, I unplug it after a song or two.

Eddie P.'s picture

It takes me at least a week to relax and start listening to the new component the way I normally do. The first week or so I find myself concentrating very hard on what the new component is and isn't doing, using up all of my standard repertoire of evaluation CDs. It's even worse with speakers if you have to fiddle around with placement. Each new placement means at least a partial traversal of the set of evaluation CDs. All of which, of course, feeds Audiophilia nervosa like gasoline on a fire. Once I get tired of listening so hard, I slowly go back to my more usual relaxed mode of listening. And that's when I really find out if I want to live with this new thing in my system.

tony esporma's picture

In short, I can learn about the imaging and musicality by listening to Santana's "Black Magic Woman" and Chabrier's Espanya by Ataulfo Argenta. Both in LP. This short test lets me know ipso facto if I the component is musically engaging to me. In long, it takes weeks to get a feel for the little subtleties of the component, this is also where fine tuning and tweaking -if at all- would come in. BTW: as a rule of thumg I don't tweak and I don't change components often.

Federico Cribiore's picture

Never feels like I can get any idea of what something really sounds like until it's WAY past the period during which I can faithfully return it.

T.  Pace's picture

I think you can hear a lot of information and make a reasonable evaluation pretty quickly, but full appreciation of a component's strengths and weaknesses usually requires an extended evaluation.

Mark A's picture

When upgrading my preamp I had a total of 13 different preamps in my home at various times (usually no more than 2-3 at a time). Almost always they were picked up late Saturday afternoon and returned on Monday. That means a lot of work critically listening on Saturday night and most of Sunday. I find my ears better in the morning and feel you need to listen to a good variety of music you like to really get a feel for the sonic signature of the equipment being auditioned. Incidentally, the Melos MA-333 Reference won, beating out the SF Line 2, A.I.'s Modulus 3a, BAT's VK-3i, and Ayre's K-3, among others.

Woody Battle's picture

I can generally tell if a component is very good or not in a short time by playing a few select songs. The only thing that throws me off is when a component needs breaking in: my initial assessment was valid, but the actual sound of the component can change significantly as it breaks in over the course of several days.

Charles Purvis Kelly, Jr.'s picture

For me, six months to a year at the minimum. That's the god-honest truth. Like a fine wine, good components can only get better with time.

Kevin Hawthorne's picture

Depends on the component. What doesn't work is easy to hear, sometimes even with one song. Of course it's essential to be listening in a reference system (i.e. at home).

Randy Halischuk's picture

I wish I had a one week, money back return policy when I buy gear, I probably would have saved a lot of money by now!

Paul Foley's picture

you can tell a lot about a component quite fast.but it takes awhile to fully hear what component can really do.

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