Discover your ultimate sound: looking for The Holy Grail

Dries Van HooydonckAudiophile Mindset, Listening6 Comments

Looking for the holy grail in music? Discover your ultimate sound

You’re probably an audiophile. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. Like all audiophiles, you are chasing an ultimate sound and ultimate musical experience, right?

The very best representation.

A “Holy Grail” in the music.

You want to portray a life-like performance.

The singer is in your room. In-between the speakers. Every movement of her lips audible. Her breath against the microphone. A warm glow that gives you goose bumps.

To accomplish this, you probably spend a lot of money. Gorgeous speakers that fill the room with the most beautiful sonics. A set “beasts” of monoblocks. Expensive, thick cables. A reference DAC that sounds more analog than analog. A digital source that transmits an optimal signal. A world-class record player, with a needle that absorbs the grooves better than your previous element.

But that is still not enough. You haven’t reached the “Holy Grail” yet. It still is not “ultimate” enough. A new upgrade announces itself…

Before you completely dream away in this tale, I’m going to burst your bubble: The Holy Grail does not exist. But you can come very close.

In this article, I will tell you what the Holy Grail actually entails. And I inform you about the dangers of that quest.

What is your Holy Grail of ultimate sound?

What is your Holy Grail of ultimate sound

Maybe you got blown away by a gorgeous high-end setup at a trade show, or at the showroom of your local dealer. Maybe your friend has a nice setup, and you find this the ultimate sound. Or maybe you heard it during a concert, where the acoustics were so good, or the mix was perfectly tuned.

Maybe your contact with such ultimate sound was a long time ago, and that sound has now been lost in the history of “cult” or vintage. Or perhaps it was more recently.

No matter were it came from, that memory of the ultimate musical experience is your very own “Holy Grail”.

It’s the association you make to what is “ultimate” for you.

For someone else this association is something entirely different. Because the experience and the situations were different.

So, everyone has its own unique Holy Grail, and is looking for a different ultimate sound.

I, myself, was blown away for the first time by a reference setup of a high-end audio dealer, who let me hear Pat Metheney “Imaginary Day”.

My first ultimate sound experience: Pat Metheney Imaginary Day

Do you remember your first ultimate sound experience?

Where did you hear your very best sound ever? And do you still chase such sound?

Think about this for a second.

Maybe you can uncover what particular sound you’re looking for.

Maybe it doesn’t immediately come to mind. That’s all right.

At first, I did not know my Holy Grail either. Maybe this article will help you to discover it.

The example of the tomato

the example of the tomato

You can compare the ‘Holy Grail of sound’ with the taste of a tomato.

I can still hear my father say: “Tomatoes tasted so much better back in the day. Now it’s just water.”

In your experience tomatoes maybe tasted better in the past too.

My father ate tomatoes from in his own garden, in a time where the air was still clean, the soil was better, and the vegetables weren’t sprayed with pesticides yet.

Partly, he might be right. A home-grown tomato or a biologically grown tomato can indeed taste better than your average store-bought tomato. But there’s more going on here.

The primitive brain

the primitive brain waw effect

The first time when you experience something new is always more intense. And that’s normal. We humans are programmed this way.

In a new situation our brain demands more attention. That’s due to our survival instinct. Because a new situation could mean danger. As a primate in the prehistoric age we had to be alert in a new situation. Because there could be a saber tooth tiger or another danger around the corner.

I’m guessing you’d be pretty alert too, right?

But when we do the same things again and again, our brain works differently: without giving it much thought, we function on autopilot, on routine. Then our brain isn’t so alert anymore. If this wasn’t the case, you’d be filled with adrenaline in the bathroom every night, when brushing your teeth would be as exciting as skydiving for the first time.

That’s why your very first tomato tasted way better in your memory. You did not taste something like this before. It was a whole new sensation. Brain on ultra-active.

Afterwards, every tomato became the same, with the same watery taste. Brain back to sleep.

The ultimate music experience works the same way

Just like a tomato, this also applies for your first “ultimate musical experience”, your Holy Grail in sound.

Your memory of that first ultimate musical experience sounded way better than it actually was. At the time, it was a new situation. Your brain was paying full attention. The sound was phenomenal.

But in reality, it wasn’t. If you heard that same sound today, maybe you would even be disappointed.

Be aware of this quest when chasing your ultimate sound or whenever you want to upgrade your high-end audio setup

looking for ultimate sound? Beware of the holy grail

You can learn from your Holy Grail of ultimate sound. It makes you aware of the sound you’re looking for in your high-end audio setup.

But dangers are lurking, and there is a dark side to your queeste:

Because your memory of it is so good, you will continue to chase this so-called ultimate sound.

You do upgrade after upgrade, to come close again.

Closer to the memory of an experience, that your brain made more beautiful than it really was.

So, looking for such a Holy Grail is an endless quest. And still, it surfaces with every new upgrade you want to make in your high-end audio setup.

So watch out: it can cost you a lot of time, money and discarded high-end audio components.

Of course that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to come very close:

The singer in your room. In-between the speakers. Every movement of her lips audible. Her breathe against the microphone. Almost life-like.

Of course that’s something I can only wish for you. 🙂

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6 Comments on “Discover your ultimate sound: looking for The Holy Grail”

  1. Mooi stuk Dries, en ik denk dat de meeste audiofielen dit wel herkennen.

    Wat bij jouw verhaal nog een tip kan zijn om je ultieme muziek beleving en dat “wauw” gevoel van je zorgvuldig samengestelde audiofiele set opnieuw te ervaren: luister na enkele weken weer eens een poosje naar een andere setup (als je die hebt). Ben je die weer gewend ga dan weer terug naar je referentie set.

    1. Hey Wim

      Bedankt voor je leuke reactie! 🙂

      Klopt volledig wat je zegt… Of in plaats van een andere setup, even géén muziek. Even high-end audio “vasten”. Bewust stilte inlassen zonder muziek. Er zijn zoveel andere leuke dingen te doen. Dan zal je merken dat nadien je setup ook weer beter kan klinken.

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