Exposing the ‘Good for Classical’ myth

Audio equipment shouldn't have its own musical tastes

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Exposing the ‘Good for Classical’ myth

We all do it. We tend to pigeonhole systems (especially transducers like headphones and loudspeakers) as having specific characteristics that ally themselves to a particular genre. We often hear of loudspeakers being ‘good for rock’ or ‘great for classical’, but does this really have any meaning?

Having listened to many loudspeakers that fall into these categories, there is a pejorative element to these statements; it’s as if people who don’t like a genre of music and don’t like a type of loudspeakers tie these two disparate musical elements together into one big ball of dislike. Granted, like any stereotyping exercise, there is a distorted grain of almost truth underlying these statements. In essence, a loudspeaker that accents loudness over accuracy falls into the ‘rock’ category, while a loudspeaker that goes for accuracy at the expense of loudness is considered ‘good for classical’. But these sweeping statements mask a lot.

First, these two elements of a loudspeaker’s performance are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and you can have a loudspeaker that is capable of playing music at high volumes, yet retain its dynamic range and tonal accuracy. This tends to be what marks out high-end loudspeaker designs from cheaper models that need to trade these elements against one another. Second, these sweeping generalisations are fairly insulting to the musical genres they claim to define. ‘Good for classical’ often implies a notion of classical music that is seen as lifeless, anodyne, and undynamic, presumably by those who have never experienced Mahler’s Eighth Symphony live. On the other hand, the ‘good for rock’ slight seems to view rock music as just noise, with no requirement for subtlety and analysis. Both are flawed premises.

However, transducers do have particular characters, but those characteristics do not necessarily or broadly relate to cookie-cutter notions of ‘classical’ or ‘jazz’ or ‘rock’. Interestingly, the easiest way of spotting this is in the headphone world, and this created something of an epiphany for me.

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