The term neutrality is pervasive in the world of audio. We often use the word when describing a component or a system, and most audiophiles agree on the definition: A neutral component or system neither adds nor subtracts from the music it seeks to convey, allowing the signal to flow through unencumbered, faithfully reproducing whatever is in the recording. We’re all looking for that neutral component or system, but does it actually exist?
In my view it isn’t possible for one to accurately assess neutrality, and even if you could would others agree with your findings? What sounds neutral to one person may not to the next? I believe neutrality is sort of a sliding scale and different for each listener, thus neutrality is a concept that can only be defined in a given system by a given listener.
Let us start at the beginning; the recorded music we look to reproduce. If we are to agree on a common definition of neutrality, we must have a recording that is absolutely faithful to the original event.
The making of a recording is a complex procedure involving a myriad of components, each adding at least a small amount of its own character. The equation is so complex that every single recording ever made differs from the next. No two recordings can offer the exact same reproduction of tone and timbre. Most importantly it is not possible for an audiophile to know if a recording is accurate. Here’s why.
Recording the event -
Post recording processing -
Can any system ever be a perfect conduit for all these facets? In my opinion, the answer is no. Considering all the variables listed above, I ask; how can we adjudge, and arrive at a universally accepted definition of neutrality? I don’t believe we can, but frankly, I honestly don’t think it matters.
Too much emphasis is placed on reaching the holy grail of neutrality. The pursuit of technical correctness often obscures more important aims. After all what is the audio hobby all about? What is the goal of reproduced music in the home? As music lovers we seek to bring into our living room the emotion of music, to enjoy and appreciate the connection to the composer’s or songwriter’s intent. What it takes to complete that union differs for each of us, but whatever that specific characteristic is, matters not. The point is that the individual finds it in his system.