We know that hearing and listening are two different facts. For instance if we don't know Chinese, we will not understand if somebody speaking Chinese (Yes sure, yeah :-)) Not so much familiar people may confuse French versus Italian. By the same logic, as an example if we don't know viola sound well, we may confuse it quite easily with a violin playing at upper octaves or with a cello playing at the lower octaves. If we are not so much familiar with a live acoustic sound of a violin, we can not identify which record or which equipment reproduces the most natural sounds.
Hearing happens 24 hours a day even in sleeping mode. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to hear our alarm clock or screaming of our boy. Our brain scans every sound but rejects unimportant ones for the one. Brain does not only scan and select the sounds, but processes them actively. If a viola sound is heard, brain recalls the memory, compare with experiences and historical events and decide if it is viola or not. Listening, in other words can be described as active hearing. If brain does not participated to the process, it is called hearing but not listening.
Have you listened at your recorded voice? You liked it ? Was that similar to your voice or it was quite different. Everybody else will agree that it is your voice except you ! Our voice is transmitted to a listener directly via his/her ear but it is transmitted to us by internal vibrations as well as externally by ear, so sounds different. This is the brain reference. Brain reference for our voice is what we heard in our life.
Brain will decide if the sound is coming from piano or from a violin. The fact for such a judgement is our memory. If someone who did not listen piano in live acoustic concert properly, his brain reference for piano will be the one "was listened in a good hi-end system", may be his own system. He will obviously distinguish the piano sound immediately but may not like it or may not find it realistic or natural. If this is the case, how do we choose our equipments and how we will realize which system or component is better ? Is the only way to trust Stereophile or Absolute Sound writers, I believe the key element is to attend live acoustic concerts (not amplified) as much as possible and locate to the performers as close as possible. This is a must to adjust our brain references.
A couple of examples are given here. A friend who visited us heard my daughter who was playing piano in her room, went to her room. He did not like the sound of the piano at all. He said that a piano can not be such a dark and dull. No inner details, no resolution nothing !! Our piano surely can not play at the same league with a long Steinway Sons but it is a live piano, live music and we are only few centimetres away. I know he likes such piano records that the mikes were located inside of the piano body and every inner timbre was recorded and boosted. Even the musician himself can not hear such details. His brain reference served him his memory of piano sounds and once he listened at a real piano, he found it unrealistic.
Years ago, when I commenced attending the regular concerts of Istanbul Symphony Orchestra, I found the sound do dull at that time. The sound was as if covered by a cloth. Mid and upper frequencies were not exist. Timpani and the big drum were kicked like hell but their sounds were not killing powerful. I got used to it in time and perceived the neutrality and the purity of the non coloured sounds. A couple of months ago I invited an audiophile friend who does not attend to acoustic concerts. He was shocked. He told that the entire orchestra was covered by something, there were no details and upper frequencies, and sound was so soft and gentle. He said that he can not perceive the violins, rustles of soprano, drums are not shaking the floor. We were located only at the 8.th raw. During the entire concert, he strived to find the reasons but never judged his brain references. It is obvious that we will not like our systems each other due to our expected sounds and brain reference points are different.
May be the last example; Years ago, we visited an audiophile friend for a long listening session. He is very good audiophile and very good music listener too. He used to have very good systems. We listened at mostly classics for hours and admired the sound of the system. When we wanted to try our own reference CD's (Patricia Barbers, etc) his system sink and disappointed us. Actually we should have judged our own brain references but not the system. We had coloured our systems to achieve more details but estranged by neutrality.
We, most of the audiophiles make this fault unconsciously. We load our brain references with wrong information then accuse better systems, better equipments, and better sounds even better records. We don't like the sounds of better systems, we can not come to an agreement or cannot compromise on fundamentals due to our own particular brain references