Reference is an interesting word in the same way remarkable is. To reference something means you’re going to refer to it, while remarkable would cause you to remark about it.
If I use live music as my reference it means I will mentally refer to live music for comparison with my system.
So, what’s it mean to have a reference system?
A reference stereo system is a highly resolving neutral playback instrument from which we can pass judgment on media and components played on it. The Infinity IRSV in Music Room One is a reference playback system, not because it’s so much better than anything else, but because it meets the criteria of enabling listeners to discern differences without prejudice.
An overly colored, highly resolving system would not qualify as a reference because we understand the results are biased.
In the end, a reference system must be as unbiased as technology allows, yet revealing enough to matter. Like an opinion poll. We don’t pay attention to polls conducted by those with an agenda, preferring instead those by neutral pollsters. Yet, the results had to dig deep enough to uncover the essence of the question in order to matter. Just like a reference system has to uncover all that is present in the music.
You need both resolving power and unbiased reproduction to qualify as a reference.
I have put together a video on the subject of the reference system which you can watch here.