"How can we ever truly know if we are hearing exactly what is on the recording?"

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
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#1
Literally, high fidelity, as in getting the most information out of the recording and presenting it in the way the recording artists intended.
How do we know exactly what is really "the way the recording artists intended" considering the industry has no standards and the artists seldom have knowledge about the capabilities of the high-end?
That is indeed a fascinating question. Also, how can we ever truly know if we are hearing exactly what is on the recording? It is interesting that this is the stated goal of quite a few people in this hobby. This might make a good thread topic for a different discussion.
Let's have some fun...

I haven't thought this all the way through so I may change my consideration, but, for the moment, I'm very leery of this question being useful. We see the question (posed rhetorically) a lot, often mid-squabble. It's kinda an expression of sheer scepticism that can be used to thwart any attempt to come to a conclusion. We also see it associated to a list (Ron's ?) of 4 Types of Audiophiles, one being those who seek reproduction true to what is on the recording, or some such.

Microstrip's formulation (above) taken from Dave C's cue asks about the artists' intent. This is somewhat problematic because intent is difficult to gauge through listening. If they're still around, we could ask performers - "does this recording exhibit what you intended?" Suppose they say 'yes' or 'no' - what does that tell us? That the recording is faithful to their idea of what they wanted it be? Huh? What does that tell us?

Inspired by remembering that Descarte's scepticism ("How do I know that I exist?) was ultimately the cause of his certainty (cogito ergo sum), I'll rashly answer the question. :-O

We start with the notion that at such-and-such a time and place the XYZ Orchestra of the Air along with The 4th Street Belmont Singers performed Brahm's Schicksalslied Op.54 and that was captured by microphones, etc. and put on tape.

There was an act of recording; the verb. But is that 'the recording' ? If it is, all the scepticism boils down to saying we cannot relive the past, so we can't really know. Even if we could, that's not the recording of a performance, it is the performance.

Is the so-called 'master tape' the recording? No, it's a magnetic tape on a metal reel. Even if you hold it close to your ear you won't hear the Song of Destiny. Not even a pre-echo.

I reject the notion that "the recording" exists as some kind of timeless objective Platonic Form that is The True Recording, that it is something we can never truly know, something that at best we can only grasp as 'shadows' of the recording. This seems to be the angle where the question is coming from.

Music is performance art. It exists in time and is transient. A recording must be performed to hear music. It moves from the potential (media) to the actual through time - when the recording is performed, when the record is played. Every time you play a record you hear exactly what is on the recording.
 

the sound of Tao

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Jul 18, 2014
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#2
+1 Tim, I imagine the artist is mostly focused on performing the art and the many would leave the recording essentially up to the recording engineer and the producer. I guess that the artist just plays as best they can and makes music. There will always be artists that inject themselves in some ways into the recording process (Karajan very much springs to mind) but mostly the artists fundamental intention is likely to make music... it is their great gift.
 
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bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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#3
The Thread title has been answered to many times on the forum
 

Carlos269

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Mar 21, 2012
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#4
Every time you play a record you hear exactly what is on the recording.
That’s in terms of content not reproduction or even further in terms of reception.

If you really want to have some fun we can go down the road of the transfer between the mechanical transducer and the Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF).
 

bonzo75

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#6
Yes that's because the people who can't relate to it can't do so by words, you have to try it in systems which show transparency to recordings. You will know it when you hear it and will stop asking. It does not require golden ears, just the right systems.

At the risk of sounding like a condescending professor, when I owned a system I used to try to make all recordings sound real by creating soundstage, and my then preference for they are here. Also some other attributes. Once I got out more I saw how swapping each track whether on digital or lp12 makes me feel like a different concert. All the stage, concert hall ambience, etc is there on the recording.

In fact of a system shows less difference between changing components or changing recordings, it is a fail for me
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#7
Yes that's because the people who can't relate to it can't do so by words, you have to try it in systems which show transparency to recordings. You will know it when you hear it and will stop asking. It does not require golden ears, just the right systems.

At the risk of sounding like a condescending professor, when I owned a system I used to try to make all recordings sound real by creating soundstage, and my then preference for they are here. Also some other attributes. Once I got out more I saw how swapping each track whether on digital or lp12 makes me feel like a different concert. All the stage, concert hall ambience, etc is there on the recording.

In fact of a system shows less difference between changing components or changing recordings, it is a fail for me
While there are systems that succeed very well in showing differences between recordings, the absolute baseline of sound varies between these systems (more body, less body, more treble, less treble, etc). So how then do you know if one, or any, of those systems reproduces exactly how the recording was intended to be heard? Answer: you cannot know.

What you propose is transparency to the diffferences between recordings. This is important. Yet it is by far not the same as transparency to any given recording on an "absolute" level.
 
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bonzo75

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#8
While there are systems that succeed very well in showing differences between recordings, the absolute baseline of sound varies between these systems (more body, less body, more treble, less treble, etc). So how then do you know if one, or any, of those systems reproduces exactly how the recording was intended to be heard? Answer: you cannot know.

What you propose is transparency to the diffferences between recordings. This is not the same as transparency to any given recording on an "absolute" level.
Because if they weren't recording attributes they would be the same

If you play 10 recordings and hear a similar style of stage, it is coming from the system. If you play ten recordings and each one is a different style, where is it coming from? Assuming your recordings are from different labels/concerts, of course
 
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Carlos269

Well-Known Member
Mar 21, 2012
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#9
Because if they weren't recording attributes they would be the same

If you play 10 recordings and hear a similar style of stage, it is coming from the system. If you play ten recordings and each one is a different style, where is it coming from? Assuming you're recordings are from different labels/concerts, of course
In “relative” terms but not in “absolute” terms.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#10
In “relative” terms but not in “absolute” terms.
Precisely. At the end you still don't know how any given recording was "intended" to sound.
 

bonzo75

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#11
Precisely. At the end you still don't know how any given recording was "intended" to sound.
If they were intended to sound, then some of them would have sounded similar
 

DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
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#12
Let's have some fun...

I haven't thought this all the way through so I may change my consideration, but, for the moment, I'm very leery of this question being useful. We see the question (posed rhetorically) a lot, often mid-squabble. It's kinda an expression of sheer scepticism that can be used to thwart any attempt to come to a conclusion. We also see it associated to a list (Ron's ?) of 4 Types of Audiophiles, one being those who seek reproduction true to what is on the recording, or some such.

Microstrip's formulation (above) taken from Dave C's cue asks about the artists' intent. This is somewhat problematic because intent is difficult to gauge through listening. If they're still around, we could ask performers - "does this recording exhibit what you intended?" Suppose they say 'yes' or 'no' - what does that tell us? That the recording is faithful to their idea of what they wanted it be? Huh? What does that tell us?

Inspired by remembering that Descarte's scepticism ("How do I know that I exist?) was ultimately the cause of his certainty (cogito ergo sum), I'll rashly answer the question. :-O

We start with the notion that at such-and-such a time and place the XYZ Orchestra of the Air along with The 4th Street Belmont Singers performed Brahm's Schicksalslied Op.54 and that was captured by microphones, etc. and put on tape.

There was an act of recording; the verb. But is that 'the recording' ? If it is, all the scepticism boils down to saying we cannot relive the past, so we can't really know. Even if we could, that's not the recording of a performance, it is the performance.

Is the so-called 'master tape' the recording? No, it's a magnetic tape on a metal reel. Even if you hold it close to your ear you won't hear the Song of Destiny. Not even a pre-echo.

I reject the notion that "the recording" exists as some kind of timeless objective Platonic Form that is The True Recording, that it is something we can never truly know, something that at best we can only grasp as 'shadows' of the recording. This seems to be the angle where the question is coming from.

Music is performance art. It exists in time and is transient. A recording must be performed to hear music. It moves from the potential (media) to the actual through time - when the recording is performed, when the record is played. Every time you play a record you hear exactly what is on the recording.
Good post!

I'm more referring to the gross characteristics of a playback system, i.e. frequency response, decay times, reflective vs absorptive vs diffusive surfaces in the room, etc. When one deviates too far from what's considered optimal then you're certainly deviating from the intent of the recording.

But OTOH, some things will be unknown, as there is no reference system and thus we have what Toole calls the "circle of confusion".

http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/10/audios-circle-of-confusion.html
 
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Mike Lavigne

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Apr 25, 2010
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#13
'how do we know we are hearing exactly what this piece of gear should sound like?'

answer; if the rest of the system and room are not in the way. which is the same answer to the 'what is on the recording' question?

obviously there is a chicken and egg (which comes first) factor + an element of synergy too, on the gear question. but really it's the same idea.

and the lesson is whatever makes each recording (or piece of gear) sound the most different, gets us closest to the truth. the enemy of my system development has always been any sameness or artifact which i try to avoid, and at the end of the day it's what gets gear kicked to the curb in my system decision tree. it a big reason i have darTZeel electronics instead of some tube choices i loved, or MSB instead of other tubed digital choices. sameness becomes the story and filters out musical truth to my particular ears. i'm relatively more aware of the reproduction chain and not just music....even if it's beautiful sounding in the short term. my view of reality wins.

of course there is much more to musical reproduction excellence than lack of sameness between pieces of gear or recordings. but it is an important aspect. and system<->room development and getting everything naturally neutral and the best possible sources and media are all part of it.

if we isolate this question to the media part, then it's a matter of finding the closest media version to the original recording, no surprise there. i think with digitally sourced recordings this is quite easy to do (and hear with most current dacs) and not expensive. analog is much more challenging to always get the most pure version. such a huge topic.
 
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DaveC

Industry Expert
Nov 16, 2014
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#14
I also think, referring to the recent comments about the value of soundstaging, that whether you value it or not, it is an indication that the system is working properly. The same low-level information that gives you full resolution, realistic sounding timbre, etc. also give you soundstaging cues.

So IMO, it's a useful gauge as to how successful the overall system setup is, and when changes are made it's an indication if the changes are resulting in higher fidelity or are simply a difference, or even a step backwards. I don't think you can manipulate the sound to be as you wish without compromising soundstaging, and if you do, you're also sacrificing realistic timbre and losing overall resolution.
 

accwai

Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2012
219
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#15
If they were intended to sound, then some of them would have sounded similar
Exactly. In fact, Peter Qvortrup touched on this a while ago in his Audio Hello article. The article used to be on Audio Note UK website but has since been yanks. A copy is still up at enjoymentthemusic.com though:

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/viewpoint/0601/audiohell.htm

Like Peter Q or hate the guy, the logic in the article is quite sound. About using intent as absolute reference, you'll be dealing with object of mind all of the sudden. You have be clairvoyant to access the original intent and what come up in the listener's mind. Anything short of that requires making gigantic metaphysical assumptions. So at the end of the day, systems that can differentiate the most will the the ones that can convey the broadest range and finest shades of expression. That's probably the best one can hope to achieve reliably.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#16
Precisely. At the end you still don't know how any given recording was "intended" to sound.
Al, even if you could know how a recording is intended to sound, if you play the recording in ten different audiophile systems, each owned by a guy who thinks his system shows the near truth about a recording, they will all sound different. Then what??? We are left with the inconvenient truth that very few systems sound the same, they all have different combinations of gear, are set up differently, and are located in different sounding rooms.

Some audiophiles state that the recording is "all we have", and they make it their goal to reproduce what they think is on the recording. We all do this to differing degrees, but the recording is not all we have. We also have our memories of how we perceive the real thing, and because we hear differently, and we have different budgets and tastes, and priorities, and preferences, the outcomes all sound different. We may start with the same recording, but each of us is on his own path as demonstrated by the very different sounds we hear from that same recording in different settings.

Going back even further, we may think we know the composer's original intent. I am reminded of what a good friend told me once about musical genius. He said that "Bach's compositions were corrupted the moment he wrote his thoughts down in two dimensions on paper." Those notations are later reinterpreted by the conductors and musicians, and then later by different conductors and musicians, far into the future, for audiences around the world. I have seen some of Mozart's original notes on manuscripts in Vienna. Put down, crossed out, altered many times. Then those many interpretations by conductors and musicians are recorded by someone else, engineered later, produced, and sold. We then buy those recordings and hear yet new interpretations through the choices we have made with our systems and rooms. Original intent? It is gone forever as it continues to be re-interpreted by others along the way.

Like the composition in Bach's head being corrupted the moment it is transcribed on paper, the information on the recording is corrupted as soon as we try to play it back in our listening rooms. No piece of gear, assembled system, or room context is perfect. This is why music, and listening to audio systems, is such a rich and varied hobby, and why we can never fully agree about the way it "is" or "should be". It can lead to some interesting and contentious discussions, though.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#17
In answer to the Q. Simple. We can't. Next.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#18
i'm relatively more aware of the reproduction chain and not just music....even if it's beautiful sounding in the short term. my view of reality wins.
Mike, I find this to be a very interesting and thought provoking statement.
 

Carlos269

Well-Known Member
Mar 21, 2012
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42
93
#19
Exactly. In fact, Peter Qvortrup touched on this a while ago in his Audio Hello article. The article used to be on Audio Note UK website but has since been yanks. A copy is still up at enjoymentthemusic.com though:

http://www.enjoythemusic.com/magazine/viewpoint/0601/audiohell.htm

Like Peter Q or hate the guy, the logic in the article is quite sound. About using intent as absolute reference, you'll be dealing with object of mind all of the sudden. You have be clairvoyant to access the original intent and what come up in the listener's mind. Anything short of that requires making gigantic metaphysical assumptions. So at the end of the day, systems that can differentiate the most will the the ones that can convey the broadest range and finest shades of expression. That's probably the best one can hope to achieve reliably.
But none of this gets you to any “Absolute” truths and that’s where it all falls apart and the logic begins to unravel.

Enjoy your systems and keep striving for that goal or sound qualities that you value most but don’t fool yourself into believing that there is a right answer or that what you have achieved gets your closer to the mythical promise land as it is a mirage. If you cannot quantify and measure the end goal then it will always be subjective.

One can of course measure a component’s or system’s accuracy, with a known calibrated input, at its output with a Audio Precision APx555 audio analyzer & software suite; but most have long concluded that measurements are not indicative of sound quality or enjoyment, or we would all have Halcro amplifiers with their 0.00001 THD figures.

Audiophilia is Scientology at its best, when you get to the top of the hill and see what’s on the other side, you realize that there is no right answer or “Absolute Sound” End-Game. The best one can do and strive for is to meet and obtain what you require for musical enjoyment as the real reward and achievement, enjoyment, is inherent to oneself.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
10,561
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#20
What is the next thread going to be?
"How do we know if we're enjoying what we hear?"
Let's say one of us was at a concert that was recorded live, and that person then heard that recording at home. Chances are it would sound v different, maybe more enjoyable, maybe less. Obviously the same could apply to musicians in the band. Even in this "cut and dried" situation, there can be no consensus, no hard and fast conclusion, no agreement.

Let alone an album like Pink Floyd "The Final Cut" where tracks were mixed from masters recorded all over the world, the drummer and guitarist on different continents.

Can you detect specific and different tonality and timbral accuracy btwn different recordings ie the system not imposing one voice? Does it feel authentic ie does it give you the impression of truthfulness? Does it pin you to your seat to listen all the way thru?

These are my takes on a great sound. If I hear this going from John Coltrane to Bach to Yes, truly independent sounding music, timbrally pure and involving, I can only hope this is closer to the musicians' intent. And if it isn't, doesn't really matter anyhow.
 

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