What's Best? The Absolute Sound or today's High End Systems?

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Back in the day of Harry Pearson and the evolution of the High End Audio, Pearson, in the pages of The Absolute Sound, defined the "absolute sound" as unamplified acoustic instruments and/or vocals performed in a real space, usually a concert hall. The evaluation of reproduction systems (HiFi equipment) was a based on a subjective comparison to the "absolute sound." The best systems came the closest to the sound of a live performance in a real space.

Over the last several years I have been a regular attendee of live music in San Francisco at Davies Symphony Hall and The Metropolitan Opera House. I have come to the realization that, in my opinion, the best sound and musical enjoyment happens at home with my highly evolved system, and I question weather it's worth the expense and effort to attend, other than for the occasional performance of a favorite artist.

I've tried various seating choices, always seeking the best. But more and more I have come to the conclusion that the best seat in the house (at least sonically) is at home! Do other WBF members share this view?
 
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morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
4,278
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Switzerland
It might not be as black and white as that.

I happen to have quite a few acquaintances that are music teachers/performers, instrument makers etc. If they comment about audio at all, it's almost always that they're perfectly Ok with something mundane, never audio is unsatisfying. There are however a few that are very curious about or even into higher level audio. Story: Somebody told a violin maker friend that one of his creation sounds like a Guarneri del Gesù. So he came to my place to compare a couple of recordings of that one against the recordings of Guarneri and Strads in the Bein & Fushi book Miracle Makers that I happen to have. We ended up listening to so much more other stuff that his wife had to drag him out of the house. I suppose she really found audio unsatisfactory...

As for F1 drivers driving normal cars slowly, I don't know anybody at that level. But among the car people I hang out with, there are some very hardcore track guys. My humble observation is that a tell tale sign of driver of great skill is smoothness regardless of speed. At the end of the day, it's this smoothness that allows one of push hard against the limit with great confidence. Good drivers are in control at all times, anywhere and in any kind of car. So it should be possible to pick out the good ones in slow and mundane settings, if one knows what to look for. Same should apply to picking out the really good audio gear in any context. But, are we confident that we really know what we should be looking for?

Now I'm no expert, so I could well be totally wrong of course...
I for one had an ex, who is a top level violinist that actually cared quite a bit for audio quality. She was quite fun to go to audio shows with because she would only stay for a few seconds in a room that she felt was too far from sonic reality as she knew it and she LOVED ribbon and electrostatic speakers (I had big Infinity IRS Betas, Apogees and various Acoustats and Stax speakers at that time) ...with tubes :). I never really got to expose her to horns at home but a few we heard at shows did impress her. She had some friends who played in various orchestras around Switzerland that were also into audio in one level or another (but all above what we would consider here as "beginners"). My ex had a very keen ear for audio quality...and of course the performance as well. In fact, when we broke up she wanted to buy my Acoustat 1+1s because they were such a good reproducer of violin.
 

accwai

Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2012
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[...] the only road legal car that really gets close is a 'Radical' and that is only just road legal [...]
I distinctly recall a WBF member with photo of a Radical in the avatar. That's you right? Totally awesome!

As for music, I've given up on the performance side years ago. I got started playing music way too late to be able to get any good. So now I'm much more into musicology/history. Talking the talk instead of walking the walk you know. Luckily I have enough background to be able to recognize a good performance when it's in front of me. Situation with driving is very similar.

As for audio, what I'm kind of looking for in a system is the ability to show the energy flow of the music. When done well, the musicians' frame of mind can be felt pretty much instinctively. With a junior chamber group practicing down the hall for example, it's often possible to pick out the exact moment of the seed of confusion that would lead to chaos many seconds later. So what qualities in an audio system would allow this kind of insight to come through?
 

Loheswaran

Well-Known Member
Dec 20, 2014
337
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I distinctly recall a WBF member with photo of a Radical in the avatar. That's you right? Totally awesome!

As for music, I've given up on the performance side years ago. I got started playing music way too late to be able to get any good. So now I'm much more into musicology/history. Talking the talk instead of walking the walk you know. Luckily I have enough background to be able to recognize a good performance when it's in front of me. Situation with driving is very similar.

As for audio, what I'm kind of looking for in a system is the ability to show the energy flow of the music. When done well, the musicians' frame of mind can be felt pretty much instinctively. With a junior chamber group practicing down the hall for example, it's often possible to pick out the exact moment of the seed of confusion that would lead to chaos many seconds later. So what qualities in an audio system would allow this kind of insight to come through?
Alas I am not he that has the radical - it's the guy getting a custom built audio room in the middles of a forest... I am a humble 911 driver who likes the odd creature comfort hen I am on the road.

I totally agree with looking for something that connects you to the music. In my sense it is overall cohesion without any element being stronger than than the other - I guess that must be as close to neutral as I can get. I must say that I am slowly edging millimetre by millimetre towards a warmer sound - simply coz it means you listen for longer and you enjoy it more in the long run. I guess its a case of age when one is young you race between traffic lights - nowadays I just want to enjoy the ride
 

accwai

Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2012
241
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Alas I am not he that has the radical - it's the guy getting a custom built audio room in the middles of a forest... [...]
Hmm... Turns out the Radical Sportscars company is completely left out of the base build of Assetto Corsa. That means Radical models can't be added to a console copy and there is no simple way for me to take one out for a spin. Too bad... Radical does have an office in town though. Perhaps I can drop by someday and see if they have one in a showroom I can sit in :)
I totally agree with looking for something that connects you to the music. In my sense it is overall cohesion without any element being stronger than than the other - I guess that must be as close to neutral as I can get.
I like the term transparent. But that plus neutral and accurate have been seriously misused by certain faction. So I prefer linearity instead. Linearity as in levels 14, 16 and 18 of Audio Federation's audio maturity scale:

https://audiofederation.com/blog/20...aturity-of-audiophile-and-hi-fi-system-design

And level 19 is basically all that together. That's a pretty good summary, but the timing aspect still isn't very explicit. PRaT is in level 6 and it's likely result of combination of rudimentary forms of the linearities above. But there is a higher level of PRaT that's more than just constant boom boom boom. If a system gets that right, energy flow of the music can turn on a dime. My speculation is that a system that goes even further and gets the ebb and flow independently right for every thread in an ensemble piece would allow one to catch the seed of doubt/confusion mentioned previously. I believe the end result is sometimes described as gestalt. That's a rather tall order though.
 
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Mcbrion

Well-Known Member
May 10, 2013
58
5
83
Connecticut
I prefer the sound of, and I derive more musical enjoyment from, Walt Disney Concert Hall than I did from my last stereo system at home.

The only exception, I think, was the time with Keith I did not really enjoy a four piece string ensemble group that looked like miniature figures in a diorama lost in the vast expanse of the Walt Disney Concert Hall orchestra soundstage. That particular performance, I think, maybe, I might’ve enjoyed more on my home stereo. (But if you had put that group in a living room, then I would have enjoyed the living room performance more than the same performance on my home stereo.)
I'm with you.
I can't even fathom that someone cannot tell the difference between how sound propagates (moves around in a concert hall) live as completely different than a stereo system. I can understand why someone would enjoy one or two performances more on their stereo due to the way the recording was mixed/engineered, and maybe they didn't have the best seat in the house (I've heard that myself), but we're then talking "enjoyment" not "reality."
NOTHING IS GOING TO SOUND MORE "REAL" THAN LIVE MUSIC if it is acoustic instruments. If one cannot tell real from recorded, well...I'm sorry for you. But if you enjoy recorded more because you can hear more clearly, that's a horse of a different color.
And Harry's observations were not subjective and those who say otherwise just don't have enough experience with live music. Period. He pointed out, time and time again, that for some, they would overlook aspects of live sound in favor of recorded, but he clearly OUTLINED what a violin sounded like live and what was missing in a recording of said instrument. (AS DID ROBERT E. GREENE, a violinist who played in an orchestra.) HP separated out OBJECTIVE (what was unquestionably present in a live performance ) from what he could live with, although it sounded different on the recording (THAT is the SUBjective reaction). For example, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall and how, in live performance, some components made it sound as it it was all women singing (NOT remotely true. I was there), and that is OBJECTIVE. PERIOD. And he pointed out how the left side of Carnegie was better than the right side (Objective). And then he pointed out how the ambience of the hall sounded (Objective), but that one could still enjoy the recording if they didn't hear all these things (SUBjective). Some of you seem to have missed what one could hear live vs. playing it through a stereo system, no matter HOW GOOD, and then call it subjective. SUBJECTIVE means, "it didn't matter to me that I could only hear women sing, because I still liked it." OBJECTIVE is: "But there were men and women singing and you could't hear the male voices." That's FACTUAL.THAT'S OBJECTIVE. NOT subjective.
So, enjoy the music: that's what we all want. But don't propagate the misinformation that his observations were based on what he enjoyed ONLY. He must've said that at least 50 times over the years that what he critically observed would not necessarily be what someone else enjoyed listening through their component. He was utterly fair about that.
And I can tell real from recorded, even though my hearing has decreased, but I never CONFUSE real with recorded.
We can all enjoy our systems because the microphones are closer to the horns, and we love horns, but we're still not going to hear all the harmonics (especially if we don't even KNOW what second harmonic IS). Ok? Can we agree on that or not??????
 
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Likes: morricab
Aug 16, 2019
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In these days of coronavirus contagions, I stay home rather than go to concert halls or movie theatres. Thank goodness the home hi fi is quite rewarding.
 

BlueFox

Member Sponsor
Nov 8, 2013
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Obviously, home is better. You can listen to it all the time, and make changes to it for sonic tuning. Live music is a different experience.
 

MtnHam

Industry Expert
Jan 13, 2014
254
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Nothern California Wine Country
I'm with you.
I can't even fathom that someone cannot tell the difference between how sound propagates (moves around in a concert hall) live as completely different than a stereo system. I can understand why someone would enjoy one or two performances more on their stereo due to the way the recording was mixed/engineered, and maybe they didn't have the best seat in the house (I've heard that myself), but we're then talking "enjoyment" not "reality."
NOTHING IS GOING TO SOUND MORE "REAL" THAN LIVE MUSIC if it is acoustic instruments. If one cannot tell real from recorded, well...I'm sorry for you. But if you enjoy recorded more because you can hear more clearly, that's a horse of a different color
I never said I could not tell the difference between live and recorded. I was addressing the musical enjoyment provided by my system, as well as the ease and convenience factor. I also have to admit, my willingness to purchase $150 seats is limited.

Last week, I attended a magnificent piano performance by Helga Kern at Herbst Theater in SF. The dynamics far surpassed what my system is capable of delivering.

My home system can be relied upon to deliver tremendous enjoyment from a wide range of music without the many negative factors attending live events involve. And, sometimes, it's even better! I do believe my SL electrostatic panels are a big factor.
 

assessor43

Active Member
Nov 1, 2018
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I agree about the piano. My friends sister was playing piano the other day. No system Ive heard can deliver the weight and dynamics of the real thing.
 
Jan 23, 2011
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Amsterdam holland
I agree about the piano. My friends sister was playing piano the other day. No system Ive heard can deliver the weight and dynamics of the real thing.

Then you havent heard mine ;), with my tape machine 100 % now (and the added tube tape stage ), plus a good pianorecording / mastertape on the deck
I d say it comes pretty close ( but not the real thing okay ), same goes with voices recorded on mastertapes , very convincing 20200229_231041.jpg
 
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Mcbrion

Well-Known Member
May 10, 2013
58
5
83
Connecticut
I never said I could not tell the difference between live and recorded. I was addressing the musical enjoyment provided by my system, as well as the ease and convenience factor. I also have to admit, my willingness to purchase $150 seats is limited.

Last week, I attended a magnificent piano performance by Helga Kern at Herbst Theater in SF. The dynamics far surpassed what my system is capable of delivering.

My home system can be relied upon to deliver tremendous enjoyment from a wide range of music without the many negative factors attending live events involve. And, sometimes, it's even better! I do believe my SL electrostatic panels are a big factor.
Hey, if you felt I was picking on you: I was not. I only saw a couple of pages. My comment was not directed at you at all. I'd have no way of knowing if you attended live music or not. And you will NOT find a post on here where I disparage someone without FIRST having asked: "Do you go to live concerts?" Not my way.

I was referring to the many people on forums (not so much in here, where I enjoy reading what others have posted) where people seem blissfully unaware that there is a reasonably objective way to assess an audio system. For me, this site is where I can share my passion with those of equal astuteness on the reproduction of music, instead of those who never attend live music. (Now, if you're a designer and you never attend live concerts, I AM going to ask how you do that without ever hearing music live. And I think that's a fair question.)

I inquired last year, of a young man I worked with, who was a guitarist in a band, "How many of your friends know what the sound of acoustic instruments sound like?" to which he replied - with a slightly disgusted look on his face: "None." I was aghast. "You're kidding. You mean, they only know the sound of a couple of acoustic instruments." His response: "NOT. ONE."

Those are the people I believe are losing out on the beauty of sound reproduction. And the ones who make the most noise on Facebook in "audiophiles on the cheap" forum or some name like that. I got shouted down once when I created a furor by rejecting the idea that acousticians could - at will - reproduce perfect acoustics in a hall. I just watched the comments "you idiot," "you're stupid," and other comments, sighed and realized how little they knew about how music sounded in the concert hall (only after I'd really around 100 comments), smiled at the intelligent one, rolled my eyes at the ignorant ones, and promptly removed myself from the group. I couldn't talk to people like that. I respect that people here want the best musical reproduction.

I'd like to apologize, but FIRST: my comment was NOT aimed at you. I'm not an "attacker" on these sites. Imagine if I was disagreeing with Keith Jarrett using an assumed name! Not looking for that kind of humiliation!! :oops::oops:

But I do realize sometimes my comments are very direct, and seem more intense than it would sound coming out of my mouth (actually for me, it's an intellectual conversation with passion!) , but to you it might have seemed like it was a passive - aggressive comment aimed at you (without me saying your name specifically). Even though it was't? I apologize sincerely.
 
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