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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May 30, 2010
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#21
Sure. And we believe - or at least hold out hope - that it is a reproduction of an actual performance and not some sui generis sound. Inherent in the notion of 'absolute sound' is the unattainable. I agree about enjoyment but we, or at least some of us, as audiophiles (in contrast to any listener) posit a reference. What possibly could that be if not the live performance?
The point is that audiophiles in their search have very different views of reality in a live performance. Except when they meet in small groups and show a lot of agreement, the search for extreme reality in our systems is in general divergent, except in the enjoyment. IMHO this can help the love/hate relationship of audiophiles with gear and techniques.
 

Al M.

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#22
Sure. And we believe - or at least hold out hope - that it is a reproduction of an actual performance and not some sui generis sound. Inherent in the notion of 'absolute sound' is the unattainable. I agree about enjoyment but we, or at least some of us, as audiophiles (in contrast to any listener) posit a reference. What possibly could that be if not the live performance?
Indeed. Without the reference of unamplified live music I would be nowhere in the evolution of my system. Without it, sound becomes merely a matter of "taste", and all bets are off. This leads to audiophiles constantly changing their "taste", also under the influence of other sounds from other systems they hear, and an endless cycle of buying and selling equipment.

Interestingly, while my audiophile friends have very different system approaches than mine, and from one another, we agree that the sounds of our systems more and more converge over time, under the influence of one common reference, unamplified live music.

As to the argument that what you hear at home never exactly captures the sound at the microphones (yet see Morricab's post above) or the sound heard by listeners at different seats during the recorded live event, and is even manipulated to some extent upon mixing/mastering, I think it misses the point.

Of course you don't exactly capture the sound, but the timbres of live music, while they can differ greatly from seat to seat, and from hall to hall, all fall within a certain range and character. Sounds that are within that range are believable, others are not.

So in the end, it is not about capturing a copy of the live sound, but about believability of the reproduced sound, a believability that can cause, to a certain extent, an illusion of live sound.
 
Aug 22, 2014
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#23
...So in the end, it is not about capturing a copy of the live sound, but about believability of the reproduced sound, a believability that can cause, to a certain extent, an illusion of live sound.
Exactly. Most of my favorite genres don’t lend themselves to ‘being there’. I either like the music or not. However, on Arne Domnerus’ Antiphone Blues recording, I feel as if I am in that church. The reverberation of his horn off of the walls is real and takes me there. That’s good enough for me.
 

Mike Lavigne

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Apr 25, 2010
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#24
i'm admittedly not a major attendee of concerts. so not sure my opinion means much. but i certainly have one.:)

a few months back i attended a concert at our local Symphony Hall of a debut performance of a piece written by a conductor/composer friend. i was honored with a dead center mid hall seat. i received a digital file of that particular performance.

my system allowed for a much better listening experience. all the musical threads were more delineated and easy to hear and follow. this piece was a very modern musically dynamic and complicated composition. my system fully revealed it easily where at concert it was relatively obtuse or congealed (if you did not have my system as a reference for how large scale music can sound, you would not even think about the live performance sounding at all obtuse or congealed).

two other pieces were played in the program, sounded great. i have examples of these at home where i can hear more performance attributes.

OTOH; i really enjoyed the live concert experience. zero negative aspects to report. but for performance, i'll take my system.
 
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BlueFox

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Nov 8, 2013
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#25
I will take my stereo over live music anytime.
 
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tima

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Mar 4, 2014
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#26
So in the end, it is not about capturing a copy of the live sound, but about believability of the reproduced sound, a believability that can cause, to a certain extent, an illusion of li
Yes, that's it. I just used the word "believable" in a review I'm working on - meant as a high compliment.

Capturing a copy of the live sound is the producer and engineer's job - which may be an art and skill, but not asking anything of it but (pardon the nominalism) faithfulness in intent and result.
 

tima

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Mar 4, 2014
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#27
my system allowed for a much better listening experience. all the musical threads were more delineated and easy to hear and follow. this piece was a very modern musically dynamic and complicated composition. my system fully revealed it easily where at concert it was relatively obtuse or congealed (if you did not have my system as a reference for how large scale music can sound, you would not even think about the live performance sounding at all obtuse or congealed).
my emphasis

And - forgive me if I'm off base here - presumably you choose componentry and overall system organization based on your preference for this experience. Versus choosing based on what you hear/heard from the live event.

Recognizing this could be a wee bit of a revelation to me - I'm not sure of what I'm about to say, it may be twaddle:

Without anyone needing to explain one's preferences, this (ML's account) seems to represent what might be one account from one of what I see as two very broad camps of audiophiles. 'Camps' is not the best word here, and this sort of identifying exercise is dangerous. But I'll go further and name these camps as the 'Naturalists' and (again for lack of a good word) the ‘Synthesists’. Two (radically different?) perspectives on what they want/like/seek and what stereo reproduction should be - from the same source material. Naturalists adopt the live concert hall or venue experience as their reference in choosing a system, or at least memory of past live events or mental amalgamation of multiple past live events. Whereas Synthesists tend toward using their own set of personal preferences (what sounds best to them, regardless of live) as their reference or guide; and, such a perspective may be more likely to shift or evolve over time. Both more or less stringently.

Drawing from prior message, for one the compliment is 'Believable' for the other 'Enjoyable'.

If we take one as thesis and the other as antithesis, I see no synthesis. Of course that assumes you know what you want. For each their choice is right; to regard differently is the ground for audiophiles arguing on a forum. Though one can flip to the other.
 

the sound of Tao

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Jul 18, 2014
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#28
Yes, that's it. I just used the word "believable" in a review I'm working on - meant as a high compliment.

Capturing a copy of the live sound is the producer and engineer's job - which may be an art and skill, but not asking anything of it but (pardon the nominalism) faithfulness in intent and result.
Everything in our game is synthetic but to be true to the very genius of a thing is to capture both the sound of the performance and the nature of the music both in context and spirit, so to be true to reality and it’s meaning. There is perhaps something of a requirement of alchemy in what we are attempting.
 
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bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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#30
Mike is a synthesist by methodology but his end sound appeals to naturalists. He has managed to cross that bridge. Most who try as a synthesist get stuck with a synthetic sound. I can understand why he prefers his own room. The ode to joy I heard there had the same intensity in the best of the performances I have had, especially where it just keeps growing larger and larger and the sonics and scale keep going through the roof. The Solti recording is not even that good. His headroom and room and many other things make up for it. It has nothing in common with what the General's system or Pietro's yamamura will do, yet both approaches will appeal to the naturalists sonically. The problem is most naturalists without visiting Mike will dismiss it as another regular Munich hifi type system with an SS amp. And unlike other systems he can replicate this realism across rock, metal, etc
 
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the sound of Tao

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Jul 18, 2014
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#31
Ah yes, we seek not the philosopher's stone but the audiophile's alembic.
with music as the universal solvent... all vitriol falls away and we are just left with a pure connection to the source.
 
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Al M.

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#33
Mike is a synthesist by methodology but his end sound appeals to naturalists. He has managed to cross that bridge. Most who try as a synthesist get stuck with a synthesis sound. I can understand why he prefers his own room. The ode to joy I heard there had the same intensity in the best of the performances I have had, especially where it just keeps growing larger and larger and the sonics and scale keep going through the roof. The Solti recording is not even that good. His headroom and room and many other things make up for it. It has nothing in common with what the General's system or Pietro's yamamura will do, yet they will both appeal to the naturalists. The problem is most naturalists without visiting Mike will dismiss it as another regular Munich hifi type system with an SS amp.
I won't before I hear it.

And unlike other systems he can replicate this realism across rock, metal, etc
That is essential. I would not like at all if my system couldn't do those genres well.
 

marslo

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May 2, 2014
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#34
When I have the opportunity on rare occasions to go to Berlin and listen in Berliner Philharmoniker to outstanding performances , like say Beethoven under Heitink or Zimerman playing Chopin, I am very much in favour of live music.
But if I have the choice between the mediocre interpretations even in very nice Music Hall in the nearby department town and my system with Karajan , Barenboim or Fisher then I prefer my system.
The same for jazz music.
 
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Folsom

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Oct 26, 2015
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#35
Mike is a synthesist by methodology but his end sound appeals to naturalists. He has managed to cross that bridge. Most who try as a synthesist get stuck with a synthetic sound. I can understand why he prefers his own room. The ode to joy I heard there had the same intensity in the best of the performances I have had, especially where it just keeps growing larger and larger and the sonics and scale keep going through the roof. The Solti recording is not even that good. His headroom and room and many other things make up for it. It has nothing in common with what the General's system or Pietro's yamamura will do, yet both approaches will appeal to the naturalists sonically. The problem is most naturalists without visiting Mike will dismiss it as another regular Munich hifi type system with an SS amp. And unlike other systems he can replicate this realism across rock, metal, etc
Everything's natural but sounds nothing alike now? :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:

The word natural is getting thrown around this forum with total reckless abandon and everyone is a "naturalist". No matter how good a stereo is, that doesn't automatically make it sound natural with the context of natural that started all of the "natural" concern. DDK and stereos/components he likes started it, and that context DOES NOT apply to everything. And everyone wants the attribute "natural" like it's some kind of missing Pokemon, but that doesn't mean you actually like that sound or use any equipment that goes that direction, so what are the qualifications of being a "naturalist"???

Mike's stereo is no where near regular, and doesn't sound like a horrible show presentations at all. But that doesn't make it automatically fit a description of other stereos it sounds nothing alike... That doesn't make any damn sense. The only thing making sense that you're saying is that you must hear it to understand it. There's nothing regular about it, and it's a learning experience for anyone, but I wouldn't go saying "naturalist" will be into it - or maybe I should since that includes everyone apparently.
 

morricab

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Apr 25, 2014
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#36
i'm admittedly not a major attendee of concerts. so not sure my opinion means much. but i certainly have one.:)

a few months back i attended a concert at our local Symphony Hall of a debut performance of a piece written by a conductor/composer friend. i was honored with a dead center mid hall seat. i received a digital file of that particular performance.

my system allowed for a much better listening experience. all the musical threads were more delineated and easy to hear and follow. this piece was a very modern musically dynamic and complicated composition. my system fully revealed it easily where at concert it was relatively obtuse or congealed (if you did not have my system as a reference for how large scale music can sound, you would not even think about the live performance sounding at all obtuse or congealed).

two other pieces were played in the program, sounded great. i have examples of these at home where i can hear more performance attributes.

OTOH; i really enjoyed the live concert experience. zero negative aspects to report. but for performance, i'll take my system.
:rolleyes:. Was the recording made mid-hall? Probably not...
 

morricab

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Apr 25, 2014
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#37
my emphasis

And - forgive me if I'm off base here - presumably you choose componentry and overall system organization based on your preference for this experience. Versus choosing based on what you hear/heard from the live event.

Recognizing this could be a wee bit of a revelation to me - I'm not sure of what I'm about to say, it may be twaddle:

Without anyone needing to explain one's preferences, this (ML's account) seems to represent what might be one account from one of what I see as two very broad camps of audiophiles. 'Camps' is not the best word here, and this sort of identifying exercise is dangerous. But I'll go further and name these camps as the 'Naturalists' and (again for lack of a good word) the ‘Synthesists’. Two (radically different?) perspectives on what they want/like/seek and what stereo reproduction should be - from the same source material. Naturalists adopt the live concert hall or venue experience as their reference in choosing a system, or at least memory of past live events or mental amalgamation of multiple past live events. Whereas Synthesists tend toward using their own set of personal preferences (what sounds best to them, regardless of live) as their reference or guide; and, such a perspective may be more likely to shift or evolve over time. Both more or less stringently.

Drawing from prior message, for one the compliment is 'Believable' for the other 'Enjoyable'.

If we take one as thesis and the other as antithesis, I see no synthesis. Of course that assumes you know what you want. For each their choice is right; to regard differently is the ground for audiophiles arguing on a forum. Though one can flip to the other.
I think he is comparing apples to oranges because unless the microphones were right where he sat the recording will likely sound quite different from what he heard live.
 

morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
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#38
When I have the opportunity on rare occasions to go to Berlin and listen in Berliner Philharmoniker to outstanding performances , like say Beethoven under Heitink or Zimerman playing Chopin, I am very much in favour of live music.
But if I have the choice between the mediocre interpretations even in very nice Music Hall in the nearby department town and my system with Karajan , Barenboim or Fisher then I prefer my system.
The same for jazz music.
Now you convolute Sonics and performance. I recently had the benefit of both hearing Eveginy Kissin playing Beethoven piano sonatas in the excellent sounding Luzern KKL.
 
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morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
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#39
Everything's natural but sounds nothing alike now? :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:

The word natural is getting thrown around this forum with total reckless abandon and everyone is a "naturalist". No matter how good a stereo is, that doesn't automatically make it sound natural with the context of natural that started all of the "natural" concern. DDK and stereos/components he likes started it, and that context DOES NOT apply to everything. And everyone wants the attribute "natural" like it's some kind of missing Pokemon, but that doesn't mean you actually like that sound or use any equipment that goes that direction, so what are the qualifications of being a "naturalist"???

Mike's stereo is no where near regular, and doesn't sound like a horrible show presentations at all. But that doesn't make it automatically fit a description of other stereos it sounds nothing alike... That doesn't make any damn sense. The only thing making sense that you're saying is that you must hear it to understand it. There's nothing regular about it, and it's a learning experience for anyone, but I wouldn't go saying "naturalist" will be into it - or maybe I should since that includes everyone apparently.
But does it do a convincing job of sounding natural to you? Is there a hint of “absolute sound in it “ as you perceive it?
 

RogerD

Well-Known Member
May 23, 2010
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#40
Live music is all about being there for me, the total experience of the music,performers,and crowd.
At home can be enjoyable to, but then it’s all about the presentation. Two totally different animals.
 

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