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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the sound of Tao

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#41
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?
While I figure many might struggle to pin down exactly what specific criteria constitute a sense of naturalness I’d figure most of us could still easily identify when things just don’t sound natural and then do sound clearly synthetic.

A natural sound is an essential primary goal I figure especially if you regularly enjoy acoustic instruments and the human voice. For me it seems a reasonably achievable goal at some level for many if we simply strive towards it. The ‘almost real’ is however another thing altogether and that is pure gold and easily more rare.

If a system doesn’t essentially sound at least natural then for me live music would be the easy clear choice.

If a home system can be convincing in communicating both the reality and the spirit of the music then the home experience becomes more valuable in terms of exploring all the captured performances of great music of which there are many lifetimes worth available.

If I lived in one of the great classical capitals of the world like the London dudes then regular live music experiences would just be completely another more compelling thing again.

Having a convincing home system and access to the great history of recorded music and then also access to regularly experiencing the current great artists live would be surely the ultimate win win and as values are simply different things. One is seated in the sure safety of recall, the other living In the frisson and uncertainty of the now. I’d have to have at least one of these two paths of access to music to be content in any longer term living either way.
 
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Mike Lavigne

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#42
:rolleyes:. Was the recording made mid-hall? Probably not...
it was multi mic'd i'm sure; the file was off the hall mixing board. it's not a licensed recording and so i can't get into details.

which is the whole issue. even a great seat is unlikely to compete directly with a good recording optimized through a completely capable system. this is for complicated orchestral music. smaller scale simpler music tends to favor live. but not always.

i play this recording often and it's awesome.....but maybe an acquired taste.
 
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#43
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.
Although I agree with you on the needed believability of reproduced sound, I fail to see any convergence between listeners due to exposition of live sound, except if they share some restrained preference . I have seen that your group puts an extreme emphasis on timbre - IMHO and lesser exigence most systems are correct enough in this aspect to be believable, variations due to the recording technique are even much higher than what we have in our systems. For me sound signatures and texture, atmosphere (either of the music-hall or added by the sound engineers), individual resolution keeping the elan and connection of the ensemble, the feeling of being right are what matters me mostly. In fact, going to life venues usually makes me less demanding of my system - after a concert I focus on the half-filled bottle, take pride on it, and forget about the half-empty. :oops:

BTW, the rendition of timbre of the XLF or the Soundlab A1 Px is quite different - I appreciate both, the XLF being more realistic but sometimes the Soundlab can more enjoyable.
 

RogerD

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#44
Listen to the reaction = emotional response of crowds at a recording of a live performance. If a home system can convey that type of response wouldn’t most say that is the absolute sound? To get there for me took years and I’m not done yet either. Natural means nothing to me. I want the illusion with all it’s complications and at the same time simplicity to be revealed...not 100 percent as those that attended the concert, but if I can share a part of their excitement and joy...that’s worth everything to me.
 

morricab

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#45
Listen to the reaction = emotional response of crowds at a recording of a live performance. If a home system can convey that type of response wouldn’t most say that is the absolute sound? To get there for me took years and I’m not done yet either. Natural means nothing to me. I want the illusion with all it’s complications and at the same time simplicity to be revealed...not 100 percent as those that attended the concert, but if I can share a part of their excitement and joy...that’s worth everything to me.
The synthetic is anything that detracts from the illusion. That is a lack (however slight) of naturalness.
 
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Al M.

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#46
Although I agree with you on the needed believability of reproduced sound, I fail to see any convergence between listeners due to exposition of live sound, except if they share some restrained preference . I have seen that your group puts an extreme emphasis on timbre - IMHO and lesser exigence most systems are correct enough in this aspect to be believable, variations due to the recording technique are even much higher than what we have in our systems. For me sound signatures and texture, atmosphere (either of the music-hall or added by the sound engineers), individual resolution keeping the elan and connection of the ensemble, the feeling of being right are what matters me mostly.
Agreed, all these things that matter to you are also important to me.

Also I would say that timbre is closely interlinked with texture and resolution. Proper "tone" is not possible without these. Therefore, I disagree somewhat that most systems are correct enough in the aspect of timbre to be believable -- if lesser systems are, then only on a superficial level.

Just compare string quartet timbre on a lesser system with high quality reproduction -- there is actually no comparison, really. Convincing brass texture is also hard to achieve, among others. I am surprised at just how much more believable timbre of orchestral brass is now in my system, since I have the high quality preamp (followed by improvements in speaker set-up). The fine resolution of tonal texture, and the depth and shadings of tone, are just so much better. This leads to a considerably more convincing experience.

In fact, going to life venues usually makes me less demanding of my system - after a concert I focus on the half-filled bottle, take pride on it, and forget about the half-empty. :oops:
I can see that. Actually, I also enjoy what my system can do, and tend to forget about what it cannot. It may take a day or two after a concert, but I get there ;). Nonetheless, concerts are also an inspiration to work on further improvements.
 
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Al M.

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#47
it was multi mic'd i'm sure; the file was off the hall mixing board. it's not a licensed recording and so i can't get into details.

which is the whole issue. even a great seat is unlikely to compete directly with a good recording optimized through a completely capable system. this is for complicated orchestral music. smaller scale simpler music tends to favor live. but not always.
Sorry, Mike, this is not true. In a good hall there are seats where complex orchestral music is extraordinarily well presented in all its intricacies of texture and detail. Ian (Madfloyd) and I like to sit at the Boston Symphony in the first balcony left, close to the orchestra, and we often marvel at how we can hear *everything*. Same experience recently in the Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory in Boston, row 7 or 8 from the stage.

Of course, often mid-hall in a large venue things tend to blend together more.
 

Mike Lavigne

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#48
Sorry, Mike, this is not true. In a good hall there are seats where complex orchestral music is extraordinarily well presented in all its intricacies of texture and detail. Ian (Madfloyd) and I like to sit at the Boston Symphony in the first balcony left, close to the orchestra, and we often marvel at how we can hear *everything*. Same experience recently in the Jordan Hall of the New England Conservatory in Boston, row 7 or 8 from the stage.

Of course, often mid-hall in a large venue things tend to blend together more.
fair enough, Al. i must differ to your much greater experience level with live orchestral. i've not yet heard the sort of detail 'live' i hear at home, but my frequency of attending is low.
 

Al M.

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#49
fair enough, Al. i must differ to your much greater experience level with live orchestral. i've not yet heard the sort of detail 'live' i hear at home, but my frequency of attending is low.
It also depends on how good overall the hall is of course, next to which seats are the best. I have had my share of rather disappointing experiences myself, so I certainly can see your point, Mike. Sometimes competent home reproduction indeed carries more information.
 

Folsom

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#50
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?
In the context, no I wouldn't call it "natural" but I also wouldn't say natural = absolute sound in it (whatever that means). I'm not sure why someone that loves Mike's stereo would want it to be associated with other stereos that have wimpy soundstages and such by comparison, or vice versa differences. Different stereos have different sounds. There wouldn't be thousands of pages about horns if they didn't sound different because no one would EVER desire their size if it wasn't part of the sound. There's nothing wrong with stereos being different.

And still, I cannot recommend enough that it's important to actually hear Mike's stereo. In its best strengths you'd be hard pressed to find anything better, if there even is. But you might also find it is or isn't what you're looking for ultimately. In fact hearing something so next level in its arena is helpful so you can understand just how far you can go with that type of stereo, and if that is the direction you wish to go - as we all know it takes some time to really get "there" with any stereo.
 

marslo

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#51
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.
I think both are important , it happens to me to clap my hands at home after the final tutti of outstanding performance.
 
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tima

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#52
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.
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"???
second emphasis in your post is mine

You responded to bonzo whose response was to my post (mostly quoted above) so allow me to clarify. My post was partly in reaction to the views of MikeL and others with their answer to the thread's original question. It was also for me an account or explanation of many of the disagreements and wranglings we have in this forum, trying to go up a level to what I see as a basis for preference, which, once recognized, sets different sides to a disagreement within a larger context where they kinda dissapear. We don't get to say "your preferences are wrong."

Okay, back down a level.

I wasn't laying out a rigourous manifesto, but still my post was a reasonably clear statement of what I'm calling Naturalists and Synthesists - using the words as proper names. You seem to be object to these name words (or at least Naturalist), but I think, no offense, your objections miss some of the context, viz. this thread and the question it posed. Within my 'definition' the names don't describe sounds or systems - they refer to selection or preference criteria for a listening experience and perhaps stereo components and systems.

The qualifications for being a Naturalist are simple: 1) as an answer to the question posed by this thread, one prefers to listen to live acoustic music when given the choice between that and listening to a/your stereo system, and 2) where I take it a step further, you choose live acoustic music as your reference for assessing your system and as a guide for choosing its makeup and organization. Qualifying this with "more or less stringently" - while live acoustic experiences are not a set piece as they vary in many ways for different listeners, they are in-person experiences of live acoustic music.

I do agree somewhat that the word 'natural' has been "thrown aound this forum" though not all uses are made with "total reckless abandon." And I won't pretend that I'm using Naturalist in the same manner as David (ddk) uses 'natural'.

But, I didn't choose the names entirely at random.
 

ddk

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#53
We were traveling yesterday and I missed this entire thread until now but by chance I addressed some of what’s mentioned here in another thread, here’s part of it;
#772
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/sublime-sound.12853/page-39#post-611898

Hi Peter,
....
Mine is a more holistic approach to sound I don’t aim for “Perfection?” based on ideal numerical values, that’s a very different thing and there are a few qualified people who can do that a lot better than me. My target from start to finish is a “Natural” sound and “Natural” listening experience in a comfortable environment reminiscent of my favorite venues. The aim is to minimize and hope to remove distracting annoying aspects of a system (+room) which includes things that one might find impressive. Because ultimately that impressive “part” of your system calls attention to it and you might think what great this or that to yourself but that’s when you’re taken out of the natural immersion/suspension to notice the system instead of the music. Personally I don’t care for any of the obsessive audiophile rituals and HiFi values derived from 80’s and 90’s audio magazines and specially the very misleading meaningless phrase of “Absolute Sound”! That’s why my reviews or descriptions of a system including my own lack the usual floral language and brief. For me it’s only about musical experience and suspension of reality in a home venue hence the term “Natural”. Some prefer the Big Top approach and you can see it in the floral descriptions of bits and pieces of the system’s sound, always solo and freakishly impressive acts, the more recent adoption of the term “natural” in this context is contrary to the actual outcome. IMO these are two separate and opposite approaches and one must determine what they’re after and in the case of professional reviewers who’s their audience.
david
 

bonzo75

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#54
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.
I think if you read Tima's post that I replied to about synthetic sound and natural sound you would have got it but like not understanding horns and records you don't seem to understand posts these days. Try to read before you reply
 

bonzo75

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#55
it was multi mic'd i'm sure; the file was off the hall mixing board. it's not a licensed recording and so i can't get into details.

which is the whole issue. even a great seat is unlikely to compete directly with a good recording optimized through a completely capable system. this is for complicated orchestral music. smaller scale simpler music tends to favor live. but not always.

i play this recording often and it's awesome.....but maybe an acquired taste.
Mike if you take your system out, it is if anything the reverse. Orchestral is best heard live. There are quite a few systems capable of reproducing the small scale ones more accurately.... Quads, set horns, once set up well with good records can do it. Also anything based on individual performers is better heard at home since you can always choose great performances. The big pieces are tough to reproduce at home because most people do not have the ability to have both a great room and a no holds barred system.

I heard Andrea Schiff play the Emperor with the visiting Budapest orchestra (Ivan Fisher) yesterday. I much prefer the Rubinstein BSO performance. Tonight I listen to Tenebrae choir. I have heard them before and not heard anything close in a music system. They are not a big orchestra but a vocal choir and tough to reproduce
 
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morricab

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#56
second emphasis in your post is mine

You responded to bonzo whose response was to my post (mostly quoted above) so allow me to clarify. My post was partly in reaction to the views of MikeL and others with their answer to the thread's original question. It was also for me an account or explanation of many of the disagreements and wranglings we have in this forum, trying to go up a level to what I see as a basis for preference, which, once recognized, sets different sides to a disagreement within a larger context where they kinda dissapear. We don't get to say "your preferences are wrong."

Okay, back down a level.

I wasn't laying out a rigourous manifesto, but still my post was a reasonably clear statement of what I'm calling Naturalists and Synthesists - using the words as proper names. You seem to be object to these name words (or at least Naturalist), but I think, no offense, your objections miss some of the context, viz. this thread and the question it posed. Within my 'definition' the names don't describe sounds or systems - they refer to selection or preference criteria for a listening experience and perhaps stereo components and systems.

The qualifications for being a Naturalist are simple: 1) as an answer to the question posed by this thread, one prefers to listen to live acoustic music when given the choice between that and listening to a/your stereo system, and 2) where I take it a step further, you choose live acoustic music as your reference for assessing your system and as a guide for choosing its makeup and organization. Qualifying this with "more or less stringently" - while live acoustic experiences are not a set piece as they vary in many ways for different listeners, they are in-person experiences of live acoustic music.

I do agree somewhat that the word 'natural' has been "thrown aound this forum" though not all uses are made with "total reckless abandon." And I won't pretend that I'm using Naturalist in the same manner as David (ddk) uses 'natural'.

But, I didn't choose the names entirely at random.
Sounds good...call me a naturalist...
 

morricab

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#57
Mine if you take your system out, it is if anything the reverse. Orchestral is best heard live. There are quite a few systems capable of reproducing the small scale ones more accurately.... Quads, set horns, once set up well with good records can do it. Also anything based on individual performers is better heard at home since you can always choose great performances. The big pieces are tough to reproduce at home because most people do not have the ability to have both a great room and a no holds barred system.

I heard Andrea Schiff play the Emperor with the visiting Budapest orchestra (Ivan Fisher) yesterday. I much prefer the Rubinstein BSO performance. Tonight I listen to Tenebrae choir. I have heard them before and not heard anything close in a music system. They are not a big orchestra but a vocal choir and tough to reproduce
Is it possible for you to decouple the sound from the performance? I think it is helpful in this discussion to do so.
 

bonzo75

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#58
Is it possible for you to decouple the sound from the performance? I think it is helpful in this discussion to do so.
the sound was quite good.

And his encore which was without the orchestra was the first part of Waldstein that was excellent
 
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Folsom

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#59
second emphasis in your post is mine

You responded to bonzo whose response was to my post (mostly quoted above) so allow me to clarify. My post was partly in reaction to the views of MikeL and others with their answer to the thread's original question. It was also for me an account or explanation of many of the disagreements and wranglings we have in this forum, trying to go up a level to what I see as a basis for preference, which, once recognized, sets different sides to a disagreement within a larger context where they kinda dissapear. We don't get to say "your preferences are wrong."

Okay, back down a level.

I wasn't laying out a rigourous manifesto, but still my post was a reasonably clear statement of what I'm calling Naturalists and Synthesists - using the words as proper names. You seem to be object to these name words (or at least Naturalist), but I think, no offense, your objections miss some of the context, viz. this thread and the question it posed. Within my 'definition' the names don't describe sounds or systems - they refer to selection or preference criteria for a listening experience and perhaps stereo components and systems.

The qualifications for being a Naturalist are simple: 1) as an answer to the question posed by this thread, one prefers to listen to live acoustic music when given the choice between that and listening to a/your stereo system, and 2) where I take it a step further, you choose live acoustic music as your reference for assessing your system and as a guide for choosing its makeup and organization. Qualifying this with "more or less stringently" - while live acoustic experiences are not a set piece as they vary in many ways for different listeners, they are in-person experiences of live acoustic music.

I do agree somewhat that the word 'natural' has been "thrown aound this forum" though not all uses are made with "total reckless abandon." And I won't pretend that I'm using Naturalist in the same manner as David (ddk) uses 'natural'.

But, I didn't choose the names entirely at random.
Well I can say that I wouldn't use Synthesists as the "opposing" camp to naturalist. I think that people listen for different things. What sounds live to one person isn't always what sounds live to another. I can understand the sentiment though because some "upgrades" ultimately lead away from the sound some associate with live, but lead to others that some do associate with live.

And I don't think your description really refers to what I would call natural, not as outlined by DDK - whom I consider to be the foremost. People think all sorts of different things sound live, and I don't find any relation between a lot of them as they're often polar opposites. But I wouldn't even go as far as to say I like one direction or the other all the time. What I can absolutely agree with for being a natural sound is when music isn't distracting by attributes of the room or stereo. If you're listening to the music, not the stereo, that's a natural sound. And I'm sorry but I think VERY FEW stereos really go that way - and I don't think everyone wants that anyways. My reasoning is not only respective of the stereos in which referenced, but personal experience of what people will call natural or not that have never ever been prompted by anything or even suggested that it is a term.

Now there are lots of other attributes that may make a stereo better/worse even if it qualifies as "natural" but they're not easy to read without thinking about it because you're hearing the music and not the stereo. They really play out as resolution, timbre, and scaling (small & big) - within the character of the album.

But I should say one thing remains, especially on a high resolution system, the sound of the recording. It doesn't go away unless you're going to toss a lot of other stuff with it. Because you can't do away with it and you have to live with it possibly causing some interference with sounding "live" in different ways, it's hard for me to really want to go anywhere near "live" being the specific qualification of "natural". You can however still experience beautiful non-distracting, music listening (not stereo) along with what comes on the recording. I'd rather hear a very good violin representation that just easily registers in my brain, low effort, low fatigue, high enjoyment for the performance... than I would want to press a soundstage or such. I might be going too far, but if I'm not mistaken some have described the Bionors as a "wall of sound" as opposed to a layered 3D soundstage... So take what you may, for me I'm sticking to what I consider the foremost reference of natural.

I think if you read Tima's post that I replied to about synthetic sound and natural sound you would have got it but like not understanding horns and records you don't seem to understand posts these days. Try to read before you reply
Now I don't understand horns or records?? :rolleyes::rolleyes: I'm not going to "get" something that starts out with a dichotomy and then becomes inclusive, which is exactly my point. Do you really think the board is going to be willing to don a term that's root word is synthetic, as a bonus to their stereo, even if they think it can be natural? No. No one wants a term like that for themselves because it sounds pessimistic from the get-go. You can't dress up a word (the royal you), it just never goes particularly well. Which is right back to the issue that makes people want to be inclusive on everything as to not miss out on something...
 

marslo

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#60
Mine if you take your system out, it is if anything the reverse. Orchestral is best heard live. There are quite a few systems capable of reproducing the small scale ones more accurately.... Quads, set horns, once set up well with good records can do it. Also anything based on individual performers is better heard at home since you can always choose great performances. The big pieces are tough to reproduce at home because most people do not have the ability to have both a great room and a no holds barred system.

I heard Andrea Schiff play the Emperor with the visiting Budapest orchestra (Ivan Fisher) yesterday. I much prefer the Rubinstein BSO performance. Tonight I listen to Tenebrae choir. I have heard them before and not heard anything close in a music system. They are not a big orchestra but a vocal choir and tough to reproduce
You are among very limited number of audiophiles who have the privilege to live in the town where the best live performances of classical music are at your doorstep, availiblity and money aside.
For me having the audio system is the way to listen to the classical and jazz music at home on every day basis.
I travel once or twice a year to Berlin , next April I go to Basel to St Martin Church for the performance of Haydn under Antonini , a 8th part of Haydn 2032 program.
Of course no one hiend system equals top performance in one of best venues but in the same time the best recording played on advanced setup may be more enjoyable than the mediocre live performance.
BTW in your post you compare live music ( Fisher ) with the recording ( Rubinstein ) so you think this compare is legitime, this is my point.

Sonics without performance is only an air pressure or noise , if you will;)
 

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