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Thread: Near-Field Listening: Acquired Taste or Proper Paradigm?

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    WBF Technical Expert tmallin's Avatar
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    Near-Field Listening: Acquired Taste or Proper Paradigm?

    Those who have followed my comments for awhile may know that I'm a huge fan of near-field listening. Occasionally I've listened as far away as 80" from the plane of the speakers. Now, for some people, that would be "near field." Usually, however, I listen much closer than that.

    Some folks smile or make fun of this preference for near-field listening, as if this is somehow "unenlightened" or something. Well, they are at least correct in that it does not work well with many speakers, especially those with a lot of drivers strung out vertically and/or horizontally across a baffle with a multi-way crossover. Most speakers, including these, are designed to be a quasi-point source (some are more quasi- than others!) in which inter-driver coherence is best only from eight to ten feet (or so) away or more.

    By "inter-driver coherence" I mean whether or not you can hear out the individual driver positions when listening to the speakers--can you hear the individual drivers as individual sound sources or not. If you can hear individual drivers, you are sitting too close to allow the sound of the drivers of that speaker system to blend properly.

    Advantages of Near-Field Listening

    Because I know that I have a long-term preference for near-field listening, part of my auditioning for new speakers involves taking a close listen--literally. I move the listening chair in close. If the speaker loses inter-driver coherence, I know it is not something I will want for my listening room, period.

    Why? Because, as recently stated by Sean Olive in his forum here, all listening rooms muck up the designed-in excellence of the sound of any speaker. Anything you reasonably can do to your physical listening room set up to reduce the amount by which your room mucks up the sound of your speakers should be done, BEFORE applying electronic equalization to correct remaining bass problems.

    The near-field home listening paradigm decreases the listening room's acoustical overlay on the reverberant field actually captured on the recording; it minimizes the so-called "second venue" effect. By listening near to the speakers, you increase the relative loudness of the direct sound from the speakers as compared to the sound of reflections off the listening room's surfaces, thereby decreasing the contributions of the listening room acoustics to what you are hearing. Acoustical treatment of the listening room's surfaces with absorptive and diffusive materials and toeing the speakers in to point directly at your ears works hand-in-hand with near-field listening to further reduce the listening room's contribution to the reproduced sound.

    What near-field listening does is get you as close as possible to the experience of listening to headphones without the negatives of headphone listening. With headphones, there is no listening room to create the second-venue effect. With near-field listening, you minimize the effect of your listening room. Unlike headphone listening, however, near-field listening does not give you that "hole in the middle" effect which the 180-degree separation of headphones yields on most material. And, unlike headphones, near-field listening fully engages the pinnae of your ears and head shadowing with direct sound from the proper direction (in front of you), as opposed to injecting direct sound into your ear canals from the sides and without head shadowing.

    Near field listening gives you far greater depth of field than does listening farther back. There is enormous stage depth on naturally miked classical recordings, a depth of stage of the type you only hear at live unamplified concerts from the first couple of rows in a good hall. The violins and cellos can be and often are right up front left and right, seemingly close enough to practically reach out and touch, and the brass and percussion are WAY back there.

    Related to this sense of immediacy of the sound is the sensation of excitement and being enthralled by the sense of envelopment, even from just two channels of sound. The sound it not "way out there." You are right there, with the music happening so close that it grabs your attention in a way that listening farther back cannot.

    Near-field listening also lowers distortion of all kinds. It lowers electronic distortion by allowing your speaker/amp combination to deliver higher SPL at your ears for any given wattage input to the speakers. Even in a small room, the inverse square law holds some sway: your speakers sound louder at any given setting of the volume control the nearer you listen to them. Lower wattage reduces amplifier and speaker distortion. Near field listening also reduces distortion caused by room reflections simply because the direct sound from the speakers is now relatively louder than any reflected sound from room surfaces. Thus, any frequency response deviations in the reflected sound and any time delay in the reflected sound is reduced in audibility.

    Objections to Near-Field Listening and My Responses

    Given these advantages, why isn't near-field listening more popular? There are many espoused reasons, but they either are not relevant to my situation or they don't make much sense to me:

    First, the spouse acceptance factor. In order to preserve domestic tranquility, the speakers are usually arranged fairly near the wall behind them and the listening position is more or less very near the wall behind the listener. The furniture, including the speakers, gets arranged more or less close to the room walls. This tends to put the listener further away from the speakers, of course. I have a dedicated listening room and my spouse thus cares not how I arrange things physically in there. Thus, this factor is not relevant, as it might well be if the room had domestic uses other than as a reference listening room.

    Second, far-field listening often results in more bass. Putting the listener and speakers near the walls tends to increase the overall bassiness of the speakers. Many speakers of audiophile pretensions are a bit thin sounding (at least I think so) and such placement may lessen this problem, at the expense of creating other problems, of course. I, on the other hand, tend to pre-select my speakers for generous bass response, knowing that I like to position speakers well out into the room. I also know that bass peaks are a lot easier for electronic equalization do deal with than bass dips, so generous bass response is more easily fixed electronically, if necessary, than is lean/tight bass response.

    Third, many speakers are overly bright sounding. Listening to them from further back may reduce this problem as well since the reverberant field in the room may be less bright than the direct sound, at least if the room has some absorption in terms of furniture, rugs, etc. Again, I pre-select speakers to guard against this. If a speaker sounds even a bit too bright in a retail audio salon, in my many years of experience it most certainly will sound yet brighter--and usually by a considerable amount--at home. If I see peaks in a speaker's measured on-axis high frequency response (as in Stereophile or SoundStage measurement reports)--even small ones--in the 2 to 10 kHz region, I know from experience that such a speaker will grate on my ears long term from a near-field position, and usually even in a quick audio-cowboy salon audition.

    Fourth, some listeners adopt a further-afield listening position because their choice in speakers demands this in order to yield satisfactory inter-driver coherence. Again, I test for this before buying.

    But there is something else at work here, too. At the "What's Best" level of audiophilia, many believe that bigger and more expensive MUST be better. That bigger speaker must certainly be able to overpower the acoustics of their listening room because of its sheer bulk and presence, its sheer number of drivers and air-moving power, its sheer price. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more extended the bass and the more widely dispersed its top end, the more at the mercy of the listening room the speaker's sound will be. If you must sit back aways from the speaker in order to gain satisfactory inter-driver coherence, that speaker's sound will be more at the mercy of the "second venue effect" of your listening room, regardless of its size, number or quality of drivers, and price. Big speakers frequently have big problems, as the saying goes, and even if the cabinets of such speakers are made of very dead and very expensive almost-unobtainium, that does nothing to control the interaction of the speaker with your listening room.

    Fifth, some listeners just enjoy a "fat mono" sound because it better mimics what they hear live from a fairly distant concert hall seat. If a person prefers to sit far back in the hall at live events, sitting in the near field of stereo speakers may not sound natural. Near-field listening may also sound unnatural or uncomfortable to such a person simply because the sound appears to be coming from "too close" in front of them; they prefer that the music be "out there" at least a bit and not impinge on their personal space. I can understand this objection, but it does not apply to my preferences.

    Did I mention that I also prefer wider-than-60-degree angular separation between stereo speakers? Of course I do. I have to be more contrarian than just listening in the near field. Lately I've used 75-degree separation as my primary listening spot, but for years before that I mainly used 90-degree separation.

    I believe the ideal subtended angle for most commercial stereo recordings is 90 degrees. This is emphatically true for material recorded with certain coincident or quasi-coincident stereo miking techniques (e.g., Blumlein, M-S, ORTF). While there are certain early stereo two- and three-track recordings which have "ping pong" stereo and inadequate center fill with 90-degree separation (many RCA Living Stereo 2-channel reissues, unfortunately, as well as a lot of old jazz, rock, and folk recordings), the vast majority of recordings I listen to (including the Mercury Living Presence recordings) sound best with 90-degree separation.

    I've mentioned here before my preference for concert hall listening from the first few rows of the hall. To my ears, both the nearness of the speakers to the listener and the 90-degree subtended angle between the speakers helps my home reproduction get closer to the "widescreen" effect of such concert hall positioning, especially with recordings of symphonies and other large forces.

    Sixth, some people don't like near-field listening because the close proximity of largish-speakers interferes with their perception of imaging and staging. I can understand this objection as well and sympathize.

    But I think I've eliminated this fly in the ointment. With 90-degree speaker separation and toeing the speakers in to directly point at their respective ears as I do, what I see from the listening position is basically the front grills of the speakers. This minimizes their apparent size. And separating them by 90 degrees puts the front baffles out of my direct line of sight enough so that even with eyes-open listening (I almost never listen with my eyes closed) the size of the speaker front is not distracting in terms of imaging/staging.

    Be aware that with near-field listening, the soundstage is usually confined to the area between the speakers, not beyond them, unless the recording has accidental or intentional phase manipulation built in. The actual speaker positions usually demark the extreme edges of the soundstage. Beyond-the-speakers imaging/staging, which is common in many stereo set-ups, is caused either by audible side-wall reflections (minimized by near-field listening) or by phase manipulation during recording, either accidentally or intentionally for "sound effects."

    The physical visual presence of the speakers is further diminished by the fact that when I listen, the regular room lights are off. Since this is a basement room with only one covered window, even when it's sunny outside, the only light in the room is then the equipment lighting and two 4-watt night lights which are plugged into outlets behind the two corner-placed subwoofers. Those provide a bit of diffuse light for the room, just enough so I can navigate in the semi-dark. The semi-darkness further reduces my visual awareness of the speaker baffles, but provides enough light for my eyes to "focus" on sonic images on the stereo stage.

    What Speakers Work Well in Near-Field Listening

    I've been using near-field listening, which I'll arbitrarily define as 60 inches from the plane of the speakers or less, for more than a decade in my reference audio room. I don't think I've ever had a preference for listening from more than 80 inches back in this or any other room I've used.

    About the only speakers I've ever owned which really needed to be listened to from more than 80 inches back were early Thiels. They really didn't focus very well unless I sat at least eight feet back and ten was better yet.

    Speakers I've owned which work well at 80" but not at 60" include DCM Time Windows, Snell Type A Improved, various larger vintage Acoustic Research, Advent, KLH, and Rectilinear models, and the Carver Amazing Platinum Mk IV.

    For near-field listening as defined, 60 inches or less, most any mini-monitor (LS3/5a size or slightly larger) I've ever heard will work very well, if such speakers are your thing. They generally aren't mine, at least not for my "serious" systems. I do like my Sequerras, but only when subwoofer-augmented. Actually, most smallish two-way speakers should be fine; my old Siefert Maxim III speakers are fine in the near-field.

    Of larger speakers, over the years in my present room I've successfully used Gradient 1.3 and 1.5 speakers, Harbeth Monitor 40 and 40.1, Ohm Walsh 5 Series 3, and Legacy Audio Whispers at a listening distance of 60 inches or less. The Whispers were very surprisingly good at this, given they have 10 drivers well spread around a large baffle. The Linkwitz Orions were okay at this as well, although I was more comfortable with them between 60 and 80 inches, since they lost a bit of focus closer up.

    The Harbeth M40s and M40.1s are just FABULOUS for near-field listening. From what I've heard in stores, the smaller ones should be just as good. The M40s were the best I'd heard in a very near-field paradigm . . . until I heard the M40.1s. The M40.1s do not lose focus or allow me to hear the drivers as separate sound sources, even when, as an experiment, I managed to get my ears within 24 inches of the front baffle. Even that close up, they literally sound like a one-way speaker with the absolute best blend of midrange and high frequency drivers I've ever heard. Nothing sticks out, even from such close range.

    I'd like to comment on line source and coaxial speakers. Yes, line source speakers work in the near field, in the sense that there is no problem with inter-driver coherence, as long as they are not composed of drivers which while vertically tall, are separated horizontally by some inches. Magnepans, for instance, can be problematic with near-field listening, I've found.

    But even with a basically one-way lines source such as a Sound Lab electrostatic or the old Carver Amazing Platinum Mk IV (which was the first speakers I had in my current room--okay, the woofers were there to the side, but since the steep crossover was at 100 Hz, that was not a problem) you will hear a bit or more of vertical image stretch. While the Haas effect keeps the primary image source directly in front of your eyes, the closer up you listen, the more image stretch you will get since the subtended vertical angle of the line source keeps increasing as you listen nearer. Some listeners may not object to this, since it makes images larger and thus perhaps more life-like for some. But I find the vertical stretching of singers mouths, for example, to be unrealistic. While this is not such a problem from further back, for me, if I listen up close, this becomes objectionable.

    Coaxial speakers and speakers like the Quad 63 which very strongly emulate a point source, have just the opposite problem in near-field listening. With those, the vertical height limitations of stereo become ever more apparent as you listen from closer range. Stereo has no way of creating real image height. But some speakers, primarily those laid out with tweeter, midrange, and woofer from top to bottom, can create a rather convincing illusion of height even when it can't really be encoded in the recording. Since spatial height is important in live concert hall listening, I prefer the illusory error to more literally accurate stereo reproduction, thank you. On many classical recordings, hall ambience can sound "up" as well as lateral, as can organ pipes, a chorus standing on risers, the projected sound of sopranos and treble instruments, etc. Unlike the "horizontal slit" effect of coaxial speakers listened to from close up, speakers like the Harbeth M40s and 40.1s can create an excellent height illusion from close up with a lot of commercial recordings.

    My Implementation of Near Field Listening

    Okay, don't laugh:


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    My listening room dimensions are about 238" long, 152.5" wide, and 96" high. In terms of on-axis response, all aspects of the spatial presentation, lack of smear and other forms of apparent distortion, and overall listening satisfaction, my measurements and long-term listening have confirmed that the best spots for my Harbeth M40.1s in this room are with the center of the woofer's dust cap at the 1/3 room spots of all three room dimensions with the speakers toed in to fire directly at my respective ears. So, after my more-than-occasional "let's move them around some more" experiments, I always keep coming back to this positioning. The center of the woofer dust caps are each 79 1/3" from the nearest side wall, 79 1/3" center to center, 50 5/6" from the wall behind them, and 32 1/4" above the floor.

    It may also help that this room positioning, with my room's dimensions, also comes pretty close to meeting Allison's recommendation that the product of the shortest and longest distance of the woofer center from the room surfaces should equal the square of the middle distance. Thus, 79.33" x 32.25" is pretty close to the square of 50.83".

    I use 24" wooden stool stands I bought at Target to get the woofer centers up to 32" above the floor, which is 1/3 my 8-foot room height. Target no longer sells these, but a reasonable facsimile can be had here . (Why I use these stools and not some fancy speaker stands is not something I want to get into here; I'll just say for now that in my room these sound better with the Harbeths than fancy stands I've tried.)

    Part of the trick in near-field listening is to put your ears at the correct listening height. That correct height is the same at any distance, but is more important for correct frequency response and maximal inter-driver coherence the closer you are. If you use an adjustable pneumatic lift office chair like my Steelcase Leap Chair, this is no problem at all. For both Harbeths the "magic" listening height is about one inch below the tweeter center. For the Harbeth M40.1s on 24" stands, the maximum height of this chair is just about right for getting my ears in the right vertical location.

    Since firing the speakers across the short dimension gives me a lot more separation between the speakers with such "rule of thirds" placement, enough to allow "reasonable" listening distances that provide wide angular separation, that is the set up I've settled on.

    This past weekend, I made the first "permanent" change in speaker positioning I've made in many months. The new set up is shown in the above picture. Basically, I've gone back to 90-degree separation full time. The speakers are positioned as before at the 1/3 positions, except they are now more toed in. Before, my chair was at the 2/3 of room width position, giving me about 75-degree separation. I could get 90 degrees by merely sitting on the front edge of my chair. I've noticed myself moving forward to that edge-of-chair more and more recently, so this past weekend I made it official my moving my chair about 11 inches closer to the speakers. Now, I'm really in the near field of the M40.1s, with my ears about 39 2/3 inches from the plane of the speakers. My ears are now 62 inches from the wall behind me.

    The new yet-nearer field set up significantly increases apparent width and depth of the soundstage, and further stabilizes images on that stage. Another significant improvement from what I had before is the apparent lowering of distortion. I'm not sure what this is from. It just sounds cleaner than ever and these Harbeths sounded very clean before. I speculate that this impression is due to yet-less audibility of sound reflected off my listening room surfaces, especially the overhead ceiling light (the light obviously cannot be damped with Sonex foam).

    Measured bass response did not change much but the on-axis high frequency response from 2 kHz up is now measurably flatter. The new set up kind of looks like big headphones, but the sound is of the "Oh, my!" variety.

    And, yes, I think it sounds very, very good this way, even better than it sounded before when my sitting-back-in-the-chair listening spot was just under 51 inches from the plane of the speakers. The dominance of the recorded acoustic, the feeling of looking at a performance taking place in front of my eyes and ears, is quite a bit stronger now, and it was excellent before. The sense of immersion in the recorded acoustics is the best I've yet achieved with two-channel sound.

    And these improvements are not just improvements with classical music. Want intimate-sounding closely miked female vocals? Want to be in the first row at a jazz club? Want more presence and punch than you dreamed your system could provide on rock concert recordings? THIS is the kind of set up for you. The sound is RIGHT THERE where you can literally reach out and touch it.

    And, no, I cannot hear the separate drivers of the M40.1s even sitting this close. As I mentioned, experimentally, I've listened as close as 24 inches from the plane of these speakers without being able to hear out the separate drivers of the M40.1s. Try THAT with other large-ish speakers.

    Conclusion

    Okay, okay. I can see from what I've written that near-field listening is not for everyone. There are obstacles of many kinds. And some--maybe even many--folks may not want this kind of musical immediacy.

    But if you're the type of person who likes to sit right down front at concerts, you are a prime candidate for appreciating this experience. And if you're seeking a level of aural and emotional involvement and immersion from your two-channel system you thought was not possible, you should try it. Just mark the chair and speaker positions you're using now. You can always go back to your "normal" set up.

    Me, I'm not looking back. At least not until I look around for surround sound.
    Last edited by tmallin; 07-01-2010 at 08:18 AM.

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    WBF Founding Member kach22i's Avatar
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    I can see nearfield for stats, single driver and array line sources, but not for your typical multi-driver box.

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    WBF Founding Member/Member Sponsor MylesBAstor's Avatar
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    I'm not sure what RCA Living Stereos reissues you're referring to. There's no hole in the middle on the original LPs for sure; who knows how RCA (or whoever) murdered the transfer (and I assume you're talking about the CD version). Having been in the studio with the RCA master tapes, I can tell you how the three tracks are mixed down to two tracks for the final product controls the center imaging; too low a level and there's a hole and too high a level much and there's congestion.

    Jazz is another story and as Steve Hoffman related, it wasn't until Contemporary recorded Art Pepper Plus 11 that the jazz engineers discovered about the "phantom" middle channel eg. they had to decide where to mix the 11th instrument into the mix and decided to blend 1/2 in one channel and 1/2 in the other. Presto, center image. OTOH those new 45 rpms reissued Blue Notes and Impulses set new standards for sound quality. Try the Jackie McClean New Soil; positively astounding.
    Last edited by MylesBAstor; 06-30-2010 at 07:47 PM.
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    WBF Technical Expert tmallin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MylesBAstor View Post
    I'm not sure what RCA Living Stereos reissues you're referring to. There's no hole in the middle on the original LPs for sure; who knows how RCA (or whoever) murdered the transfer (and I assume you're talking about the CD version). Having been in the studio with the RCA master tapes, I can tell you how the three tracks are mixed down to two tracks for the final product controls the center imaging; too low a level and there's a hole and too high a level much and there's congestion.

    Jazz is another story and as Steve Hoffman related, it wasn't until Contemporary recorded Art Pepper Plus 11 that the jazz engineers discovered about the "phantom" middle channel eg. they had to decide where to mix the 11th instrument into the mix and decided to blend 1/2 in one channel and 1/2 in the other. Presto, center image. OTOH those new 45 rpms reissued Blue Notes and Impulses set new standards for sound quality. Try the Jackie McClean New Soil; positively astounding.
    I totally agree, Miles, that how the masters were re-mixed for the CD Living Stereo versions I have (I don't have the SACD versions of any of these RCAs) controls how much center fill there is. It could often be just a matter of how much of the center track (assuming three-track masters) was mixed in to the two-channel CD mix. My point in mentioning this was only that with widely separated speakers, such as my 90-degree array, one notices weak center fill on recordings where it would otherwise not be noticed as a problem.

    And recordings which are just pan potted hard left and right sound ridiculous with widely separated speakers, as they well should. These recordings aren't "stereo" at all, just two-track. Later multi-track recordings with three or more tracks potted to various left and right positions "fill in the gaps" in the stage and if very densely tracked actually sound better with wide separation because you can hear more individually placed images left and right and often front to back.

    I know that early pop and jazz engineers were after more immediacy in the recorded sound and therefore used closer-in mikes to get it. They surely knew about, but chose to ignore, the single-point and widely space omni stereo miking techniques used by RCA, Mercury, Everest and others in the early/mid 1950s for the first stereo recordings of classical music, recordings which capture a solid (stereo means solid) picture of the overall acoustic in the hall quite successfully, providing a continuum of left/right and front/back sound with just two or a few mikes.

    Unfortunately, a lot of those early pop and jazz "stereo" recordings sacrificed all sense of venue on the altar of the immediacy they were seeking. I'm sure, however, that with modern digital processing, there are very sophisticated ways to re-inject ambient flavor, even if it wasn't captured in the original master tapes. I remember reading that such techniques are so sophisticated now that even recording engineers have trouble telling "real" ambiance from the digitally created versions just by listening.

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    WBF Technical Expert tmallin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kach22i View Post
    I can see nearfield for stats, single driver and array line sources, but not for your typical multi-driver box.

    Did you like being on stage with the band as a kid?
    Narrow 'stat panels of the type used in hybrid electrostatic speakers like your Aerius could work fine. I think that wide, full-range electostatic panels like the large SoundLabs might give me more problems in the near field, though. The panels could become a "brick wall" to images and staging. I used to have trouble visualizing images and staging behind my wide Carver panels when listening near-field. Some panels are so wide that even if the centers are separated by 90 degrees, enough of the panel is in your line of sight that this can cause a problem for "seeing" images behind them, as well as with "attracting" images to the physical location of the panels.

    Transparent panels like those used in the M-L speakers might not have that problem, however. That would leave only the vertical image stretch problem I mentioned and, as I said, some folks probably would not be bothered by that.

    I do not like recordings which put you right in the center of a performance. I know from performing in a choir that such a perspective is not what I'd want to hear at home. The musicians should be in front of you, however close they are; that's why near-field listening works, but aggressive surround sound which has a lot of direct sound coming from behind does not.

    With the choir music I perform in, from my tenor section I hear a lot more tenor sound than anyone in the audience would or should. The other vocal sections are much reduced in volume. I've trained myself to hear them well, but that's not the kind of blend you'd want on a recording. Similarly, the organ is blasting from directly behind and above me. (Organ trumpet stops blasting from directly above your head has to be heard to be believed.) The orchestra in front of me is oddly balanced as well since some instruments project a lot of sound forward (due to their bells) while others project in a more omni fashion. I hear a lot more french horn than I should because I'm sitting behind them and their bells face back toward the choir. The picture of the choir at the top of this page shows our choir with some instruments in front of us on this past Easter morning; I'm in the back row and my head is directly below the second "i" in "Ministry."

    And for rock music or other types where musicians use monitor speakers, you don't really want to hear what any individual musician hears through his monitor, do you?

    For these reasons, recordings made with the intent of putting the home listener right in the center of the action are ill-conceived, in my opinion. I know that some such surround recordings are being offered, but I'll pass.

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    Site Founder And Administrator amirm's Avatar
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    Great article Tom. The other thing I would emphasize is how much money you can save in near-field listening. My little NHT One's with their sub cost I think $1,000 but they have a level of fidelity and imaging that is incredible. I used them on my workstation PC when I edit pictures and they are a joy to listen to. Prior to that, I had the little Genelecs (prior to redesign into plastic cases) and they also sounded impressive. NHT is out of business but Genelec is still around.
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    WBF Technical Expert tmallin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amirm View Post
    Great article Tom. The other thing I would emphasize is how much money you can save in near-field listening. My little NHT One's with their sub cost I think $1,000 but they have a level of fidelity and imaging that is incredible. I used them on my workstation PC when I edit pictures and they are a joy to listen to. Prior to that, I had the little Genelecs (prior to redesign into plastic cases) and they also sounded impressive. NHT is out of business but Genelec is still around.
    Genelec is a company catering to pro-audio monitoring needs. Many pro-audio monitors, even some larger ones, are intended for close-up use, so if anyone is interested in experimenting with a near-field set up and is looking for suitable speakers, I agree that you should check out models from Genelec, Klein & Hummel, JBL, and others who target the pro-audio market. As many may know, the Harbeths I use were originally designed for BBC studio use.

    Many sound engineers like to put monitors right on top, or just above, the front of their mixing desk. Such speakers would be about three feet from the engineer's ears. Pro-audio monitors are usually specified to be either near-field (like atop/above the mixer), mid-field, or main (meaning farther afield) and the specs of such units usually include this designation. Sound engineers often have monitors available at varying distances from their mixer position.

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    WBF Founding Member/Member Sponsor MylesBAstor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tmallin View Post
    I totally agree, Miles, that how the masters were re-mixed for the CD Living Stereo versions I have (I don't have the SACD versions of any of these RCAs) controls how much center fill there is. It could often be just a matter of how much of the center track (assuming three-track masters) was mixed in to the two-channel CD mix. My point in mentioning this was only that with widely separated speakers, such as my 90-degree array, one notices weak center fill on recordings where it would otherwise not be noticed as a problem.

    And recordings which are just pan potted hard left and right sound ridiculous with widely separated speakers, as they well should. These recordings aren't "stereo" at all, just two-track. Later multi-track recordings with three or more tracks potted to various left and right positions "fill in the gaps" in the stage and if very densely tracked actually sound better with wide separation because you can hear more individually placed images left and right and often front to back.

    I know that early pop and jazz engineers were after more immediacy in the recorded sound and therefore used closer-in mikes to get it. They surely knew about, but chose to ignore, the single-point and widely space omni stereo miking techniques used by RCA, Mercury, Everest and others in the early/mid 1950s for the first stereo recordings of classical music, recordings which capture a solid (stereo means solid) picture of the overall acoustic in the hall quite successfully, providing a continuum of left/right and front/back sound with just two or a few mikes.

    Unfortunately, a lot of those early pop and jazz "stereo" recordings sacrificed all sense of venue on the altar of the immediacy they were seeking. I'm sure, however, that with modern digital processing, there are very sophisticated ways to re-inject ambient flavor, even if it wasn't captured in the original master tapes. I remember reading that such techniques are so sophisticated now that even recording engineers have trouble telling "real" ambiance from the digitally created versions just by listening.
    Thanks for clearing that up Tom. Thought you were making a blanket statement about the Living Stereo recordings.

    Of course, the recording venue is 80% of the equation. If that sucks, it's hard to fix it. Problem is nowadays that with the cost of orchestras, it's just more cost effective to record them, edit out each and every mistake and then add some ambience in after the fact (basically sounds to me like canned laughter.)
    Myles B. Astor, PhD
    Senior Assistant Editor, Positive-Feedback Online, www.positive-feedback.com;
    Executive Editor, www.AVShowrooms.com

    Skepticism is the sadism of embittered souls.

    There is something to be said in doing things wrong the exact same way every time. Itís not a good thing, but still.

  9. #9
    Addicted to Best! Phelonious Ponk's Avatar
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    And I thought I was alone in the dark...in the near field. I'm pretty dedicated to my headphone system, mostly due to lifestyle circumstances, but found myself missing a speaker system's imaging. Thinking back to many days and nights wasted in studios, and the great sound that came from those nearfield monitors, I decided to see if I could float that image over my desk. I got myself a pair of good active monitors, elevated and tilted them back to minimize desktop reflections, and I haven't looked back. I'm lucky enough that I get to hear a lot of great gear, and IMO, it takes a whole lot of money to match a good active nearfield set up with the standard audiophile stuff. Ooodles of clean headroom and all that implies, imaging to die for...

    I do miss the deep bass a bit, though, and find myself thinking about subs small enough to work with this set up in this small room. The REL Quake seems like a likely suspect, but I need to find someone willing to ship me one with a liberal return policy....

    Phelonious Ponk

  10. #10
    Site Founder And Administrator amirm's Avatar
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    The little NHT sub I have blends wonderfully with the mains. Mind you, it doesn't shake the floor or anything but if it did, I don't think it would blend as well as it does. I think due to smaller size, it extends higher in frequency that some of the other home theater monsters.
    Amir
    Founder, Madrona Digital Audio, Video, Home Automation
    Contributing Editor, Widescreen Review Magazine

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