A Gold Standard for Listening Evaluations

Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
37
107
33
I mentioned in my last thread that I would discuss the idea that live, unamplified music played in a natural acoustic environment should be the gold standard for evaluating sound regardless of music preferences. Al M. captured the idea perfectly in his statement: “. . . improvements in the reproduction of unamplified instruments . . . have also led to improvements in the reproduction of amplified or synthesized music.”



Amplified or synthesized music doesn’t work as a reference except to those people who are directly involved in the performance and all aspects of the recording and music production chain because they know exactly what the end product should sound like. Because all the characteristics of this type of music are the result of electronic manipulations in a typically anechoic studio space, there is no way to anticipate the actual musical intent unless one attended the session in the studio and is totally aware of the mix and sound engineering decisions. Even though some of us may personally prefer electronically reproduced music, it is not, unless you are a music, recording, or production professional a reliable reference point if your desire is to build a hi fi system that is more capable of faithful music reproduction.



To fully evaluate a hi fi system and the components in it, we ideally would hear a lot of live, unamplified musical events and then hear well-executed master recordings of those very events on a well-balanced hi fi system in an acoustically treated listening room, but that experience is out of reach for most people unless one is involved with the music or hi fi industry.



When I began my career in audio, I operated under the guiding principle that components working together in a system should come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material. I have over time evolved this idea to a much more accessible principle: Create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences.



Ears are the most sensitive instruments, but they need constant calibration with a reference point. Live, unamplified music is the standard because we know that the complex and intense tonal density and the expansive vibrational energy of unamplified instruments played in a natural acoustic environment are real when we hear these qualities. The human ear can’t be fooled about what is actually the natural sound of music over the long term. We know what a voice sounds like. We’ve heard pianos and violins before.



Although ears can’t be fooled over the long term, we all have a tendency over time to lose sight of the real reference unless we constantly massage ourselves with live music. It’s just too easy to become wrapped up in a never-ending process of trying to get the system more in balance without any real point of reference. Without the reference, however, sooner or later, we risk losing interest in the hobby all together.



If you want to shape the sound of your home audio system to become more musically believable, listening to recordings of the same music pieces you heard live can be instructive and useful. It’s easy these days because one can stream excellent HD digital audio performances of almost any piece of music.



Quite a few audiophiles will no doubt be groaning to read these words: I have found that recordings are generally good, if not mostly excellent, regardless of the recording platform. The majority of recording professionals that I have met bring their hearts and past musical experiences to the process. Most do everything within their power to capture as much of a performance as possible with the technology at hand within its limitations.



There’s no question that recordings vary in quality, and one is certainly entitled to preferences, but listening through a well-balanced hi fi system, reveals that most recordings capture enough of the gestalt of the music to result in enjoyable listening and a closer connection to the merits of a particular performance. If you can’t seem to find enough good recordings to fuel your continued satisfying participation in this hobby, I think one should question system and set-up before questioning the quality of a recording. Quite to the contrary, falling back on the old audiophile trope that a system is “too resolving to handle most recordings” is not a real justification for its price tag. Read more about this below.



Achieving and maintaining a believable level of tonal density in a hi fi system should be the foundation of building any system regardless of its price tag or the type of music that one prefers. Unfortunately, it is the first quality to fall by the wayside in a quest to hear more information. I think this is at least in part due to the fact that music cannot be played in a home setting on the scale and volume of music played live, and recordings also have their limitations in terms of capturing the scale and volume of live music. If we are on the hi fi improvement path, we just get inexorably drawn into trying to compensate for these limitations. Most of us tend to choose components or room set ups that reduce middle frequencies and lower harmonics below the level that they are present on the source material because large and enveloping middle frequencies and lower harmonics seem to diminish some of the detail that we think we need to hear. The result is a rather antiseptic listening experience where middle frequencies and lower harmonics are “purified” of their essential character. Reducing the power of midrange to hear more details is hi fi, not music, and I don’t mean “hi fi” in any pejorative sense if that is what you really want.



With hi fi set-ups that have full midrange power, all the recorded details are still present, but they are more in correct musical proportion. Professional recordists and producers of classical music take great care to preserve these natural proportions. The best recordings also capture dynamics and spatial information in a compellingly believable way, but we can’t fully appreciate all these musical qualities — tonal density, dynamics, and spatial information — in an out-of-balance system.



The pursuit of perfection in attempting to reproduce the sonic qualities of a live music event on a hi fi, even though we know we can’t achieve it, drives the hobby for many of us. Even the best of us, though, can end up being fooled from time-to-time.



Live music experiences are the most important tool I have found to prevent a hi fi system from devolving into a tonal caricature of live music, and sadly, many of us, including me, have not attended live music performances in a long time. Recently, I realized that the sound of my system had slowly become rather bloodless.



The system is back in balance for now, but it was a very humbling experience given my more than 40 years in the audio business. For less than the cost of many ultimate hi fi components, I have a new ultimate audio component to guide me: a Steinway B (Spirio/R) playing in my living room. It’s been so long since we’ve heard a piano close-up and live that Jack and I were at first actually put off by the immediacy and raw power of this magnificent instrument. Our reference hi fi system was sounding rather too polite and cerebral by comparison when listening to Grigory Sokolov, a majestic, powerful, artist who is also capable of shaping the notes with an almost spiritual level of nuance, play Beethoven and Brahms sonatas.



We also have Ed Pong to thank for driving the point home. We purchased his UltraAnalogue Recording, Tatsuki Narita (violin) and Yun-Yang Lee (piano) playing Danse Macabre – Zigeunerweisen – Block Nigun Introduction and Tarantella – Meditation. Upon first listen, we really had a hard time connecting to the artistic perspective of the performers and the recording.



Reference system changes were definitely in order. We subsequently have now changed a few component options from our collection, and we have very slightly reduced the speaker tweeter level. We have music again, not only in our living room on the B, but in our reference listening studio. Sokolov can now take us to the limits of what his recordings reveal, and Ed’s Narita tape shines with a high level of virtuosity in a performance that was lively and heartfelt. The recording itself presented a very tactile, unvarnished musical experience with a level of tonal density, dynamics, and texture in the violin playing that I have seldom experienced listening to recordings.

There was no doubt that our problem was with the system, not the recordings!



If you can make your hi fi sound believable with acoustic music, then it will sound great playing all types of music. Regardless of your musical tastes, doing your homework will help make your audio investments truly worthwhile. We all need to listen to more live acoustic music because hi fi is only an approximation, and when we listen only to hi fi, it is too easy to forget the raw power, tonal and harmonic complexity and nuance, and sometimes even unsettling brash sounds that actual acoustic instruments can make in a performance space.



While it’s true that we can’t recreate all the qualities of an actual music experience through a hi fi, as Treitz3 said about trying to get there, “I might just catch excellence.”



At the end of the day, however, I totally agree with Andromedaaudio: “Should you just buy what makes you feel good and you like to listen to?

.... 100 %!” Karen-Sumner.jpg
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Addicted to hifi

VIP/Donor
Sep 8, 2020
3,734
1,079
265
50
Australia
I mentioned in my last thread that I would discuss the idea that live, unamplified music played in a natural acoustic environment should be the gold standard for evaluating sound regardless of music preferences. Al M. captured the idea perfectly in his statement: “. . . improvements in the reproduction of unamplified instruments . . . have also led to improvements in the reproduction of amplified or synthesized music.”



Amplified or synthesized music doesn’t work as a reference except to those people who are directly involved in the performance and all aspects of the recording and music production chain because they know exactly what the end product should sound like. Because all the characteristics of this type of music are the result of electronic manipulations in a typically anechoic studio space, there is no way to anticipate the actual musical intent unless one attended the session in the studio and is totally aware of the mix and sound engineering decisions. Even though some of us may personally prefer electronically reproduced music, it is not, unless you are a music, recording, or production professional a reliable reference point if your desire is to build a hi fi system that is more capable of faithful music reproduction.



To fully evaluate a hi fi system and the components in it, we ideally would hear a lot of live, unamplified musical events and then hear well-executed master recordings of those very events on a well-balanced hi fi system in an acoustically treated listening room, but that experience is out of reach for most people unless one is involved with the music or hi fi industry.



When I began my career in audio, I operated under the guiding principle that components working together in a system should come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material. I have over time evolved this idea to a much more accessible principle: Create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences.



Ears are the most sensitive instruments, but they need constant calibration with a reference point. Live, unamplified music is the standard because we know that the complex and intense tonal density and the expansive vibrational energy of unamplified instruments played in a natural acoustic environment are real when we hear these qualities. The human ear can’t be fooled about what is actually the natural sound of music over the long term. We know what a voice sounds like. We’ve heard pianos and violins before.



Although ears can’t be fooled over the long term, we all have a tendency over time to lose sight of the real reference unless we constantly massage ourselves with live music. It’s just too easy to become wrapped up in a never-ending process of trying to get the system more in balance without any real point of reference. Without the reference, however, sooner or later, we risk losing interest in the hobby all together.



If you want to shape the sound of your home audio system to become more musically believable, listening to recordings of the same music pieces you heard live can be instructive and useful. It’s easy these days because one can stream excellent HD digital audio performances of almost any piece of music.



Quite a few audiophiles will no doubt be groaning to read these words: I have found that recordings are generally good, if not mostly excellent, regardless of the recording platform. The majority of recording professionals that I have met bring their hearts and past musical experiences to the process. Most do everything within their power to capture as much of a performance as possible with the technology at hand within its limitations.



There’s no question that recordings vary in quality, and one is certainly entitled to preferences, but listening through a well-balanced hi fi system, reveals that most recordings capture enough of the gestalt of the music to result in enjoyable listening and a closer connection to the merits of a particular performance. If you can’t seem to find enough good recordings to fuel your continued satisfying participation in this hobby, I think one should question system and set-up before questioning the quality of a recording. Quite to the contrary, falling back on the old audiophile trope that a system is “too resolving to handle most recordings” is not a real justification for its price tag. Read more about this below.



Achieving and maintaining a believable level of tonal density in a hi fi system should be the foundation of building any system regardless of its price tag or the type of music that one prefers. Unfortunately, it is the first quality to fall by the wayside in a quest to hear more information. I think this is at least in part due to the fact that music cannot be played in a home setting on the scale and volume of music played live, and recordings also have their limitations in terms of capturing the scale and volume of live music. If we are on the hi fi improvement path, we just get inexorably drawn into trying to compensate for these limitations. Most of us tend to choose components or room set ups that reduce middle frequencies and lower harmonics below the level that they are present on the source material because large and enveloping middle frequencies and lower harmonics seem to diminish some of the detail that we think we need to hear. The result is a rather antiseptic listening experience where middle frequencies and lower harmonics are “purified” of their essential character. Reducing the power of midrange to hear more details is hi fi, not music, and I don’t mean “hi fi” in any pejorative sense if that is what you really want.



With hi fi set-ups that have full midrange power, all the recorded details are still present, but they are more in correct musical proportion. Professional recordists and producers of classical music take great care to preserve these natural proportions. The best recordings also capture dynamics and spatial information in a compellingly believable way, but we can’t fully appreciate all these musical qualities — tonal density, dynamics, and spatial information — in an out-of-balance system.



The pursuit of perfection in attempting to reproduce the sonic qualities of a live music event on a hi fi, even though we know we can’t achieve it, drives the hobby for many of us. Even the best of us, though, can end up being fooled from time-to-time.



Live music experiences are the most important tool I have found to prevent a hi fi system from devolving into a tonal caricature of live music, and sadly, many of us, including me, have not attended live music performances in a long time. Recently, I realized that the sound of my system had slowly become rather bloodless.



The system is back in balance for now, but it was a very humbling experience given my more than 40 years in the audio business. For less than the cost of many ultimate hi fi components, I have a new ultimate audio component to guide me: a Steinway B (Spirio/R) playing in my living room. It’s been so long since we’ve heard a piano close-up and live that Jack and I were at first actually put off by the immediacy and raw power of this magnificent instrument. Our reference hi fi system was sounding rather too polite and cerebral by comparison when listening to Grigory Sokolov, a majestic, powerful, artist who is also capable of shaping the notes with an almost spiritual level of nuance, play Beethoven and Brahms sonatas.



We also have Ed Pong to thank for driving the point home. We purchased his UltraAnalogue Recording, Tatsuki Narita (violin) and Yun-Yang Lee (piano) playing Danse Macabre – Zigeunerweisen – Block Nigun Introduction and Tarantella – Meditation. Upon first listen, we really had a hard time connecting to the artistic perspective of the performers and the recording.



Reference system changes were definitely in order. We subsequently have now changed a few component options from our collection, and we have very slightly reduced the speaker tweeter level. We have music again, not only in our living room on the B, but in our reference listening studio. Sokolov can now take us to the limits of what his recordings reveal, and Ed’s Narita tape shines with a high level of virtuosity in a performance that was lively and heartfelt. The recording itself presented a very tactile, unvarnished musical experience with a level of tonal density, dynamics, and texture in the violin playing that I have seldom experienced listening to recordings.

There was no doubt that our problem was with the system, not the recordings!



If you can make your hi fi sound believable with acoustic music, then it will sound great playing all types of music. Regardless of your musical tastes, doing your homework will help make your audio investments truly worthwhile. We all need to listen to more live acoustic music because hi fi is only an approximation, and when we listen only to hi fi, it is too easy to forget the raw power, tonal and harmonic complexity and nuance, and sometimes even unsettling brash sounds that actual acoustic instruments can make in a performance space.



While it’s true that we can’t recreate all the qualities of an actual music experience through a hi fi, as Treitz3 said about trying to get there, “I might just catch excellence.”



At the end of the day, however, I totally agree with Andromedaaudio: “Should you just buy what makes you feel good and you like to listen to? .... 100 %!”
Makes perfect sense to me and well said.
 

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
3,244
3,160
550
the Upper Midwest
Yes.

I like to look at a score to see what is important. They all share a notational system that instructs conductor and musician alike: the core properties of music are tonality, dynamics and timing.

At WBF we have had many, many discussions about having a reference and distinguishing between natural sound and what I'll call 'audiophile attributes'.

You are blessed to have a Steinway and a talented pianist to bring live music into your home. :)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Addicted to hifi

Audiophile Bill

Well-Known Member
Mar 23, 2015
3,537
2,638
440
UK
Yes.

I like to look at a score to see what is important. They all share a notational system that instructs conductor and musician alike: the core properties of music are tonality, dynamics and timing.

At WBF we have had many, many discussions about having a reference and distinguishing between natural sound and what I'll call 'audiophile attributes'.

You are blessed to have a Steinway and a talented pianist to bring live music into your home. :)

Hi,

I personally don’t see how a score has any merit in evaluating the ability of a hifi system to sound like real music.

Interpretation is what makes music so wonderful and one performers take on Andante is not another’s hence why so many musicians are perplexed when a piece is played “too fast” or “too slow” yet the score is marked identically. The dynamics notated in a score are also very much interpreted and not adhered to in the absolutist sense but only on the macro scale. One person’s interpretation of a crescendo from p to ff is different to another’s - then couple that to the proximity of microphones where the recording took place and you have too many variables. Similarly the issue of absolute level for example what is fff is impossible to determine as too many recording variables. The only thing you can conclude was does my system react to the dynamics in the broadest sense and notated in the score assuming the conductor and recording engineers fully captured it. Tonal qualities of instruments themselves are a mutually exclusive attribute to score notation - a legato or say maestoso performed by any given performer tonally can sound little like the next. The score itself provides no information to guide us.

I too sometimes like to follow a score especially for choral music I know but it is usually to either sing along the bass part or too learn about how the conductor / performers interpreted the work. Handel’s Messiah is a fave for this for me - I have multiple recordings sounding absolutely nothing like each other.

Best regards.
 

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
3,244
3,160
550
the Upper Midwest
I personally don’t see how a score has any merit in evaluating the ability of a hifi system to sound like real music.

I did not talk about using a score to evaluate a hi-fi system.

I like to look at a score to see what is important. They all share a notational system that instructs conductor and musician alike: the core properties of music are tonality, dynamics and timing.

I referred to the score as the place where I find the core properties of performed music. I will add now that these properties are ones to listen for in reproduced music. You used those very properties in your account of interpretation. There may be other properties people use to gauge a hi-fi system, but those to me are the core properties of music, live or reproduced. For example, you don't find wall reflections or psycho-acoustics in a score and while those may be important to some, they are not core properties of music.

Of course interpretations exist. Wrt dynamics and timing, critics may vary but the conductor is in charge. Instruments have their pitch apart from a score, but neither conductor nor performer gets to choose the notes they play - except cadenzas.

I too sometimes like to follow a score especially for choral music I know but it is usually to either sing along the bass part or too learn about how the conductor / performers interpreted the work. Handel’s Messiah is a fave for this for me - I have multiple recordings sounding absolutely nothing like each other.

I love that Handel piece and have used it a few times in reviews. (Though I don't try to sing along.) I have several and my favorite is Hogwood on L'Oiseau-Lyre. In a past review I went through the initial five(?) bars of the score to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man in discussing how a Lamm component portrayed that music. We both enjoy reading music.
 
Last edited:

Audiophile Bill

Well-Known Member
Mar 23, 2015
3,537
2,638
440
UK
I did not talk about using a score to evaluate a hi-fi system.



I referred to the score as the place where I find the core properties of performed music. I will add now that these properties are ones to listen for in reproduced music. You used those very properties in your account of interpretation. There may be other properties people use to gauge a hi-fi system, but those to me are the core properties of music, live or reproduced. For example, you don't find wall reflections or psycho-acoustics in a score and while those may be important to some, they are not core properties of music.

Of course interpretations exist. Wrt dynamics and timing, critics may vary but the conductor is in charge. Instruments have their pitch apart from a score, but neither conductor nor performer gets to choose the notes they play - except cadenzas.



I love that Handel piece and have used it a few times in reviews. (Though I don't try to sing along.) I have several and my favorite is Hogwood on L'Oiseau-Lyre. In a past review I went through the initial five(?) bars of the score to Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man in discussing how a Lamm component portrayed that music. We both enjoy reading music.

Sorry been at work and super busy to not much time to respond.
Ah I had assumed you were linking the concept of a score to the original point by OP of a hifi system sounding real.
I agree with your points other than one major one - in many classical concerto performances, actually the conductor absolutely does not determine the timing of the overall performance (not just the cadenza if there is one). A soloist will very clearly instruct a conductor (a priori) what speed they are will be taking. You will also note sometimes a soloist actually deliberately changing the timing that a conductor has set because they aren’t comfortable mid performance (not in a cadenza).

Best.
 
  • Like
Reactions: cjfrbw and tima

marty

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,174
1,821
570
United States
I thought Karen's essay was excellent and spot on. I can't tell you how many times I have gone down a rabbit hole thinking my system was better, only to learn that it was in fact, more "bloodless" (to use Karen's term). More importantly, each time I went down that rabbit hole, the only thing that brought me back was not the multitude of concerts I attend regularly, whether they be at Carnegie, Madison Square Garden, or Birdand, but rather, it was playing the Steinway that has been sitting in my the listening room for over 30 years. Karen, believe me, I get it!!!
 
Last edited:

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
13,311
3,901
763
E. England
Marty, the nearest I got to that was some months ago in concert sitting less than 8' from a guy playing the whole of Mussorgsky/Pictures solo piano recital.
If anything would get me reassessing my sound, that was it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Karen Sumner

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
3,244
3,160
550
the Upper Midwest
I agree with your points other than one major one - in many classical concerto performances, actually the conductor absolutely does not determine the timing of the overall performance (not just the cadenza if there is one). A soloist will very clearly instruct a conductor (a priori) what speed they are will be taking. You will also note sometimes a soloist actually deliberately changing the timing that a conductor has set because they aren’t comfortable mid performance (not in a cadenza).

Yes, I understand. My examples were more appropriate to full orchestral pieces.

Concertos are a favorite example. The master-slave dialectic, but who is who? Consider a slight swerve from your exact point ...

The concerto is often seen as a dual - the collective as governed by the conductor vs the soloist. One piece in particular highlights the interplay and one performance brings it to the fore.

Listen to Beethoven's 4th piano concerto in G major. Written in 1808, the start of the Napoleonic Wars. Initially Beethoven was an admirer of Napolean as a heroic figure. (B's Eroica - Heroic - (3rd) Symphony was written four years earlier.)

Up until Beethoven's time the conductor largely ruled over the soloist. In the 4th Concerto, B breaks with tradition by beginning the piece with the piano not the orchestra, placing the soloist on equal footing with the authority of the collective. Across the First and Second movements the piano (the hero) speaks with poised lyricism while the orchestra responds gruffly in a wholly different key. The piano has little effect from its efforts at dialog. Then, in the Rondo with the entry of trumpets and timpani, the piano and orchestra intertwine in reconciliation and the music is infected with joy.

Now ... listen to this play out between Glen Gould and Leonard Bernstein with the NY Philharmonic. (Columbia/Impex Records IMP6011) Two strong willed musicians. Close listening shows there are points where Bernstein shows unwillingness to take the yoke of Gould's phrasing, but in true heroic fashion, the soloist wins out. Near the end are two complex cadenzas - a chance for the soloist to shine - here even Gould defers to Beethoven the master and plays these as written!
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
13,311
3,901
763
E. England
I totally subscribe to Karen's warning not to sacrifice mids tonal density for the objective of a hollowed out centre emphasising details.
Pretty much the mantra I've subscribed to since treading the Zu path, mids density is where it all starts, everything around that has to be built upon it, never sacrificing it.
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
9,753
4,489
1,070
I thought Karen;'s essay was excellent and spot on. I can't tell you how many times I have gone down a rabbit hole thinking my system was better, only to learn that it was in fact, more "bloodless" (to use Karen's term). More importantly, each time I went down that rabbit hole, the only thing that brought me back was not the multitude of concerts I attend regularly, whether they be at Carnegie, Madison Square Garden, or Birldand, but rather, it was my Steinway A sitting in listening room for over 30 years. Karen, believe me, I get it!!!
closest i can get to that is the Jazz club 5 minutes down the hill from my home. have dinner, listen to the live jazz for 45 minutes, then off to the listening room from the fresh live listen. have not done that lately.

i do think the gold reference for music reproduction is mostly what the mastering engineer is hearing. that's the reproduction target. but our ears and other senses do benefit from the live experience too for system tweaking/tuning/developing.

maybe if you were at the venue in the right seat at the right type of recording the live experience is the target.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Elliot G.

Elliot G.

Industry Expert
If you can make your hi fi sound believable with acoustic music, then it will sound great playing all types of music. Regardless of your musical tastes, doing your homework will help make your audio investments truly worthwhile. We all need to listen to more live acoustic music because hi fi is only an approximation, and when we listen only to hi fi, it is too easy to forget the raw power, tonal and harmonic complexity and nuance, and sometimes even unsettling brash sounds that actual acoustic instruments can make in a performance space.

I personally use small acoustic pieces to set up and voice my systems to start and later on go bigger. My companies have sponsored for years in Florida concert series that were always acoustic instruments live in small space with no mics no sound reinforcement. Sitting 10-20 feet away from a grand piano, solo guitar, a flute, violin or cello are things we can understand and relate too. They are simple and natural to hear and don 't go through all the mixing and mic set ups that large pieces require.
IMO an audio system will never make your room sound like Carnegie Hall but a good one , properly working, can transport you there. When I was young and HP was my teacher and mentor we always had these drunk/high discussions about the "audio time machine" . The system can take you around the world and into very different acoustical venues and play you all kinds of music. It will never however make everything sound like your room is that one place.
I can't speak for Karen but she was around at the same time and many of us were frequent visitors to Sea Cliff and got to experience the journey Harry took all of us on back then. I also think in the late 70's and 80's the atmosphere of pushing the envelope and the cooperation of many different designers and companies made that trip a lot of fun.
Today not so much even though the gear is so much better the audio path has become littered with disinformation.
 

Audiophile Bill

Well-Known Member
Mar 23, 2015
3,537
2,638
440
UK
Yes, I understand. My examples were more appropriate to full orchestral pieces.

Concertos are a favorite example. The master-slave dialectic, but who is who? Consider a slight swerve from your exact point ...

The concerto is often seen as a dual - the collective as governed by the conductor vs the soloist. One piece in particular highlights the interplay and one performance brings it to the fore.

Listen to Beethoven's 4th piano concerto in G major. Written in 1808, the start of the Napoleonic Wars. Initially Beethoven was an admirer of Napolean as a heroic figure. (B's Eroica - Heroic - (3rd) Symphony was written four years earlier.)

Up until Beethoven's time the conductor largely ruled over the soloist. In the 4th Concerto, B breaks with tradition by beginning the piece with the piano not the orchestra, placing the soloist on equal footing with the authority of the collective. Across the First and Second movements the piano (the hero) speaks with poised lyricism while the orchestra responds gruffly in a wholly different key. The piano has little effect from its efforts at dialog. Then, in the Rondo with the entry of trumpets and timpani, the piano and orchestra intertwine in reconciliation and the music is infected with joy.

Now ... listen to this play out between Glen Gould and Leonard Bernstein with the NY Philharmonic. (Columbia/Impex Records IMP6011) Two strong willed musicians. Close listening shows there are points where Bernstein shows unwillingness to take the yoke of Gould's phrasing, but in true heroic fashion, the soloist wins out. Near the end are two complex cadenzas - a chance for the soloist to shine - here even Gould defers to Beethoven the master and plays these as written!

Yep very well put. I was laughing when you were talking about almost a battle between the soloist and conductor - is so true.
 
  • Like
Reactions: tima and cjfrbw

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,928
552
550
Metro DC
While I understand the priniciple, it is kind of snobbish don't you think. I should buy a system because it makse somebody ealses' music sound good.
 

Kingrex

Well-Known Member
Feb 4, 2019
781
407
140
I had an interesting experience with Edward Pong tapes. I bought an Otari MX 5050. I had one of Edwards tapes and did not like it. It seemed nice but had no life. It spoke nothing to me. Then Tim with Music Technology reached out and said he could wire out the play head of my deck to a remote NAB/IEC preamp. Being a $2200 or so investment that took little more on my part than pulling a molex off a CB and moving it over to an output jack Tim supplied, I decided to take him up on the offer.
An aside, i had been told by many well meaning tape enthusiasts, don't waste you're money. An Otari is a workhorse, but its not worth modifying. Buy a Studer. Well thank god I don't listen so well. As soon as Tim's tape preamp was installed, the music poured forth. Edwards tapes indeed spoke to me now. The intent of the composer and artist was now recognized.

I spend a lot of time trying to make my system voice a Violin or acoustic guitar. And it does it well. Piano is harder. The attack and power is difficult to recreate without fatigue. Especially large, powerful orchestral works. But then again, anyone trying to recreate the power and feel of an orchestra in a 19 x 22 room has a large challenge.

And truth be told. I respect my hearing. I play at around 70db. I have my system pretty well tuned now and I open it up to where the amp and speaker are happy and interacting with synergy together. I could go louder and try to shake the room. But each system has a sweet spot, in a room. I seek the most natural, pure and real sound I can develop. But lets be real. There is no way it can receeate the sound of a Baldwin because a real piano would be striking 90db plus playing with moderate attack. A full symphony would be well over 100db. So I get the closest I can approximate to real, at a safe listening level day in and day out.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dbeau

kodomo

Well-Known Member
Apr 26, 2017
771
942
185
There was no doubt that our problem was with the system, not the recordings!

I am glad you have solved the problems. Do you have any before and after measurements? Could you quantify at least some of the changes?
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
6,729
2,327
553
Greater Boston
When I began my career in audio, I operated under the guiding principle that components working together in a system should come as close as possible to revealing accurately all the information that is embedded on the source material. I have over time evolved this idea to a much more accessible principle: Create a system that gets out of the way of the music so that we can suspend our belief that we are only listening to a hi fi and feel more connected to actual music listening experiences.

Yes, believability is what it is about. Unless the listener was at the recording session, it is not possible to know the exact timbre of the instruments reproduced. Acoustic instruments heard live can exhibit a wide range of timbre, depending on the exact instrument (not every violin sounds the same), acoustics of the hall, distance from the listener etc. Reproduction should not necessarily strive for precise desired timbres, but for timbres which fall within that wide range heard live. Then you achieve believability. But as you suggest, sufficient midrange power and tonal saturation should be a baseline.

Quite a few audiophiles will no doubt be groaning to read these words: I have found that recordings are generally good, if not mostly excellent, regardless of the recording platform. The majority of recording professionals that I have met bring their hearts and past musical experiences to the process. Most do everything within their power to capture as much of a performance as possible with the technology at hand within its limitations.

Agreed. There are those audiophiles who stubbornly cling to the idea of a Golden Age of recording, but I just don't buy it. There are so many recordings, also modern ones, in classical and jazz that are generally good, if not mostly excellent, as you say. In rock/pop the story may be somewhat different. As my system improves, more and more recordings sound good on it. This includes most recordings by Deutsche Grammophon, a label that has often been maligned in audiophile circles -- unjustifiedly so, as I and others have found as our systems became better.

If you can make your hi fi sound believable with acoustic music, then it will sound great playing all types of music. Regardless of your musical tastes, doing your homework will help make your audio investments truly worthwhile. We all need to listen to more live acoustic music because hi fi is only an approximation, and when we listen only to hi fi, it is too easy to forget the raw power, tonal and harmonic complexity and nuance, and sometimes even unsettling brash sounds that actual acoustic instruments can make in a performance space.

Yes, one of my pet peeves with many systems is that they sound too polite. They may sound "undistorted" and "authoritative", but with a too polite, polished sound it quickly becomes unengaging and boring, at least to my ears. A system should excel in both portraying sweet solo violin playing and smooth, silky orchestral strings on one hand, and in portraying hard, screechy violin sounds and hard, biting brass sounds as such on the other. If a saxophone never sounds "obnoxious" on a system, something is wrong. It is extremely difficult, almost impossible, for a system to get it all right, but some systems are better at that than others.
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
6,729
2,327
553
Greater Boston
While I understand the priniciple, it is kind of snobbish don't you think. I should buy a system because it makse somebody ealses' music sound good.

No, it's not a snobbish perspective, it's a realistic one when it comes to improving the sound of a system. Too bad when you view it as "somebody else's music". Rather than viewing the topic as a nuisance, you could view it as a challenge to broaden your musical horizons.

And yes, I listen to and enjoy plenty amplified or synthesized music as well.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
7,928
552
550
Metro DC
Well" I been around and I seen some things." The Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino.
Decades ago the late great J.Gordon Holt made that argument.
It is well known that I am a music omnivore. The notion that only one type of music can be used to evaluate equipment just does not hold water.
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
6,729
2,327
553
Greater Boston
Well" I been around and I seen some things." The Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino.
Decades ago the late great J.Gordon Holt made that argument.
It is well known that I am a music omnivore. The notion that only one type of music can be used to evaluate equipment just does not hold water.

Good to hear you are a musical omnivore. It is news to me that unamplified music is "only one type of music".
 
  • Like
Reactions: PeterA

About us

  • What’s Best Forum is THE forum for high end audio, product reviews, advice and sharing experiences on the best of everything else. This is THE place where audiophiles and audio companies discuss vintage, contemporary and new audio products, music servers, music streamers, computer audio, digital-to-analog converters, turntables, phono stages, cartridges, reel-to-reel tape machines, speakers, headphones and tube and solid-state amplification. Founded in 2010 What’s Best Forum invites intelligent and courteous people of all interests and backgrounds to describe and discuss the best of everything. From beginners to life-long hobbyists to industry professionals, we enjoy learning about new things and meeting new people, and participating in spirited debates.

Quick Navigation

User Menu

Steve Williams
Site Founder | Site Owner | Administrator
Ron Resnick
Site Co-Owner | Administrator
Julian (The Fixer)
Website Build | Marketing Managersing