Boston Symphony Hall measurements

ack

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#1
I ran into the following the other day https://www.researchgate.net/figure...hallow-with-sloping-side-walls_fig2_267257492



Boston Symphony Hall. The stage house is high, wide, and shallow, with sloping side walls and ceiling. Reflections from these surfaces are directed into the hall, and multiple reflections do not occur within the stage house. Instruments in the rear of the orchestra have equal clarity as instruments in front. Notice the coffers on the ceiling, and the niches along the side walls.

Followed by this https://www.researchgate.net/figure...ny-Hall-with-occupied-hall-and_fig6_267257492


50ms window-integrated impulse response of Boston Symphony Hall with occupied hall and stage, 1000Hz octave band. The source was in the middle of the violin section, the receiver was in the front of the first balcony-nearly 100ft from the source. Note the clear double slope. The RT for the first 10dB of decay is 1.0 seconds. The RT of the later decay is 1.9 seconds. The side wall and ceiling reflections have been significantly attenuated at this frequency. This is Leo Beranek's favorite seat. It provides excellent localization, engagement, and envelopment.


QUESTION: What is this analysis saying? What's a "window-integrated" impulse response? What's RT (round trip?) in this context? What does this say about the sound at Symphony Hall?

AND THEN: A local audiophile sent the following old article from Robert E Green http://www.regonaudio.com/Records and Reality.html which says (and I agree)

Right from the beginning, there is this difference between what is recorded and what you would hear if you were at the performance: Almost all records are made with the microphones closer to the performers than the audience would be. The sound very close to the performers is also an aspect of the absolute sound of live music. But the sound that the composer and the performers intend for us to hear is the sound at audience locations, and the sound the audience would hear is presumably what we should be trying to hear at home from our audio systems.
Close-up and distant sounds differ in the relative amounts of direct and reflected sound. There 'is also an important difference in the spectral balance-that is, the relative prominence of the various frequency ranges. At first sight, it may not be clear why an increase in the distance should be associated to changes in balance. But these changes do.occur and, in fact, are substantial. The reason for and extent of these shifts in spectral balance are what I want to explain here as well I can.

...

The graphs show considerable variety from hall to hall in bass and mid-bass response, with the halls that are regarded as desirable for orchestral performances having considerable bass to mid-bass warmth. A less desirable feature of many halls is a slight 250 Hz depression, apparently caused by absorption arising from the seating pattern. In the midrange above 250 Hz up to the 2-4 kHz region, most of the halls are essentially flat. But around 4000 Hz, and sometimes as low as 2000 Hz, virtually every hall begins a rapid roll-off at even quite close-up audience locations. By 8000 Hz, there is typically a 7 to 10 dB dropoff from midrange level. The graphs are not given beyond 8 kHz; but from theoretical considerations, the roll-off at higher frequencies would be expected to be even greater.
Anyone have FR graphs for Symphony Hall or other halls? REG's claims feel a little arbitrary without references to at least a few halls...

-ack
 
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May 25, 2010
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#2
Ack, thanks for finding that article. In the '60's I was in college right next to Boston and the bus would take me right to Symphony Hall where I attended many concerts with student tickets. The BSO was under Leinsdorf in those days, though I did hear Charles Munch conduct the BSO in the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony with the same organist as on the recording they had done a few years earlier. What was great about Symphony Hall and the similarly shaped Musikverein in Vienna (which I have only attended once), there were almost no bad seats, even sitting on the side of the long balcony. However, when I interviewed retired Decca engineer Mike Mailes for my Decca book, he told me about his experiences recording in Symphony Hall. Decca recorded four albums of the Boston Pops which Mike engineered with Fiedler in the mid '70's after the RCA contracts were concluded. They could not get good sound in their recordings, perhaps because the seats were empty, not sure. Anyway, they did the same trick as they did for several of the halls they used. They removed a large number of the front rows of seats (easy to do since they replaced those seats with tables at the Pops concerts) and put the orchestra there, facing the stage, and the they had the microphones and recording gear on the stage. I saw a similar set up that Decca used for the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. They seldom used the Musikverein in Vienna (except for live concerts) preferring the sonics of the Sofiensaal for recording. So what many consider the three best acoustical large halls in the world, were not so good for recording.

Larry
 

ack

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#3
Very very interesting, thanks!
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#4
Thank you Larry. I agree, that is quite fascinating. Tasos, you record some of the Saturday evening BSO performances from your tuner to tape. How do they sound to you? Those are live performances with the mics as I observe them on Friday afternoons hanging over the musicians.
 

ack

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#5
Some recordings sound very much like the recent Shostakovich #11 on DG that I wrote about - very much in your face and very vivid. But they are also compressed in dynamics when the orchestra goes full bore. I should play one of them some day. Yet, there are others that are not that exciting, perhaps due to over compression. None sound like anything I hear from anywhere I usually sit.
 

cjfrbw

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Apr 20, 2010
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#6
BSO, Amsterdam and MusikVerein are considered by listeners to be the big three world favorites. Of course, standard stereo will just mangle and mash the acoustics into the front. You need surrounds to emulate the acoustics in any fashion.

It is interesting that all three are traditional shoebox halls with decays in a range of 2 to 2.3 seconds or so, which is considered optimum for a concert hall. It is also interesting that BSO was tuned by ear originally because there were no electronics to do so in the day.

Yamaha has the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Vienna Musikverein in it's surround modes. They are great for listening to classical music. I am not sure if the Yamaha modes include BSO, I don't think so, because they are a bit cryptic about the USA hall surround modes and just refer to them generically.
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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#7
I thought you all might like the following thoughts on Symphony Hall from Tom Caulfield, whose comments I've received permission to post here. Tom is a Grammy winning recording engineer who has worked for Channel Classics and other labels and lives in Boston. He has extensive familiarity with Symphony Hall.

"I will mention some points about the ceiling and wall treatment mentioned in the OP; the surfaces you see from inside the hall are in fact a membrane of one inch plaster and horsehair suspended by 2" wide iron straps from the outside brick wall, or attic trussing. It's a shell within a brick wall/iron truss container. The point is that it resonates, and cannot be duplicated with today's building codes. I was in the attic of Avery Fischer Hall (now David Geffen Hall) years ago, and was surprised to find the entire ceiling consists of ten to twelve inches of poured concrete. I suspect the walls are the same. No wonder with the twenty plus renovations they've had there over the years, they still can't get it to sound good. Of course the real major reason for the poor sound quality is it's just too large! The BSO Hall sits 2,700, most traditional European halls under 2,000, and the Fischer when I knew it, well above 3,000."

"I do second Astrotoy's comment :)"

"The BSO was built as a concert hall, and therefore mimics a megaphone. It's optimized to project and focus from about the 9th row, then become diffuse beyond. Musicians (and audiences for different reasons) love it, for they can hear one another far better than other halls due to the smallish stage shell, and early reflections. The BSO Hall just sucks as a recording space."

I should add that I've had several email conversations with Tom who has been most generous with his replies.. Of particular note is Tom's strong interest in recording works in quad DSD using 5 channel surround. His playback system comprises 5 full range Sound Lab speakers, and while he understands that the audiophile world is heavily comprised of 2 channel rigs, he strongly advocates 5 channel surround as the more authentic "you are there" audio experience!

Marty
 

ack

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#8
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marty

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#9
Great read, thanks. But his comments on Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center (aka Avery Fischer, now David Geffen Hall) ring hollow according to many. His main argument was that it wasn't his firm's design, but the Lincoln Board and the architects that screwed things up. Who knows, but when you're paying big bucks for the design, it doesn't make sense your architect would arbitrarily not build to Beranek's specs. Perhaps Tom Caulfield is correct and that due to its concrete construction, great sound may never be able to be coaxed out of Geffen Hall. That won't stop them from trying as they are about to undergo a 2 year renovation yet again.

Looks like I need to get to hear the BSO at Symphony Hall more often!
 
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May 25, 2010
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SF Bay Area
#10
I thought you all might like the following thoughts on Symphony Hall from Tom Caulfield, whose comments I've received permission to post here. Tom is a Grammy winning recording engineer who has worked for Channel Classics and other labels and lives in Boston. He has extensive familiarity with Symphony Hall.

"I will mention some points about the ceiling and wall treatment mentioned in the OP; the surfaces you see from inside the hall are in fact a membrane of one inch plaster and horsehair suspended by 2" wide iron straps from the outside brick wall, or attic trussing. It's a shell within a brick wall/iron truss container. The point is that it resonates, and cannot be duplicated with today's building codes. I was in the attic of Avery Fischer Hall (now David Geffen Hall) years ago, and was surprised to find the entire ceiling consists of ten to twelve inches of poured concrete. I suspect the walls are the same. No wonder with the twenty plus renovations they've had there over the years, they still can't get it to sound good. Of course the real major reason for the poor sound quality is it's just too large! The BSO Hall sits 2,700, most traditional European halls under 2,000, and the Fischer when I knew it, well above 3,000."

"I do second Astrotoy's comment :)"

"The BSO was built as a concert hall, and therefore mimics a megaphone. It's optimized to project and focus from about the 9th row, then become diffuse beyond. Musicians (and audiences for different reasons) love it, for they can hear one another far better than other halls due to the smallish stage shell, and early reflections. The BSO Hall just sucks as a recording space."

I should add that I've had several email conversations with Tom who has been most generous with his replies.. Of particular note is Tom's strong interest in recording works in quad DSD using 5 channel surround. His playback system comprises 5 full range Sound Lab speakers, and while he understands that the audiophile world is heavily comprised of 2 channel rigs, he strongly advocates 5 channel surround as the more authentic "you are there" audio experience!

Marty
I spoke at length with Tom about his work with Channel Classics, particularly the 5.0 and 5.1 recordings that he worked on. He was very generous with his time and helped me a lot with setting up my mch system, particularly with what I needed to get the most out of the mch files that I ripped from SACD's and bought from the excellent NativeDSD site that Channel Classics runs (but which sells many labels, not just Channel Classics). Thanks for the further explanation of the construction of Symphony Hall.

Larry
 

marty

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#11
Here's an interesting article by Leo Beranek from 2016 that includes his recent rankings of concert halls

http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.4944787

I realize only now how fortunate I was to live in DFW from 2003-2013 where I regularly attended concerts at both Meyerson in Dallas and Bass Hall in Ft. Worth (I was on their Symphony Board). Both are truly marvelous venues.


Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 10.27.25 AM.png
 

cjfrbw

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#12
Strange, no Disney hall on that list. Avery Fischer is being renovated AGAIN! Why don't they just tear the building down and start over.

Given that nobody universally is satisfied by any hall, no matter how expensive, I have to raise the specter of expectation bias, prejudice, and diva infighting.

It's one of those strange fields where there are "experts" but almost nobody agrees on anything, or very little. Maybe just audiophilia as usual expanded to a large format situation.
 
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bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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#13
Here's an interesting article by Leo Beranek from 2016 that includes his recent rankings of concert halls

http://dx.doi.org/10.1121/1.4944787

I realize only now how fortunate I was to live in DFW from 2003-2013 where I regularly attended concerts at both Meyerson in Dallas and Bass Hall in Ft. Worth (I was on their Symphony Board). Both are truly marvelous venues.


View attachment 49621
I don't like Birmingham at all, and having heard the same concert in Concertgebouw and Barbican, by the same conductor (bruckner 7, Haitink), albeit different orchestras, I preferred Barbican by a lot. That said, Barbican sucks in most seats and you have to get center stalls, just back of center, while the other two are much more consistent across. Neither of these is made for chamber like Wigmore Hall or King's place. St Martin's in the field like churches are better for baroque, though not having the great performers unlike Barbican or Concertgebouw. And Sheldonian in Oxford, made in the 1600s, sonically beats all the ones I have been to by a fair margin. These kind of surveys are as reliable as the ones which said Britain was voting Remain the night before the results were declared.
 
May 25, 2010
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#15
Article from 2016 by noted critic Norman Lebrecht. More historical, but very interesting. (Recently posted by Myles in AN).

https://slippedisc.com/2016/08/why-boston-has-the-best-acoustics-in-america/

One very important point that is alluded in the article is that as the economics of major classical music has become more challenging, then larger halls have become the standard. These halls, often with 3000+ seats, have been much more difficult to build with the kind of acoustics that the great halls of the world have.

Larry
 

marty

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Apr 20, 2010
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#16
Larry,
I don't understand the economics as to why larger halls are the norm. In the "good ol' days" when dinosaurs like the great HP and his ilk roamed the earth, season tickets for good season seats to Carnegie (he was a regular) and the NY Phil were all but impossible to obtain. Nowadays, one can generally easily secure season tickets for good seats at these venues relatively easily. Yet I'm always surprised by the number of "no shows", even to sold out concerts. Season tickets for series generally go on sale for the Big 5 and many others in March, but in August, single concert tickets go on sale and good (even great) seats can readily be found for the great US orchestras (it's when I buy my tickets for the CSO). But today's millenials in general are not classical musical lovers so the prospects for the future for concert going at these venues is a genuine concern IMO. This summer, I bought shed tickets to see Kavakos performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Tanglewood. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go. You would think I asked her to watch lions slaughter gladiators at the Coliseum. She wanted no part of it. I am pretty sure she is my daughter but I am now considering genetic testing to be certain.
I am therefore left to wonder if the trend towards big halls is a wise one.
Marty
 
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cjfrbw

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#17
Dad, do you mind if I take my cell phone to the concert and listen to my music on that?
 

ack

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May 6, 2010
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#18
Fascinating discussion, links and videos. Thank you Larry, Marty, Myles and everyone else.

Larry’s video link clearly demonstrates that most seats at Symhony Hall experience excellent sound, and happy to see my favorite second balcony center is one of the best places to sit.

Here’s hoping that folks will get to experience Symphony Hall, if they haven’t.
 
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marty

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#19
Dad, do you mind if I take my cell phone to the concert and listen to my music on that?
Good one!
My dear daughter, if you did that, I wouldn't mind a bit even though it's your loss. :( But my guess is that you will text and tweet rather than listen to music. (Oh, the perils of social media. What have we done?!!)
 
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