Speaking of live orchestra sound, my first live orchestra experience was as a PhD student in Pittsburgh in the mid 1980s. Still remember the exact concert program: Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony with Cho-Liang Lin as the violinist in the Sibelius violin concerto and the Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 after intermission, I was awestruck. As a youngster in my early 20s, I had never heard such a sound. I subscribed for the entire season with a student subscription for $5 a concert sitting 5 rows from the orchestra. Later that year, Jessye Norman, the incomparable soprano, came to perform Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs. I had never imagined a human being could project a voice with that intensity through a huge concert hall with no miking.
35+ years later, I was lucky enough to live in the Bay Area and catch Michael Tilson Thomas again conducting the San Francisco symphony. Living in the city made it easy to hear many concerts at Davies Symphony hall. Charles Dutoit conducted the majestic Berlioz Requiem with 500 singers and a huge brass section arrayed around the hall. What a thrilling experience.
In short, over 30+ years, I have owned every conceivable variation of loudspeaker, amplifier, DAC and CD/SACD transport, but never once have I heard a reproduction that even remotely resembles the sound of a large orchestra or a singer in a concert hall. Jessye Norman recorded Strauss’ Four Last Songs for Phillips on a compact disc. What a letdown. That recording is a travesty to the sound of her live performance. I have attended opera performances the world over, from The Met to La Scala and Covent Garden. No opera recording, whatever the bitrate, comes anywhere close to reproducing the impact of live opera, such as Puccini’s Turandot.
Perhaps it’s just as well. It gives me a reason to still attend concerts. Usually, after a live concert, I can’t bear to listen to my ”high end” stereo for a few days. It’s always such a letdown.