High Fidelity and Preferences

FrantzM

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#1
Long Post.

Hi


I had wanted to write this post for a while... Never could carve the time to do so …

I will try as much as possible to de-personalize this post but that shall remain difficult so please bear with me…

I have been in this High End thing for a while about 40 years or maybe more. I have had an audiophile father, audiophile friends of my father and a family deep into music with a niece studying the Violin and Western Classical music...
I have followed the High End Audio scene for a good while... In the beginning I did follow both the American and the French High End Audio scene, and then it was mainly the American although the electronics that have provided me with the best results are German (Burmester).

In the beginning Audio reproduction in the house was about to bring the performers in our home. We needed to have High Fidelity. We were trying as hard as possible to reproduce what we heard in a live performance in our home… The goal proved very difficult, even impossible... So we lowered our expectations... We begin to admit that such goal was impossible rather than trying to push the limits we strayed … It was no longer about Hi-Fi we will mess with the signal and qualify the results .. However remote they became from the original signals.

Now let’s admit that we have preferences... I am always fascinated by the interplay of the violins in an orchestra, I also like the sound of cello and the way the violins interplay with the violins … I simply like the sound of an oboe and consider the horns like something that I must resign myself to listen to in music (IOW they have a purpose) but I prefer the sound of the woodwinds not of the brass.. I like the startle caused by a line from the double bass sustained by the whack of the percussion, mostly or other big drums. It seems to bring a power to the piece being played a gravitas if you will. Those are my preferences and I can understand that they would play a role in my choice of equipment: I like Full range systems. Call them Big Systems. I want real dynamics everywhere my hearing reaches. From down low to as high as I can (presently) perceive … No “oh but the midrange is soooo nice” I want full range wide dynamic range and purity in ALL registers. Thus my systems have tended toward large speakers with good dynamics or at least that what I know now. I dabbed in Quad and Martin Logan CLS ESL and no matter how much I admired the midband , I was always dissatisfied with the rendition … polite and always lacking of the visceral that makes music alive for me … Give me the IRS V ( I know people it is surpassed) or rather the Genesis 1, Give me the Maggies any of them but the 20.1 remains a favorite , give me the Dunleavy designs, the Von Schweikert , the Soundlabs or the X-2 with serious amplifiers some wattage and I am pleased .. Those are my preferences …

Thus the notion of “preferences “which is pervading the High End IMHO and taking it in a strange and in my opinion nefarious direction. I do understand that within the whole audible range there are preferences. Some like bass some like treble some like mid bass.. Since we can’t have a system that it does it all well we choose within those preferences or rather we should .. What I am seeing is the rise of systems that have no relationship whatever with the reality of a sound and that is becoming the norm.. . The preferences have become what sound pleasing even the music (message) wasn’t pleasing to begin with… Varese is supposed to sound dissonant and unsettling if it does not your system is wrong … Such euphonic systems are easily accepted by the audiophile world in the name of “musicality”. On the other hand when a kid fit his car with 10,000 of bass amplifier and enough 18-inch drivers to unscrew everything around his car, we find this system wrong … The chorus is that the subwoofer AKA car system is wrong .. We find Bose LifeStyle systems wrong and frankly we know they are is wrong.. We know the sound is not good… But if “preferences” are all that matters how wrong can a Bose be? That is what its owner like ….
I am trying to point to the fact that there may have to be some sense in all this there must be some references even if our preferences allow us to choose within the infinite possibilities that this entails… Euphony has become too much what the High End Audio is trending toward …

What do you think people? What are your views on the reproduction.. Aren’t we abandoning the very notion of High Fidelity where does that take us .. I would suggest : Not in a good place….
 
Apr 3, 2010
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Seattle, WA
#2
I think you are correct Frantz. I think we all create a vision of fidelity and then chase components that match them. We like to think that means true to the original presentation. After all, thinking otherwise means we have violated the definition of the term.

I post in another thread that it is impossible to ever know what was recorded. We don't know what the creative talent who approved the recording heard. So the reality that we chase must be false. I used the word "pretty sound." I know I have my definition of pretty sound. That is what we are chasing as you put it.

For me the epiphany came when SACD and DVD-A were introduced. I bought the same title on each format (and CD) from Chesky and no less than 5 players comprising both formats. The "winner" was Sony SACD player. The sound had more resolution, and luscious. I then go to AES conference hearing and hear David Chesky say he had captured, and edited those tracks using PCM and at the end, converted them to SACD. Clearly, I was preferring a transformation of sound to the original. Yes, it is possible the other three DVD-A players were less performing but still, does make one think.

The second experience came from talking to an audiophile who had gone to a recording session with Keith Johnson. They heard the music live and then the mixed version by Keith. To his horror, he did not find Keith's recording anything like the original presentation. He asked Keith about it. Keith apparently said that it is his job to create a pleasing mix that is enjoyable to listeners, not necessarily a carbon copy of the live presentation.

The elephant in the room is the level of honesty that we bring to these discussions. For most, it is extremely hard to accept they are chasing a fiction and not reality. The need to be right outweighs the need to know more. It is human nature.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#3
I prefer the term illusion not fiction. It's like the illusionists. We know he can't levitate the beautiful assistant, but we marvel at his ability to make it appear as though he can.
I would say human perception rather than preference. What factros do I require to suspend disbelief?

With respect to Keith Johnson of Spectral fame. If it has either been Keiths' goal to produce "pleasing" recordings or equipment, he is a resounding failure. He makes of some of the most neutral recordings and equipment I have ever heard.
 
Last edited:
Apr 3, 2010
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Seattle, WA
#4
Let me make sure the Keith Johnson bit doesn't get translated into anything else: I said pleasing mix. By mix I do not mean that he is adding effects and such but rather, the sensation of being there is different when you listen to the music vs recorded. At least this is what was conveyed to me :). I took this as the soundstage and such not being the same as the live session.
 

Ron Party

WBF Founding Member
Apr 30, 2010
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#5
Great and deep thoughts by both of you, particularly for a Monday morning.

The elephant in the room is the level of honesty that we bring to these discussions. For most, it is extremely hard to accept they are chasing a fiction and not reality. The need to be right outweighs the need to know more. It is human nature.
Gary, are you reading what Amir posted? Sounds like the makings of another good dialectic.
 
May 30, 2010
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Portugal
#6
Now let’s admit that we have preferences... I am always fascinated by the interplay of the violins in an orchestra, I also like the sound of cello and the way the violins interplay with the violins … I simply like the sound of an oboe and consider the horns like something that I must resign myself to listen to in music (IOW they have a purpose) but I prefer the sound of the woodwinds not of the brass.. I like the startle caused by a line from the double bass sustained by the whack of the percussion, mostly or other big drums. It seems to bring a power to the piece being played a gravitas if you will. Those are my preferences and I can understand that they would play a role in my choice of equipment: I like Full range systems. Call them Big Systems. I want real dynamics everywhere my hearing reaches. From down low to as high as I can (presently) perceive … No “oh but the midrange is soooo nice” I want full range wide dynamic range and purity in ALL registers. Thus my systems have tended toward large speakers with good dynamics or at least that what I know now. I dabbed in Quad and Martin Logan CLS ESL and no matter how much I admired the midband , I was always dissatisfied with the rendition … polite and always lacking of the visceral that makes music alive for me … Give me the IRS V ( I know people it is surpassed) or rather the Genesis 1, Give me the Maggies any of them but the 20.1 remains a favorite , give me the Dunleavy designs, the Von Schweikert , the Soundlabs or the X-2 with serious amplifiers some wattage and I am pleased .. Those are my preferences …
Although I do not hide my head bellow a pillow at the begging of Tchaikovsky Forth :eek: (Yevgeny Mravinsky and Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, surely) we share the same fascination for the interplay in classical music. I love chamber music and chamber music also relies on this interplay. In order to have it you must have fantastic micro-dynamics and and perfect gradation of sound intensity, either when going down or going up in power. HP of TAS called it continuousness, I like the idea of ""subtlety".

Big symphonic masses can become boring without this feeling.

How does this translate in equipment? As you say sometimes also we need visceral impact, that suggest the power of a previous life experience, but also need to feel that the performer is just waiting that the note of the piano decreases to a certain point to chain his violin - that there is something going in the air... But as Amir just noted, each of us has his solution to recreate this space, independently of the equipment and media.

I have found that this property is a system property - you can have it with tube, transistors, panels or dynamic speakers. But is is a condition with fragile equilibrium, and sometimes even a small and inoffensive change can spoil it.
 

caesar

Active Member
May 31, 2010
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#7
I think the "Absolute Sound" is a platonic ideal, kind of like a perfectly carved Greek statue or an attempt to breed a perfect horse. The reality is that the live music experience differs by our mood, physical well being and parameters, and placement of our seats. As for re-creating it at home, we are subjected to the wide variation in recording quality. Since I accept this is only a hobby, I would prefer my gear to be engineered to sound good with most of the recordings so I can focus on the musical enjoyment rather than on the flaws of the recording.
 

Gregadd

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Apr 20, 2010
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#8
An ideal is just that. Once it was an ideal that we would map the human genome or clone living beings.
 

FrantzM

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#9
An ideal is just that. Once it was an ideal that we would map the human genome or clone living beings.
Hi

An ideal doesn't have to be perfectly attainable to be worthwhile.. peace on earth a or immortality are among these but working toward reaching an ideal is always worthwhile .. Approaching it makes thing better for those involved .. We know we will never reach Peace on Earth or uncover all the Mysteries of the Universe but shouldn't we pursue these?

Same in Audio Reproduction... We have an ideal to reproduce what usually is with the utmost fidelity .. We will never approach it but we can always come closer to it ... Just abandoning it is not much of a pursuit ... What I am seeing now is that there is no goal only preferences, some call this Audio Relativism... And it becomes what ..a strange continuum from the Bose Lifestyle and boomboxes i mentioned earlier to Megabucks systems .. Are they ALL good, just because someone likes them?

I read with great attention Tomelex attitude toward this: Make sure that your system is a neutral as possible then add whatever you want... Seems to be an interesting recipe ..first do no harm then harm the results to your heart content ... that is not what is happening in the High End : In several instances we are deviating from this neutral ideal ... Very much .. too much and all kind of terms are assigned to the results ..None of them resemble accuracy .. So what are we after? Anything goes? Bose goes?
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
#10
Great and deep thoughts by both of you, particularly for a Monday morning.

Gary, are you reading what Amir posted? Sounds like the makings of another good dialectic.
Excellent thoughts from both Frantz and Amir - a good dialectic should be able to run its course anywhere in this forum. That is the hallmark of a good forum.

I absolutely agree with Frantz - an ideal need not be attainable in our lifetimes, and it is the journey towards that ideal that is worthwhile. The ideal may also not be the same for everyone - our vision of the ideal is our vision only. I like what Gregadd and Amir came up with - we are chasing an illusion. I had a similar experience as Amir - being in a recording session and discovering that the end result was a mix that was much more enjoyable than being inside the studio during the recording.

This is because the recording engineers are doing exactly the same thing as tomelex is doing - recording to as neutral (high fidelity?) as possible, and then using tone controls and processors to get the mix that they think would be most pleasing. With the recording engineer using multiple mics for each instrument at different distances, additional ambience mics, tape loop reverb, compressors, etc. etc. we can never know what the musicians intended even before the recording engineer got into the picture.

My personal philosophy is "First do no harm" - I don't want my components to color, editorialize, filter or enhance any part of the music. That is why when I evaluate components, I will use both well recorded as well as badly recorded music. There is much to learn whenever I listen to a component using badly recorded but excellently performed good music, or excellently recorded but a poor performance.
 

caesar

Active Member
May 31, 2010
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#11
Hi

An ideal doesn't have to be perfectly attainable to be worthwhile.. peace on earth a or immortality are among these but working toward reaching an ideal is always worthwhile .. Approaching it makes thing better for those involved .. We know we will never reach Peace on Earth or uncover all the Mysteries of the Universe but shouldn't we pursue these?

Same in Audio Reproduction... We have an ideal to reproduce what usually is with the utmost fidelity .. We will never approach it but we can always come closer to it ... Just abandoning it is not much of a pursuit ... What I am seeing now is that there is no goal only preferences, some call this Audio Relativism... And it becomes what ..a strange continuum from the Bose Lifestyle and boomboxes i mentioned earlier to Megabucks systems .. Are they ALL good, just because someone likes them?
Frantz,

I think you are right on about reaching an ideal as the ultimate goal. And I think the industry has come quite far over the last 20 years, or so. But there seem to be 2 conflicting goals: a) re-produce the original signal, warts and all, and b) engineer the sound to sound like the real, live music.
 

Gregadd

WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#12
I think the problem is that so many irrevocable choices have already been made for us that are not faithful to the orignal event. We then have to pick our Poison or Nectar if you will. The flavor of the equipment was decided by the manufacturer. The flavor of the recording by the recording artist and engineer. Ideally the stereo would be like a window and we would look through it onto the stage to a perfect image of the original event.

I think what everyone was trying to say is that so many decisions were made for us based on the desire to sell rather than to be faithful to the music. Even good intentions are dependent on the quality of the tools available, the designers skill, and the price point to be achieved. Add to that many don't regard listening as a primary activity. They view it as background. I think we can and do have a standard. We should strive to come as close to it as you desire and your resources allow. There are recording artists and equipment designers that share that goal.
No on needs anyone else to tell them they are free to indulge there preferences. It's your money and you have free will.
 

Bruce B

WBF Founding Member, Pro Audio Production Member
Apr 26, 2010
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www.pugetsoundstudios.com
#13
This is because the recording engineers are doing exactly the same thing as tomelex is doing - recording to as neutral (high fidelity?) as possible, and then using tone controls and processors to get the mix that they think would be most pleasing. With the recording engineer using multiple mics for each instrument at different distances, additional ambience mics, tape loop reverb, compressors, etc. etc. we can never know what the musicians intended even before the recording engineer got into the picture.

My personal philosophy is "First do no harm" - .
Unfortunately I've seen most recording engineers NOT do this. I was standing behind Keith Johnson recording Piano/bass/drums and before the signal hit the recorder it was going through a Bricasti M7 effects processor and comp.
That's what I keep telling everyone that is archiving vinyl or tape or what have you. First do no harm. Record as cleanly as possible... then muck it up later. You don't get a second chance to record, especially in a live situation.
Which brings to mixing and mastering. These 2 engineers have their own preferences on what it's supposed to sound like. Throw in the label A&R and the final product can be as far from the "truth" as you could possibly get!
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#14
The elephant in the room is the level of honesty that we bring to these discussions. For most, it is extremely hard to accept they are chasing a fiction and not reality. The need to be right outweighs the need to know more. It is human nature.
Reading this thread makes me somewhat sad, and quite frustrated. In essence people have admitted defeat in the pursuit of "high fidelity", and all my attempts to try and shake up everyone's belief that anything like the "absolute sound" is possible have been met with disbelief, ridicule, anger, disdain, dismissal, all those "good" human emotions. I won't repeat what I have tried to get across, over and over again, on numerous times, but will say I am almost at the end of my tether on this, it's not worth persevering and if everyone wishes to remain stuck in their particular ruts, all I can say, if you are happy where you are may you remain so; if you are not happy, I see little hope at the moment, while there is a general refusal to acknowledge that there may be a way through the mire.

It's all a very great pity ...

Frank
 

Gregadd

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Apr 20, 2010
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#15
It's not hopeless. I assume Bruce practices what he preaches. Sometimes we just eat the hot dog. We don't want to know how it was made.
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
#16
Reading this thread makes me somewhat sad, and quite frustrated. In essence people have admitted defeat in the pursuit of "high fidelity", and all my attempts to try and shake up everyone's belief that anything like the "absolute sound" is possible have been met with disbelief, ridicule, anger, disdain, dismissal, all those "good" human emotions. I won't repeat what I have tried to get across, over and over again, on numerous times, but will say I am almost at the end of my tether on this, it's not worth persevering and if everyone wishes to remain stuck in their particular ruts, all I can say, if you are happy where you are may you remain so; if you are not happy, I see little hope at the moment, while there is a general refusal to acknowledge that there may be a way through the mire.

It's all a very great pity ...

Frank
Frank, don't despair. I don't think that anyone of us is saying that the "absolute sound" is not attainable. We have also not admitted defeat. Otherwise, my coming in to work everyday to attempt to push the envelope would be an excise in futility. I manufacture one of the loudspeakers mentioned in the OP, and as the designer and the manufacturer I will readily admit that as wonderful as that particular 1-tonne monstrosity is, it still does not attain the "absolute sound", but that is not for want of trying.

In my post above, I state that we are chasing an illusion, because recording engineers have translated the musical performance into a recording. Some recordings are, IMHO, better than the absolute sound. For example, some recordings contain far more detail than you would get sitting in the audience - the FIM disc Happy Coat is a good example of that. This is due to very, very careful mic choice and placement, and great care in recording.

Where I am happy with my system today is that it brings me great pleasure every time I sit down to listen. I still don't think that it's perfect, but we have to move on - Winston Churchill said "Perfection is spelt p.a.r.a.l.y.s.i.s.". We have to release product, and if you love music you buy a product, when you think that in your ideals it is good enough for you to open your wallets and enjoy what you have.

Right now, I'm listening to Vicious Delicious by Infected Mushroom - electronica. Can there ever be an absolute sound with this genre?
 

jazdoc

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Aug 7, 2010
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#17
I'm not chasing an 'absolute sound' because I don't believe such a thing exists. If you sit 15 rows back center aisle at Benaroya you get a much different perspective than the guy sitting on the right side third balcony. Same performance, different perspective. By the way, the guy in the center aisle 15th row may not necessarily get a better perspective; he could be distracted by overeating at the pre-performance dinner, or maybe he just had a fight with his wife, etc. Simultaneously, the guy in the 3rd balcony could have a singular emotional connection to the piece played by the orchestra.

I've never heard a system come close to convincing recreate a live musical performance. I hear plenty of live music, including piano, saxophone, flute and clarinet as my children practice everyday (more or less).

In my home system, I'm aiming for the ability to 'suspend disbelief' and emotionally connect with the artist. Improvements (or in government parlance 'investments') in my system make this possible given well recorded source material. As a result, I'm feeling pretty satisified and could live with my system 'as is' for a very long time. It's great to not stress about equipment, relax and enjoy music!
 

Gregadd

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Apr 20, 2010
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#18
Sometimes a perfectly good standard was arbitrarily picked from several perfectly valid alternatives.
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#19
Ahhh, Gary, the voice of reason (hmmm, where have I seen that before ...)

Thanks for that. Interestingly, my first experience of a top notch analogue setup was Infinity RS 2b's, heavily tweaked, driven by a Goldmund Reference left running 24 hrs a day, because otherwise it sounded not good enough; demonstrated then that no matter how much money was paid for the gear, you still have to put in far more to get the good stuff out ...

I agree modern recordings can be hard going, for a variety of reasons; again, when I feel the system is up to scratch they can be excellent test recordings: if they can be turned up to maximum volume and still make total musical or otherwise sense, then you are in good territory ...

Cheers,
Frank
 

fas42

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Jan 8, 2011
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#20
I've never heard a system come close to convincing recreate a live musical performance. I hear plenty of live music, including piano, saxophone, flute and clarinet as my children practice everyday (more or less).
This seems to be the problem for the majority of audio people; very, very few have achieved it, makes it so much harder to get the message across ...

Frank