Peter A.’s System: A Perspective on Natural Sound

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
2,999
688
Greater Boston
This is a continuation of my report on the experience of listening to Peter A.’s system.

For his system, see:


In this post, I will try to define, from my perspective, what is a central part of the essence of Peter’s Natural Sound compared to other system sounds that strive to portray a natural sound.

***

When you sit close to musicians and their instruments during a live performance of unamplified music, there is often a more pronounced “leading edge” to the notes, a more pronounced initial transient.

As you move further away in the performance space, the initial transient is less emphasized, and the emphasis shifts to the sustain and decay phase of the notes.

It also works the other way around, when your listening position is fixed, but the performer changes their position from further away to closer to you (or the other way around). I experienced this a few years ago during a memorable, incredibly well played concert by the ensemble Sound Icon of the music of German avantgarde composer Wolfgang Rihm in the German Consulate in Boston, USA (nice performance space with huge ceilings). At a piece for violin and piano, the violinist played next to the pianist whose instrument was a bit further away from the audience (but still considerably closer than in many concert venues). Transients were rounded and less emphatic. This changed for a piece where the piano was not involved, and the violinist came to stand closer to the audience. Transients were more pronounced, with more obvious “leading edge”.

When the violinist later that evening was part of a 4-part ensemble playing String Quartet No. 12 by the composer, she sat very close to my seat, perhaps as close as just 6 feet away, and bowing transients were very pronounced, as was all micro-detail arising from the interaction of bow with strings. Overall, this was the most detailed string quartet sound that I have ever heard in my life. It was pure sonic fireworks.

After hearing my system a few days before I heard his again, Peter told me that, compared to the MM cartridge, I would like the vdH cartridge better, with its slight emphasis on leading edge and high energy. That was a very good observation. Not only was it true, it also set me up for thinking about his Natural Sound in terms of leading edge of transients, especially after I listened to my system again afterwards. Peter also had characterized the vdH cartridge in his comment to me as having “a more aggressive and forward presentation”.

When I listened to my system again a day after hearing Peter’s, I was shocked. It sounded very aggressive to me in comparison, and that was because of a much more emphasized leading edge of transients. Of course, under normal circumstances I don’t find my system aggressive, and the impression faded quickly. I also do not find it necessarily more “aggressive” than close-up unamplified live music, which can sound pretty “aggressive” as well. As they say, it’s all relative.

Yet at that point it clicked, and I realized what a central part is of the essence of Peter’s Natural Sound: a de-emphasis of the leading edge, as you would experience more like from a mid-hall or otherwise less close perspective relative to the performing musicians. I have outlined some of this above.

In other words, Peter’s system offers a perspective on reproduced live sound that in its characteristics seems to be somewhat more mid-hall as it were. This is different from what I sometimes hear from systems, a sound that is a bit more distanced from the listener but which still carries the characteristics of close-up sound, which includes a pronounced leading edge. No, Peter’s sound has the sound characteristics of a more mid-hall sound, with less leading edge.

As far as sound experience in Peter’s room goes, the distance perspective relative to that type of sound is natural: it is in general not particularly close-up either.

Thus, Peter’s Natural Sound is one very particular perspective on what natural sound can be, a more mid-hall perspective with the sound characteristics that come with that, including a de-emphasized leading edge of transients. It is a unique take. A more close-up perspective with a more pronounced transient leading edge is of course not necessarily less “natural”, it may just reflect the sound characteristics of more close-up live music. Ddk also says that Natural Sound is a unique sound, although I am not sure if he means by that what I hear in Peter’s system.

Certainly, systems that emphasize a leading edge more, as mine does, should not always do so either. Mine doesn’t in fact; with less close-miked sounds I get a perspective on distance and transient behavior that is closer in sound to Peter’s system.

Frequently, more emphasized transients are associated with more “speed” of a system’s sound. Yet does the sound of a live performance of unamplified music have less “speed” when sitting mid-hall, where transients are less pronounced, than when sitting close to the performers? Of course not, it is still the natural speed of the instrument’s sound, uninhibited by electronic artifacts that could “slow it down” in system reproduction. It is just a different sound perspective, not a “slower” one.

Therefore, it would seem fallacious to characterize Peter’s sound with less emphasis on transients as “slower”. Certainly, if you associate dynamics with “speed”, as I do, in some cases that was exemplary. The guitar on Kenny Burrell’s “Midnight Blue” was explosively dynamic, with each note leaping out of the speakers with immense power. Yet despite the dynamics, compared to reproduction in my system every note still had less leading edge.

So there seems no obvious reason of associating less leading edge with a “slow” sound. In fact, sound with unnaturally etched transients can be the slow one. For example, the etched transients from early digital did not come from the fact that it had more “speed”, but because it was slow. As I see it, earlier digital simply did not have the computer power to process signal through D/A conversion and filtering in a sufficiently fast manner (lousy analog opamp output stages may not have helped either), and thus the sound was “hanging on to” the leading edge of transients for too long, dragging it out, and through this lack of speed emphasized them in an unnatural manner, making them “etched”. Of course, you can get “etched” transients in home production through other factors as well. For example, I could not believe how much more nimble and nuanced (i.e., “fast”) transients in string quartet playing became when I exchanged a smaller rug around my listening seat with a larger one that had a basket-weave pattern (aiding diffusion) and covered the wood floor in that area completely. Uncontrolled room reflections prior to that change had blurred the sound, this blurring had made it “slower”, and as a result transients had been more “etched”. That's the advantage of concert venues; short-distance, early reflections are not gleefully at the ready to ruin the sound at any time, as they are in many home settings with their much smaller acoustics.

Yet again, if transients are pronounced, but “fast” enough as to resemble sounds from live music close up, there is nothing wrong and unnatural with such transient emphasis on close-miked recordings. It is all a matter of sound perspective.

In fact, sometimes transients cannot be pronounced enough in a close-up perspective of system reproduction. For example, in the above mentioned concert of Rihm’s music in the German Consulate in Boston, the piano, while being a bit further away from the audience, was still much closer than you would experience even in most other smaller venues. As a result, and as a characteristic of Rihm’s avantgarde music, transients could be outright brutal (the fact that this came from the excellent playing of a petite Asian woman showed that it was more about technique than about sheer physical power). The pianist was sometimes hammering single, spaced apart, dry staccato chords at fortissimo or even ffff volume, and while I found the reproduction of a similar piece by the composer at home satisfactory, the transients were clearly somewhat slower, more blurred. In the meantime, I have much better, “faster”, speakers, and my room acoustics are less blurring, so I am confident that now the sound comes much closer to what I then heard live.

(cont.)
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
2,999
688
Greater Boston
(cont.)

Coming back to Peter’s sound, I think I now understand better from his perspective what he means by “Natural Sound”.

I interpret some of Peter’s bullet points about “What is Natural Sound?”, in post #5 on his thread, in light of the above as having a particular meaning, at least from my point of view after experiencing Peter’s system. I will put them in the paragraphs below between quotation marks, so that hopefully the distinction between them and my subsequent personal interpretation is clear.

“No aspect of the sound calls attention to itself” is easier when transients are de-emphasized. Transients often do attention to themselves, very much so in close-up live music. With the latter, it is often all about aspects of sound, you just cannot escape it. I don't believe in the “No “sound”, only music” mantra since live sound is so glorious that it always draws attention to itself, regardless of the listener being immersed in the music or not. Yet certainly, it becomes a bit less so when the music is less close-up, with the then less obvious detail; then it becomes more about “Natural resolution, not “detail”” – close-up on the other hand, detail is often all enveloping.

“Relaxing, zero fatigue”: To me, a perspective with all the characteristics of a slightly more distant sound is more relaxing indeed, and I think Peter’s system is more relaxing than mine with its often – though not always – close-up, transient-driven perspective. Yet personally I do not look for that when listening to music. On the contrary, I look for sheer excitement and stimulus, without relaxation (even though of course relaxing mood music still should sound as such). My system sound fits that goal quite well, at least for my personal perception and taste. Yet when you look for a relaxed sound, something like Peter’s Natural Sound is a much better fit. Individual systems are all about individual taste of the owner, for sure – not about an absolute truth of an elusive and arguably non-existing “absolute sound”.

“No analysis of the sound into bits and pieces, music experienced as a whole” is also facilitated by a de-emphasis of transient leading edge, as is a perception that “the sound is balanced”.

Certainly, Peter or David Karmeli (ddk) are free to disagree with my characterization here of Natural Sound, as well as with my interpretation of Peter’s bullet points in light of what I heard, if they wish to do so. It is my personal perspective on what I am hearing in Peter’s system, nothing more and nothing less.
 

ack

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
May 6, 2010
6,775
1,177
580
Boston, MA
Great, thanks. Can you summarize in a few sentences only? Sounds like you said: soft leading edges, distant perspective, relaxing, but also dynamic. Nothing much about timbre or micro-dynamics, which are of utmost importance to true natural sound. Anything else? A step forward, back, about the same, or just plain different?
 

jeffrey_t

VIP/Donor
Jan 29, 2012
2,676
2,551
630
Great, thanks. Can you summarize in a few sentences only? Sounds like you said: soft leading edges, distant perspective, relaxing, but also dynamic. Nothing much about timbre or micro-dynamics, which are of utmost importance to true natural sound. Anything else? A step forward, back, about the same, or just plain different?
When I heard the Vitavox speakers at CES timbre was the one aspect where I believed they excelled over any other speaker at the show.
 
  • Like
Reactions: ddk

ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
6,182
3,789
930
Utah
When I heard the Vitavox speakers at CES timbre was the one aspect where I believed they excelled over any other speaker at the show.
Let's not forget the wonderful Lamm electronics driving them, they define natural sound and accurate tone and timbre. This is pretty much the same system with Lamm phono and Reference preamp.

david
 

ddk

Industry Expert
May 19, 2013
6,182
3,789
930
Utah

tima

Industry Expert
Mar 4, 2014
4,533
4,985
945
the Upper Midwest
Let's not forget the wonderful Lamm electronics driving them, they define natural sound and accurate tone and timbre. This is pretty much the same system with Lamm phono and Reference preamp.

david

You beat me to it. :)

@Al M. - Your wite-up is excellent, insightful. You recognized and captured in words a key element - at least to my understanding of natural sound.

From my LP2.1 review:
"Leading edge transients could be ever ever so slightly relaxed compared to high-contrast units, but the Lamm always sounded with vivacity, never dull or rounded."

Two points to consider...

One, I cannot speak to the Vitavox contribution in Peter's system. I assume it is significant, but I have not heard them. I can think of any number of alternate electronics (no names) that when attached to the Vitavox might produce transients that will slice your ears. As they do on other speakers. If you interpret what Al wrote to mean soft leading edges the question is 'compared to what'.

Frequently, more emphasized transients are associated with more “speed” of a system’s sound. Yet does the sound of a live performance of unamplified music have less “speed” when sitting mid-hall, where transients are less pronounced, than when sitting close to the performers? Of course not, it is still the natural speed of the instrument’s sound, uninhibited by electronic artifacts that could “slow it down” in system reproduction. It is just a different sound perspective, not a “slower” one.

...and Al's other remarks on transients.

Secondly, imo the quickness, edge or purported speed some electronics deliver come from how they represent a note's fundamental and development. A woodwind or brass player can use his tonque to put an edge on note launch - you can tell when that happens; a guitarist can use pick. If a piece of gear is consistently 'fast', it's not the musicians, it's a lack of harmonic development at the front of a note. Fuller tonality will sound rounded compared to less. Sitting closer to the violinist or piano, you get more information.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
18,852
8,983
1,515
London
Thanks for the write-up Al. I read your report, and it read like roll off, soft transients, not drawing attention to an aspect of the sound by reducing detail (usually leading edge), midhall due to leading edge, possibly slower (due to lack of leading edges). Almost as if the entire system has been evaluated on leading edge perspective. VDH has probably the highest leading edge of any cart but that itself should not, ideally, change your system perspective even if you prefer it to the MM. If it does, it is too much emphasis on listening to only one aspect and we would like to know more.

Now I am not addressing the system as I haven't heard it, so I will just address aspects of sound independent of the system that are covered in your report.

Natural sound (where I define it as sound recognized by anyone familiar with live) should not be dependent on highs or leading edges or some such attribute. Natural sound should not be confused with complete or compromised sound. You can have natural sound with roll off or with extension. Or you can have unnatural sound with roll off or with extension. Same with or without for for leading edges and for speed.

When a system has natural sound with complete extension and excellent leading edges and agility, it will be one of the top 3 systems globally. I don't see this happening in any compromised system (smaller rooms, smaller speakers, etc) where we consciously compromise some aspect in favor of the other. Tannoys, for example, are very nice natural speakers without the leading edges and speed you describe, does not mean they are not natural. But yes, they are not complete if one wanted to compete on WBF terms. Martin Logans are quite unlike Tannoys on the leading edge, highs, and other aspects but they can be equally natural and also, like Tannoys, not all out assaults hence not complete.

We have had a thread on speed and agility, many points of leading edge, intra note nuance/inflections,
truncation, dynamics that contribute to feeling a system is faster or slower have been addressed there. https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/what-is-fast.31187/#post-667356

It is also possible to have less fatigue on a very detailed, high extension system with great leading edges. Yes there are many detailed systems which are fatiguing, does not mean it is the detail that makes it fatiguing.

I disagree that a system set up for mid-hall or for upfront should have more or less leading edge. The concert hall ambience should change based on the recording, and leading edge or speed of a system will be more or less in either case, depending on the system. If you don't find the leading edge in Peter's system that is fine, but that itself should not contribute to the feeling of where you are sitting. Even with systems where concert hall ambience stays constant, the mid-hall or upfront feel will be there irrespective of leading edge.

Also, at least based on the videos, the system sounded to have a big they are here sound, rather than you are there sound, and the latter is what usually helps towards midhall.

The vdh does not sound forward in tang's and captures ambience very well. So I was surprised to read it sounds forward here (especially if it did not in the Magico system).
 
Last edited:

XV-1

Well-Known Member
May 24, 2010
2,856
1,301
580
Sydney
So it sounds laid back?
 

Andrew S.

Well-Known Member
Mar 20, 2021
278
368
70
Hobart, Tasmania
You beat me to it. :)

@Al M. - Your wite-up is excellent, insightful. You recognized and captured in words a key element - at least to my understanding of natural sound.

From my LP2.1 review:
"Leading edge transients could be ever ever so slightly relaxed compared to high-contrast units, but the Lamm always sounded with vivacity, never dull or rounded."

Two points to consider...

One, I cannot speak to the Vitavox contribution in Peter's system. I assume it is significant, but I have not heard them. I can think of any number of alternate electronics (no names) that when attached to the Vitavox might produce transients that will slice your ears. As they do on other speakers. If you interpret what Al wrote to mean soft leading edges the question is 'compared to what'.



...and Al's other remarks on transients.

Secondly, imo the quickness, edge or purported speed some electronics deliver come from how they represent a note's fundamental and development. A woodwind or brass player can use his tonque to put an edge on note launch - you can tell when that happens; a guitarist can use pick. If a piece of gear is consistently 'fast', it's not the musicians, it's a lack of harmonic development at the front of a note. Fuller tonality will sound rounded compared to less. Sitting closer to the violinist or piano, you get more information.

Great post
 
  • Like
Reactions: tima

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
18,852
8,983
1,515
London
"“No analysis of the sound into bits and pieces, music experienced as a whole” is also facilitated by a de-emphasis of transient leading edge"

=> homogenized and non nuanced
 
  • Like
Reactions: DaveC

Gregm

Well-Known Member
Mar 14, 2019
318
217
115
France
"“No analysis of the sound into bits and pieces, music experienced as a whole” is also facilitated by a de-emphasis of transient leading edge"

=> homogenized and non nuanced
Or, the subjective impression of a continuous and musically coherent sound, rather than discontinuous and disjointed sounds which our brain has then to connect into a musically plausible whole.
 
  • Like
Reactions: drrsutliff

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
18,852
8,983
1,515
London
Or, the subjective impression of a continuous and musically coherent sound, rather than discontinuous and disjointed sounds which our brain has then to connect into a musically plausible whole.

The way Al has written it, it is continuous and coherent because of lack of differentiation. Sound can be continuous and coherent with leading edges, tonal variations, and inflections too.
 
Last edited:

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
2,999
688
Greater Boston
Great, thanks. Can you summarize in a few sentences only?

That is exactly what I did not want to. I did not want to condense a complex topic into a few bullet points.

Sounds like you said: soft leading edges, distant perspective, relaxing, but also dynamic. Nothing much about timbre or micro-dynamics, which are of utmost importance to true natural sound.

As I said on top of my opening post, this is a continuation of my report that started in Peter's "Natural Sound" thread. Link is given.

Anything else? A step forward, back, about the same, or just plain different?

Very different. Personally, in comparison I would have been curious to hear the Lamm gear (with power amp being their hybrid amp) on the Magico speakers.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Andrew S.

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
2,999
688
Greater Boston
@Al M. - Your wite-up is excellent, insightful. You recognized and captured in words a key element - at least to my understanding of natural sound.

Thank you, Tim.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Andrew S.

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
18,852
8,983
1,515
London
Maybe should have combined write up from other thread into this one, or hit reply and asked mod to move to another thread? Ron doesn't always delete, you know, he can also move
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lagonda

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
2,999
688
Greater Boston
Maybe should have combined write up from other thread into this one, or hit reply and asked mod to move to another thread? Ron doesn't always delete, you know, he can also move

No. I wanted this thread to be about one particular aspect of the sound.

As I said in my opening post:

"In this post, I will try to define, from my perspective, what is a central part of the essence of Peter’s Natural Sound compared to other system sounds that strive to portray a natural sound."
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
18,852
8,983
1,515
London
No. I wanted this thread to be about one particular aspect of the sound.

As I said in my opening post:

"In this post, I will try to define, from my perspective, what is a central part of the essence of Peter’s Natural Sound compared to other system sounds that strive to portray a natural sound."

Ok clear though surprised this is a central part of essence. Is that your interpretation or he agrees as well?
 

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