Karen Sumner

Industry Expert
Apr 18, 2021
133
384
70
I haven’t been in a rush to discuss the final frontier of space because imaging and soundstage are hot buttons in the hi fi world, and the concept of “space” that I will describe here requires a total recalibration of the concept of space as it is widely accepted in the hi fi world. Before we talk about the final frontier, here’s an overview of what we have discussed so far in these threads: tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics.

TONAL BALANCE/INSTRUMENTAL TIMBRE : Does the system or component present a believable balance of fundamentals to harmonics with the full range of instruments? Does the system reveal the timbral differences created by different instruments and their musicians?

To someone who knows the sound of live acoustic instruments in acoustic space, many of today’s contemporary “high-end audio” systems because of a combination of components, listening room acoustics, and speaker set up fall short of being tonally representative of live acoustic music. These systems also do not capture instrumental timbres on a level that is recognizable by someone who has live acoustic music as a reference point. A consequence of the hi fi approach is that too often we try to continue to find our musical truth by churning through components, or worse, we lose interest in hi fi entirely — at least for a time. A system that has been built upon the listening criteria for live acoustic music can reproduce all genres of music well and provide a pathway for further music exploration.

DYNAMICS: Does the system or component reveal dynamics expressively with all the gradations and transitions from very soft to very loud?

Provided a system achieves natural musical tonal balance, the system should be able to deliver the full spectrum of dynamic range. The “messy” midrange is packed with subtle loud-to-soft variations and transitions that are vital to our emotional connection with the music. Because choral, opera, and orchestral music recordings have the greatest dynamic range, these are the best types of recordings to judge dynamics. If a system falls short dynamically, it’s time to circle back to achieving the best tonal balance possible. Pop and rock recordings are not good sources on which to depend upon when judging or demonstrating a system or component’s dynamic capability because the tracks of nearly all of these recordings have been compressed to the point where subtle loud-to-soft variations no longer exist. In the mastering process of these more electronically produced recordings, lesser volume passages are increased in volume, and the louder volume passages are decreased in volume. The purpose is to allow the listener to play the music at realistically loud volume levels in a typical home audio system, but let’s not confuse “loud” with dynamics.

To review some of the specific issues I have already touched upon with respect to tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics, refer to these threads:

https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/how-hi-fi-has-become-a-standard-unto-itself.33565/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/a-gold-standard-for-listening-evaluations.33693/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/audiophile-rescue-plan-part-2.33973/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-fundamental-to-almost-everyone.33831/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-messy.34209/


Space is the final frontier. It helps us forget that we are only listening to a hi fi system because it helps us transcend space and time. Well-rendered musical space invites and allows us to connect with recorded music on an even higher emotional level, however, only if tonal balance and dynamics provide the emotional foundation to the music reproduction listening experience.

SPACE: Does the system or component recreate the ambience and scale of the original recorded music space to a believable level by revealing the direct sound of instruments and the reflected sound of fundamentals and harmonics within the performance space?

Hi fi sound does not believably reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments in space because it typically doesn’t capture the body and complex overtonal structure that is embedded on most recordings. Because these systems also do not capture the nuance of dynamic fluctuations in the middle frequencies, they limit our sense of instrumental presence in space because of reduced loud to soft volume boundary reflections. Much of what connects us emotionally with music resides in the mid-band where the essential musical qualities of fundamental tones, instrumental timbre, and harmonic richness reside. This is not news, but those who are looking for hi fi sound seem almost allergic to these “heavier” essential qualities that create a full sense of ambience and presence because they tend to obscure some of the hi fi artifactual details they are seeking. The standard is to seek pin-point holographic imaging and highly articulated higher frequency harmonics without an appropriate measure of fundamental tonal foundation or overtonal richness. The hi fi based imaging construct renders a sense of musicians playing holographically against a “black background”. Hi fi sound advocates want their systems to produce these tightly defined details, but at the expense of the far more abundantly rich, low-level details that are inherent to the live music listening experience.

The depth of image that many audiophiles seek is a totally different sound field concept from the depth that occurs with live acoustic music performed in a natural acoustic space. The hi fi model pushes the music in the midrange toward the back of a blank sound field. In a live acoustic music listening experience, we hear the sound field as a fully sound-pressurized space with fundamental and harmonic information reflecting in a seemingly chaotic fashion off performance venue’s boundaries. Our ears, naturally fine-tuned to time and spatial cues, are able to define the scale and characteristics of the performance space if everything is in balance — a far more exciting and engaging perspective than the hi fi standard. In a highly evolved home music listening system and listening room, we should be able to hear the fully sound-pressurized space of the performance venue as captured on the recording. If everything is right, the speakers should provide a direct reflection of the timing, space, frequency, and amplitude information received by a recording microphone. This speaker/microphone mirror can easily be assessed by listening to a recording that uses minimalist microphone placement with little post-production manipulation applied.

If we get tonal balance, instrumental timbres, and dynamics as close to right as possible in a home music system, a more realistic portrayal of the performance space is naturally a part of the listening package. It is nothing we need to try and achieve except for perhaps some fine tuning with speaker placement and acoustic room treatment.

Comparing the listening criteria outlined in these essays with hi fi language necessarily leads to questioning whether the hi fi terms should continue to exist. I’ve been doing this for decades, and I still can’t untie the Gordian Knot of hi fi lingo so that it makes sense to me from a music listening perspective.

I visited several threads recently where the term “resolution” was discussed. I found the term means very different things depending upon individual hi fi and music perspectives. In hi fi circles, “resolution” and “clarity” are often used interchangeably to assess whether a system is delivering sought after artifactual details that do not exist on the source material. Sometimes the hi fi use of the terms reflect a misguided aesthetic where much of the vital low-level music information such as timbral differences between instruments, harmonics, and harmonic reflections, and subtle dynamic nuances is stripped away, the very qualities music lovers want to hear.

As we have already discussed, achieving the hi fi concepts of soundstage and imaging essentially obscures or can even destroy much of the musical intent on the recording.

Could someone explain to me what the hi fi use of “rhythm”, “pace”, and “timing” means? I understand what the terms mean when describing different interpretations of the same piece of music. How can these terms apply to the sound of a hi fi system when one can hear the rhythm, pace, and timing of a piece of music on earbuds? What is it about high-end audio systems that make these qualities difficult to identify? Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?

To be able to embrace the full measure of what music has to offer, we should take an interest in what live acoustic music sounds like and study how different instruments and artistic interpretations interact to create a fulfilling music listening experience. At the very least, take advice about audio components and system building from people who are musicians, have intimate knowledge of the live acoustic music listening experience, and have experience putting together home music systems that are a direct reflection of music-based listening criteria. If you don’t know whether the person offering advice or trying to sell you something has these credentials, ask to know more about the person’s or company’s expertise.

I’ve just run out of characters so stay tuned for the next thread.
 

Elliot G.

Industry Expert
Jul 22, 2010
2,422
1,626
610
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
www.bendingwaveusa.com
I think the term Depth is the most overused and least meaningful term in audio. I don't know who coined it or how its original meaning was derived. I know from a lifetime of listening to people discuss and refer to it that it has very little meaning to me. The ability of an audio system to push the sound way behind the speakers may be cool but it has nothing to do with the sound of live music. I think our vocabulary has been perverted to serve the purposes of those who use it for their own purposes. If it has no real meaning then it is just a marketing term.

I do believe as I said earlier that our Industry seems to avoid telling the facts as these things might adversely hinder business.
As much art is involved in music there is also a bit of science that is involved in setting things up to play it back.
I know we can measure some stuff but I don't believe we have all the measurements to quantify what happens with the emotional attachment to the music and to the environment that we experience it in.
We have clues but we haven't solved the mystery.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I haven’t been in a rush to discuss the final frontier of space because imaging and soundstage are hot buttons in the hi fi world, and the concept of “space” that I will describe here requires a total recalibration of the concept of space as it is widely accepted in the hi fi world. Before we talk about the final frontier, here’s an overview of what we have discussed so far in these threads: tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics.

TONAL BALANCE/INSTRUMENTAL TIMBRE : Does the system or component present a believable balance of fundamentals to harmonics with the full range of instruments? Does the system reveal the timbral differences created by different instruments and their musicians?

To someone who knows the sound of live acoustic instruments in acoustic space, many of today’s contemporary “high-end audio” systems because of a combination of components, listening room acoustics, and speaker set up fall short of being tonally representative of live acoustic music. These systems also do not capture instrumental timbres on a level that is recognizable by someone who has live acoustic music as a reference point. A consequence of the hi fi approach is that too often we try to continue to find our musical truth by churning through components, or worse, we lose interest in hi fi entirely — at least for a time. A system that has been built upon the listening criteria for live acoustic music can reproduce all genres of music well and provide a pathway for further music exploration.

DYNAMICS: Does the system or component reveal dynamics expressively with all the gradations and transitions from very soft to very loud?

Provided a system achieves natural musical tonal balance, the system should be able to deliver the full spectrum of dynamic range. The “messy” midrange is packed with subtle loud-to-soft variations and transitions that are vital to our emotional connection with the music. Because choral, opera, and orchestral music recordings have the greatest dynamic range, these are the best types of recordings to judge dynamics. If a system falls short dynamically, it’s time to circle back to achieving the best tonal balance possible. Pop and rock recordings are not good sources on which to depend upon when judging or demonstrating a system or component’s dynamic capability because the tracks of nearly all of these recordings have been compressed to the point where subtle loud-to-soft variations no longer exist. In the mastering process of these more electronically produced recordings, lesser volume passages are increased in volume, and the louder volume passages are decreased in volume. The purpose is to allow the listener to play the music at realistically loud volume levels in a typical home audio system, but let’s not confuse “loud” with dynamics.

To review some of the specific issues I have already touched upon with respect to tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics, refer to these threads:

https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/how-hi-fi-has-become-a-standard-unto-itself.33565/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/a-gold-standard-for-listening-evaluations.33693/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/audiophile-rescue-plan-part-2.33973/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-fundamental-to-almost-everyone.33831/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-messy.34209/


Space is the final frontier. It helps us forget that we are only listening to a hi fi system because it helps us transcend space and time. Well-rendered musical space invites and allows us to connect with recorded music on an even higher emotional level, however, only if tonal balance and dynamics provide the emotional foundation to the music reproduction listening experience.

SPACE: Does the system or component recreate the ambience and scale of the original recorded music space to a believable level by revealing the direct sound of instruments and the reflected sound of fundamentals and harmonics within the performance space?

Hi fi sound does not believably reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments in space because it typically doesn’t capture the body and complex overtonal structure that is embedded on most recordings. Because these systems also do not capture the nuance of dynamic fluctuations in the middle frequencies, they limit our sense of instrumental presence in space because of reduced loud to soft volume boundary reflections. Much of what connects us emotionally with music resides in the mid-band where the essential musical qualities of fundamental tones, instrumental timbre, and harmonic richness reside. This is not news, but those who are looking for hi fi sound seem almost allergic to these “heavier” essential qualities that create a full sense of ambience and presence because they tend to obscure some of the hi fi artifactual details they are seeking. The standard is to seek pin-point holographic imaging and highly articulated higher frequency harmonics without an appropriate measure of fundamental tonal foundation or overtonal richness. The hi fi based imaging construct renders a sense of musicians playing holographically against a “black background”. Hi fi sound advocates want their systems to produce these tightly defined details, but at the expense of the far more abundantly rich, low-level details that are inherent to the live music listening experience.

The depth of image that many audiophiles seek is a totally different sound field concept from the depth that occurs with live acoustic music performed in a natural acoustic space. The hi fi model pushes the music in the midrange toward the back of a blank sound field. In a live acoustic music listening experience, we hear the sound field as a fully sound-pressurized space with fundamental and harmonic information reflecting in a seemingly chaotic fashion off performance venue’s boundaries. Our ears, naturally fine-tuned to time and spatial cues, are able to define the scale and characteristics of the performance space if everything is in balance — a far more exciting and engaging perspective than the hi fi standard. In a highly evolved home music listening system and listening room, we should be able to hear the fully sound-pressurized space of the performance venue as captured on the recording. If everything is right, the speakers should provide a direct reflection of the timing, space, frequency, and amplitude information received by a recording microphone. This speaker/microphone mirror can easily be assessed by listening to a recording that uses minimalist microphone placement with little post-production manipulation applied.

If we get tonal balance, instrumental timbres, and dynamics as close to right as possible in a home music system, a more realistic portrayal of the performance space is naturally a part of the listening package. It is nothing we need to try and achieve except for perhaps some fine tuning with speaker placement and acoustic room treatment.

Comparing the listening criteria outlined in these essays with hi fi language necessarily leads to questioning whether the hi fi terms should continue to exist. I’ve been doing this for decades, and I still can’t untie the Gordian Knot of hi fi lingo so that it makes sense to me from a music listening perspective.

I visited several threads recently where the term “resolution” was discussed. I found the term means very different things depending upon individual hi fi and music perspectives. In hi fi circles, “resolution” and “clarity” are often used interchangeably to assess whether a system is delivering sought after artifactual details that do not exist on the source material. Sometimes the hi fi use of the terms reflect a misguided aesthetic where much of the vital low-level music information such as timbral differences between instruments, harmonics, and harmonic reflections, and subtle dynamic nuances is stripped away, the very qualities music lovers want to hear.

As we have already discussed, achieving the hi fi concepts of soundstage and imaging essentially obscures or can even destroy much of the musical intent on the recording.

Could someone explain to me what the hi fi use of “rhythm”, “pace”, and “timing” means? I understand what the terms mean when describing different interpretations of the same piece of music. How can these terms apply to the sound of a hi fi system when one can hear the rhythm, pace, and timing of a piece of music on earbuds? What is it about high-end audio systems that make these qualities difficult to identify? Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?

To be able to embrace the full measure of what music has to offer, we should take an interest in what live acoustic music sounds like and study how different instruments and artistic interpretations interact to create a fulfilling music listening experience. At the very least, take advice about audio components and system building from people who are musicians, have intimate knowledge of the live acoustic music listening experience, and have experience putting together home music systems that are a direct reflection of music-based listening criteria. If you don’t know whether the person offering advice or trying to sell you something has these credentials, ask to know more about the person’s or company’s expertise.

I’ve just run out of characters so stay tuned for the next thread.
You have a real gift in the manner in which you write Karen. I look forward to every month's next installment. I do agree with about the acronym PRAT
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
3,001
738
Greater Boston
Rhythm is finally mentioned - Kudos, Prof. Sumner! Music doesn’t exist without it, yet so much hifi treats its accurate portrayal as a secondary concern at best. Here is a pdf where Martin Colloms talks about how essential it is for equipment to not obscure this most basic building block.

https://www.hificritic.com/uploads/2/8/8/0/28808909/classic-sc7-pace_rhythm__dynamics.pdf

While I abhor the term PRaT, when discussing why they don’t have any interest in higher end audio kit with musician friends it's the lack of communication in the areas of clarity of tempo, rhythmic contrast and articulation, and the blurring of dynamic shapes both micro and micro that inspires a big “Why bother?”. As a cellist friend put it “I don’t care if it’s a Hamburg Steinway, Blüthner, or Fazioli… or if it's recorded in a liv8ng room, gymnasium, or concert hall - I’d d#*n well better be able to tell it’s Martha Argerich playing. And better yet if I don’t know the recording beforehand!”

Thanks for that link to a classic article by Martin Colloms, in my view one of the most important articles about audio ever written.

I also like the accompanying article (reprinted there as well) of "Pace & Rhythm: one listener's lament" by Peter van Willenswaard.

They both are right about the lack of rhythm in digital at the time (1992) which was horrible, but which is now much less of an issue. My current Yggdrasil DAC actually has rhythm that to my ears, and in my set-up, easily compares with the rhythm of the best vinyl playback that I have heard. So no complaints there -- anymore: I went through 4 CD playback systems (players or transport/DAC combos) before my fifth one (with Berkeley Alpha DAC 2) finally could rock, for the first time. My Yggdrasil DAC is better in that department still, as it is in others.

The articles effectively address Karen's question in the opening post:

'Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?"
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Site Owner, Administrator
I haven’t been in a rush to discuss the final frontier of space because imaging and soundstage are hot buttons in the hi fi world, and the concept of “space” that I will describe here requires a total recalibration of the concept of space as it is widely accepted in the hi fi world. Before we talk about the final frontier, here’s an overview of what we have discussed so far in these threads: tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics.

TONAL BALANCE/INSTRUMENTAL TIMBRE : Does the system or component present a believable balance of fundamentals to harmonics with the full range of instruments? Does the system reveal the timbral differences created by different instruments and their musicians?

To someone who knows the sound of live acoustic instruments in acoustic space, many of today’s contemporary “high-end audio” systems because of a combination of components, listening room acoustics, and speaker set up fall short of being tonally representative of live acoustic music. These systems also do not capture instrumental timbres on a level that is recognizable by someone who has live acoustic music as a reference point. A consequence of the hi fi approach is that too often we try to continue to find our musical truth by churning through components, or worse, we lose interest in hi fi entirely — at least for a time. A system that has been built upon the listening criteria for live acoustic music can reproduce all genres of music well and provide a pathway for further music exploration.

DYNAMICS: Does the system or component reveal dynamics expressively with all the gradations and transitions from very soft to very loud?

Provided a system achieves natural musical tonal balance, the system should be able to deliver the full spectrum of dynamic range. The “messy” midrange is packed with subtle loud-to-soft variations and transitions that are vital to our emotional connection with the music. Because choral, opera, and orchestral music recordings have the greatest dynamic range, these are the best types of recordings to judge dynamics. If a system falls short dynamically, it’s time to circle back to achieving the best tonal balance possible. Pop and rock recordings are not good sources on which to depend upon when judging or demonstrating a system or component’s dynamic capability because the tracks of nearly all of these recordings have been compressed to the point where subtle loud-to-soft variations no longer exist. In the mastering process of these more electronically produced recordings, lesser volume passages are increased in volume, and the louder volume passages are decreased in volume. The purpose is to allow the listener to play the music at realistically loud volume levels in a typical home audio system, but let’s not confuse “loud” with dynamics.

To review some of the specific issues I have already touched upon with respect to tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics, refer to these threads:

https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/how-hi-fi-has-become-a-standard-unto-itself.33565/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/a-gold-standard-for-listening-evaluations.33693/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/audiophile-rescue-plan-part-2.33973/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-fundamental-to-almost-everyone.33831/
https://www.whatsbestforum.com/threads/music-is-messy.34209/


Space is the final frontier. It helps us forget that we are only listening to a hi fi system because it helps us transcend space and time. Well-rendered musical space invites and allows us to connect with recorded music on an even higher emotional level, however, only if tonal balance and dynamics provide the emotional foundation to the music reproduction listening experience.

SPACE: Does the system or component recreate the ambience and scale of the original recorded music space to a believable level by revealing the direct sound of instruments and the reflected sound of fundamentals and harmonics within the performance space?

Hi fi sound does not believably reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments in space because it typically doesn’t capture the body and complex overtonal structure that is embedded on most recordings. Because these systems also do not capture the nuance of dynamic fluctuations in the middle frequencies, they limit our sense of instrumental presence in space because of reduced loud to soft volume boundary reflections. Much of what connects us emotionally with music resides in the mid-band where the essential musical qualities of fundamental tones, instrumental timbre, and harmonic richness reside. This is not news, but those who are looking for hi fi sound seem almost allergic to these “heavier” essential qualities that create a full sense of ambience and presence because they tend to obscure some of the hi fi artifactual details they are seeking. The standard is to seek pin-point holographic imaging and highly articulated higher frequency harmonics without an appropriate measure of fundamental tonal foundation or overtonal richness. The hi fi based imaging construct renders a sense of musicians playing holographically against a “black background”. Hi fi sound advocates want their systems to produce these tightly defined details, but at the expense of the far more abundantly rich, low-level details that are inherent to the live music listening experience.

The depth of image that many audiophiles seek is a totally different sound field concept from the depth that occurs with live acoustic music performed in a natural acoustic space. The hi fi model pushes the music in the midrange toward the back of a blank sound field. In a live acoustic music listening experience, we hear the sound field as a fully sound-pressurized space with fundamental and harmonic information reflecting in a seemingly chaotic fashion off performance venue’s boundaries. Our ears, naturally fine-tuned to time and spatial cues, are able to define the scale and characteristics of the performance space if everything is in balance — a far more exciting and engaging perspective than the hi fi standard. In a highly evolved home music listening system and listening room, we should be able to hear the fully sound-pressurized space of the performance venue as captured on the recording. If everything is right, the speakers should provide a direct reflection of the timing, space, frequency, and amplitude information received by a recording microphone. This speaker/microphone mirror can easily be assessed by listening to a recording that uses minimalist microphone placement with little post-production manipulation applied.

If we get tonal balance, instrumental timbres, and dynamics as close to right as possible in a home music system, a more realistic portrayal of the performance space is naturally a part of the listening package. It is nothing we need to try and achieve except for perhaps some fine tuning with speaker placement and acoustic room treatment.

Comparing the listening criteria outlined in these essays with hi fi language necessarily leads to questioning whether the hi fi terms should continue to exist. I’ve been doing this for decades, and I still can’t untie the Gordian Knot of hi fi lingo so that it makes sense to me from a music listening perspective.

I visited several threads recently where the term “resolution” was discussed. I found the term means very different things depending upon individual hi fi and music perspectives. In hi fi circles, “resolution” and “clarity” are often used interchangeably to assess whether a system is delivering sought after artifactual details that do not exist on the source material. Sometimes the hi fi use of the terms reflect a misguided aesthetic where much of the vital low-level music information such as timbral differences between instruments, harmonics, and harmonic reflections, and subtle dynamic nuances is stripped away, the very qualities music lovers want to hear.

As we have already discussed, achieving the hi fi concepts of soundstage and imaging essentially obscures or can even destroy much of the musical intent on the recording.

Could someone explain to me what the hi fi use of “rhythm”, “pace”, and “timing” means? I understand what the terms mean when describing different interpretations of the same piece of music. How can these terms apply to the sound of a hi fi system when one can hear the rhythm, pace, and timing of a piece of music on earbuds? What is it about high-end audio systems that make these qualities difficult to identify? Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?

To be able to embrace the full measure of what music has to offer, we should take an interest in what live acoustic music sounds like and study how different instruments and artistic interpretations interact to create a fulfilling music listening experience. At the very least, take advice about audio components and system building from people who are musicians, have intimate knowledge of the live acoustic music listening experience, and have experience putting together home music systems that are a direct reflection of music-based listening criteria. If you don’t know whether the person offering advice or trying to sell you something has these credentials, ask to know more about the person’s or company’s expertise.

I’ve just run out of characters so stay tuned for the next thread.
You have a real gift in the manner in which you write Karen. I look forward to every month's next installment. I do agree with about the acronym PRAT
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
10,285
7,754
1,565
North Shore of Boston
Hi fi sound does not believably reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments in space because it typically doesn’t capture the body and complex overtonal structure that is embedded on most recordings. Because these systems also do not capture the nuance of dynamic fluctuations in the middle frequencies, they limit our sense of instrumental presence in space because of reduced loud to soft volume boundary reflections. Much of what connects us emotionally with music resides in the mid-band where the essential musical qualities of fundamental tones, instrumental timbre, and harmonic richness reside. This is not news, but those who are looking for hi fi sound seem almost allergic to these “heavier” essential qualities that create a full sense of ambience and presence because they tend to obscure some of the hi fi artifactual details they are seeking. The standard is to seek pin-point holographic imaging and highly articulated higher frequency harmonics without an appropriate measure of fundamental tonal foundation or overtonal richness. The hi fi based imaging construct renders a sense of musicians playing holographically against a “black background”. Hi fi sound advocates want their systems to produce these tightly defined details, but at the expense of the far more abundantly rich, low-level details that are inherent to the live music listening experience.

Thank you Karen for yet another great thread topic. This paragraph really caught my interest. I have been reading about these "pin-point images" and "black backgrounds" for years in the HIFI magazines. I have heard this type of sound at dealerships, audioshows, and at friends' houses. I used to have a bit of it in my former system too.

These sonic attributes are an obvious indication of a hi-fi type of sound, and it is the antithesis of the natural sound one hears when listening in the concert hall or jazz club, or simply when closing one's eyes and listening to someone speak across the room or table. Reviewers, dealers, and marketers use these descriptors to convince us that this type of sound is better. I have heard turntables, speakers, acoustic treatment and equipment platforms produce this sound, but it usually simply means that they are dampening the sound which often results in a stripping away of the information describing the space (Karen) or ambiance (ddk) of the recording environment.

Rather than bringing us closer to the music for a richer listening experience, these hifi artifacts actually take us away from the music and the experience of live sound. It is very refreshing to read the words from a member of the industry. You are peeling back the curtain as Dorothy once did. Your perspective is valuable and we are lucky to have you here.

EDIT: Another clear indication of whether or not the sound from a system is more natural or more hi-fi is the varying portrayal of space from different recordings. If everything is pushed way back for a distant listening perspective and each recording has the same perspective, the system is doing something unnatural. Different recordings have different listening perspectives and that should be clear when hearing them on a good system. How many reviews have we read that describe a component as tearing down the walls of the listening room, Particularly the front wall? I do have some recordings where a singer or trumpet is performing from behind the stage or far in the distance relative to the rest of the performers and this should be clearly evident on that particular recording only. The thing is that the sound is distant and quiet and small relative to everything else. This extreme portrayal of space lends great realism to the listening experience.
 
Last edited:

microstrip

VIP/Donor
May 30, 2010
19,577
3,662
910
Portugal
(...) SPACE: Does the system or component recreate the ambience and scale of the original recorded music space to a believable level by revealing the direct sound of instruments and the reflected sound of fundamentals and harmonics within the performance space?

Space is one of the most challenging and ambiguous aspects of stereo sound reproduction, but I find that spaciousness in needed to achieve enjoyment. Intrinsically stereo is deprived from a true stereo imaging and space - stereo captures very little of the phase effects needed to recreate a proper space in playback. Spaciousness is created by interpretation of small cues and room reflections - getting the proper ones and the proper amount of them is not an easy job. And yes, the wrong characteristics in timbre and lack of harmonic richness can easily spoil proper spaciousness.

Hi fi sound does not believably reproduce the sound of acoustic instruments in space because it typically doesn’t capture the body and complex overtonal structure that is embedded on most recordings. Because these systems also do not capture the nuance of dynamic fluctuations in the middle frequencies, they limit our sense of instrumental presence in space because of reduced loud to soft volume boundary reflections. Much of what connects us emotionally with music resides in the mid-band where the essential musical qualities of fundamental tones, instrumental timbre, and harmonic richness reside. This is not news, but those who are looking for hi fi sound seem almost allergic to these “heavier” essential qualities that create a full sense of ambience and presence because they tend to obscure some of the hi fi artifactual details they are seeking. The standard is to seek pin-point holographic imaging and highly articulated higher frequency harmonics without an appropriate measure of fundamental tonal foundation or overtonal richness. The hi fi based imaging construct renders a sense of musicians playing holographically against a “black background”. Hi fi sound advocates want their systems to produce these tightly defined details, but at the expense of the far more abundantly rich, low-level details that are inherent to the live music listening experience.

Different types of listeners look for different emotions in music. Some people prefer dry sounding concert-halls, others want more diffuse and enveloping ones.

Pinpoint created by enhancing edges by timbre manipulation is an artifact - however IMHO creating pinpoint by energy focusing and feeling of presence is an welcome addition to having proper space and localization. I consider my system has natural pinpoint. :cool:

Curious that it is easier to describe accurately the negative aspects than the positive ones.

The depth of image that many audiophiles seek is a totally different sound field concept from the depth that occurs with live acoustic music performed in a natural acoustic space. The hi fi model pushes the music in the midrange toward the back of a blank sound field. In a live acoustic music listening experience, we hear the sound field as a fully sound-pressurized space with fundamental and harmonic information reflecting in a seemingly chaotic fashion off performance venue’s boundaries. Our ears, naturally fine-tuned to time and spatial cues, are able to define the scale and characteristics of the performance space if everything is in balance — a far more exciting and engaging perspective than the hi fi standard. In a highly evolved home music listening system and listening room, we should be able to hear the fully sound-pressurized space of the performance venue as captured on the recording. If everything is right, the speakers should provide a direct reflection of the timing, space, frequency, and amplitude information received by a recording microphone. This speaker/microphone mirror can easily be assessed by listening to a recording that uses minimalist microphone placement with little post-production manipulation applied.

If we get tonal balance, instrumental timbres, and dynamics as close to right as possible in a home music system, a more realistic portrayal of the performance space is naturally a part of the listening package. It is nothing we need to try and achieve except for perhaps some fine tuning with speaker placement and acoustic room treatment.

Comparing the listening criteria outlined in these essays with hi fi language necessarily leads to questioning whether the hi fi terms should continue to exist. I’ve been doing this for decades, and I still can’t untie the Gordian Knot of hi fi lingo so that it makes sense to me from a music listening perspective.

Although the musical language is able to fill excellent essays about sound reproduction, it fails to transmit to readers how a system sound. Although the classical audio vocabulary misses most of the emotion of the music, it manages to communicate fundamental characteristics of sound characteristics to interested audiophiles. Surely we have great, good, poor and terrible writers. IMHO both languages complement themselves.

I visited several threads recently where the term “resolution” was discussed. I found the term means very different things depending upon individual hi fi and music perspectives. In hi fi circles, “resolution” and “clarity” are often used interchangeably to assess whether a system is delivering sought after artifactual details that do not exist on the source material. Sometimes the hi fi use of the terms reflect a misguided aesthetic where much of the vital low-level music information such as timbral differences between instruments, harmonics, and harmonic reflections, and subtle dynamic nuances is stripped away, the very qualities music lovers want to hear.

As we have already discussed, achieving the hi fi concepts of soundstage and imaging essentially obscures or can even destroy much of the musical intent on the recording.

If someone uses "resolution" and "clarity" interchangeably he is surely missing their meaning. No point commenting on it.

Could someone explain to me what the hi fi use of “rhythm”, “pace”, and “timing” means? I understand what the terms mean when describing different interpretations of the same piece of music. How can these terms apply to the sound of a hi fi system when one can hear the rhythm, pace, and timing of a piece of music on earbuds? What is it about high-end audio systems that make these qualities difficult to identify? Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?

“Pace, rhythm and timing” (PRAT) - we should not separate them - was a controversial designation created to refer to a type of sound reproduction that enhanced some aspects of music, surely sacrificing others. IMHO it is a preference, many people love this type of music reproduction, particularly for rock and jazz. The expression was due to Martin Colloms in the early 90's. IMHO the modern version of PRAT is not PRAT anymore. But I see it as part of musical language, not HiFi language.

To be able to embrace the full measure of what music has to offer, we should take an interest in what live acoustic music sounds like and study how different instruments and artistic interpretations interact to create a fulfilling music listening experience. At the very least, take advice about audio components and system building from people who are musicians, have intimate knowledge of the live acoustic music listening experience, and have experience putting together home music systems that are a direct reflection of music-based listening criteria. If you don’t know whether the person offering advice or trying to sell you something has these credentials, ask to know more about the person’s or company’s expertise.

I’ve just run out of characters so stay tuned for the next thread.

In my humble experience professional musicians are not good advisors for building audio systems and sound reproduction analysis. I know about a few professional musicians of our orchestras who are audiophiles and they are as passionate and HiFI minded, as you say, as many other audiophiles. Being used to listen to instruments very close they usually listen louder and ask for more detail than me.

Contact with live instrumental music surely increases significantly my listening pleasure when listening to recorded music. Does it help to create a better, more universal and more stable system? I am not sure of it ...
 

Gregadd

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What of binaural?
 

PeterA

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Pinpoint created by enhancing edges by timbre manipulation is an artifact - however IMHO creating pinpoint by energy focusing and feeling of presence is an welcome addition to having proper space and localization. I consider my system has natural pinpoint. :cool:

Curious that it is easier to describe accurately the negative aspects than the positive ones.

Francisco, could you define what you mean by “natural pinpoint”?

Many audio files consider pinpoint imaging in black backgrounds to be positive aspects. I have only noticed these being considered negative aspects recently in specific threads and by specific members.

I think it is pretty clear what the natural ambience of a concert hall is like if one has experience sitting in a concert hall listening to music. One gets a sense of the character of the space, it’s dimensions and it’s materials. These things come through on a good stereo system if the information is on the recording. It’s very easy to tell if I’m listening to a solo cello or chanting in a stone church versus a quartet or orchestra in a large concert hall. Or listening to rehearsals when the concert hall is empty versus later that evening when the concert hall is full of an audience. It is easy to recognize these things. Describing them in writing can be a challenge but people can do it.
 

microstrip

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Francisco, could you define what you mean by “natural pinpoint”?

When you locate something in a concert you do it accurately - with the help of your eyes. Sound reproduction tries to have this accuracy - and the information is masterly manipulated by the the sound engineers to pass it to us without the feeling of being an artifcat. Pinpoint, properly achieved, is a positive aspect of a good stereo.

Many audio files consider pinpoint imaging in black backgrounds to be positive aspects. I have only noticed these being considered negative aspects recently in specific threads and by specific members.

I think it is pretty clear what the natural ambience of a concert hall is like if one has experience sitting in a concert hall listening to music. One gets a sense of the character of the space, it’s dimensions and it’s materials. These things come through on a good stereo system if the information is on the recording. It’s very easy to tell if I’m listening to a solo cello or chanting in a stone church versus a quartet or orchestra in a large concert hall. Or listening to rehearsals when the concert hall is empty versus later that evening when the concert hall is full of an audience. It is easy to recognize these things. Describing them in writing can be a challenge but people can do it.

We know that your definition of black background is different from that of typical audiophiles. It seems to me you use it in a sense of having excessive contrast, many audiophile use it is as meaning an absense of dirt that allows nuances and microdynamics to show all its information in a continuous and life like style.
 

the sound of Tao

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I haven’t been in a rush to discuss the final frontier of space because imaging and soundstage are hot buttons in the hi fi world, and the concept of “space” that I will describe here requires a total recalibration of the concept of space as it is widely accepted in the hi fi world. Before we talk about the final frontier, here’s an overview of what we have discussed so far in these threads: tonal balance/instrumental timbres and dynamics.
SPACE: Does the system or component recreate the ambience and scale of the original recorded music space to a believable level by revealing the direct sound of instruments and the reflected sound of fundamentals and harmonics within the performance space?

Comparing the listening criteria outlined in these essays with hi fi language necessarily leads to questioning whether the hi fi terms should continue to exist. I’ve been doing this for decades, and I still can’t untie the Gordian Knot of hi fi lingo so that it makes sense to me from a music listening perspective.
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A lot of values you write on very much align and resonate for me and clearly for others Karen.

On the goal of hifi space and soundstage… I have mates who on hearing a system or swapping out a piece of gear look to the shape and scale of the soundstage as being a primary value in evaluating what is good or not… and for some it’s first port of call in assessment and for some bigger = better.

For me it’s something that I look to with a degree of some latitude. If the stage represents as flat or uneven on a recording that I know has good dimensionality and overall fidelity then that plays as deal breaker for me. If the presentation of acoustic instruments approximates an effective rightness in the representation of scale, instrumental body and overall coherency of the whole and falls within a window of latitude of reasonable believability it factors as a basic competency for me (especially given the scope of potential recording variability in approach in mic and mixing technique).

Ultimately in listening over time or with familiar benchmarked recordings if it’s all just overblown or underrepresented in any direction or if it’s patchy and uneven or incoherently weighted or generally unfaithful to a range of recordings then the out of rightness of soundfield shape and boundaries will flow through and factor in the interrelated experience of energetic natures within the sound and the music. But some love hype, some want to be immersed or possessed all the time, some want to be engulfed by the music, some want to be energised in a very particular way, some want their attention to be constantly drawn from point to point, some like to sit back and watch safely from a distance, some are apparently ok about feeling nothing at all and tilt their system this way but all these could be ok if it’s within the scope of the music and the way it’s been performed and recorded and reflects the listener’s relationship with sound and or music. It’s a personal perspective and it’s about how we frame expectation.

What reflects then as a fidelity to music and the performance in its building space for me. The middle place of what probably best (realistically) represents the scale of the recording and my relationship to the soundfield (assumed) and works best for me experiencing that music… but that is still an approximation within the ballpark of believability and set to what past experience of live acoustic music performance tells me to expect in that.

Onto to the demon PRAT… it falls back again then to a assumed rightness for me. The temporal structure of music, it’s beat and meter is a fundamental element in experience of listening and our syncopation to music and at times also moving and dancing (or the irresistible urge to air conducting in private :eek:) in tune to the music. It just comes down to if that quality is essentially right or being under or overrepresented. I have two versions of horn systems that both do well recorded acoustic music to a (very for me) good degree of rightness. They both play with coherency and a relative truthfulness to both sound and music. They both cover diverse music genres well. One has a slight edge in terms of better approximating scale and in tonality and just a shade more resolution within more complex music… while the other is very similar still but shows a shade more swing in its spirit. Neither is far from the notion of essential rightness for me. Neither is over emphatic nor lacking tuneful engagement.

I can sit and listen to classical jazz or rnb or rock on either speakers happily but it’s the one that has that bit more edge and raw bite (or slight energy in mid bass attack) that makes me want to get up and dance just that bit sooner. It’s maybe a bit more youthful in nature while the other can just take in the bigger picture a bit more. Both can do jazz and classical but still both can party but the smaller is just that bit more exuberant while the other larger one reaches deeper and also kicks back and sits within the flow just that bit more, one a bit more chthonic or Dyonesian and the other more ouranic and Apollonian, one more rock and hardcore and the other leaning to deeper trip and trance. The smallest shifts in emphasis alter in terms of a subtle incisiveness and where then the music is then shifted and focused and felt. Both spend much of their time playing acoustic jazz and classical and that is reference that the system is built around but then when asked to play amplified electronic music both still love going into the fray.

Judged on their own they both do a lot of what acoustic music needs from them but one’s energy or spirit fits activity and wildness just that little bit more. Having both qualities of spirit available is good at times. Neither is wrong for me.

Over emphatic PRAT is as bad as no PRAT at all for me. Syncing to neuronal entrainment is a core value within tuning into music and there’s plenty of systems that do so many things right that seem to trip up (and not trip hop) at this hurdle. But for me an unrealistic disengagement from rhythm and movement is what puts us into an analytical framework with music. But a system can present to you with an apparent resolution or much detailed information but if it doesn’t syncopate in coherency then it don’t mean a thing if it chokes out on swing. An over emphasis on beat is mind numbing and exhausting though. Getting the energy of the music right, it’s fierceness or it’s flow is critical. Knowing the spirit of music and a performer and being able to sync to that easily makes a difference in also that as a representative value for some.

I figure with the derogatory use of ‘hi-fi’ as a label I also use the term conveniently as a (judgemental) negative at times but perhaps its also a shame that we take a term that’s derivation was about an intention to faithfulness and exactness and a truth in recording and now use it regularly instead to define a movement seeking exaggeration and artificialness. Perhaps we could consider going with Lo-Fi as a tag (is that more judgemental :eek:) for what we see as untruthful or unfaithful or hyped or artificial and inflated sonics instead and leave high fidelity available as a way-finding compass for a fundamental ‘faithful’ truth that we can aim to navigate back to… more old school truth in labelling… at least for those who are drawn to those key specific values.
 
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PeterA

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When you locate something in a concert you do it accurately - with the help of your eyes. Sound reproduction tries to have this accuracy - and the information is masterly manipulated by the the sound engineers to pass it to us without the feeling of being an artifcat. Pinpoint, properly achieved, is a positive aspect of a good stereo.



We know that your definition of black background is different from that of typical audiophiles. It seems to me you use it in a sense of having excessive contrast, many audiophile use it is as meaning an absense of dirt that allows nuances and microdynamics to show all its information in a continuous and life like style.

The performers are not in the living room and since you can’t see them you want some thing unnatural to give you the illusion that you are seeing them. I prefer to hear the sound the way it is in the concert hall and that is without pinpoint imaging. It’s just a different approach and it’s a different type of sound.

Your absence of dirt is my absence of ambience. I do not hear black backgrounds in the concert hall and when I hear them from an audio system it means there is a lack of information being presented by the system. Again, it is our respective preferences and approaches and they are different types of sound. One is natural and one is hi-fi.
 

tima

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When you locate something in a concert you do it accurately - with the help of your eyes. Sound reproduction tries to have this accuracy - and the information is masterly manipulated by the the sound engineers to pass it to us without the feeling of being an artifcat. Pinpoint, properly achieved, is a positive aspect of a good stereo.

No offense but this is baloney. Close your eyes in the concert hall.

We know that your definition of black background is different from that of typical audiophiles. It seems to me you use it in a sense of having excessive contrast, many audiophile use it is as meaning an absense of dirt that allows nuances and microdynamics to show all its information in a continuous and life like style.

Absence of dirt? Are you just making things up? Typically a black background is attributed to noise reducing power cords, cables and power conditioners that are designed to filter electricity in the megahertz/gigahertz region. The result is often an unatural void that separates musicians from one another - which to some can be an entertaining effect - in a way you will not hear in the concert hall.
 
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Mike Lavigne

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personally i never hear these 'black' backgrounds i read others talk about. having a low noise floor both in your signal path and room isolation wise, allows the ambience and 'hall' of the recording to be fully lit and present when it's captured on a recording. the lower the noise, the farther into the corners of the venue you can hear. this is one of those reasons i preferred my darTZeel 458's amps over the Lamm's and VAC's; i heard farther into the venue with the reduced noise floor. a big difference maker in translating the scale and space of the recording along with extreme deep bass extension and amplifier headroom. ease and authority = the illusion of real space.

as far as hearing the pinpoint outlines of performers that is not at all how i would describe what i hear on better recordings. what i hear is real people, or real instruments with width and depth; i sense bodies moving and a physical presence. instruments have substance. you get a sense of a mouth moving, a chest being a part of the vocals, the instrument moving, the size of the piano, the reality of the drum kit. degrees of these things can separate the good from the great. if this 'illusion' is a 'hifi' artifact, give me more of that stuff. sure, sometimes it's not that way and still a fine involving recording, that sort of 'live' sound is not on every recording. i also think tonal density and timbral and textural complexity, along with the delicate 'action' that gets naturally presented is where the nuanced 'life-like' feeling comes through. the delicacy if you will.

to pull off the holographic show, the recording and system have to have the energy and accuracy to not be stressed by the musical demands. the room and ancillaries have to be well sorted out. you need the detail and the PRAT to provide the suspension of disbelief potential of each recording.
 
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tima

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Could someone explain to me what the hi fi use of “rhythm”, “pace”, and “timing” means? I understand what the terms mean when describing different interpretations of the same piece of music. How can these terms apply to the sound of a hi fi system when one can hear the rhythm, pace, and timing of a piece of music on earbuds? What is it about high-end audio systems that make these qualities difficult to identify? Wouldn’t a system that was capable of delivering music with believable tonal balance, instrumental timbres, dynamic range, and space inherently be able to reveal the rhythm, pace, and timing of the music?

I confess - I have never really understood the whole PRAT thing as some key characteristic useful for describing the sound of a stereo, much less the sound of live music, much less as something whose presence or absence is seen as positive or negative. I do understand timing and rhythm, (the latter a function of the former - patterned timing), but pace - isn't pace simply the rate at which something happens? I hear music, not its rate. He who sets the pace is the conductor or leader. I can understand a musician or even an entire section failing to follow the conductor who will then correct them. But as an inherent characteristic of reproduction ....? People who talk about prat seem compelled to use the word 'swing' whenever they do. Yes, I can tap my foot in time with foot taping music, not so easy with Stravinsky.

-----------------------------------------

Space? It is apt, Karen, that you describe it as the 'final frontier'. Frontiers are at the edge of civilization otherwise just wilderness. Civilization is tonality/timbre, dynamics and timing. (Timing is a fundamental, not to be left out.) Absent those, space is a non-sequitar. As I say, there are no psychoacoustics in the score. True. Nonetheless every live performance takes place in a context that contributes to it and when the context goes missing the performance is not natural. is not what it is.

Space
, the word is fine - the expanse in which musical events are located. Ambiance is another fine word - slightly different from space, it suggestive of a mood, a quality of the environment, an atmosphere. I tend to use Context, similar to both while including the physical, a concert hall, a stone nave or narthex, a small club with round tables and a stage. All of these work and relate to one another.

Psychoacoustics is used by some audiophiles in a way that leans on the visual -- for the sighted perhaps our strongest sense with more words that we can put to use in describing sound. Thus we get dimensionality which is usually taken as 3-dimensionality; the form of the space, sometimes the sense of objects - people and instruments within it. In the past I have written of bas relief, the suggestion of objects. But now I am unsure of dimensionality beyond a sense of context: back and side walls.

I am unsure of a sense of dimensional musicians populating space - I'm thinking it is a product of my mind, not some raw data or thing I am hearing. If I close my eyes in the concert hall I hear music but have no inner sight or non-sighted manifestation of dimensional objects - this I belive is one area where the synthesist and naturalist differ. When I hear the wumpf of a bass drum on a recording sometimes I can tell if it is a large or regular size drum, but I don't see a bass drum or drummer in my mind. Of course one might argue that all psychoacoustics are a mental product, an interpretation caused by sound and based on prior experience, often visual.

A sense of soundstage depth and width is more psychoacoustic phenomenon. I don't think it is visual though we may parse it that way. Our ability to locate the source, direction, and distance of sound is an ancient skill, autonomic if you will inasmuch as we cannot avoid this perception. It is a product of sound in space in context - the timing of reflections give us cues and those sonic reflections are indeed real sounds captured hopefully by recording. Without reflection we may still sense direction, but we gauge amplitude for distance. A sound behind you in an open field - how far away is it?

Unlike tonality, dynamics and timing, psychoacoustics are not, at least for me, the sine qua non of enjoyment -- I can enjoy a performance with lessened such effects. And I can enjoy a performance when psychoacoustics are manufactured or manipulated post recording. Space, ambiance, context are important to a natural sounding, believable reproduction when they are believable, when their source is on the recording.
 

bazelio

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Your absence of dirt is my absence of ambience.

No. Ambience isn't dirt. You have your own definition of "black background" that is inconsistent with most other folks'. A system that strips out detail, like hall ambience, isn't a system that therefore has a black background. It's simply a system that is unresolving. Additionally, hall ambience can and often is heard in systems that do have black backgrounds, using the common notion of the term.
 

bazelio

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No offense but this is baloney. Close your eyes in the concert hall.



Are you just making things up? Typically a black background is attributed to noise reducing power cords, cables and power conditioners that are designed to filter electricity in the megahertz/gigahertz region. The result is often an unatural void that separates musicians from one another - which to some can be an entertaining effect - in a way you will not hear in the concert hall.

What is a noise reducing power cord? I'm familiar with shielded cables and power cords. But these don't reduce noise; they shield the conductors from external noise. Perhaps there are power cords with passive inline filters that I've never seen. Either way, correlating ultrasonic noise filtration to an audible artificial void created between musicians as you've done here is by far the biggest pile of "baloney" anywhere in this thread and perhaps on this forum to date. And yet, Microstrip is the one making shit up? Oh... My sides. My sides.
 

Blackmorec

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Hi Karen,
Once again an excellent and very thought provoking read, which Im going to enjoy replying to

The portrayal of space is an important aspect in hi-fi reproduction and here I think of both the space in which the musicians play, as well as the space that the notes and resulting acoustics are heard to occupy. One of the most irritating factors in music reproduction is when notes of very similar frequencies blend and interfere with one another…….a violin can easily blend with background female vocal backing for example, but if space is correctly resolved, the 2 sounds are easily separated by the brain, which is able to identify different spacial origins for each sound and track the resulting notes and their acoustics….so space is a very basic necessity in other aspects like perceived clarity, pureness, detail etc. When space isn‘t properly resolved and portrayed it impacts on these other elements of the music‘s presentation.

For the brain to identify, resolve and build the correct ‘space’ it needs a lot of information from the recording, so resolution of those elements is an important factor. Timing must be accurate, phase must be well resolved, amplitude must be exactly reproduced between the 2 channels and frequencies must be spot on. A music venue has a certain size….when a musician plays in that venue his/her instrument creates a certain SPL. Given the way music is recorded, the initiation of the note can usually be located with pintpoint accuracy. This is a factor of the recording, not the reproduction. The note then blooms and expands as the instrument resonates to fill the whole venue. The soundwaves hit walls and ceilings and reflect back to the microphone. In order for the brain to identify the venue’s contribution, the reflected sound needs to have the appropriate time delay and the correct amplitude…..when those 2 attributes are clearly resolved, the brain will ‘hear’ the reflection and assign an approximate size and cubic volume to the venue. Because the reflected note has lost a lot of amplitude you only ‘hear‘ these reflections when the reflected note is followed by silence (the so-called inky blackness), however those reflections are going on all the time the instrument is playing, so you still hear them but only as an addition and alteration of the instrument’s timbre rather than as a separate ‘reflection’. This means that the venue is exerting it influence on the sound you hear all the time….

So, pinpoint-accurate imaging is absolutely desirable, as long as it also contains the total note envelope of pinpoint accurate source (partially a microphone/recording artefact), followed by the bloom and reflection, which are anything but pinpoint and should occupy the entire venue.

Let me move on to hi-fi lingo. We generally use a certain vocabulary to describe our hi-fi’s performance….soundstage width and depth, frequency extremes, detail, PRaT etc. When last did you use similar language to describe a live performance? Probably never. Why? Because it describes the sonic presentation of the music rather than the music and musical performance Itself.
I have spent the past 3 years radically refining and improving my network supply following solid engineering principles. The upgrades I made were chosen for completely objective reasons, the results were enjoyed and evaluated subjectively, but I noted one thing. At the start of my project I could and did describe every upgrade using hi-fi lingo. The improvements were easy to hear and very easy to describe using all the regular hi-fi-presentation adjectives. But as the system has improved over time, the biggest changes I now ‘hear’ have nothing to do with hi-fi attributes and everything to do with my reactions to the music. Again as the system has improved it seems futile to try and evaluate the performance sonically when the real improvements overwhelmingly relate to my level of feelings, emotions and ‘involvement’ the system is able to generate.

Finally on to PR&T….pace, rhythm and timing. I believe that the reason Martin Colloms coined the phrase in the first place was because some systems had it, sometimes in spades, while others didn’t and he needed an adjective to easily describe the two ’camps’. PR&T was a MAJOR differentiator between systems at the time. An example: At one stage I owned a Linn LP12 source, Naim active amplification and crossover into Linn Isobarik speakers. On a trip to the US I arranged to listen to a then very popular system marketed under the banner of 2C3D (2 channels, 3 dimensions). Prior to the demo I sorted out a bunch of CDs that portrayed various attributes including PR&T. The particular album I chose was Budapest by Deborah Henson-Conant. The previous evening her music had been practically bouncing me out of my listening chair. The demo started with Roger Waters Amused to Death…very impressive imaging. Then came Deborah and I have rarely heard anything more flat and boring….I couldn’t wait for the track to end….a sonic damp squibb. So I believe PR&T was a term used to differentiate systems that could, from systems that couldn‘t and I believe those differences still exist today, albeit not in such a polar fashion as 30 years ago. Back then, PR&T and imaging were the great dividers between systems built in the UK which had loads of PR&T and hardly imaged, and US built systems that imaged like demons but had far less PR&T when compared to systems like Linn, Naim, Meridian, Audiolab, Mission, Roksan etc.
 
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the sound of Tao

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I would add that I’m not a fan of the acronym PRAT but I spose in fairness to the reviewer who coined it I’d also have thought that the intention was centred essentially around a discussion on the quality of gear in its communication of rhythm and timing in music. Pace is a less ideal term added into the mix here… maybe the P word in front looked catchier than going just with RaT alone. Who knows :rolleyes:
 
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PeterA

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No. Ambience isn't dirt. You have your own definition of "black background" that is inconsistent with most other folks'. A system that strips out detail, like hall ambience, isn't a system that therefore has a black background. It's simply a system that is unresolving. Additionally, hall ambience can and often is heard in systems that do have black backgrounds, using the common notion of the term.

Brian, I did not write that ambiance = dirt. I wrote about their absence. What I mean is that when attempting to lower noise it’s easy to lose recorded information. This is the effect I heard with some of the Shunyata NR noise reduction power cords. I also heard it in my own experiments trying to reduce noise using Vibraplane air isolation platforms. Noise was indeed lowered but everything became overdamped and lacking in information.

Lowering noise (dirt) is great as long as you don’t remove information (ambiance) from the presentation. I’ve heard systems with low noise that have presentations that lack space/ambience/context. It becomes obvious to me that these systems lack information. To me, they don’t sound right. They are dead and lifeless.

The challenge is to reduce system noise while retaining the subtle information on the recording.
 
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