Truth and Tonality: can they co-exist?

fas42

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#1
Gary's thread could get a little lonely here, so I thought it may be worthwhile inserting another idea or concept for people to explore. Rather than distract people by the fact that it is I who have kicked this off, I have taken the liberty of quoting a major part of Robert's recent, very eloquent post:

Low distortion CAN provide a big, realistic, all-encompassing sound, and this includes invisible speakers and excellent to outstanding sound from all recordings. This is the you-are-there perspective, 30 feet from a stage that is about 60 feet wide and 25 feet deep, in an auditorium that sits about 1200 and has 40 foot ceilings. You can hear an occasional cough to your side, and applause comes from around you. This is a very impressive and overwhelming sound that makes your jaw drop, the hair stand-up on your neck, and leaves one scratching their head. Amazing, realistic, impressive are the adjectives used here.

However, low distortion, does not translate into tonality. Tonality needs a separate approach, and as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes requires adding back some desirable distortions, if that is what you wish to call it. The adjectives are gorgeous, sumptuous, harmonious, and intoxicating.

This is the knife’s edge, trying to get a system that does both. They are practically two sides of a coin. The real trick is adding transparent tonality. By tonality, I mean a wet, deep, rounded sound that conveys vibrating wood, brass, and reeds. It has texture, clarity, and an ethereal nature. Notes float into space and envelope you. Harmony and color come to mind, but this stuff is harder to describe. This is not a slow, syrupy, hazy sound. There should be nothing between you and the musicians - just air. For example, do adagios sound beautiful and hold interest as much as the fast pieces. Yes, the 1812 overture sounds impressive, but does the adagietto from Mahler 5 make your heart skip a beat and melt? Does the music draw you in, or is it the descriptors of the imaging? Can you hear a violin and cello summate in a quartet to make a totally new harmony that decays into space? Can you hear the evolution of the vibration in the cello with each note?

Thus, the best system will seek an optimal middle ground. Having low distortion helps the harmonies as an interaction, but it is not the total answer. For some, this may be the old hifi vs. musical debate. For me, this is different, because it is the quest for hifi and musical. That is my goal.
I will leave the floor open now, and try not to get in the way ...:):):)

Frank
 
Jul 1, 2010
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#2
I have a '65 Fender Deluxe Reverb with NOS (new old stock) Visseaux 6v6 tubes made in 1951, and its original Jensen 12" alnico speaker. It has gobs of tone. I also have a mid-90s Gibson custom shop Original Jumbo with an Adirondack top. Big heaping helpings of tone. Their tonality is the truth of those instruments. Every way in which the process of recording them and playing those recordings back adds to or subtracts from that tonality diminishes the truth. A playback system can have tonality that is pleasant, but it cannot be true. Transparent tonality is an oxymoron.

Tim
 
#3
I think that Robert set up a false dilemma. A system with low distortion may allow more detail to be heard and that low distortion may be necessary for comfortable listening at a high sound level. A low distortion system can also get the tonality that is on the recording right.

As I read the OP, I was starting to listen to a performance of Haydn's Symphony No. 92 by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. No vinyl and no tubes in sight; just a 44.1/16 Flac file played through solid state electronics. The recording captures the precision and beauty of the orchestra's playing and the impeccable classical style of the performance. I want honest playback of recordings that lets me hear those qualities; I'll take the good and the bad in the recordings I own. I certainly don't want my system to inject a pleasing tonality into everything I play.

Bill
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
#4
Frank, thank you. I was hoping not to get into anything too controversial until people got used to the idea and participation in a dialectic :)

Two points of view. First, low distortion and tonality are different. I think that this will degenerate into the warm, syrupy tube amp vs the lean, clean SS amp debate. In my view, both of these distort the musical intent of the recording. One strips away something, the other adds something. Nevertheless, both have their supporters and both have their detractors.

Second point of view, low distortion lets tonality through. This supports Tim's point. I don't know about Fenders, but a low distortion system lets you know whether Yoyo Ma is playing his Amati or his Stradivarius cello. But I also don't agree that transparent tonality is an oxymoron. I have heard terms like "tonal density", "meat on the bones". They can both relate to tone and timbre. Unfortunately, I know of nobody who has figured how to measure this.
 

Kal Rubinson

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May 5, 2010
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#5
Second point of view, low distortion lets tonality through. This supports Tim's point. I don't know about Fenders, but a low distortion system lets you know whether Yoyo Ma is playing his Amati or his Stradivarius cello. But I also don't agree that transparent tonality is an oxymoron. I have heard terms like "tonal density", "meat on the bones". They can both relate to tone and timbre. Unfortunately, I know of nobody who has figured how to measure this.
The problem is worse. I do not think you have clearly defined the issue. I still do not understand how a transparent system can have or endow any tonality that was not present in the recording. In fact, conveying that original tonality (still an uncomfortable word application) is function of truthfullness.
 

FrantzM

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Apr 20, 2010
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#6
Two points of view. First, low distortion and tonality are different. I think that this will degenerate into the warm, syrupy tube amp vs the lean, clean SS amp debate. In my view, both of these distort the musical intent of the recording. One strips away something, the other adds something. Nevertheless, both have their supporters and both have their detractors.

Second point of view, low distortion lets tonality through. This supports Tim's point. I don't know about Fenders, but a low distortion system lets you know whether Yoyo Ma is playing his Amati or his Stradivarius cello. But I also don't agree that transparent tonality is an oxymoron. I have heard terms like "tonal density", "meat on the bones". They can both relate to tone and timbre. Unfortunately, I know of nobody who has figured how to measure this.
Don't want to come out too strong but what does "tonality" means? In that context ... We are not PRODUCING music , we are reproducing what is on a medium .. If the gear acquit itself of such what else should we ask of it .. I am sincerely confused.
 
Jul 1, 2010
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#7
I do not think you have clearly defined the issue. I still do not understand how a transparent system can have or endow any tonality that was not present in the recording. In fact, conveying that original tonality (still an uncomfortable word application) is function of truthfullness.
Exactly. A playback system is not a musical instrument, it is a tool for reproducing the sound of a musical instrument. In my view, it should have no tone. Of course it does. It is imperfect.

Tim
 

garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
#8
Yeah, I'm struggling a bit with this too. May be we'll have to wait for OP to define tonality.

The reproduction system should be as transparent as possible. If it's on the recording, it should let it through. If it's not, that it should not embellish.
 
Jul 8, 2010
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#9
A playback system is not a musical instrument, it is a tool for reproducing the sound of a musical instrument.
I agree. If a recording "needs" more distortion or whatever to sound good, then the mix engineers didn't do a very good job. Ideally, a playback system will reproduce exactly what is in the recording, whatever the source. That's the definition of high fidelity. Not "sounds pleasing" as some people seems to think.

--Ethan
 

fas42

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#10
If it's on the recording, it should let it through. If it's not, that it should not embellish.
Yes, but for some people that seems to be the dilemma. I have a collection of HiFiNews going back to 1986, and have always enjoyed the idiosyncratic and colourful assessments of the industry and gear by Ken Kessler. Of course he was a notorious supporter of tube or valve componentry, and I have lost count of the number of times he would recount an experience listening to highly "revealing" components, sniff in a wearisome way and state "Well, if you want to hear the bloke in the third row scratching his bum, or the mosquito landing on the horn of the third trombone, this may be the right stuff for you, but for me, I'll just toodle off, sample some tasty tubes and enjoy listening to music!" All very amusing, but it seems a strong theme in a lot of people's thinking, even in the area of, dare I say it, room treatments.

Frank
 
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Gregadd

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Apr 20, 2010
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#11
I agree. If a recording "needs" more distortion or whatever to sound good, then the mix engineers didn't do a very good job. Ideally, a playback system will reproduce exactly what is in the recording, whatever the source. That's the definition of high fidelity. Not "sounds pleasing" as some people seems to think.

--Ethan
Nor should it sound disconsonant under the umbrella of "accuracy" as some tolerate.
 
Jul 1, 2010
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#12
Yes, but for some people that seems to be the dilemma. I have a collection of HiFiNews going back to 1986, and have always enjoyed the idiosyncratic and colourful assessments of the industry and gear by Ken Kessler. Of course he was a notorious supporter of tube or valve componentry, and I have lost count of the number of times he would recount an experience listening to highly "revealing" components, sniff in a wearisome way and state "Well, if you want to hear the bloke in the third row scratching his bum, or the mosquito landing on the horn of the third trombone, this may be the right stuff for you, but for me, I'll just toodle off, sample some tasty tubes and enjoy listening to music!" All very amusing, but it seems a strong theme in a lot of people's thinking, even in the area of, dare I say it, room treatments.

Frank
Kudos to him for the honesty. There is, of course, nothing wrong with audio that colors the signal, and all of your music collection, with a universal tonality that helps you enjoy the music. It only becomes a problem when you refuse to admit that it is coloration and insist that your color of choice is more "natural" or "life like" or "musical" than a more accurate reproduction of the recording.

Tim
 
May 30, 2010
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#13
Ideally, a playback system will reproduce exactly what is in the recording, whatever the source. That's the definition of high fidelity. Not "sounds pleasing" as some people seems to think.

--Ethan
We may agree on this one, but who can tell you exactly what it is in the recording?

The recording per si is just a set of 0's and 1's, or a V(t). Humans can not precept them, they need a transducer system, that must be appreciated subjectively,

We must not forget that what you may consider "sound pleasing" is seen by others as "more lifelike".
 

Gregadd

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#14
Kudos to him for the honesty. There is, of course, nothing wrong with audio that colors the signal, and all of your music collection, with a universal tonality that helps you enjoy the music. It only becomes a problem when you refuse to admit that it is coloration and insist that your color of choice is more "natural" or "life like" or "musical" than a more accurate reproduction of the recording.

Tim
Certainly all systems distort. It seems logical to prefer pleasant distortions rather than irritating ones. Indeed sins of omission tend to be less offensive than sins of commission. Be careful when invited to pick your poison no matter how pleasant the taste. Pursuit of the real thing may be a goal you never reach. It is extremely tempting to camp out in some attractive haven. I encourage you to continue on that journey. I have heard many a great system devoid of euphonic colrations. Not all of them hideously expensive.

We do need to remember to listen to our system not like a reviewer but as a music lover. Hearing trains going by may help the reviewer assess the systems ability to resolve but does little for the end user.
 
May 30, 2010
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#15
Yes, but for some people that seems to be the dilemma. I have a collection of HiFiNews going back to 1986, and have always enjoyed the idiosyncratic and colourful assessments of the industry and gear by Ken Kessler. Of course he was a notorious supporter of tube or valve componentry, and I have lost count of the number of times he would recount an experience listening to highly "revealing" components, sniff in a wearisome way and state "Well, if you want to hear the bloke in the third row scratching his bum, or the mosquito landing on the horn of the third trombone, this may be the right stuff for you, but for me, I'll just toodle off, sample some tasty tubes and enjoy listening to music!" All very amusing, but it seems a strong theme in a lot of people's thinking, even in the area of, dare I say it, room treatments.

Frank
Frank,

We should frame Kessler writings about tubes in the proper time and place.

IMHO Kessler is not a reviewer in the sense we discussed in another thread - he is an hifi enthusiast with good writing skills and large experience, that became an hifi opinion maker. His claims at the time were made in a provocative way against the dominant opinion of the hifi press, favoring the solid state amplifiers. As most of this amplifiers had a clinical unpleasant sound the mite of the pleasant (euphonic ) tube sound was created.

I have the January 1983 HFNRR Martin Colloms review of the Audio Research SP8 preamplifier. The measurements show that distortion (dB) ref 0.5V IHF at 20, 2000 and 20000 Hz is -97dB, -93 dB and -90 dB, respectively. Why should it sound "pleasant" ?

I am going to quote a sentence of Peter Walker of Quad in 1973 , "I have never said that all the amplifiers sound the same, neither I have said that all amplifiers sound different, because neither statement would be true. What I have said is that if two amplifiers are compared in some particular experimental setup and a difference in sound quality is shown to exist, then proper investigation will precisely reveal an explicable cause or causes for the difference" .

Again IMHO, 38 years later the proper investigation has not been carried yet.
 

Gregadd

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#16
I am reminded of the fairy tale. Rather than enjoy her beauty or improve upon each morning she sought out the competion to destroy antyhing better. The profit motive is the ultimate corruptor. If only instead of having a patent system we were allowed to take the best prodcut and improve upon it. Where would be?e
 
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garylkoh

WBF Technical Expert (Speakers & Audio Equipment)
#17
I am going to quote a sentence of Peter Walker of Quad in 1973 , "I have never said that all the amplifiers sound the same, neither I have said that all amplifiers sound different, because neither statement would be true. What I have said is that if two amplifiers are compared in some particular experimental setup and a difference in sound quality is shown to exist, then proper investigation will precisely reveal an explicable cause or causes for the difference" .

Again IMHO, 38 years later the proper investigation has not been carried yet.
I think that it has - 25 years ago. See here:
http://www.stereophile.com/content/carver-challenge
 

Robert

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Nov 10, 2010
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#18
There is, of course, nothing wrong with audio that colors the signal, and all of your music collection, with a universal tonality that helps you enjoy the music. It only becomes a problem when you refuse to admit that it is coloration and insist that your color of choice is more "natural" or "life like" or "musical" than a more accurate reproduction of the recording.

Tim
What if I am willing to admit that it IS a coloration, and it DOES make the system sound more realistic and natural?

The only thing that is neutral in audio are the written notes in the score. It all gets colored after that.

Let us please remember that the stereo is a means to an end, and not an end unto itself. The goal is to recreate the performance.

Tubes, gold, multi-stranded conductors. I would submit that these alter the signal. The best ones give a paradoxical tonal transparency that can only be described as magic. Low distortion helps too, but it needs to be counterbalanced in a few very important places.

I can demonstrate the paradox of low distortion vs. tonality to anyone on my system.
 
May 30, 2010
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#19
The Carver challenge was a very interesting experience, but can not be considered a research project.

The uncontrolled conditions in which it was carried, and the reports that were made were so vague, that they could not please neither the objective not the subjective community. However they are still fueling never ending discussions between the two camps.

We could expect that it would trigger some scientific research on the sonic characterization of the harmonic contents of amplifier distortion, but as far as I know, there is no reference publication on it.

But I would pay to listen to the Carver experiment repeated with Steve Lamm system in his fantastic room!
 
Jul 8, 2010
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#20
Nor should it sound disconsonant under the umbrella of "accuracy" as some tolerate.
I disagree. If a recording really does sound poor then, again, the recording and mix engineers are to blame. You may want to add an EQ to balance the sound of individual tracks to your liking, and that's fine. But that same EQ will not apply to all recordings. Otherwise, you might just as well set a graphic EQ to a smiley face and then your system will sound "better" on everything. I hope that's not what you're implying. :D

--Ethan