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Article: Calibrating My Ears at the San Francisco Symphony


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I’m a regular concert-goer and depending on the hall itself, the things I miss most after returning to home are dynamics, incredible upper harmonics of the brass (french horns especially) and “hearing the rosin on the bow”. There is a small but distinct additional sound in the string instruments as the bow attacks the strings, which is never there in a recording.

 

Opera singers are something completely different. Few systems and fewer recordings can recreate anything close to the heavenly sweetness, power and substance needed at the same time.

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@bbosler

One of the reasons why audiophiles are audiophiles is because their "listening" involves sound appreciation and music appreciation. For some the emphasis is on "sound" while others place it on the "music". Some on CA place all of the emphasis on the "sound", although none of them would ever admit to it. After a while you get to know who these contributors are.  

 

@austinpop is definitely a contributor whose emphasis is always on the music.

 

FWIW, I agree with everything you have written. For me, sound and music appreciation are mutually exclusive, which is why my signature references the "tyranny of conscious thought".

 

BTW, I gave up my subscription of Digital Concert Hall for exactly the reasons you highlighted.

 

 

"The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought", Sir Thomas Beecham. 

 

 

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I know that some theaters/performance halls are using acoustic paneling and DSP to ensure that everyone in the theater hears the same thing at the same time: in other words, mics to DSP to multiple speakers all around the hall, and DSP and paneling being used to make sure each audience member hears the same thing at the same time.

I also know that some of the new symphony halls have various "movable" acoustic panels/ceilings in order to alter the sound of the hall depending on the piece and size of the ensemble being used. 

I wonder if any orchestra has contemplated doing something similar with DSP and classical?

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10 hours ago, STC said:

 

The technology is here but the implementation is tedious. The sound in concert hall consists of two parts. Direct and reflected sound. Most classical recordings are a mixture of close miking and from the critical radius where the reverberation and direct sound ratio are equal (more or less). 

 

In real life, the sweet spot is much further away than the critical distance where the microphones were placed to do the recording. We are essentially listening to 90 percent of the hall's sound and only about 10% of the direct sound from the performers.

 

The rest of the 40 percent of the actual concert hall sound is not in the recordings. It is a myth to believe you can reproduce the concert hall sound with only 40% of the actual sound in the recording. It cannot be done. Furthermore, the reflected sound comes in surround mode from thousands, if not millions of different angle all around the listeners head giving the sense of envelopment. This reflected sound if reproduced in the recording it will sound fuzzy because the speakers will be sending this reflected sound from only two angle as opposed to the millions in a concert hall.

 

A good room with diffusers, can help to reproduce the balance of 40% of the reflected sound but due to the limited volume of our normal listening room it can only give a marginal sense of envelopment. Also notice that in recordings, you only have TWO location of the source. Unlike a live concert performance, the reflected direction of the reverberation in listening room is rather monotonous as the direction cannot vary beyond the two speakers radiation point.

 

 

I agree with much of what you say.  But, there is a solution that works extraordinarily well in dealing with the issues you cited - discretely recorded multichannel sound.

 

I have been attending  Philadelphia Orchestra and other live concerts for decades.  Obviously, nothing beats live performance sonically. But, I was always struck by the fact that no stereos - my own very fine and costly ones or even more outrageously over the top ones - were really faithful to the sound one experiences at live concerts.  Yes,  I could deeply enjoy the music at home in stereo, but it still was too far from sounding real to me.

 

Fortunately, my encounters with Mch audio over a decade ago changed that, dramatically for the better,  and I upgraded to a high quality 7.1 system.  Also, fortunately, I discovered that there was a substantial and rewarding classical discography in discretely recorded Mch on SACD, plus less so on BD-V and BD-A.  Yes, the selection is much smaller than on CD, but I have collected many thousands of Mch albums, all ripped to my NAS.  I do not miss CDs at all, and I have not bought any stereo recordings in over 10 years.

 

I am not implying utter perfection in discrete Mch.  But, I am much, much more satisfied in home listening, with none of the feelings that something is missing from the sound. It changed my life more than any other audio experience.  I also have found that attempting to tweak your hopelessly too small listening  room for concert hall sound or using stereo to Mch upmixing both fall far and disappointingly short of discretely recorded Mch sound.  

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it is about the music - but he made the comparison (AFAIK) to see if he is getting the best SQ in his home - which is where MOST people listen to music

 

note also his careful seat selection (row N, and apparently just a tad right of center)

 

he was able to hear an orchestra in a much larger city than the one he resides in (and so likely better) so why not?

 

I enjoyed hearing George Szell and the CSO back in the day (tho I had no frame of reference to realize how good it was) and I sincerely doubt that he (and they) will be revivified and dropped into the middle of my small (170k) city so i can ear them.  Why would I not listen to them on a recording and try to make my sound system as good as I can?

 

Some kid tried to bring sexy back but nobody is gonna bring Coltrane back, so count yourself lucky to live in the era of recorded music

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18 hours ago, hols said:

Hi austinpop nice write up. You lucky man. Daniil Trifonov is really a genius and definitely the most exciting pianist around nowadays. You've got to listen to his recitals if you get a chance. It is even more startling than his concerto performance.

 

He was amazing indeed!

 

18 hours ago, hols said:

Like you I am a classical music enthusiast and I go to orchestral concerts regularly. I agree with you entirely that in the actual performance the orchestra layout is not as sharp as in our recreated audio. But one point I would like to make when we compare real performance and our recreated audio sound is that there is an intermediary i.e. the recording engineer and the mastering engineer. I used to believe that what we can hear from our CDs is not 100% what the conductor wants you to hear but more what the recording engineer wants you to hear. (Musically yes mostly from the conductor but the HiFi aspect it is mostly from the recording and mastering engineer). There are many tricks or tweaks that the recording engineer or mastering engineer can put in before the release of the CD so much so that they can increase the depth or width of the orchestra layout, improve the timbre of certain solo instruments, enhance the reverberation or adding airiness to improve the dynamics. So the final outcome of the CD may or may not reflect the actual performance no matter how hard you try. Just my 2 cents.

 

Great point about the recording and mastering process. In my mind, it's another factor that makes it harder to get close to the real thing. 

 

13 hours ago, firedog said:

I wouldn't be surprised if in the not distant future we will be able to use DSP and psychoacoustics to make a "virtual reality"  playback that is good enough to fool us into thinking we are hearing the real thing. Enough cues, and our brains will fill in the rest. 

 

Yes I wouldn't be surprised if DSP rises in importance and impact. We're already seeing things like the Smyth Realizer, or the JVC Exasound technology. I suspect there is a lot more to come.

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Austinpop, thank you for the considered response.

 

I find it odd that the original poster apparently has no problem with my opinion but the moderator does AND he chose to denigrate me will commenting. As Austinpop  stated "It was a fair question, and I hope I clarified my rationale for you"

 

Computer Audiophile, I believe  I was very clear that I was open to how people listened and made them  happy was fine with me.  I stated it clearly and alluded to it more than once. I'm not going to go back and dig through but I clearly stated that how one chooses to listen is their own choice and I wished them much happiness in doing so. The fact you choose to scold me for expressing my opinion about what makes me happy compared to others when I  clearly stated I had no problem with the difference, shows how narrow-minded you are, not me. I don't often get riled up on internet forums but what I stated was an opinion about what I chose to do versus others. It was an observation, not a condemnation like your post about me. Yours was a snarky attack about me doing so.  I suppose you will delete this and ban me from the site for firing back. If so I am happy to go if the moderator is offended by  well reasoned opinions. BTW I deleted my original "kiss my ass" line so as not to offend anybody.

 

Thank you, I feel better

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2 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

 

Absolutely not. But even if it did, who cares?

 

 

 

Hi @bbosler - Why are you sad that someone goes to an orchestra and has fun in his own way? Is he barred from all other performances and enjoying them in the way in which won't make you sad? This is all very strange to me. What does it matter how someone else enjoys his free time?

 

It doesn't make me sad in the least if someone goes to a Pearl Jam concert for the expensive beer and hot dogs. In fact, I'm probably happy for that person if he is happy.

 

 

 

Perhaps you're bothered easily by people who don't act like you or in your approved way? Just using your own terms (bothered). 

 

 

I can't understand why anyone would be bothered by other people's actions as long as the actions don't effect anyone else.

 

Like music? Fine.

Like gear? Fine.

Like music and gear? Fine.

Like to get a baseline sound for comparison of your home playback system, in an effort to increase your enjoyment of this wonderful hobby? Fine. 

 

 

 

16 minutes ago, bbosler said:

Computer Audiophile, I believe  I was very clear that I was open to how people listened and made them  happy was fine with me.  I stated it clearly and alluded to it more than once. I'm not going to go back and dig through but I clearly stated that how one chooses to listen is their own choice and I wished them much happiness in doing so. The fact you choose to scold me for expressing my opinion about what makes me happy compared to others when I  clearly stated I had no problem with the difference, shows how narrow-minded you are, not me. I don't often get riled up on internet forums but what I stated was an opinion about what I chose to do versus others. It was an observation, not a condemnation like your post about me. Yours was a snarky attack about me doing so.  I suppose you will delete this and ban me from the site for firing back. If so I am happy to go if the moderator is offended by  well reasoned opinions. BTW I deleted my original "kiss my ass" line so as not to offend anybody.

 

Thank you, I feel better

 

 

Hi @bbosler - I'll quote my words above just so we don't have to scroll for reference. 

 

Is it possible you read more into my post that I really wrote?

 

I only used your words to ask you questions and state my opinion about how people enjoy things. 

 

I see zero scolding in my words. I would never scold someone for an opinion. I encourage all opinions. Just like yours, I offered mine. 

 

I didn't see your post as a condemnation, only an opinion. This is why I asked you questions. To help me understand why you would be bothered (your word not mine).

 

People don't get banned around here for opinions or offending others as long as they don't launch personal attacks.

 

Last question, is it really deleting a comment if you say you deleted it and write it in full?

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2 hours ago, firedog said:

I know that some theaters/performance halls are using acoustic paneling and DSP to ensure that everyone in the theater hears the same thing at the same time: in other words, mics to DSP to multiple speakers all around the hall, and DSP and paneling being used to make sure each audience member hears the same thing at the same time.

I also know that some of the new symphony halls have various "movable" acoustic panels/ceilings in order to alter the sound of the hall depending on the piece and size of the ensemble being used. 

I wonder if any orchestra has contemplated doing something similar with DSP and classical?

No established first or second tier ensemble would consider that, I think, for classical music, opera, etc.  The audience would be aghast.  I know I would cancel my subscription.  Similarly, if the Met Opera in NYC started using head mikes like they do in Broadway shows, there would be pandemonium.

 

The design of Verizon Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra's home performance space, was designed about 2 decades ago with certain adjustable acoustic features - like large, rotatable wall panels behind side seating areas, a lowerable section of ceiling, etc.  There is however absolutely no sound reinforcement by speakers during orchestra performances.  And, although there was much concern, effort, measurement and attention, all quite expensive during design, the hall was initially disappointing in spite of the adjustable features.  Several cycles of expensive remeasurement and reconfiguration gradually but steadily  improved that noticeably, though some of the tweaks were surprisingly small..  That is not unusual for concert halls.  

 

Today, I think it is a good hall, though not a Concertgebouw, Symphony Hall Boston, Musikvereinsaal, etc.  I believe that the expensive original adjustable acoustics are now totally unused.

 

Having said that, I would not part to the death with DSP EQ for my room/speaker setup.  It is huge.  Acoustic treatments are much more of a crap shoot.  And, if you do not fully understand acoustics, it is pretty much trial and error both for large halls using prestige consultants and for home listening rooms.

 

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18 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Is it possible you read more into my post that I really wrote?

 

 

That is always possible especially in a forum like this, which I believe I acknowledged in an earlier post. However, when someone quotes you and follows with "who cares" don't you think that if not scolding it is at a minimum being dismissive, which is defined as "feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration." Whether scolded or dismissed, it is IMHO a counterproductive  way to engage in meaningful dialogue.

 

The line about deleting the line then including the line was in my mind very humorous. An attempt at what I thought was irony.  YMMV

 

I apologize to all for taking the thread in another direction. Let's get back to discussing the original post. BTW very well written whether or not I agree with it. 

 

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ZYX Optimum - Moerch DP8 arm - Merrill Williams >> Esoteric E-02 >>> either Antelope as above or  Placette Passive >> DIY 300B amp

 

 

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1 minute ago, bbosler said:

 

That is always possible especially in a forum like this, which I believe I acknowledged in an earlier post. However, when someone quotes you and follows with "so what" don't you think that if not scolding it is at a minimum being dismissive, which is defined as "feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration." Whether scolded or dismissed, it is IMHO a counterproductive  way to engage in meaningful dialogue.

 

The line about deleting the line then including the line was in my mind very humorous. An attempt at what I thought was irony.  YMMV

 

I apologize to all for taking the thread in another direction. Let's get back to discussing the original post. BTW very well written whether or not I agree with it. 

 

My specific term was "who cares" and I guess there is no way to use that term online and have it be received like I meant it. My fault.

 

My body language just didn't make it through my screen protector :~)

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6 hours ago, Fitzcaraldo215 said:

I agree with much of what you say.  But, there is a solution that works extraordinarily well in dealing with the issues you cited - discretely recorded multichannel sound.

 

+1 to that. Two speakers system cannot adequately portray a concert hall sound. I have always preferred multichannel format over stereo  for full orchestra. Most Mch SACD's rear channel carries the rear hall ambiance. This is closer to concert hall performance as the additional channels/speakers are reproducing what couldn't be included in the main stereo channel. There are also other 5.1 where the rear or surround channels are not true stereo sound but mere discrete mono channels for creating a sense of surround sound by projecting sound from side and rear. This is more useful for movies.

 

Having said that, even the 5.1 or 7.1 is still far from realism. In my system of 72 channels of hall ambiance alone vs  5.1  (I do not have 7.1 music tracks), the difference can be heard easily. I still think that is still far from realism.

 

Nice to know another fan of multichannel format.

 

Cheers!

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Rajiv, I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I did have one question, though. Please correct me if my recollection is faulty but isn't it so that you do your listening at home through a headphone based system? If so, then I suspect that something like the upcoming Smyth Realiser A16 paired with some multichannel classical recordings would really take your at home listening to another level.

 

BTW, if you have a taste for acoustic or slightly amplified jazz performed in a small venue then I would definitely recommend such a concertgoing experience to also help in "recalibrating your ears." In addition, there is nothing to match the dynamic sound of live drums(and piano, as you point out).

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I always thought concert videos always sound better with the tv on too. Something about watching it while you hear it brings it to the next level.

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18 hours ago, miguelito said:

I was just joking... Sorry if it was too terse. I pictured you standing up and telling them all "Can you play that again while I cover my eyes?"

 

Yep, this was still funny a day later.

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9 hours ago, loop7 said:

Great piece.

 

I've been attending SF Symphony concerts in Davies Symphony Hall since 1997 (4-5 concerts per year). For years, I sat in the First Tier because it offers great views with mid-line prices but I would also sit in the different areas of the Orchestra section when budget or circumstances permitted.

 

So, those were my two areas until I had a lengthy post-concert conversation with a volunteer docent (retired broker) in 2004 who had been attending concerts in Davies since it opened, during and after the renovations. He strongly urged me to give the Second Tier a try because, in his opinion, it was up in that area where the hall really worked in terms creating magic. I questioned his advice because the view is mediocre.

 

The next concert to which I had tickets was Mahler's 6th symphony (Tilson Thomas) in the First Tier but I swapped them for prime seats in the Second Tier. Well, the sound was so balanced, full and emotional that the experience is permanently imprinted into memory. Thinking it was the performance/piece and not the Second Tier, I then attended a few more concerts way up in those "cheap seats" and have never looked back. It's remarkable how much better the sound is up there than in the more expensive areas of Davies.

 

Oh, the wise old docent had spent a lot of time traveling across the country for concerts and thought the Cleveland and Dallas halls are still number one in the US according to his ears.

 

Wow thanks, that is great insight and advice!

 

I’ll have to give it a try and see, next time I attend the SFS. In general - not specific to Davies - I have found the sound in the cheap seats in the upper tiers to lack dynamics, although perhaps it is accompanied by a more balanced presentation?

 

I’ll have to see. I find live dynamics to be one of the more compelling aspects of attending the symphony.

 

I’ll also have to check out Dallas and Cleveland!

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8 hours ago, austinpop said:

 

Wow thanks, that is great insight and advice!

 

I’ll have to give it a try and see, next time I attend the SFS. In general - not specific to Davies - I have found the sound in the cheap seats in the upper tiers to lack dynamics, although perhaps it is accompanied by a more balanced presentation?

 

I’ll have to see. I find live dynamics to be one of the more compelling aspects of attending the symphony.

 

I’ll also have to check out Dallas and Cleveland!

Many halls may have their own particular sweet spots, also depending on arbitrary listener preference, mythology, etc.

 

After sitting in many different seats at various levels in Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, I am happiest with Orchestra Floor level, center section, about 2/3 toward the rear.  Dead centered or not in that section doesn't make a big difference to me, nor does a few rows forward or back.  

 

The sight lines are not as good as in the balconies. We used to have first tier, center balcony boxes with perfect sight lines and no overhang, but the sound is preferable to me on the Orchestra Floor level.

 

But, the live music experience is precious, and that comes through no matter the seat, slight quibbles about the sound or sight lines aside..

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11 hours ago, Deyorew said:

I always thought concert videos always sound better with the tv on too. Something about watching it while you hear it brings it to the next level.

I have hundreds of concert videos, operas, ballets, etc.. I agree, there is no more engrossing musical experience in the home than audio plus video. I really enjoy seeing the passion and intensity of the performers in making great music.  For opera, I even prefer it to being there, after having been a Met subscriber for decades, much as I also prefer football on TV.  The sound from BD can be quite good, as well.

 

The only problem is I tire after several watchings of seeing exactly the same faces, gestures, expressions each time.  No problem, though.  I just turn off the video if need be.

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