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austinpop

Article: Calibrating My Ears at the San Francisco Symphony

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I live in Brooklyn and get to hear a lot of live music.  There is an amazing resurgence of free jazz in New York, and it is my primary interest in both live and recorded music: amazing world-class musicians, like the Matt Shipp trio, for example, whom I have heard at Carnegie Hall (sold out) and in venues with 30 people in recent months.   I mostly hear music in small ventures where you can almost touch the musicians. I think it is the timbre that is hardest to get in reproduction.

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8 hours ago, austinpop said:

I just attended two BBC Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London: Beethoven 9th last night, and Mahler 8th tonight.

 

What an experience! The Proms are a unique British event, where the center of the arena accommodates standing-room attendees. Both concerts had a strong choral element. I was seated in the "Stalls," closer to the stage, and so was very close to one section of the choir. The effect of a large choir is stunning. And of course the Mahler 8th is arguably one symphony that is almost impossible to reproduce in an audio system. The effect of the huge choirs and the organ ... incredible.

 

I'm shaken AND stirred! :D

 

Unfortunately the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall are not really suited for classical music.

 

On the subject of choirs, my eldest son recently participated in a charity event at the RAH. The choir consisted of over 1000 voices and the power of all those children singing was just brutal, a challenge to even the loudest of heavy metal bands:

 

 


"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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18 hours ago, semente said:

People should try putting on a blindfold before the orchestra members take to their seats.

They'd be surprised by how much of what you describe (and audiophiles have come to expect from their playback) is the result of visual cues.

 

Soundstage is an audiophile invention. ?

I agree partially, but not entirely.  I agree that live classical concert sound tends to be more diffuse than it is on many recordings.  Without the visual cues live, I often have difficulty localizing the exact position of performers playing solo within the orchestra.  Many recordings tend to give a somewhat more exaggerated sense of the "soundstage" and the location of the performers within it.

 

But, I see it as a engineering choice in recording, not an "audiophile" thing.  I believe engineers favor that heightened detail and soundstage because they know listeners will lack visual cues.  It is also a result of the relatively closer micing - often on or over the stage - than the true audience perspective.  That is necessary in order to suppress many hall reflections, particularly in stereo, lest the direct sound be too cavernous sounding.  Of course, some engineers also go overboard with too many onstage spot mics, which can distort the spatial imaging.

 

With the best recordings in fine systems, however, there is definitely a perceivable soundstage in terms of width, depth, apparent size and dimensionality of the instruments, and even suggested height in some systems.  And, personally, I find that discrete Mch renders these soundstage attributes better and more plausibly than stereo together with much more of the diffuse, reflected sound field in the hall, including maintaining the directional information associated with those hall reflections.

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21 hours ago, austinpop said:

I just attended two BBC Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London: Beethoven 9th last night, and Mahler 8th tonight.

 

What an experience! The Proms are a unique British event, where the center of the arena accommodates standing-room attendees. Both concerts had a strong choral element. I was seated in the "Stalls," closer to the stage, and so was very close to one section of the choir. The effect of a large choir is stunning. And of course the Mahler 8th is arguably one symphony that is almost impossible to reproduce in an audio system. The effect of the huge choirs and the organ ... incredible.

 

I'm shaken AND stirred! :D

Better than the guy with the bagpipes then??


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On 7/21/2018 at 3:06 PM, bbosler said:

GOT IT!   thanks for the response. I have an OPPO 203 that can decode the surround tracks. I was feeding it via HDMI to my AVR receiver. The receiver can't (or I haven't figured out how to) decode the multichannel from the OPPO over HDMI so it applied surround processing that wasn't proper. However, when I feed the 7.1 analog output of the OPPO to the 7.1 analog in of the AVR (actually using 5.1) all is well. The surrounds are now ambience and it sounds quite nice. Down side.... how much will I now spend on these files???

 

BTW, the 205 has special jitter-improvement circuitry for the HDMI - don't think the 203 does...

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Some very interesting comments.  My take on various topics.

 

First, Royal Albert Hall hosting the Proms in the summer gives a broad audience some really serious classical music (not Pops concerts like many orchestras elsewhere do).  We heard Bruckner's 6th Symphony there a few years ago - I think the 15th or 20th time it has been performed at the Proms!  There are plenty of cheap seats. The hall has improved its sonics, but is really too cavernous. We saw Joan Baez there two months ago and have seen Swan Lake performed by Russian Ice Skaters.  Almost always those concerts are miked to the detriment of the performers.

 

Davies Hall in SF has actually reduced its seating capacity, installing a central aisle so one can get to your seat in the orchestra (stalls) more easily.  They also added moveable clouds above the stage which really helps the musicians hear each other.  However, I agree that it is too big - but not too big from a financial perspective. With MTT the SFS has been quite successful financially, much better off than many other major symphonies.

 

Interesting comment from ednaz about sitting in the orchestra for so many years.  I spent two years sitting in the back of the viola section of my daughter's youth orchestra (they needed more violas and one other parent and I volunteered to be the last stand.  The first year the oboes were behind us, the second year, it was the trumpets. What a difference!  You can often see the back rows of major orchestras sitting in front of the brass, either have transparent shields behind them or taking out their ear plugs at crucial times during concerts.

 

Microphone placements for recordings, including the best engineered recordings (like Wilkie with the Decca tree, Bob Fine and Mercury, etc) are always much much closer than the average audience member (actually than almost any audience member.)  Some of the imagining occurs with spot mics which are set at specific locations to highlight certain instrument groups.  In some not so good recordings, the recordings are made with a large number of channels, so that the producer/engineer/conductor/soloist can highlight what they want and even move instruments around the stage in post production.   One of the strengths of the Decca team in the golden age was that all the various mics were fed into a custom mixer and mixed to a two track tape in real time, normally not changing any balances.  So there was no after session messing with the recording mix.  Editing was done by the recording engineers, not by underlings after the fact.

 

Any top classical musician can play their instruments really loud and really soft.  In our annual home concert with SFS musicians, we can hear the dynamic range close up.  So in a symphony orchestra concert, even in a big hall, the dynamic range is so much larger than just about any musical recording.

 

Any other experiences or comments are welcome.

 

Larry

 


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Thanks for adding your very interesting  article on this Forum !

Too many lack  the connection to the only  REFERENCE there can be in HI FI.

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On 7/23/2018 at 8:58 AM, semente said:

 

Unfortunately the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall are not really suited for classical music.

 

On the subject of choirs, my eldest son recently participated in a charity event at the RAH. The choir consisted of over 1000 voices and the power of all those children singing was just brutal, a challenge to even the loudest of heavy metal bands:

 

 

Hmm, I have to disagree with you .

For large scale works like Mahler's 8th and other similar works it is imho one of the best venues in the world.

Some of my most "eargasmic" moments in life have been in the Royal Albert Hall during live Proms.

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this thread has now morphed from ear calibration ot what venues are best for what types of music...

 

large scale works vs. chamber music vs. ??

 

then there is the non-SQ interest in being in a place of historical importance...

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On ‎7‎/‎18‎/‎2018 at 11:38 PM, Confused said:

A fine article sir!  Also, it has given me some inspiration, London is a one hour train ride for me, I really should make the effort to visit and listen to something similar myself.

 

As an aside, how impressive is that organ??  I am sure it could be a sub bass monster with the right music.

 

You should.

 

About organs in concert halls: there's a wide variety of power and quality out there. In some halls, the interplay between the organ and the acoustics just don't work as they should. I live in Amsterdam and visit the Concertgebouw regularly, which happens to have a good concert organ.

A few months ago, I attended this very concert:

 

 

The opening statement by the organ blew me away. Seats right in the middle of the hall. The final peroration at the end of the 'Chorus Mysticus' was the loudest thing I ever heard, bordering on painful. An enormous, overwhelming visceral thrill.
The whole concert was one of the most intense musical experiences of my life.

 

Of course, the recorded sound doesn't do it justice, but you can imagine the sub bass...

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