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The myth of "The Absolute Sound"


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14 minutes ago, semente said:

 

When you are sitting in a venue there is direct sound from the instruments and reflected sound from the surrounding surfaces and room reverberation. You are immersed in sound.

 

At home both direct sound and the reflected sound and room reverberation are coming from the same plane between the speakers, hence the systems inability to recreate the original soundfield.

 

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In my home, not me.  I listen overwhelmingly to discretely recorded multichannel.  What you say is completely valid, though, in home stereo.

 

It was 12 years ago, and I heard my first Mch system. I heard a much, much closer approach to the idealistic “absolute sound”, considerably narrowing the gap between my live classical experience at concerts and my home system.  I remain a complete devotee of multichannel.

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2 hours ago, Jud said:

 

I suppose I am not getting how something can be used as a reference if you don't know how it's supposed to sound. That's like using a TV anchor's face as a reference for a monitor's color reproduction when you don't know her skin complexion or what makeup she's wearing. It may reveal gross errors, but you really have no way of knowing with any precision how accurate that monitor is.

 

There are many different sonic parameters which you can evaluate.

The same is true for video.

If you use several recordings you can improve the accuracy of your judgement.

 

But in a way you are concluding that humans are not very good at evaluating accuracy and realism, particularly if they haven't been trained, don't use the right methodology and don't have solid references of both live and high quality reproduced sound.

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

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5 minutes ago, Fitzcaraldo215 said:

In my home, not me.  I listen overwhelmingly to discretely recorded multichannel.  What you say is completely valid, though, in home stereo.

 

It was 12 years ago, and I heard my first Mch system. I heard a much, much closer approach to the idealistic “absolute sound”, considerably narrowing the gap between my live classical experience at concerts and my home system.  I remain a complete devotee of multichannel.

I haven't had the opportunity to listen to a good multi-channel system and whilst with the right recordings it will perhaps sound more convincing/realist than a 2channel stereo setup it will not be able to reproduce the original soundfield for the reasons I mentioned previously.

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

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13 minutes ago, semente said:

 

There are many different sonic parameters which you can evaluate.

The same is true for video.

If you use several recordings you can improve the accuracy of your judgement.

 

But in a way you are concluding that humans are not very good at evaluating accuracy and realism, particularly if they haven't been trained, don't use the right methodology and don't have solid references of both live and high quality reproduced sound.

 

I (and I think barrows) are going a shade beyond that to say unless you not only intimately know the sound of a particular model of, for example, acoustic guitar, but also the sound of the mic feed for that guitar in the particular recording session, there is no absolute reference.

 

Can some useful information be gathered? Possibly; I wouldn't rule it out. But if you want to try something, set up your home TV by eye, then look up the Imaging Science Foundation settings for your model and see how close you got. Or set up room equalization software by ear, then use the recommended setup procedure and again, see how close you got.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

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Just now, semente said:

I haven't had the opportunity to listen to a good multi-channel system and whilst with the right recordings it will perhaps sound more convincing/realist than a 2channel stereo setup it will not be able to reproduce the original soundfield for the reasons I mentioned previously.

Who cares about the original sound field?  It betters the stereo paradigm by a fair bit, at least for classical music.

 

By that I mean two things.  Objectively, by having sound sources better able to reproduce the enveloping surround and a center channel to improve imaging.  Subjectively, on an “absolute sound” scale, it delivers clearly more realism.  

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1 minute ago, Jud said:

 

I (and I think barrows) are going a shade beyond that to say unless you not only intimately know the sound of a particular model of, for example, acoustic guitar,, but also the sound of the mic feed for that guitar in the particular recording session, there is no absolute reference.

 

Can some useful information be gathered? Possibly; I wouldn't rule it out. But if you want to try something, set up your home TV by eye, then look up the Imaging Science Foundation settings for your model and see how close you got. Or set up room equalization software by ear, then use the recommended setup procedure and again, see how close you got.

 

I think that most of us would be able to distinguish between a violin and a viola or between a piano and fortepiano listening through the earpiece of an old analogue phone despite the narrow frequency bandwidth, the absence of spatial reconstruction or limited dynamic range. But perhaps those who have never listened to these instruments might struggle a bit.

 

I have never read anything written by Harry Pearson though I did watch an interview on YouTube so I can't really comment in his reasons but to me adequately mic'ed live unamplified acoustic music is meant to sound as much as possible like the real thing and this makes it more adequate for judging realism than any other, as mentioned previously.

It's also arguably better for judging many other aspects or parameters of performance but personally I see merit in complementing with other genres. We are not listening for pleasure and recordings are just tools for sound assessment.

 

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

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12 minutes ago, Fitzcaraldo215 said:

Who cares about the original sound field?  It betters the stereo paradigm by a fair bit, at least for classical music.

 

Who cares about HighRes? if Redbook betters the mp3 paradigm by a fair bit, at least for classical music.

 

Naa, it makes no sense.

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

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4 minutes ago, semente said:

We are not listening for pleasure and recordings are just tools for sound assessment.

Wait, what?  Hahaha, I am assuming this is a joke, and it illustrates my point.  I listen for pleasure, so changes to my system which increase my pleasure are changes for the better.  I would rather evaluate changes on this basis, than on the basis of some (virtually impossible to have a true reference for) theoretical "absolute".

 

8 minutes ago, semente said:

but to me adequately mic'ed live unamplified acoustic music is meant to sound as much as possible like the real thing and this makes it more adequate for judging realism than any other, as mentioned previously.

I would love it if you could provide some examples of such "adequately mic'ed" recordings?  I have one example which might pass muster:  Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione's "Heartplay" from Naim recordings...  Still, not being present at the sessions, I admit to really not knowing what this recording "should" sound like, despite my experience with guitars and basses.

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4 minutes ago, semente said:

 

I think that most of us would be able to distinguish between a violin and a viola or between a piano and fortepiano listening through the earpiece of an old analogue phone despite the narrow frequency bandwidth, the absence of spatial reconstruction or limited dynamic range. But perhaps those who have never listened to these instruments might struggle a bit.

 

If you can't, then we are probably not talking about the sorts of subtle differences that ought to distinguish two high end pieces from each other. Because whatever else HP was talking about, he was referring to "the absolute sound" as a reference for the performance of high end systems. But I think you would be extremely surprised at how fallible the instrument identification abilities of even practiced musicians are in the absence of certain non-tonal cues. Have a look at Table 2 here, where a violin was identified as an oboe 8 times more often than it was identified as a violin by college music students in a test that removed the attack and release portions of the notes: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3345201?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

Quote

We are not listening for pleasure and recordings are just tools for sound assessment.

 

 

Did you mean to say the reverse?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

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8 minutes ago, semente said:

But it helps to know what pianos and violins and vocals sound in real life. I dare say that if you have never listened to live unamplified music you are less well equipped to judge realism, though one could argue that if you only listen to the "artificial" sound and "fabricated" ambience of studio productions then realism may not rate very highly compared to say excitement.

Agreed, it is just not "absolute" as a reference.

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Just now, barrows said:

Wait, what?  Hahaha, I am assuming this is a joke, and it illustrates my point.  I listen for pleasure, so changes to my system which increase my pleasure are changes for the better.  I would rather evaluate changes on this basis, than on the basis of some (virtually impossible to have a true reference for) theoretical "absolute

 

Listening for pleasure and assessing performance are different tasks with distinct objectives.

When I am evaluating performance I listen for shortcomings and for realism; but I often identify problems when listening for pleasure.

 

When I pick up a photography book I can do the same: focus on the quality of the printing and editing, or enjoy the artistic and conceptual qualities of the photos.

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

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5 minutes ago, Jud said:

 

If you can't, then we are probably not talking about the sorts of subtle differences that ought to distinguish two high end pieces from each other. Because whatever else HP was talking about, he was referring to "the absolute sound" as a reference for the performance of high end systems. But I think you would be extremely surprised at how fallible the instrument identification abilities of even practiced musicians are in the absence of certain non-tonal cues. Have a look at Table 2 here, where a violin was identified as an oboe 8 times more often than it was identified as a violin by college music students in a test that removed the attack and release portions of the notes: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3345201?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

 

Did you mean to say the reverse?

 

No because I was referring to evaluation of performance. When you are assessing performance you are not listening for pleasure..

 

 

I'll repost what I've just written:

 

Listening for pleasure and assessing performance are different tasks with distinct objectives.

When I am evaluating performance I listen for shortcomings and for realism; but I often identify problems when listening for pleasure.

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

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9 minutes ago, barrows said:

Agreed, it is just not "absolute" as a reference.

Of course not. If Pearson thought like that then I disagree with him.

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

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4 minutes ago, Jud said:

But I think you would be extremely surprised at how fallible the instrument identification abilities of even practiced musicians are in the absence of certain non-tonal cues. Have a look at Table 2 here, where a violin was identified as an oboe 8 times more often than it was identified as a violin by college music students in a test that removed the attack and release portions of the notes: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3345201?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

This is a really entertaining and informative article (decades old, but still very worthwhile), and I highly recommend it. Do you think your audio system would enable you to distinguish between the tones of a saxophone and a flute? Based on pure tone identification, without attack and release, of 114 college music students (I don't know if they were from Oberlin, @ARQuint ;) ), 33 identified a flute as a flute, 30 identified the flute as a saxophone, and 15 identified the flute as a trombone(!). Now think about the claim that a musician ought to be able to evaluate the performance of a high end system due to familiarity with the tone of an instrument. Yes, in your system you've got the attack and release to work with. But how bad does a system have to be for attack and release to be mostly or entirely absent? What this scientific experiment shows is that people, even musicians, who believe familiarity with the sound of an instrument gives them a reference to compare the quality of high end systems in reproducing the tone of that instrument are fooling themselves.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> wi-fi to router -> EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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1 minute ago, Jud said:

What this scientific experiment shows is that people, even musicians, who believe familiarity with the sound of an instrument gives them a reference to compare the quality of high end systems in reproducing the tone of that instrument are fooling themselves.

 

Um, why?  It does test that at all...what's your reasoning to draw your conclusion?

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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29 minutes ago, gmgraves said:

I’m sure that Kal knows about those Bell Labs experiments.

Yes but (1) my recollection is that their minimum was 3 microphones but they recognized that a further reduction to 2 was more practical and (2) they were considering direct studio sound and not hall/venue ambiance.

 

Kal Rubinson

Music in the Round

Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

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21 hours ago, barrows said:

Sure, but at what distance?  In what room?  Played how?  Which trumpet?  These all can sound very different.  This is my point, that there is no absolute.

You still don’t get the concept, do you? Well, I can’t explain it any clearer than I have.

 

George

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Just now, gmgraves said:

You still don’t get the concept, do you? Well, I can’t explain it any clearer than I have.

 

 

What part of "radical" do you not understand?  😋😉

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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12 minutes ago, barrows said:

I would love it if you could provide some examples of such "adequately mic'ed" recordings?  I have one example which might pass muster:  Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione's "Heartplay" from Naim recordings...  Still, not being present at the sessions, I admit to really not knowing what this recording "should" sound like, despite my experience with guitars and basses.

 

Anything that uses close mic'ing must be ruled out.

No one listens that close (except the players), and it changes the timbre by exaggerating the top end and capturing mechanical or mouth and breathing noises not heard by someone sitting in the audience. And the closer the mic gets to the sound source, the less ambience cues will be captured, reducing the realism.

Besides close mic'ed instruments are usually captured in mono and then pan-potted into a position somewhere between the speakers. Reverb, EQ and other effects are added to better isolate the instrument from the rest of the band and to create a sense of sonic soundscape. Fake.

 

Real stereo can only be achieved with a pair of distantly positioned mics into two tracks though for orchestra and large groups an extra pair of ambience mics is often used with good results.

 

Try BIS or Dorian.

I suggest comparing Dorian's "The Rite of Spring" with that if Reference Recordings. The latter will sound more exciting and detailed but nowhere near as realistic in terms of tone or perspective.

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

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Just now, crenca said:

 

Um, why?  It does test that at all...what's your reasoning to draw your conclusion?

 

What the experiment shows is that attack and release are critical to instrument identification, tone surprisingly little. If differences in tone cannot even enable college music students playing and hearing these instruments every day to hear differences between oboe and violin, or between flute, saxophone and trombone, then exactly what audible differences are you relying on to distinguish the quality of two high end systems from each other? Attack and release? Even mid-fi and some lo-fi systems ought to be able to reproduce that. So again, what qualities are you evaluating to compare two high end systems if reproduction of the tone of an instrument (main tone and harmonics) is very plainly insufficient?

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> wi-fi to router -> EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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