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Article: Realism vs Accuracy For Audiophiles | Part 2: The Real Sounds Of Live Music


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I hope it's helpful to our little community!

 

There are two links that are a bit wonky on an iPad but work fine on my computers, and I can't fingure out why.  So if the music files in the last few paragraphs don't open properly, here are the URLs:

 

 

 

 

 

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That was a great article and reminded me a lot of Barry Diament's Soundkeeper Recordings. Trying to capture the realism of the performance and maintain as much of the dynamics as possible. Barry is just a damn nice guy and a super talented professional 🙂, I'm happy he's in this fight. 

 

There are a handful of other boutique recording studios and engineers that push that envelope as well, but for me, I also appreciate a lot of modern and mainstream music that unfortunately doesn't tend to be produced by those boutique studios. There's not really any way around fixing those completed recordings, so I'm looking forward to the next installment about system tuning options. 

 

Thanks for the great stuff. 

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Unbelievably great!

 

Some of this I sorta intuited along the way, as my wife (the music school grad) kept insisting that most audiophile dogma was from one particular observation point only.  It's simply stupendous to see this all explained so eloquently and in one place.

 

Side story number 1:  Said wife and I were once at a high priced audio store listening to some gear and loudspeakers that we quickly found were not to our, ahhh, "taste."  But, the store owner kept insisting that with this loudspeaker, these cables, this amplifier, and so on, you could tell that the piano was a Blatzenfraster 1050 from the year 1965.  Or, whatever.  My wife finally had enough and let him have it.  She said that there was no way to tell that, unless it was written in the album liner notes.  She must've referred to the droppings from a male cow a half dozen times, then walked out.  She expected me to follow.  We never returned to that store. 

 

Side story number 2:  It occurred to me today that a lot of people may just be attracted to the exaggerated.  Whether it's detail or dynamics.  (You know - "feeling the kick drum".)  Anyway, I got thinking about video.  I wonder what the percentage is of people who have the color and contrast controls on their TV sets turned to 11 so that everything is more everything than it could possibly be?  I bet it's very, very high.  This is with video, where our memories are better and you can actually do real time side-by-side comparisons, too.  Audio just has to be worse.

 

BTW, is this a 13 or 26 episode season?  I hope Chris is a paying you a LOT...

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29 minutes ago, CG said:

Anyway, I got thinking about video.  I wonder what the percentage is of people who have the color and contrast controls on their TV sets turned to 11 so that everything is more everything than it could possibly be?  I bet it's very, very high.  This is with video, where our memories are better and you can actually do real time side-by-side comparisons, too.

You may not have noticed, but a growing number of TV shows are shot with HDR - and the degree of processing seems to be increasing every season.  No color seen on the new Magnum or Hawaii 5-0 exists in nature, including the red of the Ferrari.  Hawaii's definitely green, and its flowers are quite colorful - but it looks black and white compared to those processed TV images.

 

I'm working now on #3 in this series.  It's a discussion of how recordings are engineered for specific effects.  I'm making a series of demos showing how simple mic placement changes what you think you're hearing, using my instruments (Yamaha grand and multiple guitars - acoustic, electric, archtop, flattop, resonator etc).  And I'm assembling a bunch of stuff you can do yourself with a simple audio editor like Audacity, to change image width, instrumental positioning in 3 dimensions, apparent instrumental size etc.  Once you discover how easily and extensively even a simple, single instrument recording can be changed, and you accept that it's been done to most of the recordings you own, you lose some of that razor focus on the emperor's new sonic image.  This frees you to enjoy and to listen more intensively to the music.

 

Once you start doing that, you learn about the music you love at an amazing rate.  And after learning how your system treats the many musical elements in your favorite kinds of music, you can hear the evolution of the players and their instruments in any genre.  For example, if you like the tenor saxophone in jazz, you need to hear and appreciate how tone evolved from the swing era to today.  Ben Webster had a tone that was unlike any other tenor player.  It was big and full, with a vibrato so intense that it intermodulated deeply and richly with what he was playing - he played like Domingo and Pavarotti sang.  And it ran from sweet as sugar on ballads to growling and biting on up tempo tunes.  Follow the tone train from Webster through Coleman Hawkins and Dexter Gordon to Stan Getz and John Coltrane.  Both Webster and Gordon had huge tone, but Webster usually growled and Gordon generally purred.

 

This is especially true for those who stop tweaking and changing components every time they read or her about something "better".  I strongly recommend having at least one system that you do not change at all for a year at a time, for a consistent perspective on your listening.

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Yeah.  Between that and the wretched, easily predictable plots, I don't even bother to watch.  Too bad, too.

 

It's funny...  With HD video at home, it's stunning how great older black and white movies look.  (Much as how great black and white photography often is.)  I wonder why that is.  The mono sound also is more real, even though the frequency response is sub-optimal and the distortion and noise are certainly obvious.

 

I'm finding that more and more, I prefer to watch older stuff from before I was born and to listen to music from then, too.  Listening to Alan Lomax recordings can be very engrossing.  It's not just the material or the quaintness of it, either.  Listening to Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks gives me the same response.

 

Probably just a failing brain.

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46 minutes ago, bluesman said:

This is especially true for those who stop tweaking and changing components every time they read or her about something "better".  I strongly recommend having at least one system that you do not change at all for a year at a time, for a consistent perspective on your listening.

 

This is a real challenge.

 

I pretty much build all my own electronics - DAC excepted - so I can take a more incremental approach to system evolution.  Hobbyists who rely on buying gear really are pretty much thrown into a chaotic adventure with random results.  It used to be that having a knowledgeable dealer could really help with that problem, but that's not so accessible for most folks today.

 

In addition, I know a lot of guys who just want something radically different from what they were listening to last week or last month.  That's a whole separate thing.  But, it's a hobby!

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1 hour ago, CG said:

I prefer to watch older stuff from before I was born

If I did that, I couldn't watch TV 🤪

 

50 minutes ago, CG said:

I pretty much build all my own electronics - DAC excepted - so I can take a more incremental approach to system evolution.

I've built a lot of mine too.  That's one reason why I suggest having at least one decent system for long term listening.  Once you learn how your music sounds on it (especially if you have a chance to hear at least some of your favorite perfomers live from time to time), you have a steady platform for enjoying and learning more about your music.  Then you can build away to your heart's content, using your reference system as a true baseline as well as for listening pleasure.  So you can compare what you're building to that reference, to see if it equals or betters your daily driver.

 

"Reference" in this case doesn't mean state of the art - it just means a stable baseline with SQ acceptable to you.  Most of my daily listening is from ROCK on a NUC, rendered through a Raspberry Pi driving an iFi Nano DSD into a pair of JBL 305s supplemented by a Yamaha powered sub.  I recently set up a MC system in the same room by adding more 305s and driving them with the 8 channel DAC / renderer I built from a Raspberry Pi and described in this prior article.  

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3 minutes ago, bluesman said:

If I did that, I couldn't watch TV 🤪

 

I was specifically referring to movies, but I feel your pain...

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31 minutes ago, CG said:

 

I was specifically referring to movies, but I feel your pain...

Pain? No pain here!  To be honest, I’d rather be me and over 70 than anyone else and under 50.  I’m lovin’ the ride and I’m staying on it until the end of the line.  The older you get, the fewer knobs you need 😎

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Would take a while for me to digest all of this - well done!

 

Caught this bit,

 

Quote

 

Only one respondent used the word accurate to refer to a specific sound signature.  Only one used the term “real” or any variant thereof - and it was used not to define the poster’s preferred sonic signature but to describe the sound of an audio dealer’s system:

 

  • “The store owner's personal signature demo rig left me with a sense of realness that i sensed i may not quite ever hear again”

 

 

It's the sense of realness, that is the magic that a well sorted rig can produce - the great tragedy of audio reproduction, to date, is that this occurs so rarely - expressed here by the 'postscript', " i may not quite ever hear again” ...

Frank

 

http://artofaudioconjuring.blogspot.com/

 

 

Over and out.

.

 

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Wonderful read, Bluesman. You have a real gift for clear thinking and writing. As a former music instructor long ago(!), I found it fascinating and can't wait for more. 

I have to say, however, there are days I might rather be someone under 50 than me at over 80 - if I can have my pick of who. 

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“If the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.”
 

“Along with their phase relationships, variations in the strength and frequency of harmonics can affect the perceived fundamental pitch.”

 

Would you agree that we could use the converse of this and listen to the perceived pitch to give us an indication of how accurately the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another, with the most pitch accurate components also being the most musically accurate components?

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44 minutes ago, Spanna said:

“If the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.”
 

“Along with their phase relationships, variations in the strength and frequency of harmonics can affect the perceived fundamental pitch.”

 

Would you agree that we could use the converse of this and listen to the perceived pitch to give us an indication of how accurately the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another, with the most pitch accurate components also being the most musically accurate components?

The problem with that postulate is that perfect pitch and intonation accuracy are rare.  So it’s highly unlikely that any two musicians playing “the same note” will actually be playing the exact same note.  Open strings on tuned instruments like pianos will vary by a few cents with time, temperature, humidity etc.  Pitch accuracy in wind instruments is dependent on the player’s embouchure, breathing, etc.  The pitch of bowed stringed instruments is set by the player’s finger with no frets to guide accuracy.  And the pitch of notes on fretted instruments is altered within a few cents by finger pressure on the strings (which are suspended between the raised frets). So how would you know if a pitch inaccuracy of a few cents is caused by harmonic inaccuracy or because it’s being played that way?

We don’t hear random pitch variations in music if the instruments are well enough tuned, because (with almost no exceptions) humans who are not trained can’t discern pitch differences of 5 cents (which is how musicologists refer to percent of pitch shifts) or less [D.B. Loeffler, "Instrument Timbres and Pitch Estimation in Polyphonic Music Archived 2007-12-18 at the Wayback Machine.". Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Georgia Tech. April (2006)].  So music sounds fine despite a cent or two of pitch variation among instruments.

 

Remember that very slight differences in fundamental frequency between instruments playing (or trying to play) the exact same note will result in "beat freqeuencies" from natural intermodulation.  If 4 violins are all trying to play a middle C (256 Hz at concert pitch), one may be playing 255, one 256, one 257, and one 258 - and all will sound in tune to us.  But there will be intermodulation among all the harmonics of all those notes, which becomes part of the rich harmonic content that gives a violin section its sound.  I suspect that the best ones (e.g. the Philadephia Orchestra) are closer to perfection in both tuning of the instruments and intonation of the fingered notes, and that the reinforcement of even order natural harmonics is part of the reason such sections sound so lush and smooth.  
 

The bottom line is that even though though we don’t recognize 2 or 3 cents of variation in the fundamental pitch of a note,  we do perceive shifts in the phasing of harmonics as slight variations in the timbre / character / etc of an instrument even though it doesn’t sound out of tune.  And the reason for this is that (as I described in the article) we only hear the fundamental pitch of multiple simultaneous tones that are within the harmonic structure of that frequency.

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I was fortunate to grow up in a musical home and would often listen to music played on a baby grand, an upright and Spanish guitar. Now, if I listen to a recording of a piano sonata and make a change to the system I nearly always detect a change in the way the system appears to reproduce the pitches of the notes. I also find that the more accurate the reproduction of pitch appears to be, the closer the recording sounds to the sound of a real instrument, rather than a strange sort of unnatural representation, hence my original question. 
 

You appear to be talking about musicians being out of tune with each other, whereas I’m wondering if listening to the effect HiFi components have on pitch reproduction can be used to determine which component is more musically accurate.

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48 minutes ago, Spanna said:

You appear to be talking about musicians being out of tune with each other, whereas I’m wondering if listening to the effect HiFi components have on pitch reproduction can be used to determine which component is more musically accurate.

That’s not what I’m saying.  Instruments are ideally tuned to the same standard, which in much of the world today is that A above middle C is 440 Hz.  Being off by a few Hz is both inevitable and inaudible for most.  I haven’t seen or conducted a randomized measurement trial, but I suspect that the distribution around A 440 for all the instruments in an orchestra or band is probably a very tight Gaussian function with a mu of 0 +/- 1 Hz and a very low sigma squared.  The 5th and 95th %iles are probably somewhere around 437 and 443.

 

Not having any way to know where a given instrument is tuned within the “in tune” window, you couldn’t assess the accuracy of reproduction because you wouldn’t know if the minor deviation was in the instrument, the system, or a combination.

 

There might be some merit to using an electronically generated or sampled tone with known harmonics corrected to an exact fundamental pitch.  I’ve never heard of this as a test, but it’d be interesting to compare FFTs on it at the line level input of an amplifier with microphonic capture from the speakers.  Of course, this would require perfect signal chains (the proverbial straight wires with gain) in both the reproduction and output capture systems.

 

But knowing that Rachmaninoff’s prelude is in C# minor won’t assure you that every C# minor played in the performance was at exactly the same frequency, and most probably aren’t. So you couldn’t use recorded music as such a test. 

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Thanks for this nice article.

 

Do we really need a very "accurate" system to be able to differentiate musicians playing the same instruments? I don't think so. Once you are familiar with their work it's easy to tell musicians apart even on a low quality system (small radio, phone, etc...), simply because their styles and tone are often so different (even if they were to use the exact same instruments - ex: same sax, same mouthpiece). 

 

 

 

 

my blog

 

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There’s research to suggest that non-trained listeners can hear the effect of harmonics being adjusted in frequency, and they describe hearing either a change in pitch or the sound just not sounding “right”. The hypothesis is that our ears perform an FFT which allows us to detect a change in a harmonics frequency and amplitude.
 

Would you agree then that by listening to the way two two components reproduce the apparent tunefulness of a piano sonata we can get an indication of how accurately the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another, with the most tuneful components also being the most musically accurate components?

 

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9 hours ago, Spanna said:

“If the phase relationships of the fundamental and harmonics are altered, everything from perceived pitch to timbre can change.”
 

“Along with their phase relationships, variations in the strength and frequency of harmonics can affect the perceived fundamental pitch.”

 

Would you agree that we could use the converse of this and listen to the perceived pitch to give us an indication of how accurately the fundamental and its harmonics relate to one another, with the most pitch accurate components also being the most musically accurate components?

Based on my interpretation of the quotes you picked, the recording engineer is adjusting the phase, volume, reverb, etc. aspects of the music/tracks they're working on, and all of that leads to the listener perceiving different things about the instruments, musicians, signers, localizations, venue, equipment, etc., and all of which would being going through your streamer, DAC, amp, and speakers, and be affected by your room, placement, or headphones. 

 

Which means, there may be things you could listen for in a recording which might be like fingerprints/ingredients to show what the recording engineer did to that track, but there isn't 1 recipe for post production and that means there isn't 1 solution like the one you referenced to try to judge the performance of the equipment with. And that's great ven that the players, music, or recording are following some standard that's consistent enough. 

 

I think the best example was already given, for what you're talking about, and that's to listen to both the music and the artist in real life, get as familiar as possible, then to listen to a recording of those on your equipment to figure out what happened in post production and to start trying to figure out how closely your gear is rendering that same stuff.

 

Anyway, that's my take?

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5 hours ago, hopkins said:

Thanks for this nice article.

 

Do we really need a very "accurate" system to be able to differentiate musicians playing the same instruments? I don't think so. Once you are familiar with their work it's easy to tell musicians apart even on a low quality system (small radio, phone, etc...), simply because their styles and tone are often so different (even if they were to use the exact same instruments - ex: same sax, same mouthpiece). 

 

Please dismiss this comment - improved accuracy may not be vital to distinguish musicians, but it certainly contributes to our appreciation of their "art". For example, listening to Ben Webster's "My Funny Valentine" (rec.  with Teddy Wilson on March 30, 1954), you can fully appreciate his awesome tone with an accurate system. There's no difficulty, however, in identifying Ben Webster even coming out of a cheap bluetooth portable speaker...

my blog

 

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2 hours ago, hopkins said:

There's no difficulty, however, in identifying Ben Webster even coming out of a cheap bluetooth portable speaker.

There’s no difficulty identifying him even when playing a cheap student model sax, although his tone might not be quite as rich and enjoyable as it was from the Selmer Balanced Action tenor he favored.  Then again, Charlie Parker played a plastic saxophone for the last year+ of his short 34 years and no one complained about it in his hands.  Just before a 1953 concert at a Toronto venue called Massey Hall, he’d pawned whatever good horn he had (allegedly for drug money, and not an isolated occurrence - he even pawned instruments he’d borrowed).  So he had a concert to give but but no sax to play.  And this was a serious gig, with Dizzy, Bud Powell, Max Roach and Charles Mingus rounding out the quintet.
 

The rep for the Grafton sax company heard about it and lent him one - but Graftons were made of injection molded acrylic. You can hear how he sounds on the recording of that date (called Jazz at Massey Hall and readily available both as captured and in much improved remasters).  It’s far from a good recording, but you can easily tell that it’s Bird.  And he got a pretty fine tone from that Grafton, even though many others who tried it thought it was harsh and strident.  In fact, most pros hated it.  Ornette Coleman even used it as a “special effect”.

 

Bird was playing a Grafton on the wonderful live recording of the 1953 “One Night in Washington” concert with a fine big band (although none of the bebop legends was in it).  I only have the vinyl, but there are digital files of this beautiful and historic night of great jazz, and every jazz lover should own it.  Parker rarely played with a big band. Yet he showed up, hit the stand, and nailed every tune without rehearsals or printed music.  The recording is surprisingly well done, especially as it was made not in a concert hall or studio but in a club.


I’m pretty sure he started playing Graftons regularly, and I know they made his to his spec.  The key action on a Grafton used coil springs rather than the wire torsion springs used on standard saxes and clarinets.  This made the action so slow and spongy that it limited speed and accuracy of playing. Parker was so technically facile for much of his career that he was apparently not affected by these mechanical issues, even though most others were (no matter how well they played). 

 

This is exactly the kind of thinking and listening that I’ve been encouraging.  We’re discussing how different players and instruments can sound from each other, and what that adds to music.  Ben Webster’s Selmer was part of his sound, just as Stan Getz’s Selmer was part of his. No one who knows how they sounded would confuse the two.  But I hope you can see how a preference for one sound over the other could easily bias an innocent but unknowing audiophile toward systems that add the preferred flavor.

 

For me, seasoning is best reserved for food.

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