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Audio reproduction is a matter of taste?


hopkins
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@hopkins friendly suggestion ...

 

I knew the answer to @Jud's question.

Didn't want to spoil the fun ... ;-)

I knew the answer because of broad familiarity with GW's music (not that track tho') -

but more particularly at some time in the past I watched quite a few times GW and DR playing "I Wanna Sing That Rock 'n' Roll" Live in some venue - didn't find it quickly on YT.

In other words - the explanation in my case is familiarity.

 

I would agree with what @bluesmansays - exquisite guitar - exquisite player.

 

Can you think of a way of having fun the other way around? Is there some Artist/Track you know really well - perhaps where you have some special knowledge/experience of something - and you could ask bluesman and Jud to identify something in return? Something you *know* you could do - but others might not?

It'd be fun.

I'd love to see the conversation. Only to interpret it in the context of what everybody's saying here. Not to be divisive. I'm far more interested in agreement. Especially if novel understandings.

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Yes, the guitar was very nice.

 

Sorry, there's nothing I feel I could ask that would shed any light on the discussion. We probably would have to be in the same room and compare various systems to better understand our points of view.  

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11 minutes ago, hopkins said:

Sorry, there's nothing I feel I could ask that would shed any light on the discussion.

 

Sure. Never mind.

It would be possible to devise a logical matrix which would help us isolate 1. familiarity/knowledge/experience and 2. an ability to hear "sonic differences" per se for purposes of a hypothetical discrimination experiment.

But probably too "dry" and ambitious in circumstances.

It would be a psycho-acoustic investigation.

The resolving power of the system would have to be constant and set at a suitable level - certainly good enough.

Even then - I'm not sure how far down the "accuracy" vs. "taste" path it would take us.

Understandings often don't come all at once. Light shines after taking a step forward ...

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9 minutes ago, hopkins said:

We probably would have to be in the same room and compare various systems to better understand our points of view.  

 

Can you say how this would help answer your first post? Apart from social lubrication!

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3 hours ago, hopkins said:

 

I listened to the track on my headphones and my speakers. I have no idea whether it is an acoustic guitar or an electric (but if so, certainly with effects) ! All I can say is that it sounds much better on my headphones than on my speakers (even listening "near field" to the left speaker). On my Etymotic headphones plugged in to my DAC there is noticeably less "distortion", in my humble opinion, than on my speakers - the sound is "crisp", the notes on the guitar (especially at the beginnning, later on the music is a little crowded) are more distinct, resonant, etc... Based on this track, and not knowing exactly which instruments are being played I can see the benefit of not going through interconnects, an amplifier, crossovers, etc and having a more "direct" sound. Of course, my speakers are not "high end", but I have conducted the same experiment at friends' with different speakers (obviously different tracks).

 

In summary: the "character" of the guitar, which ever model/type it may be, is enhanced when the resolution/accuracy is improved (to my ears).

 

I also have the ER4SR headphones, which I think are one of the great bargains in high end audio, especially when they go on sale. I don't doubt the possibility that they might have presented a clearer picture of some aspects of the sound than your speakers. But of course if you wanted to hear what sort of soundstage the recording presented, the headphones wouldn't be as helpful as your speakers. (This may remind you of my comment earlier that my speakers were designed to be very effective at presenting a convincing soundstage, at the cost of not being totally flat across the frequency spectrum.) So I feel this is helpful to illustrate that some aspects of accuracy or realism may come at the cost of others.

 

I had mentioned humility in an earlier comment. I think you saying frankly that you did not know whether the guitar was acoustic or electric illustrates two aspects of humility.

 

First, it is very helpful to honestly admit when you don't know. A few years ago a fellow who was corresponding with me insisted it was an electric guitar with a portable amp. You can imagine how accurate his system would be if he chose equipment that made this guitar sound like what he "knew" it was.

 

Second, we know you didn't pick up your components and speakers out of a bargain bin on the street. It's good equipment that cost more than a little. Yet it could not tell you whether an unfamiliar guitar was acoustic or electric, from an album that is pretty well recorded. To me this says something about how far away we all are from true accuracy - IMO, far enough that our equipment choices are necessarily a matter of taste.

 

Finally, I hope you liked the music. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are two of my favorite artists.

 

 

 

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 -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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The correct way of running such a test would be to compare two recordings of instruments and have someone explain the differences. But then again, it may just be simpler to take a hearing test. 

 

Once that is done, how does it contribute to the debate? 

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In play we have a few ideas confounded.

 

At the risk of being corrected summarily! I think @bluesman is saying something quite raw.

You need to be able to hear “sonic differences” in order to judge “accuracy”.

My words not his – How can you tell whether a system is “accurate” unless you know what the components that make up the soundscape sound like in real life?

My words not his - If you made a recording of a person speaking, you wouldn’t know whether it was accurately reproduced unless you knew how that person sounded in person.

 

NB: If I’m on beam – it is implicit that “accuracy” is judged on the basis of “match” – i.e. match of what is presently being heard to what is in memory – i.e. some mental representation of “reality”.

As such, accuracy is not a matter of absolutes or objective external references.

 

The extent to which that match can be made depends on:

1. The resolving power of the system, and

2a. The sensitivity of the listener which, in turn, could depend on

2b. The experience of the listener – i.e. the “familiarity” factor.

 

1.

If the system is not resolving enough, the system is masking (not allowing pass-thru of) the detail in the recording needed for the match.

If the system is very highly resolving - with headroom – no problem.

The resolving power of the system could approximate that required to hear the information necessary for a judgement – in which case things could be a bit hit and miss.

 

2a.

Perhaps people – especially audiophiles? – can discern soundscape attributes well anyway - independent of experience – a general sensitivity.

 

2b.

Perhaps experience = familiarity is a pre-requisite for performance or, at least, accelerates it by a very substantial factor.

 

Confounded with this raw idea has been talk about feats of discrimination - knowing what different guitars sound like and so on.

Discrimination is actually a different task.

It involves saying two things being heard now are different from each other Y/N vs. the raw task – does a single thing being heard now match a memory representation Y/N.

 

If you were evaluating discrimination performance, similar principles would apply:

1. The system needs to be sufficiently resolving.

2a. People might be able to perform well in discrimination tasks anyway (audiophiles better?); or,

2b. Experience makes a very significant positive difference.

 

Probably unlike bluesman but who knows – I think that both raw and discimination phenomena are easily seen in lo-res systems (such as indicated to my own ears when I am at my ripping PC).

To the extent that this is true, Hi-Fi doesn’t have much relevance to “accuracy” as mooted so far.

 

“Accuracy” in Hi-Fi – alternatively conceptualised - would be more about the extent to which a system passes sheer detail – or much more clearly creates a “convincing” representation of something – without the need to resort to notions of raw mapping and discrimination performance.

In this case – all we audiophiles - including people who are good at recognising instruments – or telling them apart – are now listening on a different plain – that of sheer involvement – non-analytic transcendence if you like.

 

Perhaps what elevates us is beyond language even – can beauty not be like that? Leaves us speechless?

 

I think that familiarity and expertise merely colour that transcendent experience.

If I practice something on my guitar first – and then listen to an artist perform it – I’ll get more out of it.

But the uplifting power of the music – including my capacity for understanding its “accuracy” and its “beauty” – is not dependent on that priming.

 

Extra experience is extra joy.

 

A physically fit and geographically experienced walker will have a more enriched experience taking on a given new mountain than an unfit or inexperienced walker.

On their return the two walkers would render noticeably different accounts of the “same” experience.

Which would be more “accurate”?

Neither – we might consider that the respective ramblers simply had different appetites for this and that.

They might both say “beautiful” – even though one reached the summit whereas the other gave up and spent the afternoon in a bar.

 

You could conduct a systematic series of experiments to understand miscellaneous effects better. The Designs germane are bound to be hypothetical only for present purposes.

Even converting our concepts into variables would be a significant challenge for us – I think.

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Every recording engineer I've ever talked to, including those who've won Grammys for best engineered album, chose microphones for their sound. If the listener doesn't know the sound of the microphone being used, he can't tell if the playback is accurate because he doesn't know what sound the microphone has on the recording. 

 

If a microphone adds warmth to a vocal, but the playback system doesn't sound warm, the listener may say it's more accurate without the warmth. However, that isn't what's on the record because the microphone added warmth that was selected by those involved in the recording. 

 

Thus, people may know instruments all day long, but without knowing the sonic signatures of microphones, they are still guessing what's accurate. 

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11 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Every recording engineer I've ever talked to, including those who've won Grammys for best engineered album, chose microphones for their sound. If the listener doesn't know the sound of the microphone being used, he can't tell if the playback is accurate because he doesn't know what sound the microphone has on the recording. 

 

If a microphone adds warmth to a vocal, but the playback system doesn't sound warm, the listener may say it's more accurate without the warmth. However, that isn't what's on the record because the microphone added warmth that was selected by those involved in the recording. 

 

Thus, people may know instruments all day long, but without knowing the sonic signatures of microphones, they are still guessing what's accurate. 

 

We already know and agree that there are an infinite # of variables that converge when a "real life" situation is concentrated into some "transcription" of it - aka a recording. In analogue we may have the audacity to assume that "everything" gets encoded to some degree no matter how small. I don't know enough relevant maths to argue the matter in relation to digital. The point is - you can argue all day long and get nowhere if you take this approach. You'll never get to the bottom of things. OK. Point made.

 

Relative accuracy - the successful mapping of playback to our brain representations - well that's a discussion worth having. It seems to be most of our focus so far. I'm just trying a distillation which I hope is facilitative – for everybody if we’re in luck. If not – no tears need to be shed.

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6 minutes ago, Iving said:

 

We already know and agree that there are an infinite # of variables that converge when a "real life" situation is concentrated into some "transcription" of it - aka a recording. In analogue we may have the audacity to assume that "everything" gets encoded to some degree no matter how small. I don't know enough relevant maths to argue the matter in relation to digital. The point is - you can argue all day long and get nowhere if you take this approach. You'll never get to the bottom of things. OK. Point made.

 

Relative accuracy - the successful mapping of playback to our brain representations - well that's a discussion worth having. It seems to be most of our focus so far. I'm just trying a distillation which I hope is facilitative – for everybody if we’re in luck. If not – no tears need to be shed.

 

Ah, so it is a matter of taste and the discussion has moved on to relative accuracy. Relative accuracy reminds me of alternative facts. Either something is accurate or it isn't. Relatively accurate isn't accurate. 

 

Carry on. 

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3 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

 

Ah, so it is a matter of taste and the discussion has moved on to relative accuracy. Relative accuracy reminds me of alternative facts. Either something is accurate or it isn't. Relatively accurate isn't accurate. 

 

Carry on. 

 

Yes please

 

Edit: I think the "taste" issue is addressed well enough in my longer post.

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1 minute ago, Iving said:

I've another one for you. I know how much you like to listen and learn ;-)

 

https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/logicalfallacies/Avoiding-the-Issue

 

Please educate me on alternative facts, I mean relative accuracy. 

 

The term relative accuracy make zero sense. Saying 5 is a relatively accurate depiction of 2+2 seems to be what you're talking about. I just don't get it and haven't seen anyone explain why it's a thing. 

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2 minutes ago, bluesman said:

Most audiophiles describe accuracy in terms of their taste, and few consider how close what they're hearing comes to the original program or master.  And, to me, the latter is accuracy but the former is not.  Accuracy doesn't always result in a more enjoyable listening experience, as a lot of processing makes a lot of musical performances sound better.  But it is simply not the same as accuracy.

+100

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41 minutes ago, Iving said:

My words not his – How can you tell whether a system is “accurate” unless you know what the components that make up the soundscape sound like in real life?

 

I can't speak for @bluesman, but my thinking was a little less around discrimination and more about familiarity - the folks who say "Of course I know what a guitar sounds like (doesn't everyone?)!" I think this sort of memory becomes less useful to evaluate accuracy once we begin to realize just how many sorts of guitars (or any other instrument) there are.

 

People will say we should use unamplified acoustic instruments. So I did, in order to illustrate with an actual demonstration how divergent the sounds of "just" acoustic instruments can be. How reliable then is this unamplified acoustic instrument as a reference when judging accuracy? Not very, unless we're familiar with the sound of this specific guitar. And this of course leaves all the rest of the infinite numbers of variables we've mentioned.

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 -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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13 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Saying 5 is a relatively accurate depiction of 2+2 seems to be what you're talking about.

 

That is only for very large values of 2.

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 -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> USPCB -> ISO Regen -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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1 hour ago, bluesman said:

I didn't ask you to compare anything, and neither did Jud.  You chose to compare the sound you heard from your speakers to that from your headphones, concluding that the guitar in question sounded different from the two sources and that you thought the headphone system made it sound "more distinct [and] resonant".  I may have misinterpreted the bolded and italicized words in your statement that you "...have no idea whether it is an acoustic guitar or an electric (but if so, certainly with effects)".  I took this to mean that you thought the sound was processed with effects in some audible way and was not the natural, unaltered voice of the guitar.  What you hear on that recording is the pure and sweet sound of one of the most wonderful archtop acoustic guitars in history.  If it sounds at all distorted through any system, that distortion originates somewhere other than in the recording.

 

It did not sound like a "typical" guitar, but did not sound "electric" either, so I was simply not sure. It did not sound "distorted" and I did conclude that with headphones I thought that the "characteristics" of the guitar were even more evident (meaning the sound was even more "unique" to my ears). I simply had a hard time associating it with something I knew. Incidentally, I forwarded the file to some "audiophile" friends. One of them thought it was electric but was not really sure, the other acoustic but banjo, a third amplified banjo... So they were all a little confused.

 

 

1 hour ago, bluesman said:

Most audiophiles describe accuracy in terms of their taste, and few consider how close what they're hearing comes to the original program or master.  And, to me, the latter is accuracy but the former is not.  Accuracy doesn't always result in a more enjoyable listening experience, as a lot of processing makes a lot of musical performances sound better.  But it is simply not the same as accuracy.

 

 

Let's forget about "tastes" for a moment, let's assume we all have good hearing, and see what happens...

 

Let's assume that as "audiophiles" we all agreed on the objective - to implement systems that introduce as little distortion as possible, and reproduces with as much fidelity what is on the RECORDING (= CD, file, record)

 

Now we have two stumbling blocks.

 

(1) Jud telling us that a "zero distortion" (perfect) system is not possible, and that is all about compensating between different types of distortions, so we are left compromising...

 

(2) Everyone else explaining that even if we did have a "zero distortion system" we would not be able to know that because the recording itself introduces its own "distortions" (from microphones, the recording process, mastering, etc...) and we are never getting the true sound of musical instruments (even if we were able to know how each of them sounded) 

 

We cannot debate (1) - it is too technical. From my personal experience, I do see how removing some parameters ("speakers" and amplifiers, which means accepting listening in a certain way, without the soundstage of speakers) can lead to less distortion and gives us some "insights", leading to the fact that I am dubious about (2), but cannot find the right arguments. I was expecting that the debate would be more "open". 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 minutes ago, hopkins said:

Everyone else explaining that even if we did have a "zero distortion system" we would not be able to know that because the recording itself introduces its own "distortions" (from microphones, the recording process, mastering, etc...) and we are never getting the true sound of musical instruments (even if we were able to know how each of them sounded) 

But the question of accuracy is usually based on comparison between the master and what you’re hearing from your system.  We all agree that most commercial recordings are “distorted” in that the performance is processed, ostensibly but often unsuccessfully to reproduce a better and more universally playable and enjoyable recording.  We all agree that most fail to present a pristine and perfectly faithful image of the actual performance that was recorded.  So you’re right that it’s a rare commercial recording that captures the true and exact sound of musical instruments.

 

But there are many recordings available to us made from masters that come close enough for critical distinctions to be heard easily.  Skillful engineers choose mics that preserve and favor the sound of the instruments and performances for which they’re used.   The great mastering engineers use only as much processing as they need to make the master playable on their target devices.  The rest squeeze and manipulate so that the master yields salable sounds heard best on mobile devices, auto stereo, boom boxes etc.  We know what the latter sounds like - the dynamic range is narrower than Barbie’s waist and they’re louder than a Pee Wee Herman suit.  
 

But most of us also know how the good ones sound, and we gladly “settle” for that.  The Gillian Welch recording Jud used for his example is one of many very fine recordings that capture the true essence of a performance with extremely little distortion.  The true sounds of the instruments are clearly delineated and preserved sufficiently accurately to emerge intact from the speakers of most systems of more than modest quality.   The sound of that Epiphone guitar in the master is extremely close to the live sound of that actual instrument. The minor distortions introduced by the devices and processes used to capture and master it are both audible and well known to many of us.  They alter the sound in a minor way that does not disguise its character.

 

If you had a true zero distortion system, you could hear the changes introduced by the recording process, and you could also hear how well or poorly the master presents the sound of the performance.  Accuracy and fidelity of a fine master are obvious despite the flaws inherent in the recording process because you’ll hear and recognize the flaws too.  Of course, a bad master would also be evident if you know how the performance should sound.

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