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Does real live sound always sound that good? Maybe not ....

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  • Does real live sound always sound that good? Maybe not ....

    Uncovered from my archives this reader's letter from July 1977, just a couple of months after the Harbeth company was founded. We know that recordings are rarely if ever completely 'flat' but here is another twist ....

    I think that the reproduction of brass with its impulsive blasting nature and complex harmonics is extremely challenging for a loudspeaker. In my opinion as a bit of a pub-jazz fan, polypropylene cones just cannot reproduce that clean incisive edge.

    Modelled here by Bertie himself is the gormless expression that must have struck the writer when exposed to the horrors of the real thing at close quarters ..... Bertie.
    Attached Files
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    "Does real live sound always sound that good?..."

    I do like music shows. I can state for sure that often, it is not well balanced. But when you're at the right place at the right time there is something truely magic in a live show that never any speakers on earth can reproduce.



    • #3
      Loudspeakers are akin to lyrebird

      I am not sure if I am getting the message. Are you saying that it is not always okay to use live source as a reference or are you saying it is impossible for loudspeakers to reproduce the original sound of such as the brass?

      IMHO, Louspeaker's task of reproducing the original sound is akin to lyrebird mimicking various sounds. You can watch the bird's amazing natural talent in BBC's Attenborough documentary here. Though, I must say Harbeth excelled in this area as close as the original source.

      Just like different instruments produce distinctive sound due to the structural dissimilarities it is an enormous task for a loudspeaker to be able to duplicate the 100% exact sound production mechanics of musical instruments or our voice cord.


      • #4
        Brass for transient testing

        I don't think you need to look too deeply into this subject searching for hidden meaning.

        My intention was to merely establish a tongue-in-cheek point that a dedicated audiophile when presented with the real thing (live sound) may well reject it in favour of the nice easygoing, soft, safe, limited dynamics (in 1977) of reproduced sound. But if you are going to expose yourself to live sound, beware that it often doesn't sound as you may have been preconceived by exposure to hi-fi gear to sound. In particular, live sound has much less high frequency than you'd expect. And as he discovered, brass instruments have much more attack and edge.

        In my view, if you want to challenge the loudspeaker's bass/mid cone material to see what transient performance it is really capable of, a good clean brass recording is what you need to arm yourself with and certainly not strings. It's the powerful upper harmonics you want to excite the cone with to hear if it turns them into heat, not sound.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK


        • #5
          It was a nice tongue in cheek letter. (And perhaps also not the world's best brass band.)

          My experience when I hear live music (i.e. using unamplified or minimally amplified acoustic instruments, or voice) is exactly as you describe. The sound is warm, mellow, somewhat undifferentiated in terms of exact localization (though this depends on the hall) and completely immersive. It doesn't really sound like any hi fi system I've ever heard, even a very good one.


          • #6
            That certainly raised a smile... even more so as Gal Costa's "Bloco do prazer" (a track which just begs to be played *loud*) came on while I was reading.

            The sound of brass does seem to vary with venue, though - in the great outdoors a brass band sounds almost "polite" whereas in a typical pub or restaurant just one brass instrument can be close to ear-splitting (how much of this is due to reflections, I wonder). If it were feasible to reproduce this kind of music at realistic levels at home, we'd definitely be in trouble with the neighbours.


            • #7
              As a subscriber to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, my feeling is that live vs recorbed is an apples and oranges comparison. My usual seat is in the fifth row (center). I have sat in other areas of Symphony Hall, and find the sound can change significantly from one location to another. I prefer the louder volume of my fifth row seat, and I have told myself that I am hearing what the conductor hears. Perhaps, audiophiles become accustomed to louder volume levels. Although I don't feel that I listen to music at home at excessive levels, I think we (audiophiles) all tend to listen to music at levels that are louder than a typical classical music performance. This may not be true for jazz, and certainly not for rock.
              A high quality recording played back on first rate equipment is quite different from a live performance in my experience, not necessarily better, but different.


              • #8
                This observation suggests a huge topic, very interesting too! Avoiding long analysis, we must consider that in a concert hall we get deeply involved with the interpretation and the theme itself. Rarely we concentrate our attention to specific instruments, except of course when listening to solo performings. Combining the room ambience and -usually- lower SPL that reaches our ears, together with different angles & distances fron the "sweet" maestro's position, what we perceive is what we call "live performance". This applies mainly to classical music. And it is rather way far from what we listen from our music systems! Nevertheless, this is the original event, not a reproduction. IMHO, when designing and positioning components and speakers, one should first take this factor into very severe consideration. So, to put it on a somehow simple and common basis, to just "faithfully immitate" instrument sounds themselves through a machine, won't make a true reproduction. You need something more than that, and I think this is what Alan calls natural reproduction, a much more complex total than instruments and voices themselves. I now remember his advice and notes about some ambience and "distortion" issues in recordings, that enhance naturalness, and and I fully understand and agree with what he has said...


                • #9
                  When the BSO "full orchestra" performs I am in the second row (They remove two rows and extend the stage), and about 20' from the conductor. With more instruments, and closer proximity, the volume is definitely louder, but still different than recordings. Again, not better or worse, but different. I just received the live recording (double CD) of the BSO's performance of Mozart Symphonies 14,18,20,39 and 41. I was present for the performances, and although I am quite aware that auditory memory is unreliable, I maintain that live and recorded is different. In Symphony Hall the microphones are hung about 20' above the stage front. The curved back wall of the stage acts as a horn, and the suspended microphones are likely to pick up more reverberant information than would seated on the floor, 20' from the conductor. I can't say I enjoy one or the other more. They are almost two different experiences.
                  Last year I attended a performance of a jazz combo(female vocals, saxophone, piano and bass). At the end of the performance< I purchased their CD which as essentially the same program. Upon my return home, I played the CD. It was cleaner because it was recorded in a studio, but essentially the same sound I heard at the club. I repeated this with another jazz group, but a live recording. Again, the same sound. In both instances voices and acoustic instruments were amplified. The BSO, is of course not amplified.
                  My previous highly regarded speakers (planar) seemed to provide the sound of "live" music, but my C7 ES3's do a better job of capturing the total performance. Perhaps, Alan's "natural reproduction", is hard to describe, difficult to quantity, but you will know it when you hear it.


                  • #10
                    As a new member please don't think me flippant......seeing any half decent band in any half decent venue with your mates, and perhaps having taken beer, will always be more fun than sitting in front of your Hi-Fi (and I love sitting in front of mine !). I never loose sight of this. Whatever your love, go and see more of it live if you can. If you've not done so for a while, I urge you to remind yourself.


                    • #11
                      Live music is not always the Gold Standard

                      I sometimes wonder about the almost religious fervour some hi-fi enthusiasts attach to the activity of listening to live music. The fact that they say it is the benchmark for what our systems should sound like and that our mere electronic systems can never approach the experience of live music.

                      There are many downsides to live music that are often glossed-over in the drive to extol the live music experience. For example:

                      1) The venue will frequently have an amplification system built-in that is of low quality and gives varying subjective performance depending on where the listener stands or is seated. This alone can make the sound very poor.

                      2) Rock/Pop bands rarely play as well live as they do on the recording and singers especially are usually nowhere near as good live as they are on their recordings. They may change the music when playing live too, which may be unwelcome for some fans.

                      3) Live music is often TOO LOUD to enjoy in my experience. And there's no volume control!

                      4) Some music requires repeated listening for the listener to 'get it'. An initial live performance of such music may not be able to communicate the message to some listeners, a CD/LP of the same music will allow repeated playings in a relaxed home environment.

                      The last point there is an important one in showing the benefits of a home audio system over a purely live musical experience. I find the home environment is a more comfortable place to engage in serious listening. Well-made recordings on a very good hi-fi system in the comfort of your own home can give far more musical pleasure and insight than many a live performance. And of course you can hear music played by legendary performers who are now gone, whenever you like.

                      However, if you're after a social experience with friends that includes live music then maybe the sound quality and musical communication isn't so important?


                      • #12
                        I'd say that the super rough, spitty & peaky/shouty quality of PA spks is what makes Amplified live music bad, very bad actually. But then again, the intention is to have as wide an acoustic coverage as possible & in this circumstance, only rugged, rough & high efficiency PA spks are able to do it.

                        Unamplified live music is totally different though. Much less painful & more enjoyable. That's why always prefer to attend live classical concerts than Jazz or pop concerts.