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Since its inception ten years ago, the Harbeth User Group's ambition has been to create a lasting knowledge archive. Knowledge is based on facts and observations. Knowledge is timeless. Knowledge is human independent and replicatable. However, we live in new world where thanks to social media, 'facts' have become flexible and personal. HUG operates in that real world.

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Do audiophiles get enough exposure to 'live sound'?

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  • Do audiophiles get enough exposure to 'live sound'?

    I recently applied Bass Boost to 3dB and noticed that the Bass capabilities of ...
    {Moderator's comment: This thread has taken a different direction to the original post by kraiker. You can read the original thread about boosting bass here.}

  • #2
    Trying too hard to capture the full live sound at home ....

    Originally posted by kraiker View Post
    The CS300X is 15wpc and not 12. You are scarring me now with the bad idea thing, can you please explain ?
    OK, let's step back and look at this logically.

    Have a look at the picture (attached) of a full orchestra. Imagine for a moment that the conductor allowed us to walk onto the platform and set-up a pair of mini-monitors (like the P3ESR) on stands and connect them to an audio system and then to play back a recording of the performance that we'd just made - and (hopefully) impress the musicians with the fidelity of our audio system. What would be the outcome?

    Logically, we can expect this:

    ... that the reproduced sound would be tiny compared to the live sound. So tiny that the musicians seated around our speakers would be straining (and chortling) at our efforts to reproduce their huge dynamic range. Our sound would seem very small indeed compared to the live sound. There are several reasons for this -
    • The amplifier has far too little power (12-15W) when we would need perhaps 1000W (guess)
    • The speakers are inefficient (as all speakers are)
    • There are only two speakers trying to reproduce the entire orchestra of 60+ sound sources
    • The orchestra produces sound across the whole stage (10m x 5m?) - the speakers produce sound from two tiny boxes

    So how can the listener be fooled into believing that, sitting at home, his tiny speakers and amplifier in a small room can faithfully recreate the hall sound when self-evidently it's impossible to generate enough acoustic power in the listening room? Obviously there is some mental trickery going on here - willing self-delusion - in the same way that we look at a widescreen TV and allow ourselves to believe that we are actually in the jungle or up a mountain.

    What brings the sonic illusion to an abrupt end? The reality check is that this illusion of an orchestra in all its glory in front of us only works at a low replay level within the capability of the speakers. Look at the surface area of all the instruments of the orchestra (it must be many m2) and then consider that the P3 woofer has a surface area of about 1/3 of a sheet of A4 paper and you'll appreciate that it must be working really hard, moving backwards and forwards pumping air, to even vaguely create the illusion of the big, full sound of the real instruments.

    Adequate bass realism at a moderate loudness is allowed for in the design of the woofer. But what isn't is intentionally electrically boosting the contribution from the bass-heavy instruments (turning-up the bass control on the amp) so that the small drive unit is being asked to work excessively hard. That will run the risk of bottoming the voice coil deep in the magnet (destroys the woofer) and/or over cooking the voice coil and/or much increased low frequency distortion and muddy mid band.

    Hope that helps.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Boosting LF in the room

      Thank you for the explanation.

      Now, I understand why some users' speakers always suffer from burnt voice coil every few years.

      In view of the danger of bass boost, what's your view on room correction softwares? Could there be hidden dangers of bass boost when we use such system? My understanding of electronic EQ is to use it to attenuate and never to boost any frequency. But a DSP may not work similarly.

      ST

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post
        In view of the danger of bass boast, what's your view on room correction softwares? Could there be hidden dangers of bass boost when we use such system? My understanding of electronic EQ is to use it to attenuate and never to boost any frequency. But a DSP may not work similarly.ST
        Interesting question.

        The point that I hope is now firmly accepted is that it is completely and utterly impossible for two 110, 200 or 300mm bass units to generate the sound of an orchestra at home. The only reason that home hi-fi works as well as it does is because it deceives the listener much of the time with an illusion that is just convincing enough that we're carried along with the experience. It's the same as being in the cinema: for the first few minutes we notice how soft and grainy the picture is, how colored the sound, how uncomfortable the seat .... but once our mind is absorbed with the whole experience, we lose the ability to be critical. We accept unquestioningly the nasty reality of the soft-focus grainy picture with its tiny optical dynamic range as faithful to life and are carried along with it. Also, how many audiophiles actually experience live musical sound to have a valid means of comparion? And as we observed with one recent A/B musical comparison here, only 10% of contributors recognised the original sound. 90% preferred a compressed 'soft-grained' defocussed, analogue version of digital reality.

        As far as I know, no attempt is made (or should be made) by a room correction system to boost weak notes in the bass. The fact that there are some or a series of musical notes which are a little or a lot less audible than adjacent notes when the loudspeaker is producing them as soundwaves of equal pressure indicates one thing: some sort of cancellation is occurring in the room. If you play the musical scale and certain notes are completely inaudible, this has something to do with the dimensions of the room, not the speakers. And the key point is this: if the notes are inadible because of the cancellation of soundwaves opposing each other, no matter how much sound power the speakers generate there will always be cancellation. So if bass notes are missing due to cancellation, EQ cannot ever fill them in, but it can tame those frequencies where there is an excess of bass by applying less power. That's my understanding.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #5
          The "break-in" period is nothing more than .....

          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
          Interesting question.

          ... The only reason that home hi-fi works as well as it does is because it deceives the listener much of the time with an illusion that is just convincing enough that we're carried along with the experience. It's the same as being in the cinema: for the first few minutes we notice how soft and grainy the picture is, how colored the sound, how uncomfortable the seat .... but once our mind is absorbed with the whole experience, we lose the ability to be critical. We accept unquestioningly the nasty reality of the soft-focus grainy picture with its tiny optical dynamic range as faithful to life and are carried along with it....
          Excellent!
          This is the "break-in period" for every hi-fi component, that so many audiophiles believe...

          Brain adjustment...

          Comment


          • #6
            Burn-in = brain adjustment time

            Originally posted by Takis View Post
            Excellent! This is the "break-in period" for every hi-fi component, that so many audiophiles believe...

            Brain adjustment...
            100% correct. There is no real physical or electrical 'burn-in' (aside from a few hours of softening of the speakers suspension). What's called 'burn-in' in audiophile circles is entirely a mental issue of becoming acclimatised to a new experience. Of that I am absolutely and utterly certain.

            Failure to accept this as fact demonstrates a basic lack of awareness of how the human mind works in all areas of observational experience, from engineering to love.
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK

            Comment


            • #7
              Random thoughts - how familiar are we with 'real sound' ?

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              .... but once our mind is absorbed with the whole experience, we lose the ability to be critical. ...
              Yes, you said it well. Once we are absorbed with the music we are not only non-critical but also shouldn't be critical. It defeats the purpose of listening to music.*

              *Also, how many audiophiles actually experience live musical sound to have a valid means of comparion?*
              That's what I have been telling. We (some of us like myself) just do not know what a live unamplified sounds like in a proper venue. We do not know how a real high quality violin, piano or a woodwind is suppose to sound. If I am a musician and my sound reaches 90% of the listeners would I want change my music to be technically correct so that I meet the standard which is only recognizable by 10% of the listeners?

              Some used to say the guitar sound in my room is like coming from nylon strings. i know they are referring to reverbs so I covered about 30 percent of the absorber in my room with aluminum sheets. The results was a "real" guitar sound even though it is colored with reverbs and I do not like the vocals due to the high reverbs but to others it was perfect.

              Honestly, despite being pointed out to me about the *reduced reverbs in the clips I still cannot hear the difference. Is it because the music played in a venue that I have no prior reference. *Can a westerner tell if a veenai or a sarod or a gamelan's sound is correct or you could readily hear the trailing reverbs? But we live in a world where Louis Armstrong's voice is gift from god despite normal humans never sound like that.

              Just my random thoughts .

              ST

              p.s. I have no idea why the asterisk appears in my posts. Must be something to do with my IPad.

              Comment


              • #8
                Topic continues here from another thread ....

                I suggest that we move this topic to another separate thread as we are some way from the original theme of this one.

                I've duplicated the last few posts so we can pick-up again with ease.

                Discussion continues right here in this thread. You are in the right place to comment!
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

                Comment


                • #9
                  No run-in with Harbeth

                  I agree run-in = brain adjustment.

                  The more incorrect or distorted sound the more time need to "run-in".

                  My audiophile friends, non-Harbeth owners, always tell me how importance warm up or run-in and practise 24/7 switch on hifi in order to keep the sound in optimal quality.

                  For me, my Harbeth setup can sound natural and beautiful right after I switched them on and play music. The superb natural of RADIAL cone do not need any brain adjustment at all.
                  "Bath with Music"

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post
                    Yes, you said it well. Once we are absorbed with the music we are not only non-critical but also shouldn't be critical. It defeats the purpose of listening to music ... We (some of us like myself) just do not know what a live unamplified sounds like in a proper venue. We do not know how a real high quality violin, piano or a woodwind is suppose to sound.

                    Some used to say the guitar sound in my room is like coming from nylon strings. i know they are referring to reverbs so I covered about 30 percent of the absorber in my room with aluminum sheets. The results was a "real" guitar sound even though it is colored with reverbs and I do not like the vocals due to the high reverbs but to others it was perfect. ... Is it because the music played in a venue that I have no prior reference. Can a westerner tell if a veenai or a sarod or a gamelan's sound is correct or you could readily hear the trailing reverbs? ...
                    Very thoughtful. Where to start commenting?

                    First, about the guitar sound: we the humble listener have no means of knowing how bright the original guitar sound was in real life, since there are many factors to consider about the guitar body, the strings, the positioning and selection of the microphone (very critical for recording strunged instruments), the room acoustic, the amount of equalisation that the producer/record company executive/marketing department/artist/artist's manager desired. Far too many unknowns.

                    We can say is that is is likely that for classical music featuring the acoustic, unamplified guitar with/without an orchestra that the guitar will indeed have nylon strings and should sound like a guitar with nylon strings i.e. a rather soft, warm, lacking-in-obvious-high frequencies* sound. So if your ill-informed friends were listening to classical guitar sound and expecting it to sound like bright, crisp pop guitar - more fool them. They sent you on a useless chase. If they were listening to a pop guitar recording, their oppinion was worthless because, for the reasons I listed above, neither you, nor they, nor I have the slightest knowledge of the tricks and techniques used to make the recording.

                    A case of the ignorant leading the willing?

                    I'll look out a guitar recording I made last year in a moderately dry acoustic. You'll be very surprised just how un-hifi like it is. Very very dull sound. But that's exactly how this lovely old guitar sounded in real life. With some EQ I can make it sound as bright and zingy as you want. In fact, although my original idea was to release the recording of guitar + singer as an 'audiophile recording' I didn't think that it had the "hi-fi" sound that audiophiles would recoginise as "hi-fi". So I abandoned the idea. Your friends would consider it worthless for sure!
                    Alan A. Shaw
                    Designer, owner
                    Harbeth Audio UK

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Designer's Nightmare

                      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                      ?.......
                      I'll look out a guitar recording I made last year in a moderately dry acoustic. You'll be very surprised just how un-hifi like it is. Very very dull sound. But that's exactly how this lovely old guitar sounded in real life. With some EQ I can make it sound as bright and zingy as you want. In fact, although my original idea was to release the recording of guitar + singer as an 'audiophile recording' I didn't think that it had the "hi-fi" sound that audiophiles would recoginise as "hi-fi". So I abandoned the idea. Your friends would consider it worthless for sure!
                      I remember the recording. I watched the live streaming and yes it sounded typically unamplified, i.e., flat. I always felt the same thing about some unamplified recording that I have.

                      The other thing I like to comment is the vocal recordings. Have you listened to your children singing several feet away and singing softly to your ears? I notice there is a difference in the sound texture. They are not the same. Similarly, a microphone placed few inches away from the mouth may pick a different sound characteristic of what we hear several feet away.

                      Thanks to our adaptability we are able to recognize the voice just like recognizing your loved ones voice over the telephone but as a designer this would be a nightmare to exactly determine the exact voice at the exact distance.

                      So many variables and unknowns and so many things to learn. I hope we could hear the difference in the A/B clips soon. Either I am not an acute listener or my brain just learned to filter out the excess reverbs.

                      ST

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The further you are from the source ...

                        Originally posted by STHLS5 View Post
                        ... Have you listened to your children singing several feet away and singing softly to your ears? I notice there is a difference in the sound texture. They are not the same. Similarly, a microphone placed few inches away from the mouth may pick a different sound characteristic of what we hear several feet away....
                        It shouldn't be a surprise that especially in doors, the further the source is from you, the greater the difference in 'character' between the close-up sound and the more distant sound.

                        Let's take the human brain out of the equation and rig up a dumb microphone, that captures whatever presses on it's diaphragm and without a brain, just passes that along to the recording device as a voltage. Assume that we are using the perfect microphone to capture those voices, and that microphone of itself did not change character* according to how close it was to the source. So we put the mic on a stand** and ask the children to speak or sing at (say) 20cms, 50cms, 1m, 3m, 10m from the mic. What would we hear from the dumb microphone? (Actually I think I did this very thing when the children were young .... wonder where the DAT tape is).

                        * Some microphones change sonic balance dramatically depending upon how close the voice is. The warm, velvet tones we remember Bing Crosby for were much to do with the reports that he would only use one type of mic and that he even carried his own mic to recordings. "The ribbon’s natural sound can also be made to sound warm, big, and syrupy (Bing Crosby-like) when placed within two or three feet of the talent (generally, you can’t close-talk a ribbon without having a greatly exaggerated bass characteristic)" - more here.

                        Microhones have their own character. The rich, chesty, full bodied, relaxed he-man 'all-American sound' has much to do with ribbon microphones used close-up. Example here from 1942. Why wouldn't you set that as your normal voice reference sound even though it was a (pleasing) coloration of the real sound?

                        ** Funnily enough, at the X-Factor studio last week (another M40, M30 install) they told me how after a beauty parade of all the well known monitor brands how they came to select Harbeth. Their test was to place a well-respected Neumann U87 microphone down on the studio stage (where we see the presenter) and cable it back to the control room where they could listen to various voices. The only speakers that captured the naturalness of the live voice was the M40.1. I asked if the engineering staff would be willing to make a video of behind the scenes including repeating that test and they have gone off to seek permission and cost making a mini-documentary for us here.
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Never, ever underestimate the importance of microphone choice ...

                          Examples of Bing Crosby and how the selection of the microphone can give you a specific sound: the warmth we associate with his singing voice. And how many of use would be likely to meet and hear him in the street, unamplified. So our preception is inevitably that of the recorded voice.

                          Bing Crosby Audio Vault

                          Have a listen to the first clip 'Capital radio interview - UK'. It opens with the familiar warm recorded voice we know. Then follows a studio interview.

                          When he visted the UK in 1975 he gave a radio interview from which you can hear his real speaking voice at a typical studio voice to mic distance of about 30cms. The interview microphone at that time would almost certainly have been an AKG D202, a cardiod mic optimised to sound and measure flat when used close to the source.

                          The professional sound engineer will carefully select a microphone for the effect he wants. We, the listener, are not privy to that selection criteria so when judging a recording we are really unable to be sure about how true to life it really is.
                          Alan A. Shaw
                          Designer, owner
                          Harbeth Audio UK

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Deconstructing the recorded sound we hear. 1 - contact microphones

                            Before your smart friends start to nit-pick your hifi system, you should be armed with some basic skills for putting them in their place. The most important skill to develop (in my opinion) is to be able to mentally deconstruct a recording. What does that mean? Since neither you nor they were actually present at any recording, and we can't really trust any publicity pictures supplied with the disc, we are going to have to listen forensically to the recording and decode what we hear. We are going to have to deduce, solely based on our knowledge of recorded sound, how big the recording environment was, where the performers and microphones were positioned in that space and even what type of microphones were used. We've touched on this so many times, even with recorded examples (here and here) but not reached the core. So let's develop some skill to do just that.

                            We don't need to know anything at all about music. We don't need to be able to read music (I can't) or play an instrument (I can't). We don't need to know anything about eastern or western musical scales, instruments or tonality. But we must know something about the art of recording, about microphones and recording halls and how they are used to artistic effect.

                            Microphones fall into two main categories: acoustic microphones set away from the instrument and contact microphones which are firmly glued or attached to the instrument. At the very least we must be able to recognise the sonic signature of these very different ways of capturing the sound we experience on the recording. The sound is totally different, and we can identify them by careful listening.

                            The contact or very close microphone: an intimate sound

                            Here is an excellent DIY video showing how a $1 crystal microphone (no moving parts) can be attached to a sound generator (guitar etc.), amplified, fed though some pleasing tone adjustment ... and bingo: a great rock guitar sound. You can even make the crystal microphone yourself with some simple chemicals! Remember: it has no moving parts. Cooking instructions here.

                            Point to note is that a contact mic picks up nothing of the acoustic space around the instrument. The sound is therefore acoustically 'dry' with much higher intensity than a conventional mic set at a distance. Hence, using the contact microphone is the normal way of recording or playing pop/rock instruments where an intimate sound is required and crucially, performers can be completely isolated from other performers who have their own contact microphones*. This is the exact opposite situation with the recording of acoustic music (orchestra etc.) where performers are not contact-mic'd, and where the sound waves from instruments are allowed to float in the acoustic, absorbing the ambient character of the hall, before being collected by distant microphones. That's the general idea. More on that in another post.

                            * I must stress this point fully. The entire pop/recording industry is underpinned by the rule 'one instrument, one microphone, one channel on the mixing console'. That's because of the need to do re-records (re-takes) of individual performer's contributions. That implies that the recording engineer can isolate and get-at one performer's contribution and replace or edit it without disturbing any of the other performer's acceptable contributions. That absolutely mandates that each performer is recorded in isolation and that means, their microphones must be very, very close to their sound source (instrument) or actually attached to it. So, the sound captured by these close-microphones will drown out any sound leaking from other performers. This type of dry sound is not what we hear in the concert hall.
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Stunning close-up

                              The amount of variables which are part of how a recording sounds the way it does is too much to put in words. It's a good thing that a Harbeth is very true to the original source, a great reference speaker.

                              It's stunning how natural they sound even if you're sitting very closely to them, you don't hear the seperate drive units. With all other brands of speaker, when listening in the nearfield, I hear a tweeter and a (foggy sounding) mid/bass unit.

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