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Thread: Quantifying an "Open Sound"

  1. #21
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    Default Many questions and observations

    This thread started with the question how to quantify/qualify an 'open sound'. Is a 'natural' sound always an open sound? Or the other way around, is an 'open' sound always 'natural'? I think the first is true, because 'not open' will always point in the direction of some colouration, either subtractive or addictive. As for an 'open' sound to be natural:
    That's tough because we are having difficulties in describing what's natural. IMHO, Natural sounding speaker is not necessarily a criterion for open sounding. Unless, my understanding of open sound is different from the rest of the members here, I have perceived far better open sound in a some fatiguing speakers such as the Peavey that I mentioned earlier. The only thing that was common in these speakers was they were playing much much louder than I normally listen to and in a bigger room than mine.

    A.S. wrote:-I'm wondering is this 'openness' is related to frequency response. Perhaps in the loudness of particular frequency bands or to the extension of the overall bandwidth at the extremities.
    I suspect so. I am not sure if flat frquency response is an important criterion for open sound but from my experience with my PreAmp, I need to play above a certain minimum level for the sound to open up. Has this got to do something with loudness or the changes in FR at higher level of loudness? I don't know. Perhaps, my room is too damped that it sucks out the highs while playing at low volume.

    The other thing that I have observed is the dynamic range of some system, which seems to compress so that the loudest and quietest passage appears equally loud. Playing Jennifer Wernes Way Way down, the first few beat of the drum is as high as 100db and the vocal is moderately soft. In my friend's system which appears to be more open than mine both the vocal and the drum sound doesn't vary that much. Did they design the speakers in such a way so that high and low passages sound loud giving a false sense of attractiveness?

    ST

  2. #22
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    Default Natural sound mimics nature. Open sound is not the same thing ...

    I don't think open sound automatically confers natural sound. For eg, most of the PA spks are very open sounding by virtue of its wide dispersion horn design. But are these PA spks natural sounding? Far from it!

    Same goes to a lot of other high end domestic loudspeakers. Many of these are also very open sounding but definitely not natural. I feel that a natural sound reproduction is one that closely mimics what we hear from anything other than those that's electrically amplified. Like voices, birds chirping & sounds from acoustic musical instruments.

  3. #23
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    Default Stop! We need some proper definitions of 'open' and 'natural' sound

    Viewed from the outside, we are not looking too impressive in this thread. It would seem that we who live and breath high-fidelity sound can't succinctly define the very core words that we use every day. Even wine experts can agree a common lexicon to describe the basic qualities of wine.

    I'm really concerned when in the same context as 'natural sound' I see mention of PA speakers with their "open sound." This is crying-out for a proper definition please. I did start that analytical process > here < but it just hasn't been followed through, hence we are going around in circles. Surely we need a short list we can collectively digest, not thousands of anecdotal words.

    Can I urge you to press on with this until we have a draft working definition and keep tightly on subject until we do. I've asked Moderation to be especially vigilant in keeping to that path.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  4. #24
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    Default "Natural" vs. "Open"

    Surely "natural" is the more straightforward term of the two. I would simply define a natural-sounding speaker as one that can reproduce a real-world unamplified sound (piano, voice, trumpet, birdsong) with audible fidelity to the original, without any too obvious distortion or coloration. There may be more, but I think that must be the starting point.

    "Open" seems to me a more more slippery and inherently subjective concept. It sounds good, but I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean. Even assuming that it's a quality that we can zero in on, would it not be more a characteristic of a recording than of a speaker? Wouldn't a "natural" sounding speaker also always sound "open", if "openness" (whatever that is) is captured on the recording?

  5. #25
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    Default Open and natural is ....

    For me open and natural is:

    -Low coloration/distortion, especially in the mid band
    -no dynamic compression

    Eric

  6. #26
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    Default Maybe this?

    I think it is difficult to describe a natural sounding speaker. So I asked myself why I bought Harbeth *even though I am unable to describe it.*

    My reference for a good speakers has always been the vocals. I just can tell by hearing if the vocals is clean without any coloration. I think you just know it that the sound coming out from the speakers is the actual sound of the recording and not from the speakers.

    Maybe, you can't describe a natural sounding speakers but you can comprehend one when you hear it.

    ST

    {Moderator's comment: OK maybe so but how to translate your vivid experience into language a hi-fi novice half a world away could understand? That is what we must try to do.}

  7. #27
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    Default Circles?

    Quote Originally Posted by STHLS5 View Post
    My reference for a good speakers has always been the vocals. I just can tell by hearing if the vocals is clean without any coloration
    Are we going round in circles here. GOTO post#3 in this thread.

  8. #28
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    Default Defining 'naturalness' and considering 'openness'

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    Surely "natural" is the more straightforward term of the two. I would simply define a natural-sounding speaker as one that can reproduce a real-world unamplified sound (piano, voice, trumpet, birdsong) with audible fidelity to the original, without any too obvious distortion or coloration. There may be more, but I think that must be the starting point.

    "Open" seems to me a more more slippery and inherently subjective concept.
    Eric's rough definition of "natural" would be my rough definition as well. Of course, it would take a listener with a finely tuned ear and extensive experience with the unamplified sounds of voice and instruments in various venues to judge the "naturalness" of a speaker with accuracy and reliability.

    An "open sound", on the other hand, suggests to me a different sort of fidelity, something like the accurate reproduction of the "air" or "space" around the performer and in the venue, so that the speakers disappear and the listener feels as if he's been drawn right into the performing space. This may be related to sound stage creation too.

    This is quite vague, and it may not correspond even vaguely with how others think of "open sound", but before we can arrive at a more careful definition, we should first agree at least on a vague meaning.

    Bruce

  9. #29
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    Default Refining definitions

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    ?.......

    I'd say that 'natural sound' reproduced over a quality audio system will not be ....

    1) Fatiguing
    2) Too loud

    (This is more difficult than it looks!)
    I will add (3) sense of being there.

    May I suggest that we modify (1) and (2) to reflect the quality of Harbeth's natural sound? How about

    (1) you hear extended highs without feeling fatigue.
    (2) it can play loud without feeling too loud.

    ST

  10. #30
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    Default Natural sound in audio playback

    Newbie non techkie view of natural sound = faithful playback of entire frequency range + correct intensity (volume) of the original sound recorded......... though this doesnt tie in, in all situations with Alan (a) non fatiguing and not loud.

  11. #31
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    Default Openness and the recording itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Euler View Post

    An "open sound" ... suggests to me a different sort of fidelity, something like the accurate reproduction of the "air" or "space" around the performer and in the venue, so that the speakers disappear and the listener feels as if he's been drawn right into the performing space. This may be related to sound stage creation too.


    Bruce
    I had been thinking along similar lines in terms of what "open" might mean, but then it occurred to me that the sense of air or space around the performer or in a venue is ultimately a property of the recording, not the speaker. Yes, the speaker should reproduce it, but only if it's there. What if the recording is dry, close-miked, close-up? You wouldn't want a speaker adding an artificial sense of "openness" in that case, I would think.

    So to me it seems that the idea of an "open" sound ultimately comes back to the issue of fidelity and naturalness. In Harbeth's case, as we've heard a number of times, that seems to include the idea of fidelity not only at normal levels but at very low microtonal levels (owing to the properties of their cone material above all), which may be why they reproduce both natural instrumental tonality and the sense of a natural acoustic (if the recording has one) so well.

  12. #32
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    ...I had been thinking along similar lines in terms of what "open" might mean, but then it occurred to me that the sense of air or space around the performer or in a venue is ultimately a property of the recording, not the speaker. Yes, the speaker should reproduce it, but only if it's there. What if the recording is dry, close-miked, close-up? You wouldn't want a speaker adding an artificial sense of "openness" in that case, I would think.
    This is absolutely correct. Whilst I have in my mind a concept of 'naturalness' I'm far less comfortable with 'openness' as a word whilst I fully appreciate it as a concept and experience. We're down to micro-semantics here. When we talk of someone's personality being open, we are referring to their lack of concealment - we imagine that what we are presented with is the totality of the true inner person, that there isn't a hidden face. And repeated exposure to that person would reinforce (or not) that impression of openness.

    'Naturalness' is a different quality. I don't recognise naturalness as an inner quality (as openness is) but the external manifestation of certain inner thought and personality processes. Taken together then, the inner openness of the speaker lays bare the personality of the speaker and the naturalness of the speaker is the physical manifestation of the speaker's inner personality expressed in the simple traditional constructional no-frills style, the outward presentation in response to different musical situations. You could naturalness is akin to simple, traditional country-clothing where others, less natural, dress themselves up. Could an open personality also be one which is overly concerned with fancy externalisation? I don't think so. Not a truly open personality.You could be disappointed. Since 'naturalness' and beauty are entirely personal matters devoid of any absolute ranking, she could disguise a cold, heartless, closed personality with a cloak of what gentlemen rate as naturalness. The same applies to speakers: a since few of us really know how instruments sound in the raw, we are all exposed to the trickery of the recording engineer and hall can seduce with the illusion of naturalness. But true openness cannot be faked - it is an inherent quality of the heart, not the cloak.

    This suggests to me that the inner quality of openness can (perhaps) coexist with the external quality of naturalness, as it does with Harbeth speakers. But were we to take the very same open-sounding core elements of cone and crossover and mount them in a Beau Brummell cabinet, would we still appreciate the same naturalness of sound? I wonder. Surely part of the Harbeth experience is the absence of pretention, and that reflects back on the personality, and openness.

    I am concerned that whilst openness is bound up with the essential core qualities of the parts, the naturalness may be faked and hence fool the listener. Perhaps some musical examples would illustrate this. (I'm working on them)

    P.S. Consider this. If you spot a pretty girl across the street, based on her external appearance alone you may, according to your internal ranking system, ascribe her as 'natural' - which as a distant observer you take from certain cues concerning the way she dresses and presents herself to the world. But to begin to rank her 'openness' you need to cross the road and make her acquaintance; then, after some hours, days or weeks form a solid impression about the invisible, internal workings of her personality.

    Many would say that a conventional paper cone speaker with a simple crossover and chipboard box sounded natural. But spend time with such a product and the true personality slowly reveals itself: rather faster if an instantaneous A-B switch-over is used, akin to the 60 second get-to-know speed-dating boy-meet-girl method of rapid comparison.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  13. #33
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    Default Demonstaration of more or less open or natural sound? You decide.

    I've been playing around trying to find a simple audio example that could, perhaps, point us in the direction of 'openness' or 'naturalness' - that magical quality which we here commonly value but have difficulty defining.

    There are two audio clips here. The digital recording was made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall, London. Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20, K466. Vladimir Ashkenazy. Catalogue: 414 337-2.

    Are there any audible differences between these clips? Do you prefer one over the other? Does one or other illuminate the discussion about openness or naturalness in any useful way? The frequency range from low to high extends equally for both clips. This is quite subtle and these two clips are definitely the original and one I have processed. As with all these little demo clips they are just made and checked on my Logitech plastic PC speakers. There is absolutely no need to connect-up your hifi system.

    Loading the player ...
    Version A

    Loading the player ...
    Version B
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  14. #34
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    Default Open sound greatly influence by recording ambience

    As a percussionist, "Natural Sound" might be described as sound which mirrors reality. For example the triangle I hear is a 4" being played at the bend or on the flat, the 14" snare drum back beat is alternating between the center of the head and edge, the djembe is a 16", not an 18".

    "Open Sound" might be described as depicting the air and ambience one experiences when listening to a minimally miked direct to disc recording session, such as Dave Grusin's Sheffield Direct to Disc title "Discovered Again!". If any of the forum members have that disc, listen to any cut and hear the air around each instrument, the ambience of the studio room, the 3D-ness of each performance, how the acoustic bass resonates within itself and the room. That is Open Sound!

  15. #35
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    Default Naural sound must be highly pesonal - preference #1

    Morning Alan, I think I understand the differentiation you make between openness and naturalness in relation to human traits, personalities, cultures, societies etc but had some difficulty in joining the dots between openess and naturalness, specific to sound and sound through the Harbeths.

    However after listening to both clips, conclusion I reached is. The music presented in both clips sound natural. Ver. A, to my ears, sounds more open than Ver. B. If that is correct then both present the natural sound but in different ways. Presentation then become one of personal preference.

    If that is correct then that leads me to the next question which may perhaps fall outside the scope of this thread. As you say, since few can tell what is the correct sound of a musical instrument, I gather that absolute correctness in tonality/timbre of an instrument does not come into the equation (a Steinway can sound like a Yamaha) in the delivery of natural sound though preferred, natural sound through a pair of speakers is specific to the music, sound a person or society is used to ( a reference). Say someone who has never heard an orchestra and listens purely to rock would reference natural sound to the music he is accustomed to. Therefore natural sound becomes subjective played through a given set of speakers?

  16. #36
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    Default The two audio clips - my personal preference (opinion #2)

    IPAD - A sounded better than B but slightly increased in the highs and the violin group sounded bit artificial. If I were to make a quick buying decision based on the first 20 seconds I would probably have chosen A.

    PC Altec Lansing - A sounded better initially but progressively becoming irritating.

    SHL5 - B anytime is natural and my preference.

    For openness, I don't really sense any marked difference in both versions with A having a very negligible edge.

    ST

  17. #37
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    Default No right or wrong

    Excellent feedback. I think we're moving towards understanding this issue. More comments appreciated please - there are no right or wrong answers here. We are talking about sound, and that's a hugely personal matter. Not only is it personal, but we've seen that the same clips played on different audio equipment give rise to different preferences - just as we'd expect.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  18. #38
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    Default Preference # 3

    Initially i preferred A too but after a few listen, B seems less forward & less fatiguing & probably more natural.

  19. #39
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    Default Opinion 4

    on the integrated speakers of my iMAC example A sounds better. a little more harsh in the highs, but open and nice. B is a bit more dull.

    would prefer A on the iMAC

    best,
    delgesu
    Harbeth M40.1-Naim NAC52-Supercap-NAP 135-CDS2-XPS

  20. #40
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    Default Opinion 5

    After listened A, B seem more air and "open" due to it more echoey character to my ear. For piano concerto music i prefer A which is more focus on the piano sound.

    Was listen both clips thru my Samsung galaxy SII built in speaker.
    Last edited by keithwwk; 11-01-2012 at 09:44 AM. Reason: note down speaker used for listening
    "Bath in Music"

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