The Acoustical Standard (with follow-up) Letters

Gordon's favorite music?
Editor: I have often heard and read people's arguments for using their favorite music to test music systems. I have never seen such an effort cloaked in such opaque terms as Mr. Holt did in "The Acoustical Standard" (October 1988). Why was he trying to hide the fact that he likes to use his favorite music to test out components?

It is easy to find fault with his analysis. It is well known to anyone who studies acoustics that concert halls have the deadest, and some of the most peculiar balances of any listening chamber. In concert, the reverberant soundfield tends to drown out any high frequencies. The smaller the room, the more likely that the entire sound of an instrument will be heard by the listener. That is why many chamber groups prefer to play small, intimate rooms rather than concert halls. Does Mr. Holt advocate only listening to live chamber music in a large concert hall? I doubt it.

Perhaps he was arguing that orchestral music was the most difficult to reproduce? Others would disagree. I have read several arguments by noted authorities contending variously that the piano, the organ, and even the guitar are the most difficult to reproduce. If that was his point, then why not state it clearly and offer support for the postulate?

If one wants to adopt an absolute standard for testing sound reproduction, why not the piano? Many homes have pianos. It is an instrument with which a very large number of people are familiar. It should be relatively easy to make comparisons between the sound of your piano and the sound of a piano emanating from your test stereo.

But wait, you cry! The piano recording was made in a concert hall. It will sound lifeless compared to the real thing in a living room. One must use a closer recording. And the piano in the living room hasn't been tuned in three months. Must it be a baby grand, not a grand or upright? How do we know that the tone of the recorded piano will be sufficiently close to assure accuracy?

One can expand these arguments to include a wide range of acoustical music played or recorded in a wide variety of places. Isn't the point of high-end audio to allow the listener the pleasure of reproducing all of these scenarios as faithfully as possible?

I, for one, not only can't afford to go to live performances of all types of music, I don't like them all. I doubt Mr. Holt does either. Isn't the real point for listeners to become as familiar as possible with their favorite music and use it to evaluate their purchases? Shouldn't an equipment reviewer use as broad a range as possible to do the same? I agree that, as acoustical music as a class currently presents more of a challenge to music systems to reproduce, it should be the preferred music of equipment reviewers. But I would not want the reviewer's opinion colored by the fact that he or she thinks all equipment should sound as dead as a concert hall!
Patrick N. Watkins, Troy, MI

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