How close is recorded music getting to the real thing?

Stereophile's picture
Many audiophiles spend thousands on state-of-the-art audio equipment, but does it really put you in the room with the performers?
How close is recorded music getting to the real thing?
It's there already
3% (7 votes)
Almost there
17% (35 votes)
Gets close sometimes
53% (112 votes)
A ways to go
18% (37 votes)
Not even close
9% (20 votes)
Total votes: 211
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Comments
Gil Lester's picture

Playing as a jazz musician, I do hear how close it is getting to the real thing! Of course, it depends on the system you have.

John Wakefield's picture

I think my stereo is really wonderful until the next live concert I attend. Then it seems pathetic.

Eirik Ulven's picture

Ivor (Linn) is right. We get only 10% of the performance at home.

Miika Jantti, FIN's picture

There's lots of things that can influence to the conclusion of the record. I think that the studio or whatever the place is where the record session is taking a place is the most important thing to the conclusion. The setting of microphones is always very important too. The studio is not always the best place to record music. My best records has not been recorded in the studio. Of course It's the easiest way to record but there is something missing always, I think. Church or some cottage may sometimes be much better place than studio. Of course the last thing is the equipments that can influence to the conclusion. A good record and Martin-Logan speakers (the most important,also the whole system) is the way to the real thing. That's the way I get live session in my room.

Rob C.'s picture

The first time I walked into a Linn showroom, I was floored by how real their setup was! And that was in the store! Another surprising time was the first time I listened to an all-tube setup and expensive turntable. The only thing missing from this jazz recording were the smells of smoke and liquor! Everything else was there in the room as real as I could imagine!

C.  Celli's picture

Constantly I read in various high-end publications, as well as mainstream audio magazines, that reproduced music does not come anywhere near a replication of a live musical event. This is just not so. A halfway decent full-range system can consistently transport one to a live musical event. That is, if the listener is willing to concede that his electronics are indeed capable of reproducing waveforms and acoustic spaces accurately enough to produce the illusion of live music. However, if one goes into every listening session totally convinced that electronics are incapable of enough accuracy to simulate live music, and is unwilling to suspend disbelief, then you can be sure that he or she will never be fooled into thinking they're hearing the real thing. Of course, this takes a lot of faith and perhaps some effort, and of course it takes some obliviousness to the fact that you are in a listening room in front of a stereo before disbelief will dissolve. This means anyone who listens with eyes open will never get there. I read silly things like: glasses on/glasses off---oh, with glasses off your brain needs to do more correcting . . . yeah, if your eyes are open. This is ridiculous. Any who listens with their eyes open is simply not really listening. They may think they are, but if you are devoting all of your brain's processing ability to listening, then why would you have your eyes open? The room should also be completely dark. Light can still impinge on the retinae, even through closed eyelids. And if you are sensing any visual stimuli whatsoever, this is processing power taken away from the auditory center. So, the best systems nowadays are quite able to come indistinguishably close to the real thing; that is, if the listener is willing to believe this. If not, then the equipment is wasted.

Louis Leibovich's picture

Please, get real! I have played live music now for thirty years, and even though my system is high-end (ie, $30k), never has my system ever made me think that I was listening to live musicians actually playing in my room! However great a system may be (and I've heard some of the best), music that is heard live, is infinetly better!!!

Seth Gordon's picture

the equipment on the end ofhte chain continues to get better and better, but the only limiting factor that seems to continue to be a problem is the recording format used in personal music systems. As the staandard advances the representation of the actual gets better and closer to the real thing. We should all be interested in the new standard for the audio version of the DVD since it will be the next music medium that could, if done right, bring us closer to the real event thatn we ever imagined.

John Fu's picture

I attend concerts regularly. No, no stereo system at any price has come close to live performance. You don't get the details, the ambiance, the dynamics....

J.R.  Simplot's picture

It is impossible to make the statement that music as a whole (all types) sounds the same on a home audio system. It is easier to reproduce amplified rock through a home system and get that "you are there" sensation than unamplified music (i.e., classical). I find the character and nuances of classical music to rely to a greater extent on room accoustics than does amplified rock music. Therefore, reproducing unamplified music is a more difficult task. Thus, chalk me up for "Gets close sometimes" (depends on the music).

Andrea Torri's picture

It is actually more than there. My ear IS on the strings of Clapton, IN FRONT OF the singing lips of Tracey Thorne, and RIGHT INSIDE the drums of the Deep Purple when I listen to my system. No "live" experience can give me the same analytical detail and full palette of sounds that a sonically excellent digital recording gives me. Furthermore, the whole art experience can be easily replicated, over and over again, and the background noise is significantly lower. Listening to recorded music is a totally different type of experience, not a copy of the live one.

Nate Losman's picture

The quest for recreation of a live event in the home is like a dog chasing its tail. There are just too many differences, and for the money some people spend on gear to reproduce music, you could hire a limo and get tickets to concerts, and go regularly. To me the proper focus on listening to music at home is not recreation, because if that's the only focus, then how can you ever judge whether what you're listening to hits the mark without actually having been present during the recording. Music stirs an emotion, and if what you play at home, triggers the 'music' emotion, even if it's not faithful to the original, that is all that should matter. After all, will any two live performances of the same thing be quite the same?

K Doctor's picture

Though my system has its good points, count me in among the sizeable chunk of listeners who must suffer through less-than-perfect speaker placement. To all of you guys/gals married with children . . . I feel your pain. You are not alone!

steve thomas's picture

Of course, all of the above apply depending on the record. However, things are really improving when someone takes the time to do it right. Thank goodness we are past the 70's and 80's and there are people trying again.

Harry Lavo's picture

On a really good system set up by somebody who understands what live sound sounds like!

Ken Hotte's picture

speakers have a terrible noise floor. They may never reach into the noise floor well enough to "fool" us into believing that we are listening to the real thing. Transient signal reproduction is not the be all end all of reproduction, it is the nuance that is important for fooling us into believing as well. The nuber of speakers that have a low enough noise floor to fool the brain/ear into believing that we are listening to the real thing can be counted on one hand. And they can accomplish this feat in only a relatively small bandwidth...

Graham Whitaker's picture

Onlt ecery now and then does a quality system and quality recording sound convincing. Sinnaed O'conner,3 babies is very close.

Peter MacHare's picture

I much prefer listening to music on a good hi-fi than at a concert. Most concert halls don't sound as good as a home system. Most concert-hall seats are nowhere near the sweet spot. Give me a good hi-fi every time.

Harold A.L.  Guenther's picture

Okay, at home I "miss" the coughing, the smoky intermissions (even at classical concerts in my country), but looking at an album cover is no substitute for looking at real performers. But then, how often will Jimi Hendrix, Carl Wilson, John Lennon, Kate Wolf, Franz Liszt, or Camille Saint-Saëaut;ns come to play in my village in the Netherlands? For all those evenings when the real performers aren't available, my vinyl collection + audio systems will be the best for now.

Jim Gross's picture

In today

Greg Grimes's picture

Tonal accuracy and imaging are well on their way, but ambience is lacking. Ambience is the major factor that is missing still. The other problems with realism relate to the philosophy of the recording engineer who often believes that making a recording sound "better" than reality is a good thing.

David Colver's picture

...but only on the most top end equipment

K.  Campbell's picture

it starts with the recording, dummy!! And most recordings (popular) are still pretty crappy. We need to be preaching to the recording profession the benefits of listening to their work on a decent system. Too many times I've seen final edits done at a studio or home on a "rack" system.

Steve Hendershott's picture

The fact is that no REproduction system will ever be able to duplicate exactly the experience of a live performance. I believe it is theoretically possible to exactly reproduce what the recording equipment "heard," but men and machines don't hear the same things. Machines are ruthless and methodical in their detection, and they become more so daily. People hear with their ears, eyes, moods, in fact their whole being. Machines may be able to hear better than we, but they'll never be able to LISTEN to a performance. Don't get me wrong---I love occasionally being taken away from my listening chair to some far-off never-never land. But without fail, when I open my eyes or listen more deeply, I always end up at home. That isn't a bad thing, but it is the truth.

Bob Smoot's picture

current equipment can sometimes convey the emotion - but it is not often enough.

Michael Schumacher's picture

The weakest link, IMO, is the recording process. I can't tell you how many times a drumkit has been miked from the drummer's perspective rather than from the audience's point of view. Errors like this only serve to degrade the illusion that you are actually THERE.

Joe Hartmann's picture

Somedays, with the right record, the setting seems to be almost there. Most times there is a good feeling with most recordings. I have yet to have this feeling with a CD.

Gordon White's picture

If we're talking about amplified live music, recorded music surpassed the average live sound quality in the early '60s. If we're talking about repoducing the sound of a human being playing an instrument, there's a world to go.

Parrella/Princeton's picture

Is the goal of recorded music to be "close to the real thing" or to remind us what the real thing promises?!?

Franz Klitza's picture

live concert music is very dependent on concert hall acoustics; some halls are nearly perfect while others actually distort or muffle the music.

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