As Reviewers See It Page 6
Hammond: But how many recordings of rock-type music are made with there actually being a sound in air between the speaker, the guitar amp, and the mike?
RH: You never record guitar direct...
Hammond: It puts its sound into the air and then is captured by a microphone. This is the thing that a lot of people have not appreciated.
Greenberg: An electric guitar is no less of an acoustic source than a contrabassoon or a human voice...There's no difference between pointing a microphone at a symphony orchestra and pointing a microphone at a rock'n'roll band.
Hammond: Not all of us older guys have appreciated that point.
Holt: Is the same loudspeaker always used with the same model of guitar?
Greenberg: No. There's many different kinds.
Holt: So when you're listening to a recording, then how do you know what you're hearing?
Greenberg: How do you know what reed Lewis is using, how do you know what horn he's using?
Lipnick: That's right. You don't.
Archibald: How do you know which violin the violinist used?
English: The same thing is true of someone playing that electric guitar, Gordon. They'll recognize the difference between types of instruments and types of strings and types of pickups and types of amplifiers in the same way that you might differentiate a bassoon reed or a make of violin.
Hammond: A Strad vs a Guarnerius.
Atkinson: It seems to me that we're getting off the point, which is that part of the reviewer's task involves diagnosis. The reviewer uses learned skills and a whole armory of appropriate sources to make a correct diagnosis, as many different kinds of recording as is required for him to reach an accurate, transportable value judgment.
I'll give an example [as to how a simplistic reliance on "the absolute sound" comparison leads the reviewer into making an incorrect value judgment]:
You want to judge the soundstaging and imaging capabilities of a pair of loudspeakers. You play a recording of an orchestra and it sounds about as vaguely defined as if you were in row N or the back of a typical shoebox-type concert hall. So you say "accurate imaging," because what you hear from the loudspeakers resembles what you hear live.
However, you have no basis whatsoever on which to make that value judgment, because you do not know whether there is the capability within the recording to project that kind of soundstage. The miking may well have destroyed that information.
Atkinson: The recording of live acoustic music in a real space is therefore useless as a diagnostic tool in this case.
You then take something which never existed acoustically—it never caused air to vibrate—which is an electronic pink-noise source. You play it in dual mono and you listen to the way in which the width of its central image changes with frequency. You might find in the crossover region of a speaker that it goes like that [waves hands to show a narrow point expanding into a large, amorphous blob of sound] while in the treble it may go to one side or the other. You therefore now know that no matter what kind of recording you play, that speaker will be incapable of reproducing an accurately defined soundstage.
So you've used something which never existed in real life to make an accurate diagnosis of the loudspeakers' imaging performance, whereas the recording of acoustic music was useless because you couldn't break the chain. The reviewer's task, therefore, is to use anything and everything, recordings of sounds with which he's familiar, electronic sounds where he can predict what the effect should be, to form a Gestalt diagnosis of the component's performance.
Recordings of acoustic music come into that when you know how they ought to sound, which is why recordings that reviewers like Bob [Harley], Dick, Gordon, and Peter make themselves are so important to them. Musicians like Lewis, Corey, and Jack, they all know the sounds of their instruments. They know the kinds of changes to expect. When they hear changes in the sound that don't fit in that family, they know that something is wrong.
It's the process of diagnosis which is important for the reviewer, not paying lip service to a sometimes inadequate philosophy regarding source material.