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Buddha
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System balance.

Hola,

I really like the thread about what the relative importance of each piece of the audio chain contributes to the over-all sound. It made me want to try and see what people think about in terms of how they ration out their expectations of what a system does or should do - how they would rate the relative importance of performance characteristics.

So how about a thread regarding system balance in terms of aspects of sound, rather than which components are most responsible for that sound?

So first, some words:

1) Imaging (recreation of a soundstage and the environemnt in which the sound originated)

2) Macrodynamics (total loudness, slam, impact)

3) Microdynamics (small changes in texture or background)

4) Open/natural treble balance - sweetness and "air"

5) Midrange "liquidity" - getting the mids "just right." I'd put vocal accuracy in this part, natural voice reproduction.

6) Bass reproduction - depth, authority, speed

7) Speed, rhythm, pace - how well the system portrays to "timing" of the sound of the original event. Things like sonic "overhang" for slow equipment would be here, so would the tingles of how fast a cymbal strike or trumpet note erupt into space.

________________________________
________________________________

OK, that's seven things.

Say that "the real thing" (live music) would equal a score of 20 for any given aspect, but you only get to give out 100 points for your rankings, how would you portion out your points for each aspect?

14 points each (with two left over) for good balance? Or are there parts of the sound you would use more points at the expense of other aspects, like 20 points for imaging and speed, and the other 60 points divided elsewhere?

Here's mine:

Imaging: 19

Macrodynamics: 12

Microdynamics: 13

Treble: 13

Midrange: 15

Bass: 9

Speed/Rhythm/Pace: 19

That was tougher to do than I thought it would be!

I figure I'd most readily give up bass to get more elsewhere.

*Results subject to change in response to other people's ideas!

ear2200
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Re: System balance.

Only a reviewer wantabe would try to assign a rating system to evaluate how well their system reproduces live music.

This isn't a beauty contest, your system either sounds like live music or it doesn't.

Buddha
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Re: System balance.

Well, you're a pleasant little fellow. I'm surprised momma troll let's you stay up so late!

Dude, no system sounds like live music. The hobby is all about trade-offs and compromises. Hopefully, as few as possible.

But then, aren't you the guy who thinks sales numbers equal quality?

Hope you feel better soon.

jazzfan
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Re: System balance.


Quote:
Well, you're a pleasant little fellow. I'm surprised momma troll let's you stay up so late!

Dude, no system sounds like live music. The hobby is all about trade-offs and compromises. Hopefully, as few as possible.

But then, aren't you the guy who thinks sales numbers equal quality?

Hope you feel better soon.

Buddha,

How rude, really, you must learn to behave yourself. The mysterious "E" does have a point, what the hell are you some kind of "reviewer wantabe"? I can ask this, since I'm pretty much the same thing, only with music reviews not equipment

Anyway you lost me after the third item and then I got really lost when you started to assign values and points and totals and adding and ouch! My head started to hurt so I put on some Dylan and chilled out and no, it wasn't "live" but I didn't care because it added up to some nice sounding music.

A few comments.

First of all what I've come to understand as "system balance" is more in the area of total system/room integration and this is an area where many audiophiles seem to fall short. I won't go into detail here since this is your thread and this is really another topic but by total system/room integration I mean putting together a system which fits within the space and within itself.

Some examples may help to explain what I mean.

Speakers which are the right size for the space. Small space = small speakers. Large space = large speakers.

Proper set up of equipment. Planar speakers against walls is a no no, for example.

Proper integration of equipment. A 500 watt super amp driving high efficiency minimonitors is not good integration for example.

The above items may seem trival but one would be amazed at how many people get them wrong.

Another comment - what is the sound of "live" music?

I've been to countless live music events over the years and the "sound" has varied so greatly that I have absolutley no what "live" music should sound like.

Examples:

At an Elvis Costello concert the drummer was on stage playing cymbals. I could clearly see him hitting the cymbals but I could not hear the cymbals. Should I have gone home and removed my tweeters?

I've seen the bass player Charlie Haden several times where his hands were moving and he was clearly playing his bass but I couldn't for the life of me hear it. Again, remove the woofers from my home audio system?

And for all of you who will claim that these are just problems having to do with amplified music, here's three words for you - "Avery Fisher Hall" (in NYC's Lincoln Center).

Anyway Buddha, just for the record I came up with a total score of NY Yankees 4, Jazzfan 8.

JoeE SP9
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Re: System balance.

How many times have they rebuilt the interior of Avery Fisher Hall? I wonder why they just don't tear it down and build something new. They have had acoustic problems with the brand new Kimmel Center here in Phila. They are not nearly as bad as Fisher has. Maybe the science of acoustics and hall design has improved. The new organ at the Kimmel is a real earthquake generator. If you want to know what real bass is, come on down for an organ recital. My system sounds good to me. What kind of score does that get? How about 85 because I know it isn't real live music.

gkc
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Re: System balance.

Hi, JoeE -- You and Jazzfan bring up an interesting point. Just where IS the "real" live sound, since concert halls vary so much. The gestalt of "live" is unmistakeable: everything is spread out and dynamic as hell. Details, of course, vary, according to where you are lucky or unlucky enough to be sitting, and from hall to hall. Then you have the software mediating what finally gets into your system. A good mixologist can bring those "soundless" instruments back to life, or screw everything up even more. Still, anyone who hears a lot of live music will develop certain preferences OVER TIME. One concert a year won't do it. Buddha's idea of establishing specific areas for rating the home sound by quantifying each area is probably meant as a hypothetical guide. When he says he is "measuring" against live sound, I suspect he knows well all the ironies involved. What we all seek is a recreation of the REMEMBERED EXPERIENCE of "live." And we all rate our systems, from time to time, even if it isn't with precise percentages. We all say, "...hmmm...the bass doesn't sound like what I remember," or "...why is the soundstage so narrow and/or shallow?". Wait. It may be just the particular CD or LP. So we trot it over to some other system, friend or showroom, and try to make a judgment. Significantly, we never get it "right" enough to stop buying tickets to next week's concert! Yet the home experience can be very satisfying, and we all want to improve it. That's why we're here.

JoeE SP9
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Re: System balance.

Do I get extra points for knowing my rig can't ever sound like live music? Sometimes with enough Chimay or Pilsner Urquell it does sound very convincing.

gkc
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Re: System balance.

I have noticed a similar correlation. In fact, I have even noticed improvements in concert-hall sound after intermission, after quenching my, er, thirst. One must occasionally take the edge off the critical faculties -- they can definitely spoil the fun if allowed to run ungoverned. Of course, Buddha wouldn't know anything about THIS, given his intimate acquaintance with the Heitz Brothers and their famous cellars.

kana813
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Re: System balance.

I find the same effect after two cups of Kava.

jazzfan
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Re: System balance.

Clifton,

Those are exactly my points. This holy grail of live sound is nothing more than that - a holy grail. An unobtainable, fictious ideal which snobbish golden ears are forever tossing about as a way of belittling those systems they happen to find less than satisfying. Live sound really doesn't mean all that much since it tends to vary so much from place to place and time to time. And that's not even taking into account whether or not the damn piano is in tune!

As for one's state of mind helping to focus the soundstage, well I'm all for any help I can get, be it internal or external tweaking.

gkc
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Re: System balance.

Yo, Kana -- I believe, I believe. However, you can doubtlessly improve your system's projection of space by adding a few milliliters of Myers's Original Dark Rum to that cup of Joe.

jazzfan
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Re: System balance.

Clifton,

Kana did not say cup of java he said:


Quote:
I find the same effect after two cups of Kava.


Quote:
What Is Kava?
Kava (Piper methysticum) is an age-old herbal drink that was the beverage of choice for the royal families of the South Pacific. Believed to originate from Melanesia, kava grows abundantly in the sun-drenched islands of Polynesia. Although drank for centuries by the islanders, it was only during Captain Cook
Monty
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Re: System balance.

I love stuff like this!

1) Imaging would rate about in the middle of my priorities. I need some to satisfy, but can live with a little smear during complex passages. Gimmie decent with accoustic, small scale stuff and I'm a happy camper.
10%

2) Macrodynamics is a bit higher on my list. The more the merrier and an absolute necessity for me to enjoy the music.
20%

3) Microdynamics are a big thrill, but in the end, a bit of a luxury and more expensive to obtain. I've learned to live with less and can still enjoy the tunes.
10%

4) Open, natural treble. Hello! I'm not so old that the hair in my ears are gray...just on my head. I really dig the brassy, shimmering high hat and triangles. I can still live with a bit less, but an error toward the bright isn't an option.
20%

5) Midrange is the make or break part of all my enjoyment of a component. Fortunately, even the modest budgets can afford a good midrange and almost everybody is getting this part more or less right.
20%

6) Bass is also a luxury and very difficult and expensive to do right. It's funny, bass is probably the most obvious and overwhelming characteristic of "live," but I don't require anything more than decent to satisfy. I'll go with 10%

7) Speed, rhythm and timing sorta falls into dynamics for me. However, this also seems to represent the ability to capture the venue...whether it is a concert hall or a recording studio. Once I heard the bounce and echo of accoustic sound being recorded, this aspect shot way up on my list of priorities. I'll give it 10%, but only because I've run out of %s. In reality, I should probably reevaluate my percentages and find a way to give this 20%.

In short, dynamics make up a huge priority for me and are essential in my pecking order. Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie.

kana813
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Re: System balance.

jazzfan- Mahalo.

jazzfan
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Re: System balance.


Quote:
jazzfan- Mahalo.

For everyone else, check out this link to find out what Kana thinks of helping him out.

Mahalo

gkc
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Re: System balance.

Thank you -- I stand corrected. No matter what the liquid, though, I'll stick with what works, just to stay on the safe side. It's rum, by gum! Fascinating look into the world of Kava. This site is a veritable (never irritable) fountain of information. Who needs Google?

commsysman
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Re: System balance.

For years I have had systems that could do a lot of things right; realistic bass drum slam, realistic brass instruments, etc., but never really could quite get loud massed voices or dense piano passages to sound free enough of distortion to be convincingly realistic.

These are the two areas that are the really tough ones for a system to sort out, it would seem.
The upgrade I recently made from the Audio Research LS-16 Mark 2 to the LS-26 has really made massive improvement in those two areas.
I now realize that the sound of my previous preamps was "smearing" details in a way that made complex passages unclear (harmonic distortion?), while most things sounded very very good, up to a point.
The LS-26 goes beyond that; the Beethoven mass in c, the complex vocal passages in Beethoven's 9th, classical piano music, all sound very very clean and realistic to a degree I have never experienced in my system before.
I also now realize that loud plucked bass in jazz recordings was actually sounding a bit further forward in the mix, more dominant, than was reallistic. It now sounds excellent, but not so far "in your face" as before.
Massed bowed double basses, as in "the pines of Rome", are now strong and individually clear instead of a dense amorphous bass sound.
But anyway, those two areas, the piano and the massed voices, are the areas I advise you to consider the " acid test" when evaluating a system; they separate the class A from the rest.

By the way; another comment on another subject, acoustics. I have been attending concerts for the past 2 years at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. The orchestra sounds really great in there; far better than it ever sounded in the old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the previous 30 years.
The organ in there, while a fine pipe organ, sounds colorless and totally lost in there; really poor. It is obvious that the acoustical environment that works for the orchestra does not work for the organ.
Solo vocalists do not carry well, either, for some reason.
So remember that recordings are only as good as the original environment where they were made (engineering magic aside, lol).

gkc
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Re: System balance.

I began rethinking this thread after I finished listening to Clifford Curzon's magnificent (the best, for me) London recording of the Mozart D-minor Piano Concerto (LP, #CS7251). Technically, it's not all that great, with a lot of hall reverb getting onto the disc, and the overall sonic perspective being a bit more distant than I prefer. But it fills the room and the speakers just disappear (the Triangles do that all the time, unless the recording is really lousy). And, of course, Curzon's reading is urgent and dramatic, with no phony histrionics, and Benjamin Britten's conducting is perfect. I have a very difficult time, as those who have read a few of my posts realize, separating the system from the software. So I guess the most important system parameter for me is that it just disappear when the software allows. Any sense that sound is coming from the speakers just ruins the illusion, and that's what the best home music is -- an illusion.

This is much more all-inclusive than any of the detailed categories you mention. It includes soundstaging and imaging, but, as Clay mentioned, it also includes timbral neutrality. Extreme bass and detail can be missing, for me, as long as this overall gestalt is convincing. Timbre varies SO much from recording to recording, that all you can ask is that the system not exaggerate what the processing has already put on the disc. Clay noted the improvement in transparency his new AR preamp has brought to his listening. That, too, is part of the disappearing act, and I don't think a sense of abundant detail is necessary, although on the best recordings it certainly helps.

So those are my priorities. First, the speakers/electronics have to just go away and leave me with the music. A sense of width and depth outside the speaker boundaries is absolutely necessary, especially the latter, because some miking doesn't allow for a lot of width.

Second, timbres must be neutral enough to allow me to play all my music without highlighting distortions on the software. Extreme bass response can thus be a liability, because many records/CD's were just born boomy. It certainly is nice to hear the lowest bass when it's done right at the source, but that's one of the advantages of subs -- you can turn them off. As a few posters have noted, exaggeration in the upper midrange is absolutely intolerable to me, and almost all the really expensive speakers I have heard commit this sin.

Overall gestalt and timbre -- those are my priorities.

Buddha
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Re: System balance.


Quote:

Overall gestalt and timbre -- those are my priorities.

I like that.

I agree.

It kind of goes to just how much you can glean about a system in a very short time, too.

With equipment auditions (but with a big caveat I'll mention in a minute) I think our "first impression" of the sound of a system comes right to that global impression, or gestalt, that you mention.

Just like sitting down to a live performance (it's not like you take five minutes or three weeks to decide if what your brain is hearing is live) the first flash of sound from a stereo system gives me a great deal of total information about how the system will end up sounding to me over time.

That gestalt is it.

But, what provides that gestalt? This brings me back to what properties I listen for, and the gestalt starts at imaging and speed.

Timbre can vary, and I probably wasn't at the orignal venue at the time, so I have a wider array of what sounds plausibly real with regard to that parameter.

Maybe macrodynamics are a bigger part of gestalt than I listed, that feeling of "air being moved" seems to play a role in that initial sensation, too.

I guess I'm just overly dissecting gestalt, as a reviewer wannabe...

_____________________
_____________________

The big caveat to watch out for is the system that does one thing incredibly well, and can be initially seductive but in the long term fatiguing. Sometimes, that initial gestalt can make me react favorably to a flawed system until I have time to settle in.

As long as I'm ranting, I think this is where alot of us audiophiles make our purchasing errors, purchasing based on too short an audition. Then, as we have time to listen over time, the romance ends badly, as they so often do.

I bet alot of what we hear as "new and better" sound is just "new-to-me and different-from-what-I've-been-listening-to" sound.

So many times I've heard someone say, "Boy, I wish I'd never sold that..."

Man, Hi-Fi is so much like dating!

Monty
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Re: System balance.

I think that's right. Lord knows I've done it and will no doubt do it again. Most people are simply looking to build upon the strengths of their existing systems. Logic would suggest that a person might be better off simply moving up the chain within the same brands they already enjoy. But, NOOOOOOOOOOO, we're audiophiles! We have to try the various brands to convince ourselves we aren't missing something...and THAT is where the adventure begins.

I sure do dig this hobby.

Yiangos
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Re: System balance.

Hey Monty

Ignore my last pm.That "item" i told you about,was snatched by someone lol
Anyway,you are wrong this time.I am one of the very few who would stick with the same brands.After all these years of searching,i have finally brought my system where i want it and believe me,if someone would give me a blank check asking me to replace my setup,i'd refuse.Only if i am forced to replace my system i will and that is only with newer/better equipment from the same manufacters and again,that is a big risk.Say,manufacturer A makes a cd player i own and like,that doeasn't mean his newer model is better !

commsysman
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Re: System balance.

Clifton;

Have you ever listened to Barenboim's Mozart Concertos?

I have his complete set of the Mozart Concertos (EMI analog recordings from 1967 to 1974), and they are, overall, the best I have ever heard; strictly a matter of taste, of course. I'm not sure if that set is still available, but they really are great performances and very good recordings also.

commsysman
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Re: System balance.

Myers is about a 6 on a 1-10 scale in terms of definition and mid-range clarity; but get some Appleton 97-proof Green Label aged dark rum, and now you are up to a 9 or a 10.

commsysman
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Re: System balance.

Clifton;

FYI- Just out of curiosity, I checked on that Barenboin set on CDNOW. The original set I have (ANGEL 62825) was apparently allowed to go out of print around 1990, and they only list used copies for sale. It was re-issued in 1998, however, as EMI Classics 72930 and that is still available new. I do not know if this is identical to the original, or if was "remastered". I really doubt if any changes were made since the sound quality of the original was excellent, but you never know.

gkc
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Re: System balance.

Hi, Commsysman -- The only Barenboim Mozart I have is a recent release on Teldec (0630-13162-2), with him playing and conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. These are early concertos, 3 of my favorites -- 11, 12, and 13. The playing is superb and, as redbook CD's go, the recording quality is excellent. I have heard Barenboim live on two occasions, once while performing the D-minor (#20). He is one of the outstanding Mozart performers around, I think. The Curzon/Britten collaberation is just miraculous. A once-in-a-lifetime hit, in my opinion. It's the understatement and urgency that pulls you in. I don't know if it has been re-released on CD. My complete set is Brendel, all analog (Phillips), collected singly over a decade during the late '70's/early '80's. Much of it has been re-released on CD, but in this case analog defintitely rules. His performance of the C-minor (#24) is just breathless. I can remember when the HCDC Istomin/Schwarz (Reference) was hailed a few years back -- it pales compared to Brendel. Not in the same league. Again, it's the drama and a sense of recklessness -- the thing just careens along and leaves you breathless. If you have the capability of burning CD's from analog, I'll send you both of these, if you wish, and you can send them back when you're finished. Just let me know. Clifton

gkc
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Re: System balance.

Uh-oh. Now you've done it! Turning a poor old man into a complete (as opposed to partial, with SOME hope...) rummy. Now I'm a goner for sure. If you see someone at Disney crawling around on all fours, mumbling "Avast, landlubbers," during intermission, you can just thank yourself for sacrificing another soul to Demon Rum.

commsysman
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Re: System balance.

Hmmm;

Thinking it over, I wonder why I have so little Mozart by Brendel.

I have his complete Beethoven Sonatas and a lot of other recordings, and I love his Schubert Impromptus and his Liszt, but very little Mozart. My Mozart Sonatas are by Uchida, and they are good.

Now you are going to make me spend some money; you are sure your real name isn't Lucifer, or something like that, lol???

gkc
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Re: System balance.

I have that Beethoven set, too. Don't you miss those big, bulky boxed sets? I think Brendel is the best Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven pianist on the planet. Check out the Haydn Sonatas (Hob. XVI, #'s 37, 40, and 52) with the Andante con variazioni (Hob. XVII, #6) on Philips (416 365-1, digitized vinyl, so it might have the same number on CD). This proves that Haydn tried to teach Beethoven, but, of course, no student ever listens to teachers, right? Be SURE to get Brendel's Mozart Piano Concerto #13, in C, a little-known gem. The last movement is a 2nd Rondo, with two slow sections, a form he also used on #9, the so-called Jeunhomme. Cheers, Clifton.

Monty
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Re: System balance.

Hey Yiangos, I was saying that somewhat tongue in cheek. BTW, your album will be in the mail tomorrow. Let's hope the shipping Demons are unaware of its existence.

Yiangos
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Re: System balance.

Yep,i agree with you.Uchida is great.I have all her Mozart sonatas and love em.I began first with Maria Jao pires (if i remember her name correctly) but after listening my first Urchida cd i realised how crap her playing was.I have a piano concerto with Brendel though and trust me,it is very good.I'll let you know which one after i find it (i'm in the middle of room re-decoration,can't find a thing around here lol)

Yiangos
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Re: System balance.

Stop worrying Monty.The "force" is with us.

greenelec
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Re: System balance.

Here's what strikes me about this dicussion. I have found the worst sound quality at live venues. I think that what we strive for is the sound as we imagine it would sound like if we had the musicians in our room. I think that most of the time my system gives this impression. That is, an involement with the musicians. I recently went to a concert with Iris Dement, it was terrible, the sound that is. Nice to see her in person, but the sound was horrible. I have had disapointments with all types of music as far as the sound quality goes. I wish the sound system guys would get serious about quality and balance and lose the idea that the back row must experience 105db. I am very happy with the quality of modern sound in the home. I figure that my $15k system used for an average of 2hrs/day is much cheaper and satisfying than live music.

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