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drjjpdc
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Why do speakers have to disappear?

John Marks in his column The Fifth Element in the June 2011 issue said, "First is the ability of the loudspeaker boxes to disappear in the sense of not being readily apparent as sound sources" about a speaker he reviewed called the Silent Speaker II.

My simple question is why? First, we know the Boston Symphony Orchestra is not in our room any more than Vladimir Feltsman is (unless we're friends). Second, when we listen to music outside of our homes, we certainly know where the music is coming from as a sound source, whether it be a stage or in a bar.

Just something that I have always heard that never made a lot of sense to me.

JoeE SP9
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Why?

If your system produces a soundstage your speakers will seem to disappear. If you don't hear a soundstage your system is not properly set up.

Kal Rubinson
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Because, in the former case,

Because, in the former case, the sound should seem to come from the virtual positions of the instruments in the BSO and, in the latter, from a large, resonant, steel-framed, wooden instrument somewhere between the speakers.  In neither case, in fact, in no case, do we want to hear ping-pong stereo (or worse in MCH) unless we are listening to Enoch Light recordings.

Kal

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Waiting for a logical answer

I am sorry Joe and Kal but neither of you have answered my question. Your answers remind me of the time I was taking Diagnostic Radiology courses and the professor explained (facetiously) that X-ray diagnosis requires a bit of hallucinogenic visualization to match the patient's symptoms to the image on film. Maybe we are talking about two different disciplines, reality and fantasy. But only one is really applicable to my question. When you gentlemen are talking about speakers disappearing, you both mentioned the word "seem", which implies fantasy.

Joe, according to you if my speakers do not "disappear" then my soundstage is screwed up. What a load of horse hooey! When you get right down to it how can speakers  disappear, when you can hear the music? To say that I close my eyes and only the music exists, where do I think it is coming from?

Kal, I am a box speaker guy. Like you, I have a long experience with the sound B&W has made for quite a few years. After re-reading your comments and seeing the word virtual, I now know that you and Joe are using different words/meanings for what I am talking about. Kal, if I am in my listening room and the sound of the 1st violins is coming from my left side, does that mean that my speakers are disappearing too and all is right with my soundstage (unless of course I am listening to a Bayreuth recording with the 1st and 2nd violins switched)?

In reality, we are not talking about speakers disappearing but that the sound of the music source is spread across the front plane of my listening area from left to right (or vice versa). And that there is also some depth (front to back and possibly low to high) that fills up the other planes, depending on the recording, listening room and equipment.

Lastly, what does ping pong effects have to do with speakers disappearing? PP effects are examples of a poorly made recording and would sound phony on a entry level system as well as an elite system. 

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Some people

listen with their eyes. Probably we all do, but to a lesser or greater extent. Disappearing speakers refers to speakers that image so well you cannot locate them as the source of the sound. Some of us really enjoy the virtual reality experience.

For me it is not necessary, as I love listening to good music in the car where there is no disappeairing act for me. But sitting down to listen, I enjoy the effect a lot. As I read him, Art Dudley does not look for this effect as much. Your mileage will vary.

 

Trey

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I guess this was a stupid rant?

I too am a music person first and foremost. Whether it is in a car or my home system, music is the reason for all our toys. Actually I'm sorry I started this rant because obviously no one on this site is capable of explaining in the king's english how you can fantasize that sound is not coming from your speakers. It doesn't matter whether your eyes are open or closed.

When you go to a symphonic concert, whether your eyes are open or not, do not the cellos come from your right side? Not that I listen for specific locations at a concert and even though the hall is reverberant you can easily still tell directionality of sound. Maybe what you are all saying is that the soundfield (I hate the vague term soundstage) is so homogenized in your room that you cannot pinpoint (which is a different word from disappear)  your speakers? If the sound of the first violins seem to come from the virtual positions of the orchestra and for most orchestras that is the left side (facing the orchestra), then if you can't tell the source/virtual position is it not a fault? And if you can tell then is it not virtual but reality? I guess I am  just a stickler for vocabulary and logic. Thanks guys for trying.

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fanatsy has nothing to do

fanatsy has nothing to do with it.  it you close your eyes and cant tell if the speakers are the source you have things set up pretty well.  With some recordings you can tell that the instruments are located around the "stage".  If that floats your boat, great.  If not, thats great as well.  Up to you.  Lastly, I salute your managing to both call everyone stupid as well as point out that you are a doctor, I'm impressed. 

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Funny...

The other day I was listening to a recording with instruments panned hard right and left and I was thinking how artificial it sounded. Then I put on a better recording and sat down to listen with my eyes closed. When I heard the vocal I thought to myself that even with this recording the music was "stuck" to the speaker in the middle.
Then I realized I only have two speakers. Pretty cool. ;o)

drjjpdc
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La comedia is finite
paulsax wrote:

fanatsy has nothing to do with it.  it you close your eyes and cant tell if the speakers are the source you have things set up pretty well.  With some recordings you can tell that the instruments are located around the "stage".  If that floats your boat, great.  If not, thats great as well.  Up to you.  Lastly, I salute your managing to both call everyone stupid as well as point out that you are a doctor, I'm impressed. 

Paulsax,

Where did I call anyone stupid but myself for starting this rant? If you look to the top you will see my name. I only mentioned my classes as a doctor, not to impress anybody but to draw an analogy to my classes in learning x-ray diagnosis and so called disappearing speakers. Why did you think it was necessary to flame me when it was your own lack of care in reading?

Lastly, this is like the argument in my philosophy class about the tree falling in the forest. If you close your eyes and like Paul cannot tell if the sound source is coming from your speakers, where do you suppose the sound is coming from, some magical doorway to another dimension? 

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Drj, you should stop posting on this

you are starting to look like a narcissistic toadie.

 

Cheers.

 

Trey

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Why do they NOT disappear?

The disapppearing act idepends on many things, small speakers inherently "disappear" since they tend to be coherent in the time domain, dipoles also tend to disappear better without box colorations to interfere.  As one might expec,t room anomalies such as slap echo, early reflections and comb filter effects can blur and collapse the soundstage.  Recording technique is also a  factor, for example  dual mono recordings simply not make the speakers disappear like a well recorded stereo onbe, or even a well recorded mono one.  Now, a lot of people poo poo soundsatge and the disappearing act, but I happen to consider these rather important in the overall scheme of things.  This is not to say that tonality, realism, dynamics, density of sound and frequency extension, among other things, are not important. 

 

Cheers,

 

Geoff Kait

Machina Exotica

We do Artififial Atoms Right

drjjpdc
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Good Bye
Drtrey3 wrote:

you are starting to look like a narcissistic toadie.

 Cheers.

 Trey

Trey,

I tried to leave it but everyone keeps drawing me back. Did you not see the last subject  title la comedia e finite from Pagliacci? This is how I tried to view this subject, as a comedy and a chance to have a dialogue about the illogical word descriptions that audiophiles use. But all you audiophile techno nerds desperately want words to describe the musical experience when language is inadequate for that purpose and are way too sensitive to discuss this subject in a satirical way.

I would suggest you read one of Leonard Bernstein's essays about the subject. It involves two wordsmiths and a composer; and it starts with them driving along in a car, they see some hills and the poet says "those hills are pure Beethoven." And of course the composer tries to get them to explain what the heck that means. Using the word disappear to describe the music you hear from your physical speakers is just as bad.

I hope that this subject title makes my message clear for those that found the previous one too subtle.   

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Soundstage?

Actually in most concert halls the sound of the orchestra becomes homogenized without any sharp soundstage. Now if you're listening to an close overmiked recording, well yes you'll get the soundstage. I love it when people are listening to a studio recording of a rock band and they start talking about how they can hear when the bass is standing and the lead guitar and how they all snap into view and purple so forth. All this for a recording where the participants may not even been in the studio at the same time and all the "soundstage" comes from the recording engineers mixer.

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Word descriptions

The descriptive terminology that "audiophiles" use has been agreed on and accepted by the majority. When I say my speakers disappear there are no expectations of them becomming invisible to the eye. Do you have a word that describes this concept any better? If so I await the word from Delphi. Please note, you are not the only educated and or cultured poster on this forum

Kal Rubinson
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Stereo is an illusion. 

Stereo is an illusion. 

Using 2 signals/speakers to synthesize a wide and continuous aural image that simulates an array of sources such as exists in an orchestral performance in a concert hall is trick.  The reality existed only in the concert hall.  The success of that illusion is inversely proportional to the listener's ability to discern, aurally, the reality of the 2 speakers in the listening room. 

Seems is all it is but it requires a willing suspension of disbelief.  This will then correspond to the speakers' ability to "disappear" from your perceptions and be replaced by the "illusion" of the original event.

Kal

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Is stereo an illusion?

Kal, I tend to think of stereo as a more accurate technique for creating the soundstage of the recording venue, rather than an illusion or trick. The subtle accoustic information regarding the size and shape of the recording studio or hall is acually contained in the recording, as picked up by the microphone(s). Thus, the acoustic information contained in the recording is not only the primary acoustic signal produced by the intruments and singers but also the reverberant decay produced by the studio or hall room boundaries. Thus, given a playback system that capable of retrieving all, or most, of this acoustic information, the original "soundstage" can be created in the home - even for large halls! It's a question of how much of the ambient information can be retrieved by the playback system.

Even Mono recordings contain this subtle ambient information, the reverberant decay, and can produce a clear picture of the acoustics of the recording venue in a competant system, assuming the recording engineer did his job well, of course, perhaps employing minimal miking, amomg other things. And the experienced listener is capable of recognizing the recording venue as Boston Symphony Hall or La Scala or Berlin Symphony Hall, for example. It's his *memory* of actually attending a concert at that particular venue or the *memory* of hearing a recording made at that venue that allows him to declare, ah, yes, this is that symphony hall!

Cheers,

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica
We Do Artificial Atoms Right

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Yes, an illusion be stereo

I do agree with Kal, stereo is indeed an illusion giving the impression of a distributed “soundstage”. As Geoff states, ambient information often is in the signals of a live performance; these signals are one aspect of representations. But the actual live event also has a true 3D wavefront of sound. Stereo recording is only a two point sampling of this wavefront. Then two speakers acting as two sources reproduce these samples. But what emanates from these speakers is not the original 3D wavefont. We get two quasi-spherical wavefronts with different signals having different amplitude and phase, as well as spectral modulations in the case of binaural signals. These attributes are sufficient to create the illusion, if reproduced precisely enough.

If this process is done well, the speakers can “disappear”, that is, becoming audibly transparent. In other words, they do not seem to be emitting the sound, which seems to be coming from various locations in space, all part of a good illusion. You know it when you hear it. My system does this quite well, even from anywhere you are in the room. Many people have trouble believing the sound is actually coming from the two speakers. Once a friend, who is a musician and sound engineer, walked up to the speakers and put his ear in front of the drivers to be sure that they were indeed the emitters. I believe this degree of illusion requires accurate phase, delicate precision of dynamic details, smooth dispersion, and accurate tonality. It also takes a good listening space.

There is an optical analogy that may help illuminate this subject: stereograms. These are two images captured of the same scene with a slight displacement of the two lenses, to simulate our two eyes. When viewed individually they are regular 2D images, but when viewed as a pair with each eye a 3D illusion is created. If done correctly this illusion is quite convincing (for fun, try reversing the pair). But yet these sources are just 2D images in a flat plane; how can object seem to be coming from closer and further than that plane? (Most of us understand how this works.) On the other hand consider holograms. These actually capture the 3D optical wavefront of the scene, including the relative phase of these waves. When the hologram is properly illuminated, a real 3D wavefront is reproduced just like the original event. (Is this an illusion also?) There is as yet no audio equivalent of the hologram. (And I wish to hell that audio reviewers would stop using the term “holographic” to describe a 3D illusion, that is a serious misnomer. Just a personal cringe.)

Thanks,

WillW

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Illusions

I LOVE me some illusions! That spacey, tricky phasey stuff on the Hendrix records, that stuff sends me. The moving helicopters on DSOTM, I am a sucker for that too. There are too many examples to mention, but I love the head games in rock and pop recordings. And I love it when my speakers convey that spatial info to me. I am disappointed when the speakers sound like two sources, I really prefer when they spread things out so I can enjoy the fake spatiality. Now train recordings and ping pong matches do not float my boat (NTTIAWWT) but I like the fake spatial more than the actual spatial information. Oh sure, well recorded performances that share the recording space are appreciated, but I like the crappy Quad mix of Paranoid more because something in the ersatz spatial comings and goings pleases me more.

Maybe I am just not subtle or advanced enough. That is really OK, because, well, if that is the reason, then there it is! Dynamic changes do almost the same thing for me, I love the crescendo in Thick as a Brick.

But these artifacts or whatever make the music more fun for me, and I offer no appologies for that.

Trey

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It is an illusion, if a good

It is an illusion, if a good and, in the right hands, a consistent one.  Very simply, there is no central soundsource (nor any other than the speakers themselves) and all the information conveyed still cannot create such a sound source which you can confirm by walking over to where you think it is.  Perhaps you think that I am using illusion as a pejorative but I am not.  Some of the most deeply felt perceptions are illusions and I would not live without them.

Kal

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Can the soundstage ever be better than the original?

The entire question of speakers disappearing and reproduction of soundstage begs the question whether a playback system can ever produce a soundstage that is actually *better* than the original.

We know, for example, that sound in an auditorium is different from row to row and seat to seat; one cannot really say there's an Absolute soundstage in the live event. Thus, a skilled recording engineer using ideal microphone placement, etc., could produce a recording with better soundstaging than what many at the live event experienced.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

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Can the soundstage ever be better than the original?

The entire question of speakers disappearing and reproduction of soundstage begs the question whether a playback system can ever produce a soundstage that is actually *better* than the original.

We know, for example, that sound in an auditorium is different from row to row and seat to seat; one cannot really say there's an Absolute soundstage in the live event. Thus, a skilled recording engineer using ideal microphone placement, etc., could produce a recording with better soundstaging than what many at the live event experienced.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

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I had a pair of speakers

I had a pair of speakers disappear once....from my dorm room back in 1968.

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better than original !?
geoffkait wrote:

The entire question of speakers disappearing and reproduction of soundstage begs the question whether a playback system can ever produce a soundstage that is actually *better* than the original. We know, for example, that sound in an auditorium is different from row to row and seat to seat; one cannot really say there's an Absolute soundstage in the live event. Thus, a skilled recording engineer using ideal microphone placement, etc., could produce a recording with better soundstaging than what many at the live event experienced. Geoff Kait Machina Dynamica

Good question Geoff!

I have pondered this myself since on several occasions visitors have exclaimed that my system "sounds better than a live performance." This is puzzling to me since it would seem that each and every portion of the reproduction chain can only degrade the signal. So I have rationalized similarly to your supposition: ideal mic placement getting the optimum image and tonality, good mix of direct and ambient tracks, preservation of dynamic range, quality playback gear, and good voicing of the system to the listening room. Still, there is the illusion that it is like real: the system is not reproducing the actual 3D sonic wavefront, but merely a limited sampling of the original.

WillW

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Speakers that....

 

...do a disappearing act is what you strive for. Therein lies the sweet spot, and the magic.

Mark Evans

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Overthinking Killjoys!

Where do I begin....to tell the story of a sound that I once Knew?  The BSO, that's where! As a young man, I attended the BSO, conducted by Maestro Ozawa, conducting Holst's "The Planets".  It was vast, dynamic, golden, detailed, subtle, visceral, multidimensional and thoroughly mezmerizing.   Re-creating an event that perceptually exists in 3 dimensional space is the cornerstone to High Fidelity.  Are there that many intellectually constipated doctors and pseudo-audiophiles that find it impossible to appreciate a virtual 3 dimensional soundscape?  The answer to the very question proposed by Dr. J is profoundly obvious and simple.....those without any imagination or desire to immerse themselves in the music need not apply!  Dr.J's ilk have a profound disability, and by that I mean, they are incapable of  appreciating the exceptional on it's own terms, without dragging it back down into the everyday commonplace flat earth world they choose to exist in.  I am a scientist, and I must say that the good doctor formulates his thoughts poorly and communicates them with a particular lack of clarity or style.   Maybe he just never heard a properly setup stereo?

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Also..
geoffkait wrote:

The entire question of speakers disappearing and reproduction of soundstage begs the question whether a playback system can ever produce a soundstage that is actually *better* than the original. We know, for example, that sound in an auditorium is different from row to row and seat to seat; one cannot really say there's an Absolute soundstage in the live event. Thus, a skilled recording engineer using ideal microphone placement, etc., could produce a recording with better soundstaging than what many at the live event experienced. Geoff Kait Machina Dynamica

 

Geoff,

Good points!

Also, in the privacy of your listening room, preferrably a decent acoustically treated room, you don't have the two buddies next to you talking at volume 10 as if they were both deaf as you would at the actual live event.

Plus, a sound engineer in a recording studio can edit out the extraneous noise that occurs at a live event and actually make the original sound better...just my two cents for what it's worth. :-)

So yes, In that respect, the reproduced live event is preferred and can sound much better than the original. :-)

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Better than the "Real Thing"?

Yes, often times the recording captures more of the individual instruments expression, subtlety and harmonic complexity.  Also, depending on the seats, dynamics can actually improve as well.  The placement and soundstaging are also generally improved.

Kal Rubinson
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Sure, that's possible but a

Sure, that's possible but a better comparison would be to the soundstage at the "best seat in the house."  In that face-off, it can be different and, possibly, more satisfying to some but not better.  If judged better, it would be either a flight of imagination or due to the creation of an imaginary event. 

 

Kal

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better is as better does

Depending on the hall acoustics vs the recording engineers technique at capturing the first arrival sound, in actuality, the recording may indeed sound better.  Example, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, my own stomping grounds.  The hall is very open and tends to loose detail and dynamics almost immediately beyond the edge of the stage.  The best seats would be in the first few rows, but as they are set so low, they miss alot of the impact of the sound and render little  image clarity.  The second tier seating on the front sides and behind the stage are the best, but are so offset that they are also at a severe disadvantage acousticaly.  The best seat would be about 10 to 15 rows out and in mid air, which are at quite a far distance in Verizon Hall, considering the precipitous drop off of the acoustic wave.  It's all subjective in the end anyway, since we all live within our own very personal cage of perceptional acuity and priorities.

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Kimmel Center

We are in agreement about the sound of the Kimmel Center. They have improved it from it's opening day sound and are continuing to try and extract better sound. While they're at it they should demand at least a partial refund from the architect and acoustician's. Barring that, any fixes should be free. I wonder, do we have our very own Avery Fisher Hall on South Broad Street?   

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Go to a good dealer locally...

If they (or a friend) have a set up worth your time, you'll hear what the reference is about.  Outside of that, yr outa luck.  Yr simply looking for a continuity of image and soundstaging where one's brain doesn't 'see' the speaker in your listening.  It's readily apparent on a great system, and until you hear it for the first time, you'll think everyone is spewing bullshit til then.  Really.  Great sound does not equate the speaker 'disappearing'. Try not to come to judgement until you hear it for yourself.

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It's not bs nor a musical affectation.
drjjpdc wrote:

 Using the word disappear to describe the music you hear from your physical speakers is just as bad.

No, you are ignorant to the experience.  Please do not pretend you understand the phenomena, or for that matter, any of them communicated in the magazine.  You simply have not experienced any of them.  Not being rude, just truthful.  When you do, it will seem silly that you doubted it.  It's got nothing to do with spirituality.  Nothing.  One could play a series of monotonous drum beats over and over again, and if the upstream electronics, cables, and speakers are capable of the illusion, you will hear it, and not the speakers. The speakers and their 'obviousness' will disappear and all that remains is the recorded acoustic.  It is purely psychoacoutic, literally having nothing to do with an emotional reaction to the music. 

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Kimmel

I was there for the opening, which was quite a disappointment indeed.  The acoustic has improved, but at times I wish the orchestra was back at The Academy.  The best sounding venue in Philly is the Curtis Institute.  The BSO is my personal Gold standard!

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Success

First, let me say thanks to Will, Geoff, Soulful.Terrain and ES347 (I loved the speaker comment) for having the humor and understanding not to lash out personally just because I challenged a cherished audio ideal. Will, thank you for your comment about transparency, "If this process is done well, the speakers can “disappear”, that is, becoming audibly transparent." That is exactly what I was hoping someone would intelligently say instead of flaming me. The 32 replies and over 500 views are a testimony that the subject was at least interesting.

As for dlb and Glotz, the flame meisters who can't resist a cheap insult, I am actually sorry for you. dlb, if you think that Ozawa was something special in Boston your musical judgement is definitely in question. The only reason that he got the post was because Michael Tilson-Thomas was gay and there was no way that the powers that be were going to hand over the reins to a gay man! If you want some great BSO recordings of that period, try MTT's DG recordings, including Tchaikovsky's Sym. #1, Rite of Spring, his Ives/Ruggles LP and others. You disparage my writing and sensibilities about listening to music, you say you are a scientist but spelling the word mesmerizing is beyond you or you are too lazy to use the spell checker. 

When you say I have a "profound disability", you have no idea how close to the truth you are. Ever hear of Neurosarcoidosis (the rarest and most severe form of Sarcoidosis)? I was struck down when I was just over 50 with inoperable benign growths in my brain and spinal cord. Pretty ironic for a Chiropractor, huh? Music is one of the few things that help me now, as well as my friends in the NJAS. I'm also a subcriber to the NJSO. Contrary to your statements, I do know what live music sounds like as well as a proper stereo set-up.

Thanks again to the posters I mentioned above, who were able to participate without name calling. BTW, Trey, for a really great Rock recording re-mastering job, if you haven't picked up the 200 gram copy of Jethro Tull's Aqualung from Acoustic Sounds, by all means make sure you do!

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