On live music

There's a notion among audiophiles that we must be regular consumers of live music, especially live acoustic music. It's the only way, the thinking goes, to calibrate our ears to the sound we should all be aspiring to at home.

This notion persists despite some deep and obvious flaws. For one thing, it doesn't matter what live acoustic music sounds like if that sound isn't captured on the recording we're listening to—it usually isn't—and it's impossible to know whether it has been or not. The very notion that grooves on a record or bits in a file even have a sound independent of the means of reproduction is questionable except as an abstraction or, at best, an unapproachable ideal. The only people who have a chance of knowing what a recording sounds like—how close it comes to live—are people who were there when the recording was made, especially the recording engineers. Even for them, there are issues.

In the studio, the engineer is usually behind glass, monitoring electronically. For onsite recordings, the engineer may occupy the same acoustic space as the musicians, but she's usually not where the mikes are. (For multimiked recordings, forget about it.) The recording engineer can only compare what's recorded to what she heard live via a particular monitoring system. Maybe it sounds live when played back on that system, but what's it gonna sound like played back in 1000 listening rooms, on very different gear?

An even better reason for rejecting this live-is-better idea is that a good engineer can do better than live. By putting a microphone (or stereo pair) right next to an instrument and another—or more than one—farther out in the hall, she can capture both the intimate, up-close sound—wood, gut, rosin—and the ambience. It may not be natural, but it sounds natural, and it's an aspect of sound I value highly.

As a regular consumer of live music, I'm comfortable saying that this in-principle preference for live music is a pretention, an affectation. There are plenty of reasons to prefer recorded music. In my listening space, I rarely have guests who wear perfume that burns the nose and eyes. Nor do I hear cell phones ringing, nor that listener in the row behind me incessantly rubbing his program, cicada-like. I get to play whatever music I want, including great performances by long-dead musicians.

Last night, I visited Carnegie Hall for the first time since the pandemic started. I was reminded of how little I've been missing.

The performer was Denis Matsuev, a Russian pianist of astonishing skill. (This was before the Ukraine invasion, after which, Matsuev was banished from Carnegie Hall and the West.) The program included two late Beethoven sonatas—Opp.110 and 111—then, after intermission, Schumann's Kinderszenen and Rachmaninoff's second sonata. The mask mandate was still in effect—another reason to prefer home listening.

Matsuev must have had dinner reservations, or maybe he was pissed about the protesters outside, objecting to his advocacy of Putin's Crimea and Ukraine policies. He stormed onto the stage and, after a cursory bow, started playing Op.110 before the audience had settled. (The audience should have already been settled, I thought to myself, resentfully. Such petty resentments are yet another reason to prefer home listening.)

It had been a long time since I'd heard a piano at Carnegie Hall. I was surprised how much of the piano I heard from Row U. The highs were sparkly, and when Matsuev dug into the lower part of the keyboard, I got more than a hint of that New York Steinway grunt. But, compared to what I'm used to at home, the music was muddled. My ticket cost more than $100, and I was too far from the stage.

After he finished Op.110, Matsuev stalked off the stage, the audience still applauding. He was offstage no more than five seconds . He took another cursory bow, sat, and started playing Op.111. The audience was still applauding Op.110.

A few minutes into the massive second movement, Matsuev lost focus. A cell phone went off somewhere in the hall—not loud, but audible. This being Carnegie Hall, every few minutes a subway train rumbled through. Matsuev finished and stormed off the stage.

Despite that cell phone, the audience was fairly well-behaved before the break. (A Carnegie Hall audience is usually a mix of sophisticated music lovers, society folk, and curious tourists; in this case, most of the tourists were speaking Russian.) Quite a few people had departed during the intermission, yet now, after, there was more coughing, sneezing, and object-dropping than before. In the row directly behind me, another ringer went off; it was silenced quickly. During a quiet passage, a metal cane wielded by a woman to my right clattered to the floor.

Kinderszenen is a lovely piece, but much of it was lost on its journey to Row U; I kept wanting to turn up the volume. Matsuev stormed through the Rach, demonstrating serious chops. It was one of those performances where, if you watched the pianist's hands, you'd see a blur. I was on the wrong side and too far back.

It was only toward the end of the concert that I recognized what had been bothering me most. Throughout the performance, ushers in red jackets roamed the aisles, up and down, policing COVID masks and (especially) phones. People who keep their phones on during classical concerts make me angry—yet the presence of enforcers was chilling. They might as well have slapped billy clubs into their palms.

Next week, I'm hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra play Beethoven's Symphonies Nos.1 and 9, also at Carnegie Hall. "Ode to Joy" should make a perfect sendoff to this hellish era we've just lived through. Here's hoping Carnegie Hall's management keeps the enforcers sequestered for at least the final movement—or, better, that the music's spirit transcends that oppressiveness and makes the live audience feel appropriately joyous. Fingers crossed.

ChrisS's picture

...in Canada, I listened to Bill Evans perform in a little club on the west coast of British Columbia a year before he passed away.

The music was sublime.

My headache was not.

MatthewT's picture

This should be interesting. FWIW, my live-music reference is my guitar.

Glotz's picture

The ushers would seem like a buzz-wreck for everyone.

I think the experience there is embodiment of our society at large now. We are all very inconsiderate in almost every space of life, IMO.

I would like to think the war in Ukraine has brought Americans closer for a heartfelt common cause, but the pundits seem to continue to plow the rift daily. I see American life as continuing into a societal entropy.

tonykaz's picture

Yet you seem comfortable bending your own hard & fast rule. Hmm.


No recording gear can accurately capture and reproduce Live Music.

We play back our recorded sounds after they've had multiple duplications.

The performances are still enjoyable despite restricted dynamic range and significant missing details.

Comparing Recorded vs. Live is like comparing a Cessna 172 to a Canadian Goose flying South for the Winter.

I grew up under Professional Music Performers!, recorded music is much easier to live with.

Tony in Florida

ps. a Live String Quartet is electrifying if a person can sit within 5 feet of the performers... the recorded version will be diluted and boring by comparison

DougM's picture

You may find it more likely for people to take you seriously if you could spell as well as a third grader- It's DILUTED. Or, here's a thought, perhaps use something called spell check.

tonykaz's picture

Yes, you have a point.

I use a spell checker program that seems confused with the difference between delete and dilute, Hmm is that 3 rd grade level editing or are you being sarcastic which is a form of anger ???

I accept your criticism because I am not a good speller. I rely on modern technology which seems prone to failure.

I wonder how you became such a skilled literary critic ?

I have an older brother that retired from editing a Newspaper, he now has the hobby of circling ( in red ) the various errors in publications like NYTimes.

As far as Education goes, I'm an engineer with a few advanced degrees in Manufacturing Disciplines .

English Editing wise, my career workings included having a group of professionals editing my writings and reportings. Now-a-days I rely on Google to supply correct spellings for intended meanings.

Thanks for noticing and cmmenting, I'll try to keep you excited with further errors. Expressive writing is such fun!

Tony in Florida

jimtavegia's picture

"but she's usually not where the mikes are." Maybe I am alone, but I was hoping there was one last island where the "wokeness" was not going to be applied. I have no issue and welcome all women (anyone) to the engineering society as it is open employment. It is just the fun side of the application of science: physics, electrical engineering, electronics, and acoustics. I love Julie Mullins writings and look forward to them.

I would suggest "engineer(s)", and then "they" which is all inclusive. No one is offended. Well, maybe "she" is?

It is clear that I just need to get over myself and move on. I do have a hard time when expensive things come to you, either in need of repair or a firmware update. I often wonder how many customers would have never known that $40K does not get one perfection...whatever that is today.

As for the concert, I remember a article written by the late, great, Art Dudley about the phone yielding CEO near the front of the concert hall and his phone ringing and ringing and even the conductor had to say something. I believe there was even something written about this CEO in the NY Times. I still remember the paper rustling lady at one of JA1's recordings in Sante Fe.

I had recorded off WFMT in Chicago the World Premier of some lost Beethoven Piano trios. It was to be an evening to remember at Murphy Auditorium. Forget a squeaky chair as the HVAC system blower noise was so intrusive that the recording was ruined and the planned CD release was scrapped and later re-recorded in NYC for CD release. I still have my original DAT recordings from that WFMT broadcast and the new CD release. You only get one chance to record a world premier. The bigger the venue the great the chance of patron noise. Why they could not have shut off the HVAC system during each performance and turned it back on during the breaks in the performances is beyond me.

Here we are striving for perfection in a totally imperfect world. I am thinking that all that has to be done to set up the imperfect phono cartridge, that I don't know is imperfect, it has to make one wonder are we on a fool's errand?

I am sorry for any spelling errors.

Lars Bo's picture

Here's to musical spirit in your next and future live experiences, Jim: May the force be with you and transcend some pretention and affectation.


teched58's picture

Your column has the dateline April 12, 2022. Two points of confusion result:

First case, you write: "Last night, I visited Carnegie Hall for the first time since the pandemic started. . .The performer was Denis Matsuev, a Russian pianist of astonishing skill. (This was before the Ukraine invasion, after which, Matsuev was banished from Carnegie Hall and the West.)"

This was in February, no? Before the war in Ukraine, which began prior to last night.

Second, you write: "Next week, I'm hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra play Beethoven's Symphonies Nos.1 and 9, also at Carnegie Hall."

How was the show?

funambulistic's picture

...this is reprint from the physical magazine, which came out a month or so ago. The referenced date is simply when it was posted online.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is from the new May issue of the magazine. We have a long lead time. Jim wrote the piece several months ago.

teched58's picture

The lead time is obvious (though I certainly appreciate JVS taking the time to weigh in). Nevertheless, it is amateurish to have incorrect or confusing date references in a posted article on a site run by what's supposed to be a professional publishing operation. I personally would be embarrassed by such a lapse and I know the places I have worked would have pointed it out to me.

tnargs's picture

“At the time of writing…” …and it’s fixed!

mcrushing's picture

I tend to gravitate toward rock clubs over symphony halls, but for me the most satisfying aspect is post-pandemic concertgoing has been the chance to learn where the past two years have taken performers artistically, compared to where they were when I last saw them in The Before Times.

Some, perhaps like Denis Matsuev, seem have come away a little angrier. Some are expressing social concerns and performing material of a more overtly political nature. Others seem to see the chance to play out again as an opportunity to make every song into an ode to joy.

At the risk of blowing up the thread, I think using a live performance to "calibrate" one's ears for home listening is sort of a sad way to experience music; and establishing "references" for how well a system replicates live sound in my house seems like a poor use of a hifi system. IMHO, a good recording/system should transport *me* to a musical moment captured in time...not the other way around. On the other hand, a concert is a chance to experience what an artist is thinking and feeling *today*.

For me, emotional resonance is the only reference. Maybe I'm not really an audiophile after all?

Jack L's picture


Sorry, what is "a musical moment captured in time" ?

"In time" of what ? In time when you heard the music live or someone's home audio ??

Listening is believing

Jack L

music guy's picture

...has been a few years since we attended the symphony so my ears were not prepared for the overwhelming majesty, detail and, frankly, loudness of a full orchestra in such a close setting. We have what can be said to be a stereo with some street cred...dCS Bartok, Constellation pre and Pass power to Magico A5..but these delightful pieces of gear cannot do justice to our experience in that symphony hall...a worthy but likely unachievable goal.
Live for acoustic instruments is still the absolute...live, amplified rock and the like is, in my option, best done at home unless the artist's creativity is so undeniable so not to be defeated by brain dead sound engineers, a noisy audience and all the other irritations you mention.

Jack L's picture


Bingo ! Nothing beats live "acoustical", period.

However listening location dictates how its sonic enjoyment perspective.

That's why we should not be seated too far away from the performance on the podium (surely not row U !!!) due to sound blocking by the audience in front of us, sound impairment by the hall's PA system & reverberation of the hall. My preferred seat is 13th row (M or N) centre from the podium.

As I already posted in Audiophile forums before, I get totally different sonic perspectives in listening to my elder son's piano
practicing in his room & performance on the podium in his church.

Both are live "acoustical" piano music played by the same person.

I always sit on the front row around 8-9 ft from the Boston (Steinway) mini grand on the low podium while my son performs in his church. Again, the same precaution always taken: no sound blockage, no church PA & least audience noise interference.

The piano sounds soooo pure, clean but very forceful that I am yet to ever listen to any HiFi remotely getting close to such stunning acoustical effect.

Listening is believing

Jack L

ednazarko's picture

I played professionally - in regional symphonies as a contingency fill in (trombone, bass trombone, tuba), in two different big bands (lead trombone, bass trombone) that toured around lower Michigan and the upper parts of states below, and as part of horn sections for an insane number of rock bands trying to emulate Chicago, BS&T, or the Stones' Brown Sugar. I've not much enjoyed going to symphony concerts, or big band shows, since way back then (late 1970s early 1980s) . Nothing sounded right. And not just the location of the sounds, but the volume. Symphony orchestras are quite loud for those who are playing up on stage. Not so much in row S.

I've always loved the immediacy of live recordings, and with the knowledge of how those recordings involved the entire ensemble dancing on the edge of disaster. Recently, I've acquired Bernie Dresel's Blu-Ray 5.1 and 9.1 DVDs of his big bands... and holy crap, they are compelling (to me at least). In the room sweet spot, the mix puts the listener in between the woodwinds and the brass rows.

I'll always love live recordings because I know the feeling every player has in the gut once the performance begins. But, I love live recordings most done in a way that put me back where I spent many years of my life as a performer.

Jack L's picture


The music aural perspective between a performer on the podium & an attendant far away down from the podium is totally different.

I definitely prefer my role of being an audience only. So no fight !

Listening is believing

Jack L

ednazarko's picture

I don't crave, or even enjoy, being in the middle of a 5.1 or more rock and roll mix. Us horns were always "back there" behind the whole thing. And I've been surprised by how a lot of my enjoyment, or the shape of my enjoyment, is driven by aural perspective. (Thanks for that term, I didn't grok that.)

Funny (to me) I've started playing trombone after not touching a horn for 42 years. The last time I played was as a concerto soloist with an orchestra... and after bows, I walked off stage and sold my horns the next few days. But now, hearing 5.1 mixes, feeling myself back in the middle of what I loved playing for years, it's tempted my musical taste buds to play again.

mcrushing's picture

This is a wonderful perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

volvic's picture

In February, me and the missus went to the Met to see Tosca. We had front row seats and thoroughly enjoyed the performance; I even lowered my mask to avoid fogging my glasses. While watching the production, I would think back to my listening sessions of the opera on vinyl and CD conducted by the great von Karajan with Leontyne Price in the lead role. The recording by K emphasized certain scenes with close miking and expressive playing by the VPO. Those scenes in the recording made me appreciate the opera even more and helped me concentrate better throughout the opera; it didn't matter that the orchestra or singers were not on the same level as in the K recording; we loved the performance all the same.

I view live performances as compliments to my recordings, and while the recording and privacy of my home can offer me tremendous enjoyment, it is not complete sometimes. A final understanding of the music as a complete work of art can only happen at a live performance. Years ago, I saw the Danish String Quartet perform Beethoven's Nr. 15 Op. 132 at Lincoln Center. I know this work very well and have multiple copies, some of which capture the meditative quality of the third movement and others that don't do it as well. The Danish String Quartet captured the third movement and went even further. While listening to them, I could finally understand the structure of what Beethoven had composed and what he meant in the description of the third movement when he called it the "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an der Gottheit, in der Lydischen Tonart" ("Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian mode"). Although the hifi made me enjoy the performance intimately, the live performance with the musicians communicating with each other made me understand the piece even more.

I view at-home listening vs. live performances similar to drinking a bottle of wine. Yes, I can stay at home and drink a pricey red with the wife and thoroughly enjoy it, but I can also meet up with friends and have a great time with a cheaper bottle of red. None are wrong or better than the other, both compliment each other. Not the best analogy but I hope people understand where I am coming from.

Anton's picture

Recently, we have seen "I need to be an audiophile in order to sufficiently enjoy music," and now we may be headed into the great beyond of, "I need to be an audiophile because live music doesn't measure up and other people are a problem."

It's kind of a 'Disney-fication' of the musical experience - trying to create a simulacrum that we prefer to reality.

Sitting alone in a darkened room an trying to visualize reality has surpassed actual reality. (Hyperbolic speech use only, I am actually deeply ambivalent about how other listen.)

I agree with Volvic.

Jack L's picture


Not at all. So many musicians enjoy music without audiophile grade audios.

Like my elder son, a classical piano graduate from our city's Royal Conservatory of Music with honour when he was 18, never owns any audio at all up to now. Yet he enjoys his music bigtime from his iPhone & labtop.

"trying to visualize reality has surpassed actual reality"

Assuming "reality" you means live music, how can home HiFi "surpassed" live music even assuming perfect recording existing ?

The best we can expect from our home HiFi it allows us to fancy we were attending a live concert.

Listening to believing

Jack L

Joe Whip's picture

Living in a society has its benefits and issues. Pre Covid I spent many nights in jazz clubs in NYC. Loved the experience, even with poor sound, bad food and loud and drunk patrons. One can have a quiet intimate dinner in a restaurant one night and the next time you go back, you sit within earshot of a loud obnoxious couple. How about incessant talking in movie theaters or stage plays. It happens and you never really know what to expect at any live event. Live music and recorded music can both be great or less than stellar experiences but I always try to enjoy the music, even with the other stuff going on around me or some overly bright stereo system.

sancheza59's picture

"Live Music" played through bad microphones, questionable amps, and massive substandard noise-making speakers at many, if not most concerts I've been to, have nothing to do with audiophile music. I actually walked out on Bob Dylan at a Jazz Festival, because with his back to the audience, and his mumbling, I could barely identify what song he was "singing." Plus with the audience noises and smells, I decided to go home, put on a Dylan album of choice, and listen to real audiophile music on a quality system the way I like it. Also, when I listen to music alone, I prefer to be by myself. - Mr. Veritas

Stevens's picture

We walked out on Bob Dylan as well, at the Royal Albert Hall. Rotten sound. Also walked out on Mavis Staples, unbearable, and the performance was then released on an album "Live in London".

Joe Whip's picture

I have experienced some poor sound at Royal Albert Hall, but still go for the music. My favorite venue in London for classical is St. Martins in Trafalgar Square. Great sound and programs. For jazz, Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express. Look forward to returning to London.

Stevens's picture

This is a relatively new mid-size venue (420 seats) in London with a great acoustic, stunning architecture and high quality shows to suit almost everyone. Largely unknown to tourists. Even Jim would enjoy this place, if he could bear to part with his stereo system.

Stevens's picture

We go to quite a lot of shows, did tonight, up to 5 or 6 in a week. Mainly in London - Covent Garden, Sadlers Wells and Wigmore Hall. You can hear a pin drop. At Wigmore Hall it’s advisable to drop dead rather than cough. Audiences always dead quiet and no phones. Covent Garden and Wigmore Hall have world class acoustics. We get the best tickets we can, usually centre 5 to 10 rows back from the stage, closer for Wigmore Hall if possible. One of the best shows in r3cent weeks was St Matthews Passion at St Johns, Smith Square, a great old church and no recording can compare with a world class performance of such a complex piece of choral music.

That said, the last time we were at the Palais Garnier in Paris, the lady next to me was videoing the performance.

Recorded music is different. It might have some sonic purity. What it will never have is the connection between performer and audience.

We often chat with the people around us, rather than complain about their perfume and social habits.

Jack L's picture


How about Barbican Hall?

I still recall I attended the Barbican Centre opening day celebration concerts that night with V. Ashkenazy playing Chopin in front of the Royal Family !!

You are right: dead silence during the entire concert night.

Vow, what a treat for a young young travelling business man like yours truly who happened to visit a vendor in Seven Oaks, Kent.

Jack L

Stevens's picture

Don't like the place. Horrible building. Acoustic not so great. Just before lockdown saw Handel's Messiah, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Zürcher Sing-Akademie under Trevor Pinnock. That was very good and a Mahler 1 under Haitink, that was special.

The summer Bold Tendencies programme has just been announced, a superb season in the Peckham multi-storey car park. Concerts on the second level, bar and food on the roof.

I last saw Askenasy because I took the family to see Warhorse at the National Theatre and after parking the car the wife said she hadn't got me a ticket, she didn't think I would want to see it. Thanks very much. So Ashkensy was playing next door at the RFH, so got myself a ticket. Very enjoyable.

Jack L's picture


Well, I tend to disagree to yr above comment as I found it pretty acceptable sonically considering me being a total stranger to the then newly built concert hall.

Maybe my seat was pretty close to the podium (as I hate sitting too far away from the podium for obvious acoustical reason) where V. Ashkenazy performed at close to the right end edge of the podium.

What he impressed me most was, as I've not seen any pianist done it since then, he borrowed his body weight by jumping off his seat bench momentarily to hammer the keyboard with his huge hands (considering his not being tall as a typical Russian).

The only classical pianist nowadays I know of, who can manipulate the keyboard like Ashenazy, is Lang Lang, the multiple art-awards winner.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Sorry, I just can't concur on yr above statement.

Live is real nature. Any reproduction is an imitation of it, period.

I think only the Almighty can make an imitation real live, not whoever recording live music.

No, "a good engineer can" manipulate "live" but not "better" than acoustical live, period.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

The absolute sound is now in the realm of recordings.

Nice transition, it completes the circle that started with comparing recordings to the sound of live music, then to comparing one piece of gear to another as reference, and now we see it arrive fully as something that uses home audio as the 'true' reference.

Nicely done.

I predict the next move will be hobbiests needing the benediction of something like trading cards graders where we have someone else tell us how our systems sound. For a fee, of course.

On the plus side, no damned old person dropping a walking stick will be able to ruin a listening experience.

Jack L's picture


That's how you guys spend yr hard earned money to finance the audio vendors. Good luck !

My only reference is how the audio system would PERFORM in reproducing the orginal music performance using the component(s) of interest.

With the component(s) of interest hooked up to the system, I want to see how wide, deep & tall of the performance soundstage , positioning & sizing of the soloists & instruments, & how balance is sonic presentation.

My reference remains & will be valid for decades since day one to the future.

NOOOO change !

Listening is believing

Jack L

ok's picture

studio recordings are the real thing and live appearances mostly a way to make a living.

Jack L's picture


Sorry, "recording are the real thing" is NOT ok at all ! It's only some human imitation of the real thing - live acoustical performance.

Without the live performance of the artists, recording would never NEED to exist at all !!!!!!!!

Jack L

cgh's picture

Hmmm. After all these years of chasing sound I’ve come to the conclusion this whole thing is a fool’s errand. I’ve noticed this having invested a solid seven figures and countless hours over the years:

- simple acoustic music, like single instrument or small ensemble, are the most realistically reproduced by audio systems
- electronic music has no comparison and the space matters more
- complicated music (sonically, not musically) like rock or orchestral are always clearly reproduced
- High end audio always produces a refined and revealing sound that, in and of itself, is pleasing; but not necessarily faithful to the space and SPL (time dependent) behavior of live music
- We hear with our eyes and wallets (same observation in high end violin and guitar luthiery)

My first foray back into music was a B’lyn based band called Sungazer that spent a bunch of time during the pandemic thinking about time and the perception of time and meter in music and it was an awesome show.

Anton's picture

Regarding our fool's errand:

"Audiophilia consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”


Or, from Umberto "Echo:"

“Audiophiles are never so completely and enthusiastically foolish as when they act out of sonic conviction.”

Nice rainy day here, makes for philosophical meandering.

Cheers, fellow audiophiles!

Jack L's picture


Hopefully you not complaining you're being so rich & willing to have spent such big bucks.

YES, "High end audio .... not necessarily faithful to the space and SPL (time dependent) behavior of live music".

Nothing can beat real acoustical performance, period. Anything else is man-made inferiority.

Listening to live is believing

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

The system you tell us about all the time sucks? Regarding "listening is believing", perhaps other people believe other things, hard as that may be for you to accept.

Anton's picture

How many can fool you into thinking you are hearing the original/or live event?

That would be exactly none, I bet!

All systems fall woefully short.

Jack L's picture


No audio electronics is perfect, for sure.

IF & only IF you know enough the audio game musically & technically like yours truly, your home audios should not fall short that "woefully".

You don't want to know how much man-hours I spent in the past years to get my home system in shape sonically despite my electrical engineering background being so helpful.

No free lunch, pal.

Jack L

Jack L's picture


I don't NEED to think whoever believe whatever.

I only believe a home audio system should be MADE sound as close to orginal performance as possible so that we don't have to attend live concerts all the time.

My 1,000++ LPs (dated from 1920 - nowadays) play convincingly close to live concerts thru my humble system. I am pretty gratified.

Knowledge save money, my friend !

Listening to live is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

My condolences!

Jack L's picture


So you have the leisure time & cash to attend live concerts at all times like some rich & available ?
Congratuations !

So donate yr bunch of tin boxes to Value Village nearby !

Jack L

Anton's picture

The world is awash in live music.

From cafes to concert halls, and anywhere in between. seriously, you don't seek it out?

No Hi Fi system on earth can fool people. That doesn't mean I don't like Hi Fi.

I like films, and I like real life. No movie every fooled me, either.

Please, check out some live music!

cgh's picture

Oh geez, you knew what I meant. I've turned my system over maybe ten times in twenty years; throw in idiotic choices in cable lengths (that are in storage), turntable cartridges, and music itself, I'd say I am not so special amongst audiofoolery in that this sums to a large number. That being said I came from nothing and have worked hard and am certainly fortunate these days. Growing up my friend's father was a friend of Harry Pearson (my family is from Sea Cliff) and I was lucky to hear good systems growing up.

But... my point was simply that I've heard many systems over the years and my conclusions are the same, asymptotically approaching what I've said here before, and appear to align largely with yours', in that it's not live music; but, rather, it's highly refined and very lifelike and a thing unto itself. In the dark, late at night, with only a guitar or chamber ensemble or jazz trio I get duped for short periods of time by what's maybe a shadow of a simulacrum of a performance.

MBMax's picture

My wife and I enjoyed Suba Trio last night (anniversary date) at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz. 4th row, a bit left of center. Sound was good, not great, quite fat in the low end when Omar Sosa went to the deep bass with his keyboard. Percussionist Gustavo Ovalles was often buried, and I could go on with nitpicks. Frankly, my home system can sound significantly better.
But you know what? My wife and I had a sweet, life giving, uproariously great time! These guys are tremendous musicians, play off of each other magnificently, and most of all enfold the audience into their musical adventures with joy and abandon.
That was a live-only experience. My home system is tremendous, but I have different expectations of it than live performance. Both provide great musical joy, in their own unique ways...

Jack L's picture


Live is live. Reproduction can never ever replace the 'being there' engagement of live performance.

The best we can acheive in home audio is to bring us the fancination of attending a live performance. But still, we are not yet there!

Like attending Easter Friday church service this morning, I sat 2nd row centre facing the performance of a small church choir (4 men & 6 women) supplemented by a Boston mini grand piano. Some hymns. like Amazing Grace, John Newton's 450 yr old immensly popular hymn, we all joined singing with the choir on the low podium.

Such actually being-there emotional engagement is beyond description.

So enjoying qualtiy acoustical music performance like in a church, can so often save us live music lovers big bucks & time to attending live concerts all the time. This is very true for yours truly who still working a 40-hr day job when leisure time is so limited.

That said, it still does not intimidate we audio guys to shape up our home audio to sound closer to live.

Knowledge is ways & means to achieve an objective with minimum cost. Just like me, I still keep shaping up my humble audio system to sound closer to live. Electronics can never replace live but can be improved to get closer & closer some day in the future, hopefully.

Listening to live is believing

Jack L

tiagoramossdg's picture

and I try to focus on the music.
I remember watching guitar genius Yamandu Costa performing in my hometown over twenty years ago. The audience was very well behaved, except for a small child who was not in the mood for jazz/world music of the highest quality. At some point, the artist finished a song, stopped and addressed the little boy. Yamandu asked his name, his age, and very kindly told him (and us) that when he was a kid, his parents also dragged him around to concerts they thought he should attend. That was great for a child's education, he said, but for the child, it could be extraordinarily boring, so he sympathized.
I'll never forget that kindness and patience he showed that night. I spoke to him after the concert and he was exactly the same: nice, smiling, good-humored and engaging.

After a long COVID-induced concert drought, I was finally able to see an audiophile favorite playing live: Diana Krall. I must say, I have been listening to her recordings for years, I know them well, and I was able to confirm that none of them compare to the live experience. Yes, there was an over excited music student (from Berklee, I think) in front of my who was a bit noisy - his date would lovingly ask him to calm down on occasion, but it didn't matter. The excitement of seeing music being made in front of you and having that human contact are irreplaceable.
I share the stance taken by Sergiu Celibidache on the matter: studio recordings will never create the same experience as going to a concert. I believe, as he did, that musicians can create a "transcendent[al] experience". There is nothing quite as thrilling as seeing music in fieri, as opposed to its recording carefully crafted ex post facto - however perfect. There is something special about witnessing the act of creation rather than a copy of the finished product.
I know it is odd to say this in a space dedicated to the shared interest in recorded music, but in the end, what really matters in the music.