The Music Problem

I remember the exact moment I became an audiophile. It was 1954. I was 12 years old. My father's friend, Mitch Rose, wanted to buy a "hi-fi set," which was what they called them in those days. Mitch asked my father to go with him to help pick one out. My father asked if I wanted to go along for the ride.

I did, and we went to Emmons Audio in Studio City, California, for what turned out to be one of the formative moments of my life.

When we got there, Dick Emmons, the proprietor, showed us around, asked Mitch some questions about his musical preferences and budget, and then started his demo, including a recording of someone—probably George Wright or E. Power Biggs—performing on a giant pipe organ played (in mono of course; stereo LPs didn't come along until three years later) through a McIntosh MC-30 amplifier driving a Bozak B-310 speaker that made genuine 24Hz bass. In those days, 50Hz was the professional low-end standard, and other speakers (from Klipsch, Electro-Voice, James B. Lansing, Altec, etc.) had to work hard or be corner-loaded to achieve even that.

All the sound at Emmons's store was better than any I had ever heard before, but it was the organ that really caught my attention. At its first pedal note, I was transfixed. My mouth dropped open and stayed that way until long after we left. I was hooked as an audiophile from that point on.

It wasn't that I had never heard good bass before, or deep bass: I had never heard any bass before that night.

At home, my family listened to our television set, some table radios, and a Silvertone portable record player. The radio in my father's car was no better: no bass. I had never been to a live concert, and because my family weren't churchgoers, I'd never heard a live organ—certainly not one with 32Hz pipes. The very best sound I had ever heard until that time was probably at the movies, and the sound in 1950s movie theaters—even for something as special as Disney's Fantasia—was nowhere near as good as what I heard at Dick Emmons's shop.

My love of great sound has stuck with me through the years and, as I'm sure many of you have also done, I've tried to pass that love on to friends and other non-audiophile people. In almost every case, the result has been the same: I played my system for them, choosing recordings I thought would let them hear what a fine job it does of reproducing the detail and nuance of live music and the size, ambience, and presence of the venue it was recorded in. In almost every case, the response was ... nothing. My friends either voiced vague niceties intended to console me for their lack of interest, or—the most common response said that it was all very nice, but "where's the bass?" More than once, that last remark referred to a system whose subwoofers went well below 20Hz!

How could that be? I've wondered that for years. Are the people I've played my system for deaf? Do they not know what to listen for? Can it be that they just don't know what music really sounds like—what bass really sounds like?

Those last two reasons at least are probably true, but, I've come to think, for a very specific reason. This reason was brought to my attention by a friend who is also in the high-end audio industry. He agrees that, like me as a kid, these people don't know what music really sounds like. For me though, the reason was a simple lack of exposure to music. For most people, my friend thinks, it's for a different reason entirely.

People today, he says, have heard live music; they have been to clubs and to concerts of every kind of music (rock, classical, whatever) at every kind of venue, indoor at home than I had even imagined before that fateful night at Emmons Audio. So how can they not know what music sounds like?

Easy: All the music they've ever heard—even live music—has been processed or made louder by some electronic means—a public-address system (a "PA," or as they say in the UK, a tannoy) or a "sound reinforcement" system—before it gets to their ears. All of it, with only the rarest exception. From the amplified voice of a singer at anything from a restaurant with a singing piano player to an intimate jazz club or even an opera house (where it's sometimes done to make sure the voice or voices can be heard above the instruments); to amphitheaters like the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theater, and others—which, in order for all of the audience to hear all of the music, have become little more than huge hi-fi sets with only a small part of what you hear actually being the sound coming from the performers or instruments; to venues like Woodstock, where it's all PA. Live sound isn't live sound anymore, and what people are hearing is the sound of the PA system.

That explains a lot. PA systems don't image. They don't present a soundstage. They can't make deep bass; that 50Hz, which used to be the "pro" standard, is still about the deepest most can go. Often, they make up for the lack of real, low bass by bumping up the midbass, and sometimes the upper bass—hence the remark I heard a few times: "Where's the bass?"

When non-audiophiles hear a system that does do those things that sound like real music, they don't appreciate it. It doesn't sound like what they're used to, and they're not impressed. They think the sound of a PA system is what music is supposed to sound like. Until we can teach them or—better—show them otherwise, perhaps by dealers playing a live, unamplified instrument at their store, it will likely remain hard to excite them enough to join our ranks.

What do you think?

Roger Skoff is the founder of two hi-fi cable companies, XLO and RSX, and has written for many hi-fi publications.

Dennis 6352's picture

Agreed. Modern concert music is amplified mush, unless you are in a venue where the sound is limited to acoustic instruments. Dynamics? Forget about it.

Nutty's picture

Yes and No.
As an ex vinyl club DJ, dynamics is all down to the sound system and the sound of the venue you are playing your records in. Most of the places I played, the sound was crap, along with most house parties that I DJ'd at or went to. You show up at the club that has a $1M sound system and someone who knows what they are doing, it's another world altogether.
I write this while playing a Drum & Bass vinyl record on a VPI HW-40 Anniversary turntable. The 'sound' we have in the house is markedly better than most of the places I've been to, but not in the same league when it comes to the dynamics on the purpose built $1M system with full sound treatment.
While I'm at it, where is the love for electronic music? All I ever here at shows is the same old female vocals and jazz, so I take a few records and they sound for the most part great because I love the music but sonically uninspiring, mostly because of the show's room acoustics.

John Atkinson's picture
Dennis 6352 wrote:
Modern concert music is amplified mush . . .

See my comments on the sound of live rock at

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

MatthewT's picture

Was Lyle Lovett at Wolf Trap in DC. The absolute worst was John Mayall at the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival. Utter garbage sound, brown noise would have been better. Turned me off on live music for a few years.

MT_Guy723's picture

When I saw Lyle Lovett and his band play at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, MT, there was a total of 18 musicians and vocalists on the stage at the same time. I was standing next to the mixing board and the sound guy said that Lyle tours with two boards that leap frog each other for each gig. When one is being used the other is being set up for the next stop on the tour.

It's huge - like 8' wide. They do not run their sound at the highest volume the speakers can put out. It's nice and big and full and exquisitely detailed, but never too loud. Because of that you could hear the quality of the instruments being played, AND you could talk to the person next to you about how great it sounded without having to yell at them. Because of how Lyle likes to sound for his patrons, he did a great service to all the people who play and sing for him. None of them were lost in the mix.

My friends and I who were there talk about it to this day.

chuckles304's picture

I am fortunate enough to live within easy driving distance of Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony takes up residence each summer. I make a point of only purchasing tickets that get me within the immediate acoustic range of the orchestra. Otherwise, if you're in the back half of the Shed or on the lawn, you're hearing the performance on speakers.

To me, it makes no sense to pay to hear a live performance through speakers when I could park in front of my system at home for free.

Jack L's picture


YES. All concerts venues, indoor & outdoor, always get PA so that the audience outside the "acoustical range" of the performance on the podium can still hear the sound.

That's why I always select 10-13th row centre from the podium to listen to acoustical performance instead of listening to PA reproduced sound + acoustical reverberation from above inside the hall.

Likewise for Sunday church service, I would take frontal seat facing the choir & the musical supplement. Noooo PA to spoil the music mood !

Listening to acoustical music is believing

Jack L

Cyclotronguy's picture

I recently attended a night with the Brubeck Family Quartet.... just stunning BTW. It was in a small venue and a hot night. About 10 min into the concert it got really interesting. By request the doors to the outside were opened and the sound board turned off.... and for the rest of the night glorious "ACOUSTIC"! Even as a frequent live event consumer, we forget how tainted we are by the ubiquitous "house sound"!

avanti1960's picture

The differences between the sound of a finely tuned audiophile system and a basic home theater setup are in fact subtleties to most people (not audiophiles of course).
It takes keen hearing, a willingness to learn and an appreciation of the spatial and tonal differences to become an audiophile. Skillsets that do not grow on trees......

AJ's picture

..that does do those things that sound like real music, they don't appreciate it."

Hmmm, it was SP founder JGH who posited it was *audiophiles* who fit that criteria


Audio actually used to have a goal: perfect reproduction of the sound of real music performed in a real space. That was found difficult to achieve, and it was abandoned when most music lovers, who almost never heard anything except amplified music anyway, forgot what "the real thing" had sounded like. Today, "good" sound is whatever one likes.

Personally I think people just listen they like.

ok's picture

..sound "alive" even through the basest of PA systems the reason being they're not recorded.

Jack L's picture


Acoustcial live is true live. Any electrically processed sound, PA or recorded, will be impaired "live" to their best, IMO.

Skeptical ears detect the nite-&-day difference !

Listening to acoustical music is believing

Jack L

ok's picture

..but when sound waves or electric waves or waves in general are transformed into numbers or magnetic patterns or grooves or anything static they undergo a fundamental mutation from which they never actually recover. No recorded event is truly "analog" let alone (a)live; (a)live means time and time stored can be not.

PeterPani's picture

I have been to the London Abba Avatar show, where they have built an theatre for that show only. Around 1 Billion $ have been put into that show and that building.
The crowd was in good mood before the start of the show (Abba-fanatics). Than the show started - and it was really that good visually that I must recommend it. At the end of the show the 4 aged (todays) band members came (virtual) on stage and it was impossible to believe that the 4 were only projections.
So here was a show that really gave the impression to see Abba in their prime. They put unbelievable effort into it.

And what sound?
So bad! Digital artefacts and hardness at the heights. The two female voices sounded like the voices of these little blue smurfs. And no bass below (I guess) 60 Hz at all.
The crowd stopped dancing after the first songs.
After the show no one complained about the sound. Even at the reviews nobody cared about the sound.
They felt it in the show, the good mood went down. But they cannot put it into words, why?

I wonder, Abba spent so much money into this. It should have been easy to add a bass speaker line to reproduce the sound of the 70's (I can still remember the sound of the huge bass speakers, when venues could still afford them until appr. the end of the '80s).

As said, I still recommend the show. It is unbelievable what can be done visually today.

Sadly, the public interest in audio quality is much much lower than in visuals in our days.

They feel that something goes wrong, but they cannot see it.

cognoscente's picture

everyone, really everyone, is touched and recognized good music, or a good hi-fi set (as I still call it by the way). If they are open to it. It's like food and wine. Or art in general. When I take friends to a Michelin star restaurant, who would never go there themselves, they are always disappointed afterwards. They expect some kind of taste explosion. They don't know, nor have they learned, that it's the subtleties that matter and that you have to recognize them AND appreciate them. A star chef or Bid Gourmand chef knows how to get the details on the surface / tongue giving the food a deeper dimension. Same with a good hi-fi set. However, most people have never learned it simply because it is not of their interest. If someone asks "what is an audiophile?" then I say "someone who listens to both the music and the sound". I always omit the addition "and is willing to pay for better sound" (and yes yes I know the saying "a music lover uses his hi-fi set to listen to the music and the audiophile uses the music to listen to his hi-fi set", I can sympathize here too). I also omit the addition that an audiophile, at least in my analysis and that includes myself, has a recognizable degree of autism. That's not a bad or a good thing, just a fact and as far as I'm right at least. Either way, most people don't and/or just don't care about good sound, and certainly aren't willing to pay more for it. It is also a generation phenomenon, so-called zeitgeist, in the 1970s and 1980s households spent a relatively much larger amount of their disposable income on a hi-fi set or TV. Or clothes. Not young people. Because how many people under 50 visit an audio fair? Anyway, in summary and in my opinion: most people don't care about better sound, it doesn't interest them.

Metalhead's picture

Very well stated.
What I was thinking but expressed more articulately by you.

Metalhead's picture

Very well stated.
What I was thinking but expressed more articulately by you.

RH's picture

"Can it be that they just don't know what music really sounds like—what bass really sounds like? "

Sure they do. They hear music all the time. Music coming through whatever system they are listening on is "real music" and is how most people have listened since consumer playback systems became wide-spread. Ever since concerts became amplified, which goes back before The Beatles, the same complaint could have been made. This sounds like more of the audiophile dismissive "I know what REAL music sounds like, the plebes don't appreciate it."

On the other hand, I think you may be downplaying the continued existence of acoustic-instrument-based music. There is just TONS of music being played on acoustic instruments. Any dive down the youtube rabbit hole will show just how rich this scene is - probably richer than it has been in decades. Even where I live, around the corner from a vibrant downtown street, it's strewn with bars with live musicians, often jazz or folk or 'world' music - some amplified, some not.

- "What do you think? " -

I think that for some reason we seem to have had different experiences in terms of guests or non-audiophiles listening to our systems.

I've played my various audiophile systems for tons of guests, most non-audiophiles, over the years and the reactions have been almost uniformly gobsmacked at the experience. Just wide eyed wonder. "It's like they are THERE" or "I'm looking right in to the studio hearing them play!"

Most people just listen to music in the background, or in a set up that doesn't exploit the possibilities of recorded music. So they don't really come to music reproduction with expectations that it can actually sound "more real" or more immersive. When they encounter the "disappearing" speaker act, vividness and imaging of a good stereo system, it's something of a shock.

It doesn't mean that after hearing my system guests necessarily want to run out and spend lots of their own money on audio gear. But they clearly "get" why it's appealing, and why I'm in to it, once they experience it.

Jack L's picture


YES, this is MY acid test for any home audio.

I want to virutally 'watch' the entire music performance in front of me way behind the audio rig into the facing wall. The frontal loudspeakers sonically vanished.

Thanks goodness, my humble audio rig down my 700sq-ft basement audio den achieves it, from Beethoven Moonlight Serenade to Saint Saens Organ Symphony !

Listening is believing

Jack L

supamark's picture

When I was working as a recording engineer I would occasionally do live sound at local clubs (schmoozing plus a little cash for the work). Even then, most PA systems went down to around 40Hz - several 18" subs will do that, and they were common in clubs with at least decent sound systems 30 years ago. High quality modern PA systems, like those offered by Meyer Sound, go down to the mid-30Hz region with subs and have significantly more dynamic headroom than any consumer home system (140+ dB peak SPL with low distortion). It's more likely that the musicians, and the person running the sound, have high frequency hearing loss and so they brighten up the PA too much and it makes you think there's no low end.

The real reason is that every system most people listen to these days is EQ'd with a large bass boost (like +6dB or more) applied by the user. Your system (and mine) is not. Most modern popular music has boosted bass as well, and I really don't see you showing off your system with modern pop music (i.e. hip-hop or EDM). Hell, even the remixes of like Abbey Road and Chicago Transit Authority are significantly more bass heavy than the original mixes. Modern remasters also tend to have more bass than the original. People, it's like they're...

( •_•)>⌐■-■

"All About That Bass."

Anecdote time - my wife tells me that unless she can feel the bass all the time there's not enough of it. Her POV is hardly unique on this. She doesn't want flat/accurate bass, she wants lots of it all the time.

Mark Phillips
Contributor, Soundstage! Network

Jack L's picture

......there's not enough of it." qtd M Phillips.

Bingo ! My wife tooo often feels the wooden floor shaking under her feet during my music session down in my basement with closed door. She hates it, felt disturbed !

One time she even rushed down to find out what was going on when I was demonstrating to my audiophile friends: Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture - battlefield cannons roaring !!

No expensive bass-boosting EQ & huge power amps there ! Only 3 active subs (L+R+L/R) working with my 5W+5W tube power amp !!!!

Play smart is the name of the game !

Listening is believing

Jack L

Trevor_Bartram's picture

We went to a live outdoor concert with a local jazz fusion band recently. They had stereo Bose line arrays and bass units, I sat in the Memorex seat and the sound was superb. From the comments here, it's obvious to me that many PA & sound re-inforcement systems are poorly designed (or just thrown together).

Trevor_Bartram's picture

If you have stereo regular box speakers, turn one of them upside down (out of view of your friends) then see if your friends can spot what's wrong with the sound. If they don't pass the test they need more training to become true audiophiles!

SwellSound's picture

Soundstage in live music is a function of the engineers mix, not the PA itself. If you have a farstage left flute player on input one of the mixer and the input is not panned to the left than the flute will be heard @ center stage. Further, if the gain is high, as in a large stadium vs a small jazz club, you will not actually hear flute itself but the amplified signal panned left to be heard @ position of the player. In a small venue one can (depending on the mix), hear the players clearly from the stage and the PA can be mixed to reinforce the stage/performers subtly to the point of being invisible. PA sound depends entirely on the act and their sound engineer working with within the limits of the PA being used. Still further, PA quality varies widely from inexpensive Toyota corolla grade to Ferrari and Bentley to F1 formula. Another reader mentioned Meyer, a top flight USA vendor that competes with Adamson Canada, Martin Audio UK, L-Acoustics France. With "far" larger R&D budgets than most consumer audiophile brands, these premier fidelity focused vendors and many others, design & manufacture systems (at much larger volume) which can easily compete in imaging, soundstage, depth and musicality with the very best consumer audio. Many new startup vendors are delivering highly innovative products such as VUEaudiotechnik H series which (as an systems integrator) I can state first hand, delivers mind blowing fidelity at industry disruptive price points in range/class. Finally, all of these systems are designed for performance and duty cycles that is for the most part, nonexistent in consumer world. As with any component or system, I'd suggest personally demoing specific products to better understand capabilities.....FWIW..

Jack L's picture


"Audiophile grade PA" ???

How come I don't read such terminology in The Acoustic Linearity White Paper: "better comprehend the latest advancements in vertical array systems".

PA is PA irespective whatever state-of-the-art technologies claimed to employ.

PA is to ensure audience outside of the acoustical range of the stage performance can still hear what is going on the podium. This is its primary application = farthest reaching possible !

Again, such music, heavily doctored by the field control engineers can never be the same as the acoustiscal performance on the stage. This is physics.

So how come "the PA can be mixed to reinforce the stage/performers subtly to the point of being invisible" ????? I don't think so !
I want to read any published papers to substantiate your such claim !!!

"design & manufacture systems (at much larger volume) which can easily compete in imaging, soundstage, depth and musicality with the very best consumer audio" !!

Really? Apple to orange comparision, pal !

Please substantiate your claim with published papers !

Listening to acoustical sound is believing

Jack L

cognoscente's picture

Probably "mustard after the meal" (as we say it over here) because this topic is "closed" (barely gets new readers) but I do it anyway:: I gave it a second thought and I can go along with the thought that amplified live concerts and/or club visits has influenced our taste in bass. I hardly ever go to live concerts anymore because it sounds much better at home anyway, and I always get annoyed by the other audience, my autism!, but recently I went to Dua Saleh (if you like Billie Eilish, check her also) concert at the insistence of my partner and indeed (the audience ... OMG!) it sounds much better at home except for the bass. Too much? No, as someone's wife said it "I want to feel it". I've always had a preference for a solid 'abyss' deep and perhaps too present bass in the opinion of Mr. Skoff. Probably. A good example is the song Happiness Is Easy by Talk Talk. On all my previous hi-fi sets I found that the contra bass from 1.30 was never good / present enough. Until my current set. I also come to the saying that the hi-fi set (THE chosen combination of components) is in fact the equalizer of an audiophile. He creates a sound as (s)he thinks the recording should sound, and why everyone has a different hi-fi set (different tastes / preferences). Downside of my current hi-hi set is that the bass on the album "A Light for Attracting Attention" by The Smile (Radiohead minus 1) is a little too present. It all depends depends on the recording, the mix / edit / (re)master (in combination with the hifi set and room where played). I have mp3 files from Apple Music that sound much better than a HiRes 192Khz 24 bit files from Qobuz. Back to the topic, yes our taste in bass is probably determined by amplified live concerts and / or visits to clubs (like the whole life is a sum of previous experiences and events and the personality and taste formed from that). Is that good or bad? It's a personal taste, and there's no arguing about that. And remains open that most people don't care about better sound because it simply doesn't interest them. They have other interests forinstance the blowing wind through their hair in their sports car or splashing water in their faces on their sailing yacht. A mono Sonos is good enough for them. Everyone his own thing.

barfle's picture

When I first heard a live symphony oeprchestra, I was surprised that the volume wasn’t very loud. We had season tickets, and I became used to listening at that level (certainly above standard speech, but way, WAY less than a rock concert). Rarely did I feel bass in my chest, but it also gave me a good idea of what my home system should sound like.

Jack L's picture


It depends WHAT live symphony orchestras involved, my friend.

It could be deafening, literally speaking.

Let me give you an example of such sonically heavy-weighted performances:-

1993 BBC Winter Gala Concert at Royal Opera House, London, P. Domingo (my favourite opera tenor) conducted the ballet opera concert of Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture. Believe it or not, 2 battlefield cannons were pulled out onto the stage facing the audience, actually fired repeatedly supplementing the music climax !!! I wish I were there to witness such thundering acoustical sound effect !!!!!!!

Thank goodness, I got the DVD of this concert, playing with my 3 active subs (L,R L+R) on. Staggering !!! Of course, still can't touch the live acoustical sound effect there !

Listening live is believing

Jack L

barfle's picture

It’s on laserdisc, and yes, it can be plenty loud, but I was discussing a live, unamplified orchestra. While my audio system is pretty good, It’s not what I was referring to, except as a way to get close to the original sound. I didn’t attend the Tschaikovsky gala, although I have seen 1812 performed live (Hollywood Bowl). it was also amplified.

Anton's picture

I love wine, I am an oenophile, but, you know, sometimes I can simply turn that off and enjoy 'plonk' with friends and have a perfect evening. Not every glass every time has to be perfect.

I am seeing there are audiophiles who can't turn their shit off.

"I only sit in certain parts of a church so as I don't have to forgo the best sounding seat?"

"I won't see live music that requires a microphone or amplifier...."

Are you guys able to sleep in a building where someone may have a tabletop radio? Does anything falling short of some ridiculous audiophile BS standard make it so you are up all night searching for a pea under your mattress? (At our age, maybe looking for pee under the sheets is more apt.)

If you actually like music, it doesn't take much to make you happy.

Can you enjoy music in the car, or do you punish yourself by avoiding music and talking back to AM talk radio?

Can you enjoy a boom box by the pool?

Have you ever gone to a dance club, blues club...or anyplace that might make people wanna get up and get down? My condolences, if not.

If you can only get off, sonically, under special circumstances, you have a sonic fetish, not a love for music.

Rant ended.

cognoscente's picture

yes I totally agree: "it don't take much to enjoy music". However, something of little effort. For example, I refuse it when someone, like my brother, plays music from his iPhone, and I mean really from the built-in speakers of the iPhone (it really only costs a few bucks to buy a small JBL box or whatever, little effort). And I was at a party recently, I don't know what they did wrong because there were serious speakers there, but I didn't even recognize some of the songs. I always find disappointing when no effort has been made at all, and that goes beyond the quality of the sound or the choice of music (free Spotify or Youtube with commercials in between, really? My brother does it this way) For many that's normal, their standard but for to me that is disrespectful to the guests. I deserve a little better then that, just a little more then that.

Glotz's picture

I think many non-audiophiles view audiophiles as too hair-shirt and cloistered in their requirements of 'properly' listening to music in a certain way or with only their systems. I think that alienates them and turns their brains off appreciating as we do. I see them listening just to the major musical lines versus smaller detail, soundstage boundaries or space between instruments. Not wanting to see live music seems to be a huge issue with them (and me), regardless of sound reasons of why not. One is simply missing out on the greatest of music being created live.

We appreciate music and sound to its logical maximum, but there's a lot to learn in just turning off the propensity of critical listening. In listening to music we've never heard before, I think that's supremely important. For audiophiles listening to the same LP over the course of years, 'listening for the lines' becomes of less importance than hearing for differences in detail.

Sometimes it's important to turn off that propensity and just enjoy music. Live, amplified music concerts have their own sets of qualities that are as valid as acoustic performances and recordings. All of them, from EDM to Rock to Jazz are critically important to anyone enjoying the other parameters of audiophile recordings. It teaches us to listen for different things- That expands our knowledge set as audiophiles.

I think of Art Dudley's writing, with his dislike of panel speakers that provide a wealth of detail, but lack other certain elements of natural music. It helped me to see where Magneplanar speakers may be lacking in a few key areas. Some, like me, cope around them, others won't get past thinner images and a lack of midbass impact on drums or other percussive instruments, especially with rock.

I think it's important to disconnect our prejudices of all forms (and formats) of music. It allows us to open our minds and listen for other ways to be satisfied by the complexity that is music.

MatthewT's picture

I knew exactly who you were talking about and what his repsonse would be. Thanks!

Jack L's picture


Thank goodness, your "BS" "rant ended" quick before pissing off too many audiophile readers here.

Yes, I choose to be seated well within acoustical range to enjoy music performances (sorry, no rock & rolls please) - serious music session

Yet, I still enjoy listening back ground music from my vintage Northern Electric AM radio (circa 1935) while I work on my DIYs behind my workbench down my basement - casual music session.

Again, my elder son, a first-class-honour classical piano graduate from our city Royal Conservatory of Music, enjoys music from his laptop mini-loudspeakers & iPhone earbuds. serious music session for him.

Hopefully we don't have to read your rants again. Thanks but no thanks.

Listening live is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

There are some nice Victrola 78 players that use only an acoustic/mechanical pathway. No electronic degradation at all!

Plenty of material available, too.

They can also sound astoundingly immediate!

5 watts, 1000 watts...amplified music is amplified music.

Plus, a nice small sweet spot perfect for one person.

Glotz's picture

No hair-shirts for any of us..! Solitary music listening breeds cloistered thinking and unyielding opinions. Audio fascism.

Jack L's picture


What "solitary" music listening ?

Attending any music performance in a public venue is surely not "solitary" music listening.

So you mean home music listening, right ?

So you want your kissing cousins or yr wife/companion to join your music session at home every single time to avoid breeding "cloistered thinking" right ?

Get real, pal unless you were mentally challenged.

Jack L

Glotz's picture

Many audiophiles listen alone and some have stated they don't like attending live concerts for SQ reasons. I find that limiting.

It does tend to close the mind, whether it be new technologies or new musical experiences. That is cloistered thinking. One can teach an old dog new tricks; you just gotta try.

Getting Real is what I do best, my man. Just asking others to do the same.

PS- Your kissing cousins sound racy! What are their names??

Jack L's picture


"Kissing cousins" defines as "a person & specially a relative whom one knows well enough to kiss more or less formally upon meeting."

"The nut is technically a seed, a kissing cousin to the cashew, & oddly, the mango." published in Dallas News, 23 March 2021.

What "racy" do you mean ?

Jack L

Jack L's picture


"Many audiophiles listening alone" per yr quote above. Hopefully you don't find it abnormal. FYI, I tooo often listening ALONE in my basement audio den as my wife hates the 'noise'.

Listening alone will allow the listening undistracted muisc enjoyment. Nooo trivial conversion while the music is on - my golden rule I set up for my home music venue. Chitchat somewhere else, not during my music sessions, period.

Whoever "many audiophiles stated they don't like attending live concerts", are HiFi lovers, not genuine music lovers who would definely go for live concerts.

I attend live music frequently in order to use it as the yardstick of gauging the perfomance of audio systems.

Listening to live is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Nope! Again, for attending a concert, I choose to seat wiithin the acoustical range of the performance on the podium, simply to avoid the PA & hall reverberation messing up the music. Yes, it may cost more money for such premium seats but it worths it.

For home audios, "amplified music" is a matter of course. No choice my friend. I never want to flip my calendars back to 1884 listening acoustical music coming out from the horn of a wind-up gramophone: still remember the worldwide icon of His Master's Voice (HMV) ?
Back over a century ago, acoustical gramophones were the only home music media, no choice !

Listening is believing

Jack L

MatthewT's picture

You're the only one pissed off. Little close to home for you?

Statcfrost's picture

I am an audiophile and a musician for over 40years. I have performed rock/alternative/Jazz and country. I play bass guitar and sing. What I fail to understand here is what you mean when you say "bass". Do yo mean bass guitar? Which is mostly mid range. Do you mean bass drums? Most non audiophiles would probably tell you that bass is the throbbing they hear from the bass drum (usually enhanced to sound louder) with the lowest lows form the bass guitar mixed in. The new Beatles mixes come to mind. In my opinion that is bass but not bass guitar. As far as PA systems go. Most musicians use some form of sound reinforcement live. Classical and Horn Sections -probably not- but they also dont have much "bass". I have performed at clubs with huge sound systems that sound absolutely amazing. Some that dont. But that is up to the engineer and the musicians. Our home systems may have "bass" but they will never have the bass authority of a full PA system. I have spent hours prior to a show during soundcheck to get the perfect sound. But alas that is never possible. Especially with "bass". Are you looking for the ground pounding bass that many have from their car audio? Horrible sounding but many would say that is "bass". So I think the problem is with the definition of "bass". When you say to me "check out my systems bass" I am expecting a pounding bass. If you say to me "check out my systems accurate and nice sounding low end" then I am expecting balance.

Anton's picture

I think an audiophile would most likely reply to your question that 'bass' refers to frequency response from 20Hz to about 180 Hz.

Not a reference to any specific musical instrument.

Home Hi Fis may often lack full response down into the deep bass, but a good home system can actually delve lower than most PA systems. Most audiophiles with some space probably do a pretty good job.

On a PA level....Even the "BassBoss Kraken" doesn't go as deep as an SVS home sub....but the BassBoss can shove out 145 dB of 60 Hz all day and thump people's chests for bass impact.

It's hard to get actual frequency response info from many PA manufacturers, but I hope there are exceptions! If you know of any, I'd love to follow links!

Can other people name some PA systems that actually go as low as most full range home speakers?

I bet, in general, home audio lovers get lower bass response, they just can thump people 80 feet away!

Glotz's picture

It's all about the 'big takeaways'.

I see non-audiophiles listening just to the major musical lines versus smaller detail, soundstage boundaries, or space between instruments. They haven't the direction, the faith nor the patience to appreciate finer detail, as it simply has not been heard- at length- by them yet.

The bombast of bass is the 'memory-creator' for most regular listeners, largely because they don't experience the magic of transparency, depth of field, or dynamics (outside 'fight or flight' pyrotechnics) in their music experiences. In fact, the very term of 'listening experience' doesn't even enter their cognition; 'music experience' seems far more appropriate.

Bass moves them and is inexorably tied to the rhythm of their music. The big takeaways remain. The details must be taught or faithfully listened for, out of pure faith to learn!

MatthewT's picture

As you said, "bombast" is king.

Glotz's picture

It really seems like they wrecked the entire industry- forever. Sad.

MBMax's picture

In the years long search for my end game system, a very important goal was a system that sounded like real, yes live, music in the dining room, the kitchen, and the family room room, all from my centrally located office / listening room. On axis listening was primary, but without the "house" sound, the search continued.

High powered class A SS with dynamic but hard to drive speakers? Nope.

High powered A/B SS, more guts to drive difficult load speakers? Nope.

Resto-modded McIntosh tube kit with highly efficient homemade single driver speakers? Better. But still no.

Swap to hugely efficient ZU Omen-Defs? Still better, still no.

Add sub. Nice step.

Pull the trigger on Shindo amplification. Wow. OK. Art D. doesn't exaggerate.

Maybe, just maybe, the Shindo / DeVore combinations really do make some magic. Sell ZU's, buy O/93's.

HiFi journey complete. Art D. told no lies. Shindo tube magic with high sensitivity DeVores take me to the club, two tables from the stage, and symphony hall 10th row. Annnnddd bingo. Sweet music in the kitchen, family room, dining room, and more. Pouring a wee dram in the kitchen? I'm at the bar in the club. Dining with my wife? In the cafe at symphony hall (well OK, we don't really do that, but if we did...).

Very little live music is truly live anymore as has been abundantly stated here. So I say, choose your bliss and build your HiFI for it - arena rock, club jazz, chamber classical, symphony hall, outdoor amplified festival, whatever. You get the idea.

And most of all, relax and have some fun people. So much music to be enjoyed, so much angst getting in the way.

Jack L's picture


Not all Shindo amps make same "magic", my friend.

I would only go for its older model: using 300B power tubes - true TRIODE ! Not cheap altenative F2a tetrodes ! Nite & day differnce to my ears.

Listening to triodes is beleiving

Jack L

MBMax's picture

is great. But I can only afford regular magic :-)

AudioBang's picture

My biggest peeve is how the guy [in my experience, it's always been a guy] at the board starts with the drums and squeezes all the dynamic range from the system to insure the kick drum is felt like the most severe stomach punch and the "ring" from the floor tom provides maximum reverberation without any regard to how the bass overhang will obscure every other instrument detail along with vocal intelligibility.
I've speculated that if that's the way they are at the board, imagine what their wives/partners have been going through... Mrs. Doubtfire sharing her late husband's only known style of foreplay - "Effie... Brace yourself!"
One manufacturer articulated that his product/marketing approach was to the male-dominated muscle car mentality of the Hi-Fi community as he asserted that the dominant mindset is the focus on the equipment.

I also argue that that same sound technician might not have the acumen and self-awareness to get what he's just delivered as a punch-centric sound presentation and what it actually could be in terms of balanced, intelligible sound that leaves the audience in the space to experience maximum enjoyment from the performance. I've had accomplished musicians over to experience what's possible in terms of detail, soundstage and spacial capabilities of my Hi-Fi system and as soon as I hit play, they start talking over the music.
AudioBacon mentioned that he has experienced the same with many of his guests. I think it takes a certain type of person to introvert and become absorbed in the musical event which, for the audience, I believe can be best fostered by the integrity of the playback. With large outdoor PAs where I've witnessed a mindfulness from sound board guy to proportion and balance, nearly 100% of the time it is obvious that there is still a constraint to the vocals where harmonic content appears compressed, smeared and constrained and as a result, unpleasant to listen to. This is also occurring for the rest of the instruments often perhaps in a less obvious way. An analogy might be like a low frequency rumble of a refrigerator compressor being on for a long time and becomes normalized in the background and you just don't notice it. Until it finally shuts off and you can instantly feel the silence as a relief... There needs to be that kind of moment I think, before people wake up.

Home hi-fi interconnects do different things in a home hi-fi set up - MFs experience with Tara Labs and ADs 2007 review on JPS Labs come to mind as significantly transformative for them. Imagine the susceptibility to sound degradation of a snake carrying the low-level instrument/microphone signals from the stage to the mixing console 50 - 100 or more feet away from the stage and then returning the mix-down that same distance back to the amps at the stage. Could an RF-proof, extremely low-latency and road-worthy redundant fiber solution possibly improve matters? Not intending to open Pandora's Box here - just spitballing out loud.
Not to mention the myriad of variables affecting the amplification and driver hookup...

Not a lot has changed for me in the rock concert venue - ZZ Top was my first concert as a 12 Y-O kid where I recall having to really focus to cut through the blur by matching what live riffs I "could" make out by performing real-time memory comparison to the albums. I couldn't even make out the vocals until Dusty kicked in. I took my older brother to see ZZs 50th year anniversary [401K :)] tour and the sound blur was the same - this time I was watching the streams of 65 Y-O plus concert goers exiting the theater confused and looking like The Walking Dead as they appeared to do their best to put a positive spin on it to keep their positive memories of their youth alive [I'm projecting here but I don't think I'm far off].
Roger Waters was probably the best sound delivery where he took a minimalist drum kit and brought it to life delivering the timbre of each piece with extended low-frequency without the overhang getting into the space of other instruments and vocals. For once [perhaps twice] I was impressed.

The weekly outdoor summer concerts of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra are a perfect example of "proportionally done right" at the board but the level of compression and harmonic constraint of the vocals is consistently annoying. This from a sizable system where dynamic capability is not likely the issue.
I often wonder the degree the average concert goer mentally drifts off from this and the degree they are likely to stay attuned to the performance if this were not the case.

paul6001's picture

Not too long ago, I saw Nick Cave & Warren Ellis at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn. Built in 1929 as one of five Loews “Wonder Theaters,” it’s an over-the top Art Deco, gilt detailed beauty that was restored a few years back. They still have an organ for playing along with silent movies.

Anyway, towards the end of the show, the duo played something that was loud and subterranean in tone. It left 50 Hz well behind. Same with 20 Hz. I was sitting in the orchestra about halfway back and I was genuinely worried for the theater. Everything was vibrating like a low magnitude earthquake. What would happen to the the plaster pilasters and gilt everything?

I assume that Cave and Ellis were using the theater’s PA. I don’t think they have the commercial pull to install special sound systems where they play. And that PA’s sound was powerful. Powerful. Some big pipe organs probably go down that low, but it was a first for me.

It leaves me wondering about your criticism of PA systems. I can’t believe the one in Kings Theater is that different from other PA systems found in many venues around town. And it’s a very different sound than the one you describe.