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cyclebrain
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What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Since all of the music I listen to is performed live through mics, mixers, amps, speakers and all sorts of processing, how do I try to reference a home system to a live system? Quite often my system sounds better than the live concerts that I attend. How can you access soundstage, musician placement and such when all of the performance is played through two sets of speakers, one on each side of the stage? The music you are listening to is recorded through solid state equipment, but now sounds better played back through tube equipment. Just an example, I know that tubes are still used on the recording side. My point being that most music is processed electronically any more, so what is the music supposed to sound like?

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

One would hope you would have some music you listen to which isn't dependent upon amplification. If there is nothing at this time, possibly it is time to expand your horizons.

However, you have touched on one of the perennial questions in audio; how do you know what's right when there is nothing real about your source? Or, can you use something other than a recording of acoustic instruments to judge an audio system? Rock or classical? Surely having a familiarity with the original is the best way to know what the results should be. But even that can be less than helpful if the recording engineer isn't after the same qualities you prize.

Certainly there are qualities which are common to all music making. That is where I would suggest you begin your listening. The common terms of pace, rhythm and timing are elements of any well done piece of music. The concept of communication between the artists is, to many listeners, the essence of good music making. You certainly know the sound of a human voice in your room and how it changes with various expressions. If a system cannot get the human voice correct, it probably cannot do other things well either.

If you think about what you hear not in terms of audio system qualities, but rather in terms of music making skills or common personal memories, then you will get on the right track to use the music as a tool with which to exam your audio system. Audio qualities such as imaging and soundstaging will come later. They are of little importance when you are first exploring what makes a better system more able to capture and hold your attention.

That the current technologies employed in commercial recording work so hard to destroy all of these qualities is a shame. But, there are still attributes which are in any recording heralded for its sonic qualities. If you listen to a recording which is well regarded for its recorded sound quality, you should be able to find many of the qualities which go into good music making. If you do not own a single recording which is well regarded for its recording quality, then you obviously need to expand your library.

Your first task in growing an audio system is to know enough about music to have some idea what it is you want to hear and how to get to it in the music. If you listen to any music other than where loud is the only quality to be found, you should be able to refine your sense of what makes good music and what makes less than good music. If you don't understand the concepts of pace, rhythm and timing, you might want to explore how a musician utilizes these qualities to make the music more interesting. Talk to some of the musicians or do some reading on the subject. If you don't understand communication between artists, you should listen to more music being performed by better musicians. If you feel the human voice is not a reference, you should at least buy better seats. Knowing how a musician employs the tools of their trade will expand your appreciation for all music, live or recorded.

In many ways learning how to judge an audio system is not learning about audio. You must understand how music is made by skilled musicians. You don't have to listen to any particular sort of music since some qualities of music are consistent from the largest classical ensemble to a solo voice.

Some listeners who do not regularly hear acoustic instruments will familiarize themself with the sound of a particular guitar pick up, cymbal or bass guitar. When you hear the right tone for that piece of equipment, you can begin to hear what is right and wrong about the recording. When you know how a Stratocaster sounds, you can hear how a performer works the instrument to get a personal sound that you can recognize. What you listen for is your personal choice, but knowing what is important to you and what can be discarded as less important is a starting point in audio no matter what sort of music you listen to. Priorities as they say.

Most of all, knowing that a better system does not close down your possible music choices is an important lesson. A better system should be able to find, or allow you to find, what is right about more recordings, not fewer recordings. If you find many of your recordings no longer sound good on a new system, either they just didn't sound good to begin with or you've not put together the right combination of pieces for your tastes. If you concentrate on the music and not the system you should find a systen which opens more music to your ears.

jdm56
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Perhaps it's an over-simplification, but I find that speakers that mimic the live dispersion characteristics of the original event do the best job of reproducing that event. For example, horns are the best at recreating a front-row, amplified concert experience (rock, country, hip-hop and even jazz when everythingis mic'd). On the other hand, the reproduction of a purely acoustic event (classical, bluegrass, folk and acoustic jazz) is best done by speakers that are bipolar, dipolar or omnipolar. Of course, as someone who loves many kinds of music, I find the best compromise is a broad-dispersion monopole. Especially considering what can be done with a little dsp in a five to seven channel set-up.

I guess this was actually veering a bit off-topic. Sorry, but I guess my point (if I had one) is that what you use to reference "good sound" depends...on the music you like, and what kind of acoustic is associated with it!

tandy
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Jan,
Beautiful explanation Jan. Nice write up. Keep up the good work.

CECE
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Each guitar sounds different depending also on what amp they used for the live show or recording. Marshalls sound different than Komets or Fuchs. Fender amps sound different than Gibson, then you can run it from a Hafler guitar pre amp T3 or Razor into different power amp, or use a Marshall pre amp into a different amp..the results will always be different, which one is right? What if the Fender has changed teh pickups, or teh Gibson has different strings than wht you think is the right sound. The idea of a top end system to REPRODUCE the original no matter what it was recorded as makes it a great system. Then what about teh drums, they all sound different some snap some with more bass, results are endless. a good reproduction is nuetral, not creating the sound just reproducing it. And you ain't gonna do the reproduction with small watts and small speakers, tried it many times, don't work. Wheter is alpified or orchestral, needs WATTS and speakers to do it...no magic wires needed, just watts, clean nuetral watts and lotsa speaker that are nuetral, capable of doing it all, with no distortion, and can give you teh slam and impact of the event. 15 watts of some over priced tube amp ain't gonna make it happen.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

And that answers the original question; how?

"a good reproduction is nuetral"

The question is how do you know what's neutral. Do you wait for someone else to tell you what's neutral? Obviously what is neutral to one person won't fit that category for another listener. Otherwise we'd all own the same stuff. Once a neutral system has been acquired, placing it in a room changes everything about it. Telling someone a "neutral" system is "good" is like telling someone drinking coffee isn't like changing a tire.

Suggesting someone buy a neutral system when they ask how do they know what's neutral is about as helpful as any advice regarding watts. Want to try again?

Jeff Wong
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Jan - DUP just wants all of us to have systems like his and listen to his kind of music. He'd be in DUP heaven if we all owned the same stuff. His work would be done.

I think your suggestions make sense, but, DUP does raise some valid points about the variables for any given instrument; a Stratocaster can have many sounds.

While your suggestion of using pace, rhythm and timing makes sense, it's also something that could be difficult to use as a guideline. One's perception of this can vary wildly. What if someone has a poor sense of rhythm or timing?

I thought some related things were touched on in another thread here.

When it comes to using recordings, we run into a "chicken or the egg" problem, so your approach is a good start. Using a human voice or instrument as a reference is a good starting point, but, this still places so much on the assumption that a recording was captured neutrally. I'm not sure I can offer cyclebrain anything better, though.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Oh, I have a clue what would make DUP content.

From the referenced thread:

"I love the sound of a well recorded grand piano. Yet we all have recordings of great piano performances that are sonically all over the place."

Unfortunately, this is an accurate statement. Fortunately, it reflects the reality of a great performance. Unfortunately, not every recording engineer values the same qualities I hold dear. Fortunately, unless they absolutely muck it up, I can still identify a grand piano vs. a trombone. And I can hear a great performance when it exists. I can't always afford the best seats. I can still know when they're performing Shostakovich and not Bach.

I believe we are discussing a starting point to use as a "reference" against which we can further examine a system's performance. I agree the variables within the whole which can be identifed as a "Stratocaster" loom large when we begin discussing all the possibilities of string sets, amplifer feed vs. direct feed and, yes, the possibility someone would stupidly change the pick ups on a Strat. (If the sound of a Stratocaster doesn't originate in the pick ups, where exactly does it exist? If you change the pick ups, is it still a Strat? This, friends, is a rhetorical question.) However, if you do not know the sound of the Strat to begin with, how will you know what strings are used? One foot in front of the other, please. If you know Clapton is using a Stratocaster, you can then concentrate on whether he is using a particular set of strings. But what good does it do to discuss strings when we are trying to find Clapton and not Hendrix? That is wallowing in the minutia of neutrality, while not getting the larger picture. Do not get lost in the details when you are after the whole.

"Don't sweat the small stuff. And it's all small stuff."

Just as imaging and soundstaging can come later, so can which specific drum head and sticks were used. That is a part of exploring the artist you admire, not finding which artist you will admire. You are getting too focused on a small bit of my reply rather than the entirity of the answer. The answer I gave suggested the priorities we all use to evaluate a system or a live performance. I suggested establishing those priorities and that they exist in all music from the most complex to the simplest variety. They exist in the most amplified performance and the most simple. But, they mean nothing if the performance isn't what you want to hear.

I see too many people getting hung up on the audio side of the equation and they seek out pieces of equipment which do one or two things well without considering the whole. To be specific, the poster seems to be asking how can someone "hear" imaging when the entire live perfomance would have come from two speakers mounted on stage. To be more specific, you can't hear inaging in that situation, if the recording is taken from the feed to the speakers. So why bother? Don't get hung up on things which do not exist. And do not get hung up on the minutia before you have the larger picture.

I would have to disagree about each of us perceiving PRaT differently. We all have the ability to perceive pace, rhythm and timing in the same manner. A "poor sense of timing" is nothing more than a lack of knowledge. You don't have to be a world class performer to understand how a world class performer utilizes these elements. But understanding that those are a few of the tools your favorite performer uses is important. That was the suggestion I made. Understand what is happening within the performance is what I suggested. Understand how it is created and what sets one performer appart from another. Imaging and soundstaging have nothing to do with how a piece of music is performed outside of some very broad connections.

What then would we make of mono recordings of great performances? What imaging and soundstaging am I to take away from J. Cash's most recent release? A solitary guitar and a voice is all that exists. I know there are things which inform me about where the music was recorded, but is that what is most important in order to hear what Cash is saying and thinking? The solitary quality of this great performer is in the sound and shape of the two instruments together, not in the sound of the performance hall. The manner in which Cash bends a note on the guitar or with his voice is what is important. Not which strings he used. That his voice can no longer bend as it once did is important, not which microphone he chose, if he chose at all. The way in which hesitation, attack and dynamics tell me the emotional content of the song as expressed by the once vibrant Johhny Cash, then in his final days, is far more illustrative of Cash's personna than what stool he sat on. Hear the whole, not the pieces. If you are only listening for the bits where the strings sound like the right strings or the soundstaging sounds proper to your ears, you will be missing some very good music.

Connecting with the music on an elemental level is how to begin putting together a better system. The music is why you should want a better system in the first place. Otherwise you will climb on a never ending merry-go-round of equipment which does this or that better than your last piece without ever hearing the performance. That desire to hear the artist's intent springs from the music itself and not the sound of the hall the performer sat in or the strings he/she used to get the music to come out of the box. The strings they choose are a part of their artistry, not the end point of their creativity. One is the steak while the other the sauce. You have to have the steak to enjoy the sauce. One is important, the other is merely window dressing.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I had noticed that over the last couple of weeks I was less enamored with the sound of my computer system. At first I gave it up to my old age. I had repaired the 12" woofers in my old AR 58's years ago.

When I inspected the 3 3/4" midranges I had to get close to see the foam surrounds looked funny. One touch and it was flakes and dust. Even with Tinnitus I could hear something was wrong.

Ordered some new "closely" matched replacements and new foam surrounds to try and do a repair first. The actual drivers are a mere 3" and I may be out of repair luck.

I know...it is time to pony up for some new speakers. My wife is afraid the Triangles are coming out of the home theater room. That would be mean wouldn't it? (Insert Sam Tellig's evil laugh here.)

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Digging further into your referenced thread, JW, I found this, "You get a different system every time you switch from Columbia to RCA, from Deutsche-Gramophone to Philips. Still, there is something about your favorite system that gets "reality" out of all these variables and allows you to simply listen and enjoy."

There was a recent article in Stereophile which described various recording techniques and the results which could be expected of each. Whether the stage widen or shrunk, whether the performers' space clustered together or left a gaping hole in the middle, the results did not change the overall impression of the artistic merit of the performance. Some were more able to draw the listener into the music, but only when held as a reference against what we come to expect from an audio system. Each technique had merit and each had drawbacks. But only in terms of convincing any one listener they were being transported to a venue.

Though not a new or even highly personal thought, I many times feel a system should first be judged from one or two rooms away. Do you feel as if you are sitting in the bar waiting to take your seat while Paul Desmond plays the early show? If so, you might have a decent system, in my opinion at least.

While I find each of the various recording techniques interesting and useful, they are just that; a mechanically rote means of reproducing the performance in a manner which is most convincing spatially. I liken that to discussing the color temperature of a photo when what you first want to capture is the beauty of a child's face. The whole is the sum of its parts, but some parts are more important to capture than others.

This sense of prioritization is certainly not new to anyone who has been around audio for awhile. But, this is where I think you must start in order to find a decent system. It must convince you and it must interest you whether you are standing in front of the system or listening from the bar.

CECE
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Yup, go listen to live stuff, amplified or acoustic or whatever, when teh bite of a trumpet or the reed of a sax is there, full of life, and a snae drum snaps and you hear teh rim get just touched, and the Gibson resonace is so apparnet as someone else plays a StratoCaster, and you can hear teh fingers on a bss guitar, all clear as can be, not one blurrrrrrr..thats nuetral, that reproducing whatever was done originally...of course then too, what mics did they use to caputre all this, each mic has it's own set of characteristics. But then you can even hear that difference in a good nuetral system. Whispers are so close to being so perfect at letting you hear what was done originally, they are incredible, they add nothing of their own sound, you hear everything in teh recording, good or bad, and there are some crappy recordings and some incredibly amazing big surprise ones. A Leslie West one floored me, totaly unexpected how clear, and realistic it all sounded, from memory of course, how his unique voice and small stack o' Marshalls sounded live just some months ago. Like the review says about the Whispers, the room doesn't get in teh way, they are incredible speakers. Hell even Bob Dylan SACD has Bob and his unique voce as natural as can be, it's a hard, hard rain gonna fall. Recorded decades ago, cus' as he says it all sucks now. Once you hear a system that is nuetral, real, alive, you just know...no boom, no bloat, no edge, distractions, just detail in everything. Bill D. pulls if off and priced it for mortals, as does AVA making it happen. It ain't gonna happen with 15W magic amps either, nor with a 10" woofer trying to move orchesteral amounts of air...Though BLOSE seems to have many suckers convinved it can happen with his against all rules marketing. Nuetral, you know it when you hear it. Take in more live music, amplified Gibson, Strats, drums you'll know. When you get the slam and kick at home you got at teh live performance, and you hear it all like each instrument is in teh house, you are there. No blota, no boom, strain, like live, real music.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I'm going to guess the only thing I can agree with concerning DUP's last post is you should listen to lots of live music.

Jeff Wong
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Jan - I'm mostly in agreement with what you offered cyclebrain in your initial post (in the entirety of your answer.) We're talking about having reference points and I was trying to get across that something like PRaT might not always work -- there are always plenty of people at concerts that are clapping off beat. I would contend that they might not have good senses of rhythm or timing and would have a tough time with your suggestion. In any case, you're getting caught up in a small part of my getting caught up in a small part of a whole; I basically agree with what you offered.

I feel using recordings as a reference to be tricky because of the unknowns involved in the recording process. How would we know what was captured is accurate if we weren't there? Using a live acoustic reference is a place to start, otherwise, we're in a vacuum. Does a trumpet on record sound like a trumpet live? That can be useful. But, the most accurate, distortion free playback will only be truthful to what is encoded on the media. Accurate playback of a flawed recording doesn't mean what we hear sounds real. With the right combo of flaws on both ends, you might have a sound that is convincing and real sounding. But, this isn't accurate playback in the mechanical sense.

In my own listening, I do happen to use PRaT as a tool. If my foot taps to the music, I figure it can't be bad. I've compared 2 of the same brand of DACs modified by 2 different people. One DAC had PRaT and the other didn't. I use the former in my main rig.

If I do something to my system that allows me to hear more low level stuff going on in the music, that's usually good.

And while I've never seen Paul Desmond live (as much as I would've loved to), I suppose someone who had might think he was playing in my room when I spin his LPs and CDs.

CECE
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Thanks, that was the "Readers Digest" version.....I tend to ramble as was pointed out in previous ramblings...speaking of rambling, did I ever mention......... Oh and another thing speaking of wire....and connectors, and vibration reducing devices, whatever happened to Mapingo magic blocks...eeeesssshhhh

gkc
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Yes, Jan, I agree. I'll even go a step further. Listen, really listen, to live sounds, be they music or not. If you can't get to a concert, pick a bus stop bench on a busy street. Close your eyes. Listen to the honks, screeches, yells, and rumblings. You'll notice a lot of space between the different sounds, and unlimited depth. Dynamics, of course, will be incredible -- completely unrestrained. The harsh sounds (except for the occasional fire-engine siren) won't hurt your ears. This is the edge that great systems have over midfi and lowfi systems -- a real sense of space, effortless dynamics, and little or no irritation. Specific timbres (bass or treble emphasis, for instance) vary a lot, among even the finest systems, but the sense of wide open space and dynamics can be very realistic, if the software allows it.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

This is the sort of discussion which can either fall trippingly into pendatic ostentation or can be quite enjoyable to those interested in such a discussion. Let's hope this remains readable and others join in.

JW - I hope I never gave the impression one should use recordings as a reference. Suggesting someone should use reference quality recordings is another matter. You must have some recordings which speak truth to your sense of the real event. Whether your truth and mine can co-exist is not the issue. You are establishing your priorities and they belong to you alone. The same rule applies to my priorities. If you prefer a garage band sound, then a garage band sound will suit you as a reference. If you prefer the recordings made by your local symphony, they can serve as a reference just as easily. Or, both can coexist within your larger reference file folder. (I'll insert a quick plug for the Dallas Symphony's recordings, primarily on Dorian - a reference quality producer - done most typically in McDermott Hall. I think it was MF who recently wrote about our hall's pipe organ and the exceptional sonics of the space. It is quite instructive to hear the music made live in the space and then come home to a recording made within the same generic space. Since I am familiar with the monitoring equipment [which was largely borrowed from a local Dallas dealer] used during the recordings sessions I have even a bit more insight into what was heard by the recording engineer even though I wasn't present at the event.) But, whatever your reference, it can only pretend to represent the real thing. It is our human ability, or possibly desire, to suspend disbelief which allows us to have a reference in the first place.

Our original poster's comment suggesting many of his recordings sound better than the real thing leaves me wondering what his reference really is. Not that I haven't had that experience myself, but that is most often due to a non-caring primate operating the mixing console. Even with one of my favorite performers I eventually laid off buying his recordings when a certain producer was behind the controls. I view that period as a dark moment in the artist's creative life when he allowed someone else to have far too much control over his output. However, a recent recording by the same artist also shows that what he (apparently) values in sound quality is far from what I would prefer. This leaves me wondering just what sort of HiFi rig Eric Clapton listens through.


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How would we know what was captured is accurate if we weren't there?

You can't, obviously. Not to mention the general lack of knowledge of what the engineer actually heard through the monitors (Theils in the case of the DSO/Dorian recordings), unless your ears would be at the precise position of the microphone capsules (which would be a physical impossibility, in most cases) and many times the space completey void of an audience, what you would hear at the event would not be exactly what was captured on the recording media. You couldn't tell exactly what was recorded any more than you would have heard the same sound from the first balcony as did the person sitting in the first row. However, that neither you, in the balcony, nor the person in the first row heard exactly the same sound quality doesn't remove either of you from using that performance as a reference. In fact, it most likely reinforces that objective.

We employ a sliding scale of aural memory which allows both listeners, no matter the price of admission, to remember the performance as the same event. For that matter, the fellow in the next seat over, tapping his foot wildly out of synch with what you hear, is hearing the same performance you hear and using the same performance you hear as his reference. Did you ever wonder why he is looking at you and wondering why you are the one tapping your foot so distinctly off the beat he hears?

Without delving into the development of ancient memories which allowed early man to escape the tiger lurking to his side, it is in this sliding scale file folder where we find our priorities. Pull out your file folder and see how many different memories you have filed under "M" or "S" or "Misc.".

Many of us can identify a grand piano when we hear one live or on a recording. Some of us can even identify which make of instrument was used or which strings were used. It is, however, our broader scale of knowing what is a grand piano that serves as our most basic reference point. Whether the piano was recorded close or far, in a large hall or a small space, reverberant church or dead studio, we can identify with the instrument and we can judge the performance. Somewhere in either our memory or our imagination we can believe a piano could exist in that space. So, it is somewhat like the photographer who takes a wide angle lens to capture the sweep of a mountain range. We recognize and recall what in the image makes up a mountian range. This happens even if we've never seen that particular mountain range. We do not deny the existence of a mountain range merely becuase we've not been there ourself. So, too, can we envision what we are hearing as a real event without ever attending the performance(s). I think this is what Plato would call a ritual event. It transcends reality and yet becomes a part of our reality at the same time.

However, looking at the more introspective photo taken with a mid length lens of only a few trees on the same mountain range, we can find an emotional contentment with that presentation also. They are the same trees whether viewed from afar or up close, we are simply adjusting our memory of the real experience to accomodate what we are seeing at the moment. We can recall or imagine those same trees being in the same mountain range in either photograph. We do an adjustment to our memories in order to accomodate each image. So to do we adjust our memory of events to accomodate the variance we hear in recordings. Whether remembered from the first row or the first balcony, we instinctively recall what we hear as the "reference event". We can even imagine ourself in another person's seat to accomodate the reference we wish to have. So, whether you and I have the same sense of what that grand piano sounded like from where we sat at the performance or at the recording event, or whether we share the same sense of PRaT, we can still recall the "reality" of the event. Our sliding scale of aural memory allows both of us to call that our reference.

Then we apply that sliding scale to other events where we never could have been present. Now, though I never heard Paul Desmond myself, I can "recall" what Paul Desmond sounds like. I know his saxophone because I know the general sound of a saxophone. I know the sound of the space because I've been in spaces similar to where he played. And I can construct a "reference recording" without ever having been anywhere near the actual event. I no longer have to stress over what is the reality of the event. Am I hearing the correct size of the room? From what seat should I judge that? Do the sounds of glasses remind me of old fashioned glasses or martini glasses? Does it really matter? In my opinion, no. If I am judging the recording for total "accuracy" as a recording engineer might, that brings up different issues. That is not my job as a listener involved in the performance. My mind allows the reconstruction of all those peripherals in order for me to concentrate on the performance alone. In my opinion, that is all I can ask of an audio system. The less I have to work at hearing the event, the lower the "distortions" of the recording or the equipment, the more I can enjoy the performance that happened at the event.

To that end, I have never obssessed over detail. They are the macro photograhy equivalent of an audio event. I can recognize the mid length shot of the group of trees as belonging on the mountain range because you've shown me the whole mountain range. I can do that because I know, my memory tells me, aspens grow in the mountains of Colorado but not in the mountains of Brazil. A close up detail of a spider clinging to a web somewhere on the range doesn't inform me of the mountain range itself.

Similarly, my ears are (probably) never going to be where the microphones were placed to retrieve some of the details present on many contemporary recordings. Therefore, I have no memory or imagination of such details existing in my file folder. They don't inform me of the whole in which I am interested. This is especially true of too many contemporary recordings where close mic'ing, over dubbing, pan-pot riding, etc. techniques dominate the way recordings are constructed. My ears will not hear the tiny movements of fingers over strings when I am seated in the fifteenth row. Yet, here they are on a recording made with the microphone(s) mere centimeters away from the strings. My aural memory of the event doesn't slide that far. I really don't want that intrusion into my recalled event since it interferes with or goes beyond my sliding scale of memories. It disrupts my ability to suspend disbelief because it tells me something inconsistent with my personal prioities.

That makes neither you nor me incorrect in our priorities, we just have both established a different set of memories/priorities. But it is that establishment which we first have to achieve in order to suspend disbelief. And, in the end, all of the items on my personal list which do not relate to the performance will be categorized, in my opinion, as throw away items. Most are welcome when they are available, but they do not reduce my intuitive sense of what makes a great performance merely because I cannot hear the majestic sweep of Meyerson Hall or the low, triangular confines of the Village Vanguard. The performance exists outside those aural clues. My memory serves to fill in much of what is missing and I can concentrate on the performance. Keep in mind that much of what audiophiles value as necessary to recreating the "performance" doesn't come into play when a non-audiphile sits down to enjoy music on their AcousticWave Machine. I think we only like to think they are enjoying the music less than we are because we hope our expensive systems are better at filling in the blanks and fitting to our priorities. A look at the fellow or gal tapping their fingers to the beat of a car radio might suggest differently, however. Their aural memory is put aside and their imagination takes over.


Quote:
Accurate playback of a flawed recording doesn't mean what we hear sounds real. With the right combo of flaws on both ends, you might have a sound that is convincing and real sounding. But, this isn't accurate playback in the mechanical sense.

Well, yes, it is. It is accurate playback of that particular recording. The problem arises when we then try to transport the errors which made that recording sound accurate to another recording with different flaws. And even within a given record label, we will have varying degrees of "flaws". Certainly as we buy from different labels and different engineers, we will find many "flaws" with which we contend. Probably the engineer didn't consider them flaws when they were included in the recording but rather they were considered personal preferences falling along a personal sliding scale of reality. In any event, we can consider them "variances" from our own priorities and they will occur from one performance/recording to the next. Microphone placement, microphone choice, monitor speaker selection and so forth all go into what the engineer places on the recorded media. If we couldn't adjust our sliding scale to accomodate each variance we hear, we could hardly listen to recordings at all. We would have one engineer, recording one performer in one space as our only reference for what is real. Obviously, that doesn't happen. Using our sliding scale of memory we can recall or imagine many recordings as "reference quality" whether we agree with the recording engineers' priorities or not. That is, I think, how the idea of reference quality recordings works.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


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Nuetral, you know it when you hear it.

Dup, if that's the case, what is your explanation of why so many audiophiles go from system to system and component to component searching for the right combination to make everything sound "neutral'? Other than, of course, they don't have the same system you own. (No swipes at small wattage tube amps needed here, DUP.)

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:


Quote:
Accurate playback of a flawed recording doesn't mean what we hear sounds real. With the right combo of flaws on both ends, you might have a sound that is convincing and real sounding. But, this isn't accurate playback in the mechanical sense.

Well, yes, it is. It is accurate playback of that particular recording. The problem arises when we then try to transport the errors which made that recording sound accurate to another recording with different flaws. And even within a given record label, we will have varying degrees of "flaws". Certainly as we buy from different labels and different engineers, we will find many "flaws" with which we contend. Probably the engineer didn't consider them flaws when they were included in the recording but rather they were considered personal preferences falling along a personal sliding scale of reality. In any event, we can consider them "variances" from our own priorities and they will occur from one performance/recording to the next. Microphone placement, microphone choice, monitor speaker selection and so forth all go into what the engineer places on the recorded media. If we couldn't adjust our sliding scale to accomodate each variance we hear, we could hardly listen to recordings at all. We would have one engineer, recording one performer in one space as our only reference for what is real. Obviously, that doesn't happen. Using our sliding scale of memory we can recall or imagine many recordings as "reference quality" whether we agree with the recording engineers' priorities or not. That is, I think, how the idea of reference quality recordings works.

You've misunderstood what I was getting at. Perhaps, I should've separated my sentences.

1) I was talking about the accurate playback of a flawed recording where the flawed recording does not = a real sounding recording. You point out "It is accurate playback of that particular recording." No argument there -- this is what I was trying to get across.

2) When I wrote "With the right combo of flaws on both ends, you might have a sound that is convincing and real sounding. But, this isn't accurate playback in the mechanical sense." I was trying to convey:

Just the right flaws in playback + just the right flaws in recording could = something that sounds real. But, this would not be "accurate" in the sense that what was recorded was faithfully reproduced as in part 1.

I didn't suggest you meant one should use recordings as a reference. I was adding my own commentary and this is why I separated the thoughts with a new paragraph.

I sometimes tell art students that the less work you make the brain do, the more convincing you can make a drawing or painting. The brain picks up on things that don't seem right very easily. These discontinuities (inconsistent shadows or lighting, poor perspective) raise red flags. The same thing can be applied to audio. The less distortion present, the more natural and convincing something will sound.

We're on the same page, Jan.

gkc
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Buried in all this is the subjective element, which finally makes all generalizing impossible. In reference to "live" sound, all we have is the memory of it. And each of us has a selective memory. If 3 of us went to the same concert and sat side by side, each would walk away with a different mnemonic version of it. I might remember the way brass and woodwings cut through the rest of the fabric. You might remember the sheen of massed violins as the dominant sonic ideal. Our third friend might remember the depth of the stage, the way percussion emerges from 'way back, while the violins are at the forefront -- the layering effect would be what he would seek, above all, in his auditioning of an audio system. Of course, at the same time, we all retain an awareness of all the elements of the concert, but we tend to focus on the particular fragments that highlight our memories. Add to this the different approaches to producing marketable software (and marketability is the prime production value -- let us not kid ourselves), and you have in incredibly complex chain of variables. My favorite software will almost certainly not be yours, even if we have similar tastes in music, and we will both argue truth to the source.

Still, in the middle of all this confusion, there is a center that we all value -- space between the instruments, a lack of pain when the decibels rise, a sense of unlimited dynamic range, etc. etc. I think that is why everyone needs his own unique reference to his "live" experience. I just don't think ultimate judgments are possible, even though there is an ideal reference we all value. Keats said, "...heard music is sweet, unheard music is sweeter...pipe me a ditty of no tone..." We start with a live or recorded experience that is memorable, then idealize it to a mental construct that we try to reproduce in our own individual spaces. There is only so much one can say about this, as fascinating as it is.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Clifton - Several times you've brought up space as a necessity to enjoying a recording or fixing an event within your set of priorities. While I wouldn't disagree with what you consider inmportant; how do you deal with things like mono recordings? The best mono discs I own have a sense of space which is captured and presented in a very different manner than modern stereo discs. You will hear that not all instruments are sitting piled one atop the other as some might expect from "mono" but simply that the sweep of the orchestra is diminished to a smaller quadrant of space compared to modern stereo. Quite often the sense of "space", or the space, is more even more pronounced in mono recordings due to the recording technique employed and the use of omnidirectional microphones in a central location above or in front of the stage. Also, listening to early stereo discs gives a right channel/left channel separation with not very much centered between the two speakers. Knowing the musicians weren't arranged in this fashion means I am not hearing an "accurate" reproduction of the original event. How does your concept of space as a reference priority deal with issues such as these?

.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Notice I mentioned a sense of space between the instruments, a reference to symphonic music, mainly, but applicable to small jazz combos, chamber music, and even vocalists with piano accompaniment. To me, this is very important when evaluating an audio system -- it is an essential part of the overall gestalt of the live experience I carry with me. For me, this general impression is more important than other, more specific values, but I do listen for the other, more detailed aspects of sound, once I'm satisfied that the general sonic picture is satisfying. Timbre, of course, is also important, but modern audio systems have much less trouble reproducing realistic timbres than they used to.

I don't listen to mono recordings very often, although I do have a couple of jazz LP's recorded in mono that are nicely done -- the smaller ensembles (and, of course, instrumental and vocal soloists) take more readily to mono than those recordings attempting to capture the full sweep of a symphony orchestra. I have experimented with mono, using a stereo setup and a one-speaker setup. Neither is satsfying, to me, with orchestral music, but certain solo and small ensemble mono recordings sound fine enough. One thing about mono does annoy me, beyond the space issue. Many mono recordings alter the timbre. I have a few LP's in both versions (Ingrid Haebler and Szell doing the Mozart #18 and #27 Piano Concertos is a good example). The stereo version is far superior, and not just from a spatial perspective. The timbres of the stereo version are more realistic, even though both versions use the same master tape, obviously. The timbres of the mono version are honky and tend to sound somewhat like an AM radio. I think our perceptions of space and timbre are interconnected, for the above reasons. On the other hand, a re-mastered "audiophile" mono production of a Miles Davis album has quite realistic timbres. Perhaps there was some re-calibrating of tonal balances done in the re-mastering process. Cheers, Clifton

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Besides possessing instruments and listening to live events, I also listen to alot of different kinds of music. After awhile, one can identify problems. I agree with DUP in his desrciption. There is something just right when the system is right.

Awhile back I auditioned a great system with a variety of music types. When a highly touted preamp was inserted, the soundstage seemed quite good at first, but the percussion instruments were always placed in exactly the same location, a couple of feet behind the speaker. Spot on everytime.

Without the preamp, the percussion varied substantally in placement. The rest of the music did as well, but I concentrated mainly on the percussion because of time contraints.

With the preamp, I also noticed a monotone, where in each selection, the instruments seemed to have the same exact presentation that seemed to be a little thin sounding. Without the preamp, the selections had more variety of fullness etc.

Just .02 worth.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I really like the premise of this thread, especially how Cyclebrain describes this dilemma in the context of the style of music he prefers.

Jan and Jeff's and Clifton's and Jdm's and everybody else's replies have all offered glimpses of what they see as parts of the heart of the listening experience, and it made for great reading. I agree with parts of almost all of it.

I do need to disagree with small odds and ends with some of the stuff.

For Cyclebrain. Your dilemma is probably the most common, yet un-admitted, issue in Hi Fi: How we can judge Hi Fi gear based on music that is created in any way other than un-amplified live acoustic sounds in a real space.

I have no problem with someone wanting to do that, actually. It's just that it's a little more time consuming and requires each listener to calibrate his ears to his own metric and build a system that he won't mind being idiosyncratic just for him. Listening this way can make for a system someone loves, but he has to give up any claim to creating a system that fulfills any listening criteria except within his own niche

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

If you think about it, we are all hard wired by nature to recognize realism as a protection from threats. The closer something comes to sounding real, the greater the perceptive instincts kick in. We may differ on what we like about sound reproduction aspects, but "gestalt" as Cliffy describes it, is that sum of the parts that convinces the brain that we are hearing a real sound as opposed to a non threatening reproduction of a sound.

In this area, I don't think people hear all that differently or that the industry trail blazers are wrong to continue to try and achieve that certain something in a component or recording. And, as you said, you'll know it when you hear it...or when you see it...or when you smell it...or when you feel it. Real hooters just feel right.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I can't speak to anything specific regarding mono recordings but you will often find late forty's and mid fifty's mono discs which relied upon a different EQ curve than we have settled on for "modern" recordings. If you look at a few of the pre amps from that time period, you'll find switchable playback EQ curves appropriate for the various record labels and other curves which were popular at the time. The variance from the finally agreed upon RIAA curve isn't large but can certainly throw timbre off by a recognizable margin. You might also be hearing mono recordings which were engineered to sound good on the equipment of the day and no attempt has been made to bring them up to contemporary "standards". But, in the end, there has always been a tremendous range of what would be acceptable as a final product. If I can find some sense of realism in other areas of these mono discs, personally I can more easily adjust my scale of priorities to suit them than I can to a modern disc which strips away the life of the performance in post production.

The discussion of space is one I was hoping to pursue since it seems to go to the heart of the original question. And "space" is something modern day audiophiles seem to treasure in a peculiar way. This seems to be something they specifically pay for and therefore they concentrate on achieving an easily recognizable version of "palpable space" with their systems. Now, I admit to being enamored with 1950's Miles Davis or Bill Evans and the way space is treated on those recordings. But I don't want to ignore 1940's Davis or Charlie Parker, or 1930's Armstrong or Basie, simply because the "space" is not the same.

Even though they are recorded in "stereo" or even mulitchannel, many contemporary recordings (of other than jazz and classical material at their best) have the potential to sound very flat and two dimensional to my ears. Since there was nothing to use as an original spatial marker, the engineer is free to make whatever space, or no particular space, suit the recording. The original question of the thread seems to ask how to know what is correct playback of this sort of disc when there is nothing to hold on to as a reference for the "space" where the original event occurred. This sort of disc presents specific problems which even the mono discs of the nineteen-teens through nineteen-fifties don't possess. Today's recording techiniques rely heavily upon manipulation of the signal while the charm of the early recordings is their unadorned realism. Hearing warts and all in these early recordings leads you to concentrate on the best aspects they have to offer. And, in my opinion, they have many attributes.

While a disc can be assembled today without any of the performers seeing each other or even being on the same continent, the mono discs of the first half of the 20th c/ many times were "direct to disc" recordings and certainly through the first decade or so after tape was introduced the recording process required every performer to be present when the master was cut. Editing and post production processing was minimal and the difference in the music you hear on these discs is sometimes nothing short of astounding.

I understand the perference for discs with a modern sense of "space" encoded into the media, but this is hardly a prioritiy for me. Do not misunderstand my intentions here, I place the ability to recreate a three dimensional space quite highly on my list of priorities for my system. And my system does quite well at what I ask of it in this regard. I think it is because I have built a system around the ability to project a three dimensional representation of space that I find well recorded mono discs so interesting. There is a sense of the entire space, and how the performers existed within that space, encoded in the grooves or pits of those mono recordings. They just represent a differently arranged space than on my stereo versions.

But this is where I find other priorities to be of value when assessing a component or system. It's a bit like taking all the color out of a video source to see how it handles just black and white. You can then judge the reproduction on a different scale of infinite shadings rather than being distracted by the limitations of color or space. (Think of Ansel Adams in color, it wouldn't be the same photo.) Since I do listen to mono and early stereo recordings, I have to use something other than conventional concepts of imaging and soundstaging. And so I have turned primarily to the performance and its qualities as the bellwether for what my system is doing. And in the performance, PRaT is something I can hang on to. It is one constant which is there in any good performance. Does it sound like the people were all in the same room together, and does it sound as if they were listening to one another? In these mono and early stereo recordings, the answer is obviously yes. The space is something I value but I use a totally different evaluation scale than if I were listening to "Brothers in Arms" or "DSOTM" which were created totally in the studio post production work. And I use what I consider the best qualities of these mono discs as a guide to what is important in how my system manages "space".

Since, up until the mid 1960's there was very little if any manipulation of the signal after it was recorded, the performance, unless gain riding was employed, will have a dynamic range which is lacking on many recordings done after this period. Not so much in the macro sense which would have been relatively limited by the recording and playback equipment and media of the time, but most definitely in the micro dynamic scale. The artist performed and the performance was captured on a storage media. Period. The small inflections and intentions are there to hear in most cases on these recordings where they are often obscured in later performances by the same artist due to changes in production techniques. During these early recordings the artists are all performing at the same time in what was usually a typical performance situation and spatial arrangement. They didn't know to not do it this way or have the ability to do anything else back then. This is a very different sound than what can be found on most recordings of the last forty years which have been edited, flanged, compressed and DSP'd into submission.

Admittedly the frequency response of some early recordings is compromised by the media of the time. Bass drums and acoustic bass instruments were limited in their ability to be captured until tape formulations, recorders and microphones began to improve after the second World War. And the highest frequencies certainly aren't there to be heard as they are today. But, if we are going to use the word, the gestalt of the performance is what is important on those recordings. Stories of world weary, drug addled performers abound amongst the artists of the day (listen to the Robert Johnson's recordings which so excited the likes of Clapton, Jagger and Lennon) but most of the better recordings have a sense of life that has been processed out of recordings since that time.

Even into the 1950's when early Elvis and Johhny Cash recordings were done completely in the one take which made it onto the disc, the raw energy is something I can't find in the overly careful, overly processed, overly managed production values of today's performers. For anyone interested in either of these two artists I would suggest you explore their early work at Sun Record Company to hear what I'm talking about. (There is a fairly newly remastered release of "Elvis at Sun Record Company" which I find fascinating. The recording quality on this fifty year old recording has been restored to immaculate condition and the presence of a nineteen year old HillBilly Cat is complete in your room, despite the mono recording. Buy the LP if you have a turntable. But whether LP or CD, it is a unique mono disc which has been remastered using DSD technology in order to preserve the quality and dynamics of the original performance.)

So, space means something much different to me than it typically does to someone who listens mainly to more modern studio based stereo recordings. Frank Sinatra at the top of his game performing on "Only the Lonely" with Nelson Riddle's Orchestra in the background would never have been recorded or produced the same way if it had been done in the last twenty years. Sinatra might never have seen a single orchestra member if he made the recording today, let alone stand fifteen feet in front of them during the entire recording period. But what is on that early stereo disc is one of the great representations of "space" and performance that you can find. Similar to the Living Stereo/Living Presence recordings or the Verve or Columbia jazz recordings of the time, the tape was started and the performers performed. The tape was stopped when they were content with the whole, not with five bars which could be cut into another ten bars in post production. These early recordings present a totally different gestalt than what is heard today. Only a few discs which have come since the 1970's have the same sense of realism to my ears. Most of those have been audiophile productions such as Keith Johnson's Reference Recordings series which tried to emulate how recordings were made decades earlier.

So, the ability to bring to life a mono version of a performance from fifty or more years ago is one of the priorities which I place high on my list. Timbres can occassionally be a bit off on these recordings and the space can be compressed by contemporary concepts but the dynamics are captivating, the connection with the space is real and, to me, often times these recordings say "live" much more than anything else I have in my library.

Now, on to the idea of gestalt and "you'll know it when you hear it". If you have established you priorites this is an easy answer to give. You can most times easily tell whether what you are hearing is going to work for you or not. But that doesn't really, in my opinion, speak to someone who is trying to find out what priorities they should listen for. I see it as being a bit like someone asking how to make the best marinara sauce and getting the answer, "You'll know it when you've made it." Yes, you will. But you have to know that the tomatoes make a huge difference, you have to know which onion to use and how finely it must be diced. When to add the garlic. Spices and herbs need to be smelled, felt and tasted as they go into the sauce and as they cook. But those are all things which you have to see and smell and taste at the elbow of someone willing to say, "This is how I make the marinara." You can't just point someone towards the garden and say, "You'll know it when you've made it."

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

The problem with the Klipsch demo was that it demonstrated only one area where the Klipsch could compete with and most often beat other designs. As has been pointed out, buying any component because it excels, or at least is better than anything else in the showroom, in only one area is almost always a recipe for long term dissatisfaction.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

They keep searching and searching cus' they need medication? And the marketeers keep them thinking they need this or that. What they have ain't yet there? If ya drive a Porsche, some dudes tell you, yeah, but if you put these tires on instead of those it will do this better..same insanity. Now do I need to go with a double Whisper system to get more real? Nuetral, when you hear each recording, with nothing added, nothing taken away. You hear which ones suck, and which ones are incredible. Some are right on the money, the layers of stuff is just right, others are blurred, and lacking, like why ain't that cymbal more out front, on top of that vocal...When a nice Deeeeeeep bass comes along, while some shimmering cymbals ride on top of it, nothing masking the other, LIVE!!!!! The vocals are right there, every whisper of the voice, ya can hear the drool of the singer,the phelgm in his throat. SACD has made that happen, even on 40 yar old recordings. One of the best live events I heard was house of Blues Chicago....then next month, sho' nuff, in a pro audio monthly, wouldn't ya know it, the place is written up total coincidence!!! and talks of the awards etc the guy got who does the systems for HOB..specifically Chicago House of Blues...The night I was there all I kept saying to people, man, this place sounds perfect....everything layered perfectly, no edge no boom...Then a month later, when I come across the article, it was pretty cool, my ears know that is great. Best sound yet, for live music. I think they used stacks and stcks of JBL Once the article confirmed my own expericen like that, I knew, I know what I am hearing and listening for. The electronics and the room in HOB Chicago is done right. Enourmous stakcs of flying JBL'S....proves, no 15W amp, with some 10" woofer is ever gonna bring it home, no matter how fancy a full page ad makes you beleive it..impossible

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

The mono Jazz album I was referring to is "Cookin'/With the Miles Davis Quintet." Analogue Productions, APJ 021. Another one that sounds quite good is "Blues in Time," Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, MFSL 1-241. These are both small ensembles, and capturing "space" is easier in such cases than getting it right with a full symphony orchestra. The recording venue, in the one case, is MUCH closer to the room environment that will be used in playback, while the symphonic venue is so far removed from the average living room, in terms of "space," as to create many, many more problems in preserving the illusion of the live experience.

I don't understand what you mean by "...modern sense of space." I have been attending live concerts for 50 years, and my "sense of space" (memory of it, that is, from concert to concert) has not changed a whit. The recording and playback system either capture it or they don't. Of course, there are degrees of tolerance concerning the failures -- how much you like the performance, the clarity of the transfer, lack or presence of grit, spit, and hash, and timbres.

My advice to listen to street noises only applies to those who have no access to live concerts. If you want to play back music in a realistic way, you must hear it live. If you hear it live and don't like it (this is the case surprisingly often, believe it or not), then you must pursue a different sonic ideal. The topic is finding your reference, not mine or anyone else's.

I don't understand the Marinara sauce analogy, when it comes to evaluating software (i.e. mono vs. stereo). The software comes pre-cooked, while you can always dump more garlic into the Marinara (never, ever less). I suppose you could equalize the software, but I hate that because it always damages the spatial presentation. I suppose the analogy could apply to selecting a component system -- you can control the different "ingredients" here. But my point addresses your comments about mono vs. stereo.

My starting point is the reproduction of the experience of a full symphony orchestra. That's what my system has to be able to do as well as possible. If it does that, it will play Elvis and Ol' Blue Eyes just fine. The reverse may not be true, in my experience. Quite frankly, I hate most mono recordings of symphonic music. They sound canned, and seem squeezed into a little box in the middle of the room. As I said, I can tolerate some of the smaller ensemble recordings I have that are mono.

Finally, if you take a newbie to a good retail store and play a good recording of his preferred music, and play it through a good system and a bad system, he will say, "that one's clearer," or "that one's more spacious." And MOST of the time, he will say, "that one's better." And then YOU have to tell the poor sucker how much it costs. Cheers, all -- Clifton.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Yes, I think you are absolutely right. We instinctively localize sounds in space -- especially the ones behind us, in these modern times of assaults from the rear. A person with no "audiophile" vocabulary, if he is a music lover, will immediately be able to say, "that's more immediate," or, "that's clearer, wider, and deeper."

I can remember when I could hear the difference between titties and falsies -- but now I can't even remember what they are. I need to find something naked, fast. I think I'm missing something, but I can't remember what. What do you use as a reference for "a good lay"?

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:

What do you use as a reference for "a good lay"?

Well, Jan's opinion comes to the fore, again! Let's start with pace, rhythm, and timing.

Also, if you encounter a good partner, you will immediately be able to say, "that's more immediate," or, "that's clearer, tighter, and deeper."

Hi Fi, sex, wine, we're all talking about the same thing, kind of...

Cheers, amigo. I hope you have a "reference quality" experience sometime soon.

gkc
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Thanks, Buddha. Wait! I heard a door slam. My neighbor is walking her Golden Retriever. I may be on to something, here. Now, if I could just tell which one is the dog...

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

So, Cyclebrain, you thought you'd raised a simple question, "..what is the music supposed to sound like?", and I suspect you wanted some sort of concise answer - one you might apply to your own circumstance. Having had some time to kill today, although I'd read parts of this thread before, I read the whole thing from the top. That concise answer just wasn't there, was it?

I'm convinced, despite the legitimate complexity that some of us old devotees bring to the question, that there may be some straightforward advice one can offer to you. Over the years, my initial system tests have been made using quality recordings of vocalists - jazz and classical genres primarily. This works as a starting point for me because of the tonal and timbral ranges involved, and because we all have tons of experience with the live sound of the human voice. Having been involved with this rather stupid "critical listening" stuff for a long time, I have other "reference recording" approaches too, but I wouldn't presume they'd help you answer your question.

My guess, based on what you've said about your musical tastes, is that Clapton's "Unplugged" might prove a good "evaluation tool" for you. It's not unduly messed with by the producer and will reveal, in addition to the vocal content, lots of other good stuff you should be getting from your system. It ought to engage involutary toe tapping, has lots of low level detail to be reproduced, and will provide opportunity for you to hear (or not) air around the instruments, pace and timing, spatial array, and all the other good stuff.

My caution is that you not forget to let yourself hear and enjoy the music. That, friend, is what it is all about.

Jan Vigne
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Clifton - I don't know exactly how to respond to your post without sounding as if I'm implying you've got it all wrong. I'm not looking forward to eating marinara after someone has dumped more garlic in. You never dump garlic into anything and always adding more is not taking into account the balance of what is important in the dish let alone a delicate marinara. Marinara is about the tomatoes and how the spices compliment the fruit. Dumping garlic in won't make a good marinara anymore than dumping in salt or sugar will produce something edible. The final marinara has to be balanced to the pasta and too much of anything can ruin the whole thing. Better to know how much garlic, cooked just enough, plays up the sweetness and the acidity of the sauce before we go dumping anything in.

The marinara analogy is attempting to say something which appears so simple as putting together a system or a pasta sauce is never that simple at all. A perfect marinara is extremely complex because it is so simple. With only a few ingredients, it is quite easy to tip one way or the other and destroy the balance between all the parts. Yes, I could have just as well used the idea of a loaf of bread, a short story or a jazz trio because each relies upon the component parts being of the highest quality and coming together with balance to create something larger than the sum of the meager parts alone. But in any of those examples merely instructing someone that they will know "it" when they read it, taste it or hear it leaves them not much better off than before they asked the question. Not that they can't appreciate "it" when they find it, but that that advice alone doesn't help them recreate "it". If they aren't familiar with the ingredients, they will have no idea where to begin. That simple idea of "knowing it" when they experience it only gives them an undefined target at which to aim. I think cyclebrain is looking for a method with which to recreate a marinara sauce, not merely being told to taste everything until he finds "it". In order to create his own marinara, cyclebrain will have to have a bit more instruction that doesn't just send him out into the garden to gather up ingredients that he would think might make a good marinara. What if he comes back with radishes because he likes radishes?

What if the speaker the newbie chooses as "clearer" is the one with the horn loaded midrange and in his innocence he just can't hear past the leading edge of the signal to know there is a honky finish that goes along with that clarity? Or that the presence range is lifted up a few dB's above the rest of the frequency response and he will get tired of everything sounding the same? Or that the speaker/amplifier/cartridge just simply can't manage PRaT, or nuance or dynamic range to save its life? People pick components for reasons, just not always good reasons. I think that's what cyclebrain is asking about. What are some good reasons to pick something? (Though I'm beginning to think we've lost cyclebrain.)

I'm certainly aware that "space" hasn't changed in fifty years but I would expect your "sense of space" to have changed radically if you have been listening to audio systems for all that time. The manner in which space is captured and reproduced on audio recordings has gone from mono to ping-pong-stereo, to wall-of-sound to palpable space to Dolby Digital 7.1 surround sound. So, which of those best suits your sense of space? Since many "audiophiles" haven't become caught up in the multichannel stuff (for good reason, I would say), I think the majority of Stereophile readers would prefer the "palpable space" that is so often referred to in reviews. That is mostly what I meant by a "modern sense of space". Not the space you heard at the performance which has been consistent through the last five decades. But rather the space you try to recreate through your audio system which has changed with technology. No one talked about "soundstaging" or "palpable presence" when I bought or sold my first system. That the playback technology has over time become more capable of, and placed greater emphasis on, recreating the performance space seems ironic since the technique of placing a performance space on the storage media has diminished with the recording technology and practices. This lack of space is what I think cyclebrain is asking about. Audiophiles constantly place a premium on "space" and many, many recordings today have no sense of space other than what the engineer creates in the production work. So, how does cyclebrain use his reference for live, amplified music as a tool to evaluate audio components?

As incomprehensible as it might seem, this is why I brought up the "space" I hear on a mono recording. In both cases, for cyclebrain listening to recordings with a sense of space which places no premium on palpability to my mono Elvis with its technologically compressed space, adjustments must be made by the listener to accomodate the source material. We both know what we are hearing is not what we would have seen at the original performance. But does that detract from our ability to enjoy the performance? Does our preference in music negate our ability to use what we hear as a guide to a better system? No, I don't think so, not unless we have fixed our sense of space to a "modern", palpable presence sort of illusion which is promoted in the magazines as an ideal audiophile - better than mid fi and Bose - quality.

I'm not suggesting ignoring space and its reproduction when compiling a system. I'm merely suggesting a way to work around the issue when the music you want to hear doesn't have a "palpable presence" as we see it described in the audio magazines. In many ways what I hear from my 1930's Louis Armstrong and what cycle brain hears on his discs present similar, though different, issues. It's great to have reference recordings which do all the wonderful things we paid for our systems to manage. But I want a system that expands how many different types of music I can listen to, not a system that restricts what sounds good to certain discs.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate how most systems are put together and my system has to perform certain tasks also. But I keep coming back to using a sliding scale to allow my system the latitude to sound less than perfect many times. Whether it is in my system or in my attitude, not all things must adhere to certain "modern" audiophile notions.

Cyclebrain and I probably don't listen to the same artists. But we both face the problem of liking music which isn't reference material notated in reviews. I would guess we all have music which doesn't fit into that category of "you must have this disc to judge your system". We probably all like just ordinary musicians who aren't recording on audiophile labels. I guess the question should be asked; do you only listen to audiophile quality recordings when you audition equipment? If so, then you can use palpable space and timbral balance to judge with. But, for the majority of us, what is it you listen for when the recording isn't audiophile grade? What quality or qualities are then most important to you? What puts a smile on your face when the recording is just average to not-going-to-be-mentioned-in-a-review quality?

Jeff Wong
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

All this talk of space made me think we're approaching this from a Big Bang Theory methodology where we're trying to conjure a complete system for assessing something all at once. It seems to me this is too difficult and we need to establish a baseline for some kind of reference. We can't start in a vacuum. I'm tired and don't have the inclination to make this into a thesis, so, consider it in addition to the things everyone else has said previously.

Any time I've made adjustments to my system where I was trying to determine a tweak's worth, I have tried to keep a constant, where the system remains the same, with the tweak as the only variable. I listen and switch back and forth. I listen more. I try to decide if I'm hearing more information (usually subtle things -- we're talking finetuning here.) This would apply to individual components as well. But, we must start with some system, any system, coloured or not, and change one piece at a time to see what each component does. The way I started out was with a Robert J. Reina review of a Creek amp. He felt it was neutral. I decided to hear it for myself and ended up buying it. Maybe it's important to approximate something that seems close to neutral to start or at least something without gross colourations. Listen to vocals to make sure the midrange isn't honky on every recording. The more recordings that sound different without an overlay by a piece of gear is a good sign. Listen for tight tuneful bass that has pitch definition... make sure the treble isn't going to fatigue you and put you into the Land of Nod. Proceed from there.

JoeE SP9
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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Last year I got into a very heated "discussion" with a recording engineer on another site. He believed in and practiced a recording philosophy that required pan potting everything. He believed that having a musician play along with a recording while isolated in a booth was the best way. I suggested that having all the musicians in the room playing simultaneously would produce a better performance. He responded that it would be too expensive to do that. His attitude about recording is why most of today's recordings sound so technically perfect and emotionally empty. Unfortunately most of the modern studio engineers think and record the same way. I suppose the question is who taught all these guys the wrong way to get any life out of a recording.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:
All this talk of space made me think we're approaching this from a Big Bang Theory methodology where we're trying to conjure a complete system for assessing something all at once.

Sounds more like the Big Band Theory to me.

I'm voting with Jan here. I related to his "Parable of the Marinara," and will be using several of his quotes for my Big Book of Audio Psalms.

All he was implying is that one can't understand all the nuance of fine sauce with only one way of being exposed to sauce and not knowing how to appreciate the contribution of individual ingredients that same sauce.

He's also wise enough to know that it's the sauce we should be judging, not just raving about the vine ripened tomato portion or the quality of the fennel.

Plus, as we all know, while good ingredients help make for better sauce, they don't guarantee it.

Jan is a good Hi Fi nerd. (I mean that as a compliment!)

All in all, a fine audio-euphemism. Not quite as stimulating as using chicks for our analogies, but pretty good, nonetheless. Keep up the fine work!

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I always dump garlic into everything -- I like garlic. Actually, I have never enjoyed marinara sauce all that much, mine or anyone else's. I have paid 20 bucks a plate for it at Mario Batali's joint, and, as a dinner guest, have watched the poor hostess sweat over miniscule pinches of this, that, and a soupcon of je ne sais quoi. None of it has been worth the effort put into it, for my taste. Personally, I like pasta best with olive oil, parsley, salt, pepper, and, yes, garlic. Similarly, I have never enjoyed sitting around while somebody else fiddles with his system, dealer or friend, trying to get juuussst the right balance. We do agree on one thing. I own about 2500 LP's and about the same number of CD's, with about 100 SACD's thrown into the mix. Only about a dozen or so are "audiophile approved." My system is for playing music, not fussing around, searching for the perfect recording. I chose my speakers and electronics in the spirit of compromise -- all my recordings have to be enjoyable. Some will be moreso than others, but I have to be able to enjoy them all. I have owned and rejected many fine speakers because they don't adhere to this simple criterion, most notably the hideously expensive Dynaudio Evidence Master. It sounded transcendent on about 20% of my software, but it sent me screaming from the room on the necessary majority.

I think you are using me selectively to rant about "space." Space is important to me. But so are about a dozen other elements of the overall presentation. I think that is what I have said, above.

If you like marinara, you can bathe in it and I won't object. Chacun a son gout. I hope you don't mind if I keep dumping garlic in my stuff. If you like mono better than stereo, be my guest. I prefer stereo, for spatial and timbral reasons. My reference for "good" sound is my memory of the live symphonic experience. It always sounds the best, when compared to electronic, but that's just my judgment...still, I want to approach it as closely as possible, with as great a percentage of the recorded music I love as possible. Cheers, Clifton

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Garlic and stereo, born to be together. I've actually worn out a garlic press. The fresh is so much better than the powdered.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Right on, Joe. And beer, and a good jug o' Dago Red (February is my favorite month, although I think this year's is a bit over the hill).

Actually, I got so caught up in the developing complexity of this discussion that I forgot to mention the single most important element of a "good" system, for me. The speakers have to disappear. This is a spatial phenomenon, primarily, but it is related to timbre, too. Upper midrange harshness can zero your attention onto the speakers, ruining the illusion, while speakers that are true to middle-C tend to be more self-effacing (one of my problems with the Dynaudio) on run-of-the-mill software. But the end result of the illusion is spatial. I have heard systems that have marvelous depth and lateral spread, but don't disappear -- you are still aware that there are two (or is one, Jan) sound sources in front of you.

This discussion is making me hungry. Tonight, it's roast lamb -- with PLENTY o' garlic. And, howsabout some garlic-and-rosemary roast potatoes with that, eh? I've got a bottle of Rhone in the rack -- tastes like battery acid, but, hell, that's what the garlic is for, right? Accompanied by Haydn, the way my mood sits right now, but it could be The Duke or Charlie Mingus by dinner time...Cheers.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Well, it's Friday, and it's 5 o'clock somewhere...so there's now a fine piece of cork being returned to the wild. Set free. Liberated.

Clifton knows the joy of this moment.

Anyway.

I don't really like marinara all that well, either. It's the food equivalent of a chick trying to make you forget that there's something beyond a hug that may be on your mind.

Marinara isn't even foreplay, it's more like "being friends." It's OK in the absence of any other alternative, but lacking in total satisfaction.

Marinara is an excuse to cover up the flaws of a slightly over-oxidized or barely too acidic wine.

But it makes for a killer Hi Fi analogy!

What were we talkin' 'bout besides marinara? Oh, yeah, sound.

Jan and Clifton, go listen to the first two songs on side one of Robert Palmer's album, Double Fun.

What that philosophical genius Robert figured out was that we can all enjoy the same activity even when we use slightly different ways of sharing that experience.

Trying to inflict our idiosyncratic priorities or listening criteria will only end in more food analogies.

Stop the madness.

Clifton, mono recordings can have plenty of space and ambience, it's just that most of it takes place directly in front of you rather than trying to play those stereophonic "six feet beyond my left channel speaker" games.

I've been to the symphony and to jazz cabarets - even when sober - and most of the time it may as well be mono. Really.

Jan has the edge here, there are more important aspects to the sound than space.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Clifton - Sorry, I'm not singling you out, just responding to something I found interesting. One problem of writing after midnight is what unintentionally gets left out. When I said I was going to sound as if you had everything wrong, I meant only the marinara portion. What you listen to and how you put together your system are your business and I'm not trying to judge either. I'm merely reporting that you and I go about this differently.

But some things can't be messed with and top flight marinara is one of them.

Balance above all is the key in a simple sauce. Whenever I try out a new Italian wanna-be restaraunt, I first try their marinara. It is, to me, the ultimate test of whether the person in the kitchen wearing the fancy chef's jacket really understands Italian cooking or has just thought of a niche menu. Did they learn from nona or from a textbook. I say this having grown up in a town which was 85% first generation Italian immigrants and their descendants. Every family's sauce or gravy was slightly different than the neighbor's. But no one learned how to make marinara from a book.

The simplicity of a marinara, which should brim with complexity but always have balance, allows me to judge many things about the way food will be prepared at a restaraunt. First, if the pasta is overcooked, nothing else can make up for that error. If the garlic and onion smack of being powdered, the authorities should be notified. If the basil has come out of a shaker jar, there is no hope. If there is thyme rather than basil, the restaraunt is after a particular style of Italian cooking. Anything other than San Marzano tomatoes will mean the restaraunt wants to get by on the cheap. I suspect should Sherlock Holmes enjoy Italian cuisine, he would also first order a marinara.

For the same reasons I order a marinara, I use mono recordings to evaluate a system. The simplicity of the dish makes it difficult to disguise what has gone into the preparation and presentation. Yes, aglio olio is the dish where garlic gets to show of its stuff. (And the blues is where emotion and PraT get their showcase.) But never in a marinara should garlic have been "dumped".

Of course, what you do in the privacy of your own home is your business.

So, please accept my apologies should you have thought I was judging anything other than your reference to "dumping" garlic into a sauce. But, you might consider your love for garlic and your problem with remembering certain, ahem, feminine attributes to be linked together.

What I am really trying to get at is what you want from your music when the space, timbre or whatever isn't in the software. With bad marinara I don't go back for more. But I still want pasta and I still want the music which is served with less than ideal sonics. What happens with those 2500, minus a few dozen, where audiophile approved qualities don't always exist? Obviously you want to listen to the music, but how do you divorce yourself from the tendency to say, "This isn't right." What process allows you to forget that the disc you have on the platter doesn't really match your sense of space, timbre, etc.? That is what I think cyclebrain was after since he indicates not much of his music fits the audiophile catalogue. Sorry if I'm asking you to repeat yourself, but the issue of space seemed very important to you in considering a performance.

Clifton, and all others, where are your compromises? What are you willing to give up? Certainly not al dente pasta?!
.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:
"...there are more important aspects to the sound than space."

"In space no one can hear you scream." -- Alien teaser poster, 1979

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:
Jan has the edge here, there are more important aspects to the sound than space.

I hope we're not scoring this. We are discussing HiFi and not foreign policy. Actually, I may have overplayed how I feel about space. Space is the garlic of an audio system. Or the basil or the parmessiano. You can't have a top flight system that can't reproduce "space". But you can't just "dump" space into the sauce of a system. My opinion of space is it should be flexible and based upon what the pasta requires. The amount of garlic you use depends on the type of garlic and the rest of the sauce. You do not use the same amount of hardneck garlic as you would softneck. Late season tomatoes, being more intense and a bit less acidic, will (probably) need less garlic than mid summer tomatoes to maintain a balance. But you can't make marinara without garlic. If you try, you will end up with tomato soup.

I don't expect the same space from 1950's Elvis as I do from a "modern" classical recording. They begin as two different qualites of space and they should be considered distinct. On that I think Clifton and I agree. Apparently I just find more balance in mono and in marinara than he does. It suits me and I don't expect it to apply to anyone else. That said, I don't think my system could do what it manages in stereo unless it did what it can in mono.

Going back to photography, how many times have you been captured by a photo of a rose done in black and white? If you can think of a case, there was probably something about the photo to admire other than color. How many times have you been taken by a color photo of a faded wooden fence against a grey morning sky? Would it have been more effective in black and white or evenly balanced sepia? The medium must suit the image and the space must suit the source. That was my point.

Without picking on Clifton again, I grew up in an era of "West Coast" and "East Coast" speakers. Or, "Rock" and "Classical" speakers. JBL's and Advents. So I have to take some exception to the idea that a speaker that manages classical can also do Elvis justice. Or something cyclebrain might choose. I don't disagree it can happen. I just disagree it naturally follows one from the other.

There we get back to compromises. It is relatively easy to say what we value. "Tight bass, clean mids and clear highs." I found it more difficult to get someone to admit what they would give up. You always have to give up something, no matter the price. Categorizing what is not as important to you tells you much about what is important to you.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:
So, Cyclebrain, you thought you'd raised a simple question, "..what is the music supposed to sound like?", and I suspect you wanted some sort of concise answer - one you might apply to your own circumstance. Having had some time to kill today, although I'd read parts of this thread before, I read the whole thing from the top. That concise answer just wasn't there, was it?

I'm convinced, despite the legitimate complexity that some of us old devotees bring to the question, that there may be some straightforward advice one can offer to you. Over the years, my initial system tests have been made using quality recordings of vocalists - jazz and classical genres primarily. This works as a starting point for me because of the tonal and timbral ranges involved, and because we all have tons of experience with the live sound of the human voice. Having been involved with this rather stupid "critical listening" stuff for a long time, I have other "reference recording" approaches too, but I wouldn't presume they'd help you answer your question.

My guess, based on what you've said about your musical tastes, is that Clapton's "Unplugged" might prove a good "evaluation tool" for you. It's not unduly messed with by the producer and will reveal, in addition to the vocal content, lots of other good stuff you should be getting from your system. It ought to engage involutary toe tapping, has lots of low level detail to be reproduced, and will provide opportunity for you to hear (or not) air around the instruments, pace and timing, spatial array, and all the other good stuff.

My caution is that you not forget to let yourself hear and enjoy the music. That, friend, is what it is all about.


You win. It was a trick question. How does the music move you? How does it make you feel?
The rest of you have forgot what the music is all about.
Even if it isn't reproduced accuratly, does it move you?

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Asking this:


Quote:
Since all of the music I listen to is performed live through mics, mixers, amps, speakers and all sorts of processing, how do I try to reference a home system to a live system? Quite often my system sounds better than the live concerts that I attend. How can you access soundstage, musician placement and such when all of the performance is played through two sets of speakers, one on each side of the stage? The music you are listening to is recorded through solid state equipment, but now sounds better played back through tube equipment. Just an example, I know that tubes are still used on the recording side. My point being that most music is processed electronically any more, so what is the music supposed to sound like?

is not the same as:


Quote:

You win. It was a trick question. How does the music move you? How does it make you feel?
The rest of you have forgot what the music is all about.
Even if it isn't reproduced accuratly, does it move you?

I don't think any of us have forgotten what music is all about. Given the wording of the initial post, the replies offered were in a very reasonable context.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Oh, man, I just don't get some people.

What's with the requirement that every fucking time we talk about gear, we are supposed to start with the pledge of allegance to the emotive power of music?

Instead of a sig line, should we all have to have a preamble line that starts with, "I love music first and foremost, and my enjoyment of Hi Fi gear is an expression of this true and pure affection that is dedicated to helping me get to the heart of my eternally abiding and intense love for the music?"

Love of music has brought 99.9% of us to this hobby, so piss off with that trolling, Cyclebrain.

Now, pardon me while I go read about three different kinds of speaker wire so I can see which one will bring me the most acclaim if I own it...

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:
Even if it isn't reproduced accuratly, does it move you?

DUH!!!!!!!

Of course it does, cyclebrain. I've had many pleasant moments with a mono AM radio and been driven out of the room by unpleasant stereo set ups. You obviously are the one whose forgotten why we're all here or else you wouldn't have even asked such a ridiculous question in such a contorted manner. It's always so pleasant to play a game where only one person knows the rules. Think of the rudest thing you can say and call yourself that, cyclebrain.

Let me ask, even if a question isn't asked with any honesty, does it still move you to respond?

Apparently it does. Should anyone choose to ignore cyclebrain's untimely return and continue the thread, I still find some interest in the path the thread was taking.

cyclebrain, your brain is on the "soak" cycle. Time to switch to "spin".

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Once I sent back the pasta because it was overcooked. The waiter thought I was nuts. The Chef came out with the properly (aldente) cooked pasta and told me most Americans didn't care if pasta was overcooked. Here in Philly all red sauces are called gravy. I guess it's the Italian influence.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

Sauce or gravy, it can vary from family to family or neighborhood to neighborhood. "Gravy" seems, in my experience, to be more commonly used by Southern Italians. I have no idea what the make-up is now, but at one time I think Philly was mostly immigrants from the Naples region. To some people "gravy" is anything with a meat base while "sauce" is vegetarian. So you probably wouldn't hear of a marinara gravy. The gravy often doesn't (and probably wouldn't) include the meat in the gravy but usually has been made with the drippings. The pasta and gravy would be served as the primo and the meat would be the secondo. Serving the meatballs with the pasta is not proper.

The chef was correct, most Americans don't know al dente from Al Molina.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?

I never realized boiling noodles and opening a can of Prego was such an intense endeavor. No wonder those Italians make such good audiophiles. When you begin life nerding out over noodles, it's not much of a stretch to start nerding out over the music playing at dinner time.

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Re: What do you use as a reference for "good" sound?


Quote:

Of course it does, cyclebrain. I've had many pleasant moments with a mono AM radio and been driven out of the room by unpleasant stereo set ups. You obviously are the one whose forgotten why we're all here or else you wouldn't have even asked such a ridiculous question in such a contorted manner. It's always so pleasant to play a game where only one person knows the rules. Think of the rudest thing you can say and call yourself that, cyclebrain.

Let me ask, even if a question isn't asked with any honesty, does it still move you to respond?

Apparently it does. Should anyone choose to ignore cyclebrain's untimely return and continue the thread, I still find some interest in the path the thread was taking.

cyclebrain, your brain is on the "soak" cycle. Time to switch to "spin".


WOW! Actually the question was legit, while at the same time knowing that it is very difficult to have a "pure" reference. I find myself guilty of listening for what's not right, instead of enjoying what is right and really hearing the music. I do the same thing with photography. Spend to much time trying to take the perfect photo and don't see what is right in front of me. I'm pretty sure that some others out there can relate.
The challange that you presented "think of the rudest thing you can say, and call yourself that" has put me in the spin cycle. Just when I think that I've come up with the rudist self insult, then I come up with a better one. Damn you, when will it stop?
Gotta love the way the topic is going. The pasta thing really works.

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