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Thread: Fidelity to what? Or what are we tying to achieve with all our expensive gear?

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jan 2009

    Location: Essex

    Posts: 20,337
    I'm openingabottleofwine.

    Default Fidelity to what? Or what are we tying to achieve with all our expensive gear?

    Fidelity to what? Or what are we tying to achieve with all our expensive gear?

    This post is in response to a letter published in the January edition of Hi-Fi World magazine, which has got me thinking.

    I’m not sure of the copyright situation, so I’ll only quote the salient points of the letter. Should the Moderators require my quotes be pulled, the full letter can be found on page 55 under the title ‘Bring me closer’:

    "…the advertising strapline for Quad equipment used to be “the closest approach to the original sound”. But personally, I don’t think that is what hi-fi is all about at all.

    ….. it is arguable that we don’t want the original sound. The whole point about attending a live concert is to get the excitement of a live show. This is partly based on seeing rather than just hearing the musicians, and partly on the effort one has had to make to get there – I think we derive pleasure from the experience in proportion to the effort we put in to achieve it.


    So I would argue that the job of a hi-fi system is to give the listener an enjoyable home listening experience, in terms of offering only a facsimile of one take on the original sound, less the extraneous factors which spoil a live concert. In particular, I think that a hi-fi system needs if possible to offer not the same, but more excitement and presence than the original, to compensate for everything that is missing when one listens at home. ……

    Now clearly the author, not being a member of AoS, cannot defend himself in this forum so I will be conciliatory in my comments. First of all I do understand what he means by the futility of faithfully recreating the experience of attending a live concert: there is not a system anywhere in the world today that comes close to doing that.

    All a sound system can do is be sufficiently good in dealing with those aspects of sound reproduction that are important to you. No system can do it all; that is why we all use different equipment, because we all have a different agenda.

    My complaint is that the reproduction of live un-amplified instruments is the only source of comparison we have, to make sure we are on the right track. How do you know where to stop in making the home presentation have ‘more excitement and presence than the original'? Clearly no one wants a sound system that is unpleasant to listen to or is un-involving (that is, does no engage the listener), but where is the fidelity or value in simply producing a ‘nice sound’? Concepts of emotional involvement are of little help here, since I can be moved by hearing something on a small portable radio or played on a cheap ‘Dansett’ record player.

    No, I’ll stick with my system and approach which does what the author of the letter claims it should do in the first sentence of the last paragraph quoted, and eschew everything that follows in the second sentence.

    Well that’s my take, what do other members want to achieve from their systems?


  2. #2
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Lancaster(-ish), UK

    Posts: 16,963
    I'm ChrisB.


    This is a good post Barry, & a subject I have quite firm views on. It was chewed over a bit a little while ago in two threads started by Dave K / Dave C / Wobbly Dave

    'The Vain Pursuit of Excellence' (http://theartofsound.net/forum/showthread.php?t=3723)
    'Return to Nirvana' (http://theartofsound.net/forum/showthread.php?t=3877)

    I'll be mulling over what you've written so I can make my reply tomorrow.

  3. #3
    Join Date: Apr 2008

    Location: Chester

    Posts: 429


    Fidelity to what? Or what are we tying to achieve with all our expensive gear?
    what do other members want to achieve from their systems?
    Well the first question doesn't apply to me.
    I don't own any expensive gear and never have done.

    The second question is slightly different.
    All i need from my stuff is a sound that i can happily live with, until i find another diy project that takes my fancy.
    I realise now, that for me, the satisfaction that comes from building and tinkering with equipment, outweighs the desire for that elusive "audio nirvana".

    I tend to listen to a limited number of CDs, because i know them well and can easily spot any changes in the sound. So i suppose i'm not the music lover i once thought i was.

  4. #4
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Central England

    Posts: 2,937


    Barry, there is no law against quoting any published article provided you cite the source correctly, as you have. All published articles rightly lend themselves to scrutiny.

    There is only an issue if you plagiarise what you've read by passing the work as your own. You have clearly not done this.

    Steve, BA (Hons).

    To add, dynamic range is the biggest key to fidelity followed by linearity and phase coherence. Everything else drops into place. There are compromises of course but a pleasing/euphonic sound isn't always the most faithful to either the raw musical performance or the recording thereof.

    Now clearly the author, not being a member of AoS, cannot defend himself in this forum
    Yes he is. If he happens upon and wishes to comment on anything written on this thread, he is free to register and contribute accordingly.

  5. #5
    Join Date: Dec 2009

    Location: Hadrians Wall

    Posts: 313


    Personally I think comparing home audio to 'live' sound is all wrong from the word go.

    How often can you hear live acoustic non-amplified music at a concert? Mostly all classical/rock/pop concerts are amplified in some way or other. Then you have non-acoustic instruments. How are they supposed to sound?

    Also, live sound Vs playback at home. The only way you could ever compare the two is if you have a recording of the exact same concert you went to. And even then, it will depend on the microphone choice/placement/recording chain. I suppose the most accurate rendition would be a binaural head recording with the head placed right next to where you were sitting/standing at the concert. The only problem then is that to recreate the soundfield accurately, you would have to listen to the recoding through headphones. But which headphones?

    Also, at a concert, the room is usually FAR bigger than your room at home, will have totally different acoustics, and you won't have a room full of hundreds or thousands of people, and you'll never recreate the atmosphere or emotional experience of being at a live concert

    Basically, you can NEVER recreate a live concert in your listening/living room, so it's pointless comparing recorded Vs live sound.

    Last edited by Kris; 15-12-2009 at 09:52.

  6. #6
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Lancaster(-ish), UK

    Posts: 16,963
    I'm ChrisB.


    As you say, Barry, Fidelity to What?

    I'd say that this is perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves about audio gear and maybe the most difficult to answer because to do so requires brutal honesty and to many 'hi-fi people', a questioning of one's motives.

    I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately as a result of moving my equipment to a new room in a new house and I realised that I actually have three quite different and distinct ways of listening to music. I'll get to that in a minute.

    As I said in the aforementioned threads, and in agreement with you, Barry, I appreciated a while ago that none of us stand a cat's chance in hell of accurately reproducing live music and importantly, the experience of listening to it, in our homes with our hi-fi equipment.

    For some people, the sooner they realise this the sooner they will become more content with their set-up. This allows you to become more appreciative of what it does well rather than being over-critical of what it does less well. At this point you are better able to define exactly what you want to get from your system and you'll become closer to the point where you can slip off the never ending spiral of 'upgrades' (which more usually turn out to be tail-chasing sidesteps onto parallel but different paths). After this, any changes you make become more informed and, therefore, more meaningful.

    I think of this as being 'at peace with my system'.

    When all of this clicked for me, my listening habits and attitude to hi-fi changed significantly. My Damascene moment was during a performance by Neil Young with Pearl Jam at the Reading Festival (in 1994?) and it was pretty depressing actually! – The thought crossed my mind that there was no way on earth that anything in a domestic situation could begin to approximate this experience, so what I was trying to do with hi-fi was a complete waste of time. At this point, I was most certainly not at peace with my system!

    It made me re-evaluate two different things:

    1. What I wanted to get from my recordings
    2. What is the essence of great live music

    Next I compared the above to what I thought could (and couldn't) be done.

    Now, you might be thinking that the best way of answering Barry's question would be for me to state right now, quite clearly what the result of this re-evaluation was. The trouble is I'm not sure I can put it all into words! But since we're among friends & I don't mind a little light ridicule, I'll try!

    Put simply, the main thing is that I want to get as close as I can to what was intended. This is not usually the same as what it sounded like to the musicians as they were playing, or at the mixing desk. Since I have no way of knowing what was intended, or how it actually sounded this leaves me with a bit of a problem. So, what are the things I listen out for and what are the things that make a great recording sound great? After all, the whole point of this is that I want to enjoy the music I listen to.

    To inform this, I had to assess how I listen to music. In the cases of the first two it's easier to describe what I'm looking for.

    Sometimes I want to get 'forensic' & pick the strands apart to get an idea of how the recording has been built up from its constituent parts.

    This is an academic exercise, if you like, rather than the pursuit of musical enjoyment - though often I can enjoy a piece of music better later once I've done this. Things like convincing soundstages & image placement and scale aren't so important to me here. I get the forensic effect from a good pair of headphones.

    Sometimes I want to do something else while I'm listening to music – I can't give it my full attention. This is quite a lot of the time actually, as I like to have music around me at all times wherever possible. Some would call this background music, but this could imply it's not being enjoyed or is even being ignored – music should never be wallpaper, chosen for it's inability to offend anyone over it's inherent worth as an artistic expression. So let's call it non-critical listening.

    For non-critical listening, most important is that I want to understand the feel of what was recorded in order to try to understand the emotion behind the music. It's during these times that I explore music that's new to me, or 'difficult' music that I'm having trouble getting to grips with. It's the portable radio or Dansette effect described above, but with a little more sophistication. This is because every now & then I may want to stop what I'm doing and listen carefully to a passage or a song. Because of this, it needs to be capable of a certain standard and that standard is actually pretty good by most peoples expectations of what can be achieved. I can achieve this with old gear bought cheaply, which has the advantage of giving me the opportunity to play with different combinations, try things I might not instinctively do and indulge my fondness for older kit. Best of all, it allows me to own some nice stuff!

    Sometimes I want to do nothing but sit quietly and devote all of my attention to listening to music – critical listening.

    For critical listening, I want acoustic instruments to sound as close as possible to how they really sound – especially guitars and cellos. I want to hear the acoustic qualities and scale of the room that the recording was made in and where the players were in it when the recording took place. That 'feel' that I spoke about above but I also want a realistic sense of scale and impact to the sound – something that's so much harder with amplified music. Isn't it a little odd that a guitar played through a 30 watt combo-amp with a 10" speaker – both of a quality that would have most hi-fi folks running a mile, is so tough to replicate accurately through a hi-fi?

    There's a lot more that I want that I can't easily describe - I know what it is when I hear it and it just sounds 'right'……………but that doesn't make it correct or accurate!!!
    Last edited by The Grand Wazoo; 15-12-2009 at 12:41. Reason: You expect me to type all that & not make even one tiny mistake? Come on.........!

  7. #7
    Join Date: May 2009

    Location: Bristol

    Posts: 4,370


    What I'm after (and have now got) is a system that enables me to listen, with enjoyment, to an ever-wider range of music; that can 'do' everything from dub to punk to jazz, and from solo piano to full-scale orchestral music.

    Is the system 'faithful' to the original sound? I don't know and don't particularly care. What I'm glad to have moved on from is a 'listening for differences' state of mind, aka 'audio nervosa'.

  8. #8
    Join Date: Jan 2008

    Location: Central England

    Posts: 2,937


    I don't believe any system whatever the cost can be 100% faithful and accurate. Dynamic range is the key. A drum kit only a few feet away from you is going to give you 140 dB. The very best hi-fi systems with mammouth Focal Maestro Utopia speakers with top-notch kit behind them all properly set up will maybe deliver 120 dB.

    We basically strive to get as close as we can even if it is still quite a long way off the absolute.

    From a musical enjoyment POV, if your system enables you to listen actively to a wide range of music and be drawn into the musical performance you're getting there.

  9. #9
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Surrey

    Posts: 6,248
    I'm Rob.


    One of the biggest problems I find is the difference in level and quality of bass on many CDs. You can set up your system to sound like you want with one particular CD and then others sound either anaemic or bloated with way too much mid-bass. For me good bass is the foundation for the rest of the spectrum. Good bass enhances treble IMO.
    Buy Bose...And get your parking validated!.

  10. #10
    Join Date: Sep 2009

    Posts: 163


    My system has to give me emotional response - meaning I listen to be moved. Accuracy or detail are not really relevant, but I do get a buzz from hearing that little noise not heard before.
    Often I fail to get sucked in, but when I am in the right place, mentally, I will often shed tears and have the biggest smile, even at the same time.
    I have never been able to describe what one bit of gear does or sounds like, but I do know what sounds better TO ME. That is all I care about really.
    Live music can be amazing, but rarely am I relaxed in my own home when I hear it, so I cannot become immersed in it. My father was a musician, and as a kid I got to hear lots of live music at home which was fantastic. Living where I do there are few chances to get to any concerts, but there have been a few times when I have listened to musicians jamming, and the pleasure is there, but it is different from being in my house, listening to what I want to hear when I choose.

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