Detailed sound? Real?

I have read about many audiophiles wanting more detail and air around the instruments to improve realism. usually, when i hear a system with these qualities, the sound is almost always thin and fatiguing. When I hear live music, it never sounds like air around the instruments and detailed. Most detailed systems sound way too detailed. When i hear live music, there is a sense of air, but not around the instruments. Actually, many times it sounds natural and mono. It seems to me that detailed systems are probably the most unrealistic in audio. Yesterday I heard a live performance of a piano and sax. The piano was so muffled sounding, much more so than on any system I have recently heard. The sax sounded more detailed, but still not like the stereos portray it. I think the secret to listening is to find something that sounds good and that you can listen to without fatigue. Natural Timbre, color and good bass, not overblown but good, gets you closer to the real thing IMHO
What do people mean by live music anyway? I'm certain live music reproduced through some crappy music is not the ultimate benchmark that people evaluate their system against, right?
Very well formulated conclusion. I undertand your sentiments exactly. Though many live events sound like crap. Sure its great to see the artists perform, but seldom do you have an engineer who knows how to dial in the perfect live event. So, with that in mind, we all seek to recreate this event in our own listening rooms and become the engineer. Now, when you do go to a live concert that can represent the quality of the original recording (see what I mean)...then the experience is memorable from every single perspective. Thats when you go home and post your gear on AudiogoN. Pink Floyd, Genesis, and a few other bands know how to BETTER the recorded originals when performing live.
I meant "crappy speakers"...
Recorded musics are mostly closed-mic whereas live performances are always listened from a distance. Air is very good at filtering out high frequency. That is why the further away from the instrument, the duller it sounds. If you stood at where the mic was, you would hear far more details. Therefore, recorded musics sound more detail than live performances.
I think this hobby can be split between two types of people: Those who listen to music and those who listen to stereo gear.
I believe many audiophiles ask for one thing, but in fact they want something
completely opposite.

Sidssp made an excellent point about mic position. A close-mic'd recording will
never sound like a mid-hall performance, regardless of the equipment it's
played on.

Based on audiophile's pervasive complaints of brightness, I believe that more
people would prefer recordings that are not close-mic'd.

How many people listen to concerts from the conductor's position (or the music
stand's perspective)?

Close-mic'd, hyper-detailed recordings are not realistic, even though every
nuance is captured.
Music using no electronics at all is the only "live" music you will ever hear.When you add electronics to the equasion,either in the presentation or the reproduction,it ceases to be "live".
acoustics have so much to do with the sound of a live recording. I was basing my comments from going to the concert hall and hearing live jazz music. Some of the living stereo recordings sound more like the real thing. It seems like live just does not sound as good as the hi fi. It does not matter whether it is dry, warm, liquid, rosy, tubey, or whatever. As long as the system makes me want to listen to music, that is all that counts. I would throw accuracy out the window if I did not want to listen to it. Sometimes I see reviewers say the highs are rolled off a bit. They are always rolled off in the concert hall. Anyone who goes knows that. The instruments do sound natural and timbre and color of each is perfect because they are real. Some sytems do sound closer to the real thing but the question is, does it draw me in? Does it engage me?
I thinks that's going too far, and although that may be a working definition for some in a very narrow sense, it's not very useful. "Live" music would be slim slice indeed for that camp.

I believe a more usable definition for "live" is any music which is not recorded in it's entirety and played real time. Therefore, some musicians use pre-recorded vocal, background singers, synthesizers, etc... are less live than others, but would still consider it "live". There are shades of grey in live.
Maybe the term Live music would be better if it was termed Live performance. Most rock music gets mixed, equalized and compressed in the studio. This doesn't happen on stage, so it never really sounds like the recording.
The stereo systems purchased by some on Audiogon cost far more than the equipment purchased and used by musicians in a live performance. Therefore, your stereo may sound "cleaner" but because of the human interaction and emotion, etc, the live event can never be duplicated. I have only heard one live concert where the live performance sounded exactly like a recording. Even at that particular event, no stereo system could replace "being there". Even a live performance at a Sunday church service with a not so good sound system is usually better than listening to the duplication of something on a quality home audio system. Live is more soul stirring. Just my opinion.
Most rock music gets mixed, equalized and compressed in the studio. This doesn't happen on stage
False. Every pop/rock commercial venue I've ever been to had some sort of mixer/PA system for music. In the pop/rock world live, unamplified sound is virtually non-existent. Amplified concert performances should not be used as a reference for how real music sounds.

There are times when a recording engineer is actually trying to accurately capture exactly what a musician playing a real instrument in a real acoustic space sounds like. But this situation is really not that common (at least in commercial music production). Recording is more akin to making a commercial Hollywood style movie than a documentary film. In movies to make something look or sound real is the result of dozens of crafts people doing everything but what actually appears on the screen. It sounds silly, but things have to be more real than reality or else it doesn't appear real on the screen. Filming a scene that is supposed to take place in the rain is a perfect example. Real rainfall doesn't film well -- you need fake rain. It's a very similar situation with recording music. If you just placed two microphones midway back in a concert hall and recorded the output, it probably won't sound very good, nor will it sound real.

Just like anything you can push this fake reality too far. The trend in audiophile sound reproduction over the past two decades has been toward an overly detailed sound. It's as if we want a nearfield listening experience sitting 10 feet from the speaker.
real interaction vs simulated. apply that to anything. reading a good book doesn't put you in the may however enrich your life.
I find that using 'live performance' or 'live music' as a benchmark is foolish. There are lots of venues where chamber music sounds atrocious, because of the acoustics, the woman in the taffeta dress three seats away who can't sit still, and the guy with the sniffles behind you. For rock or jazz music in a club, there is either the electronics, the acoustics, the fact that this is the 14th time in 7 days the band is playing the same thing, or what have you. If you are in a stadium-like venue, yeah... whatever...

What makes a live performance good for me is when the performers get into it. Then I can live with the taffeta dress, the smoke, the chair leg scraping, the bad acoustics, etc. Having seen The Bad Plus at the Blue Note is one of the highlights of my "live music" career. However, this had nothing to do with the sound quality, the "inner detail", the "air", the "timbral accuracy", or some of the usual audiophile terms. I had excellent seats to see the guys play their first set in Tokyo. It was great. They had a ball, and so did I.

For me, the "air" which is important is the decay of musical instruments or the decay of a real echo in a space (like the decay of organ, or voices, in Arvo Part's music recorded in a cathedral). I agree with the earlier point about miking. Good miking makes a recorded performance more detailed than a live performance (very rarely have I been close enough to hear a cellist breathe the way I can hear Peter Wispelwey breathe on the Channel Classics SACD of Benjamin Britten Cello Suites). That is not necessarily bad, it just is...
My goal is not for my system to necessarily sound like a live concert.

My goal is for my system to reveal the full extent of the particular recording, and to (hopefully) give me a sense of the space it was recorded in.

There is more than one performance on a recording. Besides the performance of the musicians, you are listening to the artistry of the producer and the various engineers involved.
Agree with OP and Lokie --"I think this hobby can be split between two types of people: Those who listen to music and those who listen to stereo gear." to the point, and 100% class A no distortion or phase shift truth! Forget chasing absolute sound-- that is a life-force sucking venture.

Don't you all just get totally burned out sometimes, with all this obsession about the nth degree of signal chain fidelity... (and now we find ourselves pining away at the power supply quality and number of cheap op amps at the mixing board-lol)? I think most of us inherently self limit simple enjoyment of sound/music/whatever the more wrapped up in this quest for sonic nirvana we allow ourselves (vicious cycle). I know I have been there many times. I'm not saying we are all the same, but I bet a large % of you also find yourselves sitting there after the latest upgrade excitement wears off...wondering what's next? This is the point at which I have learned to walk away from my system for weeks. I look at my non insane (i mean non audiophile friends) friends who actually just enjoy music regardless of playback medium and it hits me like a 1000 pound transport-- They are the enlightend ones folks, not us. We are just equipment loving fools chasing our tails... All in good fun. Like you for whatever reason I have been cursed with this nagging desire for ever better high fidelity playback. I'm going to take a reality break now and listen to my ipod. Peace.

The biggest difference I find with "electric" live music is dynamics, bass impact, and how the room is energized. Clarity, detail and other common audiophile desires are pretty far down the list when trying to recreate this sound in my living room. As long as it's not too loud (which is a problem in smaller venues) I never hear anything harsh, fatiguing or bright.

With other kind of live music, it’s the dynamics and how great the tone is, especially in the midrange. I also notice decay hanging in the air a lot more than the leading edge having any great qualities.

I understand why people who are really into the gear side of this hobby like the ultra detailed sound. If you buy a $3,000 cartridge, you really want to hear the difference between it and the $1,000 one you just replaced. Which is cool, not trying to knock anyone and I'm sure people are having lots of fun doing that sort of gear worshiping. I find it a little amusing though that they never admit it and they always say it’s about the music. But to me, dynamics, natural tone and lovely decay is what I’m trying to achieve.
This thread is perfect timed for me as I am auditioning a phono cable and going thru this puzzle one more time.

Un amplified Live music to me is detailed up close (close miked or front center) and not so at mid row 20. I have listened to live both ways and still get confused as to what is right perspective. In addition to the live concerts I attend periodically I do have some interim my ear re calibration opportunities on a regular basis. The band across my home practicing, my next door neighbor practicing his violin on weekends, attending my daughter's school band recitals, listening up close to pianist at Nordstroms, and my daughter practicing acoustic guitar. Agreed, these are not ideal situations, but I think it can still give you good reference of live tone and sound characteristics.

Here is what I hear: The band from across my house- do not sound bright at distance although there are many live cues. Electric guitars sounds round and does not have leading edges, cymbals sounds the most brightest (more metal) and smeared. Snare drum not as detailed but still loud. Singing voices, brighter but not shrill. The violinist next door- with open windows and me walking my dog (I stop!), I do still hear air around instrument, the tone has texture and enough metal to give you cue that it has more metal sound to it and less wood, I think more like real live violin in a live performance in a concert hall. The pianist at Dept store- This piano happens to be a Steinway and thus have a rather more resolute sound, The lower mids does sound muffled but the upper mids does have rather detailed sound like what would be captured by a close mic.

It comes down to to good and natural balance between amount of metal and wood and of course the air around instruments and the acoustics to result the live sound live. It is very tricky and mostly impossible to reproduce this via stereo systems. As most system have too much metal (electronic tinged) or too much wood( too round). Although some systems with right component /cable match can come very close to giving you illusion that you are at a live event.
Lokie nails another
" I find it a little amusing though that they never admit it and they always say it’s about the music."

first step, is admitting the addiction.

I am trying to get out the door...I admire your sonic quest. Good luck!
I should add that having this good timed thread will help me 'not be foolish, again' and make me not to buy the expensive cable that I am currently auditioning, even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with my current cable!
Regardless of live, recorded, close, far, detailed or not, the key to enjoyment is to be able to listen without fatigue.

Regardless, I won't be getting rid of my HD TV anytime soon even though what I see is not always pretty.
Tzh21y, great observation and question.

A great piano, in a great room, with the lid open and turned in the right direction will not sound muffled. OTOH, many piano recordings actually place the mics inside the lid!!! My favorite recordins place the mic to the side, not far from the piano and mimic live piano that I've heard in a small recital space. It can be done, but MOST piano recordings will not reflect this.

"Detail" does NOT mean elevated highs, with extra tizz. For me it's about inner detail and richness with no etching on the top. Most systems at RMAF erred toward tizzy, thin highs instead of realism and richness.

AS Mapman said, you need to be able to listen without fatigue and hear details that are realistic, given the perspective of the mic. Finding great recordins is every bit as hard as building a great system.

Finding great recordins is every bit as hard as building a great system.

Dcstep (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers)
Amen to that. I'd even say great recordings are *the* key to a great listening experience.
T Bone, I like the chairs, Dcstep - the piano lid was closed. Do we hear in stereo or Mono? Many live concerts sound like mono, not stereo other than the violins on the left and cellos and basses on the right. I have heard some systems that sound like stereo when played in mono. It really is quite amazing. The violins are really tough to get right to my ears at least. They never sound layered to me ever, although I am not a musician and I sit in the 9th row from the pit. One thing that I have never heard a system replicate is the dynamics of an orchestra. When I hear a musician play the Tympani for example, sometimes it sounds like it just pops right out of the orchestra, bass drum too. They do not sound overblown, but wow do they grab your attention. No system can do this like the real thing regardless of cost or whatever.
reality and reproduction are two different phenomenona.

i suspect that what is really important is whether an owner likes the sound of his/her stereo system, rather than what it actually sounds like in a descriptive sense.

what difference does it make, except in a philosophical sense that a stereo system sounds dynamic, dull, bright, forward , etc., so long as a listener likes the sound ?
10-19-09: Mrtennis

what difference does it make?

I suspect it didn't make a difference until someone started analyzing audio reproduction in absolute terms. Then, many started pursuing the goal, regardless of the result because they believed it was the "right" pursuit to take in the audiophile "hobby".

So, it makes a difference insofar as many follow what they've been told to follow.

In a basic sense, people are sheep.

Tvad, I don't think there is "absolute" in audio reproduction. A piano sounds very different in different halls and studios. Unless we have the exact same piano in our listening room, how do we know what it should sound like? Also, what are we trying to reproduce? The piano sounded like what it should in the recording studio or what it should sound like in the listening room? What is the reference of absolute?
10-19-09: Sidssp
Tvad, I don't think there is "absolute" in audio reproduction.
That's a debate that's been ongoing for about 40 years as far as I can tell, since someone coined the phrase "The Absolute Sound" (hence the magazine of the same title).

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, but for some "the absolute sound" in audio reproduction has been a quest for decades.
"Do we hear in stereo or Mono?"

I think that the answer is, "it depends". Generally, at an acoustic concert you'll hear the performers in something close to mono, with very little left/right distinction. A brass quintet, for instance, will only sound "stereo" if you're able to sit on stage. In the auditorium it'll sound mono, although there will be some very small left/right clues.

To simulate an orchestra or large organ you need a large system in a large room. Many of us hear have actually heard a pretty convincing reproduction of a marching band on a football field. Kimber's IsoMike recordings give very good size and direction cues. Still, those mics are relatively close to the stage, more so than any seat, so you'll hear more cues on playback. However, in a large room, sitting well back, you'll hear mostly mono.

Performance replication is actually very possible with only small compromises, BUT at what cost. Most need to compromise for budget and space issues and end up with a scaled down replica of the "real thing."

Binaural recordings most closely mimic how we hear and are recorded with only
two microphones placed near the ears of the recordist, and are intended for
headphone listening.

Everything else is a less pure illusion.
Onhwy61, yuor opinion is not indicative of my opinion or experience. You are implying that amplified music is somehow not indicative of how "real" music sounds!! How does that make any sense? Maybe I am missing the point of this post because for me, it's just comparing my attendance at a stage performance to the recording that I listen to at home. For me, it's not some esoteric science and does not require such extensive analysis of every minor detail that one can imagine. This post clearly demonstrates that a great many audiophiles stopped listening to music and prefer to listen to the less than perfect sound of their equipment. What's even stranger is that if they are listening to rock, they want the sound of their less than perfect equipment to sound exactly like that unworthy amplified music to which you alluded.
Electronic amplified music is undoubtedly just as real as acoustic music.

It is different though. Detail will vary but is a less prominent feature of amplified music in general compared to acoustic in general, that's all.

To be accurate, any discussion of what live music sounds like has to include the venue and listening location, which provides the context for how things sound. The same live music will sound different in different contexts. It will sound different still within the context of your listening room at home depending on how the recording was produced, how system is set up and where you listen from.

I think one has to acccept these facts first before any pursuit of the absolute sound can have any real meaning.
Mapman, I completely agree with you and the implications you mentioned. In my opinion, it is because of the myriad of differences in live venues, recording studios, listening rooms, etc., the pursuit of the absolute sound will always come up short. I tend to be in the same camp as Tvad and Mrtennis on this one.
If by "Absolute SOund" we mean a single kind of optimal sound that can always be achieved, then I agree that this is an unrealistic goal.

A realistic "absolute sound" to achieve is one where the basic nature of most any kind of recorded music of interest is delivered in a particular listening room in a manner that the listener almost always finds satisfying.
J Gordon Holt addresses the issue of the absolute sound in this 1985 Stereophile article.

Essentially, he states the audiophile's goal of absolute sound is based on accuracy of reproduction, but he further states why it's an unattainable goal, yet one that is worthwhile pursuing.

I offer a link to the article because it presents many points addressed in this thread.
Amplified music requires one transducer to convert soundwaves into electrical current, another transducer to convert the electrical current back into soundwaves and an intervening system of electrical device(s) to relay the electrical signal between the two transducers. At our current level of technology, microphones do not pick up soundwaves the way the human ear/brain system does and loudspeakers don't radiate soundwaves the way instruments produce them. From this I conclude that amplified sound is fundamentally differ than unamplified sound. My point holds even if the original instrument is an electric instrument used with an amplifier.

Several people have mentioned that unless you were at the recording venue during the performance that you really can't say what the recording should sound like. I would take it farther and say you would have to have been at the mastering session where the engineer, artist and producer finalized the recording's sound to have an accurate reference for how your home system should sound. Clearly this raises the additional issue of whether the recording is accurate to the sound of the original performance.

The main flaw with the pursuit of the absolute sound as detailed in the magazine of the same name is how they minimize the effect of the recording process. No matter what you do on the home reproduction side, you can never compensate for the inherently destructive nature of the recording process. Which is not to say that you can't have high quality, good fidelity, pleasant sounding home audio reproduction.
I have a shirt I picked up at a technical training session that says something like:

"Insanity: Doing the same thing that didn't work before over and over again and expecting different results"

We audio kooks wouldn't ever be guilty of anything like that, would we?
Well guys, I have my own thoughts on this. I believe the recording and playback is an art form of it's own. It cannot be compared to live music in any way. I've never be fooled into thinking I'm sitting in front of a full symphony orchestra. That's OK because I enjoy my system for what it is, a recorded music playback system, nothing more.

Thanx, Russ
Buying a cd of Elina Garanca is as close as I am going to get to her singing in my music room.

Is it or is it not the reason we spend bazillions of the Saudi 'Riyal' or Chinese 'Renminbi'
on our impossible to achieve but fun trying hobby that we do indeed want our systems to give us as the musical illusion/experience that we are listening to live music with real instruments and vocals in our personal settings?
Obviously we can't faithfully no matter how hard we try immulate the LSO sound wise or loudness wise in our small sized rooms.
the reasons for having a stereo system are numerous. creating anything approaching reality is not one of them