Disturbing "Sonic Trend" showing up on SOTA audio

Exaggerated high frequencies and etch = "details"

Biting unnatural attacks = "fast transient response"

Unnaturally dry bass = "taut" and “tight”

This is what I hear at shows, homes, and stores, over the last several years!

Have "new" audiophiles lost their way, in relation to what "natural sound" of "non-amplified acoustic" music sounds like?

This "type" of sound is increasingly selling as current "State of Art".

Audio has more BS, and nonsense, than any hobby that I know of!

And as "Crazy" becomes acceptable, it drives more "Crazy".

I have been in this hobby since the 70's and heard it all.

Maybe those that kept their older systems, and got off the "marry-go-round", of latest and most expensive is best, are the most intelligent!
I agree Don, and fortunately there is lots of gear that is natural sounding, so it's really a personal choice.
Audio is a funny hobby; I'm having the exact opposite experience currently. I'm testing out some Pascal based Class D amps, and the resolution, tonal richness, "air" and reverberation, in short, the entire package so much more corporeal - is so intoxicatingly pure, the detail so natural sounding that my thought is, "You mean to tell me there has been THAT MUCH distortion masquerading as "fullness" in audio systems all this time?!

I have not put up slouch systems over the past ten years, but oh, goodness, I couldn't disagree with you more. I think you have created three false dichotomies regarding parameters of sound quality where none exist. :)

If I had to return to vintage gear, it would be really, really disappointing, even to the degree I would lose interest in listening. I occasionally put up vintage systems and unfailingly they sound lifeless, flat, unconvincing. It would be like returning to black and white TV.
Not the equipment, its the buyers. Many/most have never heard live acoustic ,unamplified music played by a 1st rate ensemble .
Point of reference is the PA system at a rock concert .

A natural sounding piece of equipment sounds unnatural to them.
Schubert nailed it!
Don, don, don- we've warned you about listening to solid state before😏. We're not going to do it again!
I do not agree. Tons of gear on both sides of the sonic spectrum!
If I had to return to vintage gear, it would be really, really disappointing, even to the degree I would lose interest in listening.

Do you love your gear or do you love music? I would listen to music on an AM radio if that was all there was!
I really respect your opinions. I must state that very little music is recorded as live music. My gauge is also live acoustical instruments. But, the vast majority of music is studio recorded with the engineer's idea of what it should sound like live in person. Everything is an illusion. When I listen to closely miked acoustical small groups, that is my reference for my home audio reproduction. Most of the studio recorded music never comes close to the live experience. Instead we hope to imagine the live experience through the ears of the recording engineer. The better the equipment plays the room and the more accurate the equipment, the more we believe. I don't want to see the man behind the curtain!
There are all kinds of good and bad sound at many price points.

Let's not generalize though.modern sota to me means top notch performance. That's not necessarily the same as best sound which is a subjective judgement. Good performance is not hard to identify however opinions will vary widely on what sounds best. In general good performance enables good sound but does not guarantee it.
It seems aspiring to replicate a live performance should be indisputable. Either it sounds like the real thing or it doesn't. When attending a live performance, questions of whether I'm hearing an actual piano, strings, or voice do not arise...nor do I explore the imaging or air around the instruments. It's just the real thing. In contrast, when I listen to and assess an audio system, rarely, if ever am I fooled into believing live performers are in the room.
I have heard three reproductions that brought me very close. Back in the nineties Peter McGrath, a sound engineer, played Watt/Puppies in an immensely well designed room, fed by Master Tapes.
Vandersteen 7's driven by a digital amp, in another finely constructed space, had such airiness, and spatial real-ness...along with palpable tonality, that I had no need to close my eyes for added affectation.
And most recently, at Axpona, near the end of the evening, the Tidal room was streaming through a number of esoteric pieces with that occasional "you are there" presence.
But, unfortunately for the vast majority of my listening experiences, either the coloration or an etched detail create a hi fi rendering. And, often those systems that offer what at first appears to be something special, over time reveal missing ingredients.
In my system I recently added a Koetsu Coralstone cart., which has yet to be properly broken in, brings consistently more enjoyment and involvement in the music; and less focus on the components. Is it colored? Likely, but the density of strings...the size and pace of piano...authority of voice...decay of cymbals, temporarily creates a plausible illusion. Much of my equipment is from the nineties, with the exception of the cabling and speakers. I have gone through several changes over the years seeking out a simulated reproduction, from solid state to tubes and a mix there-of, and the closer I get the further the holy grail seems to be.
Tgrisham, what you say is so.
But, time and again I go to hear Minnesota Orch. live and come home and play recording version of same music they played and, save for ultimate volume, there is very little
difference .
The difference between halls is more than the recording difference to me. Of course like anyone, I could just be hearing what I want to hear.
Tgrisham, Well said! My view exactly. FWIW, using an absolute, such as a live performance, sounds of instruments, halls, etc, as a measure of the merit of an audio system, is so flawed, that the only purpose it really serves is the wallet of the purveyors of audio equipment.

Even if the equipment and environment existed where the true sounds of a live performance might occur (and IMHO, it doesn't and can't) the end result would still be determined in the creation of the recording on the mixing console by the recording engineer. A major dam in the flow of live music to its reproduction in the home.
In Harry Pearson's day, The Absolute Sound decreed that the sound of a live acoustic space is the sonic holy grail. But that type of sound is now a niche industry. I'm 51, and I didn't grow up listening to that type of thing. 99% of my peers would say the same.
I've learned that once you hear a relatively flat frequency response out to 20Khz and beyond, it's not at all etched or tizzy. At first blush, it seems a tad recessed but after extended listening it flows so naturally, almost like a live, unamplified event.

All the info is there; it's just not in your face, as it should be.

All the best,
True Psag. The WWII generation heard unamplified orchestras, both Big Band and Classical, the Korean War generation heard folk singers and acoustic guitars in coffee houses, on college campuses, and at parties, but the Vietnam War generation forward has heard live music amplified only. Non-audiophiles like loudspeakers that sound like PA's, have you noticed?! Perhaps if I hadn't grown up hearing some music acoustically (R & R bands sit down with a couple of acoustic guitars when the songwriter/s teach a new song to the band members, plus I've played with stand-up bass players. And when recording in the studio, the singing is au-naturel. I now listen to a lot of bluegrass, which is of course acoustic) I too would have no reference point.

But the flaw in HP's logic is that it assumes the sound contained in recordings is that of the original acoustic event as a listener present at the recording would have heard it. That's a mighty big assumption!
I am taking about gear prior to 2000, compared to 2015.

Before the absurdly priced gear that passes for SOTA today.

Vintage gear is before 1980 IMO.

And I was talking about most,(not all), current super high priced systems.
I think speakers are better than they were pre-1980. Am I off base?
When it circles around to money, the issue is not sound. :(
When it circles around to money, the issue is not sound. :(

Tru dat.
Schubert is exactly right. Few owners of high end systems are devoted concert goers; consequently, the notion of what is truly natural sounding becomes distorted. The idea that the sound of live music is the best standard for judging the fidelity of any audio system has been debated countless times. In my opinion there is an obvious logic in using the sound of live as the standard. However, arguments are made against this idea and the "unpredictability" of the various contributors to the final recorded sound is pointed out. In a way, this objection to the idea smacks of the "all cables sound the same" argument. To some listeners there is obvious value in using the sound of live when putting together a system that strives for naturalness; assuming , of course, that there is substantial exposure to the sound of live. So, why are some so quick to dismiss the idea? One goal of this hobby is to assemble a system that sounds good to the listener; that is fun to listen to, neutrality be damned. No apologies need be made for wanting that. Another approach is to have a system that reproduces as much as possible of what was recorded. No matter what some may think, it is a valid approach to system building. Being very familiar with the sound of live definitely helps in assessing naturalness in a component in spite of all the unknowns that seem to invalidate this approach for some. How could it not help? It's not easy and requires dedication; but, to suggest that there isn't a lot of merit to the idea is silly.
I feel you are giving vintage gear a tough time. I use some vintage gear and can assure you that it has all the air, attack, timbral color, and transparency you could ask for.
Frogman, I feel it is incumbent upon one to show up and pay up when serious music artists that have given me countless hours of joy over the years show up in town. I have heard leaders say its a joy for them to perform for audiences that are both knowledgeable and attentive .
To me not go to is something like receiving a wonderful gift and throwing it back in the givers face.
Going to hear Kings College Cambridge Choir recently after decades of hearing the Christmas broadcast of "Nine Lessons and Carols" is about as good as it gets .

I agree with shubert. You can nitpick the details case by case all you want.
If you have the right setup and a good recording what you hear at home
should sound like the real thing playing in your room though not wherever it
was recorded.

If that is not the case then there are many possible reasons. But it's totally
ridiculous to say it's because it's not possible. Time to go back to the
drawing board maybe. Or maybe reassess what it is you think live music
really sounds like and why.
I feel you are giving vintage gear a tough time. I use some vintage gear and can assure you that it has all the air, attack, timbral color, and transparency you could ask for.
The sound of unamplified music playing in appropriate venues is of unparalleled value, if for no other it clearly illustrates how far short our audio systems fall short of its reproduction. You my disagree, but if you do think and consider what aspect of a live performance you are willing to sacrifice when you listen to a recording of one in your home. Home audio succeeds best when your system replicates those things which are important to you (not necessarily others).

For example, for folks who value 'detail and imaging' at home, might like to sit in rows D through E on the main floor, center. Go to your favorite hall and sit in that seat and listen to a Mahler symphony. For detail and imaging that is probably as good as it gets. But do you really think that you can even get a small measure of the dynamics you experience in your home. I think not, even if your set up is a well matched and set up SOTA system. Now you might feel different, in degrees as least, if your seats at the symphony are in the ear bleeding section.

Now consider live performance of a solo piano, i.e. the piano. Fantastic instrument but one which sounds so different when heard in a typical concert hall, or in a recital hall specifically made for solo instruments and small groups. Much of what I said in the lst paragraph applies, but seating is not nearly so important in recital halls because the acoustic itself allows for projection of small detail more uniformly. But the dynamic range and frequency range will all but overwhelm your home audio system.

So while I value the knowledge of the experience of listening to live, unamplified, performances of jazz and classical music, and I use this knowledge in setting up a listening room, I don't feel that my goal at home is ever more than to hear sounds that remind me of what I enjoy hearing live. Remind me!

I have no issue with using 'live sound' as a standard for home audio, but when suggested that it can be, or should be a goal of the serious audiophile, to replicate this experience I disagree. It can't be done! You might come close if you make some serious concessions, but when you do that its not really 'live' is it.
Very interesting thread. I think Schubert and Frogman have the best posts. Most people simply do not listen to live, unamplified music anymore. This does NOT invalidate that as the best standard, however, for the reasons they state.

IMO, the most distorted view is that of the bass. Many audiophiles demand what is a very overpowering bass compared to what live, un-amplified bass actually sounds like. This is because they are used to hearing cranked up, electronically produced, un-natural sounding bass, both at rock concerts and in their audio systems. This is quite easily proven at any audio show, which I have done several times, to the chagrin of someone pushing a subwoofer.....but I digress.

@Tgrisham - I would agree with most of what you said, with one huge exception. In this sentence - "the vast majority of music is studio recorded with the engineer's idea of what it should sound like live in person.", I would strike the last three words. Most recording engineers nowadays have absolutely no interest in having their result sound like live - they LOVE the control the dead studio gives them so they can make the music sound however they want, period, without being limited by a specific room.

@Newbee - Your last post is a good one, again with one correction. Rows D or E in a concert hall would be WAY too close to listen to an orchestra as large as that of a Mahler symphony!! A very great deal would be lost sitting that close! Even in the very best concert halls, sound travels back and also up. So the best floor seats are more like 2/3 to 3/4 of the way back - as long as they are not under the overhang of the balconies. The very best sets in the house for listening to a gigantic orchestra, however, would be center, higher up, on what is usually called a mezzanine level in many halls (not the very top level).
Amen to that Learsfool !
I learned 50 years ago the mezzanine is by far the best place to sit.As to it "can't be done", it can be save for
ultimate sound level. You must imprint what coherent sound
sounds like in a symphony hall so your brain will recognize
what coherent sound is like in your space at home . IMO that takes concentrated attention at hundreds of concerts
at a minimum. In short, you need to be as passionate in your listening as a Musician is in their playing.

It may be I was born with an imaging detector disability, but in last 50 years I have been in pretty much everyone of
the great concert halls in Europe and have yet to her one
"image" in the pinpoint way most audiophiles spend money to get their systems to do.
Instrumental separation yes, pinpoint image no.
If I am wrong ,which I often am, I'd like to hear others thoughts on this .
Hi Learsfool, To clarify my poorly stated illustration, I selected the front rows as they might relate to some specific audiophile goals such as 'detail' and 'imaging', as well as the sheer dynamics. In this location they are also the least homogenized as well, as they might be further back in the location your recommend. (The recording engineer can use the rear hall sound and then use spot mikes to give a close-up emphasis to the weaker instruments. It is interesting to hear a violin concerto live, where I have rarely heard screechy violins (strings) either from the soloist or section(s) and a recording where the violins sound both emphasized and often too much so. Not so much with pianos perhaps, but they are such a big sound by themselves. Nonetheless the recording engineers still can't resist sticking a mike under the lid.)

FWIW, probably some of the worst orchestral sounds I have experienced occurred when I was sitting in some ear bleeding seats (at Mosconi Center) listening to some Elgar performed by Andrew Davis. The highs were piercing, the bass non-existent, and worst of all it took forever. The most dramatic performance was of a Mahler Five in row F center, of a multi-use auditorium by a provincial orchestra. The most disappointing was a Mahler 7 in the lower balcony in SF performed by MMT. The 'sound' was OK, the music well blended for right side seats, but I think it might still be playing! So much for MMT's Mahler 7, live anyway, I like his recorded version much more, but maybe because of my nervous bladder. :-)

But the point I really wanted to make was that the sound of 'live & unamplified music' is a moving target. It is too hard to pin down for it to become a meaningful standard to judge audio set- ups and recordings, especially after a recording engineer has performed his magic.

For myself, live music and recorded music are really separate and valid experiences to be enjoyed with out cross references to each other. Makes life simpler and both more enjoyable.
"In short, you need to be as passionate in your listening as a Musician is in their playing.

That's a very good way to put it.
As a musician and (somewhat) audiophile, I bought myself a pair of pretty nice omni-directional condenser mics J. Gordon Holt had recommended, and plugged them directly into my Revox A-77 reel-to-reel, in the simple spaced-omni configuration. I recorded some live music (a band I was playing in at the time, with upright piano, tenor and baritone saxes, vocals, drumset, and electric bass and guitar) and some studio sessions, as well as speaking voices (my then two year old son's especially) and other natural sound sources. I monitored all the recording on Sennheiser headphones, and still use the tapes for assessing the sound quality of reproducing gear. You might be amazed at how much more lifelike self-made amateur recordings can sound than commercial releases---so much more transparent and immediate, sounding almost like a direct-to-disc LP in comparison!
The purpose of your playback equipment is to accurately convey what the recording engineer hears from his studio monitors. Modern equipment is far superior in this regard. The distortions of old equipment lend live classical recordings an added sense of ambiance, which is why some listeners prefer the older equipment.
Having just got rid of one such DAC, the PS Audio Directstream, I now have a lot of contempt for snake oil, I mean boutique audio shops.

Mass market audio/pro audio are far more natural sounding than Sterophile magazine recommendations. I now suspect the magazine to be a collection of paid reviews.
****"In short, you need to be as passionate in your listening as a
Musician is in their playing.****

Great comment and I couldn't agree more! But, how exactly is it relevant?

I think that in it is the key to some of the disagreement about the live music
standard and the reason why it's so important. A musician's passion is
mostly expressed in ways that are seldom discussed by audiophiles: the
extremely subtle phrasing nuances and color changes; the feeling and
sense of aliveness that great music making conjures up. Those are the
things that are most difficult to record and reproduce; the magic. Not
frequency response related things nor imaging information which are what
are usually mentioned and talked about. The listener who seldom hears live
music is not equipped to judge how good a job any given component does
at passing along the "passion" information. Some pieces do a
great job of it; while some can sound very high-end in the areas of
tonality and imaging and still not pass along the magic. That's the art
(passion) in audio design.
@Bdp24 - your comments are not surprising at all to me. Your priority as a musician is to get as "real" a sound as possible. This is simply not the priority of the vast majority of recording engineers. Also, you were using just a couple of mikes with analog tape. Engineers never do this with digital recording nowadays, even if they know better- they would be fired by people who don't know any better, unfortunately.

@ Newbee - I must admit that I am very confused about where you are calling "ear-bleeding" seats?? This is not a term I have ever encountered before - usually the term "nose-bleed" is used for the highest balcony, but I don't think that is what you are referring to here. Are you referring to the closest seats? Davies Hall in SF never sounded particularly good, and I have heard that the last remodel didn't help much either. MTT definitely loves his louds, that is for sure, LOL!

@Schubert - my understanding of the audiophile term "imaging" is to pinpoint exactly where instruments are located in the "soundstage." Contrary to what you seem to be implying, unless I am misunderstanding you, it should be much easier to do this listening to live music in a concert hall, and I don't mean because you can see the instruments - you should be able to tell, if you close your eyes, where individual sections are on the stage even in a very large orchestra - if not, you would have no hope to ever do so on a recording, assuming it was a recording where this would be audible. With modern digital recording and mixing, though, this is almost impossible to tell anymore - everything is blandly washed together, usually with absolutely no attempt to recreate what the hall actually sounds like. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the way audiophiles use the term "imaging" though - correct me if I am wrong, guys. But here is an example of how I interpret that term. There is an Oscar Peterson record put out by Pablo entitled Peterson 6 at Montreux. This is a very well recorded album, with fantastic "imaging" - you can indeed pinpoint exactly where each individual performer is on the stage, and the "soundstage" of the recording replicates very faithfully the actual live sound - to me, you can't have "imaging" if you don't have a decent "soundstage" in the first place - which, again, is almost non-existent in current recording. This is my understanding, anyway, of what audiophiles mean by these terms. Please correct me if you guys think my use of these terms is different from how most audiophiles use them.
I think both schools of sound are represented. Some state of the art is still lush and convincing sounding, such as my Tannoy's with set amplification. But I guess I agree most mainstream is as you described. Someone above had a good comment that gave me a chuckle and although I find it has a lot of truth. Something about you needing to stop listening to solid-state.
Hi Learsfool, sorry for the confusion. Ear bleeding can be the result of a ruptured eardrum which can be caused by sound, albeit nothing you are ever likely to hear in a symphony hall. Other hearing problems can be caused by heights such as the changing of the air pressure on the eardrum that you experience when flying. Your ear pops as the pressure in your inner ear equalizes with the exterior air pressure. I may be the only person who uses this term, and inappropriately so perhaps. I most often I use it to describe the uppermost seating in large stadiums at sporting events where you may almost have to use binoculars to see the game. So yes, I was referring to the most remote/highest seats in a hall. A location that maximizes the affect of reflected sound, and can unduly emphasize/minimize parts of the frequency response, unfavorably.

When in my post I referred to 'imaging' for audiophiles, I was only trying to find a seat location where hall sounds had the least influence and direct sounds had the most and might create an affect that audiophiles might consider great imaging, i.e. location/specificity of instruments. Balance, not so much perhaps.
Thanks for the clarification, Newbee. As I said in my previous post, in a concert hall, you should be able to close your eyes and still listen and be able to tell where different instruments are located on the stage. It may be slightly easier to do this in some places in the hall than others, but honestly I have never thought about this- one should be able to tell that regardless of where one sits in the hall. An inability to do this would say much more about one's ears than the design of the hall, reflections, etc.
I'd like to offer some observations re the pinpoint imaging issue. I don't
mean to take liberties with what Schubert and Learsfool are meaning to
say, and please correct me if I'm wrong; but, I think that there really is no
disagreement. To me, as concerns audio, there is much more to
"imaging" than precise and stable localization; or, at least, there
should be. I think that what Schubert refers to as "pinpoint"
imaging from a stereo system is a distortion of what is heard live due in part
to the absence of information which many of even the "best"
components can't capture/reproduce. This low level information is what
gives music much of its nuance and is part of each instrument's (or voice)
harmonic envelope. Good composers are very conscious of this and
sometimes make orchestration choices with those considerations in mind.
They don't necessarily think of a clarinet sounding completely separate
from the oboe; instead they may consider how the clarinet's harmonic
envelope will blend with the oboe's and create a unique color. This
harmonic envelope is a kind of sonic glue that connects performers in the
performance space, and allows for what players sometimes refer to as
"getting inside each other's sound". In audio the so called, and
coveted, "black spaces" between sonic images can create an
illusion of instrumental separation; however, in live music those spaces are
filled with sonic stuff that gives music complexity, nuance and feeling. As
Learsfool correctly points out the localization is there, but there is also
much more information in the spaces between the instruments which can
create the illusion of less pinpoint imaging.
Well said Frogman. I agree with your thoughts. A deliberate blending of sounds occurs naturally in live performances, and is likely to be purposely engineered into many recordings.
I don't think there is any particular virtue in complete isolation of different instrumental lines unless the mix is so dense as to nearly obscure a particular instrument almost completely, making the listener strain to hear it.
Frogman, thats exactly what I meant and lacking your knowledge did not say so.

If you do not know what a coherent sound sounds like you are unlikely to buy a coherent speaker .
Practically, it doesn't really matter what pinpoint imaging or anything really sounds like. Only what each person thinks things sound like. Its all in the ears and mind. Live or Memorex. One chooses to be satisfied or not for reasons that only matter to them.

Of course nobody ever accused an audiophile of being practical. Or satisfied, for that matter.
I guess what I am trying to say is if there is a "Disturbing "Sonic Trend" showing up on SOTA audio " then its the observers problem since they are the one disturbed.

It may be BS or something concrete. If enough people buy into it, there is probably something to it. Otherwise it is most likely expensive BS.

"Exaggerated high frequencies and etch = "details"

Biting unnatural attacks = "fast transient response"

Unnaturally dry bass = "taut" and “tight”"

I have no problem with details, fast transient response and taught or tight bass. Others might disagree certainly.
"Pinpoint" imaging is possible live or in a studio as in recordings but not likely in most cases. So its resaonable to expect it is possible but not resaonable to expect it as a genral attribute of all or even most recordings.

The blending mentioned above, not pinpoint imaging, is the norm and its extent is based on many factors case by case.
I said this before on a very old thread: I sat in a small church not five rows back
and dead center to listen to a period piece played with period instruments. There
were only three instruments. It was impossible to discern any kind of distinct
imaging. The sound was homogenous. The acoustics were really great though.
Lots of hall ambiance, tone and presence.

The only thing that was certain was the tone, timing, and ambiance. It was
emotional and uplifting, but not at all what I hear on my system, save for the
tone, timing and ambience.

For those reasons alone that's all I look for in my system and it succeeds
admirably. I would even go so far as to say that most systems here on A'gon
achieve that purpose but folk are obsessed with imaging, which can only be
appreciated when done in a studio.

All the best,
It's just another aspect of recordings that can make things more enjoyable
when done well. MBL done right in a larger room is the best I have heard
to date. Same system in a larger room done not so well not as impressive.
Very well put, Frogman!
Amen Nonoise !
Q. What are your speakers ?
Schubert, my speakers are Clearwave Duet 6 monitors. When I first got them I thought there was something wrong with them as the highs weren't as pronounced as I was used to. It took some experimenting with placement and cabling but now it's pretty much sorted out.

When in the midst of all of this I called the designer, Jed, and he told me that he dialed everything in to be as flat as possible and that what I was used to hearing was an exaggerated high end response. Now that I've acclimated to them, they sound every so involving and right. They look a lot like a pair of Marten Duke 2 monitors.

All the best,