I play the drums. Admittedly I am just getting into high-end audio, but my uncle has been an enthusiast for as long as I can remember. He has a dedicated listening room and often invites me over when he changes things around. He usually plays a track that I am familiar with, and I can tell you that I absolutely hear differences between cables, amps, etc. I typically pay closer attention to the percussion instruments, and he has definitely had set-ups that sound very lifelike.
I don't play, but I have two sons that do and it is handy. It's nice to have someone say, "yeah, that's what it's supposed to sound like."
classical 6' 8" grand piano
Too long and maybe off topic response alert: I've been a musician forever and think it's sort of strange that most musicians don't become audio geeks, so in that sense they resemble actual people. Also, sound is a personal perception thing...my acoustic guitars sound different in my hands than in somebody elses (you can't even count electrics as a reference), and the "piano in the room" (I have one in my listening room) reference exists only relative to wherever you sit...I mic live pianos at jazz shows (lately gigantic Steinways) by sticking a great condensor mic facing the soundboard with the lid open...and nobody actually listens to a piano like that, unless they got stuck in it somehow (you often hear pounding from 'em if the lid's shut...usually well after the party ended). Is the reference a live instrument in an acoustically dead space? If so that is not good as it's creepy and lacks life, and a reverberant live setting isn't your house. I think opinions of musicians may be useless (except mine of course), and if it sounds good to you, it's good, because it doesn't sound exactly like that to anybody else. So the answers are yes and maybe.
Yes, absolutely, but...
Have played bass, trumpet and guitar for over 40 years. Experience in amplified, unamplified, sound reinforcement, etc. Have sat in audiences untold times, and right in front of trombones at full bore in orchestras...here's the catch.
Wolf has it right on the head. A few years ago, I was in a very high end dealer on the East Coast, at a Transparent cable unveiling/demo. There were about 20 people present.
Now, I've used Transparent and tons of other stuff, down to 24 gauge cotton wrapped silver, so this is no knock on expensive cable (that's another post). Anyway, "A" and "B" samples were played of an acoustic bass and french horn. No one in the room commented when asked about hearing the differences. Since I'd bobbed my head, I got called on and said the harmonics were different and the attacks/leading edges were obviously different. The demonstrator seemed satisfied with that, until I added that moving the microphone just a few inches closer or further from the bridge or the bell could also make the same difference.
I wasn't asked for more input.
I have played violin in symphony orchestras and attended live concerts for years. Yes it helps in judging audio equipment .
I record myself playing guitar and (sort of) singing in my listening room/home studio all the time. I have a high quality interface for my mics (apogee) and the record/playback chain is reasonably high quality for a home studio arrangement - other than the mics which are good, not great.
When I A/B myself performing, it never sounds right on playback. When I A/B my instructor, it's better, but never very impressive, relative to good commercial recordings. While I don't think such comparison is very useful in evaluating a system that will be used to play commercial recordings, I do think the playback quality differs audibly when you change out gear. I rotate speakers from time to time and, in the end, I'd call it one flavor of wrong vs another flavor of wrong.
FWIW, on the same basis, my guitar teacher thinks that the SQ of my system is the best he's ever heard.
My kids play some instruments (Harp and so on...), their music teacher made some vinyl recordings in the 80's, brought them to my house and we played them ...the comment was: "Yes, that's it"
It was recorded in a small, professional studio with the instruments they still own today and use, the ambiance was in a way comparable to real life condition....I tried to buy more records as a time document but with digital age most disappeared ..
I hear differences in cables, etc. in my tweaked and fussed over hifi, and the system is revealing enough to notice gigantic differences among all recordings...I doubt this is from a lifetime of playing music and hearing shows, it's more about listening closely and giving a crap. I'm sensitive to bad live acoustic guitar sound because it bugs me, so I've been on a never ending search for an acoustic pickup system that I like (I've owned too many that are just "OK")...and recently found one that feels good (LR Baggs "Anthem"). I think my experience just makes me more pissed when I'm listening to a show where the sound sucks, or a lame stereo someplace.
Drums and percussion. And I listen for how honest the toms sound - whether I can hear them being struck. Also, does the bass drum have its individual timbre? or does it just sound like a generic thump? Cymbals should have their own location and soundstage. I get frustrated when I hear cymbals disappear into a generic wash of sound, or compressed down to the point where the hi-hat is the same volume as the crash.
I play the drums, but the experience most applicable to my audiophile hobby is recording in a professional studio. It's important to remember that in many cases 'faithful' reproduction requires figuring out what the producer and sound engineer want the listener to hear, not what the actual instrument sounded like if you heard it from a normal listening position.
In one case I had kick drum that rang no matter what we did to deaden it, so it was fixed in post production. In another case the lead guitar was re-recorded several weeks after we had finished because they thought the sound wasn't quite right.
This may not be true in every case, but remember that even if the musicians are playing at the same time most of the instruments are fully isolated from each other and are subsequently mixed down to two channels. Prior to that all manner of tweaking can be done to achieve a coherent sound that the producer is trying to achieve.
Live music is recorded similarly, where the instruments and vocals are singley mic'd and then subsequently mixed down. Area mic's on modern recordings are less common. And remember that the sound engineer has control over instrument placement in three dimensions.
As far as drums go, modern samples are very sophisticated and many artists use triggers. Striking the head triggers a sample, the actual acoustic sound never gets recorded.
To my ears, knowing that the circumstances and equipment invoked in the recorded process are (mostly) unknown, I appreciate recordings and systems that can reproduce realistic dynamics. As one poster mentioned above, instruments coming at the listener at the same volume denote either compression during production or lack of fidelity in the reproduction.
I've played clarinet since age 7, guitar and bass guitar since 14, took piano lessons, attended concerts (both acoustic and electric). Yes, I think it helps in evaluating speakers (or cables, etc) to play an instrument, and its fine to say there is only one "absolute" sound as reference (live, unamplified music). Here's the problem I have though when everyone is talking about an absolute reference standard....do you hear the same way I do, or anyone else for that matter? Who has presbycussis? Do you carry expectations from reading reviews in magazines or from word of mouth into your listening to different speakers or cable? Just saying there are many other factors that influence how we perceive music or equipment. Having played an instrument (s) is just one of them.
I've played in orchestras and bands since 6th grade. However my experience mirrors Wolf's regarding how it sounds when I am playing as opposed to when someone else is playing.
Musicians are frequently more interested in the notes being played than the actual sound, but if given the chance most of them I have met would love to hear things on a good system...
Jazz piano professionally.(Pop and Dance stuff when I want to make $$$ :(
Actually started getting into high end stuff when I was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Started reading Stereophile then and visited various high end shops there. My first high end purchase was a AR ETL-1 turntable with Rega arm I got for cheap in Boston when everyone was stupidly selling their turntables for CD players which were just coming out (late 80's). Playing piano and playing in live situations (with acoustic instruments) definitely helps me know what it should sound like on stuff at home. My ears are fine tuned and I have been through many rounds of equipment with all the tweeks to approach that live sound. The recording quality has improved much since the 80s - especially digital. Just subscribed to MOG this week through my squeezebox, and yes I can hear the high end blurring and softening from 320kbps MP3s - but what a incredible catalog of music to listen too.
I know that's another topic.
...I'm not so sure..... I've been sitting in symphony orchestras for many years, and for ME....the sound of instruments are vastly different between on stage and in the audience perception. My violin sounds very much more harsh and noisy when I play it right under my left ear, than the way it sounds on my recordings. Instrumentalists all know that....just the other day, the oboe player was choosing a new instrument for himself. He had two different brands/models, that felt very good to him, and asked me to sit in the auditorium and give my opinion on my more favored sound. Needless to say, they both sounded like oboes, but the difference between them was astonishing.
Yes, I believe having played instruments...acoustic instruments -- piano and sax -- in my case...create points of reference in my assessment of a system/loudspeaker.
agree w Wolf on this one. I have not heard an audio system that gets everything equally right. Since I play a nylon string guitar, and particularly enjoy music on that instrument, I tend to gravitate towards system balance in which classical guitar "sounds right" to my ears. none come very close to the real thing in a small room, ime. Guitars do not sound the same from the playing position as they do from an audience position - they are designed for performance, after all, and are directional; some are designed for projection. you almost never hear a classical guitar concert without some amplification, and sound reinforcement does not compare to my (or anyone's here) home system.
I have a thing for cool sounding recorded drums. There, I said it. Also, have you ever listened to a recording a Respected Reviewer used while reviewing speakers or whatever in $300,000 worth of gear, and hear all the same things on your more modest rig? I have...and it's comforting. If anything, a musician might notice things when they're "right" mostly from years of trying to avoid "wrong."
With most acoustical instruments the player has a different acoustical perspective than a typical microphone setup or standing a few feet in front of the instrument.
After I've done a mic setup with a decent engineer my raw Bass track can sound amazingly life like. The file or the knock down to 1/4" tape sounds better at home than at most studios.
What gets past mixing, post production, mastering, and the crud that is publication and production is far from the initial recording.
I had a hard pan of a Soprano-phone and my big 4/4 Slavic Bass with about five minutes of "Giant Steps" that I used to take to audio shows. Knowing what it was supposed to sound like was quite telling to me. So my answer is yes.
I used to play piano more than now, have an old 1926 rebuilt Chickering Grand adjacent to the listening room. I would rather play than use my recordings for evaluation as it always reminds me I started too late learning THAT instrument. Chopin would have cried.:( Played several woodwind instruments starting at age 9 through early 20's. None of this helps when evaluating speakers. How music sounds when you're playing it, or in a band or orchestra, has little to do with how it sounds as a listener. Priorities are different for the two.
Listening to as much live music as you can is the best way to hear the true sound of music and evaluate reproduced.
I use to be a touring professional Hard Rock singer!, I can play drums good and piano, bass guitar and a little acoustic guitar, I believe being a musician does help evaluating speakers!, cheers to all of you here!
I have pretty deep experience as a classical guitarist. I've played violin and viola at weddings for years. Since around the age of 12 I've played off and on in bands--electric guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, dobro and vocals. Failed miserably at drums.
I want my system to sound as natural as possible with acoustic sounds and I think my background helps me discriminate good from bad. I figure such a system should have no problem with electric sounds as well.
Makes no difference.
You like what you hear or you don't.
The discerning ear crap is just that, crap.
It definitely helps form a foundation for the broad spectrum of what live acoustic music sounds like, and for recognizing how the listening position and the size and reverberation of the venue affect the sound. Still, all live music has certain characteristics in common regardless.
I'm a drummer and I noticed there are many drummers on this thread. Drummers don't have an instrument per se, but rather a collection of components. So drummers often function like audiophiles, picking a given set of drums, heads, sticks, and cymbals for a certain venue and style of music or recording assignment. Cymbals also present one of the most complicated and highest frequency overtones of any acoustic instrument, along with violin.
A dramatic change in my LR 2-channel system occurred when my wife and I got married in our house at the end of 2004. We had a guitar/mandolin duo provide live acoustic music. A couple months later my next door neighbor enlisted my help in getting an unobtrusive system for their living room. I got a pair of Mirage OmniSats and matching sub on closeout. I put them into my living room system for break-in and evaluation. My wife noticed right away that they sounded like the musicians were in the room, just like when we got married a couple months previously. My wife is also an accomplished alto and grew up surrounded by and performing in quality music productions.
It turns out that the Mirage Omnisat and omnipolar series featured a radiating pattern and tonal balance based on those same characteristics in live music. In other words, the speakers on average energize a room very similarly to live music, which then means that the tonal balance and primary sound vs. secondary reflections mimic the timings and directions of live music. It works.
There are, of course, many other things to listen for, but having experience playing and listening to music can make you aware of characteristics that others don't listen for. Not just dispersion, but also lack of spurious resonances (that bogus 150-200Hz upper bass hump), treble free of spikes, rolloffs, overshoot, and ringing, etc.
But other musicians pay no attention to those things at all. The late Rick Rosen visited and interviewed some musical giants for his "Rick Visits..." series. I found it interesting when he interviewed vibraphone great Milt Jackson. Here was a guy who had the most luscious tone in all of vibedom. He paid so much attention to his tone that he made his own mallets. Yet his only playback system at home was a kitchen countertop clock radio with built-in CD player. When Rick asked if he ever wanted something with more range and resolution, Milt actually got hostile.
So you can't always make a connection between a musician tone junkie and an audiophile. My theory is that for musicians such as Jackson, you can never get home audio to sound and feel like the live experience, so why try?
I, of course, disagree, and I've found the quest to be rewarding and worthwhile.