Does Your System Sound Like the Real Thing?

I don't mean close, or it's pretty good at suggesting, or if you close your eyes and really, really concentrate. I'm asking whether your system is indistinguishable from live performances.

If the answer is yes, then congratulations! If the answer is no, do you even think it's possible? And if you do think it's possible, how far are you willing to go?
This is a loaded question where daggers will probably come out flying.

But I would say the following:

o That it is more possible today than ever before to come close to a live performance.

o Indistinguishable? Doubt it. Better than? Perhaps in some ways.

o Is it possible to make one's system sound like a live performance?

In theory, yes. But, aside from incorporating the right combination of equipment and room, I believe there are two big secrets to getting closer to a live performance than ever before:

1. The AC needs to clean, isolated, noise-free, and there needs to be an abundance of it on hand to be available for a near-perfect high-current amplifier that is an absolute requirement for those grandiose dynamic passages.

2. Vibration and resonance control and the proper transfer thereof.

These last two items have as much to do with depth, layering, imaging, decay, and transparency as they have to do with macro-dynamics.

I would say that with certain source material, yes. Scale is the thing that keeps me from fully believing on many occasions. My vinyl is better at scale than my digital. But it all seems to boil down to the quality of the recording, whether analog or digital. There are times though when it seems quite real.
"If the answer is no, do you even think it's possible?"

An anal response to your specific question, I don't think a speaker exists that could pull it off. Because there is some compromise at any price point, they always leave a hint of themselves. One could be tricked with given sounds, but I believe one going to be limited by either distortion or dynamics in the overall delivery. That is what I have noticed, anyways, although I have not heard the best of horns. And scale is definitely a problem. I use speakers because they are an easy target, but I couldn't imagine a CDP pulling it off either. Maybe vinyl, maybe not, but that's a loose thought. One would get closer to the "real thing" with an original tape, but exploring how far from THE performance playback could stray before sounding distinguishable would be interesting.

"And if you do think it's possible, how far are you willing to go?"

The upshot is that I think one would have to be insane not to find a satisfactory system, minus the money issue (maybe), and some just intrinsically enjoy finding the limit of hifi.
Some live performances sound pretty bad... some recordings have excellent sound. In a very good large hall if you're 100' away from the musicians you'll miss alot of nuances that are easily picked up in a good nearfield playback environment. I probably haven't heard anything near the best possible playback system, (there may not be one that does everything the best), but so far the best live stuff knocks the stuffin's outta the best recorded stuff w/ out breaking a sweat. The two things are just physically (and psychologically) very different from each other. Then there's the can of worms regarding the perception of musical or artistic merit vs. recording quality (who wants an exquisitely detailed rendering of something that hits the gag reflex?). There are lots of acts that might make you head for the door on their most sonically perfect night. Then sometimes when you least expect it you could end up really liking some stuff that you used to hate.
No and No.
your system is indistinguishable from live performances
No way.
One system might fool you -- but that's a musicality issue. The other is higher rez -- but that's "true to SOURCE" i.e. the recording, NOT the musical event.

IMO that's all we can achieve -- and it's not bad after all: either a "musical" sound reproduction OR a "true to source" reproduction. Whatever tickles our collective fancy.

If the answer is no, do you even think it's possible
Of course not.
Not only are recording techniques & storage media a limitation; the speakers & spkrs-room interaction are even more so, as Ohlala notes above.

BTW, and similarly, a portrait is NOT the actual person, is it? It's an artist's interpretation and rendition of that person. (I'm putting sound reproduction on a high pedestal here:))
If you are taliking "hypothetical" live performance where everything is perfect (seating position, no crowd noise, acoustically perfect venue etc) then no stereo not as good as live.

But if you are talking about "real world" live performces with all the imperfections then I usually prefer my stereo to almost any live performance soundwise. Of course part of the attraction is the visuals which is lacking with stereo.

I always wonder where people hear these mythical perfect live performances that they hold up as gold standard that no stereo can match?

Live music,as a time art,includes the thought processess of the performers, the listeners, and the venue. A piece of music is never performed the same way twice.
Only when I'm in another room and the system is loud have I paused and thought to my self how real things sound off in the distance. Of course this Real Thing is only the sound you hear at a live event when you distance yourself (restroom comes to mind) from the live event somewhat.

Near field answer is NO and NO.

I agree with Tarsano and Gregm, among others--no and no. It's partially the limitations of the recording process and partially of the playback systems. However, a good recording and system can still convey a musical event and move you as a live performance can.
Would you really want it? Have you ever been in a room where someone was playing drums? Or practicing sax? Maybe you like listening loud but I think many people underestimate exactly how loud it would be to have even a three piece jazz band playing in your living/listening room.
In some ways it resembles the real thing. In others it doesn't.
Sometimes my system sounds better than real - I like it better than the real thing that is, but it doesn't sound real and I doubt it can ever sound real in my lifetime.
Unfortunately I've never compared a real piano in the same listening room...
As you may know even different pianos sound different so the most precise answer is
"I don't know".
I agree with Jond. I am often amazed at how close my system is when I play music back at close to the recording volume (or what I think it is.) That is usually a lot louder than most people listen.

Also, how many times has some sound come across and fooled you that it is not the system but in the next room, etc.?
Of course it sounds LIKE the real thing! Do you think I would have spent all that time and money just to get some poor replica of the real thing? Now if I could just take it the last hundred miles and have it BE the real thing. :-)
This is the ultimate question and the answer for me has
always been "of course not". But, it's not what I expect.
Just like sex, music is more in the mind than the body.
If that weren't true, any music reproduction
system would be worthless.

I would like to set up an experiment where musicians
play live from behind a curtain, then live from a remote
location with the sound reproduced using the best mics,
amps, cables, and speakers behind the curtain.
I bet ANYONE could tell the difference.

In my experience, the part of music reproduction that
causes the most "damage" is the recording itself.
This was made clear to me many years ago,
and often since, while listening to radio.
WFMT (a fine Chicago radio station!) was playing
recorded music, as usual, but then switched to a live,
non-recorded performance from their studios. The
change in the quality of music reproduction was immediately
apparent. I've listened carefully to the difference
between live, non-recorded music and recorded music in
any medium (tape, LP, direct-to-disc, CD, HDCD, SACD)
and non-recorded music certainly comes closest to real.

The real thing? With eyes closed, I can tell in a jiff between the real thing, and my humble $25K system. I can also, in a jiff with eyes closed, tell the real thing from live with a $250k system. We've come a long way in stereo, but live is not even close---To these tympanics, at any rate....I'm talking acoustic instruments, properly miked vocals too. Electric instruments, synthesizers and the like? That's very close!
on smaller scale recordings (allison krauss, vivaldi chamber
stuff, piano, mozart clarinet quintet, etc.) my system sounds
great and extremely satisfying. on beethoven #5 or stravinsky's firebird, it sounds like a stereo. large choral works sound largely strident. i heard the wilson wamms Wonce
and they came startlingly close to sounding like a symphony orchestra (shostakovich #4/ashekenazy). if you have gobs of
money to build a room and customize a system, you might be able to acheive "95%" of reality. otherwise, imho, stick
to good recordings of chamber music and/or attend more concerts.
I truly think my stereo sounds MUCH better than live.
It may not sound the same, but when have you been to 2 concerts that sounded the same? how many were held
in accoustically correct rooms?

Of course we are all at the mercy of good recordings.

Instrument reproduction is very speculative, again, how a live instrument sounds in one place will vary greatly than another.
I love the fact that i can control my room to MY liking and enjoy it anytime i want.
I love live performances, but all to often they are in pathetically bad situations with no concern for accoustics.
I agree with Jond. The whole business of scale is often ignored in discussions about "absolute sound". I've never heard a system whose soundstage, depth, height, matches that of a real, live orchestra. Not fair? But that's how the question is put. I have not heard mega-buck systems, but I would venture to guess that nothing currently available can recreate the orchestra.
I am very happy with my system, but there is never an occasion where it sounds like someone is in the room playing a cello, piano, guitar, viola, or flute, all of which we have in our home.

I like my system better than most I have ever heard, but I do not delude myself into thinking it sounds like good live music.

I am more interested in reproducing music I like than fooling myself into thinking Ian Anderson is playing the flue, or Martin Barre is playing his guitar. Anyone who has that as a goal is bound to be disappointed most of the time.
The anwser is no, it does not sound like the real thing.
Even the best system I have heard cannnot reproduce the exact sound of a live performance, something very dissapointing after one spends about $100K on a 2 channel

I once sat down to talk about this subject with a friend of mine who happens to be a very good piano player. He told
me that a piano, or a violin if you like, it's a very complicated instrument. The piano has quite a few chords to
produce certains octaves (frequencies), no speaker can match it sound. There is also the issue of sound dsitribution, is you place a piano player in the middle of a room you can hear the notes as you walk into a circle around it. Speakers(2 channel)will project the sound into a
angle of around 120 degrees, the ideal position between the speakers is just a small area. That is one big constrain that speaker designers have tried to overcome using such designs as "bipolar speakers". Dr. Omar Bose
was on the right track with the 901 design, too bad for the limited response of the full range drivers used.

Another issue is the wide dynamic range of a live performance. I go every week to this jazz place, it's amazing to hear how loud a trumped can sound (no amp assistance). I belive that the founder of Musical Fidelity
once said that you need over a thousand watts and pretty
decent efficiency from your speakers to achive the decibels
of a live performance.

To end my contribution I must say that at the present time
I will just enjoy my prsent system and allocate the money into getting all the cds I can buy rather than trying to
find audio nirvana.


Hector Pedrosa
I have a concert violinist and a pianist for neighbors (they teach in the music department at the university in town). I get invited periodically to their homes to listen for pre concert recitals (I realize how lucky I am!). So, I hear "live" music in a home environment, in additon of course to concert venues. I have to tell you that my stereo system, as good as it is (Vandy Model 5's, McCormack DNA 225 Gold Revision, LP12/Ekos/Lingo/Dyna 20x, ARC Sp9 MkIII, Trivista SACD player) has NEVER come close to reproducing what I have heard in their homes. Both these musicians have been very impressed with my system, but they are more interested in listening to the performance rather than to the system or even the music, which they've heard umpteen times before. This points out the primary benefit of our often considerable investment in our hobby--we get to hear the greatest performances ever recorded reproduced in our own homes. Pretty amazing when you think about it really. The fact that those performances at the highest level of fidelity do not approximate a live performance does not diminish the joy of hearing that recording. My musician neighbors always enjoy our listening sessions in my home, but I imagine when they tell their spouses about it they say something like "Ashkenazy's left hand on the Rondo movement of Beethoveen's concerto #5 with Solti and the CSO was amazing" rather than "Bruce's speakers image beautifully." So, no my system doesn't come close to sounding like the "real thing", but I just listened to Lucia Popp sing Porgi, Amor from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and got chill bumps all over again, so I count myself fortunate instead of deprived.
Q #1: No. Furthermore I have never heard a system come close to sound of a live performance, regardless of the cost of the system (Pipedreams, Avant Garde Trios w/bass horns, Wilson, etc.).

Q #2: Perhaps with advanced technology. Not necessarily on the reproducing side, but on the perceiving side.
i feel this would be tough to accomplish. for one thing, you would have to go see the concert when it was recorded so you personnally would have a reference on how it sounded live. then you would have to trust the recording engineers that they did a perfect job at placing the mikes and recording every bit of info. if the engineers didn't do a good job, then it wouldn't matter how good your equipment or power is, it will not sound the same. also, i'm not sure that i want my system to always sound like the real thing. I love concerts, and go to quite a few of them each year, but i also like the calmness of listening to a smooth jazz cd or album just to mellow out after a long day at work.
ATC actually put a pair of their active 100 speakers on stage in place of the actual orchestra. Rumor had it that it was very close to the real thing. ATC's can play 115dB continuous and active speakers have good uncompressed dynamic range.
I agree with Warrenh that synthesized music is close but live 3 instrument trio, for example, on a stereo is not even close to live unamplified music. There is just too much haze added in each step of the microphone, recording, mixdown etc.
But direct to disc, especially at 24 bit 192 res. is supposed to be a step above what we normally get on redbook or SACD.
Interesting range of responses. I'm a little surprised the a few think their systems sound better than real performers playing.
The greatest disappointment I experience with my system is following a concert, especially a classical symphonic. The action of the instruments, the delicacy of the strings and brute force of the timpanis is so distant from my system that I often wait a day or two for any serious listening. Occassionally, I have pulled out a recording of a concert I just attended, only to discover nearly everything of my system's presentation was wrong.

The closest I've heard to "live" was years ago at Peter Mcgrath's audio shop in Miami. He had a fabulous setup geared around Wilson Watt/Puppies with a Wilson sub-woofer. Not until Mr. McGrath offered up a sampling of his master recordings did the magic occur. The small combos and vocals were astonishing. Most life-like I have had the pleasure to hear.

One last thouht. I cannot recall ever feeling bass as of that experienced live.
It is an interesting set of responses -- great reading. In a nutshell, my answer is "sometimes". The soundstage simply can't be wide enough and the overall dynamics just can't be replicated. However, it really does sound like Sara McLaughlin is there in front of me. It really does sound like a symphonic kettle drum. It really does sound like an acoustic guitar ... well, you get the idea. Is the entire symphony or band there stretched out in front of me? No. Do individual voices or instruments sound like they are there? Often, yes. Often enough, I guess ;-)
Definitely not and I really don't believe it is possible for many of the above reasons. I am basing no on symphonic music. Rock and small scale acoustic doesn't either but it is less evident than an orchestra or even a chamber ensemble live. In addition to the obvious things, dynamics in particular, it is the harmonic detail, overtones and timbres that an audio system doesn't capture, definitely not the way live instruments do. The quality and engineering of the recording is the single biggest factor that brings it closer in my estimation, then the system itself that extracts what is there. I feel it is less important for some types of music over others but for those that think they are close, if you believe it that's all that matters :)
Reiterating my point, last night I hosted my choir party at my home, and we had a number of musical performances, vocal, piano and cello, in my living room, as well as the master tapes from our choir's spring concert we played on my system, also in that room. The tapes sounded very good, but were nowhere close to what the live music sounded like. There is a vitality and presence to a live performance that I've never heard a system match, and I'm sure a lot of it is the recording process as well as the playback system. Part of it is scale, part dynamics, part sheer loudness, but the real thing is instantly recognizable as such.
No and no.

I will say that nothing floors me more than the number of serious audiophiles who have no concept of what live music actually sounds like. The most glaring thing are the volumes and percussive dynamics of live music, which is rarely, if ever, encountered in a stereo system.
and onhwy61, how far am I willing to go? That is a GREAT question that I keep wondering myself. I had another epiphany a week ago when an audio friend lent me 2 pair of ic's to listen to. Unfortunately these cables are not cheap and DEFINITELY an amount I would never consider spending prior to listening. But the difference in the system was not subtle, a moment of realization over what is possible.

My wife heard it IMMEDIATELY, another audio buddy who heard it was also floored. Since you ask the question how far, I am trying to determine in real time whether I'm going ahead with these cables. The price seems more than commensurate with the improvement based on my experience but its a cable for crying out loud. Why should a cable have to make such a significant difference and cost so much to boot?
Why should a cable have to make such a significant difference and cost so much to boot

Have experienced this and, as a diyer, it's VERY frustrating!

For the 1st part, obviously the transfer function and noise reflection/rejection -- why/how? I don't really know, wish an RF person could chip in here...

For the second part (the cost), well... two points: a) small proprietary wire runs are VERY expensive
b) when a cable geometry WORKS WELL (remember, a rca cable is asymmetric, so more complicated) one just indexes the prices vs other outrageously priced products.

I'm trying to work out the Valhalla. I still have a way to go...:)
Tubegroover, your response in the another thread is the reason I started asked this question. It's the 2nd 6/8 post by Tubegroover.
I figured as much and these cables were definitive in some of my responses on that thread.
On some kinds of music: yes, in particular on percussion, voice, and smaller ensembles. A distant perspective (meaning the microphones were relatively far away from the instruments they recorded) also helps the illusion of realism.
Real thing? Yes. My system sounds like crappy midfi. Most of the time I am pretty happy when I hear more of a recording than I had previously heard over years of listening. To me this seems to be some of the value I have gotten from my purchases. I would say in my experience the degree to which music has sounded like the real thing- voices, instruments has almost totally depended on the recording and my ability to descern what sounds true to life.