Enough detail or too much?

When I go to listen to the orchestra play, the music never sounds as detailed as it does in some high end systems. The closest thing that I have heard to the "real thing" are some of the older nos tubes. There is some smearing but real orchestras do sound somewhat smeared. It seems like the area to get right are the violins. If you can get the violins to sound silky and smooth, that would be the way it sounds, to me at least. Bass always seems to sound somewhat boomy in a big music hall. The instrument that seems the most difficult to reproduce are pianos. I do not know how any system can reproduce the sound of a real piano, at any price. The weight of the notes are so unique, I have heard some extremely high end systems and none get it really right. Just curious how others feel.
No arguments from me in general.

Seriously, how can one expect an orchestra playing on a system in most listeners rooms to sound like the real thing in a large concert hall? Its not possible. There is too much difference in scale. Even with a fantastic recording, most any home system will scale down the performance in some way to get it to "fit" and be presentable in a much smaller listening room. That's just the way it is. Pick your reproduction and enjoy it, but the fact is it is only a reproduction and all reproductions give up something.

I agree it can be hard to get violins in orchestral recordings to sound smooth and natural when they should. This is an area that I believe good tube amplification can often help, at least that was the case in my system.

And yes, pianos are very dynamic and hard to get right but I've heard it done pretty well on various systems including mine.
Read the article by Robert Greene. It gives good insights into how and why recorded music doesn't sound like a good concert hall seat.
I agree with you on all of this. On the detail front, what I think you're hearing with a live orchestra is a multi source phenomenom. Each instrument (point source) has its own individual dimension of sound (image), mixing all these individual images tends to homogenize the sound to some extent, you don't generally hear individual instruments.

Audio systems compress this multi-dimensional sound into a stereo soundstage, images are much less dimensional than the 'real' thing, thus, there is less of this homogenizing effect. Perhaps this less integrated/holistic sound causes the brain to focus more on detailed information of individual instruments, missing imaging cues might evoke a different listening process.

I would think it has something to do with imaging because there is even greater detail with live music, we just don't hear it as such.
Just curious how others feel.

I am listening to Cat Empire "Live on Earth" at this moment and I don't really share your concerns at all - not even a little, actually not one tiny bit.

"Too much detail" means something is wrong. If it were accurate truthful detail then there would not be such a thing as too much. Room acoustics are a good 50% of what you hear and a good 50% of most problems. There are very few good concert halls and good concert hall seats and the same goes for audio systems with precious few good recordings to boot!
The two qualities that I listen for is timbrel accuracy and if I can hear "all the way back" into the hall or venue. The Orchestra when reproduced should also convey a sense of power and weight,both ends of the spectrum. If all this is conveyed to the listener, congratulations on a fine system.
Nice posts - many audiophiles do indeed go for a system that is "too detailed", to use the OP's phrase. Most orchestral musicians who are also audiophiles tend to have systems that have good soundstaging and imaging and are on the warmer side, so it sounds closer to how it does in the concert hall. They also tend to prefer horns (or electrostats) in the speaker department, and tend to prefer tube amplification to solid-state - tubes generally have more accurate resolution of instrumental and vocal timbres, which is an even more important consideration of many musicians. I have found that these types of systems also reproduce the piano better as well.

The bass issue is a fascinating one to me. As the OP says, bass is often not as defined in the concert hall as it is in many high-end systems, especially those incorporating subwoofers. I personally have yet to hear a system incorporating a subwoofer that actually sounds like live, orchestral music. I think too many people have gotten used to the over-amplified sounds of electronic instruments at rock concerts and the very un-lifelike sounds of many of today's recording mixes, and they expect to hear that same type of sound when they listen to acoustic instruments, having lost touch with what live acoustic music actually sounds like in a good hall.

As Shadorne correctly says, though, much of this also has to do with the individual recording engineers and what they do. Many audiophiles don't really have any idea how great an effect they have. They are attempting what is truly an impossible task, and every one of them does it differently, especially in this digital age. Mixing all those separate microphones into something even remotely resembling the original is almost impossible, and tends to remove much of the ambient noise of the concert hall itself, another reason why the result doesn't sound like live music.

OK, I've typed enough - time to go to bed.
For the most part, Robert Greene has it right, in my experience. In many cases, it is impossible to make the recorded sound like you'd hear it in a live performance, because a seat in the audience seat has a much more distant perspective than a recording microphone.

Air is a great filter of high frequencies, and the more air between you and the instruments, the greater the filtering effect. If you are ever present with the opportunity, it is instructive to listen to some of your favorite instruments from 1~2 meters away and note how different that sound is from what you are accustomed to hearing from an audience seat.

Also keep in mind that many instruments change sound depending on the angle that you listen from. If you listen to a violin from above (which is how many orchestral microphones are placed), it will be clearly more aggressive than what you will hear if you are level with it or below.

IOW, at some level a high-performance system should sound "too detailed" compared to what you'd hear live, because in many cases that's exactly what the microphone hears. If you could experience a concert from the location of the recording microphone (which I have done), you'd probably also think that the sound was "too detailed". OTOH, if a recording was made with the microphones located within the audience seating, the playback should sound like you'd typically hear live.

However, unless you know how the microphones were placed for a given recording, it isn't possible to state with conviction what the playback should sound like.

OTOH, many playback electronics produce distortions which are alien to the sound of live acoustic instruments, regardless of listening distance or angle. My experience has been that the presence of these distortions (particularly if IMD or non-harmonic distortions are involved) are a frequent reason why many systems are regarded as being "too detailed." Conversely, if these electronic distortions can be eliminated or reduced, in most cases you will find that you can tolerate a much higher level of detail and resolution.

My experience has been that an audio system with honest high resolution and low levels of IMD and non-harmonic distortion is tolerant of a much wider range of recordings and music styles than otherwise. If your system is overly picky of recordings, with comparatively few sounding acceptable on it, it is usually a sign that not all is well.

" If your system is overly picky of recordings, with comparatively few sounding acceptable on it, it is usually a sign that not all is well."

Getting as many recording to sound good/acceptable as possible is the best way to tune any system at any price point IMHO . If the best and the more compromised recordings, both old and new, all draw you into the music regardless, then you are in the zone where you want to be.
If it is on the record, I want to hear ALL of it the way it was recorded. If it is not on the record, I don't want to hear anything added. That is my goal.
Most of the really good studio albums that I have sound much better in my listening room than they ever do when I see the group live. This could be a result of the music that I like, blues, rock. alt, 60's and 70's stuff. I have seen some of these concerts at Carnegie Hall and a good recording always sounds better than live.

Example: James Taylor live with all the burping, farting, feedback and other extraneous noises present at a live event or a nice vinyl pressing, well engineered, then played back through my system....it's not even close,

Anyone else feel this way??
live/studio: apples/oranges

Both should sound different but still good when things go well.

Both can also sound crappy when not.

The only things that we listeners can control and adjust to our tastes is 1) our systems and 2) our seats at live events.
Dear Tzh2ly: Too much?, IMHO that depends what we are hearing in live events and what we are hearing in our systems.

If we attend to hear jazz/blues in a small night-club where we are seat(ed) close to the jazz/blues group we can hear how detailed/transparent is the music a lot more detailed than in any home system, when we hear the cymbals in that group the detail, speed, decay time, distortions, etc, etc can't even in any home audio system. We are near the source in this case and our perception is different than in other music live events where we are not so near the source.

By the contrary if we are hearing classical music in a big hall we are hearing at least at around 15-20m. from the source ( way back ) when the micros are at only 3m, not only that but in this kind of hall the seats and the people that are surrounded to our seat " absorb/reflect " the orchresta sound and the hall own reverberant time and absortion/difusion/reflection characteristics make that things comes totally different from what we can hear at home, normally we hear this kind of live events a little in the " dark " side against our audio systems.

Now and from my several experiences through my audio life and through the many audio systems that I already heard there are other factors that alter what we are hearing at home in our audio systems ( on the subject of: too much?. ) and one of those factors is " distortion "( any: IMD, THD, noise, Colorations, etc, etc.. ) that we are hearing at more high level that we can imagine.

For different reasons ( one of that is our own hearing loss, another could be that we are not too experienced in the different instruments real sound. ) we like that " transparency/brigth/spark " ( I mean: too much, not natural one. ) and almost always that " over-life "/spark/brightness it is nothing but high DISTORTIONS in the audio systems, distortions that are not on the recording but that were generated through the audio systems, is it familiar to any one of you/us the next sentences?
: " this cable makes a difference in my system: is more detailed on high frequencies. ", " Hey this tonearm is really better specially on high frequencies, now I have the " spark " that I have not before ", " Wow this amplifier really shine, specially at the top frequency range ", " Hey with this change of cable/capacitor/tonearm/etc I heard like I win 1-2db ( SPL ) in the system response ", " I don't like this change ( cable or whatever. ) the sound " sounds " lower and with out " Life ", etc, etc.

Normally these kind of " reactions " are telling us about changes in distortions ( usually higher ) that we perceive in better/easy way in the top frequency range and like a change in the SPL.

All those sentences but the last one are speaking of adding distortions to our system making that we will be faraway from what is in the recording, through the time that " beautiful " transparency/spark will tell that something is wrong and we take the endless attitude to following to change some audio links in the audio chain.

The last sentence normally tell me that I lower the distortions ( somewhere ) and if we are patience ( we need in deep know-how ) through the time we will take in count that all the " sound " is there ( better than before ) but now is more neutral ( that's why we hear a little " life-less ", lower SPL and even in the " dark " side. ) and truer to the recording. Of course that always could be that the recording is overbright and distorted.

When we can discern on " distortions " and neutrality then we are near the top of the overall audio systems learning curve and will enjoy better than ever the music reproduction in our home systems and grow-up in the right direction.

How can we discern in a precise way?, how can we tell when is distortion and when is neutral? how can we know when that " too much " is really a true improvement and not distortion? hard to say because this judgement is know-how that each one of us already achieve through our audio life and that each one of us can improve if we have the right attitude to do it: a LEARNING one.

There are some other factors that contribute on the subject but that could be for other thread.

Btw, I'm not saying that all what I posted here is the " bible ": NO, it is only a part of my learning curve that I share with you.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I have some thoughts in reference to scale. I have had luck getting proper scale, including orchestras. Believe it or not, it can be achieved in near field as well as normal set up. Speakers must be panned properly. You must have the speakers far enough apart. If you have space restraints, then you must move closer to the speakers. In my experience you should try to get your stage as wide as possible in order to produce life like reproduction. If your speakers are too close together everything gets congested. Here is a quick way to get close. Sit in your listening chair and put your arms straight out with all fingers straight as well. Form a straight line with the tip of your fingers to your shoulder, orientate your hands so your fingers are vertical up and down as if your getting ready to clap like a seal. Next, move your arms until those straight lines are pointing right at your speakers. If you can see the insides of your fingers, do one or both of two things. Move your speakers closer to you, or move your listening position closer to the speakers. I have more believable results moving my speakers closer to me as far from the rear wall as possible. This allows for more depth perception. If your image falls apart start toeing the speakers towards you until the center image is solid again and stop. The rest is up to your speakers and your electronics. Some speakers and electronics can make images two big or to small. Now of course some speakers may not work this way. Some need rear wall enforcement or what ever. But I have had great success this way. I have had speakers 15 ft from a rear wall and 3 to 4 feet in front of me but panned properly as I suggested. It creates infinite depth and width. The whole venue will conjure and breath. I can not count how many times I have seen or listened to a system where the speakers are too close together and the representation is just ridiculous. People tend to sit too far away from there speakers and it allows for many other forces to act on the stereo. The room starts getting in the way. I really like near field. But my ref speaker at the moment is AG Duo's and they must be at least 8 ft away to integrate properly, the drivers are far apart. I get them as close as I can and wide. Soundstage is immense. Full scale orchestra is believable. Now I am really blabbering and many may think I am smoking something...LOL!
Rudolf, I like your process and follow something very much similar when setting up my speaks. My only wish is that my rooms were a tad larger because the OHM speaker's sound stage and imaging tends to fill the room from wall to wall and then some even, and mostly in front of your listening position as it should be.
the experience of listening to prerecorded music and the experience of a live concert are just two different things. live theatre/film....sporting event/game on tv.....sex/cinemax.....germany/frankenmuth.....as so it goes........
the room is the most important part of a stereo. Its just to hard to make a breath taking believable presentation in a inadequate room. I see all these high dollar stereos in a compromised room. I just dont understand, its a waste of money. I have walked into beautiful homes and the wife has pushed the poor chap in to a hole the size of a closet, in the basement. We just have to stand up for ourselves and are well being. I do not let Nichole call the shots when it comes to where my audio will be placed. At the moment, I am looking for a new home. The house must be able to support my audio. I have gone back and forth about how I like it intergrated. I always thought I would love a dedicated room downstairs away from everything. I finally did that and hate it. I feel like I am in a cave. I miss my music in my life, while I cook, relax, read. I need it on the first floor in my living space. I have entertained the thought of two systems but I think it would be too much. I have a hard time keeping up with one.
"I have entertained the thought of two systems but I think it would be too much. I have a hard time keeping up with one."

I picked up some inexpensive and unobtrusive vintage gear to create the core of a very simple but nice sounding and looking 2-channel second system that is used for audio and video in our sizable family room/kitchen area.

A system like it, with both phono and digital sources, could be assembled for well under $2000 off ebay these days if you are smart about "right-sizing" and fitting it into your living space.
I am glad I started this thread. It really helped me get a feeling of what hi fi and enjoying music is all about. I remember sitting in the 3rd row listening to Itzhak Perlman play Mozart's Violin Concerto hearing the tone of his violin, and the dynamics associated with the performance. It was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever heard. I think the closest I have ever heard to this sound was through quad 989's, a pair of Mcintosh 275s in mono and a VPI TNT turntable. I think the beauty was coming from the Quads more than any other component. I have never heard a SET system but I would like to someday.

I read the comment about some of the live performaces sounding somewhat dull. I could not agree more and also the overblown bass. Sometimes bass can get pretty deep and powerful especially when I hear a pipe organ. It to me is just not as tight as some systems make it. The orchestra does sound somewhat midrangey, so maybe that is why I like the sound of tubes so much.

Its all in the way the performance is recorded and engineered. Sound engineers should listen to recordings from the late fifties and early sixties. They are some of the most natural sounding recordings I have heard. How did they do that?

I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

Thanks for all of your comments