Home HiFi better than Live?

From all the magazines and discussions I have seen, it appears that almost everyone of them compares systems and equipment to Live music as the reference standard. That may be the ultimate comparison but it appears to me that I prefer a good home HiFi setup and well produced software to Live music any day. I have been to numerous concerts and never ever get the feeling that the performers are performing for me alone as I do in my own system. I feel alot more emotional involvement from the entertainers in concerts but I don't feel it is any better sound than my HiFi at home.
Admittedly I will say that I do not have the best sense of hearing every nuance in musical performances but I actually like the way my system make warmer, clearer, and softer sounds than live music. Am I the only person who feels this way?
BTW, my own system consists of Levinson reference components and Amati speakers, the analog part is Oracle, Morch and ZYX, so I may be spoiled a bit in this regard.
I agree, rarely at home do people cough, talk, or spill beer on you. And I feel the benchmark of a live performance for my audio system is way too low. However, live music isn't about sonics. It's about sharing an experience with the person you are sitting with and the musicians. It's about the emotion that can happen at that momment, the possibility of magic. And in those rare instances when the band/orchestra is together, having fun, and in the groove, you can share in an experience that is truly phenomenal. (even when the house system costs a fraction of what yours does and sounds like crap).
Fwangfwang, I totally agree with you. I would rather listen to well recorded music than a live concert. With very few exceptions, the sonics of live concerts are horrible. And now that I have a nice system, it just sounds better. I think concerts are overpriced and overrated. Plus at home, I can read in the sweet spot or otherwise entertain myself while I enjoy the music. I've always been discontent to sit through concerts where I'm forced to concentrate on performers I can't even see because they're so far away, as the sound reverberates painfully throughout the stadium or whatever sonically improper place they're playing. A nice concert hall (like Copley in San Diego where I live) is an exception, however, and will beat my system any day of the week.
I mostly agree, I have rarely heard live detail and balance as good as I can get at home. But there are some performers who must be heard in person. For me the Allman Brothers, Jimmy Buffett and Grateful Dead are groups I love(d) in concert, but rarely hear a recording of through to the end.

If one can get good seats, the symphonic experience cannot be reproduced within my budget.

Since I have acquired some pretty good equipment, I find the annoyance of dealing with Ticketmaster and venues who see customers as problems to be controlled has radically shifted my music appreciation to the "good chair" from live.
That's why the great Glenn Gould stopped playing in concert halls. When it comes to SOUND alone a good high end system might be superior in many cases. But as you mentioned it is not only the sound that counts when we attend a concert, is it? I sometimes close my eyes in a concert and imagine sitting in front of my system evaluating the sound I am getting that very moment. The smaller the ensemble on stage the more often I prefer my system's sound to the one produced live. I would never consider not to concerts, however. Live is live after all.....
I understand what you guys are saying, because the amplified sound systems at most rock and jazz shows are not very good. However, the reference standard is not just live music, but UNAMPLIFIED live music! For the most part that means classical...
I don't know where you guys are going for concerts or what you like to hear, but I have never heard music in my listening room that was half as engaging as that of a live concert.
In a sense the music on an LP or CD is manufactured. Things are done in the studio which cannot happen in the concert hall i.e. over dubs or blending different recordings together to find the 'perfect' one to release on an unsuspecting public.
Any concert has the real orchestra or band playing in front of you. Gone are the manufactured sounds or the gimmics used in the studio.
I have sat in the back of an arena with bad acoustics for a Bob Dylan concert and loved every minute of it. I have been second row center stage for a more acoustic 'folk' concert and been totally lost in the experieince.
I have nearly 1000 recordings and not one of them is as much fun to listen to as the concerts were to attend.
Sonically they may have been superior, but watching your favorite musician being interviewed one 60 minutes is not nearly as much fun as chatting with them!!!
I'm really so sorry you haven't found a way to enjoy LIVE MUSIC. I find you're comments somewhat dishearting and depressing. I don't have the time or patience to educate you on how you missed the fundamental point. Perhaps some other AUDIOGONER can explain it to you. And, I'm not sure you are capable of understanding. No offense- some just don't have the ability or desire to think on a higher level. Ever hear the phrase "dumbing down"? I am curious to know if you also prefer porn to making love or machines? They have machines that can do anything these days. Technology is great! You get the analogy? BTW- I don't think you should ever tell anyone you don't prefer LIVE MUSIC. Makes you look bad, especially to a musician or members of the opposite sex.
Home Hi-Fi is a better experience than Live in many cases, but the reverse is true often as well. There's no question that a good quality system reproduces music at home in an incredibly good manner, and gives you a lot of flexibility on what you want to experience.

On a strictly sound quality basis, there are at least two instances where Live is definitely better. One - I saw John Williams, the guitarist, live at an intimate venue with fabulous acoustics. I was about 7 rows away and had direct view of his playing. Fabulous. Second - rock concerts with really good acoustics sound so much better than anything you can create at home (or would want to :-) Genesis, Tool, Creed - all examples of rock concerts I've seen where the sound was just incredible, as opposed to the blurry sound you get at many rock concerts.
My sixteen year old son holds that view based, I think, on rock concerts and the outdoor concerts he has heard at the Montreal Jazz Festival over the years. His main beef is with the fact that at live events you can't clearly hear the words of vocals. I think that with most performances being over amplified by going through pa systems of dubious quality and being equalized, he may have a point. For my part, I believe that it is very difficult to top a live event. Firstly, it involves more than just hearing the performance in front of you. You can see the performance, feel the audience, smell what is going on (particularly at rock concerts...). Nothing compares to the live event. When I was younger, the acid test for a band was whether it sounded like it's recordings when seen live. I can tell you the Stones going back to 1965 couldn't pass that test. As rock albums became more and more a product conjured up in the studio, the link between the live event and recordings became more tenuous. So I gave up on linking the two to any great degree. When it comes to acoustic performances, in a good hall, I have yet to hear a system that can really duplicate the event. Even live music by buskers or by musicians playing in malls and the like has an immediacy lost in recording. The one thing that I find missing in recordings is the leading edge of sounds, the initial attack of the instrument. The other much broader area where recordings fall short is in reproducing the acoustic space in which music is performed. This frontier can only be reached, I believe, with multi channel systems. Unfortunately, their association with HT and the well-entrenched two channel bias of high-enders is making the likelihood of these systems succeeding less likely. That any individual prefers the recorded sound to the live event is a question of taste and expectations. I love live recordings, warts and all, to me they sound more like someone documenting a real event than a bunch of people cutting and pasting. The Maxwell Street recordings of Robert Nighthawk come to mind. The sound in and of itself may border on the atrocious to the ears of folks used to slick productions, but the music is the blues. The only way of experiencing it is through these recordings. Bottom line: the whole question, put in terms of mutual exclusion is a bit bogus; the live event and recorded music should each be enjoyed for what they are. That we tend to compare the two is the "Absolute Sound" syndrome. The only valid comparison of this sort, to my mind, is to compare an acoustic instrument or group of acoustic instruments that could actually fit in your listening room. That is my main criteria for judging a sound system. We simply are not that well equipped at this time for comparisons of the live version of large scale works to their recorded versions to be valid. Music is to be enjoyed, so that when too many questions spoil the fun, one should step back. To know a living thing is to kill it.
I always thought this and sit back with a smile when everyone compares their systems to live music. As Seth points out, what is really meant is Unamplified live music. However, I have NEVER heard a band, even small ones, play unamplified music and several of my friends play in good local bands. They have this crappy pevey stuff that hurts my ears, reflections abound, there is a mass of tagled wires all over the place (capacitance must be through the roof), the vocals come across as scratchy, etc. Anyway, I much prefer the sound coming from my speakers than "live" music as well. I have to give my ears the benefit of the doubt, you know, since I value my equipment over bands'. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have yet to hear them. Arthur
I use live music as a reference for classical. I am exposed to live music at least once a week; sometimes as much as four times a week.

I have always been doubtful that professional audio reviewers are exposed to that much live music. I think they really rely on their "reference" systems.

But, I'll take the live music, thanks!

I have box seats overlooking the stage at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. To have the BSO, Yuri Temirkanov, and world class artists playing not much further away than my speakers is hard to beat.

In a month, in two different small intimate halls, I'll have Menahem Pressler and the Beaux Arts Trio playing right in front of me.

I will also be on stage perfoming with Dave Brubeck on March 30th.

A CD or LP does not rate when compared to all of the above.
My perspective is principally classical. I'll take a live performance any day; home hi-fi is nice in its own way but is a completely different animal. There is no way any home stereo system is going to match the sheer power and volume of sound of a symphony orchestra going full tilt, let alone even the sound of a single Guarneri del Gesu in a living room (either from a sheer loudness perspective or in getting the overtones and harmonics that you hear live right). It's partially the shortcomings and limitations of the recording process and partially the fact that no speaker can move as much air, among other things. In addition, as another poster noted, there is a spontaneity to a live performance that, with a great artist, can lead to far many more "magical" moments than you get from a recording, particularly a studio recording, which often can sound too cautious in comparison (one of the reasons I like recordings of live concerts).
My initial response to this was that if you think your home rig sounds better than a live concert, then you need to go to better concerts. I'd take Carnegie Hall over my living room any day.

But since we all listen to a lot more recorded music than live music, and since recording allows all sorts of effects that you cannot get live (like a sense of intimacy at an arena show!), it's possible that many folks have just gotten used to the feeling of having these "musicians" 10 feet away from them, and having the various instruments discretely arranged across the soundstage (an effect you often do not get in a live venue). So I could see where some people might actually prefer Memorex.

But on third thought, you need to go to better concerts.
I'm with Lolo!

Many of the musicians I've discovered I even heard them live first or until I heard them live I was not interested too much in their records or CDs.

Moreover I see no point listening to classical music through the speakers... Resolving? Worm? What system can realy reproduce a real grand-piano or Cello? Some of the reference recording by Chesky records do make me too bored with lower-than mediocre performances. On live concert you choose and you get what you choose.

To the amplified live performances I guess that the key point is the concert hall or concert place. Yes, very often the sound is horrible, but seing musician getting a live performance for you is exiting and pleasing despite the quality of a sound. I realy try to get the right spot for the particular concert hall so I can listen see and enjoy. And I don't give a $hit how Robert Fripp sounds live and always enjoy watching and listening him playing!.
Sugarbrie, You are near Baltimore? I live in Washington D.C. and could not agree more with you more. I go to the Kennedy center frequently and last Friday we listened to Tchaikovsky 5th. It was great. There is no comparison. Where are you playing with Dave Brubeck on the 30th. I would like to see that. Thanks! Bob
I agree you have to go to a good live concert to make a fair comparison. A crappy concert is the same as a crappy audio system.

They have very nice concerts at the arts center at George Mason University. The accoustics of their beautiful looking hall are terrible. I only go if I decide it is worth the expense to get seats close to the stage, because otherwise is not worth the trip to get bad sound.
This is one those questions where the answer is "it depends". My experience has been that all of the classical concerts are much better sounding and more engaging live. I think this is a direct result of the venue being better acoustically, but more importantly, the lack of amplification. Almost every rock concert I have been to has had horrible sound; too loud, too much bass, and unintelligable lyrics. I think this is partly from the poor acoustics of the venue, but probably more so from the reproduction chain (low-fi) and the sound mixer who has got to be deaf from doing this on a daily basis! Regardless of the bad sound rock concerts can still be very engaging because of the experience (go figure). Now having said that, one of the most disappointing concerts I've been to was Peter Gabriel about ten years ago. I had listened to his "Plays Live" LP and CD countless times (one of my favorites) and loved it. Good sound, great performance. The concert was nothing like the recording, the sound was horrible (it was in an arena, uggh), the mix was bad, and I was in the nose bleed section so I couldn't see Peter or his band very well. The worst part was I heard people saying how good the concert was afterward, I bet they like Bose too! And I won't get into the cost of tickets for this form of "entertainment". Anyway, the point is acoustic venues will almost always be better than recorded. Keeping the chain as simple as possible is the key to great sound.
It totally depends on what you're listening to. A couple of my absolutely favorite bands are my favorite bands precisely because their shows are some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on. That said, they can't seem to lay down a decent track to save thier lives -- so listening to it at home is not just bad, it's a complete waste of time.

Most amplified music, when played live, is amplified through crappy stuff, with crappy acoustics and sounds exactly like you'd expect it to sound under the circumstances. Get ahold of the studio tracks, or even well recorded live tracks where they take the time to do a better job because they know it's being recorded, and play it through the old hi-fi it will likely sound a lot better than your average stage show. If this is what you listen to and why you listen, yea, home will sound better -- of course it will. (Which doesn't necessarily have the slightest thing to do with which is more fun or engaging, which is another story and could go either way depending on a whole host of things including, among other things, whether you actually have your clothes on, which is easier to accomodate at home and, like I said, a whole different story...).

The real trick, as noted repeatedly, is the unamplified stuff. From a good seat in a good house, an orchestra sounds like an orchestra in countless ways speakers never will. That said, a good seat, a good house, plus a good orchestra is not always the easiest combination to come by, so it's easy to imagine how, on a whole, folks could get consistently better results and sound at home (but don't give up on the live stuff yet, if done right it's where it's at).

The real test, as far as I am concerned, is to have a couple of professional musicians over, preferably folks from whom you actually have some of their recordings, get them to bring their instruments (trumpet, sax, guitar, violin, great if you've got a piano, whatever), ply them with wine (always appreciated) and see if you're even tempted to turn on the stereo. (Hint: you won't be. Trust me.)
Your quote:

"I have been to numerous concerts and never ever get the feeling that the performers are performing for me alone as I do in my own system. I feel alot more emotional involvement from the entertainers in concerts but I don't feel it is any better sound than my HiFi at home."

You clearly don't get what a concert is about. By wanting to be "alone" with the artist you miss the energy and excitement of several (thousand) others around you that love the music. I think I know the answer to these but don't you love the kick of the bass drum amplified through several thousand watts of amplification? Don't you notice that the chrome microphone stands just sparkle? Isn't it cool when the artist stops singing and 15,000 of your new best friends keep singing right along? Isn't it cool when Robert Plant sings "Stairway to Heaven" and you watch him as he does it? I could go home right now and listen to it on my $40,000 stereo and it'll be nothing like watching Led Zeppelin in Madison Square Garden.

It probably doesn't stop there as you probably would rather watch a playoff game on TV than be at the stadium with the fanatics. I was there when our hockey team beat the Russians in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and although I still get goose bumps when I see it replayed on TV it is NOTHING like what it was like being in that arena - the building was shaking!!!

Too bad that you don't share in the excitement - you are really missing something. Try to see the forrest for the trees.
My least favorite musical experience is listening to a "Live" CD. Its the crappy amplification and often times sub par musical performance without all of the magic of a good live show.
My goal is to get out and listen to live music at least once a week: mostly acoustic "folk" music, bluegrass, country, blues in a small venue. I prefer the local bar or coffehouse where I can sit where I want to sit for the best sound, if I get there early enough. The sound varies depending on where you stand in the room. I do not prefer venues where there are rows of seats, assigned or not - I can not move around to find the best sound.
In live music situations where I can move around and sit or stand where I want to sit or stand, I always enjoy the sound better than the sound of my stereo. (I also like to drink a beer when I listen to live music, which is why I prefer the bar scene.)
Back when I lived in Dallas, I would go to the Honky Tonks, ("Cowboys", Country 2000, Red River, the Top Rail) and would pay ten dollars to hear a "big name country star": Leroy Parnell, Steve Wariner, Gary Stewart, Exile, Rick Trevino.... There was the stage, and in front of the stage was the dance floor where people would stand to watch and listen, and people would dance behind the listeners. I could move about the dance floor, and I found the place where the vocals were the clearest and that is where I would stand. If I stood somewhere else, the vocals would be muddled. In a bar or club or honky tonk type venue, the quality of the sound depends on where you stand. I never went to the famous "Billy Bob's" honky tonk in Ft. Worth, because of the assigned seating up by the stage, and I could not stand where I could hear quality sound. I went to hear Gary Stewart once at Billy Bobs, and the sound and experience was so mediocre, I never went back there again.
So to answer the origional post, I prefer live music over my stereo, especially if I can move around the venue and not have an "assigned" seat.
I think live music and home hifi are two totally different experiences, enjoyable in their own way. The same way I believe that studio albums do not have to try to recreate a live concert, but can be their own medium.
That said I do like my hifi and my albums to sound like live music as much as possible.
I read through all the above posts, and to me Seaandtaylor99 (just above) said it all for me-- "two totally different experiences"-- and both are enjoyable. Seeing and hearing Buddy Guy live though-- crappy acoustics and all-- was a great, but once in a lifetime, experience for me! Cheers. Craig
Mfkeleher, I agree and relate with you! I have always wanted to be sitting next to the guy who yelled “Whipping Post”. The last few concerts I went to (Beethoven’s 9th and a Traffic reunion) my fellow concert goers coughed, talked and yelled during performances. How can a person enjoy the show when the person next to you is sucking there dinner from between his teeth? Or how about the large person trying to get to the center of the row and sticks their HUGE, well perfumed rear end in your face.

Yes, there is nothing that can match a live performance in the right venue but for me I’d rather sit is my recliner with a cup of coffee and Ludwig blasting.
Yea, despite all of my verbiage (arguably) to the contrary, Seandtaylor99 and Garfish hit it on the head -- they're inherently different beasts, each enjoyable in its own right, and the extent to which one approximates the other is often wonderful, sometimes meaningful, but really somehow secondary. Music in any form is worthy of enjoyment. Isn't that the bottom line? Anyone's preferences based on recourse, circumstance and personal preference is hardly a basis for all of the puffery, bombast, and patronizing that some of the posters (myself included, mea culpa) seem to be shading towards. If it sounds good and you're having fun, then you're doing it right. Kick back, enjoy.
I'm glad I managed to bring some agreement. I've thought for a long time that, unless the recording engineers are genuinely trying to recreate a live performance (as they usually are with jazz, classical, and some rock/pop albums) that the recorded medium is very different, and is best treated as such. Some of my favourite studio albums (Crowded house woodface being an example) are well mixed because the engineer followed the rule of separation : instruments in the same frequency band must be separated in the stereo mix, instruments in the same part of the stereo mix must be separated by frequency. Following this rule leads to a wonderfully airy sound where one can have many different things "going on" without them interfering. Of course it's about as far removed from a live performance as you can get, but it works for me. Many studio albums that try to sound live by making the stereo mix resemble a stage setting end up sounding muddled because the drums are all crushed together in the center, overlapping the vocals, and having bass panned to one side just sounds odd. Engineering is a real art .. as much as the performance itself.
I've been obsessed with this crazy hobby on and off for almost twenty years now. I've heard some pretty great systems in that time, and currently love my SET/horn system at home that brings the performance right into my living room up close and personal. I also have a good friend who owns an amazing high-end all-Levinson system, as the original poster mentions they do. His system is set up to the nines, and is in a great listening room. I prefer my SET system, but his does have some merits that mine does not (and vice-versa). That said, I have NEVER been able to achieve the kind of adrenaline-driven deep and primal satisfaction, from ANY of those systems that I've heard, that I consistently experience in the best of the live performances I have enjoyed. I absolutely get profound enjoyment from hearing my system singing for me, all by myself and comfortable in my home...and it frequently gives me goosebumps at how real it can sound. But the idea that it can actually replace or improve upon a great live performance in a good venue is utterly ubsurd to me. The experience is entirely different, unless you are dead to the world around you! I mean no offence here, but live music has moved me in ways that are entirely unique to that experience. I've also had horrible experiences listening to live music for a whole variety of reasons (bad performance, bad venue, bad audience, etc.). Those things that are unique to live music cannot be replicated by ANY machine as they are all about life, energy, interaction and electricity (between living beings...performers and audience). Take the music out of the picture just to illustrate a point: Stand alone in a room and you may feel a certain way. Add one person, even without any verbal interaction, and your experience will be entirely different. At a few hundred people and, again, you change the experience entirely. It may start to sound a bit new-age and spiritual, but there is no denying that we are all emitting energy as long as we are alive, and perhaps even to some extent when we are not. Some of that energy can be quantified, and some is entirely invisible and much of it may remain mysterious and unknown. Bring music into the picture now, and actually start to deliberately express and guide the energies of hundreds of indivisuals en masse and you have one very powerful experience (pleasurable or not is up to the individual and circumstances). Remove the crowd, and replace the performer with a machine that only emits one tiny aspect of that energy (the music), and your experience will be ENTIRELY different...there is certainly no debating that in my mind. Bottom line for me: I do enjoy both experiences, but my system only bears a resemblence to listening to live music in only a very surface regard. If you are talking strictly about an AURAL comparison of the two.....well, why even bother! We all have at least four other senses that come into play, and I'm quite certain there are more that we're unaware of that come into play as well. We also have a heart, a soul and a brain (though any one of those three can be debatable with the individual ;-), as well as our filters of individual experiences, all of which processes all of this, much of which I really doubt we completely understand. Too many thoughtful responses to this post to keep track of, but the comparison between porn and making love someone made, illustrates the same concept I am trying to.
If a person is attending a concert purely for the sound quality they are missing the point of music! One of the most significant aspects of the experience is the experience itself. If the local symphony is playing my favorite piece, the experience is as enjoyable as the music. A concert is more than just notes.
To a limited degree home audio is to music what video games are to sports. The experience of watching or playing the sporting event on a little screen is nothing like being in the game. A concert is being in the game.
It doesn't matter if the concert is classical or the most repulsive rap or speed metal. It has less to do with the quality of the sound than it does the quality of the experience. Regardless of the musicians, people attend because they want to hear the music as it is being played by their favorite musicians. Sure, some concerts sound better than others, but sitting in a chair at home is nothing like the concert experience.
The two cannot really be compared. Live music is not just an aural experience. Many other senses are involved, and in many cases all of the senses are involved. Especially if the musicians stink!!!
Don't confuse your prerecorded music with the experience of a live concert.
Thank you all for your insightful comments. In further refining my thinking on this, I am in agreement that there is an emotional part of the experience in live music that is impossible to capture in music software and that certainly I have never experienced orchestral music at home as good as in a concert in a great accoustical setting. I think that one observation that is most true is that most live concerts with amplified sounds are not as good as a good home HiFi from strictly a sound perspective, unamplified concerts, I admit are better.
I myself usually go to live music events atleast a couple of times a month and more often than not bought CD's of the performing artists shortly thereafter, to remind me of the experience and enjoy various pieces with more intensity at home.
It was not my intention to say that the Live Music experience was not as good as a good home HiFi but, I may be getting a bit obstinate here, the sound itself more often than not is better at home. Now the glass of single malt and a Cuban cigar may have a lot to do with that observation sometimes but by and large when I am not sharing the experience, I like it better at home.
Now there you bring up a whole different debate Fwangfwang....DWL: Drinking While Listening! Alchohol, without any doubts whatsoever, impairs all your senses, including your hearing. That single malt is stopping you from enjoying your expensive high-end system to the fullest possible degree! Really!! You PAID all that money for that remarkable system so you really should be reaping all the benefits...every bit of lifelike realism that it has to offer. So just box up your collection of single malts, and if you have a wine collection you may as well just throw that in too cause those fine red wines are REAL BAD on your hearing...any good port by the way?! Port is the worst..you may as well just stand in a cold shower and tear up all that cash you spent on those fine components if you're DWL! So just carefully bubble wrap all those bottles and float them in a nice bed of styro peanuts in a big-ass box (use a crate if you have more than 20) and ship all that nasty hearing-impairing liquor to me via Fedex...I know just what to do with it, and you'll thank me once you hear the difference listening sober can make!!! Hang onto those Cubans though, I don't smo....er, well, they don't do anything to impair your hearing so they're OK! But get those bottles of fine wines and liquors out of your house and let me take care of them for you! I know you'd do the same if you saw a fellow Audiophile abusing his hearing that way! Any of you other folks doing the DWL thing, I'd be happy to help in any way I can. The worst offenders are those really expensive red wines, 20+ year-old ports and fine single-malts...just write me off the list and I'll send you my address and you can ship them off to me for 'recycling'! No need for thanks...happy to do my part!
I enjoy both experiences. I listen more to my home system and car system, but I've reached higher levels of enjoyment in the live concerts. Miles Davis (1974 and 1986), Micheal Brecker (1990), Santana (1973, 1999 and 2000), Tower of Power (1972), Funkadelic, War, Sly and The Family Stone, Allman Brothers, REO Speedwagon, Luther Vandross, Spyro Gyra, Gil Scott-Heron, Lyle Lovett, Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, The Eagles, Rare Earth, Anita Baker, Regina Belle and countless others have always taken me a little higher than recorded music..not matter how well reproduced. Still...I enjoy both...live is a little more intense usually.
It is funny how many people say "watching" rather than "listening" to a live concert in their descriptions of how much better the sound is live.... Arthur
I agree with a lot of what Pbb mentioned. Many bands simply aren't capable of playing live with the intensity that is presented in their studio efforts. As such, this is not only a let-down in terms of sonics, it is a let down in terms of overall energy and presentation. None the less, one can still enjoy a show but it's not the same as having a band that really knows how to work the crowd AND sounds great on stage. When you can get both aspects going, you not only have "musicians" but "skilled performers" to thank for what will probably be a very memorable event. Granted, a venue with horrible sonics / and / or a bad sound engineer can make or break the event, but if the people on the stage really know what they are doing, they can somehow make the best of what is basically a bad situation.

Since i've worked as a sound engineer running the mixing boards at live events, i am very critical of what i hear at most amplified concerts. I typically try to work my way up to the front of the stage and listen to each individual instrument and then wander through the crowd. If the sound varies DRASTICALLY between what the musicians sound like up on stage and what is coming through the amplified PA system, i know that the sound man has probably failed to transfer what the band is trying to accomplish sonically. With some of the bands i've heard though, i'm kinda glad the engineer "touched things up a bit" : )

As far as intelligibility at amplified events goes, there are several reasons for "mumble mouth" vocals and a lack of clarity. Many performers have horrible microphone technique and most PA systems flat out suck. What kind of dispersion and transient response are you going to get when using 12", 15" or 18" commercial duty woofers and running them up to 2 or 3 KHz ??? Since most sound reinforcement companies and crews lack listening skills, they look at specs on paper and think that the speakers being sold to them as "Pro Sound" should be as good as it gets. As we've all heard, this is obviously NOT the case.

With that in mind, one can't really blame "horrible" sound on the band in many cases. Much of it falls on the shoulders of the engineers designing "Pro" PA gear and the less than educated people running the sound at the show. Having talked to a few folks that do design such gear, much of what ends up on the market and what they have designed / wanted to promote is a very different thing than what makes it to market. Sean

PS... live and recorded are VERY different things in most cases. When you can get a REALLY well recorded live performance, the two can be pretty close if you've got a good system.
The whole point of my trying to get good sound from my first hifi system was to try to get Tracy Nelson's records to sound like she did in person. Getting close now, but it's taken 30 years. Of course, when I listen to her at home, she never gets up and walks off the stage because the sound system is bad. And then, there's her rendition of Seven Bridges Road, where she does the low and high harmony - you can't get that in a live performance.

Nor can you go out and listen to a young Tracy Nelson or Barbara Keith, or Eva Cassidy, Buddy Holly, etc., etc. For some people, I am sure, listening to a recording of certain performers beats listening to anyone else live.

If sound is the thing, nothing beats a real live unamplified performance in a small room with an audience there to listen, or an orchestra in a decent venue. Nothing's worse than trying to hear live performers through bad pa amplifiers and speakers and an audience there just to be there.
I agree with you that the live amplified concert totally depends on the man behind the board and certainly the concert organization.

To organize Pete Gabriel concert where everyone wants to hear him live is impossible in small concert hall and you gotta have an arena where even mega-watts of amplification would not be enough or would only be OK for ones that relatively sit close enough to hear(but there is a probablility that you wouldn't see him now that sucks!)

To organize Krimson or Dave Sylvian concert NY Town hall is the small best great place where probably a kilowatt per channel is good enough. Man, I heard every note of Fripp, Belew and Gunn the way I can hear through my headphones!

I was spitting onto the floor after Roxy Music concert at MSG theatre which is pretty large and I had a horrible seat behind the column and at the very end of balcony and I could barely distinguish notes Manzanera playing. As to Bryan Ferry I only heard a reflected echo. After that I said to myself I go for the small clubs, cafe or concert hall performances no larger than 3000 people. The rest is too commercial for me IMO.
Sean ... interesting your comment about not capturing the energy of the studio in a live performance. When I was recording with a band we found it very difficult to capture the energy and dynamics of the live performance in the studio. The more the recording engineer tried to polish the sound the more it lost its drive. I thought we were pretty good live, and we got good audience reactions, but our studio album just sounds flat to me now.
I completely agree with your comment regarding the engineering at live events. Is there some school somewhere that teaches PA guys that all the audience wants is gut-churning bass ?
Interesting observation, Seandtaylor. Our church choir made a CD recording of various pieces we knew well and we also found ourselves so concerned about getting everything just perfect for the recording that we lost the emotion and feeling of the pieces we were singing. A far worse performance than when we'd sing at a service or concert. Perhaps professional musicians can handle it better, but I still think that, unless you're manipulating things for the studio recording, or the artist is having a bad day/night, a live performance is the more exciting one for me, particularly when the audience also gets into it and in turn spurs on the artists.
In an objective sense, live music on instruments (assuming, unamplified) and re-produced music through a machine are, as one would expect, different. We try to get the sound of stereo to sound similar, but all of the above factors mentioned make that unfeasible (and, yes, in particular with natural dynamics).

But, while trying to approximate the sound of live music in an objective sense may be valuable, what we are actually trying to do is catalyze the experience of live music as our minds react to it. Stereos, because you can listen to them under a different set of circumstances - alone, at home etc. - produce their own context that amplifies this catalyzation (the receptive mind that listens deeply responds to turning off the thinking mind through isolation, quiet, closing the eyes, etc.).

As for myself, live music can not be beaten, if its good music heartfully played together and the people around aren't acting like jerks (went to a Ravinia concert this past summer that was awful because the young people were talking so much in our location...). So, context effects the live catalyzation too.

If you could have Sarah Vaughn singing in your living room unamplified or the sound of the amplified stereo machine playing Ms. Vaughn, which would you choose? Humans have evolved listening to "live" sounds and those are the ones that most easily quell the beast inside our minds.

Brave question and position though. Thank you for that.
I've had the some of the WORST experiences at big-venu/popular concerts (about 1/4 of the concerts I attended in the past year). Most of it has to do with a combination of very poor amplification, and the behavior of the crowds (loud and obnoxious). I've recently vowed NEVER to attend anything resembling an Arena concert! The main thing that keeps me going to live music is that I've had profoundly moving experiences at so many other concerts, that I've never been able to, nor had the urge to try to replicate by other means (per my earlier response to this post). It seems like the more intimate the setting, the less 'overblown' the amplification (accoustic have been some of the best concerts for me), the better the concert experience. Unfortunately it is pretty rare that someone like Dave Matthews plays to a small crowd in little theatre (I like some of Dave's music, but one of his Arena-sized outdoor concerts last year had me actually get up and leave quite early...it was HORRIBLE...again, acoustics/amplification & crowd). I wish I'd got to see some of the acoustic tour he did with Tim Reynolds (great Guitar player) which I believe were shows at smaller venues. That live CD with the two of them is wonderful if you like his music. Fortunately there is really not much popular stuff I like. Tori Amos is as main stream as it gets for me and I'd go ALMOST anywhere to hear her thrash those keyboards. But when she changed venues from the Paramount Theatre (excellent local venue for well-produced concerts) to our local sports arena that is otherwise used for basketball, hockey and the like, I drew the line there. I'd rather listen on a Walkman!!! I've been to one concert (which was one too many) in that concrete acoustic-nightmare, and the only time I'll ever go back there is either to watch a sporting event or if hell freezes over. Just like the components in a system, those elements that make the difference in whether a concert is a wonderful or horrible experience for you are all about synergy. It's just that the synergy of a live-concert is only partially predictable and repeatable, while much of the rest of it changes as quickly and unpredictably as a persons mood. The synergy of a stereo system is much more predictable and repeatable IMO.....not much is left to chance. It's indeed unfortunate that as most performers get popular, they seem to find the need to play the larger venues...or probably their promoters and record label$ feel the need! There are a few true artists who have made it in the big time, who seem to refuse to play larger venues. Tom Waits local concert here last year at the Moore Theatre (great local music venue) sold out faster than any concert in the history of Ticketron (I remember that little news blurb having missed getting my tickets). Waits could have easily filled up the local Thunderdome with the number of fans he could draw, but he consistently chooses to play smaller venues with good acoustics. He rarely plays a concert at all these days (I think it was ten years since he'd been to Seattle). I wish there were more "popular" performers that maintained that kind of integrity when they got famous. Easy to say from way down here on this little soapbox! Then again, there were oh so many young people (Nope, I ain't quite that anymore), having what appeared to be the time of their lives at those raucous concerts that sent me screaming out the door well before the end of the shows. Oh well, to each their own!
I think the biggest misunderstanding here is that studio recordings are accurate to what was played by the musicians.
Everywhere along the line choices are made by the people in the studio, beginning with the microphone and then working back to the tape that is actually recorded. Every choice affects what is ultimately heard on the playback medium. Even recordings as good as say, Sheffield Labs are a series of the best possible compromises. What then can we assume to be accurate???
The music that was played by the musicians is not what we end up with when we buy thier album so how could home HiFi be considered to sound better than live? Mixing boards, multitrack downsizing from 20 channel to two channel stereo, 20 bit recordings being taken down to 16 bit for our 'perfect sound forever' CDP's all affect the sound.
We are fooling ourselves if we don't think our sources are compromised. People who work in the recording studios are willing to admit it, audiophiles don't seem to be ready yet though. We still don't have a benchmark from which to measure!
As is said in an earlier post, I have asked my favorite musicians to allow me to sit in on their studio sessions to hear what they actually sound like. So far I have yet to recieve a positive response. Until then I will only have to guess what they sound like.
I heard Tangerine Dream in concert once and did they have a sound system!! This was probably during 1986 - they used an all Canton sound system - WOW - Loud and Painful. You could hear the bass thumping in your chest!!!

I think the concert going experience is just that - an experience. You cannot get that at home.

I think all recordings are compromise - like Nrchy said. Although, I think they are better than most concerts I have heard - except for the emotional expereince.

Sometimes home is definitely better! Like when I saw John Mayall's Jazz-Blues fusion group in my home town. Mayall was drunk,the band were telling bad bathroom jokes, using a lousy local PA system, and they were sloppy as hell. The album on my portable was WAY better! But Mayall a few years earlier in a small venue, great sound, with Sugarcane Harris and Harvey Mandel playing out of their minds and these three musicians making enough sound for ten, was another story. On both issues, the MUSICAL one, and the SONIC one, the earlier performance couldn't be had at home. It was a transporting experience that I remember vividly thirty years later.

But listening at home with friends is not to be dissed, either. No, it's not the Mahavishnu Orchestra Live, but it's still pretty damn good to hear Mahavishnu on LP when I consider the odds of being at the real thing again!

I have found that the sonics of live shows varies enourmously and CAN have a negative effect on me if it is simply unlistenable.

But on the issue of what REFERENCE is there for live amplified music: Can you really evaluate how a system replicates the acoustic guitar of Liona Boyd and say -"yeah, it's accurate, so it must be for Stevie Ray Vaughan at 110+ dbs as well"? I have never fully followed the logic of that. It seems it might be more a theoretical measure of home systems than a valid one for a vastly different musical experience.