How close to the real thing?

Recently a friend of mine heard a Chopin concert in a Baptist church. I had told him that I had gone out to RMAF this year and heard some of the latest gear. His comment was that he thinks the best audio systems are only about 5% close to the real thing, especially the sound of a piano, though he admitted he hasn't heard the best of the latest equipment.

That got me thinking as I have been going to the BSO a lot this fall and comparing the sound of my system to live orchestral music. It's hard to put a hard percentage on this kind of thing, but I think the best systems capture a lot more than just 5% of the sound of live music.

What do you think? Are we making progress and how close are we?
What percentage of the real think does the microphone capture? What percentage is lost in the cable from the microphone to the microphone preamp? What percentage is lost in the mic preamp? What percentage is lost in the cable from the preamp to the mixing console? What percentage is lost in the mixing console? What percentage is lost in the cable from the console to the recording device? What percentage is lost in the recording device? What percentage is lost in the cable back to the mixing console? What percentage is lost in the mixing console as EQ and level are adjusted? What percentage is lost in the cable going back to the recording device? What percentage is lost in the cable going to the A/D converter? What percentage is lost in the A/D conversion? What percentage is lost by downsampling to 44.1KHz and reducing the word length to 16bits?

The above is a very simplified version of the recording process and I haven't even got to the playback process. The biggest drop in quality is at the very first stage -- the microphone. There are some marvelous mics out there, but I don't know of any experienced person suggesting that the mic captures more than 50% of the original sound. Being that the losses in quality are additive I suspect that 5% is about right.
Depends on the music, setting and venue. I was in a very upscale hotel recently that had a jazz trio, bass, sax & piano. They were playing music that I was very familiar with and I was feeling quite good about how well my systems sounds compared to the live artist. Instrument placement, tonal balance is very good, I would rate literally 90%. When I go to a live orchestra. My system cannot convey, the real depth and stage presence that a live orchestra conveys over the large stage. Maybe I don't have good enough recordings on classical, I must admit, I am weak in classical recording and my jazz selection is quite good but my number drops profoundly.
If memory serves, the late Peter Walker (Quad) answered to such a question- about 15%.
I disagree with the previous answers.
From the starting point of recorded music.. The wax cylinder.. the sound THEN was perhaps at least at 30% in reality. (consider it an exponential curve)
By the 50's we were at least up to 80% or better.
Now i would say state of the art os up near 90% to 95% minimum.
Of course with an exponential curve, the closer we get to 'real' the harder it is to get better!
And with a curve going to infinity (true in every way to perfect reproduction) we probably will NEVER get to !00%.. but we are a Hell of a lot closer than 5%!
IMO that sort of answer is just to elicite consternation/controversy, and has no merit, or is taken out of context.
And of course as we get better, the gaps in what is left to achieve become more apparent, and perhaps the desire to get those last little itty bitty bits might make one say we are so very far away from 'perfect sound forever" LOL.
I guess it is all perspective, I can tell you that on the small jazz ensemble that I told above. Instrument placement is outstanding as is height and width, the realism of the instruments also right on. I have had more comments than I care to mention along the lines of "wow, it couldn't get any better without having the artist with you"... There is no way 5% draws those comments.... Of course..... being perspective?
Good Listening, Tim
Elizabeths answer +1 - I'll go as far to say BOSE is better than 5%. OTOH if the recording is bad - well it may very well be less than 75% - That's my opinion
Assigning an actual percentage would be an exercise in intellectual futility and meaningless as nobody would's enough to say that I've not heard reproduced sound, sound anything like the real thing, EVER.
Varying degrees of 'wow', but not enough to fool anyone.
OK, not enough to fool me, I can't speak for others.

Recently heard some tapes by the Tape Project played back in a recording studio. It was at times better than real could be and left me not caring that it was more so. It was just so enveloping. How near or how far matters less than how involving. If it gets to you its great if it doesn't it is just a group of sounds but no matter how well produced it is NOT music. So what percentage, it depends on the set up, the room, the recording venue and the recording engineer's ability and equipment. Each is different so sometimes 5% sometimes in the best situations perhaps 90%.
I think Albert Von Schweikert did a demo of his VR-11 vs. a live performance group at one time back a couple of years or so.
An old trick, often used at shows, such as CES. Go near some expensive demo
and throw some spare change up in the air. When it hits the ground heads will really turn. Reality is so much more complex than any reproduction.
If we were to take a bad transistor radio into a tunnel and get bad reception but could still determine that we were listening to a recording of a piano, would that not be a very low percentage of the real thing, perhaps 1% for the sake of argument. Than if that same bad mono radio gets a clean signal, let us call that 2%. The sound of a basic car radio with a stereo signal on FM radio of a piano on a classical music channel, say 3%. Then a big BOSE radio gets a 4%. Surely an entry level stereo of good components gets a 5%. See where I am going?

Surely the very best ultra high end system in a great room with a great recording, say of a master tape on a R2R of a Mozart piano concerto would be greater than 5%, no? Vinyl, SET, horns, take your pick.

Such a demo was conducted at RMAF for a select group of reviewers in the Magico/Spectral room. One of those in attendance told me that after the performance ended and he opened his eyes, he actually had to familiarize himself with his surroundings because he temporarily lost himself in the experience of the performance, it was so close to convincing. Maybe not the real thing, but surely getting closer.
what perspective is 'real', sitting in the middle of the orchestra or 40 rows back?

I personally like the 'first 5 rows' type of recording (as opposed to the 25th row...), so sometimes a recording is MORE enjoyable than sitting in the audience - assuming the mics were close in and my hypothetical seat is not in the first rows.

I was recording a concert lately, with my mics right up by the musicians, and I ended up listening to the concert through the headphones instead of 'naturally'. I could crank it up, and it was like I was next to the instruments (bliss!).

(and it sounded even better at home, since my headphones are crap and the home system is nice...).
That got me thinking as I have been going to the BSO a lot this fall and comparing the sound of my system to live orchestral music.

Like so many professionals, who check the sound quality versus teh real thing, Boston Symphony Orchestra use ATC.

Disney LA concert hall use them too

Although nothing will replace a real live orchestra, if you want something that is natural and true to the original sound then they are definitely worth checking out.
No way does a good microphone get less than 50% of real sound, at least not voice. I recorded a lot of voice on a mono Nagra with a Neuman Mic and it was VERY close to reality. I could compare one ear in the headphones to the other ear hearing live, and a good mic and a mono Nagra is amazing. Music may be far more difficult and stereo is strange.

I do not believe that even the best home systems are anywhere near 90%-95% percent in terms of realism, but I will qualify my statement by stating the obvious. There are many, many factors involved in what we consider to be "real" sound - too many to discuss in detail here. So, equipment aside, I will limit myself to three.

1- space/distance/time acoustics (aka room ambiance). This is pretty self-explanitory. Your room is not a concert hall. Or a sound stage. Through technical gimmickry (hardware) you can kinda sorta reproduce the same sound, but not really.

2- our perception of sound and how we process it (psychoacoustics). Neuron action potentials and other interesting stuff.

3- simple physics. A speaker is not a piano, a guitar, or a human voice. Although you can mimic those sounds closely enough that it the differences between live and recorded are almost indetectable to a spectrum analyzer, most people can still hear the difference. Well, except Bose customers anyway.
One can monitor the playback head of a Nagra and compare it to the line as well. Amazing machine.
I agree with Elizabeth. I've played a recording of a flutist, with the flutist that made the recording standing between my speakers playing along with herself, and I can tell you the recording - which was far from SOTA - sounded a heck of a lot better than 5%. More like 90%. And that was before I upgraded my speakers.

How many other people here have tried this test?

Where audio systems fall off IMO is when you need a lot of volume to be accurate. Some live instruments are LOUD. As for reproducing a piano, that's almost too easy. We have a piano, so I know what one sounds like live, and a great stereo can do a remarkable job reproducing it. Now my wife's 22" bass drum, that my system has a little more trouble with.
I mean no offense to anyone by this, including the OP (inevitably someone will take some, I'm sure), but I just gott'a get this out, and yes I am poking fun at y'all; to me this is the kind of wholly ridiculous speculation and pointless discussion over utterly meaningless minutia that makes me want to run screaming from the room when discussed among persons over six years old...OK, maybe over eight years old. I think there are persons over eight in this discussion (though I may be called into question here), so, Picture me screaming from this room. OK, you don't know what I look like. Picture that wonderful Edvard Munch painting, "The Scream" and that'd be a great metaphor for how I feel reading just a few of the posts here (no I did not linger long and read many so I may be missing some chestnut of wisdom that'd otherwise bring me greater enjoyment in listening to music at home). There, I said it. I feel better now. Go on with your discussion and ignore the screaming man in the corner, he's just a smart ass who needs to go to bed now.


That's my final answer.

Oh.....I'm sooooooo sorry, but that's......EXACTLY RIGHT!!! Tell'm what he's won, Don Pardo!

Help me if you can
It's just that this is not the way I'm wired

-Maynard James Keenan
it depends on music stye, few times I gett fooled myself and acept recorded voice to live(and I am not kidding) , but I have been in other room. it nevr hapened listening in stereo in listening room however.

somebody touched my favourite music(30-40% of my records are(mainly) wind band orchestras ) when we think about orchestra I have never heard small (smaller than 700lbs) speaker that convinse me more than 20%. its about "air breathe" and "dark silent" of real orchestra that is hard to convince(in some records I feel some intrument localisation better than in some orhestra auditions!). some 3 way floorstander can reproduce real 30hz(but with more than 60% discortion levels at natural listening loudness of orchestra-nobody measurs discortions on real life SPL lets say 20hz@115db/5.5m) . but thats not the same feeling. its just too small to reproduce frequency without discortions and convinsingly. what we want is lot of active cone area which designed specificaly( and which doesnt interupt or work in frequencies higher than 200hz). when I say I lot of I mean REALY lot. unfortunately nobody will produce(because qty which wll be sold will not cover even R&D)

i have gathered folowing formula in realistic low frequencies reproduction vs cost. if 100hz is referense line its nessesary to have emiting area of 4x 15 inch woofers per channel) then to achive 90hz required double manufacturing cost, 80hz double of double and so on, when we go to numbers like 50hz it starrts to be ridiculy and when reach 15hz its utopia of customers(because cost and listening area). I touched only first three octaves problems. there is alot more to properly reproduce higher range. here I believe we need invent diferent (preferably omnipolar) EAC( electrical to acoustic converter) than conventional current dynamic, e-static plasma and other converters types.

I believe we would already had this, but science work on other "problems" as we are too small group and the target(sound close to live music) is not considered as absolute nescesity of human being .
My reference is also the BSO and Symphony Hall. I have had seats 4th row center for several years, and prefer them to sitting further back. Comparing live to my Harbeths is a bit of an apples and oranges proposition, but I have some recordings that are clearly beyond 5% of live. It may sound like heresy, but sometimes recorded can be more enjoyable than live.
I have a neighbor who is a pianist and has a baby grand piano in his living room. I go over to his house from time to time to hear him play. I can tell you the sound from my audio system does not even come close to the incredible beauty of live piano sound, especialy when sitting up close. And get this, I have already spent close to $100K on my entire 2-channel/AV system, and the sound is not even close. I don't know whether the reason is due to the fact that no recording can ever capture closely the real sound, or that no audio hardware can ever reproduce the fullness and naturalness of real sound. I have an audiophile friend who is a bigger audio nut than I am. I estimate that his audio system must cost at least $500K (I'm not kidding), with 2 pairs of Wilson Audio Whamm speakers (one pair for front and one pair for surround), FM Acoustics, etc. Sad to say that I have heard his system, and again, not even close to the real thing. All in all, hard to put a percentage on it, but even the best sytem I have heard is really not even close to reproducing real live sound and the associated acoustics!
AVguy - Maybe its time to look at system synergy.

I have had professional piano players in my home when I was selling My magnepan MG3.6s and through my system with a telarc record they were able to tell the make of the piano and commented on the quality air, lifelike, definition and presentation of the music. (And I only have a measly 30k system)

My opnion on % effective = 20 to 85% depending on the source
Almost forgot; Let me continue -

I went to see Tchaikovsky on the Hudson at Avery fisher hall in NYC and when I came home and listened to my telark 1812 and closed my eyes. I was right in the concert hall. The only major difference was I herd and Felt the cannons in my home; where live it was just a 12 foot drumÂ…..

It all comes down to system synergy and your room.
Avguy, in order to do a valid test you would have to record your friend's piano in his room, and play it back in a similar venue. Most commercial recordings are made in much larger rooms than nearly any home will have. How big is your neighbor's room with the piano in it? Unless the room is at least 20x30 feet it's like a whale in a swimming pool compared to how most recordings with a grand piano are made.

For those of you comparing reproduction of an orchestra in a home to a live concert, no contest. You can't accurately reproduce 70 or so musicians in your listening room. The proportions are all wrong. The room will overload before you'll get loud enough, and the moving areas of the speakers are too small.

I've found most people are surprised by the accuracy of recordings of instruments reproduced in similar venues, where the instruments are played at volumes appropriate for those venues, and reproduced over a very good audio system.

I agree with the previous comment made about a small jazz band (usually keyboard or upright piano, sax, small drum kit, bass, and a singer). We have a local resturant that features acoustic jazz groups that play at very reasonable levels, and my wife and I usually comment about how similar the sound is to my audio system. Sometimes I think the expectations for live music are blown out of proportion in the high-end community.
That group was Misty River (buy their album, they're good).
It was fun to have the girls show up each night at CES, play music and such.
That was 2005 CES.

Live-versus-recorded listening tests give the answer in a way. In well controlled tests people are hard to hear the difference.
"Are we making progress and how close are we?"

I doubt it.

What you hear from a particular recording on your rig in your room is distinct in almost every way from what you hear at any particular live performance in a particular venue.

I question whether the absolute sound possible today is really that much better than what was achievable years ago. It is more readily available in more different configurations to more these days I would say and probably for significantly lower cost than prior if done right, so there has been progress in terms of delivering good sound to more, assuming one is interested in that.
That was 2005 CES.
It was the 2004 THE Show at the St. Tropez.
I remember reading articles about this before.It may have been done more in Europe,or some other country overseas. But,from what I remember,some speaker companies put on a demonstration in large auditoriums with great results. Reviewers from magazines may be where I read about it.I get more enjoyment at home myself.When I've gone to listen to a live orchestra,I always seem to get the seats where all the ladies with the fur sit around me.This fur adsorbs all the highs.It makes those live concerts sound lifeless at times.I even tried clothes that have less absorption characteristics,but we can't be seated alone. When they do a good job of recording,their mikes capture a lot of what we miss out on.If we could hear them in an empty auditorium,the outcome would be better for a live performance,at least in my experience.They do sound fantastic when they're getting ready,before the auditorium fills up,but then there is a lot of reflections.There are places with small jazz groups that don't have this problem with the large close crowd,and I can say my system at home gives a fantastic illusion of,you are there. I have no idea on what kind of percentage to put on recorded music, but when they do it right,I would have to say that its fairly high.
Don't argue with me, I put the consortium together for Von Schweikert--Oracle, PS Audio, Rives Audio, Acoustic Zen, VAC...altzheimers, a wonderful thing, helps me meet new people every day. It WAS probably 2004--somehow, since that was the year of my divorce, I was probably numb most of the time--anesthetized...
We did The Show, as it was, though slightly less traveled, a good place to be.
The girls were as sweet and beautiful as they were talented. Great time that year.

Thanks for reminding me of how 'out of touch' my memory has...what were we talking about??
Respectfully, I'm thinking that what you're hearing, Hifitime, is the lack of a tweeter blaring at you...with this obnoxious HF hash.
My favorite saying is, 'The best tweeter I ever heard, I didn't.'
It's true, very few loudspeakers capture the true harmonic structure of a violin without 'hyping' the HF energy...Sad, but true.
I know that, if I go for a few months without 'live violins' and then hear one, I usually blink a bit at first until my brain recalibrates the info. So I know what you're saying, completely.


An interesting range of responses.

Let's review (EOD (equal opportunity disparagement) --Trust, and wait until the end):

Elizabeth and Fin1bxn in the very high percentage camp, IrvRobinson who thinks "reproducing piano is almost too easy", the down-to-physics pragmatic science perspective of Br3098, Depotec who, while recording, compared one ear in headphones to one ear listening live (finding they were "VERY close") [which, the ears?], Elviukai who has calculated the cost of authentic sounding transducers to exceed NASA's budget in the 1960s, an invocation of a long-dead audio design star's opinion, Fin1bxn,a proponent of (relatively) modest priced electrostatics that feel like live music, and someone whose stratospheric spending, nor his friends' drastically irrational outlay get "sad to say [do you suppose so?] not even close to the real thing."

They --we-- all have differing perspectives on this question.

Does this cast a few things in high relief for you, as it does for me?

With 'authenticity of reproduction to live music' scores running the gamut from very low single digits to over 100 per cent ("sometimes ..recorded music can be more enjoyable than live"),

*Is it conceivable that people experience live music differently from one another?*

If you don't agree with that, at least I can better understand, now, why the audio-purchasing public supports so many products, particularly at the high end. (and why Audiogon does a booming business)

This thread --thank you, Peter Provocateur-- points up another thing: we expend a lot of energy talking, writing and socializing about music: all Thought Process, conducted between the ears. Coincidentally, that is where we hear every single nuance of live music, if or when we listen to The Reference, or accept it as such.

From the very broad spectrum of responses here (philosophical, economic, comparative (live to recorded in the same room), scientific, and deductive) it occurs to me that 1) when we're talking or writing or thinking about this enterprise, be it about equipment, recordings, comparison to live music, We Are Not Listening (sound like an Audio Club meeting?); 2) we are a group with *tremendous* imagination.

Use your imagination to listen Into the Music. And beyond the equipment. I'm still trying to learn it. And mood comes into it just as much --perhaps more-- than room treatment.

Make time for Listening. Not just to music, but to the quiet in your room BEFORE you turn on your equipment. Then CHOOSE to allow the music to transport you.

Life asks us, occasionally, to be a skeptic, someone who Jax2 a different drummer: often they, like the court jester, have something important to say. When you listen to music, turn out the lights, take off your glasses, make room in your mind for the same imagination that lets the written word leap alive from the page.

When you make this choice, the Muse-ic will be there to greet you, reward you, and expand your soul. It's in there. Just stop listening to the equipment. Put your skeptical, analytic mind aside and let the music rush in. The price or configuration of your system has naught to do with satisfaction: your decision to enjoy music is where the power lies.

After that choice, everything is play...

Thank you for your patience. The very best to you, and Happy Holidays!

David Kellogg
Lrsky,I know what you are talking about some speakers having treble glare or bright system characteristics.I won't have that in my system.I know what instruments sound like.I have musicians in my family.The conductor in an orchestra gets one of the best listening spots.I've stood there.They do get to hear a lot more than we can,in the audience.Mikes placed in the right spots get to hear a lot of what anyone sitting in the audience can't.Sitting in the audience can be like sitting in a room full of misplaced, room tuning,sound absorption devices.Just standing up improves what you can hear in an auditorium. I've been in quite a lot. Listening to a lot of live music still leaves me enjoying,nicely done,recorded music,at home. The musicians in my family enjoy recorded music also.
I wonder how anyone could put a percentage on recorded vs. live music either.I think the ones that have a problem with recorded music,may have a system that is not up doing what it should correctly.
11-24-10: Hifihvn
Sitting in the audience can be like sitting in a room full of misplaced, room tuning,sound absorption devices.
That covers what I hear in a live performance.

Lrsky,My speakers don't have that high frequency hash.I know what your talking about,but I would make any changes to get rid of it,if it was there. The conductor does get the best place.He has to hear what the orchestra is doing.It would be nice for us to hear what he does.But then,maybe that's why I like listening to recorded music.
A new thought (for me) on this topic: Perhaps the disparity of the 90%+ from the 5% crowd is the difference of the folks who listen to the music (laid back types)(90%'ers) and the folks who listen to the equipment (Audiophile Nervosa types) (5%'ers) LOL
Whole new pair of cans of plastic worms to rattle the cage!!
Maybe y'all will be interested in this- it seems relevant to the thread...

Recently I was in the recording studio, we were trying to make a recording of my band. Our bass player is leaving town for a while, and we didn't want to forget some new material, so we were making a simple recording to help us with that.

I set up a pair of Neumann U-67s in a figure-8 pattern. They went into a cheap Mackey mixer, from there into an Alesis Masterlink, recording at 88.2KHz with 24 bits.

On playback, I used a set of Grado SR325 headphones. This is an open style of headphone. All the time, I had to look at the bass player, or our drummer, to see what they were doing. That is to say, the sound was so real I could not tell that they were not doing something while I was trying to listen to the recording. So I had to look at them to see that they were actually *not* playing! I could not turn my back on them, because if I did so, my brain was telling me right away that they were playing their instruments, rather than me listening to a recording.

In previous recording experiences (again with headphones) I have experienced the same thing.

So how far are we? The microphones and headphones have been there for quite some time. Microphone preamps and a lot of the other intervening electronics have been too.

So where is the technology weak? That seems to be a better question. Just from playing in the studio, that question is easy to answer. Speakers, power amplifiers and the actual media itself are the problems. Anyone who has released a CD knows that the biggest degradation in the sound from the master to playback occurs in the process of making the CD itself. Also I have grave doubts about 44.1 KHz 16 bits and always have.

Some amps and some speakers are so realistic that if you give them a direct microphone feed, they can easily fool you into thinking that the music is really happening. Others are not so nimble. If we had recordings in which the media was not damaged by mass reproduction (and in specific not damaged by a CD player, which if it is using Redbook standards has no hope of extracting all the data off the disk), we would also be closer. But to really do it right, you need a higher scan frequency and more bits. Or analog.

So IMO we are not far away at all. 90% of what I am talking about here are the issues with media, the remaining 10% is the difference between actual state of the art amps and speakers and those that purport to be.

I agree with Atmasphere on this one.

The barrier is/has not been the technology, more the technique applied in making recordings.

The best ones can be eerily close to lifelike in the right situation and it has been that way for quite a while, probably as far back as the golden age of vinyl.
That we can hear what the tune is, understand the lyrics, recognize the instruments, the individuals playing the instruments, where they are located in all dimensions, whether they are in key or out of tune, hear what brand of instrument and what brand of amplification they might be using and in many cases what kind of hall they're playing in, suggests to me that we're closer rather than farther to the real thing. If we weren't, why would we spend so much money and time in this hobby?
Atmasphere, as usual, has something to say. Those of us who play an instrument which can be amplified (classical guitar), know that even cheap mikes and speakers can sound more "real" than any recording. The storage systems are the most destructive to the sound. That said, I think much of the disagreement comes from the type of music considered, and its venue. I have performed on stage (I sing tenor) with huge orchestras, pipe organs, and in the case of some memorable Russian music, with an extra large percussion section. Even though the din got so loud at times that I could not hear my own voice- and a fraction of a second later all was full stop but for a single voice, yet there was never any sense of strain or was there difficulty in hearing the soloist.
It has been observed by some cynics that a group of musicians can sound exactly like a loudspeaker, but not vice versa.
We do have another issue- one which might explain why the headphones work so well:

The original performance is always in a space with its own acoustic signature. The mics are always in that space too.

Your room is not.

So the idea that the musicians are going to be 'in the room' is tricky. IMO/IME, the model to use is that your stereo and the room its in is a sort of 'space/time machine' that has the ability to graft itself *onto* the original space of the music- but with the acoustic signature of your room included.

With headphones you have no acoustic signature of your room- only that of the mics. I don't like headphones, as I feel like the sounds I hear are coming from behind me sort of. So I prefer the presentation of speakers, even though they often take things down a notch. Of course, headphone can't make you viscerally feel the music the way live and speakers can...

Everyone have a good holiday, y'hear? :)
Yes, removing the room signature with digital equalization is a most promising technology. I have used the Tact system for years. Goes without saying that it is a work in progress, but a little recognized benefit is the lowering of the noise floor. Tubes are great, but they are noisy compared to digital amplification, and that noise obscures quite a bit of detail. I hasten to say that digital amplification is far from perfect, just saying that it does some eye opening things right.
Have you ever been walking down a residential street on a summer day and heard a musician practicing his guitar, horn, drum set or whatever in his apartment? You know immediately, don't you?
VMPS has done a live vs VMPS for the last 2 years at CES.
By all accounts these live vs recorded demonstrations have been very impressive.
"Have you ever been walking down a residential street on a summer day and heard a musician practicing his guitar, horn, drum set or whatever in his apartment? You know immediately, don't you?"

Yes, but it's not exclusive. I frequently play solo piano CDs, and several times people have come to the door and thought it was a real piano playing. Guys are usually fascinated. Women usually want to know if the speakers could be moved closer to the wall, and if the cables could be hidden. Sorry, Elizabeth. You and my wife are rare birds, apparently.
"Yes, but it's not exclusive. I frequently play solo piano CDs, and several times people have come to the door and thought it was a real piano playing."

I'm not obtuse, I hear what you guys are saying, and I can only conclude that I need to get out more. Neither my system nor any system that I've ever heard has been that convincing to me. I've gotten emotional, achieved satisfactory suspension of disbelief, and been in awe of the technology that made it possible. But I've never heard a system that I found indistinguishable from the truth. Those of you who have are my heroes.
Well, Phaelon, sounding "real" does happen for me, but not all that often, and, at least for me, only on solo recordings, and it takes just the right recording.

BTW, IMO people that buy audio equipment aren't heroes, people that engineer them are.

I think polar frequency response may have something to do with sounding "live". I've heard the Soundlab A1 sound live on a violin, the Soundlabs are of course dipoles, and occasionally my Revel Salon 2 sounds live (though not on violin, so far). The odd thing I've noticed, accidentally, about the Salon 2, is that even when you're sitting near one speaker you still perceive the stereo image *between the speakers*. This means that the Revel has some very interesting polar response characteristics, which might explain why they occasionally sound live, and my old Legacy Focus never sounded live to me. The Legacys had one of the most discernible "sweet spots" I've ever experienced. Great polar response might also explain why cymbals sound so realistic with the Revels, while their frequency response is certainly no better than other speakers I've heard.

The Legacys could fool some people on piano recordings though. Not me, but over the 13 years I owned them several people thought solo piano sounded live from another room.

It just seems more than a coincidence that the speakers I've heard "OMG live" sound from (Soundlab, Martin Logan Monolith, Linkwitz Orion, Revel Salon 2) all have different polar response characteristics than typical audiophile speakers.
You can add MBL's to the 'live' category. Set up properly, a tough one, most shows don't allow for proper set ups for anyone, and a system as complex as the MBL's take time and space. BUT, when set up properly they're magic.

On the Sound Labs, I LOVE them--and you're 100 percent correct about their tonal/spatial characteristics...just right for my taste--an amazing product.
Irving M Fried, of IMF and Fried fame, used to show omnipolar frequency response of speakers--and did so more than 30 years ago. It was a.) ahead of its time b.) ambitious c.) evo/revolutionary thinking.
No body else (correct me here if I'm wrong {usually am}) does this any more. Why? Because the results are terrible.
Just as Jim Thiel showed Step Response Information, which displays the 'capture' of the drivers releasing the energy into the room as a unit body, either 'in phase' or not, with time function, lead lag information--strangely, almost NO ONE does this. Why, because their responses look really, really bad.
The now 21 year old design, the CS5's had a virtually perfect step response.
It would be interesting to see the Sound Lab Step Response,
because of it's design, it would almost have to be perfection too. Scientific (not evidence, because the ear is the final arbiter there) validation that what we're hearing is as it should be.

Great post.

"BTW, IMO people that buy audio equipment aren't heroes, people that engineer them are."

Well said Irvrobinson, but that only serves to prove my point. True heroes are self-effacing. Bravo!
When I was in a band (quite awhile back), I had the use of a studio reel to reel (can't remember which make) that I loaned to record my own piano in my house. The replay through my speakers (Impulse H1 horns) was close to the real thing on playback ( through the said speakers).
So 5% is way of (IMHO) to my own personal experience.
I would say IMO that we are up to 90%+, and if ones hi-fi can differentiate between different makes of Instruments, ie a Strat from a Gibson, a Steinway (the baby)from a Bosendorfer (the daddy) then that % maybe even higher.
Again, 5%? one may need to upgrade ones gear.