LOUSY SOUND AT LIVE CONCERTS


I went to a concert at Bank America Pavillion in Boston last night. I saw Tedeschi and Trucks, and The Black Crows. A terrific concert; The Tedeschi and Trucks Band was especially terrific.

Unfortunately, these bands sound better in my living room than at this beautiful, outdoor venue.

Many venues have extremely poor acoustics and/or poor sound systems. The music is often terribly distorted, details and nuances of the instrumentals and voices are lost. The sound presents as a congealed distorted mess. The art of these incredibly talented musicians cannot be fully appreciated without clear sound. Listening to music in these crappy venues is like looking at masterpiece paintings in dimly lit museums with dirty glasses. The colors, details and brush strokes are indistinct. The artistic genius cannot be fully appreciated. The Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA., Fenway Park and The Boston Garden are just as bad as The Bank Of America Pavillion, if not worse.

I am frustrated with these venues that cannot provide great sound to accompany the great music. What is the sense of attending live concerts if the sound quality sucks. Does anyone else share my frustration?
matjet
If I shared all of your frustrations, I'd never be in any live concert.
Yup, might as well stick to Boston's Symphony Hall. I remember it as sounding very good. Lots of wood. Here in Sarasota, Fl. we have the famous Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Designed and shaped intentionally with sound and acoustics in mind. Sounds like a transistor radio compared to our local Opera house. Lots of wood in the Opera house as well.
Normally natural sound inside a performance hall is the way to enjoy live music at its best. This is usually the case with classical music although chamber concerts with even small bands of any genre and no amplification are awesome too.
The problem with most outdoor venues is the amplification. It can change everything.
I agree with your frustration. Done properly outdoor concerts can be enjoyable if the sound system is "invisible" meaning it just adds volume and nothing else. Very hard to do.
Go to venues that have natural sound performances. Your city symphony orchestra being the top choice usually.
More options available at local colleges, churches, museums, etc.
Like I said you find mostly classical music but also some great jazz, vocals and pop from less known bands will allow you to enjoy music heaven.
Then come to your home system for a close to live natural sound experience and keep working on your equipment to make it as enjoyable as you can.

Luis D. Paret
Keller, TX
a more recent trend that is only occasionally acknowledged is to make new sports venues loud. Rose garden in portland for example is specially designed to reflect sound fron the stands down to the floor and presumably back. even has panels to lower o make it louder. idea it to have loudest arena in nba. I was told that several others do the same thing and its the new hip thing to do in civic arenas. acoustics really suck. like ipod in toilet bad.
I saw Clapton/Winwood in an arena and discovered a source of distortion I was surprised by. I had a bottled water from the concession stand and was holding it in my hand. I heard this distortion that was fogging the sound and after a few minutes discovered that if I covered the bottle with my hand the distortion went away. take my hand away and it was back. I pointed to my wife and she heard it too.

Now imagine how many open bottles are in the arena and there is just one source of noise we don't have at home.

BTW, I'm jealous that you heard Tedeschi Trucks, trucks was actually the back up band to the Clapton/Winwood concert. He is amazing and Susan is even better. She is one of my favorites.
I often marvel at how audiophiles lament that "no stereo reproduction can match a live performance in terms of sonics." Not true. At all. The vast majority of venues for live music have terrible acoustics. Most live events have a sound quality well, well below the sound quality of a fine controlled reproduction on a home audio system of distinction. It is true that a live acoustic performance of a jazz trio or other small group (for example) in a close seat where the venue is designed for excellent sound will present sonics that are tough to rival on a stereo system... perhaps impossible to match. But most live concerts --- especially of rock/pop/blues etc. --- have sonic quality that is easily below that of a good studio recording played on a good stereo. Now the energy of the overall event --- that is something different --- but good stereos using good studio recordings often sound better than most live (especially amplified)concerts.
Most people in the audience don't seem to mind that the music/sound is very distorted. I think most people are completely unaware of the poor acoustics. My son says, in jest, that I have ruined it for him. When he goes to concerts with friends and complains about the poor acoustics, they do not understand what he is talking about.
This topic has been discussed previously. Many audiophiles believe Live music should sound like their stereo system. I believe this type of thinking is ludicrous and a good reason why one system can't do it all. We have all heard about "sins of omission" in equipment or a system, but many systems suffer from "sins of addition". The definition of high fidelity is "The reproduction of sound with little distortion, giving a result very similar to the original". You may prefer the sound of your system over live music, however, if your system is not faithfully reproducing the original it is not high fidelity.

08-01-13: Matjet

"My son says, in jest, that I have ruined it for him."

You have also ruined it for yourself.

The sound at large venues has always sucked. I stopped going to arena shows in the 90's for that reason. However,over the last few years I've decided to try a few for either my favorite bands or for group outings. I was really surprised at how the sound has improved since the bad old days. Fleetwood Mac, in particular, sounded great at Staples several years back and almost as good at the Hollywood Bowl a few months ago. Now, the bar was low, but I'm hearing improvement out there.
These type of concerts are social and financial events, not musical ones.
What did you expect?
Outdoor and stadium venues always suck for music.
The venue and genre of music are significant factors. Fans of hip hop,
rap,pop and rock music for example find themselves in venues where
sound quality isn't the priority but rather how loud. Amplified sound via PA
systems usually sounds pretty bad.

I'm a jazz music lover and the clubs and venues I've attended over the
years are nearly without exception wonderful sounding and allow one to
get deeply involved with the music being performed. No PA system and
predominantly unamplified acoustic instruments makes a natural and
beautiful sound. It's really something to hear the full weight, and body of a
tenor saxophone, trumpet or piano, hear/feel the bloom and fat tone of an
acoustic bass. The club I attend frequently these days is intimate and
unamplified. You just hear the full tone and energy of all the instruments
and can completely appreciate the musicians talent and connect
emotionally. This type of listening environment makes an excellent
template for developing an ear for natural/realistic sound. I've found the
same is true regarding most classical music settings as well.
The live music experience for me has been and remains a truly pleasurable
and passionate outing.
Agree OP. I normally only go to smaller venues any more for this reason. Otherwise, really is a waste of time. Even most medium-sized venues sound like crap. Combination of poor acoustics and deaf people running the sound boards. Very frustrating. Argh!
I saw the Tedeschi-Trucks band last year on their Revelator tour at the Moody Theatre where Austin City Limits is also taped. This venue is arguably one of the finest in the country and I can attest, having attended numerous concerts there that the sound can, and usually is, excellent to outstanding. That said, the sound for the TT Band was the loudest, most distorted, garbled, painful live concert experience I've ever had. I almost walked out 10 minutes in. There were 11 musicians on that stage including 3 backup singers and a 3 piece horn section, although you couldn't hear any of it. The point is, that it may be either the house engineer (doubtful in this case) or the band's engineer (most likely in this case) that can also have a significant impact on the sound at a live concert regardless of the hall or the house PA.
08-01-13: Brf
Outdoor and stadium venues always suck for music.


Most of the time, but not every time.
Pink Floyd, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH, 1988; A Momentary
Lapse of Reason Tour

The sound was thunderous, crystal clear, and chilling. It was
an incredible outdoor musical event. Definitely great sound.
Not only is the sound at most live shows horrific but the people who go to concerts seem to have zero interest in anything but dancing, chatting, texting and the like. Last show I saw was Dylan. I took my kids to see the icon. My kids are all under 15. The shit-heads directly in front of us starting dancing as soon as the man hit the stage. I asked them to please sit and let my kids see the show. They told me to fuck-off. Nice upbringing. Sound stinks, the audience stinks, I'm so done.
Some events are so special, I just suck it up and go, even knowing I'll be disappointed in the sound and the crowd. Less so every year, though (hmm, Bruce Hornsby at Red Rocks? I'd have to see that). I still go to bluegrass festivals, where the performances, sound and vibe are usually outstanding, but I avoid most rock shows now; too loud, crappy sound, croud too obnoxious. It surprises me that so many excellent musicians seem to care so little about their sound. Last year I complained to Tommy Emmanuel's manager that the sound was so loud and distorted I couldn't make out the best parts of his playing. She shrugged and said that nobody else has complained. It's pretty bad when a single acoustic guitar drives you out of the room. Seems to be the state of the art.
77 - wish i had a dollar for every time i've heard that. What a dumbass reply! Proves the manager is deaf as well.
Interplay of several factors. Stadium and other large venues almost never built w acoustics in mind. Sometimes they are acoustically "impossible". Each venue is different w different problems. Some venues have their own sound re-inforcement so the performer is not in control. Some acts don't really care.
Oh boy. So now when you hear people say I want a system that sounds like live music you can respond and say: " just get a crappy system" .

I agree most live venues are played from the bands amp using a mike placed in front of one of their speakers and then out through a pair of 18" (wow) speakers.

What could go wrong?????
It's sad state of affairs for larger venues. I always get a nervous feeling when the sound engineers don't even touch the board controls....usually bad sound. I search out smaller venues such as older theaters or concert halls or some outdoor concerts and often the sound is good to very good. One of my biggest complaints about the larger venues is distortion, too loud, bad mix (the kick drum is not supposed to sound like a bomb going off or the bass like a mush of low frequency).
Not just larger venues. In a small jazz room, every instrument was miked. Screamingly loud. Trying to keep up with the rockers, I guess.
77- I had almost the same experience at a TE show earlier this year. They were actually taping the show for PBS.
It all depends on what you're used to. Most venues, like most systems, have so much distortion I'm surprised anyone can take more than 5 seconds of it.
A lot of sound men blew out their ears years ago.
That, and they first work on getting the drums as loud as possible and then do the same with the bass. There's no room left to stack the mid-to-high-range instruments at the top, resulting in a distorted, cacophonous mess.
"Cacophonous" I always enjoy learning new words.
I've probably been to about 30 > 40 concerts in my life. Some shows were a complete disappointment sound quality wise, others were pretty good given it was a large venue with lots of people.

I saw Robert Cray in a small venue in CT about 3 years ago. The venue held about 500 people. He was incredible. The sound quality was good but it was insanely loud. I use musician ear plugs to reduce loudness but get most of the music quality. Even with the ear plugs it was way too loud.
I emailed the venue manager to offer this concern.

As I get older I want preserve what hearing I have left.
I do not appreciate when it's insanely loud. How can you enjoy music when your ears are ringing and overloaded.

I have found that sitting further back (lawn seats) at out door venues typically is not as loud. So, I look for these shows
Foster_9...I was going to mention Pink Floyd Concerts. They have excellent sound in large arenas. Plus they position speakers around the arena for surround sound.

As far as other bands' sound, I agree with the rest of you and I'll only go to a small theater for a concert.
You've obviously never been to Pickathon
This topic has been covered before. All I can say from my experiences and perspective, attended hundreds of concerts over the years is that lousy sound appreciably diminishes the enjoyment of the music and most importantly, connection to the performance. Some of the most anticipated concerts I have attended were very disappointing because of lousy sound more notably rock concerts, much less so symphonic and jazz venues. It's really about sound guys that don't have a clue or care in getting the sound right so that the audience can both hear and enjoy the performance. The bands are at fault as well. It is an unforgivable sin of commission to me, spending hard earned money to be so disappointed.
I saw Momentary Lapse of Reason tour in '88. That sounded good because of what Pink Floyd deemed as 'quadraphonics'. It works well for them, especially the tunes with helicopters flying in from behind you.
Yes, lots of plain out bad venues out there. Some good ones too. Sound crew and specific seats within also make a difference. It can be very hit or miss...and expensive. Bigger problems in the world do exist though I suppose so I don't loose any sleep over it. There's always my rig at home which I have total control over though. If it doesn't sound good there, I have only me to blame.
Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead have long (since early 70's) been the exception regarding quality of live sound. Those two bands set the standard for what is possible in a large venue.
As we all know most large venue shows are extravaganzas...not just music, like a broadway play on PED!...LOL!...and by the time you blow through the first 3 songs or so your ears are shot! If you have been around long enough you have dozens of stories just like the ones in this thread...

One of the last big shows I went to was a Springsteen show...not particularly a fan...boss my ass! Anyway, took a large group of clients to Fed X field in DC - all the way up in the skybox no less, thought that might make the decibel level a little less painful....wrong! The only song I really heard and totally enjoyed was his opening number, a tribute to Johnny Cash who had just passed, "I walk the line." Just Bruce and an acoustic guitar - awesome - after that it was what I call "noise bedlam!" Drink up!

Small clubs however can be special and I have seen many acts, both acoustic and electric, you simply cannot reproduce that timbre and live tone in your home. But you can produce engrossing and engaging sound that provides total enjoyment and I get that its not quite like live instruments, but I'm not trying to pull off an illusion that it is! Just want to be take on a magical mystery tour! LOL!
I saw Paul McCartney at FedEx field in DC a couple years back and scored seats front and center, right in the audio "sweet spot". It was pretty close to perfection. Demonstrated to me that modern NFL football stadiums can be quite good concert venues, at least from certain seats. I know there is a pretty decent investment made in the A/V aspects of the newer fancier stadiums. Of course the artists gear and crew are a big factor. McCartney did not disapoint.
But, as you said, you were in the sweet spot--what about the other thousands who were not?
"But, as you said, you were in the sweet spot--what about the other thousands who were not?"

Don't know. Surely not as good. That's why I was so happy to be able to target and get the sweet spot, 1 section back dead center at ground level. :^)

The speaker columns on each side of the stage were a good 60 foot tall or more I would estimate, so there was definitely a lot of firepower there and the sound quality guys did a fantastic job from my perspective.
all audiophile garbage aside, the police at dodger stadium, when they re-united, sounded horrible. but the opening band, the foo fighters, sounded amazing.
Mapman I saw the Stones that way in Philly at RFK before they tore it down and it was like we were the only people there...amazing. Keith sang "slipping away" my wife's fav and she thought it was a personal tribute!
At one outdoors concert (Los Lobos in Austin, TX) some years back my wife and I got up to leave because the sound was so bad (and we love that band). When we had made it 2/3 of the way back we noticed that the sound had improved considerably from how it had been near the front. We sat down and finished the show. I'd never had that experience.
This past spring Clapton played the Memorial Colusiem here in Jacksonville, FL. I have heard many other concerts there all with very poor acoustic presentations. That night the Wallflowers opened the show and played well, but the sound was nothing to be excited about. I was prepared for Clapton's sound to be just as congested, but with the opening chord was I shocked. The sound was better than any amplified concert I have attended in 20 years. I was blown away by Clapton and his entire band and could hear every nuance of each instrument in a building that I have never before enjoyed the sound in. Obviously he has a crew that knows how to set up a sound system, really cares, and proved it is possible. I think that is going to be the frustrating part now going forward, knowing it is possible.
Opening acts usually don't sound as good as the headliner. I've long assumed that they basically are not allowed to have stellar sound so as not to compete with the main attraction.
I'd like to offer a different perspective; with the understanding that there are exceptions to every rule.

If we put aside audiophile expectations (no way even the best arena sound systems can have the purity and coherence of top audiophile gear) and barring truly horrendous sound, there is much to enjoy in live performances with less than great sound IF THE BAND IS UP TO IT. In other words, the more happening the MUSIC is, the less important the quality of the sound becomes. Consistently good live performances is what separates the great acts from the impostors who rely on recording studio band-aids and multiple takes to sound good. After all, what is the point in attending a live concert when one hears a rendition that is exactly (performance-wise) exactly as on the record; but with inferior sound and instrumental solos almost note for note as on the record?
I give great credit to the sound people. Some venues they just can't overcome. Others, they can strut their stuff. It's not like being at home with the full frequency and accuracy of your system, but in the right space they can get close. I recently saw Dave Matthews outdoors. I was expecting the worst. Grace Potter opened. Great sound. Full bass. Articulate highs without pain. Great acoustic guitar sounds and voice. A pleasant surprise. It can be done. Then, there was Alison Krauss. Hockey arena. Horrible. I'll never go there again. Great performances deserve great sound. She deserved better.
http://s305.photobucket.com/user/ivorycj/media/Far%20Side/suck_button.jpg.html#/user/ivorycj/media/Far%20Side/suck_button.jpg.html?&_suid=1376318739562039579460217564954
There can be amazing crystal clear sound. For one, Coldplay has the best rig in the business.

The problem is that many bands rely on local production houses to provide sound and staging, so it can vary greatly by city.
I think it really depends on the venue. I recently went to the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth (outside) and thought the sound was fine. Especially if you sat more towards the middle. The acoustic tent was very good too. Richard Thompson outside at the MN zoo in June was really good too. Hopefully some aren't complaining because they can actually hear the dynamics in the music at many live shows? Unlike compressed loud cd's with little or no dynamics.
Another factor is that some of the sound reinforcement companies are providing their services at more than one venue at a time and have different teams at different locations. Not every concert will have the "A" team doing the sound.
Matjet, It's not lousy sound it's concert sound. If you don't like it don't go. Stay home and listen to your stereo.