Massed strings and large choral groups

A longtime audio dealer and fellow audiophile told me that massed strings and large choral groups are two of the hardest things for a system to reproduce. Do you agree?
Yeah. Not "The hardest", but when they can be heard as distinct voices or instruments, it is an ear opener.
Usually all you hear is a big blur.
First time I ever heard all distinct voices was listening to Infinity RSIIa at a Chicago dealer back in 1984 or so.
Carmina Burana... wow.
I bought those speakers and had them for 17 years
I absolutely agree with this. I would also suggest that large choral groups are harder than massed strings. I think some of this is due to how the recording sessions are miked, but you I have heard big differences using different amps in my system. I have recently enjoyed some hips using 1 or 2 voices per part vs a huge chorus. Much more enjoyable for me.
I can't say, one way or the other, if large choral groups are harder to record than other types but when I hear a really good one, it grabs my attention and refuses to let go. There's something inherently right when one hears well recorded human voices. It's hard to ignore (some Eric Whitacre samples recently had me gobsmacked at just how beautiful it can all sound).

When anything other than human voices are recorded, we can take for granted that it was the way it's supposed to sound, or at least very close. With human voices, it's something we can all immediately identify with and critique.

All the best,

Yes, generally, I would agree.
A critical proviso, as articulated earlier, is the recording!


Yes. applies to any type large group. Chamber much easier than a full orchestra etc.... In fact, that's why many 'great' classsical recordings are those where all the different instruments are clearly captured. Carlos Kleiber's CD of Beethoven's 5 & 7 is a good example.
Absolutely some of the most difficult sounds to get right. But not because they are strings or voices, but because they are massed. An average major orchestra can have more than sixty string players depending on the work being performed. One of the things that gives a great string section it's beautiful sound is the fact that you have that many different players, each with his/her own individual sound, playing together to create a "blend" where no one player sticks out (unless the music calls for it) and, as musicians like to describe it, "getting inside each other's sound". The result, in audio-speak, is an incredible amount of low-level information that the recording process, and the playback process, can only hope to get close to capturing fully. Sixty flutes, or banjos playing together would probably tax one's stereo (and recording mics) just as much. Luckily, not too many works written for sixty banjos.
Frogman, sixty banjos playing together would tax more than my stereo. I can, however, imagine such an event would go over well in Pittsburgh, and probably does in fact occur on a regular basis.

I cannot abide sitting in the balcony dress circle because the blending of which you speak drives me wacky. Admittedly, that takes very little. I much prefer main floor front seating - rows 5-6, just left of center or just right of center. I suspect that seating preference would not be uncommon among audiophile/music lovers. I want to hear the cellos "texture" not just hear their "color."
To me, masses strings in recordings sound much like the seating perspective has been shifted to dress circle. The texture of the individual instruments is lost. Ach, what would Mahler have instructed for recording his symphonies?
He told you right, especially chorus in a large Cathedral setting, treble voices in English ones drive me nuts.Resolution is more a matter of a great amp with OK speakers than vice-versa.
I think, as Frogman has said, massed anything is demanding, both because you need the ability to separate out the parts and follow them, and because there's often a lot of dynamic demands. But, these only cover certain attributes. I find that getting piano right is often tough for many systems to do- there is a certain weight and tone to the lower registers, and there is a lot of harmonic information, particularly in the upper registers, that gets flattened out in recordings. Close miking doesn't really improve things either, and it's not natural sounding. Obviously, a lot has to do with the recording itself. I used to use the Ave Maria from the Mission to hear how well a system did on staging and separation of individual voices.
Brownsfan, interesting that you mention Mahler. Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of taking part in a performance of Mahler's 8th symphony. As you know, it is scored not only for large orchestra, but also for large choral ensemble. The subject of blend (or not) vs clarity of individual line was one that was discussed at length during rehearsal. This article was used as one of the references on the subject. You may find it interesting:
Frogman, thanks much. I will give it a read. I probably like the Mahler 8th the least. I recently pinned it down to the abrupt opening of the massed chorus. It is interesting though, that one of my favorite Bruckner works, the Te Deum, opens in a very similar fashion, but rapidly shifts to the soloist.
Mahler done well live is something special indeed. I made the trip to Cleveland this year for the Mahler 3 opening concert. Oh my! 1.5 hours of pure, uninterrupted bliss. Row E, left of center.
Frogman, do you sing in a choir or play an instrument? You said you took part in a Mahler performance.....
Whart, I play clarinets and saxophones. In that particular performance I played the bass clarinet/C clarinet part.

I agree, the 4th movement, Chorale, from Beethoven's 9th is a challenge that my system struggles with and always frustrates me when I listen.