My audiophile take on the symphony last night.


65 piece Santa Cruz Symphony at the Civic Auditorium.

My wife said it wasn't loud enough and I agreed. The highs were rolled off and there wasn't an expansive soundstage. I couldn't "hear behind the instruments" like I can at home on the hifi. The soloist sounded small and far away and the bass drum lacked definition.

In spite of all that we were listening to a live and real performance. Our seats were the highest price available.

This was very interesting, intriguing and food for thought audio-wise. Also great people watching.
bizango1
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Difficult to comment unless I was there siting near you. I would think a
rolled off high end would be a problem with your seats or the hall. Hard to
imagine they all had instruments that were rolled off.

Soundstage is a different issue. Unless the hall completely scrambles the
sound how can you not have a soundstage? The violins are up front, the
basses are far right, percussion back left, horns in the back, etc. The
instruments are where they are? ........ Bad hall ?.?.?

However, I did attend our local symphony last night (Evansville IN) with
good seats and it was sonically excellent.

So I'll take this opportunity to encourage you to support your local
symphony.
Herman,

It was my first time and next time we are going to get floor seats closer to the orchestra.

As far as soundstage-I always get the perfect seat at home!

Bizango1,

I expect the symphonic sensory experience one has from the conductor's podium will be different than being 10-12 rows back, dead center.

What we experience vis-a-vis our audio system/room is the reproduction of recorded sound...a sound that may be multi-tracked, equalized, compressed, mixed, mastered, and ultimately...may sound "better" than the de facto event.

Best regards,
Sam
I never had hifi system better then live event......lucky you!
I frequently attend Colorado Symphony performances. In spite of imperfect hall acoustics, I never fail to come away exalted by the live performance. I love listening at home, but there is nothing like a live symphonic experience, even though the acoustics could be better. Hell, anybody who attends concerts, classical or otherwise, knows that the acoustics are often a disappointment in a wonderful evening. I wouldn't let the hall keep me away from the performance.

If you live in Colorado, please support the orchestra, which is struggling financially, like most orchestras today.

And if you're coming to Colorado for RMAF, please consider attending a symphony concert. The weekend of RMAF, they will be performing Beethoven's 7th Symphony, Phillip Glass' Violin Concerto No. 2 "The American Four Seasons", and Bernstein's Overture from Candide. Contact me and I'll help get you tickets.
Bizango1, congratulations on attending your first live orchestral performance. Your reaction to it is not unusual. But, I would encourage you to look at (hear) this first experience from a different perspective:

*****My wife said it wasn't loud enough and I agreed. The highs were rolled off and there wasn't an expansive soundstage. I couldn't "hear behind the instruments" like I can at home on the hifi. The soloist sounded small and far away and the bass drum lacked definition****

I have no doubt that this is what you heard. But, I would suggest that the
truth is that at home you listen at levels that are louder than live (obviously), and that the highs of your audio system are tipped up. As far as soundstage goes, there are too many variables as far as where you were sitting to make a valid comparison.

Why is all this important? This is not about being a purist. I notice that all your comments were about the sound, and none about the music.
Nothing wrong with that; we all love ear candy. But, I would encourage you to remember that composers compose with the sound of an orchestra
playing in a concert hall in mind. Not with a larger than life bass drum or tipped up highs. The music takes a different (and deeper) meaning when heard with instrumental balances and placement as the composer intended them. An analogy:

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered the "smoked" ribs, only to discover that the kitchen had goosed the flavor with artificial "smoke"
flavoring. The flavor then becomes cloying and over the top, devoid of the
nuance and subtlety of the various spices and hickory? Same thing with
live vs. your hifi. I am certain that if you felt that the highs were rolled off in the concert hall, when you listen to the "William Tell Overture" at home the piccolo is too prominent, and is probably overpowering the clarinets. Likewise, even though you felt that the overall sound was not loud enough, I assure you that the difference between the softest and the loudest moments of the Dvorak symphony was much greater than when heard at home; that gives it much more emotional impact.

I strongly encourage you continue supporting your local symphony, and to go to the concerts with less of an audiophile head. I think that in short order you will find that the rewards are much greater that way.
That is exactly how it sounds and anyone who goes regularly to the concert hall know this.
"The highs were rolled off"

The supertweeter must have had the night off.

Seriously, you have to attend a lot of live musical performances in a lot of venues (good and bad) to get a real perspective on what music can, should or does sound like. It is usually all over the map from sublime to forgettable to irritating, just like the recordings we listen to at home.

I've heard a symphony sound sublime live one day at teh local symphony hall and a rock band sound absolutely horrible like in an echo chamber another in the exact same SOTA venue. Seating location alone can make a huge difference.

It can be a real eye opener when you come to the realization that the absolute sound exists in theory perhaps but seldom ever in reality. It also helps take a lot of pressure disappointment and potential expense out of this whole audiophile experience deal when what we hear only occasionally lives up to our expectations.

I think if the perfect sound is what you seek, get a really good synthesizer or musical instrument and learn to produce it yourself. Otherwise just enjoy things including live musical performance and recordings for what they are as best you can.
Well that is what I hate about live music. You can't adjust the volume or the balance.

I want a system that sounds better then live music not as good as live music.
Funny thing about live music - no matter how bad the acoustics are, you can tell it's live and not recorded. Keep in mind that many orchestral recordings are made from the conductor's perspective, just as piano recordings are made from the player's perspective. You cannot duplicate this when sitting well into the venue.
"Funny thing about live music - no matter how bad the acoustics are, you can tell it's live and not recorded."

Probably true. What our ears hear when listening is only part of the story though.
The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium is NOT a good place to see a symphony. Much better would be the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, or better yet, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

On the other hand, seeing Smashing Pumpkins at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium a few years ago was great, (of course one had to be in the crush of humanity on the floor in order to get good sound!) And the other event I saw there as a full contact karate event many, many years ago. Given the last two events I mentioned, it probably goes to show you that the Santa Cruz Civic is not exactly a perfect symphony hall! ;-)

My two cents worth.
Bizango1, I hate to burst your bubble, but Frogman couldn't have said it better. Hi-Fidelity means being faithful to the original performance.
Chayro, I can identify with that statement
I live in Seattle and the acoustics at Benaroya Hall are excellent. With that said, I still have my preference regarding seating position. Even though the sound is pretty clear in all locations, if I'm too far back the orchestra sounds small and the soloist diminished. I prefer to be about 1/3 the way back in the hall. Besides locational preferences, the other issues you mention (e.g. rolled off highs) may be associated with hall acoustics. One thing I enjoy doing from time to time is sitting close up front. If you want soundstage, you'll get it there! A massive 180 degree side-to-side positioning of sound - and you can close your eyes and let your brain try to locate what you are hearing. Front to back soundstage may be lost somewhat, but it's alot of fun!
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EXCELLENT thread! TYVM Bizango1 and all.

I love Romantic-period Classical music and have had season tickets to the Phoenix Symphony O's concerts for decades. Halls do sound different from one another, and the same one sounds different depending on where you sit. I've heard real orchestras playing in maybe a dozen halls around the country; some are really good (Boston), and some are not (Chicago's which is really shallow and tall). Our local Grady Gammage Auditorium, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at Arizona State University was described in an article (published in 'The Absolute Sound, IIRC) as one of the world's best-sounding concert halls. If the 'Civic Auditorium' is one of those combination basketball/rockconcert places, probably a real orchestra doesn't sound really good from anywhere in it.

Phoenix Symphony Hall seats about 2200 and sounds good if not excellent. It's not nearly as rich in the lower frequencies as I like (and as Grady Gammage is), but it's also no longer annoying in the high frequencies. We sit on the main floor, centered left-right and a quarter to a third of the way back. The sounds of the orchestra are nicely wide, there's excellent depth, and when the orchestra plays loudly, the sounds fill the hall beautifully and the level is WAY higher than my highest home level.

My multichannel system sounds as good as I've ever heard ANY music-reproduction system sound, but it only rarely even starts to come close to sounding as good as live music.

There is NO substitute for REAL music played in real spaces; buy more tickets, Biz, to other halls, and LOVE the real music!

A suggestion--colleges and universities with music programs present concerts and recitals very frequently, and if ASU's are typical, the vast majority are FREE. Find some to attend; you might fall in love!
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Herman, I think your confusing imaging with soundstage.
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I don't think you can separate the two. If you hear the instruments spread out around the stage in the correct places then the imaging is good and you have a big soundstage. If the soundstage is collapsed you have poor imaging.

Isn't that correct?

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Good thread! I believe when one becomes very focused on the "sound" the beauty and musical message can become quite obscure. One can tailor a system to meet desired sound preferences which may have little to do with actural instruments played live i.e. natural vs tuned sound.
Herman, as I understand it:
soundstage refers to total width, height and depth
imaging refers to individual placement and scale within the soundstage, left to right, front to back, top to bottom.
the evidence that high frequencies are attenuated should be provided. instead, one may think they are reduced in spl, because one listenes to a stereo where high frequencies are elevated.

live music beats any stereo.

its like preferring a copy to the original.
As soon as I read the op, I was going to scroll down and post. Then I noticed Frogman already had. What he said.
Just a comment on volume - My local symphony is about 110 musicians and they play in a 900 seat theater. From my seats dead center 10-12 rows back, the volume is perfect and sonically wonderful. I just started going last year, inspired by my audiophilia, and it's true, there is nothing better than a live performance of unamplified music.

Prcinka,

I never had hifi system better then live event...
Well, perhaps you have...consider a live amplified concert in a sports arena versus hearing the album, i.e. analog - hehe, at home.

From Fleetwood Mac to Stevie Wonder and Pablo Cruise to Earth, Wind, and Fire -- the sonics were superior, read more enjoyable, on the record than at the concert...no disrespect intended to FOH pros. It was certainly LOUDER at the concerts, however.

I believe what we may often hear from our rigs is artifact, yet a potentially true facsimile of what is present in the source media, i.e., fidelity to the source which should not be conflated with fidelity of the performance...

Best regards,
Sam
****"Funny thing about live music - no matter how bad the acoustics are, you can tell it's live and not recorded." (-Chayro)

Probably true. What our ears hear when listening is only part of the story though.**** -Mapman

C1ferrari, what Mapman wrote is quite a mouthful. It all depends on what aspect of the listening experience we each find most rewarding. There is no substitute for that "hard to describe" immediacy of hearing performers live; even when amplified in less than excellent fashion, in less than excellent acoustics. IMO, unless the acoustics and sound design are a complete disaster and make the experience unbearable, there is something special about hearing music closer to the source, with fewer electronics and less processing in-between.
I like to close my eyes on occasion during live concerts and when listening at home. This helps me assess each relative to each other based only on what I hear better.

When I do this, I often think I would not know for certain which I am listening to by just listening alone. There are so many variables involved even with just what you hear!

At present, as long as I do not hear any artificial artifacts that are only involved with recordings (very bad recordings, hiss, pops/clicks, audible distortions affecting acoustic instruments, blatantly artificial sounding stereo effects, etc.) its often hard to tell. In a blind test, with the right recorded test material and similar venues, I think I could very well fail to identify live versus recorded consistently.

I think?

Matching the scale and acoustics of larger live venues at home is a challenge only very few have any prayer of accomplishing ever. So you do have to accept the fact that your home listening venue is often the bottleneck no matter what regardless of how much you might pour into your system and room.
Mapman wrote: "I think I could very well fail to identify live versus recorded consistently."

I sincerely hope you do not actually believe this statement, no matter what the circumstances. I would submit that there is no way anyone should ever fail to tell the difference. If one cannot, then you have VERY bad ears indeed, and I do not believe that you do.
Live, is the local high school band at the friday night football game. out of time and out of tune maybe, but no, NO, system in existence can sound like it. Thats LIVE!
Live, is the local high school band at the friday night football game. out of time and out of tune maybe, but no, NO, system in existence can sound like it. Thats LIVE!

Hi Frogman,

There is no substitute for that "hard to describe" immediacy of hearing performers live;
Let no one labor under misapprehension -- enjoying a tune on your stereo system, car audio rig, et al. is rewarding; however, to paraphrase some ad copy...

Live performance...There Is No Substitute!

Haha, I'm not even a "P" man ;-)

Best,
Sam