"I am there" vs. "They are here"

all of us in this hobby have heard the exclamation "I'm there" or "they are here!" a counless number of times. Usually these remarks are issued forth when one's audio system has made a sonic leap in the direction of naturalism.
However, "I'm there" and "they are here" are clearly two very different remarks.

Would anyone care to describe in detail what about the sound of a great audio system that inspires the listener to make one remark rather than the other.

Which one is a higher compliment?

Thank you,

I have found that even rather ordinary systems can "put the performers in the room" with me. However, the truly exceptional systems put ME into the room of the performers.
Generally, it's not the system(s), it's the recording(s). Close, multi-miked recordings put the performance in your room - there is no recording space ambience. Single point/stereo miking should put you in the recorded space. Systems may vary in their ability to do either. Oversimplified. :)
I am/was there --- Back a number of years ago, a technique in studios called LEDE (live end dead end) was popular (still is with some). The dead end is where the speakers are located (acoustical foam on walls and ceiling; carpet on floor). The live end starts about even with the listener position with considerable diffusion behind the listener. This set up effectively elimates the room your in and lets you hear the space in which the recording was made. Having the speakers flush mounted with the walls and the walls angled toward the listener increases the effect. -- I use this in a home project studio with SS equipment and to a lesser degree in a small classical listening room whith a tube setup (speakers flush mount in the studio, four feet from walls in listening room). -- This approach is great for monitoring recordings and I like the modified version for listening. It's probably not for everyone, however.
The truly great systems reproduce ambience information to a degree that allows a listener to experience the sound of a room. Every room has a unique sound that not only can be heard even when there is no obvious source of sound (music), in other words the room is "quiet"; but that interacts with the sound of a musical instrument in a way that is unique and that affects our perception of that instrument's sound. The ability of a system to reproduce that information is what allows the listener to say "I am there". To me this is definitely the higher compliment.
Hi, all,

thanks for the incisive responses.

It seems that more of your regard "I'm there" as the more prized experience in which more information is revealed (lots of "more"s going on here).

Now, if you have experienced "I'm there," could you describe, to the best of your knowledge/memory, the system that "put you there"?

Thank you,

Hi David. My experience follows. Basic: a speaker capable of putting our ears and brain completely at ease with the sounds emanating -- that is, we make minimal to no effort to recognise and UNDERSTAND intricate musical detail... i.e. we're just "there", passive recipients of music. Quad, Soundlab, Genesis, AudioExklusiv, Avantgarde are SOME such (note, my experience is limited!)

Now, the speaker "kit" needs a commensurate signal.

1. Top notch pre: tonal balance, realism in low-level detail and dynamics and correct micro-amplification of speed variations.
CAT, FM acoustics 288 (?), Goldmund (22?), Aesthetix tubes + multiple PS, Symphonic Line rg3 "special order" 4xPS. (again, my LIMITED experience).

2. A "tricky" source: either suberb (on all accounts given our present technology) or one that, within its compromises, DOES at least pick up tonality & tonal balance. A Fender is NOT a Gibson, a Steinway is NOT a Bosendorfer... i.e., "a piano is not (just) a piano": which one, for pete's sake. OR a pre that picks up subtle changes in rythm (speed nuance the musicians play with). IM experience, a top notch TT + average LP, wins over a top cdp + good redbook cd in the "naturality" area.

3rd: an amp that has the quality to amplify these nuances (and, ofcourse, enough juice so that the said speakers will make these audible in our analogue world). Many in as many, high, price brackets.

Ofcourse we have the "wires". Anything that works well is expensive, regardless of production cost. Necessary evil perhaps...

Mucho tough to emulate, IMO... A good pre (CAT) allowed me to *understand & justify the musical presence* (for want of better wording) of certain lower-level, second and 3rd plane details, that were merely cosmetic until then! With a FM Acoustics set-up, my wife hardly recognised music she (thought) she knew by heart. Detlof virtually has a sound wall to satisfy his ears that the orchestra *just could be* in the close vicinity of his room. His amplification is commensurate. There are many others here at A'gon!

Thanks, all, for your patience... the subject fascinates me.
Oooops, my speaker experience should read Acapella "Excalibur" rather than Avantgarde. Sorry, all!
Wonjun, you pose a most fascinating question, which is obvious and very important, annoyingly so..just because I never thought of it myself. (-; I haven't read all of the above replies, except for Gregm's, which I find brilliantly accurate. In my opinion, many well and closely recorded solo instruments, can give you the "they are here impression". The Impulse recording of "Swing low Sweet Cadillac" with Dizzy Gillespie et al, which I heard last night, put Dizzy and his men together with his highly appreciative audience right into my listening room. Another recording which does this perfectly,is "For Duke", as another example and there are many, many more, of whatever musical genre. As has been said above, the more and more a recording team takes care to capture the natural accoustics of the recording venue, the more you get a chance to be transported "there", if you have the equipment, so well described by Gregm. Here a magnificent harmonia mundi LP, "FĂȘte de l'Ane" does this for me, as do many of the early Mohr/Layton recordings of symphonic music of the CSO in their old hall in Chicago. Not that my system can capure the entire volume of the hall, but with the lights out, my ears are fooled to be in a presence of a soundspace, which in all its directions is much much larger than my listening room. This effect can of course be most easily achieved with any decent recording of organ music, done in a big cathedral, with tremendous reverb from all possible directions. Here the accoustics of the recording venue easily override the accoustics of your room and- again with the lights out - you will find yourself transported into a huge sound space, with the music coming at you in huge waves, which- if you have enough bass energy - can be quite frightening at times. So much for my 2cents and thanks again for bringing this fascinating subject to our attention!
Cheers to all! Detlof
"I am there" is of course the correct ideal model of what we want a music reproduction system to accomplish. But Sndsel and Danner (above) have gotten to the crux of our shared dilemma as critical listeners - what you might term the "Audiophile Condition". By far the two most important variables affecting a system's ability to approach this ideal are the recording itself and the room in which we listen to playback. Unfortunately, and paradoxically, these are precisely the areas in which we have the least amount of control: none, in the case of the recording; and usually very limited (and almost never to the ultimate degree) in the case of the room. If these starting conditions were effectively dealt with in our playback systems first, I strongly suspect that any competent (and competently assembled) high-end component chain could transmit the "I am there" sensation to near the limit that two-channel reproduction allows (although this may not be so high to begin with - theoritcally more so with some sort of multi-channel scheme, but this leads us back to the optimization of the recording process [and let us not forget the visual aspect, basically unaddressable but for to close one's eyes!]). Is this conundrum - our essential lack of control - what directly results in our becoming susceptable to "audiophilia nervosa"? I would like to able to think so, but I frankly doubt it. I suspect our preoccupation with gear would, alas, probably persist even if all our recordings and listening rooms were idealized tomorrow. This is because gear is just sexier, more of a status symbol, and upgrading and tweakage are more receptive (not more productive!) outlets for our neuroses, than purpose-built rooms and recordings bought "as-is" will ever be. But think about the further implication of all this: It also means that we may really prefer to wallow in our audiophile tendencies over and above what is, after all, the ostensible aim of any high-end system and its owner - to enjoy listening to music reproduced in our homes with as little distraction, and as much suspension of disbelief, as we possibly can! Let's put that in our peace pipes and smoke it a while.
Detlof, Great mention of a great Impulse recording. "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac" is Dizzy at some of his most memorable. Dont be afraid to get the remastered CD version in the LP styled box. It is very well done. Sorry to drift off topic, but this is very noteworthy music.
"You are there" was my preferred description when I had it all just so........Frank
Great post and replies. I tend to agree that the more resolving systems provide more of the “I am there”, but I am in the minority because what I ENJOY is the “they are here”. Maybe that is the reason every time I upgrade my system I can hear the improvement, but am somewhat not as satisfied. That probably has to do with my taste in music. I would imagine the majority of listeners here are classic/jazz fans. That FIM Pawnshop SACD is great and if all of my music was recorded like that I may feel differently. However the fun is sucked out of most of my studio recorded disks with my current system. Music like Floyd, Jewel, and Stevie Ray are shrunken down to a distant stage. My system is Sony/CJ/Virgo. What can I do to bring Jewel back into my room???
Joekras, tweak the system to death before upgrading again; power supply, direct power lines, cables off the floor, support/ coupling & de-coupling for source, speakers & electronics, speaker placement... you can have lots of fun -- and maybe bring the Vaughan Bros closer to home!

Great thread and posts, guys.
Since we're almost totally at the mercy of the recording,
is it the case that a moderately dead room with a near-field setup will ALWAYS tend to produce a "they are here", deeper perspective (using the room!), and PERHAPS a "you are there" to a lesser extent IF the recording has the info...; whereas that "live/dead-end" room treatment, especially with flush-mounted speakers (having NO ability to offer much less stage depth BEHIND the speaker plane, is limited to producing only "you are there" recorded depth IF there's any in the software? In other words I find that I get lucky a whole lot more often with a nearfield setup in a damped room. The recording provides what IT HAS, and the distant front wall anchors an automatic stage depth.
Similarly, isn't multichannel simply trying to synthesize the "we are there" without having to pull the speakers off the boundaries? The software AND hardware better be damned good to pull THAT off!.... Gordon Holt, my friend Tom Horrall all claim it's coming, but I've yet to hear a multichannel system that pleases me musically AND spatially then my 2 channel in the nearfield in a medium-sized deadish room. Sorry to be repetetive...it's late.
Subaru, not only must s & h/ware be good, as you note, but also the multi channel RECORDING. What exactly is to be wired into, say, the rear channels? The cellos, the violins, the echo (from where -- the Opera Hall?), the conductor swishing through the air??? Rumour has it that sound engineers have not yet been given a standard for recording in multichannel.

In my small experience of multi-channel audio, I haven't yet grasped where exactly I am "situated" while listening: on stage with the orchestra, in the first row (but then the sound comes from the front... the best simulation I've got was in the middle of a (empty -- hence reverberations) room.

On another note & quite against grain, I often have NOT experienced "pinpoint" imaging when listening to music live... rather, it's the combination of sight and hearing that "pinpoints". But I am definitely there!

Maybe another way of referring to "they are here" (i.e. pinpoint imaging, "I can clearly see each & every musician on stage") and "I am there" (i.e. the feeling of overall participating in, or being enveloped by, the musical experience).

Good one, Greg.
I often note at my favorite venues (Symphony Hall and Jurdan Hall in Boston) that NO pinpoint imaging occurs.
The closer perspectives in a medium-sized hall can be better correlated visually, but the larger Symohony Hall's imaging can be a cruel joke, by contrast! Most high $$-paying mid-orchestra seats "see" the right-rear stage brass coming from the left-wall first reflection, for example.
Yet the fullness, detail, sustain and decay are all ideal, we are REALLY there.
Had a chat with my friend Marty Pearlman after the Boston Baroque's nicely-done performance of Monteverdi's Orpheo last Saturday night, where he informed me that Telarc is pulling their support for BB, much to his chagrin.
Especially in light of Telarc going to great lengths to
audition their new surround recording techniques for classical orchestras in large halls. More boos and hisses for 9/11!
Spotted this one again as I was going through my old threads looking for something else. I've changed my mind somewhat on this question lately. I now think "I am there" is too impossible as a realistically achievable goal to be worth pondering over. (Yes, I still think an idealized multichannel/DSP/room setup could come close, but the bigger obstacle would be the recording-end standardized process required, and I just don't believe this is workable on a generalized scale for a variety of reasons.) I propose a third choice beyond the incorrect "They are here" or the unattainable "I am there": "They are there". To me this much better encapsulates what we're all trying to accomplish and what we actually base our sonic opinions on. What do you think guys?
Wow, what a post Zaikesman! I read it three times.
I agree a "standardized" recording on our LP's and CD's would really help, but then this hobby would be too easy !
Unfortunately we must split decisions with how we like to percieve our "sound".
My system sounds about half way between "they are here" and "they are there".
Then again, this boils down to personal preference and paticular type of music being played.
The "I am there" sound might prove a little too up-front for me.
Hope this made some sense. I am here !
The best I have been able to achieve in my system is the 'window onto another place': A window, about 11 feet wide and 3 feet high, which opens not onto the end of my room but into wherever the performers were. Perhaps this is equivalent to 'they are there'.
Yes Calanctus, the 'window' onto the original performance analogy is conceptually closely related to my "They are there" formulation. The metaphor of the window has often been used to describe the system itself, i.e., how transparent the glass is, how free of distortion it can transmit the image, how large or small it is, etc.

Rx8man: Glad you're where you are if you are, my friend. ;^) My point about 'standardization' has to do with the theoretical necessity for a perfectly complementary encode/decode process to be adopted for both the recording and playback ends of the chain, if you're hoping to closely approach faithfully recreating the impression of being present at the original performance. But beside being totally impractical, IMO it's also fundamentally technically impossible to ever achieve, even on the basis of an all-out, one-off attempt - much less some kind of standardized system applicable for widespread use by sound engineers and music consumers. What we'll always have, to my mind, is what we have now: a haphazard, largely arbitrary, technically chaotic approximation, but one that can be made more than occasionally pleasing, and maybe even slightly reminiscent of some flexible notion about what 'accuracy' might be if you're willing to stretch your imagination.

About your system sounding halfway between "They are there" and "They are here", you're stressing an important point. We can never eliminate a large dose of the "They are here" syndrome from the reproduction, because our systems and rooms always impose themselves inappropriately upon the recreated original signal. Things like acoustic treatment and DSP technology can reduce this undesired effect, but they can't ameliorate it entirely. I've always figured that for even the most scrupulously put-together home systems - well beyond what even most audiophiles (myself included) have, especially in terms of room design - you're still going to be hearing a huge contribution of spurious info superimposed by the playback chain and environment. That's a contribution which has no relation whatsoever to the original performance event, and that remains the same across every recording replayed. It's that constant quality which constitutes the "Here", and we can't ever completely get rid of it.
"They're here" is the mark of good playback.

"I'm There" is the response to great emotional connection.

In my book, the latter is the much stronger compliment.
I love it! It's Undoubtedly not going to stand up to critical evaliation, but it's vague and charming enough to catch on. Where is there, by the way, and how can we here them as being there unless we're there too, which we're not, since "I am there is not right"? Is the "there' right there in ffront of you, ina virtual stage between the speakers/ But isn't that 'here"? Like I said, beatifully vague.
How do you fit a symphony orchestra in your listening room? Same thing with overloaded marshall stacks? I strive for the "you are there" thingy myself. I echo milkman's sentiments. but in reality what you get is a window into a larger recording venue like Calanctus and Zaikemans suggest. But I think that's a hybrid between "you are there" and "they are here." but I think the hybrid leans towards the former more than that latter. That's where I slightly disagree with Zaikesman. I feel for the "they are here" illusion to work, the performers should ideally feel like they are completely within our room, and not extend behind the rear wall. YMMV.

Thanks for sharing.
Zaikes (yikes) very well worded ! You sound like an English major ! (no pun intended)
I catch your drift about the recording "standardization".
This post is very interesting because it is exactly what we deal with all the time, the relaxing emotional connection so to speak, is the primary goal after all the buying, selling, trading, upgrading, downgrading, tuning and frustrations.
Audiogon and all our knowledge with trials, errors and sucess stories really help a lot towards "sifting through" the sometimes difficult journey towards musical nirvana.
I would like to see a comprehensive "Hi-end Users Guide Book" for ultimate mixing and matching components and cables published, instead of class A,B,C, etc. and I'm not bashing the monthly mags, so don't anyone go jumpin me about their usefullness, I find them "entertaining".
Maybe this seems a bit absurd, but we all don't live in a city with "Highend Valley" down the road to be able to audition our favorite stuff (i'm one of them)
I'm still "here" !
Sorry Rnm4 and Aroc that I might not have made myself entirely clear about what the shorthand "They are there" catchphrase represents for me. The "there" in question is the space the original performance was recorded in, while "they" of course are the performers.

One benchmark criteria for a high fidelity recording (in the sense Harry Pearson described in coining 'The absolute sound') is that it perceptually succeed in capturing/transmitting some sense of the performance acoustic and the players' relation to it/interaction with it - "They are there". All I'm saying is that to finish this job we must include the proper function of the playback system. Again, of the conventional choices listed in the title of this thread, "They are here" (the performers are in your room) is wrong, and "You are there" (you are in the performance space) is impossible, so a modicum of "They are there" (the performers are in the performance space, with you observing through the imperfect 'window') is what we can actually achieve/ought to strive for. "They are there" hinges upon the regrettably accutely limited ability of the recording process to capture the total effect; the best we can attempt with the replay system is to try to avoid fatally further obscuring whatever degree the recording accomplishes that goal.

Anyway, I've gotten a lot heavier here than the whole topic really bears scrutinizing. This was just something that had dawned on me recently during listening: it's not "they're here", it's not "I'm there", it's "they're there". Just a simple distilled concept, no biggie, but it's more satisfying and less cognitively dissonant to me than the dichotomous choice of the other two. And Rx8man, were I an English major, I hope I'd be a lot easier to read than I fear I probably am... :-)
I have a 7' Steinway B sitting behind my speaker plane, set as a 7.5' nearfield triangle. Whereas "I'm there" somewhat often with orchestral sources, all too often pianists (and their jazz trios) "are here". I can even jiggle with my separate Pass Aleph P gain controls to have a chanteuse slide up closer and lean into the piano belly as I imagine ME 'comping her! At this point WHERE am I?
If she's a great looker, I'd be crawlin on her too !!
At that point, I'd "be there" !!
They'd probably throw me "off the stage" !!
At that moment, I'd be "outta there" !!!!
Perhaps 'you are there' will become possible with properly-done multichannel audio.

In your post back in '01 you touched on a subject that I had been puzzling over for some time.

Pinpoint imaging I felt would be the mark of an attractive 'I am there' sound. It turned out not to be the case for me. It seemed rather unnatural. Having been to many different live performances, I never noticed pinpoint imaging in any of them I could recall.

The last few months and a number of live shows with paying much closer attention verified my gut reaction. No pinpoint imaging seemed to exist. A full live sound, not pinpoint. A recent amp had an uncanny pinpoint imaging ability, and it actually (slightly) drove me nuts as it refused to convey the fullness of voice required as being in a natural setting. It actually sounded a bit thin.

Anybody else notice this? or am I just wacky...
Rwbadley: Not wacky. A couple of years ago we brought in a string trio to play for a function at our house, and they were seated in the area of the living room right in-between the system and where my listening chair normally resides. I was a little surprised during their performances to realize that if I closed my eyes while listening to them play, I couldn't really locate the individual players in space with any sense of precision.

In fact, not only wasn't there a feeling of 'pinpoint imaging', but I also couldn't describe the sound as being 'detailed', 'present', 'bloomy', 'finely resolved', blah blah blah etc. I couldn't even say it seemed especially dynamically unrestricted compared to playing recordings through my system in the same space. Rather, it sounded quite unremarkable from a standpoint of audiophile terminology - somewhat amorphous and congealed together, a little murky and rolled-off in the treble, spatially a bit small and not terribly dimensional, and not nearly as 'involving' or 'easy to follow' as I expected. Sonically underwhelmed would be a fair despription of my overall reaction. (All this is leaving the attributes of the performance itself to the side - we're talking about a pick-up group sight-reading without prior rehearsal for the occasion, so there was some shaky ensemble and intonation among the inevitable flubs and misses.)

Part of this I'm sure had to do with the less-than-ideal performance-acoustic attributes of my listening room as well as the background noise of the party, but still, I was probably the only person there who was thinking about any of this crap - and not simply because I was probably the only audiophile in the place, but specifically because this performance was occurring where I normally listen to my own system. That it didn't necessarily sound 'impressive' by comparison speaks not only to the fallability of the "They are here" paradigm, but confirms for me that a whole lot of what we talk about in relation to reproduced sound qualities are in truth largely artifacts of the record/playback processes, and not inherent to the original performance itself. That truth doesn't invalidate those technical processes, or the ways in which we verbally deconstruct what they accomplish, but it does help keep me mindful of the reality of what I'm dealing with when I listen critically at home.

Thanks for the well written response.

What an interesting thing; to plunk a live trio in the spot where your system would be! What a let down (in a way) to find prediliction towards the reproduced version. That really says something positive about the quality of your audio system!

Re: the dynamic sound quality of your trio I have a hunch that were Satchmo himself to blow and belt a phrase or two that suddenly the dynamics of a live performance would be realized ;-)

I agree that my system - which to my mind is good but by no means great judged by the standard of being able to transmit or recreate the 'absolute sound' of a live performance - could not fool one into thinking they were hearing a live trumpet, and would suffer by comparison if a live trumpet were played in my listening space, certainly dynamically, and I assume tonally as well. But I wonder if such an experiment would still reveal that the live instrument did not give the impression of emanating from a particularly well-defined point in space. I actually hear a live acoustic instrument on a regular basis in my house, but since I'm the one playing my guitar, the sonic perspective can't really be compared.

The rest of what I usually hear live is either amplified through a PA, of if it's all-acoustic, the performance is taking place in a very different kind of space than I have at home. Thinking about this topic has reminded me of the art museum in my town which keeps a concert grand piano in a largish wood-panelled hall for recitals; I recall that when I've heard that piano played live on a couple occasions, it sounded diffuse, muffled, and dynamically restrained, too 'quiet' even (and from only a few feet away) - a sound that if an audiophile were to accurately reproduce it at home through their system, would ironically be unlikely to satisfy or impress in terms of fulfilling our typical preconception about what a live piano 'ought' to sound like. Listening to recordings, we're listening to microphones as much as to instruments.