"They are here" vs. "You are there"


Sometimes a system sounds like "they are here." That is, it sounds like the performance is taking place IN YOUR LISTENING ROOM.

Sometimes a system sounds like "you are there." That is, it sounds like you have been transported to SOME OTHER ACOUSTICAL SPACE where the performance is taking place.

Two questions for folks:

1. Do you prefer the experience of "they are here" or "you are there"?

2. What characteristics of recordings, equipment, and listening rooms account for the differences in the sound of "they are here" vs. "you are there"?
bryoncunningham
I prefer you are there.

Recording has a huge affect on this, as do room acoustics.

Of course it takes a certain level of quality in speaker and associated equipment to get this, but if it isn't on the cd/record/etc, it is not going to come out of your speakers.
I prefer "they are here". Since I have never been to most concert halls, recording studios, etc. I don't know how they are supposed to sound. I do know my own sound room and acoustic space and how it performs.

Just my opinion...
I think this has more to do with the recording methods and process, and because of that, I prefer to allow the artist and engineer to make that decision. I have a hard enough time trying to decide between cake or brownies for desert. :)
Bryoncunningham,

You make a very interesting distinction.

I would think the correct answer is clearly "you are there" at least for live or minimally processed, high quality recordings, where we start with the idea that the goal is recreating the illusion of the original event, in the same space in which it was recorded.

Therefore, a listening room which is fairly neutral, and a system's ability to image would be the key technical considerations.

Any system able to do this should not have any problems playing multitrack studio recordings either.
To me, "you are there" is the whole point. I love live classical music, and my entire aim is to come as close as possible to that at home. The single most important addition to my system in helping me achieve this was my JVC XP-A1010 Digital Acoustic Processor, along with its associated four ambiance speakers.

Not only does this do an amazing job of extracting and synthesizing concert-hall ambiance, it also somehow makes the instrumental tone colors much more natural. It's but a slight exaggeration to say that the difference it makes is analogous to the difference between seeing a painting of actors on a stage and seeing real actors on a real stage. It's absolutely amazing. And many years out of production.
-Bob
"You Are There" was a great TV show!
"I'm Not There" is an interesting movie about Bob Dylan. :)
"She's Not There" is a great song by the Zombies. ;)
I don't think we're in Kansas anymore
I would believe that "you are there" would be what to strive for. It is not easy to put together a system that can give you the feeling that you are at the actual venue.
Personally, I find the "you are there" sensation a bit disorienting. I know where I am when I'm listening, and it's not in a jazz club, concert hall, or stadium. So when I hear the cues that suggest those places, I find them distracting and they distance me from the music. Maybe that's why I prefer studio-recorded material: it sounds like the music is there with me for my personal enjoyment.

In my case, the acoustic treatment is easy: just make the room a bit on the acoustically dead side. For the "you are there" experience, I'd think you'd want to make your room's acoustics a bit like the venue of interest (without getting carried away). A jazz venue is small and a bit bright, a concert hall is cavernous, a stadium is, well, an acoustic nightmare. So I think you could probably tailor your room in one way or another to maximize a particular kind of venue, but that might have consequences for other types of recordings and venues.

Maybe Hesson11 is on to something. Maybe the best answer is a processor (that reproduces the ambience), and a few surround speakers. Many surround processors have this capability, and have settings for various venue effects. One could fork one's 2-channel line outs into a processor or receiver, and use it for its surround capabilities only. A lot of people are already effectively doing the same thing with their subs (substitute "low pass filter" for "processor"). Hmm, an easy enough experiment to try...
Thanks for the responses. The majority of posters so far have a preference for the experience of "you are there." I have a pet theory about what creates that experience:

Whether a system sounds like “they are here” or “you are there” is principally determined by AMBIENT CUES during playback. The presence/characteristics of ambient cues during playback is itself largely determined by the following, in descending order of importance:

(1) RECORDING: Ratio of direct to reflected sound.

(2) LISTENING ROOM: Resemblance to the recording space.

(3) EQUIPMENT: Relative neutrality or coloration.

RE: (1) RECORDING. Recordings that contain ambient cues are more likely to provide the experience that “you are there.” Those that lack them are more likely to provide the experience that “they are here.” The presence of ambient cues is mostly a consequence of the ratio of direct to reflected sound contained in the recording.

The ratio of direct to reflected sound is itself largely a consequence of microphone type and placement: The (a) more directional the pickup pattern of the microphone; and (b) the closer the microphone is placed to the acoustical event, the higher the ratio of direct to reflected sound on the recording. The (a) less directional the pickup pattern of the microphone; and (b) the farther the microphone is placed from the acoustical event, the lower the ratio of direct to reflected sound on the recording.

Since ambient cues about the acoustical environment are disproportionately contained in the reflected sound, recordings that have a lower ratio of direct to reflected sound will have more ambient cues, and consequently, sound more like “you are there.”

RE: (2) LISTENING ROOM. Listening rooms that resemble the recording space are more likely to provide the experience that “you are there.” That is because, when the listening room resembles the recordings space, they have similar ambient cues. As a result, the ambient cues of the listening room will naturally augment the ambient cues of the recording space contained in the recording, enhancing the experience that “you are there.”

Resemblance is a matter of size, shape, quantity/placement/ratio of absorption and diffusion, reverberation time, and so on. The more your listening room resembles the recording space in each of those characteristics, the more it will sound like “you are there.”

RE: (3) EQUIPMENT. Equipment that is neutral, in the sense of ‘degree of absence of coloration’ is more likely to provide the experience that “you are there.” That is because colorations frequently conceal, corrupt, or eliminate the ambient cues of a recording, thereby reducing the experience that “you are there.”

Some colorations, it could be argued, add “ambient cues” of the own, thereby increasing the likelihood of the experience that “you are there.” I have doubts about this, since the “ambient cues” added by colorations are largely constant, whereas the ambient cues of recording spaces are infinitely variable. Hence the chances of the two resembling each other across a wide range of recordings seems unlikely. Therefore, colorations that add "ambient cues" of their own may often enhance the experience that "you are somewhere," but seldom that "you are there."

Fire away.
'They are here'. I want them to perform for me.
Hi Bryon,

As someone who listens primarily to classical music, my goal is to duplicate as closely as possible the experience of hearing a live performance from a good seat in a good hall (less extraneous sounds from the audience or other sources, of course). Therefore I am in the "you are there" camp.

I particularly second the comments by CWLondon, and, for the most part, the excellent analysis in your previous post.

The one exception I would take concerns item no. 2. I doubt that it is typically possible for the acoustics of the listening room to resemble those of the recording space in any meaningful way (assuming the recording space is a hall), because the dimensions (and hence the delay times between direct and reflected sound) are so vastly different.

I would therefore comingle your references to listening room characteristics (under item 2) with the thoughts you expressed regarding equipment, under item 3. In other words the overall combination of room acoustics and equipment should be as neutral as possible, to make the listening experience as "you are there" as possible.

Best regards,
-- Al

1. As much as Lowell Thomas and later, Walter Cronkite were big proponents of the "you are there" news reel and then TV show... I'm more into having the entertainers standing in front of me... saves on parking, trip times, traffic, gas, etc.

It also makes for easier virtual autograph getting!

2. It's the recording! That is of course once the level of equipment is up to snuff.
Al, I think your comments make a lot of sense. However how do you think this plays out for folks who want to use horn, panel, or line speakers? For example I've heard some folks say that some horn speakers can be 'forward' compared to well designed cone/box speakers, etc.

Because of this I tend to agree with Ballan. IMHO the degree that recordings are forward or accurate (or backward :-)) has far more to do with the practices of the recording engineer than the natural acoustics of the hall, the recording studio or the home environment. Pushing a few sliders around can change everything including the relationship between direct and reverberant sounds and usually does.
Hi Newbee,

Interesting questions.

My understanding has been that "forward" vs. "backward" is essentially a different issue than "they are here" vs. "you are there."

My understanding has been that "forward" and "backward" are primarily matters of emphasis or de-emphasis of mid-range frequencies, relative to highs and lows. That is why in the old days mid-range tone controls were commonly labeled "presence" controls.

While "they are here" vs. "you are there" is primarily a matter, as Bryon indicated, of the proportion of direct vs. reflected sound, which brings time relationships (as opposed to frequency response) heavily into play.

Therefore I agree with the ideas that have been expressed about mic placement and mic characteristics. Those factors, and their relationship to the hall size and its acoustic characteristics, would figure to be the key factors in how realistically hall ambience is reproduced. Assuming, that is, that subsequent processing is not overdone to the point of messing up what the mics have captured.

Best regards,
-- Al
Hi Al. Thanks for your comments. Some thoughts…

The one exception I would take concerns item no. 2. I doubt that it is typically possible for the acoustics of the listening room to resemble those of the recording space in any meaningful way (assuming the recording space is a hall), because the dimensions (and hence the delay times between direct and reflected sound) are so vastly different.

To a large extent, I agree with this. Item (2) - the idea that resemblance between the listening room and the recording space enhances the illusion that “you are there” - was intended to describe a correlation that is largely theoretical. In the real world, the listening room rarely resembles the recording space, except in a very approximate way. As you point out, this is especially true for certain kinds of recording spaces, such a halls.

Having said that, I would stop short of concluding that it is impossible for the listening room to resemble the recording space “in any meaningful way.” It seems to me that sometimes the listening room can resemble the recording space in a meaningful way, in the sense that there are characteristics of the listening room that, to the extent that they approximate the recording space, will contribute to the illusion that “you are there.” For example…

Imagine for the moment that your preference in classical music were confined to orchestral music. In that case, I believe that you would be more likely to create the illusion that “you are there” with a large listening room with a high level of diffusion and a medium to long-ish reverberation time. In contrast, Cbw723’s preference for “studio-recorded material” would be better served with a medium or small sized listening room with plenty of absorption and a comparatively short reverberation time ("acoustically dead," as he describes it). In either case, the resemblance of the listening room to the recording space is only a very rough approximation. But it seems to me that it is a meaningful approximation, in the sense that it will contribute to the illusion that “you are there.”

Of course, all this assumes that the system is playing back recordings with similar recording spaces. In reality, most people listen to a wide range of recordings with vastly different recording spaces. Because of that, I completely agree with your view that, for the audiophile who listens to a wide range of music...

…the overall combination of room acoustics and equipment should be as neutral as possible, to make the listening experience as "you are there" as possible.

My view is that...

1. If an audiophile listens predominantly to one type of music, he should design his listening room (when possible) to approximate the typical characteristics of the recording spaces for that type of music, so as to promote the illusion that "he is there" for the music he usually listens to.

However...

2. If an audiophile listens to a wide range of music, he should design his listening room (when possible) to be neutral, so as to promote the illusion that "he is there" for as many kinds of recording spaces as possible, acknowledging that the more neutral the room, the less likely it is to approximate the recording space of any particular type of music.
Bryon writes:
1. If an audiophile listens predominantly to one type of music, he should design his listening room (when possible) to approximate the typical characteristics of the recording spaces for that type of music, so as to promote the illusion that "he is there" for the music he usually listens to.

I think this depends not only on the venue of preference, but the recordings. I alluded to this before when I suggested one not get carried away. In situations where the ambience cues are subtle or absent, having room reinforcement would likely be beneficial. But in cases where the cues are already strong, reinforcement could become excessive.

2. If an audiophile listens to a wide range of music, he should design his listening room (when possible) to be neutral, so as to promote the illusion that "he is there" for as many kinds of recording spaces as possible, acknowledging that the more neutral the room, the less likely it is to approximate the recording space of any particular type of music.

Again, I think this works in the case of strong cues, but with weak or absent cues, and hard-to-duplicate room acoustics, electronic enhancement may be the way to go. Surround speakers could produce concert hall acoustics even in a smallish room.

In summary, the electronic approach could provide reinforcement that varied by degree, depending on how much was needed, and could support a variety of venue configurations. You could, for example, put a studio-recorded session in a big concert hall (but, of course, at some point you are going to start creating distortions that can't be ignored).

Finally, I'm not sure how much the playback system's coloration is an issue. Assuming the system is good enough to produce playback with a convincing live or nearly live sound (as judged by the system's owner/primary listener), it seems unlikely that the ambience cues are going to be distorted to a point that they become an impediment to a "you are there" experience.
i've always found the recording itself plays the major role.
In situations where the ambience cues are subtle or absent, having room reinforcement would likely be beneficial. But in cases where the cues are already strong, reinforcement could become excessive.

Cbw – This is a good point. To the extent that the ambient cues of the listening room resemble those of the recording space, playback in the listening room will reinforce the ambient cues of the recording. It is certainly possible that, for some recordings, that reinforcement could be excessive. In the worst case, the ambient cues of the listening room would, in effect, "double" the ambient cues of the recording. In light of this, designing a listening room with the intention of reinforcing the ambient cues of one type of recording space must be approached judiciously.

…with weak or absent cues, and hard-to-duplicate room acoustics, electronic enhancement may be the way to go.

The idea of creating listening room ambience by electronic means is appealing in theory. In practice, however, the limited experience I have had with professional reverb processors from high end manufacturers was not favorable. Although they were much better at creating ambient cues than the DSP processing typically found in consumer components, they were nevertheless, to my ears, artificial sounding. Because of that, I am skeptical of the electronic approach to creating ambience, at least with the current state of technology. I have far more confidence in the results of controlling ambient cues through listening room design.

I'm not sure how much the playback system's coloration is an issue. Assuming the system is good enough to produce playback with a convincing live or nearly live sound (as judged by the system's owner/primary listener), it seems unlikely that the ambience cues are going to be distorted to a point that they become an impediment to a "you are there" experience.

I agree that the equipment is less important than either the recording or the listening room in determining ambient cues during playback, as I indicated in the “descending order of importance” in the OP. However, I believe that colorations in equipment can be a real obstacle to the presentation of ambient cues during playback. I became convinced of this when making component changes in my own system that simultaneously resulted in (1) greater neutrality, judged by independent criteria; and (2) greater audibility of the ambient cues of recordings.
The idea of creating listening room ambience by electronic means is appealing in theory. In practice, however, the limited experience I have had with professional reverb processors from high end manufacturers was not favorable.

I don't disagree that state of the art processing would not hold up to close scrutiny if it were examined on its own. My thinking is that it may be sufficient when limited to surrounds. As long as the bulk of the sound is coming from the (unprocessed) mains, the processing may not be audible. Given that the cues are themselves the subjects of "analog processing" (i.e., they are things like reflected sounds and room reverb), it may be possible to find a good balance. This approach is, of course, done with movie soundtracks all the time. But, not having tried it with two-channel music, I can't say if the results would be satisfactory. It's just a hypothesis.

However, I believe that colorations in equipment can be a real obstacle to the presentation of ambient cues during playback. I became convinced of this when making component changes in my own system that simultaneously resulted in (1) greater neutrality, judged by independent criteria; and (2) greater audibility of the ambient cues of recordings.

"Coloration" as we've discussed in the past, is a broad category. Since the ambience cues tend to be subtle (except for things like applause), the thing most likely to make them more audible is detail. But detail is a two-edged sword: coloration can obscure it, and coloration can enhance it. So:
1. Some colorations may only have negative effects on the cues. Reducing the noise floor of the system may be an example of an approach that is always positive.
2. Some colorations may be neutral with respect to ambience cues (at least within the usual constraints of high-end systems). THD may be an example. Limited dynamics may be another.
3. Some colorations may enhance the cues. Excessive brightness comes to mind. You get lots of detail in bright systems -- to the point that the ambience cues will practically jump out of the speakers and punch you in the head -- but such systems are not particularly neutral (though they are preferred by some listeners).
Some colorations may enhance the cues. Excessive brightness comes to mind. You get lots of detail in bright systems -- to the point that the ambience cues will practically jump out of the speakers and punch you in the head -- but such systems are not particularly neutral (though they are preferred by some listeners).

Cbw - This is an interesting point, and one that had not occurred to me. I think you may be right that some equipment colorations, like brightness, might enhance ambient cues, at least from a psychoacoustic standpoint.

But I wonder whether those colorations would contribute to the illusion that “you are there.” My suspicion is that the answer is often 'no.' That is to say, colorations that enhance ambient cues might nevertheless fail to contribute to the illusion that “you are there” because they might also make the music sound less “real.” I, for one, have a hard time experiencing a bright system as one in which “I am there.” In other words, I suspect that whatever gains are made by colorations that enhance ambient cues might be offset by the system sounding less real. And the less real a system sounds, the harder it is to believe that “you are there.”

All this highlights the fact that ambient cues, while a NECESSARY condition for creating the illusion that “you are there,” are not a SUFFICIENT condition. I have focused on ambient cues throughout this thread because I believe that they are the PRINCIPAL determinants of the illusion that “you are there.” The ambient cues of the recording are the most important, followed by the listening room, followed by the equipment. Which brings me to...

My view about equipment colorations and ambient cues:

Equipment colorations tend to conceal, corrupt, or eliminate ambient cues, though there may be some colorations that enhance ambient cues, at least psychoacoutically. But colorations that enhance ambient cues do not necessarily contribute to the illusion that “you are there,” for the reasons stated above.

Rather than relying on equipment colorations to enhance ambient cues, it seems to me that there is far better way to hear the ambient cues on a recording, and thus to contribute to the illusion that “you are there,” and that is by increasing RESOLUTION.

Increasing resolution is not the same thing as increasing “perceived detail,” since the latter may be increased, as you pointed out, by changing a system’s frequency response (i.e. making the system brighter). Increasing resolution is a matter of increasing either (1) format resolution, or (2) equipment resolution. Which brings me back to my view on the relation between equipment colorations and ambient cues...

I believe that equipment colorations tend to reduce equipment resolution, and hence to obscure ambient cues. Conversely, the reduction of colorations tends to increase resolution, thereby increasing the perceptibility of ambient cues and contributing to the illusion that “you are there.”
This is what I believe the MIT new generation 3 2C3D and MA series are trying to achieve with their new network boxes.Look at the MIT website and see if you don't agree.
Rather than relying on equipment colorations to enhance ambient cues, it seems to me that there is far better way to hear the ambient cues on a recording, and thus to contribute to the illusion that “you are there,” and that is by increasing RESOLUTION.

Increasing resolution is not the same thing as increasing “perceived detail,” since the latter may be increased, as you pointed out, by changing a system’s frequency response (i.e. making the system brighter). Increasing resolution is a matter of increasing either (1) format resolution, or (2) equipment resolution. Which brings me back to my view on the relation between equipment colorations and ambient cues...

I believe that equipment colorations tend to reduce equipment resolution, and hence to obscure ambient cues. Conversely, the reduction of colorations tends to increase resolution, thereby increasing the perceptibility of ambient cues and contributing to the illusion that “you are there.”
I am in basic agreement with this, and with respect to the reproduction of classical music as recorded in a hall, I would add more specifically that a very key factor seems to me to be what might be referred to as resolution in the time domain.

A notable example would be a speaker having sloppy transient response, whose output tends not to stop as immediately as it should when a sharp transient concludes. Such a speaker will tend to obscure the reflected energy that had been picked up by the microphones some tens of milliseconds after the arrival of the directly captured sound.

Which leads me to suggest, with respect to this comment:
Imagine for the moment that your preference in classical music were confined to orchestral music. In that case, I believe that you would be more likely to create the illusion that “you are there” with a large listening room with a high level of diffusion and a medium to long-ish reverberation time.
... that perhaps the reason such a room would enhance the "you are there" illusion for classical music is not because its large dimensions produce room reflections that begin to mimic those of the hall (which in turn is far larger still), but rather because its large dimensions REDUCE the amplitude of those reflections, as heard at the listening position, thereby reducing the degree to which room acoustics obscure our ability to hear the reflected energy that the mics had captured.

In principle the same thing might be accomplished by heavily damping a small room. However, that would seem likely to result in a very different overall frequency response than would result from the large room approach, possibly introducing or affecting colorations other than the time domain effects that my comments have focused on.

Best regards,
-- Al
This is a good, intelligent discussion.

IMO the original question is another example of overstating the importance of soundstage/imaging in high end audio. As a system's resolution increases you'll hear more soundstage information, but in and of itself that information isn't really important to the enjoyment of listening to music. As an example, hearing Harry Belafonte's voice bounce off the different surfaces at Carnegie Hall is at most interesting. It's a good test of the lower level resolution of a system. But what does it have to do with Belafonte's performance?

As a practical matter very few recordings actually have real ambient cues. This is true even in classical recordings. The current trend in studio recordings is to completely suppress the acoustics of the recording site and to synthetically create an ambiance at a later stage in the recording chain. Literally there's no real there to be transported to.

With my rant out of the way, "you are there" is a my preference and I consider it more accurate.
As a practical matter very few recordings actually have real ambient cues. This is true even in classical recordings.
That's probably true for many or most releases by the larger classical labels, whose recordings are generally heavily multi-mic'd and heavily processed. However in my experience it is usually not true in the case of smaller labels that are either audiophile-oriented or are otherwise high quality. See my post in this thread for a list of some of these labels.
As a system's resolution increases you'll hear more soundstage information, but in and of itself that information isn't really important to the enjoyment of listening to music.
FWIW, my own experience suggests otherwise. Whenever I attend a classical concert in a good hall, I am IMMEDIATELY struck by the ambient "aura" that surrounds each note, for many if not all instruments. (Perhaps "aura" isn't the best word to use, but it seems to capture what I'm trying to relate). And its absence on many recordings, or inaccuracies in its reproduction, are major factors that distinguish live music from reproduced music, in my experience.

Best regards,
-- Al
Al, I agree with you about the purist recordings, but then we're talking about what amounts to probably less than .1% of recording output.

Your point about the sound aura. There are venues and types of music where the acoustics of the venue are part and parcel of the performance. I'm thinking choral or organ works in cathedral type settings. In a more typical concert hall I too hear that cushion of air that accompanies the music, but I don't think of that sound as integral to the musical performance. As audiophiles we focus so much on the sound of things even when some of those sounds are purely extraneous to the music.
Bryon says:
But I wonder whether those colorations would contribute to the illusion that “you are there.” My suspicion is that the answer is often 'no.' That is to say, colorations that enhance ambient cues might nevertheless fail to contribute to the illusion that “you are there” because they might also make the music sound less “real.” I, for one, have a hard time experiencing a bright system as one in which “I am there.”

I considered this when I posted, but I think it is probably very listener-dependent. I have a preference for tonal balance even if it comes at the expense of some detail. But others have a preference for detail. This explains the existence of equipment that makes me want to run screaming from the showroom (and, I suppose on the flip side, equipment that makes the detail-lovers want to fall asleep). For the detail-lover, the increase in detail may add to the realism and the "you are there" experience, despite what you or I might think is an unnaturally colored system. But, of course, I'm talking about two points in what is almost certainly a continuum of listeners, and everyone likely has their own idea where realism starts and ends, and how they weight the various tradeoffs in putting together a system.

Increasing resolution is not the same thing as increasing “perceived detail,” since the latter may be increased, as you pointed out, by changing a system’s frequency response (i.e. making the system brighter). Increasing resolution is a matter of increasing either (1) format resolution, or (2) equipment resolution.

I guess that depends on how precisely you define your terms and how you measure the results. If you define resolution in purely technical terms, then you could increase the resolution of your source, and thereby your system, but that could have no audible result (because, for example, the signal-to-noise ratio of your overall system may be the limiting factor). So "resolution" then says something about your gear, but nothing about your sound, and is therefore disconnected from realism, ambience cues, and the "you are there" experience. But if you appeal to audible results, then "perceived detail" is one potential measure of resolution, and therefore may contribute to realism, etc.
Al wrote:

…a very key factor seems to me to be what might be referred to as resolution in the time domain.

I completely agree with this. Though I failed to mention it, the same thing occurred to me during my discussion with Cbw about FREQUENCY response, which I believe is less important than TRANSIENT response when it comes to the retrieval of ambient cues that create the illusion that “you are there.”

A notable example would be a speaker having sloppy transient response, whose output tends not to stop as immediately as it should when a sharp transient concludes. Such a speaker will tend to obscure the reflected energy that had been picked up by the microphones some tens of milliseconds after the arrival of the directly captured sound.

In light of this, I wonder whether, as a generalization, speaker designs that emphasize time-alignment are better at presenting ambient cues, all other things being equal. Do you think so?

…perhaps the reason such a [large] room would enhance the "you are there" illusion for classical music is not because its large dimensions produce room reflections that begin to mimic those of the hall (which in turn is far larger still), but rather because its large dimensions REDUCE the amplitude of those reflections, as heard at the listening position, thereby reducing the degree to which room acoustics obscure our ability to hear the reflected energy that the mics had captured.

This is an interesting thought. When considering the value of a large listening room, I was thinking of the fact that larger rooms tend to have longer reverberation times, and hence the ambient cues of the listening room might naturally augment the ambient cues of recordings with large recording spaces. But you are certainly right that the AMPLITUDE of reflected sound at the listening position is just as important as the DURATION of reflected sound (i.e. reverberation time) in the listening room. Hence there seem to be two competing strategies for the presentation of a recording's ambient cues:

(i) The use of ambient cues of the listening room to augment the ambient cues of the recording.

(ii) The minimization of ambient cues of the listening room so as to reveal the ambient cues of the recording.

Since (i) will be helpful only for those who listen to recordings with similar recording spaces, (ii) is probably the more practical approach for most audiophiles.

Onhwy61 wrote:

IMO the original question is another example of overstating the importance of soundstage/imaging in high end audio.

If you look again at the OP, you will see that I didn’t say anything about the importance of creating the illusion that “you are there” relative to any other audiophile goal. In fact, in my subsequent posts, I haven’t even expressed a preference for the experience that “you are there” over the experience that “they are here.” The reason is because I enjoy both, depending upon the type of music, the quality of the recording, and the characteristics of an audio system, especially the listening room.

In addition, my comments have not been about soundstage and imaging. They have been about AMBIENT CUES, with respect to recordings, listening rooms, and equipment. The discussion of ambient cues is not equivalent to the discussion of soundstage/imaging, since the former is a considerably broader topic than the latter. For example, ambient cues on recordings can be heard through headphones, where soundstage and imaging are a non-factors.

As a practical matter very few recordings actually have real ambient cues. This is true even in classical recordings. The current trend in studio recordings is to completely suppress the acoustics of the recording site and to synthetically create an ambiance at a later stage in the recording chain. Literally there's no real there to be transported to.

I am aware of this regrettable fact. Current recording trends being what they are, many (perhaps most) recordings do not contain ambient cues of REAL recording spaces. They do, however, contain ambient cues of VIRTUAL recording spaces, added during mixing. You may feel that a virtual recording space is not one worth visiting, and hence the effort to create the illusion that “you are there” for such recordings is a waste of time. I have some sympathy for that point of view. But I do think that some virtual recording spaces are worth visiting. Think: Pink Floyd. I also agree with Al that recordings that contain ambient cues of real recording spaces are out there to be found, though it takes some looking.

Cbw wrote:

If you define resolution in purely technical terms, then you could increase the resolution of your source, and thereby your system, but that could have no audible result (because, for example, the signal-to-noise ratio of your overall system may be the limiting factor). So "resolution" then says something about your gear, but nothing about your sound, and is therefore disconnected from realism, ambience cues, and the "you are there" experience.

I do not think of resolution this way, and I don’t think most audiophiles do either. The term ‘resolution’ is used by audiophiles to describe both a characteristic of an individual COMPONENT and a characteristic of a whole SYSTEM. Hence the term ‘resolution’ says something about how a system sounds. I am not claiming ownership of the term ‘resolution.’ I am expressing what I believe to be the prevailing use of the term among audiophiles. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stipulate a definition of ‘resolution’: The absolute limit of information about the music that a format, component, or system can present.
I do not think of resolution this way, and I don’t think most audiophiles do either. The term ‘resolution’ is used by audiophiles to describe both a characteristic of an individual COMPONENT and a characteristic of a whole SYSTEM. Hence the term ‘resolution’ says something about how a system sounds. I am not claiming ownership of the term ‘resolution.’ I am expressing what I believe to be the prevailing use of the term among audiophiles. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stipulate a definition of ‘resolution’: The absolute limit of information about the music that a format, component, or system can present.

You kind of make my point while simultaneously avoid addressing it. If resolution is determined by audible metrics, then "perceived detail" is likely one of them. And ambience cues live in the detail.

If you take an information theoretic approach to resolution -- as you seem to imply with your definition -- then I think you will be unhappy. The overwhelming majority of the information is in the high frequencies. Given the way human hearing works, you would get vastly more information by dumping the low frequencies entirely in favor of enhancing the highs -- you'd maximize the information about the music, but the result wouldn't be music. So I think some other definition is in order.

Which gets us back to my earlier point: the experience (you are there) is subjective. For some people a brighter system might provide it better than a more neutral system. And for those people, the realism obtained might outweigh the realism lost.
You kind of make my point while simultaneously avoid addressing it.

I must confess, I do not get your point. What is it?
Hi Bryon - you have once again started a very interesting thread indeed, and while I have not yet been able to read all of it yet (which I will do as soon as I get a better chance), I do have one immediate comment on the recording aspect, something I don't think anyone has brought up yet.

The very biggest effect on the sound of the recording, even one where very few mikes were used, is the mixing, particularly in today's world of digital recording. Two different engineers (or the same one, for that matter!) can and will create a completely different sound from the exact same mike placement in the same hall from the same live session. I cannot emphasize this enough - most people, even audiophiles, have absolutely no idea how much the mixing has to do with the final sound, and how different it is from what the mikes are picking up. This is where the engineers love to get very creative, putting their own personal stamp on the recordings. There are times when this is a good thing, but unfortunately they are very few - most engineers nowadays create digital mixes that often sound nothing like the sound in the hall they recorded in. Sometimes the conductor will have a big input into the sound of the mix, sometimes not, and even if he/she does, there is still the limitation of the initial set-up in the first place, which usually the conductor doesn't get involved with, leaving it to the engineer. Which is almost never a good thing, IMO.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of this thread, looks like there are alot of interesting comments so far!
Hi Learsfool. Your initial comments about the role of mixing are well taken. Onhwy61 brought up something similar when he pointed out that many recordings have no real ambient cues, but only "synthetic" ambient cues added during mixing. Al and I both posted some thoughts about that regrettable fact, which you may find relevant, when you get a chance to look.

Glad that you are joining the discussion.
I wonder whether, as a generalization, speaker designs that emphasize time-alignment are better at presenting ambient cues, all other things being equal. Do you think so?
I'm not certain, but my suspicion is "no." I would guess that lack of time alignment would not obscure ambient cues, it would just change their sonic character, in a manner comparable to its effects on the sonic character of the initial note.

I say that because of the different time scales that are involved. Given that sound propagates through air at roughly one foot per millisecond, the arrival times at the listener's ears of wavefronts that are launched from non-aligned speaker drivers would most likely differ by less than a millisecond. While reflected sound in a hall typically arrives at the microphones many milliseconds after the direct sound.

Lack of time alignment would change the timing or phase relationships between the "fundamental frequency" of a note and its overtones/harmonics, thereby affecting its sonic character, but I believe that effect would apply similarly to both directly captured and reflected sound (although of course the frequency balance of the reflected sound may differ from that of the directly captured sound).

It's interesting to note in these Wikipedia writeups on the Haas Effect and the Precedence Effect that our hearing mechanisms have thresholds demarcating different kinds of responses when similar sounds arrive at our ears with timing differences of approximately 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 50, and 80 milliseconds.

Best regards,
-- Al
I say that because of the different time scales that are involved. Given that sound propagates through air at roughly one foot per millisecond, the arrival times at the listener's ears of wavefronts that are launched from non-aligned speaker drivers would most likely differ by less than a millisecond. While reflected sound in a hall typically arrives at the microphones many milliseconds after the direct sound.

Good point, Al.
Cbw – I have reread your posts in an effort to construct an argument that expresses your objection. Here is my best guess…

(Cbw-1) Increasing some colorations, like brightness, increases the audibility of ambient cues in the recording.

(Cbw-2) Increasing the audibility of ambient cues in the recording enhances the illusion that “you are there.”

(Cbw-3) Therefore, increasing some colorations enhances the illusion that “you are there.”

(Cbw-4) Therefore, increasing neutrality does not always enhance the illusion that “you are there.”

If this argument expresses your objection, then I think your conclusions are correct, but those conclusions don't constitute an objection to my views. While increasing neutrality may not ALWAYS enhance the illusion that "you are there,” in my view, it USUALLY does. To see this, it’s first necessary to look at premise (Cbw-2)...

RE: (Cbw-2). As I mentioned in a previous post, increasing the audibility of ambient cues from the recording does not NECESSARILY enhance the illusion that “you are there.” In other words, ambient cues BY THEMSELVES are not a sufficient condition for creating the illusion that “you are there.” There are other conditions necessary for creating the illusion that “you are there.” For example, a certain degree of transparency. In my view, colorations that grossly distort a recording in order to emphasize ambient cues probably won’t increase the illusion that “you are there,” since those gross distortions are likely to diminish the illusion that “you are there” in other ways – for example, by reducing transparency.

You may be thinking, “Instead of colorations that GROSSLY distort a recording, what about colorations that SLIGHTLY distort a recording?” In other words, could a small amount of coloration, just enough to emphasize ambient cues, but not enough to significantly reduce transparency, enhance the illusion that “you are there.” I believe the answer to this is: Possibly. This is where, I agree, things become subjective. Whether a small increase in ambient cues at the expense of a small decrease in transparency has the net result of enhancing or diminishing the illusion that “you are there” is probably a judgment that varies from listener to listener. But none of this casts doubt on my view that, USUALLY, reducing colorations enhances the illusion that "you are there." The reason is because reducing colorations tends to increase RESOLUTION. Which brings me to...

Regarding the issue of my “information theoretic” approach to resolution, my view is that resolution can be understood as “information about the music.” If you combine this with my suggestion that increasing resolution increases ambient cues, then you get: Increasing information about the music increases ambient cues, which is something I think is self-evident. But none of this entails that more information, BY ITSELF, is a sufficient condition for enhancing the illusion that “you are there.” As I’ve stated in previous posts, creating the illusion that “you are there” is not reducible to ambient cues. I would now add: It is not reducible to resolution. And it is not reducible to information. Hence, when you say, regarding my definition of resolution in terms of information…

…you would get vastly more information by dumping the low frequencies entirely in favor of enhancing the highs -- you'd maximize the information about the music, but the result wouldn't be music. So I think some other definition is in order.

It does not matter if “dumping low frequencies” would “maximize the information about the music,” (a point about which I am skeptical), because creating the illusion that “you are there” is not reducible to maximizing information, just as it is not reducible to resolution, or ambient cues. In my view, the resolution of (i.e. information about) ambient cues is the PRINCIPAL, but not the only, determinant of the illusion that "you are there." That is why I have spent so much time talking about ambient cues.

Returning to the issue of equipment colorations…

I acknowledge that SOME equipment colorations might enhance the illusion that “you are there.” This is a corollary to the point I made about listening rooms on 9/5, namely, that the illusion that “you are there” might be enhanced when the colorations of the listening room RESEMBLE the colorations of the recording space.

But the problem with relying on room colorations to enhance the illusion that "you are there" is that, while the colorations of recording spaces are infinitely variable, the colorations of listening rooms are largely constant. So even if the colorations of the listening room enhance the colorations of some recordings, they are likely to detract, confuse, or obscure the colorations of other recordings.

A similar problem arises for the use of EQUIPMENT colorations to enhance the illusion that "you are there." While the colorations of recording spaces are infinitely variable, the colorations of any given component are largely constant. So even if the colorations of a component enhance the colorations of some recordings, they are likely to detract, confuse, or obscure the colorations of other recordings.

I believe this limits the effectiveness of using colorations, whether in equipment or in listening rooms, to enhance the illusion that “you are there.” Another drawback, equally significant, to the use of colorations to enhance the illusion that “you are there” is that colorations tend to diminish resolution, and less resolution means less audible ambient cues from the recording itself.

In light of all this, I believe that the practical approach for the audiophile who listens to a wide range of music is to (1) minimize colorations both in the equipment and in the listening room; and (2) increase information about the music, to the extend that is possible. In other words, enhancing the illusion that "you are there" is, with a few possible exceptions, most practically achieved by increasing neutrality and increasing resolution.
Hi Bryon - I have just read through this entire thread now, and there are alot of very good comments by you and Al and many others about the effect of the listening room, ambience cues, etc. I would agree with most of it. However, I also agree with those near the beginning of the thread (I think Newbee was one) who stated that the recording itself is the very biggest factor in creating a "you are there" experience - a far bigger factor than these other factors under discussion for most of the thread. Someone said, and I will lazily paraphrase here, that you cannot put into your listening room something that was not in the recording in the first place. I would like to add to this by going back to my comments on mixing - you also cannot put back into the listening room something that the mikes may have picked up, but the engineer subsequently mixed out.

To take modern orchestral recording as an example - there will be at the very least several different mikes onstage, located in the middle of the orchestra. There will usually be absolutely no mikes anymore out in the hall, where an audience would be. These mikes are usually also much closer to the instruments than they were in the days of analog recording as well. This has the effect of pretty much entirely eliminating the acoustic ambience of the hall itself - in fact, many engineers don't even like to record in concert halls anymore. It is simply not a high priority for most engineers now to recreate the actual sound of the hall.

The engineer then takes these tracks, mixes them, and then adds digital reverberation to create a false ambience, one that he thinks sounds good. It may or may not sound anything like the actual space anymore. I guess my point with all this is to say that no matter how much you can make your listening room recreate the experience of a concert hall, it will not put back the sound of the original hall very closely, since the engineer has already removed that. This is not even to bring up the question of which hall would you like to recreate and why (this is another problem with the "absolute sound" concept).

This is one of the main reasons that most musicians who are audiophiles have a marked preference for the older recordings from the so-called "golden age," where folks like Mercury and RCA just hung a couple of mikes up out in the concert hall and therefore created much more of a "you are there" experience than anything recorded today. They were recording the sound of the music in that particular space.

Which leads me to another issue. Onhwy61 wrote "IMO the original question is another example of overstating the importance of soundstage/imaging in high end audio. As a system's resolution increases you'll hear more soundstage information, but in and of itself that information isn't really important to the enjoyment of listening to music. As an example, hearing Harry Belafonte's voice bounce off the different surfaces at Carnegie Hall is at most interesting. It's a good test of the lower level resolution of a system. But what does it have to do with Belafonte's performance?"

Well, my answer to that question is - a very great deal! Speaking as a performer, each different venue that we play/sing in changes our performance, sometimes radically so, much more than the typical audience member realizes. Belafonte, to use your example, must sing quite differently in Carnegie Hall than he does in the Copacabana or the Hollywood Bowl or Symphony Hall in Boston or insert your favorite jazz club/symphony hall here. To use a more personal example, if my orchestra goes on tour, as a French horn player whose bell faces "the wrong way," I have an even bigger adjustment to make than most musicians do, including the actual timing of my entrances, because of the differences in hall reverberation, liveness/deadness of the stage itself, etc. Note lengths can vary quite a bit from night to night on a tour, for another example.

So where am I going with this? Well, this is where the importance of soundstaging and imaging comes in for musicians when they are listening to a recording. I want to hear what that orchestra sounds like IN THAT SPACE. We LOVE listening to recordings of the same orchestra in different halls, or listening to different mixes of the same performance in the same hall (RCA did this in the 80's, the name of those recordings is escaping me at the moment). We like to be able, given a really good recording, to tell exactly how the orchestra was set up. One famous opera example is the recording done at the Met that Bernstein did for DG (of all companies!!) of Carmen, with Marilyn Horne in the title role. That recording has great sonics which really do create a "you are there" experience, but you need a system that has an appropriate soundstage and images well to fully experience it (a great many orchestral musicians favor horn speakers driven by tube electronics to achieve this). Or to use a jazz example, I love being able to hear the subtle differences that Ella Fitzgerald has in the same song sung at different venues on different recordings from the same label/producer. These are captured very well on those old Verve and Pablo recordings, and greatly adds to the pleasure of listening to the recreation of that particular performance (by the way Bryon, perhaps this helps explain why musicians consider recordings as performances than what I have said before). For me, these are much more important traits for a system than "neutrality," though I don't propose to start that discussion all over again. I am merely trying to explain why musicians place such a high priority on soundstaging and imaging. They are crucial to creating a "you are there" experience.
FWIW, I sort of agree with Byron's last paragraph, but mostly wherein he stresses the importance of 'resolution'. Not so much neutrality, which for me is as much about tonality as anything else, but this is a can of worms not worthy of discussion at this time. And for me, resolution is found in the absence of distortions in the equipment and set up, assuming the capability of the speakers and electronics to actually reproduce the micro information in the recording in the first place. "Detail" is to me a false god for the tyro who might think that enhanced information in the high(er) frequencies is really balanced. Just MHO of course.

And, FWIW, I agree with most all of Learsfool's observations. Unfortunately all of the professional musicians I know have little interest in high end audio, just like most of my friends.
I also agree with those near the beginning of the thread (I think Newbee was one) who stated that the recording itself is the very biggest factor in creating a "you are there" experience - a far bigger factor than these other factors under discussion for most of the thread.

I was one of the people who suggested this earlier in the thread. In my view, the illusion that "you are there" is created by ambient cues during playback. The biggest determinant of ambient cues during playback is the recording. Then the listening room. Then the equipment.

I suspect the reason so much discussion has focused on listening rooms and equipment is because the characteristics of recordings are outside the audiophile’s control, except in the sense that he can make an effort to find recordings with interesting ambient cues, as Al pointed out. On the other hand, listening rooms and equipment are inside the audiophile’s control. So, while they have a lesser role in creating the illusion that “you are there,” discussions about them may lead to conclusions that are more actionable.

It is simply not a high priority for most engineers now to recreate the actual sound of the hall. The engineer…adds digital reverberation to create a false ambience…

As you seem to imply, recordings of this kind DO contain ambient cues, but they are not ambient cues of REAL recording spaces. They are ambient cues of VIRTUAL recording spaces. I suppose there is no reason why, in theory, a virtual recording space couldn’t be as interesting as a real one. In practice, the best recording spaces I have heard have always been the real ones. So it is regrettable that they are becoming less and less common.

I want to hear what that orchestra sounds like IN THAT SPACE…For me, [there] are much more important traits for a system than "neutrality," though I don't propose to start that discussion all over again. I am merely trying to explain why musicians place such a high priority on soundstaging and imaging. They are crucial to creating a "you are there" experience.

I agree that, for many recordings, creating the illusion that “you are there” greatly enhances the listening experience. I also agree that soundstaging and imaging are crucial to creating the illusion that “you are there.”

However, I believe that soundstaging, imaging, and the illusion that "you are there" are all connected to the characteristic of neutrality. I am hesitant to mention this, because I don’t want us to get trapped back on the infinite staircase of our neutrality discussion. So, leaving the term ‘neutrality’ out of it, and using the somewhat less controversial term ‘coloration,’ I would say that many colorations diminish the illusion that “you are there.” Here is an argument that expresses one of the reasons why:

(1) Decreasing colorations tends to increase resolution.

(2) Increasing resolution increases the audibility of ambient cues in the recording.

(3) Increasing the audibility of ambient cues in the recording enhances the illusion that “you are there.”

(4) Therefore, decreasing colorations tends to enhance the illusion that “you are there.”

(5) Therefore, increasing colorations tends to diminish the illusion that “you are there.”

There are various qualifications and exceptions I would make to the argument above, but it captures the spirit of my view.
Hi Bryon - we are generally in agreement here. Where I would differ with you would be on the subject of the listening room being much of a factor at all in picking up what you are calling "ambient cues" in the recording. The listening room is of course a big factor in the sound of a system as a whole, however I would disagree that it has much effect on this specific issue, depending of course on the type of recording. The equipment would have a much greater effect on it in general, particularly if we are speaking about vinyl (which I almost always am). If we are speaking of digital, then there are much less "real" "ambient cues" on the recording, but there are many more of them on orchestral recordings up until they became mostly digital in the late 80's. Particularly up until the mid 60's or so, just about all of the "ambient cues" on an orchestral recording will be "real" rather than "virtual." After that, even the good labels started using more and more mikes, though there were notable exceptions, such as Decca London's ffrr stuff, which sounds better than anything else done in the 70's (speaking very generally, of course) as far as regards this specific issue.

What you say about the room having more of an effect would be true, however, in the case of some of the multi-channel recordings out there which some others mentioned earlier on in the thread. Then you have more speakers to deal with, and the whole would be more influenced by the room itself. However, they have yet to make a multi-channel recording that any professional classical musician I know has ever thought sounded at all realistic, so I remain very skeptical about such recordings. Frankly, most of them end up sounding quite similar to a Bose -type system, where the music sounds like it's traveling in all sorts of crazy directions, which I guess some think sounds cool, but it certainly doesn't sound like a "real" acoustic space. But that's really not part of this discussion.

Newbee, I would say to you that it has always puzzled me when people state that musicians are not interested in good sound. As another fellow musician who contributes here on audiogon, Frogman, recently stated in a different thread, there are probably many more audiophiles proportionately among musicians than there are in any other single profession. It must be admitted that audiophiles are a VERY small percentage of the general population - the percentage of musicians interested in good sound is MUCH larger in comparison, even if it isn't a majority, a point I am not sure I would concede. A great many musicians simply cannot afford a high-end system - (I am one of the lucky ones with a full-time job with decent benefits, and my system is certainly nothing to brag about cost-wise compared to much of the folks hanging out on this site!) but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate a good system when they hear it. Most professional musicians have to put at least as much money into their instruments alone as many folks on audiogon put into their systems, not to mention other costs, and there just isn't enough left over for most to justify buying a high-end audio system. The total dollar value of the instruments you are listening to if you attend a professional orchestral concert would stagger you, and that is of course where our priorities must lie.
Learsfool, FWIW, I did not say that musicians, or for that matter non-musicians, didn't have some interest in audio. I referred to 'high end' audio in the context that we use that term.

In my mind, those that use the term high end, myself included, are 'audio' hobbyists. Amongst my friends, family members, and guests, I can find no one really interested in the hobby aspect, beyond making a socially correct observation about my system or music collection, although we will often discuss music itself or the music scene.

My comment was of course nothing more than a personal observation based on personal experience, and I should have known better than to have trotted out what amounted to an old canard in the presence of a professional musician who also happens to be an audio hobbyist. My apologies. :-)
Where I would differ with you would be on the subject of the listening room being much of a factor at all in picking up what you are calling "ambient cues" in the recording. The listening room is of course a big factor in the sound of a system as a whole, however I would disagree that it has much effect on this specific issue…

Learsfool – I have some thoughts that bear on your view that the listening room doesn't have much effect on creating the illusion that “you are there.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, my view is that ambient cues are the principal determinant of the illusion that “you are there.” The ambient cues of the recording are the most important. But the ambient cues of the listening room are, in my view, quite significant. Before I say exactly how, I should say…

A FEW WORDS ABOUT AMBIENT CUES:

So far, I have not defined ‘ambient cue.’ Here’s a stab at it:

Ambient cue: Audible information about the features of a physical space.

Ambient cues provide information about features of a physical space like: size, shape, materials, and object position. Ambient cues are contained in the relations between direct and indirect sound, including: relative amplitude, relative duration, relative phase, relative frequency content, relative harmonic content.

In an anechoic chamber, there is (virtually) no indirect sound, and hence (virtually) no ambient cues. In the real world, there are an abundance of ambient cues. So much so, that animals, and to a lesser extent humans, can use those ambient cues to echolocate. The point is that, in virtually all physical spaces, ambient cues are ubiquitous and highly informative. This brings me to…

THE IMPORTANCE OF AMBIENT CUES IN THE LISTENING ROOM:

Every listening room contains an abundance of ambient cues. The specific characteristics of those ambient cues are relevant to the audiophile, for the following reason:

During playback, the ambient cues of the recording space are COMBINED with the ambient cues of the listening space.

The combination of the ambient cues of the recording space with the ambient cues of the listening space creates, in effect, a NEW SET OF AMBIENT CUES. I will call this new set of ambient cues the “playback space.” In other words:

Recording space + Listening space = Playback space

The playback space is what the audiophile actually hears at the listening position. It is the combination of the ambient cues of the recording space and the ambient cues of the listening space.

When trying to create the illusion that “you are there,” an audiophile tries to create a playback space whose ambient cues are as close as possible to the ambient cues of the recording space. As I see it, there are two possible ways to go about this:

1. Construct a listening space whose ambient cues resemble the ambient cues of the recording space.

2. Construct a listening space that minimizes ambient cues.

The first approach is largely impractical, especially for those who listen to a wide array of music with vastly different recording spaces. However, I did read about one Rives audio customer who approached Rives with the request to build 4 different listening spaces, each optimized for one of four different types of music - symphonic, jazz, vocals, and rock. The far more practical approach is to minimize the ambient cues of the listening space. But this can be done only up to a point, since ambient cues in the listening space are essential for creating a realistic soundstage, another crucial factor in creating the illusion that “you are there.” This creates something of a dilemma for the audiophile:

To the extent that he constructs a listening space whose ambient cues resemble the ambient cues of a particular recording space, his listening room will be optimized for only one type of recording. To the extent that he constructs a listening space that minimizes ambient cues, he will diminish the realism of his soundstage.

The way out of this dilemma is some kind of balance between the two approaches. The exact nature of that balance probably varies from room to room, recording to recording, and listener to listener. But I suspect that there are some generalizations to be made. Otherwise companies like Rives wouldn't be in business.

Regardless of which approach is taken, the inescapable fact is that the ambient cues of the recording space will always be combined with the ambient cues of the listening space, to create the ambient cues the listener actually hears at the listening position (what I am calling the “playback space”). The only way to escape this fact is to listen through headphones or in an anechoic chamber, both of which are great for hearing the ambient cues of the recording, but lousy at creating the illusion that “you are there.”
Hi Newbee - I didn't take that comment personally, I just felt like responding to what is after all a very common comment made here on this site. You are by no means the only person who has made such a comment. I'm not offended by it, I just see it as a common misperception and was trying to explain it.

Bryon, your last post is fascinating. I think you are correct when you say that "ambient cues" in the recording will always combine somewhat with those in a listening room. However, after reading your post and thinking about it, I still think that the equipment, specifically the speakers, will have an even greater effect. The multchannel system example I gave before would create even more chaos in this area, no matter what the size of the room. And some speaker types will lessen the "ambient cues" of the listening room, such as horn speakers. This is actually another reason why many musicians prefer them when they hear them - the shape of the horn itself helps direct the sound more where you want it to go, minimizing some (of course not all) of the effects of the room in which they are placed. Therefore, one can hear more of the "ambient cues" on the recording as opposed to those of the room. This directness of horn speakers also tends to more closely approximate the "you are there" effect of live acoustic music, whether orchestral or jazz, especially in terms of physical impact.

Other speaker designers like to create a different sort of presentation, which many reviewers love to call more "laid back." This can sometimes be quite nice, Sonus Faber would be a good example of this type of sound. It is a beautiful sound, but it tends to de-emphasize the "you are there" effect - the soundstaging of these speaker types tend to obscure the "ambient cues" and they certainly do not have anything like the same physical impact, by design. Many audiophiles will say they much prefer this type of "laid-back" presentation, even for very large-scale music. There is of course nothing wrong with this, and it can be a very pretty sound, as I said, but for me it is most definitely not a sound that I would describe as life-like.

To go back to the term "coloration" for a moment, this actually illustrates why I personally do not like the way audiophiles use the term. For me, the more "laid-back" presentation of say a Sonus Faber speaker is much more of what I would describe as a "colored" sound as opposed to the more direct, lifelike presentation of say my Cornwalls (not that I am in any way promoting my Cornwalls as the best thing available, please understand, I am speaking of very general differences in speaker types here). I can hear more of the colors that the musicians on the recording are trying to create on my Cornwalls than I can on say a Sonus Faber Amati, as great as those speakers sound in their own way.

However, I fully realize that this is NOT the way most audiophiles use the term, and I would bet that most of you reading this are now scratching your heads, convinced that horns are some of the most "colored" speakers out there. But I digress, I certainly don't mean to turn this into a discussion of the merits of different speaker types.

As I said, I do agree with much of what you said - the only thing I would actually strongly disagree with was something you said at the end, that headphones are great for hearing the ambient cues - in fact I would say just the opposite. To me, listening on headphones, no matter how high their quality, sounds nothing like live music; nor does the presentation resemble a real space in any way, shape, or form. Frankly, I have always been very puzzled by those audiophiles who claim they are great for anything whatever, besides not disturbing anyone else with what you are listening to. They create no soundstage whatsoever, and imaging is also very poor, and of course stereo channel separation is greatly heightened, all of this resulting in a very artificial sound indeed. This of course assumes that the goal is to come as close as possible to the sound of live acoustic music in a good performance space. If you just want to rock out, than most of the above won't apply. I will say for them that they perhaps allow one to hear more of some kinds of detail, but definitely not the "low-level" detail we are speaking of here. I realize that you also said they are lousy at creating illusion that "you are there," but aren't the ambient cues a very important part of creating that illusion?
I think you are correct when you say that "ambient cues" in the recording will always combine somewhat with those in a listening room. However, after reading your post and thinking about it, I still think that the equipment, specifically the speakers, will have an even greater effect.

Learsfool – You may be right about this. Now that I am giving it more thought, it does seem that some speaker designs are considerably better than others at creating the illusion that “you are there.” So why don’t we just say that BOTH the listening room and the equipment are important factors in creating the illusion that “you are there,” though neither is as important as the recording. Or we could leave that last bit out, and just say that ALL THREE are important. That’s probably the most realistic view, in light of the fact that their relative importance is likely to vary from recording to recording, listening room to listening room, and equipment to equipment. That whole topic is a lot like the “Which is more important: Source or Speaker?” threads that pop up from time to time. Talk about an infinite staircase. So, moving on to speaker design…

...some speaker types will lessen the "ambient cues" of the listening room, such as horn speakers. This is actually another reason why many musicians prefer them when they hear them - the shape of the horn itself helps direct the sound more where you want it to go, minimizing some (of course not all) of the effects of the room in which they are placed. Therefore, one can hear more of the "ambient cues" on the recording as opposed to those of the room. This directness of horn speakers also tends to more closely approximate the "you are there" effect…

It is certainly true that highly directional speakers minimize the ambient cues of the room and maximize the ambient cues of the recording. But I am skeptical that highly directional speakers are inherently more likely to create the illusion that “you are there.” In order to explain my skepticism, I have to say a few things about sound DIRECTIONALITY…

A sound may be unidirectional, bidirectional, multidirectional, or omnidirectional, depending upon the number of sources, the nature of the acoustical environment, and the position of the listener. In reality, there is something like a continuum of sound directionality with unidirectional at one end and omnidirectional at the other.

In most interior spaces, ambient cues are typically OMNIDIRECTIONAL, i.e. they arrive from all directions. Likewise, in most recording spaces that are not acoustically inert, ambient cues are typically omnidirectional. That is NOT to say that ambient cues are EQUAL IN ALL DIRECTIONS. It is only to say that they ARRIVE FROM ALL DIRECTIONS (at the microphone). This fact bears directly on how to create the illusion that “you are there,” as I will now try to show...

As I mentioned in my previous post, creating the illusion that “you are there” is achieved by creating a playback space that is as similar as possible to the recording space. There are two approaches to this. The first approach is to construct a listening space whose ambient cues resemble the ambient cues of the recording space. The second approach is to construct a listening space whose ambient cues are minimal. Both approaches have liabilities, but it is the liabilities of the second approach that are relevant at the moment, for the following reason:

To the extent that you minimize the ambient cues of the listening space, the sound arriving at the listener will not be OMNIDIRECTIONAL. It will be BIDIRECTIONAL, assuming you are listening in stereo. Even if the recording has OMNIDIRECTIONAL ambient cues, what you will hear at the listening position is the BIDIRECTIONAL presentation of OMNIDIRECTIONAL ambient cues.

In other words, by minimizing the ambient cues of the listening room, the sound will arrive at the listening position primarily from TWO directions (the locations of the speakers). This means the ambient cues of the recording will, likewise, arrive primarily from TWO directions. But in the recording space, the ambient cues arrived from EVERY direction. That difference is the fundamental limitation in the approach of minimizing the ambient cues of the listening room when trying to create the illusion that "you are there." Hence...

(1) The BIDIRECTIONAL arrival of OMNIDIRECTIONAL ambient cues cannot create the illusion that "you are there."

In contrast...

(2) The OMNIDIRECTIONAL arrival of OMNIDIRECTIONAL ambient cues can create the illusion that “you are there.”

RE: (1). This is why headphones and anechoic chambers cannot create the illusion that “you are there.” Both headphones and anechoic chambers create a BIDIRECTIONAL presentation of ambient cues. But the ambient cues in an acoustically significant recording space did not arrive from only two directions. They arrived from every direction. This difference in directionality between an acoustically inert listening space and an acoustically significant recording space is an insuperable obstacle to creating the illusion that “you are there.”

RE: (2). This is why an acoustically reactive listening room is a critical element in creating the illusion that “you are there.” The acoustically reactive listening room creates an acoustical space in which the ambient cues of the recording can be presented omnidirectionally, JUST AS THEY WERE IN THE RECORDING SPACE. If, on the other hand, your listening room is acoustically inert, you reduce the possibility that the ambient cues from the recording can arrive from all directions. And if the ambient cues of the recording do not arrive from all directions, your playback space will be fundamentally different from the recording space, which destroys the illusion that "you are there."

Incidentally, this also explains negative reactions to recording studios that briefly appeared with a “live end” and “dead end.” In that design, one side of the listening room has an abundance of ambient cues, while the other side has virtually no ambient cues. That creates a more or less HEMISPHERICAL presentation of OMNIDIRECTIONAL ambient cues, which is not at all like the experience that “you are there.” Not surprisingly, this recording studio design was unpopular with recording engineers.

This brings me to why I am skeptical about your view that highly directional loudspeakers are inherently superior to, say, omnidirectional loudspeakers when trying to create the illusion that “you are there.” If you were to place highly directional speakers in an acoustically inert listening room, for example, you would create a highly BIDIRECTIONAL presentation. That means whatever ambient cues are in the recording will not arrive at the listening position from all directions, as they should. In fact, if you went far enough with this approach, you would approximate the sound of headphones and anechoic chambers, which is not at all the sound that “you are there,” as you point out. So if the listening room is acoustically inert, highly directional speakers are probably NOT the best choice.

Finally, I hope all this clears up the puzzlement you expressed when you said:

…the only thing I would actually strongly disagree with was something you said at the end, that headphones are great for hearing the ambient cues - in fact I would say just the opposite. To me, listening on headphones, no matter how high their quality, sounds nothing like live music; nor does the presentation resemble a real space in any way, shape, or form.

Headphones are great for hearing the ambient cues IN THE RECORDING, but terrible for hearing the ambient cues AS THEY SOUNDED IN THE RECORDING SPACE, because in the recording space, the ambient cues were omnidirectional, whereas in headphones, they are bidirectional. In other words, I agree with your comment that the sound of headphones does not “resemble a real space in any way, shape, or form.” But the reason is NOT because headphones fail to provide the ambient cues of the recording space. The reason is because headphones fail to present the CORRECT DIRECTIONALITY of the ambient cues of the recording space. With headphones, you are hearing the BIDIRECTIONAL presentation of OMNIDIRECTIONAL information. But in the recording space, you would hear an OMNIDIRECTIONAL presentation of OMNIDIRECTIONAL information. That is what the real world sounds like. And that is what we must make our playback space sound like, if we want to create the illusion that “we are there.”
Hi Bryon,

Your last post, while of course highly thoughtful, I would have to very respectfully say strikes me as being essentially a set of hypotheses, which are subject to challenge and skepticism in several ways:

1)Along the lines of some of our discussion earlier in this thread, there is little reason to expect, in general, that omnidirectional presentation in the listening room will augment or better present the omnidirectional information that was captured in the recording space, because of the vastly different delay times that are involved. Those timing differences will cause our hearing mechanisms to respond in completely different ways, per the Haas Effect and the Precedence Effect (for which Wikipedia links are provided in one of my earlier posts).

2)There would certainly seem to be ample empirical evidence, such as in the system descriptions posted here at Audiogon, that high quality directional speakers are not necessarily at a disadvantage, relative to speakers with broad or omnidirectional dispersion characteristics, in creating a reasonably good "you are there" illusion.

3)Omnidirectional presentation in the listening space presents in an omnidirectional manner not only the reflected sound that was captured in the recording space, but also the sound that was captured in the recording space via the direct path between instrument(s) and mics. The directly captured sound, of course, having a significantly earlier arrival time at the mics. Intuitively that would seem, at best, to invoke a significant tradeoff. Among other reasons for that is the fact that the frequency response curves of our ears vary considerably as a function of the direction of the sound source.

4)It seems to me that the major problem with headphones is not that the sound is presented bidirectionally. Per my item 2 above, speakers that present bidirectionally can, at least in many circumstances, present a reasonably good "you are there" illusion. The major problems with headphones are two-fold, as I see it:

(a)The sound we hear from them essentially bypasses the pinnae, thereby altering both frequency response and directional cues.

(b)Nearly all recordings are not mic'd to be compatible with headphone listening. A recording mic'd to be properly compatible with headphone listening needs to be recorded binaurally, which as you probably are aware means it is recorded via microphone capsules inserted in the ears of a dummy human head.

I have two or three binaural recordings, and they can be truly spectacular in their "you are there" realism, when listened to with headphones. Although the degree of that realism can be expected to vary somewhat from listener to listener, corresponding (I believe) to the anatomical differences that may exist between the heads and ears of each listener and the dummy head that was used.

FWIW, I'll add that on normal stereo recordings of classical music, if they are well recorded, minimally mic'd, and minimally processed, I can clearly hear ambient cues and hall effects on my Stax headphones. They do seem somewhat less prominent than when I listen via speakers, but I suspect that is due mainly to the relatively lean sonic character of these particular headphones.

5)
So why don’t we just say that BOTH the listening room and the equipment are important factors in creating the illusion that “you are there,” though neither is as important as the recording. Or we could leave that last bit out, and just say that ALL THREE are important.
I agree with both sentences. By which I mean to imply that in general my feeling is that the recording is the most important of the three variables, at least with respect to the role that ambient cues play in "you are there" realism.

So in conclusion, I have no conclusion :-). At least, beyond what I've said earlier. But those are some thoughts that come to mind in response to your latest post.

Best regards,
-- Al
Your last post, while of course highly thoughtful, I would have to very respectfully say strikes me as being essentially a set of hypotheses, which are subject to challenge and skepticism in several ways…

Al – You are absolutely correct. Nearly everything in my last post I would consider a hypothesis, not a fact. Looking back at my post, I can see how I failed to make that clear. Usually, I am careful to include lots of phrases like “in my view,” “As I see it,” “I believe that” and so on. In other threads, I have often used the words “hypothesis” and “proposal.” But in my last post, there is a shortage of such words and phrases, which could easily give the impression that I regarded its contents as a group of generally accepted facts. I do not. I was struggling more than usual to organize my ideas, and so certain things got missed. In any case, like you, I regard the contents of my last post as a collection of hypotheses. That is to say, they are proposals about what MIGHT be true, proposals that have some evidence to support them, but that, like all proposals, can be defeated by other evidence. Having said that, let’s look at the evidence…

RE: (1) TIME SCALE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LISTENING SPACE AND RECORDING SPACE

…there is little reason to expect, in general, that omnidirectional presentation in the listening room will augment or better present the omnidirectional information that was captured in the recording space, because of the vastly different delay times that are involved.

I acknowledge that the time scale differences between the typical recording space and the typical listening space can be quite significant. But I don’t know that those differences warrant much skepticism about my view that the omnidirectional presentation of ambient cues in the listening space helps create the illusion that "you are there."

Here are some of the reasons…

(i). You are quite right that the time scale of the first order reflections in a typical concert hall, being somewhere around 25-40 ms, cannot be reproduced in the listening room, since the listening room would have to be the size of a concert hall. However, a concert hall is the worst cast scenario. Many recording spaces are considerably smaller, to the point where the first order reflections of the recording space might be on roughly the same time scale as the first order reflections of the listening room. So the closer the size of the listening space is to the size of the recording space, the closer the time scales will be, and the less of an obstacle differences in time scale will be to creating the illusion that “you are there.” But even in cases where the listening space is much smaller than the recording space, there are still reasons to believe that the listening space can make a significant contribution to the illusion that "you are there." Which brings me to…

(ii). It seem to me, and this again is a hypothesis, that even when the recording space is so large that it is impossible to construct a listening space whose first order reflections can exist at the same time scale, you can construct a listening space that, in important respects, EMULATES the larger recording space. First, you can absorb the first order reflections of the listening space. This will lengthen the time before reflections reach the listening position, and, in effect, acoustically "enlarge" the listening room. Second, you can reflect or diffuse the second, third, and fourth order reflections of the listening space to provide a SUBSTITUTE for the first order reflections in the recording space. Admittedly, an analysis of the order of reflections would be significantly different between the two spaces. But a listening space that sustains higher order reflections with an amplitude and time scale similar to the lower order reflections of the recording space will, by doing so, RESEMBLE the larger recording space. I believe that kind of listening space allows the ambient cues in the recording to be presented in a way that APPROXIMATES the amplitude, time scale, and directionality of the ambient cues as they sounded in the recording space, contributing to the illusion that ‘you are there.”

(iii). Finally, matching the reverberation time of the listening space to that of the recording space can further enhance the illusion that "you are there." This can be accomplished even when the listening space is rather small and the recording space is rather large. This is another respect in which the differences in time scales involved in different spaces is not an insuperable obstacle to an effort to create the illusion that "you are there" by constructing a listening space that presents ambient cues in a way that approximates the way they were presented in the recording space.

In light of this, it seems to me that the approach to creating the illusion that “you are there” by constructing a listening space that provides the omnidirectional presentation of omnidirectional ambient cues is not defeated by differences in time scales, since (a) the time scales of the listening space are not always radically different from the time scales of the recording space, depending on the type of music; (b) the higher order reflections of the listening space can, to some extent, act as substitutes for the lower order reflections of the recording space; and (c) matching the reverberation time of the listening space and the recording space can be done (nearly) regardless of the size of the recording space. In my view, these measures constitute partial solutions to the limitations imposed by differences in time scales between listening spaces and recording spaces, even when the recording spaces are very large, like concert halls. And because of that, I do not feel that differences in time scales create serious doubts about my view that the omnidirectional ambient cues of the listening space can be used to augment the omnidirectional ambient cues of the recording space, and thereby enhance the illusion that "you are there." Having said that, I acknowledge that differences in time scales is something that must be carefully addressed in the listening room, if you are serious about creating the illusion that "you are there."

It seem to me that part of your skepticism, Al, is focused on my suggestion that, in order to create the illusion that “you are there,” ambient cues must be presented OMNIDIRECTIONALLY. In my last post, I tried to provide several arguments that express why I believe that. What it essentially comes down to is that, in order to create the illusion that “you are there,” the directionality of ambient cues in the listening space must resemble, as much as possible, the directionality of ambient cues in the recording space. And in the recording space, the ambient cues were OMNIDIRECTIONAL. Hence, in the listening space, they must be OMNIDIRECTIONAL. That does NOT mean, however, that the speakers must be omnidirectional (more on this below). Here is a quote from a speaker manufacturer who expresses more or less the same thing I’ve been saying:

…why do anechoic chambers sound so odd and artificial? We are accustomed to hearing the acoustics of the room we are in and spacial cues coming from many directions. Although a recording contains the acoustics of the concert hall, during playback those spacial cues are not coming from the original directions—they are all coming from the two speakers in front of us—very artificial. It is a crude and unnatural way to simulate an acoustic environment. We need to hear those spacial cues coming from all around us. In an anechoic chamber they don't. In contrast, I suspect the reason stereo works as well as it does in our homes is because of room acoustics. In a way, the room reflections are substitutes for the ones we would get at a live event. The reverberant field in our home listening room surrounds us with sound, not as a simulacrum of the actual location of the recording, but as a substitute. Those cues in the recording can then be interpreted as if coming from their original directions.

This is not an appeal to authority. I don’t regard this manufacturer as any particular authority, nor do I necessarily agree with his views on loudspeaker design. It’s just something I found that expresses, in a slightly different way, what I’ve been trying to say.

RE: (2). BIDIRECTIONAL VS. OMNIDIRECTIONAL SPEAKERS

There would certainly seem to be ample empirical evidence, such as in the system descriptions posted here at Audiogon, that high quality directional speakers are not necessarily at a disadvantage, relative to speakers with broad or omnidirectional dispersion characteristics, in creating a reasonably good "you are there" illusion.

I agree with this. In my response to Learsfool in my last post, my point was NOT that omnidirectional speakers are inherently superior to highly directional speakers at creating the illusion that “you are there.” My point was to express doubt about HIS suggestion that highly directional speakers were inherently superior to other designs at creating the illusion that “you are there.” In my view, neither is inherently superior to the other, when considered independent of the listening room. However, I do believe that some speaker radiation patterns will work better than others in PARTICULAR listening rooms.

RE: (3). HEADPHONES

…it seems to me that the major problem with headphones is not that the sound is presented bidirectionally. Per my item 2 above, speakers that present bidirectionally can, at least in many circumstances, present a reasonably good "you are there" illusion.

The bidirectionality of most speaker designs is not equivalent to the bidirectionality of headphones. To state the obvious, once you place bidirectional speakers in a listening room, they create a reverberant sound field. Hence the sound at the listening position is, to some extent, omnidirectional. The only place bidirectional speakers create a completely bidirectional sound field is in an anechoic chamber. In the real world, bidirectional speakers create SOMEWHAT OMNIDIRECTIONAL sound at the listening position. In contrast, headphones always create a COMPLETELY BIDIRECTIONAL presentation. In light of this, the success of bidirectional speakers at creating the illusion that “you are there” is not a reason to believe that headphones can, by virtue of similar directionality, create the illusion that “you are there.” The reason is because the sound field of bidirectional speakers is no longer purely bidirectional, once you put them in the listening room, while headphones remain completely bidirectional, come what may.

I'll add that on normal stereo recordings of classical music, if they are well recorded, minimally mic'd, and minimally processed, I can clearly hear ambient cues and hall effects on my Stax headphones.

Yes, I agree with this, as I mentioned in the last paragraph of my last post. Headphones DO provide ambient cues from the recording. But they do not present them OMNIDIRECTIONALLY, which is how they sounded in the recording space. That is why I don’t believe headphones can create the experience that “you are there” on typically mic’d recordings. Which brings me to...

I have two or three binaural recordings, and they can be truly spectacular in their "you are there" realism, when listened to with headphones.

I have not head a binaural recording through headphones, though I do not doubt, from what I know of the technique, and testimony like yours, that it can create the illusion that “you are there.” So none of my comments about headphones apply to binaural recordings.

Having said that, it seems to me that the success of binaural recordings at creating the illusion that “you are there” SUPPORTS the things I’ve been saying about the importance of the DIRECTIONALITY OF AMBIENT CUES in creating the illusion that “you are there.” Unlike typical recordings, binaural recordings contain robust information about the DIRECTIONALITY OF AMBIENT CUES. That is the reason, I believe, that they can create the illusion that "you are there." For the vast majority of recordings, which are not binaural, the directionality of ambient cues must somehow be recreated IN THE LISTENING ROOM, if you want to create the illusion that "you are there." Or that is my hypothesis, anyway. :)
One more thing about binaural recordings…

While binaural recordings, literally speaking, are bidirectional, they nevertheless RECREATE the same information that results from the OMNIDIRECTIONAL arrival of ambient cues. That is precisely the point I have been trying to make about the listening room, namely, that it must RECREATE, to whatever extent possible, the same information that results from the OMNIDIRECTIONAL arrival of ambient cues, if it is to create the illusion that “you are there.”

Now I will pause for a brief resumption of my life.
Thanks very much, Bryon. With the clarifications, qualifications, and further exposition you have provided, I find little or nothing to disagree with. Although as we both agree, a lot of what has been said remains in the realm of hypothesis, that is conceivably refutable or subject to further qualification.

When you have time to return here from the real world :-) please take a look at item 3 in my previous post, which I added in some time after initially submitting the post. I believe you may not have seen it when you composed your response, and I'd be interested in your comments on it.

Best regards,
-- Al
Bryon and Al, you both make some very interesting points! In general, I agree with most all of them, particularly Al's. Regarding this bi-directional vs. omni-directional subject, though, I do think it is very important to remember that in a good concert hall, sound is really not coming from EVERY direction at exactly the same moment. Acousticians try to design the overall space so that as much of the sound as possible goes directly to the audience, and that the reflected sound is channeled in such a way that it interferes with this as little as possible. So although sound does come from many different directions, it does not come from all of them anywhere near equally, and the overall effect is not PRIMARILY omni-directional, only secondarily so. Again, this is assuming a well-designed hall, and I am admittedly over-simplifying. I think the point I am trying to make here is similar to Al's point no. 3 he asked you to reconsider. (On a side note, this is why some musicians I know claim that even stereo reproduction sounds fake, and do as much of their listening as possible to older mono recordings! I don't go that far myself, but I have been exposed to a truly great mono set-up, and had to admit that it was at least as realistic as the best stereo set-ups I have heard.)

This point leads to another - listening rooms do not come anywhere near capable of recreating the original recording space, if this space is a concert hall (or a good jazz club, for that matter) - so this means that the listening space will ALWAYS be fundamentally different from the recording space, as I believe you put it, in these cases, and this is why I believe you are overestimating it's importance. It must be a very good listening space indeed, beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of us, to come close to recreating the sound of a concert hall in their listening room. I am not suggesting the room is unimportant (it can definitely help in the ways you suggest), but merely not as important as the speakers, and certainly not as important as the recording itself, which is by far the greatest factor.

Another point I would make, per our discussion of speaker types, is that while I think I understand your comment that "neither [speaker type] is inherently superior to the other, when considered independent of the listening room," in practice, one cannot listen to the speaker independent of the listening room, so while that statement may be true in theory, it doesn't have any practical value.

As for the binaural recording issue, I have absolutely no experience with this - I have never heard a binaural recording. The subject is interesting, and I would like to hear one sometime, but until then I will remain skeptical, for the reasons I already stated. And I still remain convinced that though the very best types of headphones out there may be able to provide some ambient cues, they will not be of anywhere near the quality of normal speakers. I do not claim to know the scientific reasons behind it, but it has much to do with what Al alluded to about the ears not picking up the sound in the same way. I read a very good article about this subject a few years ago written by an engineer, but have no recollection of where, unfortunately. I may try a Google search, and if I can find it, I will share the link.