resolution and imaging

As my system has evolved over the years, I've noticed a change in how I perceive resolution. Resolution and imaging now seem inextricably linked to me, in other words, maximized imaging is absolutely necessary to maximizing resolution.

Prior to the last couple of years, I heard increases in resolution the way most reviewers describe it. A lowered noise floor allowed more detail through, I was hearing more background (low level) information than I heard previously.

With more recent upgrades, I now hear greater detail/resolution due to enhanced image density and dimensionality. Each upgrade brings more spaciousness, and with more space between all the micro elements that make up sound I hear more detail/resolution. I would not be able to hear as much detail/resolution without this enhanced imaging.

And so now I hear of audiophiles who claim imaging is not important and/or not on high on their list of priorities. I theorize that without high imaging capabilities one cannot achieve maximum resolution from their system.

I recently saw a thread on holographic imaging, some argue this is not present in live music. I totally disagree, live sound lives in physical space, physical space is defined by three dimensions (at least three we've been able to detect), sound is by definition, holographic.

IMO, audio systems must maximize image dimensionality in order to be both high resolution and more lifelike. While I agree that other aspects of audio reproduction are critically important, ie. tonality, dynamics, continuousness, etc., so is imaging.
must maximize image dimensionality

Well maybe. If it is on the recording sure but a system that maximizes image size or dimensionality on every recording simply lacks precision. The hallmark of precision is razor sharp tight imaging where things fall precisely along a line between the speakers - on recordings mixed that way of course.

As an example, I listened to a system the other day with $16K speakers and as much if not more in ancilliary gear. I listened to track 3 of Amused to Death. The soundstage was incredibly wide - impressive as hell - backgroud vocals coming as if somebody was speaking immediately on your left close to your ear - but, unfortunately, Roger Waters and the female vocalist where NOT centered precisely (as if standing there) - a kind of broad vague supersized female vocalist and broad inflated oversized Roger Waters is what I heard - an image roughly the size of the width of the speakers from the front - hardly convincing but "maximized dimensionality" for sure.

I am sure many of you know this recording - so you can go check your system - does it "inflate" the dimensionality or do you get BOTH the outrageous sound effects (in the left ear) AND the tight small correct sized image of a female vocalist and alternately Roger Waters in front of you.

Food for though - inflated dimensionality is not always better - it just means the system has phase issues. Like a good camera lens - every blemish or defect to the lens and its construction will broaden or blurr an image and lens perfection will make things as sharp and narrowly defined as they can be.
"Laugh" - I've heard this oversized imaging on a lot of line arrays. It's like Nat King Cole's nose is 3 feet high and 2 feet wide right between the speakers. The sax stands 8 feet tall, etc.

Yes, the spaciousness is precise and the dynamics are great, but in my view the line arrays I've heard belong in a concert hall.

Food for though - inflated dimensionality is not always better - it just means the system has phase issues.

Amused to Death deliberately takes advantage of some very distinctive technology called Qsound to create spatial effects via processing. There are not that many projects recorded using this effect and it is more of a novelty in my opinion. Here's a quote from that wiki:

It is important to distinguish 3D positional processing (example: QSound i.e. the multi-channel QSystem professional processor used in the production of pop music and film audio) from stereo expansion (examples: QSound QXpander, SRS(R)Sound Retrieval System). Positional 3D audio processing is a producer-side technology. It is applied to individual instruments or sound effects, and is therefore only usable at the mixing phase of music and soundtrack production, or under realtime control of game audio mixing software. Stereo expansion (processing of recorded channels and background ambience) is primarily a consumer-side process that can be arbitrarily applied to stereo content in the end-user environment using analog integrated circuits or digital signal processing (DSP) routines.

That said, holographic presentation is very important to me in listening to my system, and is the primary reason I think I prefer SET amps. As far as live music, I think it depends entirely upon the space/venue and the way the music is amplified (if it is). In general, it certainly does exist in that we can hear spatial cues, but many performances I hear live do not occur to me as spatially compelling, for lack of a better descriptor.

Furthermore, I think it's pretty absurd to compare, or rather to base one expectations of a home system upon what live music sounds like. They are two entirely different things and can be enjoyed on different levels and to different degrees. Fundamentally they both present music and connect with us emotionally on that level, but trying to reproduce "live" at home is the proverbial carrot on the stick - it's never going to happen and is a sure way to stay on the merry-go-round of continuing to strive for the impossible (when there is SOOO much to enjoy in what actually IS possible and holographic presentation is part of that).

I do enjoy, Amused to Death, by the way, I just consider it's spatial presentation to be a novelty and I don't think I'd want to hear all my music presented that way.
Shadorne, yes, you are correct, you do not want an inflated image, that would sound less lifelike. The image could also be asymetrical, relative width, height or depth could be out of synch, those sorts of issues I would describe as phase issues. I am talking about correctly formed images, precision AND spaciousness.
Its hard to take issue with your observations as resolution/imaging is a priority for me, especially when the resolution is so fine that you get excellent front to back spaciality. BUT...........

I go to live unamplified performances regularly, and I try when at all possible to sit in the center main floor seats in rows D thru H. Apart from fantastic dynamics which I do hear, what I don't hear is high frequency overload from the strings, great seperation of individual instruments, and the general spaciality effects of a recording. Now I'm sure that if I was on the podium I would hear it differently.

So when folks say they don't need all of the 'imaging' that we prize I can easily understand why. Interestly I lived without it (the appreciation of these reproduction qualities) for years and still enjoyed music thoroughly. Perfhaps even more so then than now.

Lets face it. Excellent imaging is a product of excellent components AND set up, but it is far more the result of fantasy that the stereo recording/reproduction process creates than anything else. And 'imaging' is, IMHO, what drives so much of the interest in Audio as a hobby. And this is exactly what music enthusiasts do not NEED, all of this audio refinement, to get a full measure of what is recorded. Ignorance can be blissful! :-)
While I agree that other aspects of audio reproduction are critically important, ie. tonality, dynamics, continuousness, etc., so is imaging.
Sns (System | Threads | Answers)
I agree completely.

After all, imaging is at the core of the illusion of reality that stereophonic music reproduction attempts to create.

Tonality, dynamics, and continuity are all possible with mono, but few of us are building mono systems.
Jax2, my point is not to equate audio reproduction to live music. I'm only pointing out live sound is dimensional as well. The point I want to focus on is the resolution/imaging dynamic. Also, when I speak of live sound, I'm focusing on unamplified live sound, I've been to plenty of concerts that had very little percieved image dimensionality.
I love Roger Waters but I would hesitate to use "Amused To Death" as a reference disc, no matter how well recorded it may be. Too many unknown recording tricks and processes used. Only someone who was present at the recording and mix down sessions would have a clue as to what it might have sounded like thru the mic feed. Only a minimalsit recording of a band or orchestra playing in the same space at the same time can be used to compare things such as imaging and dimensionality. By the way, live music may or may not be percieved as having imaging depending on where you sit and the acoustic environment your in at the time.
Newbee, I would agree that live symphonic music does not contain many of the imaging cues we get in audio reproduction. However, listen to a small unamplified quartet or grouping, I do hear a lot of the same imaging cues. Still, the point isn't a comparison to live music, rather the resolution/imaging dynamic.

And yes, I agree with you and Tvad, I do think imaging drives many of us in this hobby. I guess this all came to mind as I listened this past weekend to two cds that had a combination of mono and stereo tracks, (some tracks were from the exact same recording session, music was released in mono and stereo, I see this a lot from 60's releases). I just didn't hear as much information on the mono tracks as the stereo tracks. This diffentiation was the greatest I had heard up to this point.
Imaging,resolution,transparency at the highest level go hand in hand. In my experience the amplifier has a lot to do with all three. Not to leave out the speakers either. This is what makes me continue to upgrade my system. I look at it this way....does it sound like a recording? If it does(majority) I have room for improvement....if the sound has high levels of the three characteristics mentioned it doesn't sound like a recording. It might not sound live...but in the best reproduction....all that a microphone can absorb I can hear. You can't ask much more than that.
Speaking of live performance and imaging. I have a friend of 30 plus years who owns a sound reinforcement company and does some recording studio engineering. Jimmy was the first audiophile I ever encountered, this back in high school, 1970's. He remains perhaps the most anal retentive audiophile I've ever met, nothing misses his attention. Anyway, he constantly berates the sound reinforcement and recording establishment, poor equipment and poorer technique. The sound of his concerts and recordings is beyond reproach, I hear much more in the way of imaging cues at his live concerts, I suspect most of the live music events most of us attend sound less than stellar.

Jimmy does most of his sound reinforcement these days for reggae artists in the Caribbean, also some periodic jazz dates up here. An example of his work can be found on the Winston Walls with Jack McDuff release, "Boss of the B-3", on Schoolkids Records. This is live recording done at the Ark in Ann Arbor, Mi. and the SerenGeti Ballroom in Detroit. Jimmy does sound from an audiophile's standpoint, ultra rare in the concert and studio business.
Wavetrader, you hit the nail on the head. SET amps and coherent speakers go a long way in presenting these sonic virtues. Not to say other amp designs can't do the trick.

I also agree the more resolution, the less it sounds like a recording, maybe not live, perhaps we could call it palpable and/or organic?
I love Roger Waters but I would hesitate to use "Amused To Death" as a reference disc, no matter how well recorded it may be.

Agreed. It is just an extreme example of spacious sounds versus tightly focused centered vocals. Not a reference but one of many tracks.

All I am saying is that some systems give you a wide expansive sound permanently - nothing ever becomes tightly focussed and shrunk to a point. In essence the tighter and more shrunken the image the sharper and more precise "the lens".

A sharp lens can still throw out a large soundstage IF that is on the recording.

A blurred lens will simply always throw out a large soundstage even if the vocalist is very tightly focussed and shrunk to small size.

These points are worth considering when selecting components. In A/B comparisons of equipment it is often likely that the bigger soundstage is preferred (more musical - more live concert sound - a "bigger" sound - less "Hi-Fi"). However, there is a trap here - one may be simply projecting one's subjective preference for how the recording best sounds. In these A/B's - it is the most tightly focussed equipment that is performing most accurately - no matter how "artificial" or "hi-fi" the particular recording may be - Amused to Death being extremly artifical to the extent of being a novelty or amusement! The point is that anything that tightens up the imaging between the speakers must necessarily be better performance (in accuracy).

Caveat: Collapsing of the soundstage to either one speaker or another or giving the distinct impression that sound is coming from the speakers is BAD and not at all what I mean by tight focussed narrow image between the speakers - speakers should, as they say, "disappear".
In my experience the amplifier has a lot to do with all three. Not to leave out the speakers either

Indeed everything plays a roll - source and amplifier too. Room plays a huge roll too - the less cluttered the midrange and treble sound from near reflections or baffle edge diffraction then the more tightly in focus the image will be.

Thanks for the music tip - here is another - get Rebelution "Courage to Grow" - stellar recording of reggae music.
I also agree the more resolution, the less it sounds like a recording

Disagree. The more resolution usually the more obvious it is a recording - you become aware of things like the choice of microphones and the unnatural compressed sound of percussion and overly forward sound of lead guitar and vocalist (most recorded music lacks balance as band members fight to have the engineer drown eachother out - usually they all fight against the drummer to make sure drums can be barely heard). Of course, the all too rare but excellent recordings can certainly fool you into thinking it is real - but not the majority.
Sns, I completely agree with your notion that with progressive refinements to electronics, precise imaging comes together with density and dimensionality. Higher resolution reveals some types of fast transients as pin-points (say plucked strings or spitting at a reed of a wind instrument), while also preserving spacial cues around instruments that make instruments sound denser, rounder, larger and more organic in space. I'm not completely sure whether this effect is additive or substractive-- a really transparent system has the ability to clear the smog around instruments so that fine detail is revealed. Increased resolution is also critical to communicating depth and width of soundstage. People say "the room's the thing", but IMO superior electronics contribute more.
And now you guys have me thinking about live music. I ask, should live music really be the holy grail of audio experience? Based on my live concert experiences, I would more often choose to hear my audio system over live music. I point to poor sound reinforcement, less than favorable venue acoustics, even poor performance as reasons to favor the in home experience. While I can accept live music as the ultimate musical experience, it more often doesn't live up to it's promise.
while also preserving spacial cues around instruments that make instruments sound denser, rounder, larger and more organic in space

That would be retrieving ambient detail on the recording - a good system will retrieve it and it will not be masked by distortion from the energy of the pprimary sounds (high S/N, low distortion and great dynamic range necessary to get the ambient stuff). This means you hear the "room" around the artists or the "virtual room" that the recording engineer created (through added reverb in teh mix stage and through real effects like voice plates, mike distance to floor, or a concert hall in the case of a live recording etc.)

If you have ever had the odd impression someone moved up to stand close behind you (you did not see them) but were rewarded when you turn around... that is ambient sound - just a person standing in the doorway may be enough to clue your brain that someone is there. We use it all the time. Some people feel sick in an anechoic chamber due to the lack of spatial cues. Without it a recording sounds terrible and anemic.
Shadorne, I partially agree with the notion that more resolution makes it an obvious recording. I agree that you may hear more disagreeable things, but lately I find that even sonically challenged recordings often have certain sonic aspects which are not that disagreeable. With more resolution I seem to be able to hear those less disagreeable things more, my mind focuses on the less disagreeable things, making the recording more palatable and organic. For instance, I like a lot of garage rock, this weekend I was listening to Bubble Puppy, mostly pretty badly compressed with the exception of the vocals. Because the vocals were not compressed I was able to focus my attention here, the vocals made the recording sound palpable in spite of instrumental compression. I would also add, even with the excessive compression, my system seemed to be extracting every last bit of dynamics from this recording, ie. even the compressed instrumentals sounded better than I recall from previous listenings. I would agree that certain sonic deficiencies suffer more from increased resolution, tonal anomalies bother me the most.
Some of my favorite recordings are live...

Diana Krall live in Paris
Don Ellis Orch. live Monterey Jazz Fest.
Keith Jarret standards live
Hollywood Bowl live movie music
Judy Garland at Carnegie hall name a few

I guess the spatial cues just draw me in....along with the interaction of the crowd...There is just so much more...picked up by the mic.
Hi resolution is what makes high end,high end! We would all agree that our current rig is more transparent than our earlier rigs. It's about hearing more and more. Resolution in it's most natural form is where it's at.
It's all elusive meaningless drivle in the end...pick a sound that moves your soul, not your head!
Its not all meaningless drivel if you want to take meaningful steps towards attaining sound that moves your soul. Understanding the language of sonic performance gives you the knowledge to reach your goals. Without knowledge of the language, this is a foreign tongue, aka your drivel.
Sns...seems like your endeavers into tweaking equipment with capacitor voicing has paid dividends. I too have become a beleiver in capacitor performance making a impact on lower THD leading to sonic improvement. The most significant gains have been in transparency,3d holographics,and tonal realism. I realise only good quality and designed equipment will deliver the greatest improvements....but these gains are very real.
Wavetrader, exactly my findings.
Newbee said...."Now I'm sure that if I was on the podium I would hear it differently." Interesting....In the recording were hearing what the mic the info must be there...I would think. Now the issue is can the electronics and speakers reproduce it.
Above all I want to hear *depth*. I want to hear that the brass and woodwind are all the way back there, behind the massed strings. I don't want brass and woodwind sounding as if they were on the same plane as the strings. Now, if there were some nice separation, and the French horns were over to one side, and the oboes were just left of centre, etc. etc., that would be great too, but I can get by with the aural simulacrum of how an orchestra is arrayed on a stage, front to back. (And yes, the timpani should be waaaay back there...)
Wavetrader, Consider that what you hear depends on your proximity to the instrument(s) making the sound. What a mic picks up is also mostly (but not identically to your ears) dependent on proximity. If you were on the podium you would much more easily hear width, depth, height and 'highlighted soloists' would no longer sound highlighted, for pianist and violinists at least are more often than not very near the podium. This also applies to the presence of 'imaging' on chamber music in a chamber vs a symphony hall.

A lot of recordings are, IMHO, recorded and mixed, with the 'podium effect'. The problem, if that is what it is, is that most of us never get to stand on the podium so it is a sound with which we are not familar, and is the reason that so many folks feel a well developed sense of imaging is artificial and unnecessary.

I think there is also a downside to great imaging for just this reason. When you are listening to the 'podium effect', as a result of the recording methodology and your equipment/set up, the performance (in your subconscious) often gets second billing to the sound of specificity.

Recall those many requests for recordings in forums from folks who want the recordings with the best sound (SACD's or vinyl for example) without any emphasis on the importance on performance. Often I get a guilty conscience when I find myself pulling a Reference Recording off the shelf primarily because they are great recordings, not because they are the best performances I have, and only occasionally do they contain both excellent performances and sonics (try Copland's 3rd Symphony et al - WOW!).

Once you have fixed your attention on the 'podium effect' it becomes hard to ignore its presence, or for that matter its absence, all to the detriment of the music/performance.

If I could go back in time, I think I could have been very happy with the Omni speaker experience if I had kept an open mind. Now it is too late for that, for me.
Sns--another thanks for the Boss of B-3--just ordered it --sounds like a great cd--glad to know I am not the only one trying to figure how far back the drum is from the sax in a live jazz club :):)
I ask, should live music really be the holy grail of audio experience? Based on my live concert experiences, I would more often choose to hear my audio system over live music. I point to poor sound reinforcement, less than favorable venue acoustics, even poor performance as reasons to favor the in home experience. While I can accept live music as the ultimate musical experience, it more often doesn't live up to it's promise.

Absolutely have the same kinds of experience with much of the live music I hear (not all of it or I'd probably just stop going). As I intimated before, holding the experience of live music as the "holy grail", as you put it, is an exercise in frustration, and can easily get in the way of enjoying a perfectly wonderful system. I recently read an excellent summation this fruitless effort, albeit in rather coarse terms. Nevertheless, it summed up my feelings on the matter quite well. I'll see if I can find it in my 'history' and post a link.

I completely agree that room treatments can make or break both a system or a concert venue. It does not necessarily have to spoil ones experience of the music though...I guess that's really up to the individual. I can think of concerts where the acoustics were not great and I had a great time and very much enjoyed the experience, and I can also think of times where poor acoustics absolutely ruined what might have been a really great concert.

I don't think that depth and dimension is the be-all end-all goal of all audiophiles. As Dave_b illustrating with the 'meaningless drivel', which could, of course, be applied to most of anyone's material pursuits. I guess my response to that would be to ask why you were participating in the conversation if you felt that way? Other than that I agree with the rest of the sentiment - go with what moves your heart and soul. I don't know that any of us can actually completely remove our 'head' from the equation, but it is a noble pursuit (the world may be a better place if we could). Ultimately it is the best of what music does for me (as well as other pursuits of passion): it takes me out of my head. What a great feeling that is!!
some recordings are made to 'image' on a 2 channel stereo, while others are not. as for an image that is too big...most live music is even bigger....and there's no imaging, at least in the audiophile sense of the word...and bass is never 'tight'or'fast'.
OK, found it. Here is a very pointed and brief post on the futility of using live music as your goal that really nails it, IMO. Some of you are probably familiar with the author, Romy the Cat. In this case, I could not agree more with him. English is obviously not his first language, though he seems to do pretty well with it in spite of that. Check out the rest of his site for some entertaining, and often illuminating reading.

I agree with your assessment.
Great thread . Is it about the music or its reproduction . Its both of course but oh how we obsess over the details. Its what motivates us and keeps us hooked on this fascinating hobby. Resolution is often what drives us as each incremental upgrade uncovers more of the recordings we love . We gravitate to better recordings as time passes and often this dictates our listening habits. It often begins with solid state and gravitates to tube gear and sometimes right back. Imaging and sound staging properties can often be a product of speaker placement and acoustical room control. Indeed , a Pandora's Box that should be opened and worked on diligently. My personal journey has evolved around the balance between achieving the most resolution I can obtain while maintaining intense musicality which hooks me into the listening chair for hours. Musicality is one of those intangible words that we all seem to recognize yet cant express . I think its a personal effect . I have been through electrostats , line source , direct radiating ect ect ect and they all bring their particular magic to the table. Recently I picked up a pair of MBL 101 E speakers . The effect is like being washed with a tightly woven fabric of sound in vibrant colors yet the imaging is not nearly as specific as any speaker I have worked with . I am not able to get the same pinpoint imaging yet what I am hearing is more like live music in real space . I find myself unchaining my brain and allowing my mind to effortlessly wander through the soundscape without the desire to evaluate the specifics . I imagine we all experience our systems a little differently , this is just my observations .
Nice thread - proper imaging and soundstaging is an extremely high priority for me, as I am a professional orchestral musician. I believe a recording engineer should try to recreate the sound of the orchestra in the hall as well as possible, but most of them do not actually even attempt to do this anymore in this digital age. And I should also point out that the "imaging" of live music may sound very different depending on where you are sitting in the hall. Sitting as close as row D would not be the best perspective in most halls. To grossly generalize, sound travels up and back through the hall, so in a great hall, very often the best seats are towards the back and higher up in the hall, though maybe not the nosebleeds. In many of the great sounding orchestral recordings made before the digital era, this is where the mikes were placed. Even Mercury, which usually placed them above the orchestra instead of out in the hall, placed them at least a good 15 feet higher than the orchestra, and often higher yet. You almost never see recording engineers placing mikes anywhere near the back of the hall anymore, or that high either. And when they place different mikes on every section, or even on every individual instrument, on separate tracks, and then mix all of it together later, almost always this results in a complete loss of the sense of the original space, and there is nothing any playback system can do to remedy this - Humpty-Dumpty is broken, and you can't put him back together.

All of that said, though, I also whole-heartedly agree with those who said that the performance is the main thing - a recording can have incredible sonics, but if I strongly dislike the performance, I'm not going to pull it out very often. One should be able to enjoy a great performance, even if it wasn't recorded very well, or is played back on a mediocre system. OK, I'm done rambling for tonight. Goodnight, and enjoy the music!
as a musician, i am surprised that soundstage and imaging, which is not music is important to you.

when attending a concert, from my favorite seat, the last row of an orchestra, i am not aware of imaging or soundstage. thus many stereo systems sound artificial when compared to live music.

accuracy of timbre is much more significant as a cue to recognizing realism in musical reproduction than any other factor.

most stereo systems sound more focused than live music. the "resolution" one may desire becomes fatiguing and is like listening to music under a microscope. it is no surprise that many of today's stereo systems do not compare favorably to that which could have been configured during the 60's and 70's, especially with respect to extended duration listening sessions.
Recently I picked up a pair of MBL 101 E speakers . The effect is like being washed with a tightly woven fabric of sound in vibrant colors yet the imaging is not nearly as specific as any speaker I have worked with . I am not able to get the same pinpoint imaging yet what I am hearing is more like live music in real space

You can achieve both - you may need to pull the MBL's far off the rear and side wall by 8 to 10 feet to achieve it. Nearby second reflections really screw up imaging - big time.
accuracy of timbre is much more significant as a cue to recognizing realism in musical reproduction than any other factor.

Could not agree more - timbre and correct transient response is much more important to me to. However, if you can get both - why not?
"accuracy of timbre is much more significant as a cue to recognizing realism in musical reproduction than any other factor."

If I understand the point of Sns...with a increase of imaging and resolution come accuracy of timbre and other things. Atleast that's my experience....A good way for me to explain it....walking into a art gallery from 20ft away is a large Jackson Pollock painting....only from 2ft can you really see the detail and realise his method of painting.

In fact that is a good has many nuances..and that is where the beauty is. Not in a analytical way just the whole spectrum of what I hear from the instruments...individualy,as a composite,the room,and voice or choral. The whole interacting together..the performance that is what I like.

I agree with mic placement...on a whole the classical labels have always done a better job. I listened to a Korngold recording last night...done on the Marco Polo label...everything I'm looking for was there...simply

Now in regards to the level of realism or accuracy. When I started down the road of voicing capacitors I was looking for tonal purity. It just happens that the purest tonal quality I have acheived so far....resolution,transparency,and 3D holographic imaging were all increased to a very high level... all these attributes are tied together with tonal purity among others.
Oh and let me throw in PRAT as the bottom line is...for me... is a very low THD amplifier either voiced by the manufactuer or by me (modding) effects every aspect of the reproduction I hear...the enjoyment level has gone up significantly.
Wavetrader, I love your analogy. It works! But, in the long run is it valuable to look at the painting up close, when/if it detracts from the picture the artist entended?
The old 'failing to see the forrest for the trees' works as aptly, I think. No real answer to this question. Its all so personal.

Re the accuracy of timbre both in general and as emphasized by Mr T..... On a recording the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of timbre would be effected more by mic placement than clarity of detail I think, or attributibe to one or several instruments together which are out of tune and because there are closely mic'd and become very vivid in the mix become noticible in the overall performance.

FWIW, I remain unconvinced that Mr T can hear instrument timbre in the back of the hall. In that location the sound is so infused with hall sounds such specificity is impossible. Now if the Concertmaster is half tone deaf and can't tune the orchestra, that is another matter.

Horses for courses. Some like a fast track, others like (or at least perform better than others in) mud! :-)
Does it matter at the back of the hall...I would think only the sound level would be affected. Reproducing the accuracy of the tonal qualities may be like looking through a 4x optical but I really like the portrayl from my listening seat.
Regardless of how an original performance is miked(whether live or in the studio, mikes front or back or high or low, close-miked or at a distance from instruments), it is a highly questionable goal to strive to assemble an audiophile system that propagates a particular perspective analogous to any one of these types of original "live" venues. If one ascribes a feeling of fatigue to resolution and thinks that the answer is to defocus detail & run for the "back row," then there is something wrong with that system other than high rez. To paraphrase several posters, a true component upgrade moves the system forward in multiple vectors. Any increase in resolving power brings with it other good qualities-- there can be no such thing as too much resolution.

On a separate point, compression in the production process detracts significantly from proper imaging. Recordings made without any compression(the CIMP jazz label is consistently a good example), are reminders that the depth/layering of a soundstage is communicated through nuances of fine detail at low volume levels. Instruments at the back of the performance space are perceived to be so, only if their subtleties of timbre are preserved at lower relative volume. Only a really quiet & high resolution playback system can reveal this convincingly.
Hmm. I agree with all of you. MrTennis, yes, timbre and tonality are critical, but as Shadorne mentioned, why settle for just that. There is absolutely no inherent reason why a system can't excell in tonality, timbre, PRAT, dynamics, imaging, soundstaging, and every other aspect of sonic performance all at the same time, why limit yourself to optimizing only one or two aspects of sonic performance. My goal is to have a good balance of all of the above, I'm not even sure I can place a priority on any one aspect, it seems I prioritize based on needs. For instance, a new analog setup has been doing many things correctly, but dynamics were sorely lacking, ie. I prioritized improving dynamics, job done, now something else will become the priority.

I agree that maximizing resolution is the key to upgrading all parameters of sonic performance. Each step up in resolution may expose a flaw that was previously hidden, and so you 'fix' that flaw and take a further step up in resolution, and so on.... And so, Dave is correct, "there can be no such thing as too much resolution." The worst case scenario is a bad recording sounds worse than before, that is the fault of the software.
I want it all.
My last statement about bad recordings sounding worse may in fact be wrong. My view on higher resolution and sonically challenged recordings has evolved over the years. I'm finding that high resolution may in fact improve the sound of many lesser recordings if that higher resolution is accompanied by a coincident improvement in the other sonic parameters. Lesser recordings can actually sound better than before.

If the higher resolution you're extracting results in a more palpable, organic sound, its all to the good for the lesser recording. I can't think of a single cd or album I've tossed in the past couple of years, I tossed perhaps 10% of my recordings prior. I've returned a number of times to these previously trashed recordings and found new life and interest in them. Perhaps there is no downside to properly balanced high resolution.
Sns, I agree totally with your last post. This has been my personal experience as well. I won't bore with details, but I have so many CD's of great performances (thats why I bought them) that are quite listenable now than I did just a few years ago and this is all related to an honest re-assessment of my real goals and expectaions. I keep digging out these old remastered analog and early digital recordings. Like having a gold mine of new unexpected treasures in the closet. :-) I have not found any that sound worse, or even as bad, as before and the ultimate resolution qualities of my system have made a major leap since I put them away.
I agree that some CD's thought lacking...are now listenable. The increase in overall resolution has given new insight for me into the engineering of the recording. As example...Ampex 300 3 channel recordings are obvious as are most or all recordings where Ampex electonics were used. Interesingly they are among ones I like best....along with Studer 800 series.
soundstaging is not real. when listening to a symphony orchestra from the last row, there is no localization. it is difficult or near impossible to hear individual violinists in the string session. rather one perceives a string ensemble.

regarding resolution. there is a roundness and defocus, when listening to an instrument from a distance. there is such a thing as too much resolution.

as an example, consider a photograph of the human face. 8i am not interested in observing the warts, wrinkles, scars, etc. . i would rather see a smooth face. applying this idea to audio, a defocus control is most useful. it is not a matter of frequency response. it is purely the desire to create a roundness, smoothness and plesantness to the sound of all recordings.

thus, i view a stereo system as an instrument, not a reproducer, just as an artist interprets i want to create a pleasant structure to whatever i hear.

most stereo systems sound very unrealistic and unnatural when compared to live music, and a focus control would be most helpful to redress the discrepancy between live and reproduced music.