The focus and air lie


There always have been some kind of fashion in the way a system sounds and since a few years it seems that more and more people are looking for details, air and pinpoint focus / soundstaging.
There's a lot of components, accessories and speakers designed to fill full that demand... Halcro, dCS, Esoteric, Nordost, BW, GamuT are some examples.

This sound does NOT exist in real life, when you're at a concert the sound is full not airy, the soundstage exist of course but it's definitely not as focused as many of the systems you can hear in the hifi shops, it just fill the room.

To get that focus and air hifi components cheats, it's all in the meds and high meds, a bit less meds, a bit more high meds and you get the details, the air, the focus BUT you loose timbral accuracy, fullness.
It's evident for someone accustomed to unamplified concert that a lot of systems are lean and far from sounding real.

Those systems are also very picky about recordings : good recordings will be ok but everything else will be more difficult...
That's a shame because a hifi system should be able to trasmit music soul even on bad recording.
In 2008 this is a very rare quality.

So why does this happened ?

Did audiophiles stopped to listen unamplified music and lost contact with the real thing ?

Is it easier for shops to sell components that sounds so "detailled and impressive" during their 30mins or 1 hour demo ?
ndeslions
It probably happened because audiophiles (as opposed to music lovers?) feel t hey are missing out on something if they cant wring every last iota of detail out of their recordings. I would rather have timbral accuracy and the richness of the body of a cello or acoustic guitar than detail down to the sub-atomic level (ok, only kidding), but if ultra-detail is what you derive ultimate enjoyment from, who are any of us to be nay-sayers?--Mrmitch
another reason to go tubes.
Larry
Audiophiles that stay in the hobby long term, go through many phases of appreciation....I know I have.

Some things stay with you, because they are important to the enjoyment of music, other things get tossed aside because you find that they are not important to the enjoyment of music...(although they may be interesting...for a while).

You said...."This sound does NOT exist in real life"

Live music:

Small rooms, and small room acoustics, are nothing like large venue, large venue acoustics. Unless you listen to all of your "live music" in your living room (or dedicated room)...forget trying to reproduce "that" sound (it's not going to happen).

pinpoint focus / soundstaging:

Unless you have your speakers spread at least 20' apart, and 15' out...you don't have room for a "real" soundstage. (SACD/DVD-Audio surround, would be as close as you could get).

Recording quality:

The dynamic range of even the best example, is a poor rendition of the real thing. (and probably a good thing...because your components and speakers could not handle it).

I could go on and on...but I won't.

Dave
Ndeslions, many things have happened: indeed people have lost contact with the real thing - - unamplified music is not popular. I want the illusion of real musicians playing real instruments in my living room. Getting there is not easy, since so much live music is amplified, and so much recorded music is the processed cheese of amplified instruments recorded and then mixed.

True high fidelity is the presentation of music from real, actual stereo recordings. The playback equipment and speakers sonically disappear.

A while ago, audio writer Jeff Day (who wrote for 6moons, now for PFO) summed up his perspective:

"Hifi equipment that possesses exceptional musicality is equipment that emphasizes the musical aspects of a recorded performance over the non-musical artifacts of the recording process. For example, the timbral signature of a band, the melodic flow of music over time in a song, and delivering the full emotional impact of music are considered to be more important than the exaggeration of the non-musical artifacts of the recording process such as soundstaging, transparency, imaging and extreme detail recovery that has found favor in equipment voiced for audiophiles."

I think Jeff needs to look more closely at the recording process to find the starting point of where things go wrong, but there so much I do agree with.

I believe music lovers can get the very best in audio reproduction, but too many factors are beyond their control.
I agree that many audiophiles have completely lost touch with what live music sounds like, in any type of venue, and that it is easier for salesmen to sell the details.

However, Nedslions is I think confusing some of his terms. Granted that audiophiles define terms differently, here are a couple of examples.

When "air" is spoken of, this is usually taken to mean the sense of space that exists in a concert hall or club that surrounds the instruments and audience. This sense of fullness you speak of, Nedslions, and the sense of the sound filling a real space, is what most are talking about when they refer to air, and a system you describe that is "too focused" would be lacking in air. So "air" certainly exists in any live performance venue (though not in most recording studios nowadays, which deliberately eliminate as much air as they can, and are usually "too focused"). Think of air as a component of the soundstage. It is also closely related to what many call "imaging," which is the ability to determine exactly where each individual instrument is located within that space.

A big part of the reason that audiophiles have lost the things you speak of is that most everything is digitally recorded in a dead studio space - this "detailed" sound is much easier to recreate than say a live symphony orchestra in a great concert hall. And even orchestras are not recorded nearly as well nowadays in their halls as they were when everything was still done in analog with tubes, as larryken implies. The truly ironic thing is that this so-called "detailed" sound is actually much less detailed, since so much ambient sound, which is so important to the recreation of live music, is taken away.
Learsfool, your comments on the "real space" are exactly right. The contribution of the environment in which the recording was made can't be underestimated. IMHO, after the placement of microphones, it's the second critical factor.
Learsfool : when i talk about "air" i mean the space between instruments sensation.
I call "atmosphere" what you call "air"... just a problem of words.
one problem is the designers who may be motivated by fear of poor reviews. thus products are designed to extract every bit of data on the recording.

many of the products of 20 + years ago create a more timbrally realistic presentation than those in current production.

as has been said recordings are also part of the problem.
I don't think recordings are the main problem.
The problem is that components cheats to give illusion that they extract every bit of data. The more they cheat the less they sound balanced and balance is the key imo.
It's the most important quality.
unfortunately, today, the first impression...is the only impression.
Ndeslions speaks a lot of truth.

I have auditioned so many mega $$$ digital sources and amps that has this phenomena. Etched and focussed sound images. Mostly stripped of air soundstage.

Real live music (non amplified for the most part) has plenty of air around notes (Sounds basically generates by movement of air, Duh!). The more instruments on stage playing, the more the air movement. Sometimes so much that some high freq can even sound blurred-not so etched) when played in sync with bassey sounds. this is due to interaction of sound field (moved air) This moved air bounces off rear and side walls and propels forward. You can feel the air in your face and body if you are seating in front rows.
I guess I can't see why studio recordings would not have 'some' air during recording sessions. It got to in order to produce sound. May be not as much as normal venue since the walls probably are much absorptive. But there is still lot of air has to be to produce sound/s. So it comes down to recording process and recording equipment and/or Reproducing components. The fact that some components do a good job of reproducing the air tells me that it might be, for the most part ( and recording process to certain extent) the component's design be the culprit, as Ndeslions says.
"You can feel the air in your face and body if you are seating in front rows"
ahh that would be something else...make sure you don't inhale---anymore

hi-fi systems are not necessary to get the "soul" of the music...you are either moved emotionally by a song or not. How many of you heard a song for the first time on a high end system and felt emotional with it right then and there, vs the stuff you hear on radios, cars, stores, live venues....etc. For me, everything that I love i've heard 99.9% elsewhere (outside of my system).

Most hi-fi systems that i've heard and assembled (until now) snare us to listen to the top recordings only, and head for the door, or volume ctrl on inferior recordings (wide, flat bandwidth, neutral equipment...etc).
For me there is usally an inverse relationship b/t recording quality and how I REALLY feel about the music. So, the typical high-end vision of the "purist" approach has screwed me somewhat; I love the equipment, love those times when the magic combination is in play, but i'm sometimes repulsed by the expense and effort to, in the end not, have something that brings me maximum joy for the music I love the most. The large scale abandonment of truly high quality analog tone circuits is one primary cause to the merry go round, I suspect for a lot of folks.
hi dpac996:

a great tune is a great tune, regardless of sound quality.

i can listen to music on a radio and get what ever the composer intended as i would on a "high end" stereo system.
the only difference between the two is the sound, not the emotional content. i can recognize a clarinet on a boom box. it may sound more "authentic" on a stereo system.
music is still music, regardless of the medium.

regarding air, i believe one hears notes not the air. air is silent. go outside your house or appartment building. do you hear air ?
HiFi and high-end audio have NEVER, EVER, EVER come close to the sound of live music, and don't seem to be necessarily any closer now.

The point made about soundstaging is particularly relevant; hyperdetail as well. Real, live music has neither of these. Conversely, live music has dynamics and flow that are not produced accurately by ANY high-end audio system I have ever been around.

In my opinion, when it comes to loudspeakers, those that possess the necessary dynamics and instaneous swings in volume, for example, horns, tend to sound far more agressive, brash, and threadbare than real life, while those that can reproduce the proper timber, liquidity, relaxed nature, voluptuousness, or flow such as electrostatics (which often overshoot the mark) are woefully inadequate when it comes to dynamics and being able to reproduce both the suddenness and power of the real thing. Typical cone/dome speakers fall somewhere in the middle of those two, determined mostly by their crossovers and/or their drive units.

Bottom line, perfection does not exist today when it comes to audio. And, it doesn't seem imminent on the horizon, either. So, in the effort to get as close to whatever idea of such exists in our minds, we chase after that which we believe lines up best with that - be it soundstaging, clarity/resolution, timbre, immediacy, liquidity, fullness, dynamics, etc. Sure it's incorrect, and sometimes wildly so, but it's the best we can do for now.
Ndeslions,

To get that focus and air hifi components cheats, it's all in the meds and high meds, a bit less meds, a bit more high meds and you get the details, the air, the focus BUT you loose timbral accuracy, fullness.

The technical term is a "scooped midrange' - it has been extremely successful in high end audio. Add a metal tweeter and you can often achieve an "etched" sound.

If you are after timbral characteristics more than a wow soundstage, ambience or atmasphere then try to audition a Harbeth or ATC speaker. Internally damped drivers like pulp paper cones or polypropylene or doped fabrics seem to work well at preserving the timbral information on the recording - these are all very old as the hills type speaker designs. I am not a fan of newer metal or ceramic cones (often ringing issues) unless you go for the best designs like accuton. Because of the preponderance of two way designs with 6" woofer/mid drivers the midrange scoop is the most common sound from speakers today (a large cone will tend to beam in the midrange leading to a midrange scoop and an emphasis in upper mids and air when you listen far field).

I may be barking up the wrong tree but this is likely part of your problem.
In my opinion, when it comes to loudspeakers, those that possess the necessary dynamics and instaneous swings in volume, for example, horns, tend to sound far more agressive, brash, and threadbare than real life, while those that can reproduce the proper timber, liquidity, relaxed nature, voluptuousness, or flow such as electrostatics (which often overshoot the mark) are woefully inadequate when it comes to dynamics and being able to reproduce both the suddenness and power of the real thing. Typical cone/dome speakers fall somewhere in the middle of those two, determined mostly by their crossovers and/or their drive units.

Trelja,

Your point about horns and electrostats is valid. The fact that cone/dome speakers fall in between may explain why they are the most successful and popular form of speaker. To me the closest you can get to the dynamic realism of live sound today (with a quality that approaches the timbral accuracy of some electrostatics) would be ATC's but I would agree with you that nothing out there is perfect. I would add that most people are not looking for "live" type sound at home and prefer something much more relaxing.
The audiophile curse***

Basically many like to say "we all hear differently"

The actual truth is we have varying degree's of deafness :-)

Just nobody admits that part of it
Undertow,

The audiophile curse***

I agree about the Armani purse.

Basically many like to say "we all hear differently"

Agreed. Many like to stay with anjou pear, definitely

The actual truth is we have varying degree's of deafness :-)

And of course, most are wearing dungarees of denim! What else are dunagrees made from these days!

BTW - What happened to the Economy and Hi-fi thread - did it get zapped? - the silence on that front is deafening!
Shad, I was wondering about that too...looks like there was some inside scoop and the powers that be, well, beed.
Too bad as that was one of the better exchanges we've seen in some time.
holy cr@p...i agree completely with mr tennis
Mr. Tennis and Jaybo - both Nilthepill and myself posted descriptions of what is referred to as "air" in descriptions of sound by audiophiles earlier in the thread. And yes, you do hear it - only in an airless vacuum does no sound exist.
i can listen to music on a radio and get what ever the composer intended as i would on a "high end" stereo system.

What? You can't be serious. Do you just listen to melodies then? What about the musicians and conductor and arrangement? I mean bass guitar riffs not hidden behind the drums on rock. I mean to be able to follow precisely the contribution of each instrument throughout an entire complex piece with 11 or more band members or a whole orchestra?

Sorry but I don't agree at all. You need both a good recording and a good system to really hear deep into the music. Of course, if you only concentrate on lead guitar and the lead singer and pretty much ignore the rest as mere backing instruments then I do agree.
Mr Tennis,

On second thoughts I guess I must add that I probably listen very differently from most people. I listen to recordings and concentrate on a particular individual instrument and then play it again listening to another. Perhaps this is why I like studio speakers so I can hear deep into the mix as opposed to having the more general overall pleasant warm sound. So I know what you mean about simply enjoying the "tune" or "melody" and nothing more (for which a radio is sufficient)
the definition of music is the salient consideration.
a radio will present most of what you need to get achieve an emotional connection.

the difference between a high and low resolution medium is just that, resolution.

if you are focused upon accuracy of reproduction, than i would agree with you. however, much of the purpose of the music is transmitted by means of a radio.
Ndeslions: I agree that the sound of most systems is not the same as a live concert. I would extend that proposition to include all systems. Listening to reproduced music in private is not the same thing as listening to live music in a concert hall for a host of reasons - acoustic as well as psychological.

If one wants to hear live music in a concert hall, one must listen to live music in a concert hall. Included in that experience is the person next to you rusting his or her program from time to time and the guy behind you coughing every now and then - all part of the sound. Not to mention the spontanaity of the event. There are advantages and disadvantages in both reproduced sound experienced with no distractions at user controlled volumes that can be listened to repetitively, and a live performance - but these two ways of enjoying music are fundamentally different.

As to sound "quality" of a recording - that is only a part of experiencing music. Some of the recordings that I find to be the best interpretations of a piece were made from radio broadcasts in the 1940's and 50's or otherwise poor recordings- the sound quality is not great but the interpretation can be heard regardless. For example - Beethoven's 9 by Vanska recently released- great sound, dead interpretation; Beethoven's 9 by Furtwangler in Berlin during the war - poor sound, great interpretation. Each has its place.
I also agree with Mrtennis' point about music.

The MUSIC is in your head. As he says, even a clock radio will convey that, and the emotional connection to the piece. That's why although the vast majority of people have a deep relationship to music, they are happy enough with the stereo in their cars, those glorified boomboxes that are passed off as systems today, or going to a concert in a club or stadium where the sound is abysmal.

We are the lunatic fringe who demand to get as close as humanly possible through electronics because of our passion, stupidity, etc.
Mrt/Trel, right on the money.
What's funny/sad is that there is a body of audiophools who assume they are more passionate about music than the dude jamming on an iPod (plain old snobbery)...in any event who cares. We all listen differently, and as Shad pointed out he likes listening piecewise to determine the elements that constitute the 'sound'. Me, I like hitting play and not thinking, but just content to be immersed in a wall of sound.
Lately, however, i've been really bent and upset with the approach i've taken over the years, that of the "purist". I've since discovered DEQ/DRC and my eyes/ears have been opened. Played out, are my days (of) obsessing about power cords, subtle differences among line level "neutral" preamps, or interconnect minutia. I'm so burned out by this approach I almost ditched it all. These tiny "voicing" inflections PALE in comparison to the real changes (hugely positive) I've been experiencing with DSP equalisation. Sorry if I seem like i'm shouting, but this is way too cool and important to not share. If this approach is embraced by more of us it will gain traction. There are a few experienced audiphiles here that have embraced this technology already. I would love to see a whole new category on audiogon about this. In turn, of course, we will generate new details ( do i have the optimal filter functions, what filter lengths are best, how clean was the phantom power supply to my recording mic) to feed our obsession -lol
Happy trails



if you are focused upon accuracy of reproduction, than i would agree with you. however, much of the purpose of the music is transmitted by means of a radio

If you are referring to my post then you are incorrect. I am not trying to hear "accuracy". As accuracy for accuracy sake has absolutely no value to me.

I am actually trying to hear the notes, accents and timing of each individual musician - to hear exactly what they are doing.

Between a radio and a high end system there is complete night and day in being able to hear what is actually going on.
hi shadorne:

if you are concerned with the details of the presentation of the music, you may miss the broader purpose or communication of the music, like the contrast between a forest and the trees.

it seems that you are more interested in the parts than the whole.

a rado or other low resolution medium will give you the forest and the important components of the music. as you indicate, you will not be able to pursue your goal listening to a radio.

by the way, if a stereo system is sufficiently colored you will not attain your goal. i would think that accuracy would be important to you.
I attend over 50 acoustic concerts a year and I hear harpsichord and piano played in my house. I agree there is something wrong with the audio ecology. I rarely "image" when listening to speakers and when I do it is flat - that is, the emphasis on left-right illusion reduces the height illusion.

OTOH I have heard remarkable timbral accuracy from reproduction and I think it does correlate to "air" in systems like Gamut, Thiel, Earthworks and Lipinsky - tweeters with "ultrasonic" capability, but no metal resonance. Further, when I am impressed with reproduction a lot of my peers consider it "harsh".

To me there are few recordings with accurate spatiality and timbre. Most of what I listen to is either European boutique classical labels (BIS, AliaVox, Harmonia Mundi, etc.), audiophile like Chesky, Mapleshade and Jon Marks or select jazz producers like Carl Jefferson and Manfred Eicher. The recording quality comes through on mediocre systems - my living room for example is set up with plastic cabinet B&W DM305 and B&K AV2500, a chip based "contractor" amp!

Recording technique - I prefer near-coincident pair - seems to matter more to suspension of dis-belief than listening to, for example, a Rudy van Gelder production on my Ayre AX-7 driving Tag-McLaren Calliopes.
So what is the alternative?
Mrtennis, then why have an expensive stereo? You have made a good case for not having one.
"On second thoughts I guess I must add that I probably listen very differently from most people. I listen to recordings and concentrate on a particular individual instrument and then play it again listening to another"

Shadorne, I tend to focus more on different individual or group played lines or elements in the music when I listen also.

Some of these may be more prominent in the mix or buried way back in the mix somewhere.

I suspect a lot of people do this.

One big goal that drives my system design is to be able to do this as often as possible without limitation with as many different recordings (both good and bad) as possible.

Sometimes I'll just listen for specific parameters of the overall sound as well, more so when I suspect that some specific aspect of the detail I am focused in on does not sound right for some reason.
I go to lots of concerts both classical, rock, popular, etc. In all types of concerts except for classical, the sound is amplified, and comes at the audience from many directions, and therefore that magic that we call air is not available except for an electronic echo that is ubiquitous in almost all of these venues. In classical musical concerts, however, it is possible to achieve that magical sound that we say is "air" if we find the seat(s) that can maintain the proper phase of the performance. That means that you should choose a seat in the 1st row of the balcony, with no ceiling or second balcony above yours. You will find these seats to be absolute magic and will give you a memorable performance in sound quality. You will notice that you are in perfect alignment with the recording microphones of the orchestra.
it seems that you are more interested in the parts than the whole.

No I would say that as a music lover I am interested in both. How the parts fit together to make a whole is one of the most interesting aspects of complex musical pieces. It is why I have several version of the same pieces of music and it is interesting to compare and contrast how they are played differently (even if the melody is the same).

I think some people hear only "melodies" when they listen to music whilst others hear things like the relative timing of specific notes, instruments and their relative emphasis.

Like in any field, there is a superficial level and a detailed level. An engineer might marvel at the visual beauty of a bridge spanning a river in the same way as a layman but the same engineer may also be looking at structural details and complexity: the engineer may marvel at the beauty of how it was designed, clever use of materials and how well it has been constructed.

There is nothing wrong with being a layman but to suggest that listening to music on a radio is good "enough" is to ignore an entire aspect of the beauty of the creation process and the artistry of the musicians.

Frankly, the hyper compressed garbage being put out by major labels on CD these days (particularly in the pop genre) means you can't tell a Keith Moon from John Bonham from adam. The sound is so clipped and gated and manipulated that it becomes irrelevant who the musicians are! Unfortunately, layman don't know the difference and don't care to know the difference => and we get what we deserve: the lowest common denominator in music reproduction - mostly manipulated noise completely lacking subtlety or artistic expression from highly trained and skilled musicians!
Shadorne, I tend to focus more on different individual or group played lines or elements in the music when I listen also.

I think that any audiophile would necessarily want to do this but I begin to suspect that many are just proud collectors of shiny glowing cabinets, cables with precious metal and veneered towers that come with high price tags. Like a Rolex watch - it begins to have very little to do with teh accurate telling of time and much more to do with pride of ownership - the feeling of exclusivity - a conversation piece.

A high resolution system is just jewellery if there is absolutely no interset in listening to details, IMHO.
Testify, brother Shadorne, testify!

I like nice looking things as much as the next guy, but the irony is that good looks is not required for good sound though many may equate the two.

Good sound can be had for not very much if you really just pay great attention to the details.
"That means that you should choose a seat in the 1st row of the balcony, with no ceiling or second balcony above yours. You will find these seats to be absolute magic and will give you a memorable performance in sound quality"

I have had some of the best experiences at the symphony in seats like these.

In a good venue, like the Meyerhoff in Baltimore, these can be forward and to the side of the stage and not necessarily dead center. The perspective on the performance will be different but the sound still top notch.
I like nice looking things as much as the next guy, but the irony is that good looks is not required for good sound though many may equate the two.

To quote the fab four, "What do you see when you turn out the light?"
hi cdc:

i have answered this question already. i will answer it again, as it gets at the purpose for having a stereo system.

there is music and sound.

an expensive stereo system provides the opportunity to appreciate the sounds of instruments--their timbre, for example. it provides an opportunity to appreciate the qualities that audiophiles value highly, such as resolution and soundstage.

however, the ability to benefit from listening to music does not depend upon its sound quality. there are articles in journals which corroborate my assertion.

therefore, a low resolution meedium is sufficient for enjoying music and a high resolution medium is necessary to minimze errors in the transmission of sound.

i hope i have answered your question.
I say it depends on what you are listening too. R&B(which I listen too)in a jazz club atmosphere sounds real similar to what I am able to recreate at my home. It depends on what your standard of live music is. Go get a MTV unplugged CD set and listen,you will be surprised in a top flight system with lights off at night how you can recreate that event.

So again,it depends on the venue you are using as a standard.
ah, it's all relative i suppose. when i've been in graduate school i always found that those from developing countries listening to boom boxes always seemed to enjoy music, be transported, deeply affected, etc., more than their spoiled first world counterparts. i have no doubt that better and better speakers do not mean those listening to them appreciate music any more, often less, than those with far less. perhaps having less, having to struggle, face REAL adversity, makes good music (any art form really), not good sound, that much more enriching. if one can see that art is often the product of a sort of pain or angst, longing, alientation, etc., then it would make sense that cultures in which oppression is commonplace would relate more to art than those of us for whom music (art) is merely yet another leisure activity. frankly i find the notion that the genuine appreciation of music rests on one's income/technological advancement disturbingly flawed and nonsensical on its face, a real non-starter.
OMG, we are on an audiophile website and people are actually arguing that a boombox is better suited to appreciate music to the greatest possible extent....go figure!

Perhaps we don't even need ridiculously expensive musical instruments to really appreciate music - after all vocals and clapping are more then enough - who cares for a nice sounding steinway - after all expensive things like pianos are just a nonsensical rich diversion for those who are unable to appreciate music....
shadorne, i never said a boombox is better suited to anything. what i said had to do with debates over the location of and access to the soul of music, or any art for that matter. sorry you are so shocked by this perspective, but your criticism is still disingenuous and unfair, though obviously one is free to appreciate music for any reason whatsoever, as such appreciation is by definition purely subjective. i just don't think any coherent case can be or ever has been made that in general those with better stereo equipment are thereby able to (or for that matter actually do) appreciate MUSIC more than those with inferior equipment, though only coincidentally this will be the cases in many instances. it is actually just an extension of the exact same argument one audiophile uses when he rejects a more expensive and better speaker or amp or whatever as not worth the cost while another finds it absolutely worth the cost. do you honestly think this indicates the latter's greater joy in or appreciation of music? just because one person can hear more nuance of timbre or dynamic range has no bearing over whether he will thereby appreciate music more than someone who cannot. (importantly, i'm not saying that when a single person hears less and then hears more, he won't appreciate the more, only than comparisons between two separate minds are, from any reasonable psychological and philosophical standpoint, quite impossible. this also doesn't mean that this greater appreciation can't be achieved either by never hearing more or hearing more and then having to go back to hearing less.) sorry if i offended you or interfered with the flow of this thread. you are correct that it has nothing to do with audiophilia, but nevertheless i believe it is correct.
Walk outside your house at 3am and listen to the birds chirping. One is three feet away and the other is thirty feet away. Ten more are in between. How do you tell they are separated? What is between them? How many terms does it take?
sorry, one last effort to make clear what seems obvious: as with all art, the appreciation of music, any music, must have AT LEAST as much to do with the person listening (and all that "a person" entails, which is so so SO much more, including variable, than whether one has or has not heard a given level of fidelity), than the instruments or other machines (re)producing the sound waves that make up the music. any effort to refute this diminishes art via reductionism, scientism, and determinism.
i should add that such efforts not only diminish art, but NOT coincidentally (because the two are inextricably bound together), they also diminish (via the same reductionism, etc.) what it means to be human.
hi thomp9015:

your statement about the sociology of enjoying music is without merit. no one can get inside another's brain and heart, and generalizing to cultures , at best, is highly conjectural and without any shred of evidence.

the statement is divisive and does not advance communication between humans.

it is best to confine oneself to behavior and words and not try to interpret what we do not see.
What this discussion demonstrates is that there are a lot of ways to appreciate music and what is listened to in music depends on the listener. Resolving every detail will require different system specs than hearing the artists interpretation of a piece but lack of those resolving aspects will not prevent one from appreciating that interpretation. System accuracy is a high priority for some. Others prefer to listen to systems that themselves change the music and thus participate in the creation of art - hence the popularity of tube amps ( that statement is not intended as a negative judgment as to tube amps, but merely to be taken at face value).
First row balcony - this sounds like a reasonable choice in a tall but not too deep hall with 1500-2500 seats listening to 19th Century compositions. Tchaikovsky in Carnegie, for example. In Fisher Hall the balcony is mushy, but then the whole hall sounds like steamy oatmeal. Even in narrow but deep Boston the balcony has less articulation than my preferred seats which are usually 10th row center.

I mainly go to smaller venues because of the intimacy and clarity. I also prefer Baroque sized orchestras - five to twenty five players. Try Jordan Hall during the Boston Early Music Festival, chamber music in Weill Auditorium or Zankel Hall. The latter does not have a mediocre seat in the house. Just leave if they use speakers - halls that have reverberation designed for acoustic music sound awful with reinforcement.

This is how I like recordings too - definition and subtle detail in reproduction. Pinpoint imaging? No! That is an exaggeration of any live situation and always has bad trade-offs.

I adore crispness in the direct sound, spatial accuracy and proper roll-off in the echoes (air absorbs high frequencies) from a good impulse response - is that a quantifiable attribute that resembles "focus and air"?

I seek sonic intimacy as defined by Beranek but I have yet to hear anything resembling "warm" or "fat" that was not a distorted impediment between myself and the musicians. Most tube amps sound veiled or muddy, as do most halls. This euphonia is the lie to me.