What are we really trying to replicate?

Two questions:

(1) At what point does the level of an audio system exceed the level at which it was recorded and/or transferred to media? Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars to reproduce a record that is mass produced?

(2) When trying to replicate a concert, can speakers actually sound too good? I doubt most concerts have a equal level of sound quality compared to the systems represented on this forum, so is there a case to simply build a system that plays extrememly loud? How much unamplified live music (think symphony) is really available?
Well I think you have asked the $1,000,000 questions. IMO, there is no absolute sound because an individual's interaction with a live performance represents the sum total of so many unique variables; including psychological factors.

Just as you would never be fooled by the most technically adept photograph into thinking you are experiencing the outdoors, a stereo system will always fall short of the live event. The best we can hope for is the 'suspension of disbelief' so that we can transport ourselves to the time of the recording.
Assuming that an album is recorded well, I would expect the CD or vinyl on a quality audiophile system to sound better than an actual concert. If one were to close their eyes and somehow ignore everything but the music, most wouldn't be impressed I would suspect.

Things that are performed live without amplification, like the symphony, will always be impossible to duplicate.
I'm not trying to "replicate" anything. I strive to get my system to sound as natural and engaging to me as I possibly can, with the music I prefer to listen to in the room I listen in. Whether that replicates anything in particular, or whether or not it pleases anyone else, is entirely beside the point for me.

I completely agree that there is no absolute sound. Your preferences may be entirely different than mine and neither of us sets any bars for anyone else but ourselves.

The experience of listening at home is entirely different from listening to a live event at some venue. Those two experiences will absolutely never be the same, and there is your only "absolute". Most events that are amplified for the masses will not even hold a candle to the intimacy available on great system. Scaling a symphony orchestra just ain't gonna happen though...at least I haven't heard that yet. Better, or worse?!?...I don't know - it varies with the material and the moment. It has as much to do with me and my state of mind, expectations, etc, as it does with the presentation. I've been to many disappointing concerts as far as their acoustic presentation, and I most certainly would not want to strive for anything like that. I can become intimately engaged with music an moderate levels, as opposed to concert levels..I don't think that is necessarily a given either way. Again, no absolutes and potential for tremendous enjoyment at both levels. How can either sound "too good"? What happens then? Premature ejaculation? Sorry, I don't get it? OK, I do think I understand what you're talking about; I do think my system has the potential to sound much more intimate than most concert experiences, but that is part of the nature of high-end audio that draws me to pursuing it. When I listen to Joss Stone she sounds like she is right there in front of me...I wish she was. At a concert she may indeed be right there in front of me, but the piss poor amplification and or venue could entirely destroy that "intimacy". Jazdoc's standard of "suspension of disbelief" is certainly a pretty good goal to strive for.
Lets look at it from a way of not trying to reproduce the same loudness in your home.A live amplified concert that has good sound quality from sitting in the audience,has a lot different sound than it would close up.If you got within a few feet from their speakers,most would say that it sounds bad.In this case,distance does work wonders.If we put those amps and speakers in our home,we would have some fairly bad sound.That gear is made to satisfy the needs of a large area,and distance.If the recording engineer does a good job at capturing that recording,we want the best we can buy for our home system to give us a nice illusion of the original.Don't forget that we are a lot closer to our speakers,and hear imperfections a lot easier.We hope our home system does sound better than the recording we are listening to.There are always above average recordings that we would want to hear reproduced as good as possible.I don't think any system could sound too good for our home.If our gear isn't the best that could be had by us,what would we miss out on when we listen to above average,or superb recordings?A lot of us look for better mastered versions of the recordings we like.How can we have a system that sounds too good,as long as it sounds great to us?There are always new,or remastered recordings that give us the need to have the best gear we could obtain.I would think everyone that's here system is ready for that next great recording they run across.The major problem a lot of times is to find a great recording of the original performance done by the band or orchestra(musicians)of our choice.Loudness doesn't satisfy the listener if it sounds bad.
I can't speak for anyone but myself,so keep that in mind.I listen mainly to rock music and frankly,I don't want my system to sound like a live concert.Have you ever been to a rock concert?If you have then you know what I mean!!I go to concerts to hear the improvisation that most bands do during their live shows.I have only attended a few concerts that I would consider sounding as good as my system.Pink Floyd's "Animals" tour at the Olympia Halle in Munich,Germany stands out as one of those few.Opinions vary so you are surely free to disagree with mine.
I agree with your basic point. Few things irritate me more than attending a "live concert" and instead hearing the PA system, which is certainly inferior to my home system in all aspects but ultimate sound pressure levels.
Acoustic instruments are the result of centuries of evolution and refinement, and as previously noted, are impossible to reproduce. I applaud the "unplugged" movement in popular music. Unfortunately, however, PA amplification has intruded into many traditional acoustic music presentations, like opera and folk music. This robs the audience, especially the young audience, of discovering the difference.
(1) At what point does the level of an audio system exceed the level at which it was recorded and/or transferred to media?
I think the answer is simple, if you are looking at it incrementally you stop improving your audio system when the improvements stop adding to the enjoyment of the recorded music you listen too.
I've come to a very simplistic conclusion on this and it's that somehow the ear and brain knows when the music being played through a system sounds musically right and engaging. If your system does this, what else is there to strive for? There will always be recordings, as well as live concerts that just suck! I think in a good system, a studio recording should sound like you are listening to the music the way it was recorded in the studio and not how it sounded in an arena or stadium. Let's not forget that we don't close our eyes at live concerts, so the brain is also impacted visually. With all of the possible variables, it's up to you to either simplify or complicate
the matter. Watching a baseball game on TV can never be the same as being at the game, same thing for this striving for an Absolute Sound!
Watching a baseball game at home is much better because it can be turned off!

I should try to clarify that I'm not saying that a system can sound "too good" in the sense that I don't think people should even want better system, just that at some point we're investing more into playing something than was put in to produce it. Think of it as putting a doodle sketch in a 1,000 frame. Would it be worth it? Only if your kid drew it.

I'm not judging anyone for spending a ton on audio, I would happily spend more if I could justify it.

Have you ever had a bunch of people for a "music party" to specifically listen to an artist as though it was a concert at home? This could be either a true audiophile event in your audio room or an outdoor blast session.

Since I've had my speakers, I've had a few friends over several times to just sit on the couch and relax listening to music. It's an enjoyable time to be sure.
I should try to clarify that I'm not saying that a system can sound "too good" in the sense that I don't think people should even want better system, just that at some point we're investing more into playing something than was put in to produce it. Think of it as putting a doodle sketch in a 1,000 frame. Would it be worth it? Only if your kid drew it.

OK, this is pretty silly. It's either important enough to you to invest X$ into, or it is not. It's that simple. You could question the value of virtually anything that way. It's worth what you are willing to pay for it and that varies from person to person. I cannot afford to have Joss Stone perform in my living room whenever I'm in the mood to hear her. The illusion created by my system, to me, is remarkable, and well worth the investment. It's the next best thing to her being here....and way less expensive. I think my system cost much less than it cost to produce her last album as well. I have over 1000 other albums to listen to in my library at the push of a button, not just one. I don't think anyone's system here exceeds what it cost to produce even 1/10th of them. If someone's system does cost that much, so what? It's their passion and they have the means and dedication to invest in it. Arguably, this is all we get and it's pretty brief and fragile. What's not to get about pursuing a passion that gives one pleasure?

I don't get The doodle sketch metaphor. A frame is not an essential part of a doodle sketch. One can view it without any frame at all, and the frame does not add or subtract or change the actual sketch in any way, whereas the music played at home could not exist without the system it is played on - it would be so many various useless plastic discs. If you want to use that metaphor it would be closer to painting your listening room another color to alter your experience of listening in it. The sentimental attachment to a sketch your kid drew...well, what the heck does it have to do with your question?? Are you suggesting that the music we listen to at home is akin to a doodle sketch? If so, I don't even remotely agree.

Listening to music for me is a rather private enjoyment. I've shared it with friends who appreciate it, but I mostly enjoy it on my own. I imagine that everyone has their own ways of enjoying it. Not many folks I know are like me and actually like to spend time just sitting and listening, much less also share my particular tastes in what to listen to.
I'm beginning to realize that what I'm trying to convey simply is being lost in translation, that happens sometimes when a discussion can't be had face to face.

The origin of my thought process was a co-worker that simply asked me how one justifies the amount that we spend on equipment to play a record that may not have even cost a dollor to manufacture. What quality control is there on the production of vinyl? This is a guy that listened to my system and simply said it was worth whatever I paid for it.

I wish I could find the manufacturing show on TV again that I saw that detailed vinyl production now that I'm more interested.

Enjoy your systems!
strange point of view, would he feel greater justification if the record cost $500 to produce. Is my $70,000 auto only be justified when the price of gas is $50 a gallon???
my take
1) all the time. Most of the stuff I listen to was initially put out with Marshall stacks with a swarm of 2 inch paper tweeters and 12 or 15 inch woofers. I cant hang with the volume (Dont want to either) but from a quality standpoint my speakers can reproduce a wider spectrum with greater clarity than the speakers that made the noise in the first place.

2) Dont see how.
Cyclonicman - It's not a matter of me feeling better or not. Maybe a better way to make the comparison is to look at the level of engineering that goes into audiophile equipment and then realize that vinyl is a mass produced item. CDs provide whatever is recorded on them so that's not really an issue.

My experience is very limited, nearing zero, with vinyl which is why I'm asking questions. Has anyone had two seemingly identical records sound different? How much variation is acceptable from one to another?

A little background on me. I'm an engineer and almost always look at things differently from anyone else including my many engineering friends. My wife would tell you that I'm "broken." This isn't the first time, and won't be the last, that my thinking makes no sense to anyone else. Thankfully, I'm not always the odd one out.

This discussion has given me some different perspective to consider and that's the goal in the end.

I truly know that the investment in audio equipment yields improvements, no doubt about it.
"I doubt most concerts have a equal level of sound quality compared to the systems represented on this forum..." Mceljo

Have you ever attended a live symphony concert? If you haven't, try one...or more.
CD's are mass produced as well and not sure what you mean by CD's provide whatever is recorded on them. Many CD's will make your ears bleed and I don't think that is what was intended in the studio. I haven't been into vinyl for over 15 years although I still have many LPs. In the past, when one of my favorite mass produced albums was scratched or skipped or was just worn out, I would just purchase another one, which in some cases was 2 years later. The new replacement always sounded exactly the same as the old one, as it should, minus the scratches and skips and pops. I never experienced any variations in pressings from the same plant location. Some Japanese pressings may sound a little different than an American pressing of the same album, but I think if you were to replace a favorite Japanese pressed album with a new Japanese replacement, they would also sound similar.
I agree with Opus88 that attending live concerts is wise; not only for comparison purposes but for sheer enjoyment. Now live concerts vary - mostly by genre. The striking feature of live rock concerts, (although I admit the last one I went to was in 2002) is loud and impressive. To get the same effect you need a system that can do the same - loud, full bass etc. Classical symphony and opera on the other hand is pretty much in the other direction - does not sound loud in general - even at the loudest parts it still does not sound loud in the same way that a rock concert does, and it does not sound "impressive" - by that I mean it just sounds right but does not knock you out of your seat in the same way that a rock concert does. Not that one is better than the other - they are just different. Of course if you have never been to quite a few of either then it would be impossible to determine whether or not you are coming close to replicating the sound.
I've been to a couple of symphony concerts recently, but generally don't attend rock concerts because I don't enjoy that style of music or atmosphere. I'm the guy that prefers to watch the superbowl alone so I can enjoy rather than being distracted by the crowd and I feel the same way about music I guess. A few months ago I attended a David Garrett concert in Seattle and as amazing as it was I wished the sound system was better. The worst I've ever heard was the American Idol Season 1 tour in Seattle, horrible horrible horrible.

A friend of mine has been a symphony season ticket holder for the past 7 or 8 years and commented that my system was a close to the real thing as he had heard in someones living room. We've both heard better at our local Hi Fi store where my equipment is definitely closer to entry level stuff.
Mceljo: I tend to agree with you also as atmosphere for music and, for that matter, the sporting events. I have turned down free tickets to the Rose Bowl game and to NFL playoff games and when I go to the symphony, which is quite often, I listen like Karajan conducted- with my eyes closed the entire time. To me the crowd, driving there, parking, etc, are all simply a nuisance. I would like to point out that the goal of replicating the live event or the sound of the live event is only one possible goal of playing recorded music at home. Remember that unless you are listening to a recording of a live concert, what you have on the CD or LP is not one 'live' event anyway. Rather, you have a studio version which is perfected takes seamed together. So a certain extent hearing the real thing at home is kind of artificial to start with. A better question may be "Do you like the way music sounds on your system?"
I haven't invested tens of thousands of dollars so that I can play that vinyl record that was made poorly, but, rather, to listen to the music that was recorded exceptonally well. I think that we "audiophiles" concentrate on the better recordings. We all have old, poorly recorded ones that are dear to our hearts, and make us feel good when we listen to them but what gets my little hairs on the back of my neck raised are those incredible recordings. They make the musicians sound like they are in the room with me--or, I guess, like I am in thier room, with them.
Live Classical concert at Carnegie Hall!!
For me, it isn't about the volume, it's about the clarity and accuracy. Live un-amplified sound has a physical characteristic to it. My ideal system would be the one that best replicates this physical presence. Hence I look for dynamics, vocals, piano and strings.

I'm sure it's no surprise, but I much prefer acoustic performances to amplified performances.
Musicnoise, your comments are certainly on the mark. The sound experience at a live rock concert is entirely different from that at a symphony concert. Even at the highest sound/dynamic levels, the ears are rarely assaulted in the same way they are at rock concerts, which often use electronics equipment to further amplify the sound. I also agree with your point about raising the question, "Do you like the way music sounds on your system?" Indeed, that is THE most significant concern when listening to reproduced music at home. Notwithstanding, the live event is most often "a horse of a different color." It would take too much time and effort for me to relate how remarkable sounding the experience was for me and my friends at a recently attended concert, and it wasn't just the performances or the particular compositions either. Though I had heard wonderful sound at other concerts, I was unprepared for sound this glorious. I will remember it for a long time.
One thing that I've found is that every time I change speakers my listening preferences change a bit. With my Infinity IL-50s that had built in subwoofers allowed me to really enjoy music with powerful bass. My Focal 836v speakers have me leaning towards more simple classical type recordings where the detail is better. My favorite CDs are almost all a recording of a very small group. I have one particular David Garrett CD that has one song that is a solo violin piece that is recorded about as good as it possible. It's simply not possible for a symphony recording, no matter how well it's done, to have the level of detail.

This may sound strange, but when I first got my speakers I had the realization that a significant part of the quality was actually silence. The clarity of the Focals made me visualize my Infinity's running out of control like a car without shocks and not properly seperating the many distinct sounds. Am I explaining this so that it makes sense?
All I can advise is to save your time and money and never get wrapped up in this stuff. I can almost promise you it won't end well.
If you mean that there isn't an end to audiophile's journey, that's true.

I think that no matter what a person own they will eventually lose their excitement for it and think that something else sounds better when it might just be different.

As for my journey, I'm a half-baked audiophile so other than possibly obtaining an SACD player I don't see myself upgrading or changing anything until something stops working.
Two answers.

(1) There exist's a proven/quantifiable answer to your question, and let me let it be known by saying further, and first, and in conclusion, that the level of an audio system depends upon one simple factor. Unfortunatly, many variables exist for to confuse us. For simplicity, just consider the least/most important factor of which is the method used to level an audio system. For the sake of argument, and for ease of understanding and with an obvious lack of emphases on or an excess of consideration placed upon the questionable nature of said leveling procedure...level is always level, except when it is not.

Personally, I go oldschool and use a 12" bubble level atop all of an audio system. Laser options are said to exist which might result in an even further refinment of the leveling of an audio system.

Obviously, the level at which said leveling exceeds or conversely falls short with that of other said level of an audio system used for recording and/or transfer is when one or another of said level audio systems is out of level than other said leveled audio system, be it maufacturing audio system or transferred to media audio system. Quite simple to remember and understand. For your own sake, just be careful out there.

Let me begin by saying, you just get a level and measure an audio system and then a simple trip to the recording/manufacturing facilities with your leveling device will clear up any ambiquity.

Me, I've got music to listen to.

turns out, this question is a two part-er....

(1b) No, it does not make sense to spend thousands of dollars to reproduce a record that is mass produced. I repeat....Do not spend thousands of dollars to reproduce a mass produced record. Let the record company reproduce it for you, and then you will only have to spend around $10-30 for the record at your favorite local record store.

However, it DOES make sense to spend thousands of dollars upon many un-mass produced records. Try it out yourself and thank me later. Go on, I'll wait....

(2) Yes, speakers can actually sound too good. Amps cannot as well. Preamps too. Turntables, of course. CD players sure. Cables, but of course. MP-3's, no. Haircuts...maybe.

Do not question this logic, for your enjoyment will be diminished.

(f) You are wise to doubt most concerts have an equal level of sound quality compared to the systems on this forum. The disparity is downright stupid! I tried to compare one once and almost crapped my pants in confusion.

So rest easy knowing that you will save yourself much heartache and frustations with this understanding. I also almost venture to assuem that its safe to conclude that considering this is a forum for stereo systems designed for use in a home, not many PA systems are going to be considered for use in a home environment. Different horses for different courses??

(#)Yes a case can be built designed around the notion to help you damage your hearing. In fact, a case in not needed at all, a simple set of headphones would suffice. Just play music/noise as loud and as long as possible whilst wearing. Knock yourself out if that is your interest in replaying music at home, or on the go!

(x)Unfortunatly I cannot think symphony, or symphonic, its a character flaw, I know. But, I can answer you next question, about how much live unamplifed music is really available. obviously the answer is eleven.
Excellent response. Ever thought about getting into politics?
Oakleys, that was an absolute pleasure to read... especially the haircuts part. lol!

My response is a little simpler though. Unless you were at the recording studio listening to it being recorded live, how can you possibly know whatbits really supposed to sound like? So that's where I sit back And think about what goal I'm trying to reach.