What is your Reference?

Discussion in 'Auto-EQ Platforms / Immersive Audio Codecs' started by Matthew J Poes, Oct 9, 2018.

  1. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    I thought it might be interesting to put out a thread on how we tune our systems. What is our reference? This is really more all-encompassing than just EQ, as acoustics, speakers, etc. play a role. However, I was inspired to ask this by a recent discussion I had with a friend, @James Larson .

    I'm sure many of you have heard about the circle of confusion, the notion that we as listeners/consumers are trying to recreate the sound the engineers/artists intended in the studio, but where the studio's themselves are a) not following any standards, and b) often seeking to make their recordings sound best on our consumer equipment. The obvious problem is that we are shooting for an accurate portrayal of the "live" or "real" event, yet we have no idea what that is. Honestly, these engineers themselves may have no idea.

    Yet something musical or movie related has somehow led us to a set of beliefs and passions around sound, about what we want in our system. We have a reference. It might just be someone else's system, it might be a live concert (or many), it might just be what we personally think sounds good.

    For me it is very much real music mixed with what I happen to think sounds good. I'm really not that concerned with how accurate my system is to some arbitrary standard, it's my system, if it sounds good to me, meets my needs, I'm happy. However that happiness has been corrupt through hearing certain real live events which, as I said earlier today, raised the bar on good sound. I was recently reminded of a Jazz concert I went to at a small jazz bar in New York City that had three very famous Hammond B3 players. Everything was amplified, as it should be, but amplified using the natural process. The guitar was an electric jazz guitar and what I heard was his amp, not his amp miked through a larger PA system. Each Hammond was an original tube amplifier and speaker with Leslie. That is what I heard, it wasn't miked. Drums were natural, no amplification as far as I remember. The voices were miked and played back through speakers. It had a very natural sound to it, it was probably the most intimate jazz concert I've ever been to. What struck me was two things, the natural decay of the instruments in this room, it was unlike anything I'd heard before. Second, how LOUD everything was. The kick drum had some real "kick" to it, I could feel it. The Hammond bass lines shook the room, they were loud, the dynamic range was huge. It forever changed my perception of what jazz and Hammonds are supposed to sound like.

    How about you?
     
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  2. tesseract

    tesseract Senior Admin
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    I am a multi-instrumentalist and if I have not played it, I have sat right next to someone that has, all unamplifed and amplified. That is my touchstone. Hearing a reasonable facsimile is what drew me into our hobby, something few audio systems set up by those not into the hobby achieve. As a result, few get a proper introduction into reproduced sound.
     
  3. Sonnie

    Sonnie Senior Admin
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    I think it depends on what we listen to. If it's Casandra Wilson live... then I think I may be hearing what it sounds like to hear her live when I tune my system... based on what I've heard in small jazz clubs in the past, which has been very limited. However, I would NEVER EVER want to listen to Pink Floyd like what I heard at their concert... or even the Eagles like I heard at two of their concerts. The CD sounds miles better in my opinion. Even the Eagles Farewell Tour Live from Melbourne sounds better than what I heard live sitting front row center. Others may disagree... and that is their choice, but I know what I like... and I'd much rather hear the rendition in my own room... I prefer the way it sounds.

    I was a ticket broker for quite a few years... sold tickets to 100's of different concerts over those years. I was able to attend a lot of concerts in a host of different venues, as we had unsold tickets to nearly every event that we had to go try to sell. In most cases we would have tickets left over and/or hold a few of the best seats so we could go in and check out the show. Some sounded okay, but none of them sounded as good as what I hear in my room today. In most of the concerts we attended, the atmosphere just wasn't appropriate to get a good listen. Smaller venues were better, but they still weren't ideal in most cases. I suspect there are a lot of those people attending those events that love what they hear, but have never heard music on a good system... as about 95% of the system setups I see are more for movies and would have a hard time sounding good for two-channel listening. What's even more sad is it seems like a good percentage of the manufacturers and their reps can't get their systems to sound that good at many of the audio fest shows. I see how many of the big time reviewers have speakers setup in really weird looking rooms, similar to what I see at the shows... leaves me scratching my head at how they could possibly get the best out of those speakers for a legitimate review. I really believe there are a lot of people that haven't heard music on a really good system so that they could have the honest opportunity to compare it to a live event. I am not saying they would necessarily like it better, just that it wouldn't be a fair comparison until they have heard a good system.

    Of course all of this comes as possibly a bit unfair to the venues, as it has been a while since I've been to a live show, outside of what little I've heard at some of the audio shows, which probably wasn't ideal either. Perhaps they've gotten a lot better, but I'm not the person to fight the crowds at concerts anymore... just like I'd rather watch the Tide roll on TV rather than fight that mess at the football stadiums on Saturdays.
     
  4. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    I’m with you Dennis. I don’t have your musical spread, but I’ve certainly played or heard my share of instruments. Both amplified and not. I honestly think people would be shocked what a real trumpet, saxophone, cello, violin, etc with all the harmonics and natural reverb. Even a Piano, I’ve never heard a piano accurately captured on disc. They can surely sound great, but it’s never the same.
     
  5. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Sonnie that had to be a cool experience. I’ve gone to my share of concerts, but certainly not 100’s.

    I have heard live events that I think create a reference for a reproduced sound, but I will absolutely agree that I’ve never heard any kind of rock, pop, or blues show that sounded great. They are often pretty poorly eqed, way too loud, compressed, and often distorted. I recently attended a Santana concert that was honestly horrific sound wise. Santana was as great as ever, the music had great feel to it, a lot of soul and rhythm, but the sound quality was horrific. I’m certain the person who tuned that system had hearing damage or over-compensated for human body HF absorption.

    I do think recent advancements in concert sound has allowed drastic improvements. The problem now is we need to wait for all the old timers who have failed to embrace this technology to retire. The modern speaker designs, improved output and bandwidth, better Polar response, and most of all, drastically improved DSP, has allowed live sound to sound really decent. It’s never quite equaled the best home system I’ve heard, but it’s starting to come awfully close.

    How much of the performance quality matters here? It is very possible that my preference for live jazz and blues is nothing more than the superior performance. I really believe modern recording techniques has killed the way artists play together. These music genres thrive on improvisation, but that is very hard to do with multitrack, over dubbing, sampling, etc.
     
  6. tesseract

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  7. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    That looks pretty awesome. I have a similar thing here’s. They do a free blues festival in Chicago. The sound system is actually pretty high tech, sounds more natural than most outdoor venues. Still not eqed to my liking, but then, I tend to think everyone’s speakers are a bit bright.
     
  8. AudiocRaver

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    Go into a music store or pawn shop and get permission to bang on some cymbals with sticks. If a speaker can deliver complex cymbal sounds with that kind of clarity, they are off to a good start.
     
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  9. Matthew J Poes

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    That is a fair point. I love drums, but I will be honest in saying I am not as familiar with the correct sound for drums as I am for others. Especially fine aspects like cymbal sound.

    While researching this topic for a tech article I looked into actual studies of the volume of instruments. All done to assess musician noise dosage. I was pretty amazed to learn how loud some instruments really are. Cymbals hit relatively softly at about 1-2 meters are just around 90-100dB, but hit really hard, as might happen during a crescendo in the music, could exceed 115-120dB. There was debate about these numbers, but let's take them as the high end of possible. How many speakers can reproduce that? Practically none.

    A full orchestra measured in the first row of seating exceeded 130dB's during the crescendo. In fact, the duration of that peak was so long the authors concluded that it would likely cause instant hearing damage. I'm not suggesting we should have speakers that can cause instant hearing damage, just that reproducing the real event with speakers is impossible. Instead its always some facsimile. I'm a big dynamics person, that adds to realism for me, so peak output without hearing damage is important, as is listening at the right "realistic" level. Since I can't afford front row seats to the symphony my volume preference is more 3rd Balcony.
     
  10. tesseract

    tesseract Senior Admin
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    As a drummer and audio enthusiast, I can say that no speaker can reproduce the immediate crescendo and decay of that instrument, or any, really. Piano is another great audio acid test (another instrument I dabbled in) and will get much louder in person than one might expect.
     
  11. tesseract

    tesseract Senior Admin
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