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

    AudiocRaver Senior Admin
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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

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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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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  12. DanDan

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    I mix live sound. This is a typical GEQ taken at the end of a gig. The venue is small, up to 150 folks. The music is purely acoustic in this instance. One of our greatest female singers, also plays flute, plus an accompanist on acoustic guitar.
    Not in this case but quite often in live work, particularly Jazz or Classical, the musician will ask, are the speakers/stage monitors flat? What is the correct answer?
    DD
    Muireann.JPG
     
  13. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Hey @DanDan welcome to AV NIRVANA. It will be great to have your input here.

    I don’t know exactly what your asking. I assume they are not flat but you use the eq to give a more neutral tonal balance?
     
  14. DanDan

    DanDan Member

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    Tx Matthew. Most people mean neutral tonal balance when they say flat. In this case, a complex shaped small room with virtually omni speakers, most of the graphic work is in removing resonances between speaker and mic, and perhaps the guitar. With all that stuff cut of course it may get thin, so one then has to impose a 'nice' tonality. There is also an element of speaker correction going on. Essentially you are of course correct, all this work goes towards any vocalist walking up to the mic and sounding good instantly. But of course 'good' and 'nice' are far from neutral. The higher volume has much more audible LF than the real thing, Fletcher Munson....
    The Live situation with it's resonance and feedback issues, is infinitely more complex than Studio Mixing and Mastering.
    Unfortunately Studio CRs are pretty much anechoic in terms of speaker to ear. Missing that 6-10dB room tone tilt downwards to HF.
    So I apply a Reference Curve. The old Bruel and Kjaer one. To keep in the pocket I have a collection of Reference Tracks in Dropbox, always available, live or studio. To be honest I could easily work with just one. Bird on a Wire, Jennifer Warnes. I have used this for PA tuning and Mix Ref for decades. I also use a couple of my own. I seem to be blessed with exactly 'average' hearing and taste. My own work (e.g. No Frontiers, Mary Black) has been widely used by the Hi Fi community worldwide. Ultimately this is it, us 'Engineers' decide what sounds good, that is what breaks those circles of thinking/logic.
    In my opinion and experience drums in particular sound pretty awful in real life. Particularly to the player. Particularly with high tuned cymbal busy jazz.
    A bit of depth added via PA is very welcome to my ear. No artist playing solo or ensemble hears anything like we portray live or on record.
    Nobody would like to hear what musicians do, it's generally horrible or non existent. Orchestral players often have no idea of what the other guys are playing, thus the conductor. A drummer hears...... well let's say 25dB earplugs are very useful. Perhaps this is a bit like movies. If suspension of disbelief occurs, we are it, and the creators have succeeded. Of course I don't mean belief that what one is seeing or hearing is actually happening..... More that it is 'Credible'
    But that is back to the Circles......... The Mix Engineer decides what is Good, Right, Credible...... We try to stay somewhat close to an 'average' of tonalities on Reference Tracks, usually ones we also admire greatly. Lastly, we try to make our work sound 'Great' on every system commonly playing it. Car to PA. Roy Hallee's work is a great example of this. Graceland sounds the same over the phone.....
    DD
     
  15. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Do you think this inevitably compromises the sound quality on systems which are by nature more neutral and wider bandwidth. The response of a phone, tv, or cheap car stereo is typically highly bandwidth limited, dynamic limited, and tonaly inaccurate. A high end home stereo may be none of these things. I know many blame the need to engineer a recording to sound good on things like phones and cheap raides lead to the loudness wars (at least to some extent), but maybe also to changes in tonal balance? Changes that are a detriment? Maybe others too. Spaciousness or other imaging related concepts may be ignored if under most circumstances they can't be reproduced.
     
  16. DanDan

    DanDan Member

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    The best Mixes sound best on every platform. Even great gear, U67 Mics, Massenburg Preamps, are vividly audible, even in a Mix, even in a travelling Car or small transistor radio. Mixes that use frequency extremes will of course be simply missing that stuff on systems that can't do it. Given widespread hearing damage, that would be LF mostly. But again, a great mix can convey a sense of big subby happy bass, without much energy down there, using octave mix tricks and a soft MF/HF, Slopes and Tilts are crucial to tonality. The B&K Target Curve sounds radically different if one uses 1K vs 2K as the Zero Cross, Flat.
    DD
     
    #16 DanDan, Dec 30, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019
  17. Jose Sifontes

    Jose Sifontes Moderator
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    There was a time when I tried to get the best sound from one system - i.e., combine the home theater and music experiences onto one system. Inevitably, playing my personal reference for movies led to a config that did not match my expectation for music, so it was a struggle. For music I have a playlist of really good recordings on Tidal (well, good to me, this can be subjective - this could be a good thread to explore, what recordings are everyone using as reference) that I use to check out soundstage, instrument recognition, etc. To tune the room acoustics and speaker position I run REW sweeps, review results and slowly add treatments/move the speakers until major issues dissipate and my reference sounds best. If I can manage a decent holographic image of the orchestra in front of me and the instruments sound real compared to my acoustic memory, that is success. I do not apply any EQ on the music side (other than a a miniDSP 2x4HD to very lightly integrate a subwoofer in support of the Harbeth 30.1 monitors). For movies I let Audyssey XT32 do its thing and then play a few reference movie scenes that I have memorized over time to make sure things are roughly where I expect them to be (I have a playlist in Jriver of mkv scenes that form my reference). I tune the house curve using the Audyssey app as needed. When I play music over the home theater system it sounds ok, but not as clear as in the music configuration (bass is off/exaggerated in the HT system, and Audyssey does something that flattens the soundstage for me). In any case, having a reference recording is key to tuning our setups, IMO.

    EDIT/P.S.: The BEST auto-EQ system that I have experienced so far (aside from using REW to develop filters etc.) is Dirac Live. I have not experienced ARC (Arcam) but Dirac Live beats everything else IMO, including Audyssey, especially for music. This is based on my adventures with the Emotica XMC-1 using Dirac Live Full version.
     
  18. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Do you have a point of reference you use to know when something is accurate? For example, with music, maybe it’s what you have heard live? Or maybe it’s more abstract, it is what sounds the most natural.

    Your experience with Dirac matches mine and many others. I’ve had much better luck than with Audyssey getting results that are spatially robust, measure well, and sound good.

    It’s also sad that I spent decades becoming an expert in manually tuning a system only to have a dirac equal or better my results all on its own. Come on Dirac, I need something to obsess over.
     
  19. AudiocRaver

    AudiocRaver Senior Admin
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    Me, too. I was almost disappointed when I realized that my most painstaking hand-tuning was easily bested by a quick Dirac Live calibration. It was a LITTLE bit hard to let go of, but I did get over it. The trials of the obsessive hobbyist!
     
  20. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Hah I can’t let it go! CANT!

    The new bass management might put me out of business. While most of my customers are looking for acoustics, sub setup is probably what I do more of than anything. I wish Dirac had an installer program.
     
  21. Jose Sifontes

    Jose Sifontes Moderator
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    Yes, an actual real instrument. Audiophiles who are also actual musicians must have an easier time detecting accuracy because they know what the real thing sounds like - I did not - just went to concerts and did my best listen and memorize the sounds of instruments and look for them in recordings. I think that is a fun part of this hobby that helps open your ears to be able to tell the difference between an Apple HomePod* speaker and a properly setup hi-fi audio system :).

    *No offense to Apple fans (I am one too), the HomePod sounds pretty good, but it is not an audiophile-quality source
     
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  22. thrillcat

    thrillcat Moderator
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    I'm lucky enough to have done a lot of work with The Plant Studios in Sausalito before they shut down. I have recorded my guitar through my effects into my amps in the same room where countless classics were recorded (Rumors, The Black Album, Before These Crowded Streets, and hundreds more).

    My band's recordings may not have been perfect, sonic masterpieces, but I know exactly how they should sound on the system where they were recorded, mixed, and mastered.

    Unfortunately, most people don't have such a reference.
     
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  23. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Well, as @DanDan has been reminding me, even my live experiences aren’t necessarily more right than what an engineer comes up with. He was mentioning that often in a live venue, even my favorite small jazz clubs, there is no “right” seat where you hear all instruments properly balanced with each other. Often an engineer can do a better job balancing the instruments so most people hear something better.

    I’ve been to a few live events that used some of the sophisticated new dsp techniques that allow the most accurate reproduction of the live event for all attendees.

    I mean check out how Pritzker Pavillion works in Chicago:
    2402C6EB-68A4-4C4D-9386-CEE72B2822A3.png

    This uses LARES for the reverberation, and is not a simple fake reverb effect added to some effect speakers like on your receiver. This is the most sophisticated approach to recreating a different acoustic environment. In this case, it makes the outside sound like the inside.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LARES
    Here is more info for those curious.

    In terms of feeling like you are really at a live event, I think this kind of technology is the future of home audio too. It would be feasible to change the acoustic environment to whatever the engineer wants. Imagine if you fully characterized the acoustics of a space and added that as meta data to a music file the then allowed an intelligent processor to use that to recreate the acoustic space based on your actual space and speaker configuration. Like ATMOS on steroids.
     
  24. Jose Sifontes

    Jose Sifontes Moderator
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    Go to New Orleans and visit all those jazz bars, it really helps tune your ears while having fun!
     
  25. Tony V.

    Tony V. Moderator
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    Not sure how I missed this thread...

    Anyhow I mixed live and studio for many many years at our church and at some concert venues here in Edmonton. Our church had the worst acoustics (a large 1800 seat building dug into the ground with a pyramid roof that from floor to ceiling at it highest was over 100ft
    Central.jpg

    Anyhow we did several big productions a year involving live bands and or orchestras. Or "singing Christmas tree" was by far our largest production and I had to mic a 40 piece orchestra and the 200 voice choir standing in the tree.

    Anyhow before I go off and ramble, this has taught me alot about dealing with reflection and acoustics. Now that I have the same speakers in my theater as we had in that studio at our church I find that my listening of music has gotten more refined and in some ways very picky. Because the speakers and my room sound so good (in my mind) its hard to go to other peoples houses and enjoy listening to music or watching movies. I never bad mouth others rooms or systems but nothing is better than sitting at home listening to some good jazz.
     
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