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HIFI 'SUPERIOR' to the LIVE-SOUND - Some Claim

by WAJ.

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This may sound odd to some, but it seems many audiophiles actually prefer the sound of a 'pleasantly-flawed' hifi system over the sound of real un-amplified instruments in live performance. In fact, they go so far as to proclaim the sound of their systems as 'superior' to that of the live acoustic instruments.

My word. Isn't this embarrassing?

In the article on 'Detail-Resolution & Soundstaging...', immediately preceding this one, I made this observation regarding some audiophiles who view the satisfaction of certain 'tastes and preferences', suggested and endorsed by the mainstream audio-press, as their highest priority, especially where it concerns detail-resolution, in the endorsed regions, and also sound-staging:

From adherents to this camp, I've heard the sound of live un-amplified instruments being criticized for the presence of too much lower-mids 'warmth', lack of 'refinement', not enough 'detail', and the lack of high-frequency 'sparkle', in contrast to the preferred presentation of the demonstrably-flawed modern speaker-systems favored by said 'Taste & Preferences-camp' adherents. Now I've heard it all - Heaven help us. (Perhaps musical-instruments should now be tuned to sound like flawed/deficient speakers). Others have heard similar sentiments, re; paragraph six of the linked article.

An example of such sentiments being expressed may be found here; 'My system sounds better than the Royal Albert Hall'. And here's what the original-poster had to say; I am back from the PROMS where tonight I have listened to two works I am very familiar with (Mozart Violin Concerto No3 and Bruckner Symphony No3).
Despite listening to the performance from decent seats, the sound from my system was vastly superior to every aspect of the Concerto and - with exception of the crescendos
(reflecting the system's lack of dynamism - Ed.) - to everything else in the Symphony. There were day and night differences in the perceived detail and the width of the soundstage.

Here's another example. In this case, the original poster presents the premise in the form of a question to suggest; 'Home Hifi Better Than Live'. Several agreed. A few did not. (Ignore his claim of more 'warmth' for the Amati, by the way, this is absolutely not true. I'm certain of that, though I also believe Sonus Faber to be among the best of popular types, and have said so previously. The Amati is also slightly better than most of its type, at low-mids, yet, not nearly good enough to convey the lower-mids 'warmth' power and presence of live acoustic instruments, among other things - I know this for a fact - his claim is either a genuine mistake thru use of the wrong term, or an unmitigated fallacy).

Regarding the rest of his claim, here are the comments of one dissenter; I'm really so sorry you haven't found a way to enjoy LIVE MUSIC. I find your comments somewhat disheartening and depressing. I don't have the time or patience to educate you on how you missed the fundamental point. Perhaps some other AUDIOGONER can explain it to you. And, I'm not sure you are capable of understanding. No offense- some just don't have the ability or desire to think on a higher level. Ever hear the phrase "dumbing down"? I am curious to know if you also prefer porn to making love - or machines? They have machines that can do anything these days. Technology is great! You get the analogy? BTW- I don't think you should ever tell anyone you don't prefer LIVE MUSIC. Makes you look bad, especially to a musician, or members of the opposite sex.

But what's really most depressing, for me, is that many others actually agreed with the original poster, in both cases. Sad!!!

In both of the-above examples, more sensible heads interject to infuse the discussion with rational logic exposing the ridiculousness of said sentiments. But the mere existence of the notion that the patently flawed sound of the majority of these speakers is 'better' than the real thing is an indication of how indoctrinated some audiophiles are with the idea of the 'rightness' and 'accuracy' of the flawed speakers peddled by the mainstream audio-press. Imagine that... 'accuracy'!

Why do I say they're flawed, as I've always done? Well, that's because if they were not flawed, then they would have sounded closer to what real instruments sound like (as a very-few types of speaker-systems do -  not favored, however, by the tastes & preferences advocates, not surprisingly). If they were not flawed, they certainly would not be giving the impression of sounding 'superior' to the sound they're supposed to be copying. That is; 'superior-sounding' to those who don't know better.

This is like saying that sweetened condensed-milk is 'superior' to the original dairy-milk, or that a life-sized rubber-doll based on the image of a beautiful woman, but with enhanced beauty-features and perhaps 'physical'-features, is 'superior' to the woman this doll was based on. This is truly pathetic. And, yet, this is the type of sound and features they claim to be 'accurate'. 'Accurate', compared to what?

These are the fraudulent claims and features I've been pointing-out about the ever-popular modern small-coned speakers all along. In truth, they present a much thinner and 'sweeter' version of the real thing - now, blatantly confirmed by their own advocates. They are, indeed, like sweetened condensed-milk, compared to the genuine product, or, falsely-beautified and 'physically'-enhanced rubber-dolls, compared to the genuine female paradigm. Yet, gullible indoctrinated individuals, led astray by a corrupt press, now muster the audacity to claim that these falsely enhanced counterfeits are 'superior' to the real thing. How perverse is that?  

Artists will tell you it's much more difficult to paint an exact copy of a master-work than it is to make a so-called 'improved' version (enhancement is easy). They may profit immensely with the exact copy, by fair means or foul, but the 'beautified' version counts for next to nothing, compared to the value of the original or a near-exact copy. The same applies to classic automobiles, money, gold, or any other similar item of value, in similar circumstances. I'm so 'sorry' to disappoint those who're so excited by their proudly-proclaimed ideas of 'superiority' over the natural sound. But such ENHANCEMENTS COUNT FOR NOTHING, except perhaps to satisfy one's own priceless tastes and/or preferences, and that of others who're like-minded. 'Sorry'!

Note the first poster's reference to the 'superior detail' and 'soundstage' of his system. Unfortunately, many seem not to understand that if this level of 'detail', etc., is not characteristic of live acoustic instruments it cannot be 'superior' - IT'S FALSE!

This is also an indication of how far astray the disingenuous elements of the mainstream audio-press have been leading audiophiles, with their corrupt emphasis on tastes & preferences, in general and, specifically; detail-resolution & soundstaging, excess h-f for 'detail' and 'air', recessed & lean midrange for 'accuracy' and 'detail', and incorrect overall tonal balance, to name a few. All of these areas (and more) touted by the press, are exactly the areas in which modern speakers are flawed. (For those interested in a greater grasp of all the issues, I can only recommend that you read all the relevant articles at this site. Other sites occassionally touch on these issues - 6moons, for instance - and whenever I find one that consistently or explicitly expounds on these issues, I'll certainly recommend it. In the meantime, I'll continue my vain little attempt to counteract the corrupt influence of elements of the mainstream audio-press).

And the consequence of the above-mentioned actions by the press, on behalf of their favored manufacturers, is that many audiophiles now believe that the flawed sound of these speakers is 'superior' to that of the live instruments they're supposed to be copying.

How can the copy of anything be 'better' than the original? The mere fact that the copy is patently different from the original is manifestation that the 'copy' is a failure - failed in its purpose of accurately replicating the original. In which case, it cannot be deemed a faithful reproduction, a copy, as it should be - it's something completely different - certainly not high-fidelity.

If one opts to deviate from the goal of High-Fidelity to satisfy one's tastes & preferences for falsely exaggerated 'detail' and stereo-phonic gimmickry, then so be it. To each, his own. (Just to be helpful, I'd also suggest the attachment of a mechanical tambourine to the tops of many of these speakers too. This would certainly be in keeping with the spirit of 'enhancing' the original sound - and this would also be 'superior' to the original - certainly consistent with the logic applied in concluding that any enhancement by a copy, in the context of high-fidelity, can be 'superior' to the real thing).

All our best wishes go out to those, in the choices they've made. I certainly have no problem with those who seek to satisfy tastes and preferences in the privacy of their own homes. But I'm somewhat annoyed by public proclamations of 'superiority' to the sound of real instruments, implying a grasp of the concept of high-fidelity, from those who haven't a clue as to what the high-fidelity discipline is about. This is a fact made more obvious by their ridiculous claims, as if their practices in seeking to satisfy press-endorsed and designated tastes & preferences were not enough. (T&P-campers who make comparisons with the live sound are venturing into High-Fidelity-territory, and will be duly 'encouraged' either to conform to the tenets of High-Fidelity, or return to their own Tastes & Preferences-camp, with haste. Ill-considered remarks regarding the live sound will not be tolerated). 

For those who may have missed it, here is what high-fidelity is all about; the accurate copying of the sound of live un-amplified instruments and vocals (sans gimmicks, omissions, or enhancements).

The aim is 'fidelity'; faithfulness to the original natural sound - a copy. And just as one cannot  alter or 'sweeten' natural water and claim 'superiority' in the result, one cannot alter or 'sweeten' the natural sound of musical instruments (in the copy of it) and make similar claims of 'superiority' in said result, regardless of how much it may please the individual(s).

One may enjoy sweetened water or sweetened music to their heart's content, but to proclaim 'superiority' in either of these only betrays the level of one's ignorance. Interestingly, we hear no such claims for the former, regardless of how well-liked and popular such drinks may have become. Obviously nobody is that stupid, as the concept and value of natural water is well understood. So what does this say about audiophiles who do make such claims regarding the REPRODUCTION of natural music? By the way, sweetened water is not really water, per se. And 'sweetened' music....

The typical characteristics of the original sound cannot be 'bettered' by the copy. Any significant deviation from the typical characteristics of the original sound (as documented by Tastes & Preferences advocates in the linked threads) is not a sign of ‘superiority’; it is in fact manifestation of A DISMAL FAILURE!

That is; of course, in the context of high-fidelity. It'd be much better for those to remain within the confines of the Tastes & Preferences-camp, where anything goes, and where such deviations from sonic-truth are appreciated. High-fidelity is obviously not within their scope at this time, a fact made obvious by their own ridiculous declarations.

[In the linked threads, several of the participants cite comparisons with amplified music at 'live' concerts. I'll not waste the readers' time by offering a response to those, except to point-out that any valid comparison between hifi and 'live' MUST be conducted with UN-AMPLIFIED music - ignore those other references. References to atmosphere, interactions, and inconveniences are not relevant to this piece either. This article is only concerned with the sound itself.]

Another point I'd like to make, in reference to those threads, is that some criticize the effects of the hall(s) on the sound of live instruments. This would definitely have a bearing on one's enjoyment of a particular concert, in a particular hall. But they, too, seem to have missed the boat. High-Fidelity is primarily about replicating the sound of the instruments, the hall is secondary. Moreover, one cannot discredit the sound of the instruments because of the effects of a particular space - this makes no sense.

In so far as audio-reproduction is concerned, I sincerely doubt that those who conceptualized the notion of high-fidelity reproduction ever envisaged exactly replicating hall-signatures and acoustics. It was not directly within their scope (as is also the case with the makers of the instruments). I believe their focus was in capturing the typical sonic characteristics of the instruments in such an accurate manner as to render a convincing impression of what such instruments may have sounded like (without the variables of hall-acoustics). The latter would necessarily have been left to the skills of the recordists in capturing said hall-acoustics - or not.

In furtherance of that point, I believe speaker-systems should be tuned, in general, to mimic the way un-amplified musical instruments sound in an anechoic environment; the wide out-doors, for instance. (Bass would need special attention, though, to integrate with diverse interior-spaces). From experience, I also believe that speaker-systems which accomplish a reasonable facsimile of this phenomenon (the sound of instruments in open-air) will excel at any genre of music, with whichever combination of instruments, and whether acoustic or electronic, regardless of the acoustics of the recorded space.

The challenge of high-fidelity is to see how close one can come to reproducing the typical sonic characteristics of real un-amplified musical instruments.

The satisfaction (of high-fidelity) is derived from hearing how close a system comes to reproducing the typical sonic characteristics of real musical instruments. (This is, of course, in addition to the enjoyment of the music itself). Not from distorting or 'sweetening' that sound, or from deriving falsely enhanced 'detail' or soundstaging - whether thru the antics of the recordists, which we have no control over, or thru the choice of falsely-enhanced and flawed speaker-systems, which we do control, or thru a combination of both. The latter of which is the worst-case scenario, as demonstrated by many popular speakers.

As I've articulated in several of the articles here, most modern small-coned speakers fail at the goal of high-fidelity. In fact, they don't even try. Constrained and handicapped by the choices made by manufacturers to enhance profit, modern speakers circumnavigate the goals of high-fidelity to present, instead, false alternatives to the realism they're intrinsically inept at replicating. This is why a corrupt mainstream audio-press, motivated by greed in facilitating the process, has long been ignoring realism to create a parallel-universe, so to speak, a 'virtual-reality', by way of suggesting and validating preferences for these speakers' discrepancies under the heading of 'Tastes & Preferences'.

This is why they expend so much energy in promoting this contrary concept of satisfying tastes and preferences, under the umbrella of which such anomalies as; lean 'accurate' and recessed mids, unbalanced excesses in trebles, and the over-emphasis of detail-resolution and soundstaging have been literally deified. (Dynamism and overall realism are either totally ignored, or dishonest claims are made, proclaiming their presence). This is the result.

The result is a sound so alien to that of real instruments that indoctrinated audiophiles now express a preference for it over that of the actual instruments.

This is the level to which we've sunk, sadly. And this is what WAJ on AUDIO has been trying to warn about all along. Hopefully, a few will see the better alternatives, as we've also tried to highlight.

Perhaps this site should be happy about these discoveries, revelations, and false-proclamations of 'superiority'. After all, the whole affair actually serves to increase our credibility since it  profoundly verifies virtually ALL of what we've been saying all along.

The very advocates of the currently popular type of sound actually, if inadvertently, confirm its deficiencies and excesses - regardless of their declared affinity for it. They also comfirm the radical difference between that sound and the sound (of the actual instruments) that is supposed to be accurately REPRODUCED. These are some of the issues we've consistently highlighted.

All the factors we've highlighted in previous articles come into play, here, both explicitly and implicitly: Implicit are the root-causes; small-coned mid/woofers' lack of lower-midrange prowess and dynamism (tone & dynamics). Explicit are the effects of the root-causes, and the measures taken to 'compensate' for the intrinsic lack of realism (High-Fidelity) by offering an alternative; a 'virtual-reality' by way of Tastes & Preferences.

In this process, deficiencies are validated by the press as desirable and 'accurate', and a taste for this thin midrange is vigorously encouraged under threat of expulsion/exclusion from the audiophile tribe. A taste for excessive detail, at levels above and beyond that which exists in reality (as admitted by advocates in the-above examples) is also encouraged, ironically, as an 'accurate' depiction of reality. Similarly false excesses in high-frequencies and sound-staging are also encouraged under the same premise. All of which we've been pointing-out, ad-nauseum.

It bears repeating that; under the umbrella of 'Tastes & Preferences' manufacturers and the press have created a 'parallel universe' (virtual-reality) for themselves and for the multitudes they've influenced, to their immeasurable delight, resulting in a sound which is alien to that of the natural world.

The fact that some may prefer it is irrelevant. The question is whether you also want this type of sound, or whether you want a much closer semblance of sonic reality. But do not make the mistake of confusing the two since they are as far away from each-other as disparate galaxies are in the universe - as illustrated by the observations of the very advocates of the deviant popular sound, in the examples above.

I take no comfort in being proven right in my own observations, however. In fact, I'm deeply saddened by the scenario which prevails.    

Those who may still doubt what we've been saying only need to do as those in the linked threads have done (and as I've done countless times). Go to any live un-amplified musical performance (preferably outdoors) and compare that sound with virtually any modern small-coned speaker-system, regardless of price. Then also compare the live sound with any of the A-listed speakers (or similar) cited in our article on; 'The Ultimate Speakers...'. [Unlike most posters in those threads, though, keep in mind the fundamental goal of High-Fidelity.]

And determine for yourself which type most resembles the sound of live instruments.

I repeat; audiophiles have been, and are being, led astray by a prostituted mainstream audio-press working on behalf of their favorite manufacturers. The foregoing is only one aspect of the evidence.

Instead of criticizing the sound of live instruments, and expressing preferences for a flawed, sweetened, counterfeit version, audiophiles need to wake-up and recognize the B-S that has long been foisted upon us, and by whom.

Will it be High-Fidelity or 'Tastes & Preferences'? Natural Water or a Sweetened-Beverage? Natural Dairy-Milk or Sweetened Condensed-Milk? Will it be a Live-Mate or an 'Enhanced' Rubber-Doll? All may be viable. But which, in each case, is the more important, and of greater value?

Those are the the relevant questions. Those are the relevant choices.

I'll leave that at that!

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Postus-Scriptus:

[Perhaps I should stress the fact that I'm in near total agreement with the findings of the audiophiles in both examples. Obviously, I'm in total disagreement with their conclusion.

Refer to my own findings and conclusion in the concluding segment at the end of my first article on the subject here. Briefly; in comparing my own 'top-rated' speaker-system, years ago, to the sound of live instruments, I discovered the very same glaring differences. Compared to the live sound, the sound of that system (and ALL modern small-coned speaker-systems) is much more 'detailed' in limited terms, sweeter in the highs, thinner in the mids, more 'evenly balanced' across the spectrum (not a good trait) with a less prominent and less robust  midrange, and much less dynamic - a more glamourized sweetened and 'detailed' sound than the real thing. 

These are facts, now placed beyond dispute by the proclamations of this sound's very own advocates, one could argue. Certainly, and absolutely, indisputable is the simple fact of the glaring difference between the popular hifi sound (touted by the press, for their own reasons) and that of the actual instruments - confirmed by the very advocates of that popular sound.

Obviously, many are impressed by it - others of us are not. (One wonders how many of those would continue to like that sound after recoginzing how distant it is from the real thing). I prefer a speaker-system which much more closely approaches what high-fidelity is all about - the live sound. (They do exist, and other articles here identify them).  So, that previous 'highly-acclaimed' system ended-up 'dumped' in the back of my car - a sure sign of my utter contempt for its ineptitude, and for that of all others that are similar; the overwhelming majority. From experience with my own and many others, I'm sure that no conventional small-mid/woofed modern speaker-system can replicate the sound of real music (as was inadvertently verified by their advocates above) regardless of its cost, or its 'prestige'. Others do a much better job of approaching the goal.

In a previous article, I illustrated two sets of audiophiles; the 'High-Fidelity-camp, and the Tastes & Preferences-camp. The former seeks realism in music-reproduction. The latter seeks whatever is fashionable (as deemed by their 'Gurus' in the press); whether it may be detail-resolution, soundstaging, 'air', or whatever. The latter also seeks to impress their peers with name-brands, the cost of their equipment, etc.

For some, hifi is a serious endeavor, pursuant to the enjoyment of music. For others, hifi is a ticket to a social-club, among other things alien to the accurate reproduction of music. One camp hosts the vast majority of  The Real McCoys. The other camp hosts the vast majority of  The Real Pretenders. One camp is steadfast in its resolve. The other camp goes with the flow of whatever is popular (as deemed by the 'gurus' in the press). One camp recognizes certain elements of the mainstream audio-press for the nefarious individuals and entities that they are, in misleading the public and recommending crap (in pursuit of their own contrary agenda). The other camp literally worships at their feet, and take their words for 'gospel'.

No disrespect is meant by this. This is merely an excersise in recognizing the elementary facts. Generalities for both 'camps' do not imply that every criterion applies to every individual of either 'camp'. Perhaps the majority of those who find themselves in the T&P-camp do not really belong there as they genuinely seek realism, yet, by being consistently misled, wind up with gear that cater to affiliates of said 'camp' - almost every one of us has been there, as a victim, under said circumstances. (And bear in mind that there's also the casual listener who has no interest in either camp. But then, such an individual would hardly be classified as an 'audiophile', per se).

The reader might want to identify to which 'camp' they belong (or not): Does one seek sonic realism, or fad?

Both camps have a right to exist. And all are welcome here. But this site is really geared to the former. The distinction is relevant.

If one is seeking realism, then one should forget about virtually all the popular conventional small-coned speakers touted by the press. (This site is here suggesting ways to avoid the frustrations and disappointments I endured for years with such speakers, and other incompetent components such as passive-pre-amps - they're a waste of time and resources, if realism is the goal - trust me on that.  And note, importantly, that I have no axe to grind. No, I don't sell components, or any such thing, I just write about my experiences, among other things). The linked examples corroborate what I've always been saying.

This site seeks to assist those seeking realism who find themselves caught-up (like I was) in the quagmire of inept speaker-systems, among other things. In illustrating the faults of such systems, and the 'fuzzy' logic of their advocates, I also seek to highlight the way out of the quagmire - as I've, in fact, done in several previous articles. Offence is not really my intent.]

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