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20 Year Old Article - Fascinating

Discussion in 'Acoustics' started by Zing, Sep 8, 2010.

  1. Zing

    Zing Retired Admin Famous

    I just stumbled across this and found it more than a little interesting. If you haven't already read it, you need to. And I fully expect this single piece of literature to invoke multiple opinions. There will be some who say "See? What have I been telling you?", while others will dispute every single word written and there will still be various viewpoints everywhere in between.

    From Stereophile in 1990 "Why Hi-Fi Experts Disagree".
  2. PaulyT

    PaulyT Behind the Curtain Staff Member Administrator Moderator Superstar

    Good article! While nothing in there came across as a totally new idea to me, it jives pretty well with what I perceive as the general consensus of this crowd. That hi-fi means as close to the original as possible. That speaker (and other component) preference is subjective, and that what sounds best to someone isn't necessarily what's the most hi-fi. That it is extremely hard to judge objectively whether a system is truly hi-fi. That a high end system may make some recordings sound worse because they expose flaws in the recording. And so on...
  3. DIYer

    DIYer Well-Known Member Famous

    See? What have I been telling you (and a few others)!
  4. Huey

    Huey Well-Known Member Famous

    If I read the prelude right, the article is actually from 1963 and reprinted in 1990.
  5. Zing

    Zing Retired Admin Famous

    And what does all that really say? That this entire hobby is subjective in that there’s no single point reference standard by which all recorded sounds can be judged and subsequently deemed true and faithful to the original – because the original has (or can have) so many variations, possibilities and intangibles, that it’s impossible for any one entity (or even a group of entities for that matter) to determine.
  6. PaulyT

    PaulyT Behind the Curtain Staff Member Administrator Moderator Superstar

    As Soundhound explained (from what I remember), the standard is whether playback is indistinguishable from live. The only real way to test this, though, is to have a live performer standing in your room between your speakers. You record (with a mic that's known to be flat in its response) that performer in that position, then switch between the performer playing live and playback through the speakers. If it sounds the same, then it's hi-fi.

    It's just that most of us don't have the ability to do this test. If we weren't present at the time and place of the recording, then we have no real way to tell if it's exactly the same sound. We can only use experience of live performance etc. to judge this, but then yes, it becomes subjective.

    We can approximate this by looking at RTA graphs, but even a perfect hi-fi system will have dips and peaks because of the room, so that's a guide but not an absolute determinant.

    I liked the point in the article about how different reviewers may base their conclusions on different aspects. Flint would immediately check out the bass response. ;) Others would concentrate on other things. Personally, I think I pay more attention to what I call "detail" - more of a transient response thing than a time-averaged frequency response. My ears are not sufficiently trained to tell me that there's a dip at 500Hz or whatever.
  7. Botch

    Botch I.Y.A.A.Y.A.S! Superstar

    ...and you'd also have one hell of a mic on your hands! Good engineers pick specific mics for the way they "color" (or "distort" :teasing-neener: ) a sound, this one brings out a quality in this woman's voice, while that one brings out the crack in a snare drum.


    d'Oh, I missed the "known to be flat".... :oops:
  8. PaulyT

    PaulyT Behind the Curtain Staff Member Administrator Moderator Superstar

    Yeah, I was actually surprised to learn how much coloration various types of mics apply, as I started working with the band PA stuff. You could use a condenser like the ECM8000 that many of us use for RTA, that's designed for a flat response.
  9. Aaron German

    Aaron German Active Member

    I'll admit, I did not read the article. But...

    The notion of "hi-fi" as being true to the original has always bugged me. The question I have is: True to the original what? What the singer heard on stage? What the drummer hears on stage? What some in row 2 seat 13 heard? What the recording engineer heard? What the musician hears in his minds ear?

    Another thing about the SH talked about hi-fi that didn't sit right with me was that it seemed to be a definition that was based almost solely on acoustic instruments or at least based on sounds that one might make in a live setting. But I think that rules out too many other considerations. For example, there is a lot of electronic music that makes great use of the spatial aspects of audio. Surely this is worth discussing when talking about good sounding speakers.

    I guess a response could be that spatial elements of freaky electronic music all all good and well, but the term, 'high fidelity' is intended only for the limited application of evaluating the reproduction of certain kinds of sound.

    I'm fine with this, after all if a sound system is going to be true, it must be true to something, so it's good to specify what that something is. But I also think that the term is used a bit differently these days. It seems to refer to plain old good sound.

    I guess maybe the best way around this is to give up the term 'high fidelity' and just start talking about good sound.

    Maybe all of this was in the article.
  10. PaulyT

    PaulyT Behind the Curtain Staff Member Administrator Moderator Superstar

    Some of that was in there, certainly. The part about an orchestra sounding very different depending on where you sit, yes. I also agree that "hi-fi" is pretty much irrelevant to most modern music, which is highly electronic anyway so there's no "gold standard" of what the original should sound like. And recordings aren't necessarily mixed/mastered with a flat response, either, so even if your playback system has 100% flat frequency response, you still are likely not hearing exactly the original sound.

    Yes, hi-fi means playback that's as close to the original as possible. But you're right, that's not applicable to something e.g. recorded on a synthesizer plugged straight into a digital recorder. There is no "original." So - as I think you're saying - "hi-fi" should not be used as a synonym of "good" when judging any sort of non-acoustic music. We have to rely on other criteria to judge the quality of a system, like ability to pick out small details in the recording, etc., things that IG/Flint talks about all the time.
  11. Zing

    Zing Retired Admin Famous

    Aaron, I think that's an excellent post! I also think it further underscores my point. And that is, as you alluded to, the seemingly limitless possibilities of what a recording can be true to.

    Without reading the article, you did an uncanny job of calling out something that was, in fact, in the article. The author used an orchestra as an example and went on to say that if you're trying to be faithful to its sound, its sound varies whether you're in the front row, the back row, the balcony, etc. So if you record it from the front row and the audiophile sitting in the back row buys the CD, what's he to think - that his system is somehow lo-fi because it doesn't sound as he remembers it?

    And I think you brought up another excellent point by distunguishing whether high fidelity relates only to acoustic instruments or all recorded sounds. While I'll agree that if a given playback system can recreate the exact sound of a piano in that same room, that is indeed high fidelity. But how would that same system do recreating the latest Britney Spears CD (as an example of new and synthesized)? And to what degree should you judge it? What the session sounded like in the studio? What the engineers heard at the console? A preconceived intention of what the producer's goals were?

    Maybe the Britney example is a bad one, as in an apples-to-oranges comparison. Her music will be played on poplar radio and in clubs - both of which care little about sound quality and high fidelity. Instead, take a garden variety jazz band on an audiophile-catered label. Do recordings made in the Rocky Mountain Recording Studio sound the same as recordings made in the East Coast Recording Studio? Do they have the same equipment? Are they the same shape and size? Are they recorded by the same engineer, in the same state of mind? Was he in the middle of a divorce when he recorded one of those sessions? All these things will factor into the equation making it exponetially hard to gauge accuracy and fidelity.
  12. Aaron German

    Aaron German Active Member

    Never thought of this. Good point.
  13. DIYer

    DIYer Well-Known Member Famous

    But those questions are also the answers. The contemporary music with amplified sound has its own advantage as far as the point of reference. Many artists / engineers are still around so it's not an impossible quest to know what it's supposed to sound like. Even with acoustic instruments as reference, how many album buyers actually have a chance to sit through the recording session of the album? It's still not an easy thing for the general public to attain. What one can do is to get to know those who do the recording and mastering.

    Zing, something tells me that you buy Britney's albums. :think:
  14. Zing

    Zing Retired Admin Famous

    You know me. :happy-cheerleaderkid:
  15. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    Fidelity is faithfulness... in the case of audio it is faithfulness to the original sound. When the term was first coined, that was the goal of most recording engineers and listeners - to reproduce a live event.

    Today the term is more often used to mean a faithful acoustic presentation of what is on the recording. Nearly every aspect of what can be called faithful reproduction can be measured with simple instruments. Aspects of the output can be measured, like amplitude frequency response, distortion in most forms, relative phase response, dynamic accuracy, intermodulation distortion, and so on. If the goal is to, as accurately as possible, present an acoustic representation of an electronic signal, then that goal is the pursuit of high fidekity.

    Not everyone wants to accomplish that goal. Most of the heated discussion on this topic arise when those who pursue their own version of the acoustic experience which is demonstrably different from the source signal make claims of greater fidelity. An example being the common misconception that boosting the treble produces greater detail in the recording. Another example is the idea that boosting the bass to the point of physical excitement is more often"realistic" than a natural sounding bass level.

    This hobby is for one's personal enjoyment regardless of taste or end results, but terms like high fidelity, accuracy, natural sound, and realism mean something and should not be confused with altering sound to one's taste.
  16. soundhound

    soundhound Well-Known Member

    While that is correct in principle, the execution of the test is a bit more involved. If the test was carried out in that manner, the sound that arrived at your ears during the recorded portion would have a double dose of the room’s acoustic signature (reverb etc picked up by the recording microphone, and again through the speakers), while the live portion would only have a single imprint of the room’s signature.

    The way these tests have always been done is to record the music under anechoic conditions, either in an anechoic chamber or outdoors, away from reflective surfaces. When the recording is then played in the listening room, it is receiving a single dose of the room’s acoustic – the same acoustic which is influencing the sound of the live musicians.

    In the 1950s and 60s these “live verses recorded” tests were extremely popular marketing tools for companies like Acoustic Research, Wharfedale and others. I have a photo of one such event being carried out by Wharfedale in Carnegie Hall. By all accounts most of the audience was completely unable to tell the recording from the live musicians.

    This has always been the classic test, and the original intent of a High Fidelity reproduction system. That system includes everything from the microphones, through the storage device (disc or tape in the earlier days), and on into the home.

    Of course musical tastes have changed since those days, but it should be noted that even in the 1930s, since the development of electrical recording, multiple microphones and rudimentary mixing and equalization controls have been used, at least in popular music recordings. Classical music recording has always hued more to the literal definition of High Fidelity, and this continues today, although artistic license is and has always been taken with shaping the original sound to give more of a sense of “subjective reality” to the listener at home – but that is another long and complex topic for recording engineer geeks.

    With modern popular music, and in fact going all the way back to Les Paul's invention of modern multi-track recording, there is no “original sound” which can be reproduced since processing has taken place either through such simple techniques as using non-flat microphones to complement a particular instrument or singer (in the early days, that and rudimentary EQ was all that was available) to more drastic solutions today using DSP. Therefore the term “High Fidelity” cannot be literally applied to this type of music / recording technique, no matter what the home system sounds like.

    However that does not change the core definition and original intent of High Fidelity; accuracy to the live event, any more than the concept of accurate color rendition in photography and video to the original can be changed, and in the case of High Fidelity, that principle continues to be best demonstrated through the classic live verses recorded test.
  17. Aaron German

    Aaron German Active Member

    All good points. But I think the problem of "Faithfulness to what?" remains, even if we accept everything you said. Depending on how one answers that question will determine how much of a role measurements will play in the evaluation of faithfulness.

    I think the biggest problem is that the "original" is an idea is someone's head. However, this might be the way to overcome that issue. Say the recording engineer, or the composer, or whoever, can listen to a mix in an ideal setting and tell us that what he has heard matches exactly with the idea in his head. Then we could measure the in-room response at the listening position and whatever other things would be important to measure. Presumably, if we could match these measurements in our own home, then we would have accomplished the highest fidelity.
  18. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    As I stated, the target is to produce what is on the recording faithfully. That is the reference.

    You guys are all playing games with words but accuracy is measurable and real. Just because the engineer may have had poor speakers doesn't change the concept of faithful reproduction of the recording.
  19. DIYer

    DIYer Well-Known Member Famous

    Welcome back soundhound and thanks for the insight. :handgestures-thumbup:
  20. PaulyT

    PaulyT Behind the Curtain Staff Member Administrator Moderator Superstar

    So if we are not in a position to have heard the live/original sounds, or we listen to studio/electronic/processed music that does not have an "original" sound in the sense above, what are we left with? How do we evaluate the quality of a playback system? Or is it not possible and the whole thing is necessarily and entirely subjective? (Or we rely on marketing departments to tell us the truth? :laughing-rolling:)

    I guess what I'm trying to get at is, how does the "average joe" like me evaluate a system? I mean, I know the process I've used to compare different speakers and electronics, results of acoustic panels, etc. I look for the greatest sense of realism given the reference music I listen to, but it's still pretty subjective. I am not a recording engineer. I was not present when the music was recorded. I do not have a golden ear that can pick out a 0.5dB peak/null at a specific frequency. So even if I listen as carefully and critically as possible, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm approaching closer to true fidelity in the sense of this thread. Is there ever a satisfactory answer to "which sounds better - A or B?" Or does it just end with each person's own opinion? That it ends with "ok that's good enough for me"?

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