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2002-02-11 22:47:51+00 by Dan Lyke 18 comments

Sometime this weekend I heard some audiophile's tribute to Henry Kloss, who died last Thursday. And it got me wondering: When I walk by San Anselmo Coffee Roasters[Wiki], even if the windows are fogged and the place is packed, I can tell through the closed door if the music inside is live or CD based. I've gone looking occasionally for higher end audio equipment, including Cambridge Soundworks[Wiki], started by Kloss, and it seems like the pricier I get the further away from live it sounds. The bass gets more pronounced in a way that screams to me "artificial", the sound loses some of the harsher echoes. Is this style of audio equipment an outspring of the fact that most music nowadays is amplified, and so this is what people expect to hear? Any psychoacoustic specialists out there want to speculate?

[ related topics: Music Bay Area ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:14+00 by: meuon

the old.. good live music isn't perfect argument? Or the actual qualities of the sound even when live stuff is amplified, as opposed to live music being played back.

The part I like from good bands or live music is the feedback loop that the audience creates, A DJ creates a different one, a jukebox is different still... and background music is usually just that.

Sorrier still is the people I know (and abhor for it) that are upset when the live act is different from the CD. I recall STYX concerts from the early 80's where I swear they just lip-sync'd the album and the crowd liked it.

The feedback loop a good band gets going with an audience is what makes a great mutual experience, and why I like live shows. I wish I could see more but I get tired of going alone.

As for the sound quality... I know it's possible to reproduce the sounds, how can we reproduce the energy, the flow, the sounds of a crowd caught in the loop and not just merely casual voyeurs of regurgitated reality?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:14+00 by: Larry Burton

Live music has imperfections that isn't allowed to leave the recording studios.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:14+00 by: Jerry Kindall

A studio recording is mixed in a very unnatural way, including using multiple microphones and adding artificial reverb and other audio effects. Unless it was recorded with just two microphones, it'll never come close to sounding live. It can sound good, our ears are very forgiving of (and in some cases intrigued by) unnatural-sounding audio. But they can tell it's not really natural quite easily. Then you've got the speakers, which are usually the weakest link even in the best system, because they're almost never positioned in the best place and they have all kinds of design tradeoffs because no one speaker design is perfect.

SRS Labs <http://www.srslabs.com/> has some interesting technology which helps a great deal with making recorded music sound more natural (every computer should have a WOW Thing), but it'll never sound live.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:14+00 by: ebradway

A guy I used to work for came in one day and told me about this new $1200 cartridge he just bought for his turntable (just the cartridge, the turntable cost more than any car I've ever owned - not to mention the amp and speakers). He said that, after spending about as much money as one possibly could on hifi equipment, he finally came to the realization that it was the quality of the drugs he used to do that made the music sound so good!

Following that theory, buy a $50 CD player from Wal-Mart and move to Humbolt County.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:15+00 by: petronius

If you analyze this issue too much you could acoustic-psycho. For example, the room in which the music is played/recorded/reproduced is an important issue. I have heard, for example, Gilbert and Sullivan works performed in standard auditoria, outdoors, and in a smaller hall with wooden walls. Each time it was a radically different experience. The Chicago symphony hall was recently rebuilt, with many "acoustic improvements". and they have spent more than a year trying to tweak the entire building, doing things like covering doors and sending carpenters into the Sounding Void above the stage. As a former radio announcer, I have learned that you pitch your voice differently to match different conditions, and even different mics.

However, there are some thing that don't seem to improve. I get called upon by my family to do readings a lot at weddings and funerals. Most churches have wretched sound systems, filled with feedback and terrible speaker placement. The best experience was reading at my cousins wedding in a little 19th century church filled with wood panels, pews and balcony. I shut off the mic, pitched my voice in the middle ranges, and just raised the volume a little over conversational level. It was like being in a violin--the whole building sang.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:15+00 by: Dan Lyke

meuon, I know we can't reproduce the flow. I guess the real lesson here is that when I live in an area with at least two live gigs within walking distance every night, I probably ought to do that rather than listening to pre-recorded music.

I feel so[Wiki] out of touch with my culture, and especially with my current work.

Petronius, one of the coolest concert going experiences in my life was when Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz were playing the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, in the middle of the show she said "Okay, let's do one the way Bessie Smith would have", killed the sound system and... wow. Yep, nothing like a building designed for real audio.

#Comment made: 2002-02-12 18:38:21+00 by: anser [edit history]

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:16+00 by: ebradway

I regret missing Tori Amos at the Tivoli a few years back. It's a gem of a venue. Unfortunately it is usually wasted on the CSOA...

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:16+00 by: other_todd

I just thought I'd be devil's advocate here for fun: I abhor most live music. It's a pity that some musicians have never recorded an album that comes even close to the experience of their live performances, because it means I miss a lot of good stuff.

Why don't I like live music? Generally because it is too loud, and it is generally too loud so that it can carry over the damned audience.

Symphonies and other "classical" style concerts (boy, I hate that term, but you know what I mean - the kinds of performances I wouldn't wear jeans to) are barely miked (generally they are miked only so concerts can be recorded, and not amplified at all), and this works out very well. Why? Because 1) symphony halls, if they're any good and were designed for the purpose, have good acoustics, and 2) the audience KEEPS THEIR DAMNED MOUTHS SHUT!

Does this reverent approach to the music somehow make the music less good? Does it make it cold and unforgiving, as one of my club-going friends insisted once? No. It improves it.

I would happily have gone to any number of live performances over the years if the audience hadn't been rowdy (often with no proper seating and packed like sardines) and the band hadn't invariably been amped up so high I felt I was going to suffer total hearing loss on the spot.

As for coffee houses and the like, devil's advocate again: I wish they'd all destroy their sound systems. It gets in the way. I want to sit down quietly with my coffee and my thoughts or my book, and not be disturbed by someone else's choice of soundtrack.

Cambridge Soundworks is one of the two reasons why this part of Massachusetts is a little bit spoiled when it comes to good speakers. The other is that Bose fellow (an MIT person, and I hear that you can still finagle an MIT discount). But Kloss's offered more bang for the buck - little tiny cheap boxes that sounded a lot bigger and more expensive than they really were. A Bose system could bankrupt you.

I agree that they're often positioned very poorly, though. Sometimes homeowners don't have a choice. We have a 5.1 surround system in our living room, which is a weird shape, and even with those tiny little Cambridge Soundworks speakers, there were only so many places we could put the things.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:17+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ya see, that's one of the joys of the small coffee house: Two guys with guitars are quiet enough to be unintrusive, but if they're good enough everyone listens.

In general, though, I agree: even for larger bars, earplugs are a necessity for live music.

#Comment made: 2002-02-13 01:53:41+00 by: anser [edit history]

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:18+00 by: meuon

One last comment.. yes. Most live performances are WAY TOO LOUD! And I am enjoying listening to some live, very simply recorded Coltrane and Miles Davis. Revelling in the imperfections, the ambience and the groove while I post. One of the side effects of the MP3 revolution is the incredible amount of music now flowing that had died... not fit for the mass media sterilized studio world. (But I was also grooving last night to streaming German tekno-pop-trance.. different groove). The quest might be to try playing live recordings on the right system in the right room and see if it can be reproduced.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:18+00 by: Shawn

it seems like the pricier I get the further away from live it sounds. The base gets more pronounced in a way that screams to me "artificial", the sound loses some of the harsher echoes.

Which is exactly why I've always preferred recorded music to live. I've been to a few concerts because everybody said that was the real thing to do, but I never enjoyed them. The tone of the music is far too harsh and... metallic. I listen to music because I enjoy the rich tones that studio recordings provide.

I probably ought to do that rather than listening to pre-recorded music.

Why? What's wrong with pre-recorded music? Just because people say live is better?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:18+00 by: Larry Burton

It depends on what you are looking for. Prerecorded music can't supply you with the other things that live supplies you with, unless you are talking about prerecorded music being played at an event with lots of other people attending. Even with prerecorded music at a large event you don't get the interactions that you can with a live band.

Of course as effective as listening to Luthor Van Dross is at putting my wife in the mood I don't want him performing in my living room for those occassions. ;-)

Like I said, it depends on what you are looking for.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:18+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ages ago, I was talking with Jeff Pigeon, then Art Director on the Toy Story Animated Storybook. Somehow we got on to advertising art, and other manipulative imagery. Shortly thereafter Catherine and I went to an exhibit at the De Young, and on the other side they had a bunch of paintings of religious art. I will never[Wiki] be able to look at a picture of "madonna and child" ever again without thinking "this isn't even as good iconography as Schwarzenegger feeding deer in Predator" (he's kind to animals, that's how we know he's the good guy).

After several months working with music geeks I have largely the same reaction to commercial music. And it backs up my impression of modern music: Most of it is created in recording studios, not by musicians, but by technicians and sound engineers, and most of it is built to manipulate in the crassest of ways.

And we don't even give the engineers credit. Aside from, maybe, Alan Parsons, and, despite my personal altercations with him, I have to give credit to Thomas Dolby. But any of the modern female stars? There's no artistry in those voices, just a bunch of DSPs running filtering to make it tolerable.

Whatever that quality of live music is that I can tell from out on the street: that makes the live sound better to me. I find I don't listen to recorded music any more, I've got hundreds of CDs just sitting there, because the studio sound doesn't do it for me. I've been looking at sound systems because I've been thinking that maybe that's what's missing in my enjoyment of music, but the consensus here, which seems to correspond to my own findings, is that that soul and spark, when it existed in the source material, has been largely edited out of the final mix.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:35:22+00 by: rodolfo de hamsteaka

If you get a jones for new stereo equipment, try building some loudspeakers or a tube amp. I have found that if I buy something new, shortly thereafter I feel kinda lame, like it was cool i had a new thing but lame that i just bought something i didn't really need. However, if I build something, even if it is something unnecessary, I don't get that feeling of post-purchase ennui.

Check out: http://www.bottlehead.com for some very cool looking tube amp kits. There's also a cool looking loudspeaker kit. As soon as i get paid for a current contracting gig, I'm gonna build the basic amp.

Also, I know how it is with CDs. I have a boatload lying around that I don't really listen to. Not because of the production, but just cuz it is kind of lame listening to stuff I pick out. I like being suprised! I like listening to the radio, etc. So, MP3 streaming is really cool to me. There are some really good shoutcast stations out there. one i really like is http://www.erika.net - - a very free form eclectic show.

#Comment made: 2002-10-18 21:34:29+00 by: Ginger

Dan, regarding your original entry. Henry Kloss folded his speaker sound around the sounds of the symphony orchestra. And would scoff when we played anything contemporary! His ear was bent on the fullest specrum of sound he could get in the classical arena, for to him there was no other! I, myself, adore the sounds of my favorite bootlegs of the boys on any of the many incarnations of his speakers throughout the years, for I so appreciated that fat bottom sound... reminding me to this day of the wonderful life times I lived with the Grateful Dead.

#Comment made: 2002-10-21 21:22:37+00 by: Dan Lyke

Ginger, I guess if I'm going to seriously critique I'll have to find some older Kloss systems to listen to, then. My Cambridge Soundworks[Wiki] experience lead me to believe that Kloss in that incarnation was definitely not interested in the sounds of the symphony orchestra.

As I wrote about my access to live music, my tastes are running towards just finding real live performances nowadays. And having looked at how the band which played our driveway recently recorded their gig, I think the folks who make the bootleg recordings probably have a better handle on capturing the nuance of live sound than anyone creating commercial CDs. Yet another reason to not patronize the RIAA.