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In the Forum: Playback Listening
In the Thread: The elusive “absolute tone”.
Post Subject: Re: How audiofreaks twist everything upside down.Posted by morricab on: 8/30/2005

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Hi Romy,
I guess I view absolute tone a bit differently than what you describe.  I think that each real instrument or person (as in singer) has its own "absolute" tone.  It is the sound of what it is (or its gestalt).  The ideal speaker (ie. a perfect electrical to mechanical transformer) would have NO absolute tone of its own.  It would therefore be able to reproduce the "correct" tone of whatever is on the recording (ie. it gets the absolute tone of the recorded instrument correct insofar as its captured on the recording.)

Now I can tell you from a fair bit of practical experience that a strad still sounds like a strad even up close.  All the harmonics and overtones are there.  They are distinctive to the instrument (a different strad of course will have another set of harmonics/overtones) and to the musician playing it.  My girlfriend and I did an interesting experiment awhile back (I am a scientist afterall).  We wanted to see if we could "see" the difference between two top violins (the Guraneri and Guadhini) so we hooked up a microphone at about 2 meters away and fed the signal into a 61 band RTA that I have.  The RTA has a peak and hold feature so that we could examine the harmonic distribution for a note that she played.  It was startling how much difference there was (and it was abundantly clear from just listening) between the ratio of lower to upper harmonics.  The Guarneri was much "darker" sounding and it showed graphically.  The decay of sounds for both instruments in the same hall (and in the same spot) will be the same, therefore, the RELATIVE differences will remain.  The Guarneri she had would simply sound that much Darker (as it is mostly higher frequencies that get lost).

I am not so much disagreeing with you (as I too find violins sound much nicer some distance away) but the basic "essence" of the sound is still distinguishable as such.

I don't think it has as much to do with the up front HF response as it has to do with the application of compression.  Most "dead" sounding loudspeakers are designed to be good with standard pop/rock music (the majority of their customers listen preferrentially to this kind of music so it makes economic sense).  The music industry compresses this (mostly) garbage to have a dynamic range of 10db or less in most cases.  A speaker need not worry about being dead sounding when the average level is 90db +-5db.  No worries, it won't sound dead.  Also of course the perception of HF and LF changes with SPL.  This is where EQ boost or cut is used in studios.  It is not so much an issue with classical (although compression can be).  I am convinced that most people don't like classical music in general because their systems are so poor at low level resolution and reproducing "correct" tone from the recording. 

It is interesting to try to listen to classical music in a car.  This is an exaggerated case of what happens in many home systems.  As you know the intrinsic noise floor in a car at highway speeds is around 80db.  This is why pop/rock works so well in a car.  You turn the radio up to 90-95db to "get above the noise" and all the music is there (remember our narrow dynamic range window).  Nothing gets dropped below the noise floor in the car.  Now what happens to Classical?  Well, MOST of it drops below the noise floor, UNLESS you pump it so the peaks are wholly and unnaturally loud.  Most home systems have the same problem.  The intrinsic "noise" floor of the system is too high to realistic sound at real world listening levels.  Only the peaks sound ok and the rest is a muddled mess.

The old recordings of Heifitz IMO sound very much like what a real violin sounds like up close.  Now you may not like how a violin sounds up close but apparently Heifitz did (since the damn thing was always wailing away in his ear).  IMO, the tone of many of those recordings is largely "correct", meaning that if you were there standing 1 meter away that is close to what it really sounds like.  I wouldIt is merely a different concept to the big concert hall sound but no less valid IMO.  After becoming accustomed to hearing violin up close, I like the sound of a closely miked string instrument but also like the sound of that same instrument in a bigger space.  Its different but still the same "essence" of sound. 

I don't quite see how what you are postulating in the final paragraph can be true.  Any curtailing of HF in the audible range (this is variable for everyone...I can hear to 16KHZ) will affect the tone of instruments that contain higher harmonics (ie. most of them).  You will alter the tone structure of these instruments and therefore not get either "absolute" tone or "correct" tone as I have described them.  If the sound is worse with greater HF extension on the speakers it is likely the fault of the electronics injecting noise into this region (a big reason why the new breed of "digital" amps don't sound natural is their excessive HF noise content).  I think you are wrong to blame all loudspeakers in this regard, I would more likely put the blame on the electronics.  The best tweeters I have heard have extension well over 20kHz, but they also only sounded great with great electronics behind them.  What you are suggesting sounds to me like shooting the messenger because of the message.


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