Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The poor quality of sound these days


This was sent by David Cavlovic as a comment on See the sound. But it deserves, and is getting, a post of its own.
I too decry the poor quality of sound these days, and the inability, even the disinterest, in the listening public to demand better sound. They are dazzled by gizmos, surround sound, etc., and therefore don't realize the QUALITY of such product has diminished greatly. How, then, do we expect them to appreciate delicate sounds such as the tremolos of the strings in Pini di Roma, or the wonderful whispers emanating from Stockhausen's DG recording of Stimmung, or the intimacy of the clavichord. At the other end, how can they properly feel the bass drum in La Valse, or the menacing double-basses in Elektra if they are only used to the boom-boom of distorted speakers playing equally-distorted-in-recording house-music.

I still enjoy "wowing" friends and relatives who have surround sound systems (bought from Wal-Mart or Future Shop so you can well anticipate the quality) with my simple and quite inexpensive, but still higher-end, PSB speakers, Bryston amp and pre-amp and a simple, 20 year old Rotel CD player.

Cheers David Cavlovic
Then, of course, there is vinyl. And yes, I do have an iPod.
The gorgeous beast in the header photo is a Magnificent 829B vacuum tube amplifier; sorry but I can't get excited in the same way about MP3 files. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

7 comments:

Martin said...

It's terrible. I don't think people are capable of actually listening to music any more. As for myself, I will listen to an mp3 to see if I want to buy the cd.

It's ironic, too, since in the past few years the sound quality of CDs has improved greatly, I think, in part, because musicians have learned how to play for the technology.

martin, boulder, colorado

Steve Freeman said...

What you say is true, but different devices serve different purposes. I doubt I will ever have a system that can render the gongs in a Messaien piece (to the benefit of my neighbours), but I can use low-tech systems to fill in between going to live events.

If I lived outside an urban centre, then I'd probably spend the extra.

Pliable said...

Steve, it's a fair point you make. But the sound from low tech systems can be improved. I listen to my iPod using Sennheiser PX 200 mini headphones. The sound is orders of magnitude better than the standard issue iPod phones. You can even hear, and feel, the gong in Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum with them.

http://www.sennheiser.co.uk/uk/icm.nsf/root/05207

Pliable said...

Email received:

Gee, I should have added that when listening to my system on headphones, I use Sennheisers as well (but what I REALLY would like to get, when I can afford it, is a pair of Stax headphones.....sigh.....)I, too, use higher-quality headphones when listening to my iPod. And I do not download from the Web, I rip from my own CD collection. The sound of an amazing recording therefore, like Bernstein's Canadide on DGG, is not lost due to file compression.

Cheers
David Cavlovic

Pliable said...

David, for listening at home I use Sennheiser HD 850 headphones.

I don't have Stax, but I do have a pair of Micro Seiki electrostatic headphones that date back to the 1970s and which have an industrial style metal-cased transformer. The transient response and mid-range clarity is outstanding.

But, like the Stax and other electrostatic drivers I believe, the bottom end does roll off. So the Sennheiser's are the preferred choice.

Like you I rip from my own CDs. But some of the independent labels are offering 'studio quality' file downloads. Check out Linn Record's Studio Master WMA lossless files -

http://www.linnrecords.com/linn-formats.aspx

Matthias Röder said...

Not only has the equipment for listening to music become more low-tech, many, many, recording engineers seem to think that they can replace good choice of recording venue and proper placement of microphones with clever digital post production. This of course is not the case and everyone who has listened to the wonderful recordings that Dabringhaus and Grimm are making (and that Gene Pope of popemusic did for some years) will know better.

Ultimately, though, the only place where non-musicians will learn how to listen (and this is infinitely more important than a good hifi equipment) is at the life performances.

Matthias Röder said...

Pliable:

Thanks for the link to Linn Records which I didn't know.

Have you heard of OnClassical? They also sell uncompressed audio files. I interview their founder, Alessandro Simonetto, for zeitschichten.com:

http://www.zeitschichten.com/2008/12/04/interview-with-alessandro-simonetto-founder-of-onclassical-%E2%80%93-the-e-label-for-audiophiles/