Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sound is god - but only in the concert hall


Vedanta teaches that sound is god - Nāda Brahma - and in the past Western classical music has had a long and distinguished connection with the hi-fi industry. In the 1970s Herbert von Karajan and also Miles Davis promoted the Acoustic Research loudspeaker brand - see advertisement below - and the great EMI and HMV record labels had their roots in the Gramophone Company which manufactured both record players and records. The high-end audio industry continues today, championed by magazines such as Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. But there is now a massive disconnect between classical music and recorded sound quality. When did you last see an audio brand mentioned in a music blog post or tweet? Coming to that when did you last see recorded sound quality, as opposed to performance quality, mentioned in an album review?

In the frantic search for that elusive mass market the classical music industry has actively encouraged recorded sound to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator of easily streamed low-resolution file formats. In fact there is now an inverted snobbery about recorded sound quality; as an example any reference to the different and arguably superior sound quality of vinyl is glibly dismissed as bad science. Yet the same musicians and journalists who worship at the altar of low-resolution recorded sound advocate spending hundreds of millions of pounds on new concert halls which deliver - yes you guessed it - high-end sound. If you fed someone on a continuous diet of fast food, would you expect them to appreciate haute cuisine when you finally persuaded them to visit a Michelin-starred restaurant? It is not surprising that classical music is having problems attracting low-res conditioned new audiences to the latest sonically ravishing concert halls.



No review samples used. But I do listen on Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus speakers and read Stereophile, and one of my early systems used Acoustic Research AR-7 speakers. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

7 comments:

Pliable said...

It should be mentioned that BBC radio 3 is now available streamed in high-resolution FLAC sound - http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2017-04-radio-3-high-quality-flac-dash

But I am afraid that the opportunity to listen to Petroc Trelawny and Clemency Burton-Hill in high-resolution sound doesn't press any of my hot buttons.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

It amazes me you seem to be the only one to talk about this, and that it's been that way for years. For me music has always been a tactile/sensory experience first, with the analytics coming after. Apparently music is just a "head trip" for lots of people, especially those paid to write about it. Maybe the pendulum has swung so far in that direction it'll have to be heading back to the center soon.

Pliable said...

Lyle, you are absolutely correct. The arrival of the MQA - Master Quality Authenticated - file format which combines high resolution sound with a low bandwidth requirement has not received a single mention among classical music's self-appointed experts. In fact I would not mind betting that they have never heard of it. Read more via this link - https://www.whathifi.com/advice/mqa-audio-what-it-how-can-you-get-it

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Have you ever thought of putting in one place all your ideas on how to capture good sound? And what "good sound" means to you. Sure would be a handy resource.

Pliable said...

It is also worth commenting on the mediocre sound of so many new recordings. After auditioning a batch of new releases I bought recently I was actually moved to give my main listening system a health check to find out whether it was the discs or the equipment that were the problem - it was the discs. Congested choral sound and lack of body of solo instruments are among the common faults. It is unfair to single out one example, particularly when it is from an independent label. But I would have liked to recommend the new release of works for piano and cello by Poulenc, Fauré and Komitas, particularly because of the rare Komitas pieces. But I cannot, because of the undernourished sound of Astrig Siranossian's cello as captured by the recording.

https://www.claves.ch/blogs/news/austa-stringendo-poulenc-faure-komitas-astrig-siranossian

Pliable said...

Lyle, others much better qualified than me have written some excellent guides to good recorded sound. For starters here is an excellent piece by Mike Gray - who I worked with at EMI - on what made the legendary Decca sound - http://www.polymathperspective.com/?p=2484

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

That's a great read - thanks.