The goal for many audiophiles is to reproduce a “simulated” experience of an acoustical music event as it was being recorded on site with excellent professional audio equipment. An amplified music event is certainly desired as well. However, if we can get the acoustical to sound natural the amplified will follow.
We can never truly capture the live event. To do that we must be at the live event and then treasure those glorious memories. We are able to capture the recording session of a live event, assuming that it is worthwhile to do so. Poor mikes and recording equipment, or the poor use of any type of recording equipment, will do us in. Recordings are both art and science with art taking front stage on the good recordings.
What is primary, besides the musicianship of the performers, is the concert hall. Getting the acoustics right in a hall is difficult at best. The concert hall at Lincoln Center in New York City acoustics were so bad that it had to be torn down and rebuilt. It was renamed Avery Fisher Hall because this famous early high fidelity pioneer contributed a considerable amount of his profits to an excellent cause. Avery Fisher loved music and his audio components proved it.
The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC did not take any chances. The builders copied the concert hall configuration of the wonderful Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Almost every seat in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall is a good one. There is one other hall in DC that is not as well-known, but to many of us it was the concert hall for recording live music back in the seventies and eighties. I write concerning the Library of Congress Concert Hall. WETA FM broadcast live performances every Friday night from this hall. The hall is relatively small but its acoustics are grand. Small ensembles would play there.
I would tune in the broadcast with my MARANTZ 10B tuner. Fortunately, WETA used excellent mics and recording techniques. They broadcast a strong signal. I was many miles away but I had a motorized directional roof antenna. I was able to tune out multipath distortion and make sure the signal was broadcast in phase with 10B’s built-in oscilloscope. (WETA had a very good signal.) FM is rolled off above 15K but proved to be a great path back to the music. Such glorious music and sound!
Over the years the recorded sound has not improved all that significantly. Some would say that digital was a step back. Remember those wonderfully direct to disc recordings by Sheffield Lab where no tape deck was used, tubes or otherwise? Great sound came through on Mercury Living Presence recordings and RCA Living Stereo recordings which were made mastered mostly with tube electronics using minimal mic and mixing techniques.
Digital had potential from the beginning but it was not “perfect sound forever” as the publicists suggested. It was often brittle, dry, and two-dimensional. But is was quiet. No surface noises. And occasionally showed glimpses of greatness in the hands of capable recording engineers.
Where do we stand today? On the precipice of a glorious new age of home audio or more of the same? Does an exciting new age await us, an age that will be at least as equally exciting as the last one with even greater potential for realistically recorded music? Will this age be about computer software as well as component hardware? Will great music will be made available to all who truly seek it without prohibitive prices?
What we do know is that the price of current audiophile components have gotten way out of hand. In the old days good audio components were often expensive, but at least they were within reach of many people. However, they represented high value and great craftsmanship. They held their value over the years, often becoming more valuable as collectables. What is even more remarkable is that the sound of those components remain competitive to this day.
The whole business of audiophile playback needs to be reexamined. Perhaps the emperor has no clothes. Our belief is that good music reproduction should be both accessible and affordable. Together, let us identify the classics of tomorrow.