The event that we held in our demo room at the recent AXPONA show in Chicago was a first…and very informative. Unfortunately, the number of bloggers or press that bothered to attend was disappointingly low. I know there are lots of rooms to visit and experience, but I can’t help but feel that audio writers are not actually that interested in new and innovative approaches to audio recording and reproduction. They’re comfortable writing about two channel rooms equipped with turntables, tubes and thick cables.
And it’s especially troubling to see a prominent editor of one of the biggest audiophile trade publications come to the session, get a drink ticket, stand at the bar, get a drink and then immediately exit the room before the demonstration started!
But for those that were present, it was a tremendous success and clearly demonstrated that a properly made high-resolution recording can compete with a live performance…at least within the parameters that we established. Chief among them was the choice to play the recorded audio at the same level as the live performer, which was reasonably quiet.
If you’ve ever visited an audio trade show or experienced a demo in a hifi shop, the presenter will usually play their systems loud. The basic rule of thumb is that anything sounds better when it’s played loud. Forget about the subtle details captured in a good recording, if it’s louder it’s better. And I must admit that when I played the Respighi “Pines of Rome” last movement, I cranked up the volume to match the actual or approximate level of the orchestra as experienced by the conductor on his podium. It was very exciting.
But John Gorka and Antje Duvekot stood in from of the assembled group in the Madison ballroom and performed without a PA system. The entire experience did not involve technology of any kind…how rare is that? It’s like those times when a musician that you know picks up a guitar and plays a song at a party or at the beach. It’s pure music. A great song, a guitar and an expressive voice can deliver a great musical experience (I’ve also heard lots of terrible performances…so talent has a lot to do with it!).
When they finished a couple of tunes, they stepped aside. I navigated to the same tracks on the Blu-ray disc that we recorded with John about 7 years ago and hit the play button. And I set the volume of the Bryston SP-3 preamplifier lower than any at any time during the previous day. It was glorious. The room reflections were no longer a factor and everyone present had to listen carefully…just as they had when John was performing live.
The comparison worked because the volume as low as it was. A couple of individuals suggested that it would have been a better comparison if I had provided them with microphones and amplified the sound. I disagree. That would have been a very different comparison. My concept was to see if a recording could stand eye to eye with an acoustic performance. I think everyone in attendance would agree that a well-done recording COULD deliver an experience that is virtually identical to a live acoustic presentation. Would it work with a rock band or a Hip Hop artist? Probably not.
Dynamic range is one of the most critical aspects to music and reproduced music. If every piece of music played in the demonstration rooms at the AXPONA was played loud to be impressive, how are we supposed to be able to detect musical subtleties and “low level details”?
The lesson I learned while at the AXPONA show was to turn the volume down. But I think I was pretty much the only one that did…all the rooms I visited had the volume turned up to 11.