Musicians in your living room vs. you in the recording hall?

When it comes to imaging, soundstage and mimicking a recorded presentation, which do you prefer?
Do you want to hear musicians in your living room, or do you want to be transported to the space where the musicians were?
The recordings I’ve personally done, take me back to the venues, in which they were made. That’s always been my goal, in the home. Long as my system accomplishes that, I know I’m recreating whatever ambient info is contained in my other media, as well. Of course; then there are studio recordings, with electronic effects, manipulated by someone moving knobs/faders, to create the illusion of a space and sounds expanding/decaying into it. If my system does the first correctly, I know I’ll experience, whatever that guy intended(and laid down). That’s my personal preference/experience, regarding the issue. Obviously; there are other tastes. Can’t wait to hear from those that have never heard, or don’t know how to listen for a, "sound stage" or, "sound field"(the ambiance/Sabine signature of a venue), and how live instruments sound in one. You know: the, "If-I-can’t-hear-it-it-doesn’t-exist" and/or the, "if-my-system-can’t-do-it-it’s-some-kind-of-distortion" contingent.
Assuming the speakers and system have a neutral perspective, that might depend on how far away the mikes in the recording were. For large scale orchestra, I might like to be "there". For close-miked bands I like them to be "here".
Hi Erik,

You’ll find the following thread from 2010 to be of interest, as it discussed exactly the same question:

I had a number of lengthy posts in that thread, but the bottom line in my case was (and is):

Almarg 9-5-2010
As someone who listens primarily to classical music, my goal is to duplicate as closely as possible the experience of hearing a live performance from a good seat in a good hall (less extraneous sounds from the audience or other sources, of course). Therefore I am in the "you are there" camp.

Best regards,
-- Al

Both. Since my listening room is as small as a small venue I can enjoy both.

A listening room that is too small (like a bedroom) tends to leave too much of its own sonic signature. Same with a very large room like a gymnasium. In between is ideal - around 5000 cubic feet being optimal. There should be plenty of space behind the listener.
Tried it both ways. Greatly prefer being transported to the recording venue. The problem with having the musicians there in your room is the mess they always leave behind. 
I have both between TW Acustic AC3 turntable and Esoteric 03SX CD player with Purist cables and MAGICO speakers.
I’m assuming the difference is one system provides all the sonic cues of the recording space and with proper setup of your speakers attempts to recreate that venue.

The other setup pushes sounds more forward, with greater presence and intimacy but at the expense of those smaller sonic cues being overshadowed.

I agree too that the mic’ing is a large determinant of this.
“What’s the difference?”

The difference is that a setup where the room has a significant effect on the sound will always have some room influence - and this will always have some impact.

A good setup will present the recording space as presented on the recording. In many live recordings this will be the venue or for studio or close miked recordings it will tend to sound as if they are in your room or in front of you.

Phase accuracy, listener and speaker placement is important. In smaller spaces the best place to sit is near field in order to minimize the room.
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For me, it all depends on the mood which in turn drives the content at that time. And in both cases, unfortunately I can tell the compromises that are made by the quality of my system and the room. 
That's right viridian. In most modern electrified concerts there is not any imaging. But in smaller venues there may be like a jazz club, a choir in a church or a symphony orchestra will have wonderful imaging and loads of ambiance. A string quartet in a hall, imaging and ambiance to spare and a good recording will capture all of that and that is what I want to hear. 
If you do not go to these events you should. Close your eyes and listen to each instrument individually. That is what you are shooting for, the sensation that you are there at that time in that space.
Neither really. All I want is to hear the recordings as accurately as possible. I dont consider my system a substitute for live music. If I want to hear musicians in the flesh I leave my listening room and go out.
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     I agree with geoffkait that there's not a big difference between being transported to the venue and the musicians seeming to be playing in your room.  I believe the difference is subtle and based on small clues picked up on the recording mics that a high quality playback system is able to reproduce accurately, such as the decay times of musical notes and reflections off of venue room boundaries, that our brains process as clues to the venues dimensions and sonic characteristics.  
     If there's an absence of venue clues on the recording, I believe our brains process the given sonic information and creates a sound stage illusion that the musicians are playing in our rooms, instead.
     It should be noted that well recorded, mixed and engineered recordings, along with a high quality audio playback system, are both required for our brains to be able to create either sound stage illusion.  Good room acoustics and proper positioning of the main speakers, in relation to the designated listening position, are also critical in enabling our brains to create a solid and stable sound stage illusion.
     Lastly, poorly engineered recordings will only allow our brains to create two dimensional and flat sound stage illusions that are not nearly as involving, realistic or palpable as the three dimensional varieties of sound stage illusions.
     I actually consider the perception of a 3-D, solid, stable and palpable sound stage illusion as a primary goal of my system and the primary contributing factor to my enjoyment of my system.  It's a very immersive experience that significantly adds to my enjoyment of listening to well recorded music in my room.
     For a maximum 3D sound stage illusion effect in my room and system, I move my Magnepan 2.7QR panels between 5-7 feet away from my front wall with zero toe-in and move my listening seat exactly between them and between 3-4 feet away.  This typically provides a wide and deep 3D sound stage illusion with solid, stable and palpable illusions of the instruments and musicians distinctly located within this soundstage. 
      I've also found that my Audio Kinesis 4-sub Swarm type DBA system also significantly enhances the realism of this sound stage illusion.  The bass instruments like drums and upright basses are not only distinctly located within the sound stage but, when I focus on either, I'm able to perceive the varying pitch and volume level of each instrument emanating from the proper sound stage locations.  I consider this level of detail astounding and very enjoyable.  Achieving this level of detail usually requires a well recorded 24/96 hi-res FLAC file recorded direct to digital but it's truly impressive and enjoyable.



No simple answer for me.  Small jazz & blues groups, solo guitar, piano or vocals - I prefer them in my living room.  Who wouldn't want to welcome Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass for a performance at home?
Orchestral, loud rock or big band - I prefer the big venue presentation.

If I had to pick: transported to the hall.

But depending on the recording, even in a "transported to the hall" set up, it can sound like musicians brought in to your room (e.g. dry, up-front recording).

The problem with seeking the transported-to-hall version is it tends to place an emphasis on soundstaging/imaging, especially creating the character of an expanded, deep space.  All too often set ups that seem to achieve this do so at the expense of a somewhat more wispy presentation.  All those far away instruments seem to lack palpability and impact.  (Cue everyone here "not in MY set up!"...)

I'm always trying to balance the two: soundstaging with guts and palpability.

I want what is in the recording.   If its a live recording then take me there. 

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viridian wrote:

Neither, I go to quite a few live concerts, both classical and popular. I don’t hear imaging and soundstaging in the concert hall, so I certainly don’t want it in my listening room.

I'm always amazed when someone writes that.

If we are talking amplified music, well then ok.   And if imaging/soundstag isn't someone's bag, I get that too.

But this notion that unamplified instruments and voices don't image/soundstage, including orchestras, is really strange to me.  I totally get imaging/soundstaging from live music, orchestras included. 

This week I stopped to listen to several different busker groups playing on the street.  Every time I closed my eyes and whether I was near or far, they imaged like a lazer, totally easily to place, I could point right at them.

We developed directionality in our hearing for a reason, and it really works! (At least mine does, at the concert hall).
In my youth I had season tickets to Andre Previn conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Hein Hall, a noted acoustical venue.  I also listened to live jazz in the local clubs, i.e Modern Jazz Quartet with Milt Jackson on vibes.

They are very different experiences, not to mention seeing Duane Allman just blow the house sown at the Syria Mosque in Pgh in 1971.

My point to all this is that replicating those experiences in your room is NOT simple.  The quality recordings exist, but trade offs must be made to maximize the sound you like best.  

The holy grail is making the all sound original in your room, an elusive ghost IMHO.

For myself, I maximize the intimate sound with my 3.6 Maggies, yet still enjoy cranking it up to listen to Duane work his slide magic.

Just one old guy’s thoughts

"We developed directionality in our hearing for a reason, and it really works! (At least mine does, at the concert hall)." I guess, back when it was a survival skill: some wouldn’t have.
Tough question.

I wish to be transported to concert hall.

But it is not bad if I feel musician in my listening room.

  • It will be more costly to invite them to my listening room.
I wish every recording could provide the illusion that I was at the event.Recordings of small ensembles come very close sometimes.When I'm in the mood for loud rock music and I move into the next room, it actually sounds like the band is in there playing.Like I arrived at the concert late and am still in the lobby:)

"We developed directionality in our hearing for a reason, and it really works! (At least mine does, at the concert hall)."

I guess, back when it was a survival skill: some wouldn’t have.

Agreed.  Many audiophiles seem simply unprepared to survive a sudden attack from a symphony orchestra!  ;-)

I like jazz by small groups.  If the recording is supposed to be live in a venue, then I want to feel that -- it's fun being transported to a different place.  If the recording is a studio performance, then I prefer to imagine them in my listening room.  I like the latter more.  I often find audience sounds distract from my enjoyment of the music, like someone tinkling a coffee cup at the next table in Jazz at the Pawnshop.  I would rather not hear it.
Depends on the music. Acoustic duos or trios (violin-piano sonata or tenor sax-drums-bass) sound great in small spaces. I think that’s why a lot of people, as they get deeper into audiophile life, get increasingly interested in small-ensemble acoustic music w/vocals: that stuff operates on a scale that can, convincingly be in your room, IRL. Rock and Roll sounds best to me 700 to 1500 seat theaters. I’ve been at a million practices in bedrooms and hosted living room punk shows, of course they don’t sound great. Huge concerts, especially outdoor shows turn a real live band’s sound into what sounds like a CD playing out of a giant Boom-Box...not a fan.
I like to come home after driving around the block pretending to be looking for a parking spot, then pretend to stand in line outside my house...I come in and sit in the corner of my listening room and imagine there’s a loud couple talking behind me, and then put on some music I don’t care about so I can imagine a crappy opening act followed by what I planned to listen to in the first place...then I leave. 
Can I disagree with many here. I am not sure any composer (or few) wrote their music with a view to judging it in a concert hall or "pop" venue. They wrote it as an artistic (hopefully) piece, that was constructed to satisfy their own "minds eye", which of course is quite unique. Don't tell me that Tchaikovsky wrote intricate scores including effects and sounds that 99.99% of the audience would never hear, because he actually thought they would hear them. It is part of his content that is best engaged with within the orchestra itself. I used to play in an orchestra (violin) and was happy to become immersed in what was going on, not sitting in a false position many yards away missing so much of what was going on. Hence I favour surround sound which goes some way to recreating the concept of what the writer wrote.
One of the best concerts I have been to was Dire Straits. Please nobody tell me this was due to  a live "soundstage" presenting the different sound aspects clearly - it was just raw and yet refined music just comin' at ya, which would be impossible to recreate  in the recording of that same event that I have heard. Was the lead guitar coming from stage left or right? Who knows or cares?
But in the privacy of my own home I Iike to  hear what was written in as much detail as possible and immerse myself in the same way I would imagine the writer did at the time of writing.
Another concert which stays in my memory was Roy Orbison, who basically stood on stage, didn't move much at all, but captivated the audience totally. That was basically a single noise source supplemented by subsidiary noises where no soundstage is necessary. 
Again though, at home I want my system to present him in front of me as though he were "live", and Leonard Cohen to growl at me in my living room from a few yard away, which it does. Backing vocals or whatever coming from a different place in the room is essential to add to the dimensions of the music.
So as usual- it all depends on what each person wants to extract from the music. I look for detail written in, others just want a bass beat presumably.
@tatyana69- Thank you, for so concise an explanation, of sound stage/sound space. ie: "Backing vocals or whatever coming from a DIFFERENT PLACE IN THE ROOM is ESSENTIAL to add to the DIMENSIONS of the music." That’s exactly what most of us desire("want to extract") from our music. As mentioned, so many times: providing that’s what’s been recorded/intended.
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@prof1- Back when directionality in our hearing was a survival skill, there were no symphony orchestras. Had there been, chances are: they wouldn’t have eaten too many audiophiles then, either. Then again, if an orchestra’s hitting one, with fff or ffff(ie: Firebird Finale), that’s also an, "attack"(Semantic Gymastics, just for fun). Happy(and safe) listening! ;-)
Directionality is a really complex thing. Definitely useful. I can walk around in the total dark and sense walls (not very accurately but I can manage at a snails pace) - small obstacles are beyond my hearing acuity.

Below 2000 Hz we use the time arrivals of the sound at each ear to work out left right position. Above 2000 Hz we use the relative loudness of the sound (as the head blocks out frequencies above 6000 Hz very effectively (even for small angles off axis like 30 degrees). For the above reasons I believe phase is very important. If high frequencies are delayed by your typical Minimum phase filter or MQA then imaging won’t be as precise because location cues arrive later than they should.

Front, back and up down directionality is more complex. We use the floor reflections which cause comb filtering to work out height. We also use the phase distortion caused by our pinea to work out front and back and to a less extent up down.

Anyway, like a dog, we will obviously tilt our head or move side to side to better deploy our location capabilities especially as high frequencies are so heavily attenuated or blocked by our head.

I would say we can detect the direction of a sound to within two or three inches from 20 feet away given enough sonic info (won’t work for a 100 Hz tone where directionality is challenged)
There are four dimensions for a given space. The three physical dimensions - length, width and depth x, y, z are determined for a live recording by reverberant decay, room reflections, echo and other acoustic properties of the recording space picked up by the microphones. The fourth dimension - time - allows the human brain to integrate the physical parameters to calculate velocities and locations, dx/dt, etc.

Squirrels, by contrast, have very poor integration skills.

If time was not real man would have to create it. 🤗
**** I am not sure any composer (or few) wrote their music with a view to judging it in a concert hall ****

They certainly did! Composers did/do, in fact, make orchestration (instrumentation) choices and make dynamic level indications taking into consideration how the blend of certain instruments or groups of instruments will be affected by the distance to the listener. A simple and common example of this is the difference between the sound of, for instance, a flute and a clarinet playing a unison line as heard from a seat in the hall vs the sound of same as heard by a mic a couple of feet away. That unison line, when well executed and heard from a seat in the hall can have a unique character and color; as if one single (and different) instrument is playing, introducing a new instrumental color to the orchestral palette. When heard up close that same unison musical line will sound like two separate and discreet musical lines at least to some degree no matter how well executed by the players. The musical effect will be very different. Great composers (orchestrators) are keenly aware of these effects.

What happened to the idea of striving to have our systems reproduce what is in the recording? If we setup and tune our systems with the goal in mind of the musicians always sounding as if they are in our living rooms, what happens when the recording was deliberately made to sound with a mid hall perspective? Would we not, by equipment choice and setup, be suppressing the ambient cues in the recording; iow, a distortion? The reverse would also be true.

Not sure there is an option. My system recreates what was on the recording.  If it is a live recording I can hear the hall and the people there, if it is a studio recording I hear what is on it.  Hand claps are the key for me to hear and see how they sound on the recording.  IMO I listen to the backing vocals and instruments to see if they are "real sounding".  Many times when I hear a system, the bongos, drums and cymbals don't sound real to me because system recreates them better.  The bongos and drums sound like they are made of cardboard and I don't hear the actual skin flex, or the effect of the body of the drums.  Piano has to sound right also.  I need to hear the body of the piano, the string thickness, size, how the hammers strike the strings, etc.  Most people I do not think actually hear and can distinguish what a real piano sounds like in different systems or even care.  But what do I know?


It's also worthy of note; every great venue, in history, was designed/constructed with reverberation/Sabine effects/ambiance in mind, even before the builders knew what to call it.  Whether good or bad, every room/venue has a sound.    One will hear reverberation outdoors, as well, in areas with trees, buildings, mountains or cliffs, nearby(and- given a loud enough source).   If one wants to accurately recreate an event: ambient sound recovery = realism(and, as mentioned, "ESSENTIAL", regarding that goal).    Again- tastes may vary(facts don't).        
From my explanation (with help from May and Peter Belt) of how the Clever Lil Clock works,

Time is Relative
The Clever Little Clock addresses an esoteric but fundamental problem that occurs when playing an LP, CD, DVD or any other audio or video media. This problem also occurs when watching taped programs on television or listening to recorded programming on the radio in your car or at home. In all of those cases the observer is confronted - subconsciously - by time coordinates that are different from the Present Time coordinates he’s been using his entire life to time-stamp sensory information. What are these interfering time coordinates, where do they come from and why are they a problem?

The alien time coordinates are contained in the recording (or videotape). The time coordinates (of what was then Present Time) of the recorded performance, millisecond by millisecond, are captured inadvertently along with the acoustic information. When a recording is played, the time coordinates from the recording session (which are now Past Time coordinates) are reproduced by the speakers along with the acoustic signals of the recorded event. Those Past Time signals become entangled, integrated in the listener’s mind with Present Time signals. Because the listener is accustomed to using Present Time signals to synchronize his chronological memory, he subconsciously perceives the confusing, interloping Past Time signals as a threat. This perceived threat produces the fight-or-flight response, which in turn degrades his sensory capabilities. The reason that live television broadcasts, like the Superbowl and the 2010 Olympics, are generally observed to have superior audio and video compared to taped broadcasts is that they don’t contain Past Time signals, only Present Time ones.

Full explanation at,
For rock concerts and orchestra I prefer my home theatre system. I put on Thunderstruck by AC-DC in the Live at Donington blu-ray the other day with the receiver set on DTS Neural X and about blew the windows out. I'm sure my L shaped living room colored it somewhat but who cares. It's about as close to a wall of sound with 3-D imaging as I can manage. I prefer my vinyl system w/ELAC B-6's and small subwoofer in a smaller room for acoustic guitar or jazz in small club or other acoustic music.
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@viridian - Yes; imaging and sound stage are different, but- related. I don’t believe anyone, to be trying to say that kind of image specificity, is available in every instance/venue. Yet- when in any GOOD halls(not to mention, GOOD SEATING), I’ve never had a problem, locating Woodwinds, Strings, Tympani, etc, within the venue/acoustic. Nor(especially), had a problem locating a soloist, by ear, within that space. Yet- I have no doubt, the vast majority seated around me, weren’t trying(paying the least attention to such things), but- simply enjoying the music. We all heard/enjoyed the same music. Some listened differently.
This is why I like speakers that tend to throw a distant soundstage, one which extends to the front wall and ideally beyond it.  This helps to give the perspective of a concert hall.
Easy answer,.. BOTH! And why not? We'll honestly for the masses it may or may not be practical or financially viable or both. Some lack the right room dimensions, others the right speakers or the money to fill the room with the right speakers or gear. Still others may not be/are not aware that speakers and technology exist and have existed a very long time and are within very reasonable cost if certain ideas are adhered to.

With 5 decades in this hobby, both in high end home audio and mobile audio, I've learned  many tricks along the way, as well as good common sense as it applies to our hobby. The biggest revelation I discovered or was taught by my dad early on which stuck to for all these years is this. Your speakers are the key to the entire conundrum.

You should pick a speaker type, design and size your ear and brain equate with overall sound qualities you hear and prefer. Much of this c bean also dependent on the room dimensions and speaker placement within swaid space. Then there are multiple speaker types. Some listeners prefer one of the many differing types of vented cabinets. Others, such as myself desire tightly sealed and separated individual drivers. For others still its a Folded Horn, Isobaric or Infinite Baffle.  I find in home environment it is far easier to control bass response within  given space or room using Acoustic Response sealed cabinets with separated drivers in each enclosure, adhering to universal, fundamental, carefully measured placement parameters.

All things being equal, amps and preamps should sound alike and will minimal coloration of the digital or analog signals they reproduce.  Reality is quite often the opposite. Your choice of Digital or Analog Front End are even more manifold and varied when it come to overall sound they are asked to decode then transmit to the preamp, amp and speakers. Neutral and uncolored can be difficult and expensive to obtain in the real world. The media being played back is the only thing harder to quantify in a meaningful and affordable way. People often believe all Digital formats sound the same as do all Analog Types and nothing can be farther from the truth. Same goes for Digital and Analog themselves, being lumped into love-hate categories depending on who you speak to. Getting and setting up speakers  to sound neutral and accurate while not boring is the big trick. We all hear different, so what I feel sounds over the top good and like the best live sound performance may be boring or annoying audibly to your ears.

I play guitar, piano/keyboards, bass, and percussion/drums, therefore I know what these instruments should sound like in a real setting, together and alone. This is the sound I attempt to reproduce in a home setting. I use large line array speaker, 7 1/2 feet tall, with 2 12" woofers, 1 8" midrange and 26 tweeter mounted vertically. Better to my ear than a point source speaker, the sound comes to the listener as infinite vertically,  wide and deep in all forward/side dimensions, as well as behind my seat. IN most cases a subwoofer is unnecessary,  other than when each of the channels are broken down such as in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS surround etc.

Room measurements must be taken and real world active adjustments  made, in my case with Room Perfect and an active EQ for each channel which allows component changes to be  made thus altering the sound, not the typical consumer EQ with slides between 30hz and 18Khz. Room size is smaller than one would equate to these larger speakers 16' X 20' X 9' tall with 750 watt mono block amps for each channel. Power is not used to make things loud although that is easily possible, more so there is pressure and reinforcement through musical dynamics starting at the first portion of each watt to full power if called upon. An amp running out of steam is a huge problem when trying to make your system sound live and the way you like it. bass eats watts, speakers are damaged more often by under powered amps clipping than over powered amps with double the power the speakers are rated for. Getting measurements and crossovers set to optimal, sprinkleing in room treatments if needed ( they dont need to be expensive, you'd be amazed where most often less if often better) you can fashion your own out of every day material. 

A quality multi format digital player as well as quality analog players are important here. If you like vinyl or tape, there are so many great deals out there which are very affordable. I advise spending a giid chunk of budget on your turntable if thats what your primary media is, 1-2K will secure your plenty of table. Spend 50% or better on your cartridge, as well as phono stage. I bought and built my own. Kits are fairly easy to follow there is plenty of help online to assist you in choice and construction. Picking a cartridge is the harder task, do research, try to demo or purchase where if you don't like the sound, your can exchange for something else the company carries. Analog Tape is well, tape and second generation prerecorded media for open reel starts at about 300$ and rises. However, the sound is the ultimate, you get to hear what is on the master, even Digital media may not get you that close to the real mix. Speaking to digital, today picking a multi-player that offers 25/96 and up resolution at a reasonable price is like shooting fish in a barrell. Securing a new player that streams, does internet radio, DVD, BluRay audio/video, plays CD's SACDS and more is easier than ever. Do your research, there are players out there are now practically upgrade proof,  designed to be upgraded to the newest emerging formats as time passes us by. 

Try to do as much research as possible. Educate your ears, find a sound you like. Remember, you don't have to buy everything new, buying previously enjoyed with warranty allows you to keep much more money to spend on the medial of your choice. After all it matters not how expensive or impressive your rig is if you cannot afford and do not have anything to listen to on it. Used media is another area to save your $$$ on,  allowing you to buy more. I budget about 50$ per week for music or to save toward a new component or upgrade/repair if needed. Knowing your budget and how it will change is important. This hobby continues to evolve and your choices as well as desires and want's will change as time passses and your ears become more refined and educated. I started out with Sony Marantz and Pioneer. Today it's VPI,McIntosh, Studer Sumiko and Audio Research. I kept the better of my older gear while upgrading, relegating it to other rooms or areas, even something for my work office to enjoy. 

Keep it fun and affordable. If it's not fun, you're doing something wrong. It doesn't matter what it sounds like to others. Your ears are the ones that must be satisfied. Impress yourself, don't worry about what the others hear. 

“With 5 decades in this hobby...” Sorry, that’s as far as I got. No offense.
Dyslexic geofkait? Viridian, If you get yourself the right seat at an acoustic jazz concert there is great imaging. The problem with any electrified concert is you are listening to the speakers not the musicians.
You are only going to perceive imaging at acoustic venues jazz or classical. 
I have a 113" Steward screen between my speakers. I'll take watching a Blu Ray before going to a stadium concert any day. I have front row seats at a reasonable volume. There are a few semi outdoor amphitheaters that have great sound if I can get good seats. I am seeing King Crimson at Wang Center in Boston soon and that will be special. I'll do almost anything to see Gavin Harrison play the drums. 
Live recordings frequently give you a better image of the instruments than the actual live performance. The sound is taken off the sound board and then mastered later. Waiting for Columbus is a great example. 
“Dyslexic geofkait?” Maybe, but at least I can spell. Hey, look here! It’s one of the methane twins! Nice to smell you, again!
"Maybe, but at least I can spell."
Not so fast. Track record is working against you.