Sat front row at the symphony...

Yesterday, I got to sit in the front row to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony do Beethoven's Piano Concerto no 1 and the Shostakovich Symphony no 10.  I know we all talk about audio gear here, but I have to tell you, sitting in the best seat in the house (Heinz Hall) was an amazing audio experience.  I'm not sure the best audio gear in the world can quite match it.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I was mesmerized by the acoustics of the hall and the dynamics of one of the world's best orchestras.


You are not wrong. The best home set up, at any price, cannot even come close to a live SO. Don't shoot your audio system. It just ain't going to happen. At its best it just gives you a faint idea of what the music is all about. My last live event was a Mahler 5 performance, row 8 close to center. I took a gal unexposed to Mahler - she was 'blown away' and exhausted! I should have prepped her better, but I just assumed.....! :-)  

Front row at our hall is terrible compared to further back. Indeed, tix are cheaper up front.

I've sat in every possible spot for various classical concerts over the decades and, yeah, I got to say that being in the front few rows in the center two-thirds of a hall is just wonderful. To heck with missing the proper synthesis/amalgamation of tone. You feel like a part of the orchestra. Inside the machine. You feel the individual efforts. You both forgive and appreciate the minor glitches. The occasional squeak of a chair. The cough. The turning of the pages. All in Super Technorama One Zillion. True, all told the sound is better several rows back. But I never turn down a chance at being at Ground Zero. It's even fun being being on the far left or right.

the origin of the symphony's layout is the Greek amphitheater. A pretty amazing and efficient design, with the aim for the best acoustics in every seat in the house. The main difference was that it was open air. So, the front row shouldn't be worse, if it was properly built.

Congradulations on the experience. I have been fortunate enough to have season tickets to the Oregon Syphony for a decade. The “best” seats in the house for sound are typically reported as the 7th row center. I found in this symphony hall it is 8th row center left, I have had both.

The exact seats depend on the hall. But in these seats when there is a soloist… for instance, a violinist, the sound hole will be pointed roughly at these seats… and the piano top will reflect sound to this area. You are far enough back to have the sound integrate well, when appropriate but keep individual instruments easily distinguishable in great detail.

Anyway, a really great system can come very close to reproducing the sound. One of the reasons I began attending regularly was to tune my ears to real acoustical sound. It worked, and over the ten years I completing changed the direction my system evolution was going and made two major upgrades. These have been the most important and substantial of my 50+ year pursuit of the high end.


Did you measure spl? 120 db+ I’d bet. Impressive but bad for ears over time. Nice goal to shoot for being able to achieve at home if you can afford the luxury but just don’t actually do it too often.


Luckily, home systems capable of doing well what our ears can actually tolerate are way more practical.

+1 @ghdprentice

The “best” seats in the house for sound are typically reported as the 7th row center.

To give an example -- in Denver’s hall, Orchestra 1, the closer rows, are $82 each, Orchestra 2, what you’re describing, are $145, and Orchestra 3, further back, are $122. This coincides with both improved sight lines and acoustics.

Glad you were able to see my point. Not everyone has a bulb which lights.

@newbee " ...she was ’blown away’ and exhausted! I should have prepped her better, but I just assumed.....! :-)"

I don’t think I’ve ever had that problem with a date.


Has been in Carnegie Hall for performance of piano with violin (Spivakov)

I could hear coughing and sneezing a lot better than piano and violin. This venue is one of the WORST I've ever been.

Other days had been in Minnesota Symphony Hall and what a difference. I chose seats a-bit away from the front row and music was filling the hall whether it's solo or orchestra.

You don’t even need to go to to an elaborate venue/symphony to appreciate that systems don’t speak the real thing. When my son plays his trombone in our kitchen it alone fills the room in a way that no system can. And even his trombone is a beginner model!

I frequently attend concerts at Boston Symphony Hall given by our outstanding second tier orchestra, the Boston Philharmonic. My series tickets are in the second row behind the mid-hall aisle just off the center. Superb seats for a mix of hall ambience and direct sound. Some prefer front center balcony….mellower balance. I sat in the front row for Beethoven Symphony #9 one year. Overwhelming but not as good to my taste. The recording mics are closer than where I sit, but the engineers capture a lot of what I hear from my seat. Check the Mahler Symphony 6 and 9 by the BPYO under Zander, streaming on your favorite service. 

An experience all of us should have.

Back in 1982 I was a resident physician at a hospital in Akron Ohio. I was reviewing an x ray with an older radiologist and noticed that he had two cassettes with organ pieces on them. Turns out he was a huge organ buff. I copied a rare album of Cesar Frank's Complete Organ works on my Nakamichi Dragon and brought it to his office. Two days later he invited me to a concert at the Richmond Colosseum, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is an open air venue and also hosts rock concerts. He drives right up to a small building which turns out to have the facility infirmary. He was one of the house physicians. There are four seats in the center boxes reserved for the house physicians. They are first come first serve. He hangs his picture ID from his neck, grabs a beeper and we head out to our seats. If there is an emergency he will get beeped or rather vibrated. That night was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra doing Orff's Carmina Burana. I have four copies of that piece and only one of them comes close to the performance that night. Afterwards we return to the infirmary. He takes me back to a small office, sits me down in front of a Polaroid machine and has my picture taken. I must have wet my pants. He made me a house physician! I could go to any concert I wanted. All I had to do was hang that picture ID around my neck, grab a beeper and take a seat. I never got beeped and I must have attended 20 concerts, all because I recorded a cassette expecting nothing in return, just sharing music with another organ buff.

@crustycoot , I grew up in Newton, just outside of Boston and my dad had season tickets at the BSH supposedly one of finest in the world. As a child I doubt I appreciated the hall acoustics, I just loved the music. I do think I prefer open air venues like Tanglewood. 

I had the same experience lately as the OP. I don’t get out much so I haven’t seen a live show in a LONG time. One of my friends plays the accordion in a polka band. Now I’m not into polka (If I was I wouldn’t tell anyone!). However, I’m not opposed to going out for a beer and a meal. After maybe 15 years of his insisting I came out to hear them play. He was playing at a local watering hole called the Leather Corner Post. In short I was absolutely blown away at the quality of the music! The three men playing are all professional musicians and the acoustics in the place were decent. I had a great time/ I’ve heard great Hi Fi rigs but none did what live music in a good venue can do. I’m going back! They play the third Thursday of every month at the Leather Corner Post in Orefield, Pa. Join me if you are in driving distance. Bring your Boomba!! Joe

The best sounding seats really depends on the hall design.  The classic shoebox hall is generally considered the best sounding, but its limited seating capacity is a problem for new construction projects.  The better sounding seats in a shoebox are reported to be two-thirds back near the center.  Clearly personal preference comes into play.  If you want more distinction between the orchestra sections, then seat closer.  A strong argument can also be made for the front rows of the balcony.   Better sight lines and the orchestra's sound is projected upwards.  I think this would also apply to many fan shaped halls.  The vineyard style hall is confusing, at least to me, and I'm not sure what generalizations can be made.

@mikeydee You were good enough to share your experience of attending a live symphony concert.  It only took about three posts for the conversation to largely change to -  that wasn't the best seat in the house, let me tell you what is the best seat in the house.   Classic Audiogon  🤣

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Avery Fisher Hall in NYC just recently spent millions renovating the acoustics of the hall to make it sound better.  Front row at the NY Philharmonic is way more than the $51 I spent on my ticket.  Try hundreds more.




@hilde45 there is a way to be critical and constructive not condescending. Many of these comments however have the "I have the tickets to the best seats, let me lecture you how wrong you are" vibe. Of course you can't prove intent so you can always say that I am just imagining the vibe.

But it seems to be in so many posts: OP asks "how is A with B" and the answer is "oh, no, forget it, you need C" 

The OP specifically stated that where he sat was the best seats in the house.  That assertion is very open to debate.

Just as an aside, when you go to the cinema do you sit in the front row?

I thought of the movies when I read this post. Of course the screen in your face is a very different story than the acoustics.


And now I read 3 articles about what’s the best seat at Heinz Hall! (How useful) Thanks everyone :)

Back to work...

For the vast majority major symphony halls, I believe center, toward the back of the "Orchestra" section is considered the best for sound,

I've heard a few systems over the years, that can do a pretty good job of reproducing the scale of an orchestra, from about the position I mention above.

But, no audio system can reproduce the sound power (different than sound pressure) levels of an orchestra.


Many of these comments however have the "I have the tickets to the best seats, let me lecture you how wrong you are" vibe. Of course you can't prove intent so you can always say that I am just imagining the vibe.

I think that's a fair point, but it seems a bit "snowflakey" when someone jumps in on behalf of the OP to shriek "you brutes"  and then get posts deleted. I mean, let the OP interpret and react first, and if there's a pile on, well, ok, maybe there needs to be a defense. Otherwise, it's just trolling by other means. I mean, this is audio -- we should be able to converse with a bit rough and tumble that isn't immediately conflated with "abuse."

@hilde45 I agree, the lines are fuzzy. What's advice to one person may be insult to another.


Very wide range or even more omnidirectional speakers like Ohm Walsh would fill that space more like live instruments than most more directional designs. It’s what they do and why people like them. 

Yes, very front row is good but not best unless you like wide soundstages or looking up violinists' armpits.

I would say 7 to 10 rows back.

And although OP specifies an orchestral concert, in a piano concerto it is good to side halfway to the left, on the 'keyboard side' so you can watch the pianist working.

I once had front row center seats to a Peter Tosh concert.  Not only could I feel the intensity of the show, I could smell it too! 😎  There is something to be said about sitting so really feel as one with the performers.  I can only imagine a symphony to be much more intense.

Back in 1982 Richmond Colosseum, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. is incorrect the summer home for the CSO is Ravinia Festival in Highland Park Il, Glad you enjoyed the show they were probably in town for a few shows back then, But my cousin was the front of house sound tech for them there from 1976 thru 1988 then down at Symphony Center in Chicago,  Ravinia has a  wood dance floor stage with seating under a roofed pavilion which extends out to outdoor lawn seating with delay speakers placed all over the lawn. as i worked for them from 1976 thru 1999 while my father was the technical Director for the venue.

We are all kidding ourselves if we actually believe our systems even come close, no's like comparing your hand to, well you know....😜

The best position in the hall for any ensemble is the conductor on the podium, front stage center.  That is, for maximum detail which is the basis of tone and other characteristics of music.  As an experienced performer in orchestra, chamber groups, I know the facts.  Next best is the 1st row center.  By the 2nd row, there is already significant loss of high freq detail.  Remember that microphones are very close, so an accurate audio system will approximate the close sound of the mikes.  More distant seats further away than the 2nd row will give more spatiality, of course, but at the big sacrifice of vocal/instrumental detail, esp HF rolloff.

There was an ignorant early 80's review of great concert halls in TAS.  #1 was the Musikverein in Vienna.  The author said that any seat in that hall was great.  Well, I went to Vienna shortly after.  I sat in the 25th row--utter garbage reverberant mud.  The 12th row was much better, but nothing like the 3rd row.  

Get a good, natural recording of a piece you want to hear at a concert hall.  Go to a student concert where there will be plenty of open seats so you can try different distances.  Then go home and listen to your audio system which is hopefully accurate, and devoid of euphonic electronics and sources.  My accurate electrostatics and components have the detail of the 1st row, although the live 1st row still has the ultimate naturalness.  By the 3rd row, the beauty of the live sound is still wonderful, but HF brilliance is already significantly gone.

It's not about the sound.  How can any equipment compete emotionally with experiencing incredibly talented, devoted musicians playing music they love as a member of a rapt audience devoting their full attention to the performance.  Listening to your audio system is not comparable, period.

At Symphony Center in Chicago there is a semicircular "terrace" above and behind the orchestra, where the chorus sits when it is required.  Listening from that vantage point is a unique experience.  I describe it as like having an aural X-ray of the score.  Every detail of orchestration is distinct, powerful, and vivid.  Of course, it's not ideal when there's a soloist, whose back will be facing you.  But for an orchestral piece it's a worthwhile experience, much like a very well-mixed recording.

Every detail then how do you here the flutes and oboes along with the horn section that is 15feet in front of the back wall and projecting outward toward the conductor ?

The orchestra is in a huge shell-shaped proscenium.  Some years ago, an array of glass reflectors were suspended at the very top of this shell to improve  the balance of sound for the audience and to help the musicians hear each other.  I can attest to its success.  I can't fully account for the acoustic science of it, but it does work.  Flutes, horns, triangle, can hear it in the terrace.  And out in the front of the house on the main floor, where I normally sit, I can hear the woodwinds better than I could in the olden days (for me, that would be the 1970s and '80s.)

@bigtwin Wait til you get your Sound Labs!  You’ll be amazed at how real it sounds. 

All the great halls sound good. But they also have front-of-house sound guys who are reinforcing the orchestra. All those small condenser mics hanging over the orchestra? Those are getting used. It’s subtle. These guys are good, and their equipment is top notch.  Their job is for you not to notice. 

I’m fortunate to sub with a top 10 orchestra from time to time. Last time I did, I brought up Sonic Tools on my iPad. Sitting just under the conductor by the first violins and <ten feet from the percussion section, the highest SPL on stage was 80dB. It was an orchestral fanfare, not Mahler. But classical music SLOs is much lower than jazz/pop/rock. I try to take that into account when listening at home. 

We have the Escondido Center for Performing Arts that has 2 nice theaters, one of decent size, and one smaller.  Both have great seats across the board.  The past 2 years the San Diego Symphony has performed on a regular basis while their main venue was being renovated, and have enjoyed attending the shows about every few months.  They recently had a 8 member string show that was supposed to be in the small theater, but for some reason was moved to the stage of the larger theater with the audience facing out looking over the regular seating, and the performers facing us.  They started with a duet, then trio, then quartet, ending up with all 8.  This was all natural, no mikes or speakers.  It was incredible!  Yes, sometimes we hear people coughing, or talking, etc, but still enjoyable and a good reference point to how music should sound!  Glad you had a wonderful experience!


You said, "It's not about the sound."  Half true.  The live experience combines sound and visuals.  But the next time you attend a live concert, close your eyes and listen honestly to the sound.  The sound is the main subject of this discussion thread.  Many people here have addressed the comparison between the live concert sound and the home audio sound.  Although live unamplified sound is more natural than that of any audio system, at a location far away from the performers  so much detail is lost compared to any decent audio system playing a relatively unprocessed recording.  As a performing violinist, I listen carefully to my colleagues performing, and as a listener I seek to hear as much detail as possible to appreciate the music. To appreciate full details and nuances, no live location far away can compete with a good audio system.  But front row center always beats any audio system for detail and naturalness.

At a recent concert I heard the Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin by Wagner.  From front row center, the sound of the front stage string section was superb.  But the cymbal crash from the back of the stage was AWFUL--muddy from excessive distance and too much reverberation.  It sounded like the tweeter was blown on a bad speaker.  Even an intact low-fi audio system is better for clarity than that mess.

When I go to Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center in Philadephia and sit in my favorite seat to listen to the Philadelphia Orchestra, I realize that 137 years after the original Edison phonograph audio technology still hasn’t quite caught up with unamplified live music in a good acoustic venue. To be sure, my state-of-the-art stereo system renders a startlingly faithful imitation of a grand piano, a string quartet, or a jazz trio, but a symphony orchestra or a large chorus? Close but no cigar. - Peter Aczel

The front row isn’t the best seat in the house.  The musicians are projecting their sound out, and I prefer at least 10 rows back if I am on the main floor.  Normally we sit in the first balcony, which most people consider to be the best seats in the house

Many years before sound recordings, they got the idea of putting the woodwinds, brass and percussion in the back, because those instruments are naturally louder than the strings.  If they put them in the front, they would drown out the strings so badly, that you would not be able to hear them.

My best experience listening to a symphony orchestra was up near the front. I totally loved it. I've had some other experiences in concert halls where I'd have been happier listening to a record at home.

As a subscriber of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra I share your enthusiasm. Prefer 20th row center.  


The best listening position is the conductor's head on the podium.  He is closest to all the instruments and gets maximum detail.  He hears the best balance, so all the instruments are maximally revealed.  All instruments are more or less directional in their radiation patterns, and they are all facing him with nearly full toe-in.  (Incidentally, nearly all loudspeakers are directional, so to get the full frequency range, toe-in is desirable.  The only question is whether you beam the speakers to each ear, or the nose.) 

If the stage is high, like 4 feet in Carnegie Hall, then the first few rows will be below the axis of direct radiation from the instruments.  At about rows 7-10,  the radiation pattern will be more direct.  Unfortunately, at 40 feet distance, the 10th row will lose a lot of HF especially, compared to the 10 feet distance in the 1st row.  In my experience, the HF rolloff with the distant 10th row destroys the clarity and detail of HF overtones more than the benefit from the better projection.  In the front balcony about 100-150 feet away, there is SEVERE HF rolloff, much multipath acoustic smearing of the midrange.  The only benefit of front balcony seating is better visuals.  Although there is more spatiality in the balcony, the large distance turns the whole presentation into almost mono.  Ideal stereo separation might be the 10th row, but my paramount interest is to hear full freq harmonic detail.  Front row center is best for that, 

My most thrilling orchestral experiences have been when performing solo violin concertos standing on the front stage next to the conductor.  All the brass instruments blasted into my ears and body.  Subtle nuances from all instruments were unparalleled.  The front row in the hall was the next best thing.  Anything further back was boring DULLSVILLE by comparison.


One of my favorite recordings is Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, Dallas Symphony, conducted by Donald Johanos, 1967.  The companion recording of Copland works (Rodeo, Fanfare for the common man) shares the same recording technique.  They were done in the auditorium of Southern Methodist University.  These recordings were audiophile demo spectaculars in the mid 70's when I got started as an audiophile.  The recordings are close miked with minimal hall sound.  They sound like front row center.  Most other recordings of these pieces are distant with more ambience.  Musical clarity and detail are nearly completely lost in the soup of ambient smearing.  That's what you get with 20th row seating.  

@czarivey   Well, most concerts I've been to the lady violists wear long flowing dresses or skirts.  While they like to keep their bowing arm free to move and so often have tops cut to the shoulders.



I mean no disrespect to you as a musician, but in my experience musicians don’t always make the best audiophiles.  I have a friend who is very well known violist who is perfectly happy using an AM transistor radio circa 1960 as his only piece of audio.  He knows music so well that I think his mind fills in whats missing.  The perspective that you describe having the brass blow up your butt while you play must be thrilling, but again you know the music so well that you are entranced when you get to experience facets of it in a unique way.  Is that really the experience that you crave if you are going to sit and listen to a recording a few dozen times?  I think the uniqueness would wear off and become fatiguing.

  I have sat first row, dead center, in Boston and Chicago (where I live), so close to the conductor that I could hear the noise made when his perspiration hits the podium.  It is a thrilling perspective, but not an experience that I care to repeat often.

  I have sat in every part of Chicago’s Symphony Hall over the past few decades, jand without question first row balcony takes the cake.  They are also the most expensive seats, so most listeners must agree.  It isn’t because the seats are the most comfortable.