What is it I'm failing to grasp?

I come across statements here and elsewhere by guys who say 1) their systems come very close to duplicating the experience of hearing live music and 2) that they can listen for hours and hours due to the "effortless" presentation.  

I don't understand how these two claims add up. In tandem, they are profoundly inconsistent with my experiences of listening to live music. 

If I think about concerts I consider the best I've witnessed (Oregon, Solas, Richard Thompson, SRV, Dave Holland Quintet, '77 G. Dead, David Murray, Paul Winter Consort), I would not have wanted any of those performances to have extended much beyond their actual duration.

It's like eating-- no matter how wonderfully prepared the food, I can only eat so much-- a point of satiation is reached and I find this to be true (for me) when it comes to music listening as well. Ditto for sex, looking at visual art, reading poetry or playing guitar. All of these activities require energy and while they may feel "effortless" in the moment, I eventually reach a point where I must withdraw from aesthetic simulation.

Furthermore, the live music I've heard is not always "smoothly" undemanding. I love Winifred Horan's classically influenced Celtic fiddling but the tone she gets is not uniformly sweet; the melodies do not always resemble lullabies. The violin can sound quite strident at times. Oregon can be very melodious but also,(at least in their younger days) quite chaotic and atonal. These are examples on the mellower side of my listening spectrum and I can't listen to them for more than a couple hours, either live or at home. 

Bottom line: I don't find listening to live music "effortless" so I don't understand how a system that renders this activity "effortless" can also be said to be accurate.   

What is it that I'm failing to grasp, here?  




"Unless you listen to classical music and the rare Jazz or Pop/Rock album, most recordings are designed to NOT be a recording of a live event.   In fact, since they are multi-tracked and multi-layered, there are capturing a performance that never existed in the physical world.    They represent something the artist or producer decided they wanted  you to hear." 

Good point! 

"So the bottom line is you buy a system that pleases your ears and brain, nothing more".

To me, this is reality.  I suppose if I had unlimited money, I could chase "fidelity". That's not gonna happen, so focus on pleasing my ears, in my room. 


"Is it the same as "live"? Nah. But it can be compelling, sound like real instruments particularly when the arrangements are spare". 

Yeah. I was listening to "Let It Bleed" yesterday and everything sounded more real on tracks like "Love In Vain", due to the more spare instrumentation, than on the purely electric cuts. 


"Live music reference point sort of a straw man. But what else are you going to use as a comparison? The radio? Another person's system? Dealer's? Forum opinions?"

I gave up attending live music long ago for various reasons so all I have are my ears. I don't buy anything I can't demo in my room and return if necessary. 


"Bottom line for me is quality over quantity in a listening session"

Can't argue with that ! 


The "live" hope for audiophiles tends to be towards more jazz and classical music"

Yeah. Jazz and various acoustic styles Newgrass/Folk/Singer-songwriter/Celtic comprise the bulk of my listening. 


"I think a lot of the difference is just sheer sound volume."

Excellent point!  


I appreciate your comments and, I think perhaps you misunderstood me. . . or perhaps I did not express myself clearly. What seems paradoxical to me is claiming 1) one's system displays high fidelity (accuracy in reproducing the source) while 2) offering as "proof' the fact that  one can listen to the system all day.   

I may be mistaken but it seems to me that the above is not possible. Either all the music one is listening to on such a system is extremely well recorded or the system itself is "smoothing out" the sound of the recording.  

However, it may well be that there is no paradox here with very costly systems and that I simply haven't heard a good enough system. 


"I often find myself searching for recordings that make my system sound better.  I think I might be attracted to recordings that make my system sound best rather than the songs themselves". 

This was true for me years ago and it felt like "the tail wagging the dog". Now, that's not the case and my system is much more revealing than it was, then. I accept that there are some CDs I simply can't enjoy due to recording/mastering choices but I no longer feel like my listening choices are determined by what sounds best on my system. 


"I should think that all this audio gear is to try to reproduce a recording, not a performance. You can't get closer to any 'performance' than what the producer/engineers provide for you on the source. The closest you can get is to hear it the way that they wanted you to hear it."

Makes sense. 



Great thread!

I’ve just started reading “How Music Works” by David Byrne - fascinating. First chapter spends a lot of time discussing how music is shaped by its surroundings and culture - e.g., why Mozart started with chamber music, how arena acoustics shape modern pop. Highly recommended

( @mijostyn you might find really interesting based on your observations above)

Thank goodness I'm not the biggest fan of live music.

In all seriousness I never have cared for live music other then being apart of the energy of the audience/crowd, or witnessing the theatrics and mood the musicians bring about. I've always found live music to fall short of the sonic experience the studio version has ultimately perfected.

Live music never was my jam... but that's not to say I didn't go to hundreds of concerts throughout my years. I love(d) going to shows and love seeing certain musicians play, but I would liken that to watching West Side story in person as a play, or the most recent Spielberg production. Which you prefer is ultimately up to you, but I'm happy I've only seen Spielberg's rendition, for I couldn't imagine it to be any better then that. Same as I couldn't imagine my favorite studio recording sounding better live, nor do I think that would be what the artist had intended.

Live music is more about the performance, the people, the place and time then it is the sound (to me). When I want to really "hear" the music I just listen to it on my home system, in stereo as I imagine the artist did while mastering and mixing it.


Sure. But to play devil's advocate, even if a performance solely utilizes acoustic instruments with no amplification, each venue sounds different, acoustically. Furthermore, the sound in any venue will vary according to where each audience member is sitting and regardless of location, each member will perceive sound uniquely. Which person is hearing the "true sound"? 


That’s the point I was getting at. There are so many variables in trying to achieve live sound. Who’s variation are we trying to duplicate?  

  Me,I’m happy with the sound I get from my systems.  I am chasing what ties me to the music. You may listen,and say it sounds good,but it doesn’t touch you. That’s fine. That’s the whole thing. There are SO many different ideas of LIVE.