Spectral balance

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My mentors Arnie Nudell and Harry Pearson believed any system that could accurately reproduce the sound of an orchestra could easily play any other kind of music. The opposite is not true. A Marshall 4×12 Electric Guitar Cabinet can certainly play rock and roll, but I doubt a bassoon would sound like itself.

Part of the issue building systems around a class of music not orchestral—say a jazz or rock-centric setup—is a limited spectral balance. An orchestra covers the full frequency range of music, from the lowest 16Hz pedal notes of the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 to the distant bells in C and G of the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique; and dynamic contrasts not often found in other forms of music.

I find it rather rare in my visits to audio shows that full orchestral pieces are featured in rooms. Instead, we seem to focus on the limited spectral balance of more popular music styles that better fit most systems.

To be fair, not many setups can manage the range of frequencies found in orchestral music, which is why smaller system owners have their stash of favored discs at the ready.

I have heard a few well-balanced systems in my days—systems with smallish speakers augmented by subs and powered by dynamically accurate electronics—like the smallish Harbeths and REL subwoofer on engineer Darren Myers’ desk. And though they aren’t full range they are satisfying. I find myself smiling and tapping my toe, with no reservations about that which was left off.

I would encourage folks to find a favorite few orchestral recordings to have on hand for audition and testing—especially when new kit is in for evaluation. Reference Recordings has many trusted pieces.

Orchestral music may not be your cup of tea, but you just might find it instructive none the less.