If we mentally step back from focusing on just the reproduction chain (your stereo system) and look at the entire process of capturing and playing back the sound of live musicians playing in a room, we can see it as pipe with an input and and output. On the one end of the pipe we have a microphone and on the other end a loudspeaker. In between we have an incredible array of "stuff" that amplifies, manages, records and plays back. I thought it might be interesting to ruminate on the very first thing music encounters when it enters this pipe; the microphone. Microphones are the opposite of loudspeakers - put sound pressure into them and out comes electricity. If you put a copy of that same electricity into a loudspeaker out comes sound pressure. Simple. We concern ourselves with everything in between these two to make sure the original sound pressure is preserved accurately - or so that's what we tell ourselves. Actually the truth is closer to this: we do everything we can to faithfully reproduce the OUTPUT of the microphone and that's perhaps the best we can hope for. The distinction between the two is important because as hard as we might work to reproduce the sound of live music playing in acoustic space, we haven't any real control over that. All we can hope to do is reproduce what the microphone interpreted and maintain ITS sound. Microphones are every bit as colored as loudspeakers. Those in the know can easily identify the sound of certain microphones without ever knowing what they were - in the same way a good wine enthusiast can smell and taste wine and tell you what it is, where it came from and sometimes even what year it was bottled. In fact, sticking with our wine analogy, great sounding microphones are prized by collectors and demand high prices - just as great wines are collected and stored. The point is they have a sound to them: a cello captured by a microphone sounds noticeably different than if you were to place your ear in the same position as the microphone under scrutiny - a lot different. Let's delve into these mechanical beasts tomorrow.
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