The lens of microphones
In writing yesterday's post about the folly of believing what you hear on a sound system is close to live music, mainly because of the ear/brain's amazing ability to quickly adapt to any acoustic situation, I am reminded of my friend Dan Schwartz who always surprises me with his observations of stereo systems. I was on a show-and-tell trip to Los Angeles to demonstrate the new PerfectWave DAC and Bridge to the LA Audio Society. It was a fun trip and attended by a great group of people that I admire a lot. Dan came by to say hello and I invited him to listen to the new DAC; which he did. His first comment was that he couldn't make a judgment because all he could hear was the microphone characteristics the recorded singer must have used. Like a wine expert who tastes something and can tell you what country, type and perhaps even the year it was made, Dan hears the lens or the sound of the microphones used to make the recording, so sensitive he is to such things. I, on the other hand, was marveling at how good and natural the singer sounded through my DAC : two very different worldviews of the same event. If you think about it, what this really says is that down deep, neither of us would for a moment believe the singer is actually in the room. In fact, not one person in the room attending the seminar would tell you that he was fooled into believing someone was actually standing in the room singing; so far away from real is the stereo system. Everything you have ever heard and are likely to ever hear on your high-end system is always going to be through the lens of a microphone. The exceptions to this are directly fed instruments like synthesizers and electric instruments with direct outputs - but then, these too have the same sort of "lens" they lay through that gives them their own sound. The act of reproducing high-end audio in your home is a process that probably never can get away from being passed through the color of a lens before it reaches your ear. Our challenge is to try and make everything in that chain as transparent as possible. We have a long way to go.
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