Live or reproduced?

March 7, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Once you hear the real deal it's almost impossible to go back.

Such was the experience I had relayed to you in yesterday's Paul's Post. It hadn't taken me long to raise my standards of what music sounds like as reproduced by the extraordinary planar midrange and tweeter drivers of the FR30. Newley recorded cymbals shimmered and sounded as if they were in the room.

The stark differences between that live performance sound and then hearing it played on conventional driver designs was a literal slap in the face.

One sounded real, the other a contrived version pointing to itself.

"I am a tweeter."

Until that moment I had never had that stark of an experience. I think what really helped was also having the recording, mixing, and mastering facility in the same vicinity and as part of the same process.

Even with all this newfound clarity and realism I still haven't answered the original question. How can we know the proper placement of a microphone if we must rely upon the accuracy of a loudspeaker or headphone for verification?

I wish I had a magic answer, but I don't. Best I have is to go where we're now going. Monitoring and listening on the most accurate transducers possible.

It won't be perfect but dang if it doesn't get us closer.

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37 comments on “Live or reproduced?”

    1. Just my guess:
      the main effect will just depend on the different characteristic compared to usual studio monitors.

      Say, if the FR30 e.g. has not only tremendous bass quality, but also tremendous or different bass output compared to other speakers, we’ll e.g. end up with recordings having less bass. The more this speaker deviates from a „normal“ (home or studio) standard, the more the resulting recording will differ from todays in tonality I’d say.

      But I guess proper tonality will then be ensured again with speakers, the mastering engineers know well.

      In case recordings monitored with a speaker with e.g. AMT tweeter will at the end sound better on all home speakers or just those with AMT tweeters, I’m personally lucky, but I honestly don’t expect that. To cite Paul, I’d say, more revealing monitoring speakers „will get us closer“, but I don’t expect direct differences for us consumers of the recording. And as we read yesterday by Bob Ohlsson, each mastering engineer seems to have his own practice to do things and there seems to be aspects that can even be evaluated better with less revealing speakers. Interesting matter anyway!

      1. I experienced the same result in your first paragraph, Jazz. I added subwoofers and the bass seemed too strong, even though I had adjusted them to be flat to 31.5Hz with a 16db roll-off after that to 20Hz. There was a "new normal" that was technically better, but it took some time to get familiar with it.

  1. It is commonly known that many instruments doesn’t beam sound wave in a uniform homogeneous way into the room but in a most frequency-dependent way. So the question is: what does the audience hear in the far-far-field (most diffuse sound)? Or: what does the conductor hear? What does the player hear? And what does the microphone above the the cymbal hear? And how close to what will be the intended recording? Thus no wonder that sound-engineers whose intention always is to mix the best sound (an answer I often got) will never have the same conception of “good sound” and the final product will always be a most artificial sound following individual preferences and tastes. And no wonder that musicians often disagree with the “idea” of the final mix because they heard a most different sound when playing their instruments.

  2. Paul,
    Now that you have your 'definitive room' at the newly minted 'Octave Records' recording studio, I can only imagine that, over time, you will slowly figure out where the best position(s) will be for the mic's & for the musicians within said definitive room by trial & error & ears & brain & note-pad & pen 😉

  3. I appreciate from Raidho what a planar-type tweeter can do, but I cannot think of a professional studio monitor brand that uses a ribbon or planar tweeter. I needed Google to find out that Adam Audio do some, but it seems the recording industry has continued turning for over a century without them. Why would that be?

    Curiously, I've never taken the grilles off my speakers, or the previous two pairs of Harbeth. So I haven't actually seen the tweeter on my main speakers since 2015.

    1. I can’t say how common AMT tweeters are in studios, at least as they are quite directional, they have advantages in a studio environment for avoiding unwanted reflections (on the other hand those could also be wanted there). But maybe studios tend to use speakers which have as few as possible „own and specials characteristics, even if positive ones“.

      1. There seem to be one range of small monitors made by Presonus using AMT and that's about it.

        I'm curious about the crossover between monitors and consumer speakers, because their design objectives do not necessarily overlap.

        When I looked at a new audio system in 2007/8 the first speakers I heard were ATC and I decided they were a bit brutal for extended home use. Same feeling with the large PMC SE. Harbeth are one of the few passive monitors, but in the last 5 years some pro and consumer models have been voiced differently.

        If I didn't enjoy vinyl, I would happily go for active Kii3 or Grimm, which crossover perfectly. I noted in the forum recently that Rachel Podger's excellent recordings of Vivaldi etc. are produced using Grimm.

        1. It's funny that my old floorstanding Celestion's were
          named 'Ditton 66 Studio Monitors' by the manufacturer.
          My how far we've come in studio monitors since 1976.

      2. Many studios use what are called near field monitors. Think of them as a regular speaker that tend to direct the sound forward so that of you are close to the speaker you will only hear the direct sound and not reflections. They give you more ambience than closed back headphones.

    2. Just as well, Steven/Steven. Fortunately, with the dark gray finish the black foam inserts the combination isn't too bad if you ever decide to go grill-less.

  4. Time will tell how this all ends up.
    Correct me if I’m wrong (and know you will ) in that up to this point most Octave Records recordings have been mastered on the Sony’s and ATC’s. The early ones were verified on the IRS’s and the later ones on the FR’s. Each recording has been touted as phenomenal and each one is ‘better’ than the previous. I remember a story or two about running between the mixing room and MR2 until the mix was at its best for presentation thru what ever set of speakers were arbitrating. Now the wagon has hit a large bump…..?

    The talk has moved from bass to midrange & highs resolution and purity. Apparently the FR30’s excel in that region like nothing else does.

    The working premise is the FR30’s will excel as both studio monitors and impeccable home speakers. If the recording / mix passes muster on them it will pass muster on anything.

    There’s so much to the recording process, and so many intricacies, that maybe it makes sense for PSA to record and playback on all their equipment to get the best sound out of their equipment. Obviously the speakers in the mix room don’t measure up to the same mix being played, yet that mix on the FR30’s excels.

    Paul has a vision and idea and he’s going to follow it.

    The rest of us have to decide are we going to listen primarily to the recording with the music taking a back seat, or are we listening to the music and a phenomenal recording is a bonus.

  5. Two things to keep in mind.

    1. The debate as to what tweeter is best, dome or ribbon, has been going on for decades and well probably continue on for decades. Clearly the industry favors dome tweeters although that does not mean they are inherently better. One does have to wonder why companies like Magico and Wilson Audio use dome tweeters ( which are very different depending on which company they come from ) on their flagship statement speakers that cost close to $1M a pair.

    2. Even with all of the advancements in audio recording and playback it is still the case that in blind test ordinary people can tell live music from reproduced music with great accuracy.

  6. This comment from a reply a couple of days ago….

    “So, it makes perfect sense that the final arbiter of quality for Octave Records too is that same reference system. If it sounds great there it will sound great on your system.”

    This comment today….
    “ One sounded real, the other a contrived version pointing to itself.”

    So if things sound contrived how can they sound great on “my” system?

    BTW I don’t question the validity of how good the FR30’s are.

    Having written and then rereading the above, maybe the answer really is ribbons for the mids and highs. If I want them right, then specifically the FR30’s for right now.

    The reconciliation of how something is mastered (in this case) on something that is determined to be contrived, while the playback on the other sounds real is the biggest stumbling block.

    That conundrum seems to be a playback presentation issue and where the stumble for me occurs.

  7. After all this, and all the tangents, I believe the answer to the question has been obtained.

    Playback thru what sounds ‘most real’ to the ears that are mastering and critiquing. Using what they believe is the best equipment for the task. The proper placement of the ‘proper transducers’ on both ends will be a matter of trial and error. The trial and error guided by expertise, skill and experience.

  8. I am a big fan of PS Audio, and have a lot of PS Audio equipment (BHK Signature 300's, 250, Stellar Phono). And while I'm sure that the FR30's sound great, Paul's praise of the FR30's in this post will be interpreted as hyperbolic by many anti-high end extremists. I appreciate Paul's enthusiasm for the equipment his company makes, but hyperbole (or statements that can be interpreted as such) add fodder to the very popular sites that snipe at high end audio. As "anti-audiophile" as the notion may appear, maybe it would serve PS Audio well to send a site like Audio Science(?) Review a pair of FR30's to test.

    1. Larry, I too am a big fan of PS Audio ( PST, DS DAC, P15, two P5's, NuWave Phono Converter ( a backup of I need it ) and some gear from the turn of the century ). Paul being enthusiastic is what makes him who he is. I am not sure about sending anything to ASR, in my opinion they are too biased.

      1. I aggree with your assessment. ASR is Highly biased and sending the FR30 will accomplish nothing. I challenged them once to listen to me play 4 violins behind a screen, use their measuring equipment to “listen” to a $250,000 to $500 instruments and compare specs ( has been done elsewhere-they look virtually identical on paper). The violins sound completely different. They declined- saying that would not “prove anything”. It would have-specs are very much in second place behind our ears

      2. I aggree with your assessment. ASR is Highly biased and sending the FR30 will accomplish nothing. I challenged them once to listen to me play 4 violins behind a screen, use their measuring equipment to “listen” to a $250,000 to $500 instruments and compare specs ( has been done elsewhere-they look virtually identical on paper). The violins sound completely different. They declined- saying that would not “prove anything”. It would have-specs are very much in second place behind our ears

    2. Amir, from ASR, tries to appear relevant to high-end home-audio but he really isn't.
      I believe that the last thing that Paul should concern himself with is what ASR
      thinks of anything high-end, from PS Audio or from anyone else.
      Time & time again it has been proven that gear that doesn't measure well
      by some so called expert's standards, sounds fantastic & vice versa.
      What Amir does may be useful at the design & production stage of home-audio equipment, however, applying all of these measurements once the product is
      coming out of it's packaging is really quite pointless...by that stage the only
      thing that matters is what your ears & your brain are telling you.

      YouTube:

      'ASR' subscribers:- 24.5k
      'PS Audio' subscribers:- 177k
      Hmm...why would Paul bother?

      1. There is little I disagree with in your post. But, there is a very important fact that should be considered. ASR is hugely popular. Just look at the number of threads, posts, contributors. Then look at the tenor of many of the posts - "audiophile" is very often termed as "audiofool". So, while we may choose to ignore ASR, the simple fact is that large numbers of audio buyers do not. To ignore that and not make any attempts to bridge the two camps is not the prescription for a thriving audio industry.

        BTW, the ASR YouTube channel is very new.

        1. LarryRS,
          Hugely popular amongst younger, angry trolls who don't trust their own ears & can't afford a pair of aspen FR30's anyway.
          It always amazes me (& maybe it shouldn't, given how many morons there are on this planet) how many so called 'audio experts' there are on YT who have no life experience about home-audio...let them believe what they want.
          If they can't hear the difference between interconnects they probably wont be impressed by a pair of loudspeakers that they can't afford anyway.
          ASR is just somewhere for them to vent...in my not so humble opinion 😉

          According to Paul his 'aspen FR30' floorstanders are currently 'flying off the shelves' (pre-booked sales) anyway...why the hell would he need Amir's blessing to the morons of this world?

            1. LarryRS,
              At no point was I raising my voice.
              I type with a quiet, even tone...just
              so you know; for future reference.

              Ok, look at this very recent & extremely negatively biased review by ASR of the PS Audio - 'P12 Powerplant' & explain to me again why Paul should let Amir sabotage any future sales of the PS Audio - 'aspen FR30' loudspeaker?

              What sort of an idiot runs his hand along the bottom of a piece of heavy electronics when he can plainly see that
              there are open vents there?
              And even there weren't any open vents, you could still run the risk of scratching your hands & wounding your skin on the ends of the screws that are normally there.
              In 45 years of being interested in, owning & retailing in home-audio gear I have never has cause to, or be that
              stupid to, drag my hand across the bottom panel of a piece like the 'P12 Powerplant'.
              Amir certainly doesn't come across as being particularly intelligent...to me anyway.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12T7JFLGlf0

              1. I tried to research power conditioners or regenerators there and gave up. Not one had any merit in Amir's humble opinion. Not once was one pointed to anything worthy of consideration. Why worship measurements, anyway? At the end of the day, I only lug my ears with me to live performances. I only have to satisfy my ears judgment for home enjoyment. Well, also the WAF. But just last night she said, no, leave it loud, it sounds great. (Herbie Hancock, Possibilties).

  9. I couldn't agree with you more about the bias (hence the (?) after Science). And I too have some vintage (ancient) Paul-involved gear (Superphon anyone?). In terms of my adherence to ASR's notion of speaker quality, I am a big Magnepan fan. Not ASR's favorite. My notion about having ASR look at the FR30's is based on the fact that Chris, Paul, Darren and I'm sure others measured and listened to them and they might therefore fare well in the ASR world. Huge emphasis on the "might".

  10. I'm sure the FR30 have fantastic sounding midrange and tweeter drivers that call no attention to themselves, but there are some great sounding speakers out there that use tweeters and they do not shout I am a tweeter. Some do but that doesn't mean they all do.

  11. To "show off" a particular audio component, we select recordings that make that piece of gear sing in our systems. We are happy if a component makes most recordings sound "great" and at least a few sound KYSOYAT ("knock your socks off, you are there") incredible. I own three high-quality DACs (two ladder-DACs and the beloved DS DAC). Each gives a different sound impression. No one DAC renders all recordings "the best." I suspect the same is true of loudspeakers, of which I have owned many outstanding pairs. Their "realism" much depends on the compatibility of the particular recording with the speaker's design and voicing and the other components in the system.

    So far, there is no such thing as perfect. Even live sound is not perfect. One wonders if a recording sounds perfect if it really does faithfully reproduce the original sound...:)

    1. Live sound is direct human to human communications, and HUMAN IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.

      Master drummers from all cultures create toe-tapping swing and strong body reactions including HEALING by fractal variations of rhythms ahead and behind the beat, to a precision of microseconds. OTOH, computer clocks, metronomes, and looping kill the music.

      The equal division of the octave tuning system (EDO) has taken over the world in the last 100 years, but it has no perfect intervals! For the rest of history, ALL "classical" music from every civilization, and the avant gard there are tuning systems which have some perfect intervals and a lot more dissonant harmonies. In some music, like Gamelan, the harmonics of individual notes are irrational so the intervals are adjusted to strange sounding ratios to Western ears.

      For that matter, the harmonics of strings and air columns are slightly off due to physics. This is part of why electronic sound generators sound artificial - sawtooth, triangle and square wave oscillators have perfect harmonics.

      From the very beginning of my record collection, live recordings were played the most because I could feel the humans making the music for an audience, dozens to thousands participating in a multi-way conversation in a real place and time, physically linked and synched by air vibrations.

      The ideal function of audio is to transmit those massively multi-human vibrations across space and time to project the meaning as precisely as possible. Machines are better than humans at measuring and creating precise frequencies, but humans are better at creating and decoding precise time and space messages.

      Those of us who work on the boundary designing acoustics and audio equipment for live concert production and recording are fighting the false dichotomy of perfection and raw sound. Real music exceeds the dynamic, transient, and spatial information content of audio as practiced; and in that sense is far less than perfect in projecting the "imperfections" that are humans' most distinguishing mental and social activity - sonic communications.

  12. The dreaded “circle of confusion” is inescapable.
    You master on a speaker with its voice unlike mine.
    Also nobody here likes mastering on headphones?

  13. This very simple in theory. ALL audio systems should have each microphone connected to one and only one speaker because mixing is inherently SPATIAL DISTORTION.

    If your target playback system is two speaker channels, your capture needs to be two microphones capturing the total sound in the room. Human spatial hearing includes both Inter-Aural Level Difference (IALD) and Inter-Aural Time Difference (IATD), therefore these two mics need to be directional, and spaced a distance between the diameter and half a circumference of a human head; or possibly omni-directional mics with a baffle (Jecklin, Schneider, Schoeps, various head-like mounts).

    For five channel ITU surround, you need six mics: front LCR, back left and back right; and an omni for the bass channel; and ideally they would also be spaced like the near-coincident stereo pair.

    Both of these, however, ignore the HRTF (Head-Related Transfre Function) component of spatial hearing. This is dependent on the spatial transform from the shape of each listeners' ears, as the pinnae (external ears) are directional phase encoders. They make it possible to hear the direction of all the direct and reflected sound vectors. This information can't be encoded in the recording for more than one person, however. The only way to satisfy this critically important criteria is to project every track of the multi-mono recording through a separate speaker that matches the spectral, temporal, transient, and spatial signature of the instrument enregistered on the respective track.

    Matching the microphone selection and placement to a purpose designed speaker is a NEW ART OF RECORDING, in which only myself and Lester St. Louis have practice in four years of extensive experimentation with the only set of speakers built for this audio architecture.

    We engineered a new audio system for every combination of instruments in a series of >500 combined electric, electronic, and acoustic chamber music live concert recordings. These ad-hoc amplification systems produced better than studio quality sound in the audience, which then was captured by near coincident pair (NCP) for a stereo recording.

    The next system is one where every microphone is fed to a multi-track recording, for a re-creation of the concert through the same speaker array as the capture. I have been building more speakers and collecting microphones and battery powered multi-track recorders to resume the work now that full audiences are permitted again.

    This playback system could also be adapted to playback multi-track masters in extreme destination audio concerts and also to do ACOUSTIC mixdowns from multi-track to two track or surround. This is Old-School engineering using acoustic mixing, acoustic balancing, acoustic EQ, acoustic compression and acoustic reverb. There is a lot of rote literature on this, for example by Decca and BBC.

    1. I LOVE your thinking!

      I have been banging on that barrel for a while now, not much interest. I will tell you all this. If you want to enjoy a performance in a given room and bring it back home with you, try this.

      Record with TRUE STEREO principals in mind as acuvox mentioned, put the mics at a distance where you are going to be seated for listening.

      Example, a string quartet, or solo piano, say, in a given STUDIO space. Stereo pair or single point stereo 10 - 12' back. Now, if it can be afforded, recreate that during playback at home by sitting 12' back from your speakers. You'll get the idea, you will understand the magic of letting instruments breath and mix acoustically as they were recorded.

      When I listen to Octave Record's Grusin solo piano, I KNOW the microphones were very close to the piano, perhaps 3 -5' away. Well, that is how that really sounds when I listen at home. I sit 5 feet from my Martin Logans and there it is (O:

      But alas, it is a close up, no room to breath sound. It bugs me when engineers start sticking mics right on top of the piano and in other close locations where you can't use your subwoofer because the damper pedals and key actions are bumping and clicking away.

      End of the rantings of Mr. Smith (O:/

  14. For every performance of every piece in every room, there is a different optimum distance; which also varies with the microphones. What I can't stand is the pop technique of close spot mics, which sounds like your ear is within a few inches of EVERY instrument.

    However, there is a way to convert a close miked multitrack into a good "mix". You feed each track into a separate speaker that is optimized for that track - a speaker that for starters has 20 dB more dynamic range than home speakers, secondly is ten times as fast; and approxinates the acoustic size and shape of the original sound source.

    This technique is universal - it works for amplifying a concert, for recording a concert, for balancing an unbalanced orchestration, for mixed acoustic, electric and/or electronic instruments, and for recording in noisy environments where you want to capture the room acoustics but the instruments are too quiet.

    It is also ideal for "mixing" a multi-track recording. You set up the speakers in a performance space as if it were a live stage, and place a pair of microphones for 2 channel stereo or 6 mic array for 5.1 surround. Then all recording studio knobs are replaced by acoustics - acoustic mixing, acoustic panning, acoustic equalization, acoustic compression and acoustic reverb. I have not yet built an acoustic noise gate - it would have to be electro-mechanical - but all the rest of the functions are in the repertoire of truly skilled recording engineers.

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