Musicians and high end audio

February 18, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

Ever notice how few musicians are into high-end audio? Most I know have meh systems and seem happy about them. Shoemaker’s dilemma?

There are exceptions to every rule. I happen to know quite a few musicians who are into high-end audio, but the vast majority are not.

You’d imagine when those who know the sound of real instruments more intimately than most want to playback music it would be with the highest fidelity. It’s a mystery then why that isn’t true.

I offer two observations: the percentage of musicians with high-end stereo interest seems to mirror that of the general population. Very few. The second observation seems a bit more remote but perhaps worthy of some consideration. Master chefs prefer simple food for personal nourishment, staying as far away from the perfection of their craft as possible.

Too much of a good thing?

Subscribe to Paul's Posts

71 comments on “Musicians and high end audio”

  1. Firstly, leprechauns are Irish, not Welsh.

    I’m not sure professional musicians and high-end audio have much if anything in common. From what I know of classical musicians, even with a solid recording career, they spend most of their time working and playing, not listening to recordings. The main factor, I suspect, is lack of money. The vast majority of musicians make little money, and good high fidelity can be obtained at a fraction of high-end costs. The more successful musicians spend most of their time travelling, so even less reason to have a decent stereo.

    I’ve been to thousands of performances and have never seen audio equipment advertised in a programme. When I speak to people at concerts, we talk about performances, not recordings. High End Audio seems to me boys toys for rich blokes who have time to listen at home.

    1. As a musician coming of age in the late ‘70’s / early ‘80’s I can say that I was and am into higher end audio. I find that younger musicians are content with downloads and YouTube clips and videos played on cheap computer speakers, but are amazed at how good things can sound when they hear a good system.
      I’m glad that when I was coming up that every one had some kind of two channel system ( most quite good) but will say that we all grabbed anything we could, especially passed around bootleg cassettes of rare performances caught live of very low sound quality.
      My system has evolved over 30 or so years to what is now a mix of vintage and high end, to me produces an enjoyable and realistic sound of the recordings I listen to. I do listen for information to further my own skills and techniques for improvising but mainly I listen for the emotional experience. I’m happy I have a system that reproduces sounds with realism and connects me with the music.

  2. John Fuselier who made Fuselier speakers in the ’80s thought that musicians’ brains inserted the overtones and dynamics that a poor system lacked. I tend to believe this.

    I was very happy when I could sell a good friend, an incredible musician, a decent receiver, Dual change with a Good cartridge, and a pair of Advent speakers. He had been using a suitcase “stereo” before.

  3. “Master chefs prefer simple food for personal nourishment, staying as far away from the perfection of their craft as possible.”
    There is no such thing like “the best dish”.
    There is no such thing like “the best stereo”.
    Something that has an excellent performance in one view may be worse in another.
    If you like sushi but do not like it hot then you should leave the wasabi to the others.
    If you want to hear music like you would hear it in a live concert, I’m afraid but then you have to go to the concert.

    1. And to facilitate attending live concerts, I saw a reference to a Washington Post article about Germany considering making public transportation free as part of a solution to reduce global warming. Nice idea, on the face of it.

  4. A trained musician is probably so adept at reading the notes and the associated markings in a score that he/she can fully appreciate the subtleties of the music without the need for expensive hifi: as noted above they are capable of filling in the detail if they listen via poorer equipment.
    I guess a good jazz musician is probably most concerned with his current improvisation rather than listening to others although I’m aware many have ‘learnt’ classic improvisations and used these as a starting point for their work: again this listening does not require hi-end gear.

  5. Each musician sitting in a big orchestra hears a sound that differs extremely from the sound perceived by his colleagues and which is most different from the sound perceived in the best row in the audience. Thus the latter sound must sound most strange and unnormal to the musician. Perhaps the director gets an idea of how it might sound at the best seat that has most different distances to each instrument and sees different reflection patterns than the musician’s seat. No wonder that many musicians hearing an unprocessed one point recording claim not hearing their instrument as they hear it when playing. What do you think musicians are focussed on when performing?

    1. When my wife plays with the San Francisco Ballet orchestra, she sit’s directly in front of the trumpets. She wears ear plugs in order to protect her hearing, but that makes it hard to hear what else is going on around her. The experience of being a professional orchestral player is very different than what we audiophiles experience.

    2. Musicians are experts in sorting out acoustic variables in musical situations to a degree un-imaginable to lay persons. They are used to practicing and rehearsing in rooms with bad acoustics, so even in conditions with a lot of acoustical comb filtering they can still hear things that audiophiles can’t because of thousands of hours’ ear training.

      Because air is has less inter-modulation than the best electronics, you can hear a much wider dynamic range wiht acoustic mixing. The most distant members of an orchestra and/or their reflections are audible even when the ones close are 50dB louder, particularly the instrument you are holding next to your ear.

      I find that by the same mechanisms balance is less critical in live recordings. The distinct echo signature of each instrument location captured by a near coincident mic pair enables hearing them much more distinctly than “locating” them with a pan pot and artificial reverb.

      This is enabled for both audience and recording by having a stage sized to the performance. Walls around the musicians shape and project the sound in a way that meets the expectation of composers, enhancing the intimacy, envelopment and engagement by the feeling of being in the room with the musicians.

      This need for short term reflections is why it is critical to have walls close to the musicians on stage – dramaturgic stages with wings, backstage and proscenium arch kill the sound in the audience and on stage. Musicians need close reflections to hear each other and play together, which is why I prefer concert versions of operas with the orchestra on a symphonic stage and the musicians in front. It is also why I avoid chamber music in symphonic halls.

  6. Two comments:
    1) Good systems tend to be expensive; musicians tend not to have lots of money;
    2) Several musicians have told me that they don’t listen like I do; they listen for the playing itself and their mind fills in how it should sound. So they aren’t interested in a really good system.

    Stereophile has an occasional column about musicians as audiophiles, where they talk to musicians who are audiophiles about why they chose the system they have.
    The bassist Ron Carter said he became an audiophile because he wanted to hear on playback exactly what he heard in the studio. He also said that NO recording captures all the subtle aspects of his bass playing that can be heard live. In fact, he said he slightly changes how he plays bass on recordings because he knows certain subtle aspects that he usually plays live won’t come across in the recording.
    BTW, he recommended his album “Chemistry” with Houston Person as an album where the recording of his bass comes close to sounding like the real thing.

    1. Thx for the recommendation from Mr Ron Carter. I’m going to check out his albumn. I will also see him live April 27 and I don’t think I will be able to hear half the nuances he is referencing. Easy for him to say when his body is glued to his instrument. Would have to be a small and intimate venue with front row seats to experience it all. Howrver I would love to have seat on stage between the Bass and piano with a double gin and tonic. 😉

  7. I’ve been a life-long musician and play at a semi-pro level. My wife is a full-time professional violinist. Her first husband (the one I stole her away from…) has a very mediocre system and frankly, is totally ignorant of audio quality. He’s got a pair of the small Maggies with blown tweeter panels and he can’t hear that there’s no hi-end. He’s a choral and orchestra conductor with impeccable credentials as a specialist in JS. Bach.

    I’m an audiophile because I’m both a musician and an engineer. My wife couldn’t care less. She enjoys that we have a good system, but were it up to her, she wouldn’t have much of anything at all.

    You see, musicians listen to the phrasing and timing of music during playback. You can hear that on even a boombox. It doesn’t sound good, but a musician can get a perfectly good idea of what another player is doing, and then their brain fills in the rest.

    Let me put it another way for y’all. My wife’s “modern” violin, was made by George Chanot in 1849. Her baroque violin was made in France in the year 1774. You tune them by twisting a *WOODEN* peg! They don’t even have frets. There’s no electronic pick-up. Take 5 violins made by the very same maker, and they all sound different. She lives in a totally different world than we do and sees things in that way.

    I can’t tell you how many musicians I’ve helped to put together decent, not great systems. Most classical and jazz acoustic musicians just don’t relate well to technology. Electronic musicians are better at it, but that’s not saying much. Most of them have rotten taste in audio gear thinking that the bi-amped monitors they get from Musician’s Friend for $300 are the best thing going.

    My wife’s sister and her husband have a loudspeaker kit with Dynaudio drivers. He’s been talking about building that kit for 20 years! It’s still sitting in his garage while they listen to the K-mart system she had when they got married. It was crap when she bought it back in the 90’s and hasn’t gotten better with age.

    He’s gotten into fooling with a credit card sized music player called a Beagle Bone that plays music files off of his Mac. He’ll go through that trouble, but he can’t be bothered to build a simple box in which to stuff his Dynaudio drivers. I’ve offered to help him, but he just blows me off.

    That’s just the world we live in.

  8. I think your first observation “the percentage of musicians with high-end stereo interest seems to mirror that of the general population” is valid on the one hand, but the major difference to the general population is, that the general population has no big interest in music, which musicians have. So no, it’s special that musicians, althought very interested in music, still have little interest in high end audio.

    Your second observation “Master chefs prefer simple food” is good. I just think other than in the food analogy, musicians don’t “prefer” simple sound, they just don’t care much for better sound. Which is different from the master chiefs analogy.

    A few more thougts:

    IMO there are very different kinds of musicians. Very emotional personalities, overly-intellectual/head centered, partly self trained, intensively educated, hobby musicians, part time (semi) professionals with a main other job, professionals mostly on tour, poor and rich ones.

    We shouldn’t forget, music theory is often compared to math not for nothing. A self trained blues musician is another kind of personality than a studied orchestra musician.

    IMO usually we will find very few musicians interested in high end amongst those with less money (they spend everything on instruments), amongst very pure emotional personalities (they have other preferences and priorities) and amongst professionals on tour (they don’t have time sitting at home and they get so much kick out of performances, they have other priorities, too)

    In case we count hobby musicians and those semi professionals, who may be bankers, lawyers or whatever in their real job as “musicians”, I think most musicians interested in high end are found among those parties, among the more overly-intellectual/head centered ones than the emotional personalities, but to a higher extent than among other musicians also among studied (which I don’t mean as an especially positive accentuation here) smaller or larger orchestra musicians or conductors and some rather head centered Jazz personalities, too.

    Finally IMO interestingly there are two quite black/white sides of very different personalities among musicians of which those interested in stuff like high end are mostly found in the camps I mentioned above and it’s why I think most (not all) “real musicians” are not into high end.

    Of course I expect exceptions to such “rules” and I might be polarizing with those thoughts, but I take this risk 😉

    By the way, part of todays topic was already discussed here:

    1. Another example why I think todays topic is more a matter of personalities, which are more or less found within certain professions is, that I think in the same way as finding very little high end fans among dedicated musicians we will find very little musicians who would post in forums, who would be more than necessary interested in IT technology, who do photography, who care for fitness, who own special cars or motor bikes etc.

      For sure it is normal, that certain personalities are found more or less within certain professions. It’s just special with musicians, that the personality preferences contra-dominate a supposed connection between “music as their dedication” and “music playback quality”.

  9. Many audiophiles wish they were trained musicians. Just like people who enjoy flight simulators at home wish they were pilots. A trained musician spends so much time playing live music venues and rehearsing that he or she probably doesn’t get excited about home audio systems, high end or not. Being accustomed to live music, even most high end audio systems sound crappy and artificial in comparison. Also, since musicians are actively moving when they play instruments, the idea of sitting idly in a fixed listening position is like being in a straight jacket.


  10. High end audio is a drug. Crack cocaine. I am addicted. I admit it. As Meatloaf might say, “one step out of twelve ain’t bad.” Top level musicians get a steady morphine-like drip of euphoric bliss and do need to resort to high-end audio to get their musical high.

    I have observed and thought about this dilemma often. There are some excellent comments above, many of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I believe part of it is active musicians do not “need” the experience one gets from listening to good/great music on a high end system, because they get to experience that feeling being surrounded, 360 degrees by that harmonically perfect cord or that perfectly timed musical nuance. Especially classical musicians seem to listen more for the interpretation, expression, tempo, dynamic changes, etc. and not on the sonic richness, which they add in their heads.

    I am currently playing bass trombone (much more avocation than money-making vocation) in four very good groups/ensembles with mostly advanced college or pro/semi-pro musicians. This results in a total of over ten hours per week of actual rehearsal time. I have never put in the insane hours that a true symphony musician needs to put in. However, although when I am actively playing a feel less of a need to play my system, I listen to it twenty to forty hours per week because I want to, my business (trading) benefits from not focusing on my multiple monitors too many hours per day, I am avoiding the pain of organizing my business and personal tax records to send off to my accountant, and, because I am a serial upgrader which means that something always needs to be burned in, or some other rationalization that I can conjure up. Actually, I need to keep it turned off for awhile because I need a lot more practice right now, and my big band is going to be in studio all day Saturday recording a CD, and my chops are not ready.

    1. So you are addicted to the electronic version of “crack cocaine’? Do you actually know any crack addicts?
      It is a dumb, uninformed analogy, have you put your habit ahead of family, friends, and food? Do you steal or prostitute to get your next component? Do you lie to your friends and family, about where the money went? Do you have any money left? Crack was designed to attract those with addiction problems. Rock was sold in dime bags. People with real money, like rock stars would tell you that they don’t smoke crack, they freebase, never mind it is the same drug, they can buy ounces of Coke, and turn it in to smokable rock. They both ruin their lives, but rich addicts can afford the habit, and still pay the mortgage.

      What I know of professional musicians, the only time they experience real joy is while performing. All the travel, rehearsals, conflicts within their bands are considered the price they pay to perform. So it would be more like injecting heroin once a day, while jonesing for a fix the rest of the time.

      You may have a problem, but it would be considered some kind of compulsive disorder, with no real parallels to drug addiction.

      1. Wow! Some people can’t get hyperbole, apparently. I apologize if I struck a nerve. In reality I have never stuggled with an addiction so perhaps I was insensitive. I assumed the people on this forum are able to discern serious statements from jest. Apparently not.

        Actually, the classically trained professional musicians I know with the CSO and the MSO, and the full time music professors and conductors I know are generally very happy, well balanced people and can afford whatever systems they would desire. One professor/conductor I know has a vinyl collection and a system that makes Michael Fremer look like vinyl novice. Hyperbole aside, I have an interest in listening and have chosen to build a system that I enjoy. For me, the perfect triad is to be involved with playing, attending live concerts, and listening to quality recordings faithfully reproduced.

      2. Cheers, I actually registered to write this, even if the comment is old.
        Someone from my family died from overdose, so I understand why you didn’t like the uninformed analogy, it kind struck a never in me too but try not to be so hard towards Socal77.
        keep in mind I totally agree with what you say about drugs, just not the way it comes across in the reply.
        Also Socal77 try not to jest about drug addiction, it’s something words can’t describe to both the person addicted, family and friends.
        My utmost best regards for anyone who reads this. Peace.

    2. I feel exactly the same way. I hear enough acoustic music that I do not need to listen to recordings – in fact, years spent with an hour or more a day of classical instruments and as strict regimen of less time than that listening to speakers has made me not want to hear studio productions. With few exceptions, they are now a chore rather than a pleasure and most are too annoying to listen to at all.

      I think a rough equivalence is that an hour of live music (without PA system!) is worth twenty hours of minimalist recordings on a high end system in a tuned room, and the top 20% of concerts can’t be equaled by any amount of recordings. Roughly half my concerts over the last six years were in a 50 seat room tuned for concert grand and string quartet. Since the audiences were comprised of musicians and composers with a smattering of friends and family, the group bonding was beyond possibility in the best large venues.

      My rule is being able to recognize faces on the stage from the back row. This limits audiences to a tribal size, roughly 400 seats.

  11. I’ve performed semi-professionally as a percussionist for many years however I no longer perform unless I’m sitting in as a substitute.
    I consider myself to have well-trained ears and an Audiophile with two pretty good systems if I do say so.
    No offense meant to anyone but the musicians I personally know don’t understand why we (audiophiles) invest the money we do in high-end equipment. They produce the music and although they enjoy listening to music most don’t want to get overly involved monetary, they have other interests to spend funds on.

  12. Musicians and music researchers listen to music. Techies listen to equipment. Big difference.

    Once the illusion of reality has been achieved, it’s time to forget about “the kit” and get into the magic. For too many people in the “High End”, stereo is a competition to see who has the best stuff, or even worse, the most money. Can you imagine what a turn off that is for real musicians? Another factor is consistency. To really evaluate different recordings, the reproduction system has to be a constant. There is a huge difference between comparing musical performances on the same set up and switching out components while listening to the same recordings over and over. Totally different experiences.

    Still it’s a pity. Because great stereo sound is considered a luxury item musicians and music scholars mostly don’t realize how much more revealing fine high fidelity really is. Although I try to stay clear of the “who has the best set up” and “who has the biggest sound stage” competition, I’m often floored by how amazingly realistic high fidelity reproduction can be. Even listening to old 78 rpm records can be a revelation on really good equipment. It’s an amazing analytical tool, not unlike any other scientific apparatus.

    I’m sure the serious music community is really too small (and impoverished) to be considered a big factor in marketing expensive stereo equipment. None the less it would be a true artistic accomplishment to bridge that gap.

    1. You forgot music lovers, and for most audiophiles that is what drove them to seek out better components.
      I get really tired of generalizations. The mythical audiophile who only owns a dozen or so recordings is not a music lover, and probably accounts for less than 10% of all those who own high end systems. Sure there are the super rich or the newly wealthy that might buy an expensive system, but they are rare, and not driven by music. I have never met anyone who bought a stereo, just to have one. It starts and ends with the music. And high end dies not mean expensive. It can be but a very good system can be assembled on a budget.
      I know a lot about stereo equipment, but I am no techy, I still use a flip phone and have no interest in the latest gadgets.

      1. Well said !!
        I feel exactly the same. I’m a true audiophile all my life (well, since I was 18 or so..),
        but MUSIC is the most important, not the equipment.
        Today’s topic : In the past I’ve had a few pro-musicians as friend; they couldn’t care less about the quality of their “stereo”. Just too
        busy with their profession (playing the instrument as good as possible !).
        BTW. : I got a server timeout for 3 days. Today back to normal.

      2. Good point, and I certainly count myself in that group (music lovers). But still I think obsessing on the quality of musical reproduction takes away from the illusion that what we are listening to is a real musical event. The enjoyment comes from the suspension of disbelief. Switching out components is all too real and believable. When it comes to listening to recorded music I would rather be the audience than the stage director.

    2. This is my mission, and I have achieved a major step forward. By approximating the acoustic size and shape of acoustic instruments, I am able to mimic their spatial signature. This has resulted in being able to amplify orchestral strings transparently for 98% of conservatory trained string players. I have gone up against Guarneris and other 18th Century Cremonese instruments.

      The criteria are different building speakers for musicians, and diverge from the “one size and space fits all” fixed channel paradigm. This system sounds more real in mono than two channel, and requires one optimized speaker per instrumental voice for full implementation.

      These speakers also have musical response that in some ways harkens back to mechanical phonographs of the 78 era, when all recording was direct-to-disc.

  13. Every chef I know who runs a restaurant kitchen and owns her home does have a respectable home kitchen. My own opinion is that investment goes first to the trade- instruments, studio time. But that view may be biased by my knowing too many aspiring musicians and Broadway orchestra part timers rather than truly full time established ones.

  14. First: Many musicians do not care for the sound. If they want something which sounds real they make music on their own. They are interested in the music itself. And we all know that: if the song is great, we start tapping our feet even when listening to the most lo-fi portable radio.

    Second: Musicians that do care for the sound are scared off by high end audio ˋs often snobbish and neurotic attitude and snake oil rip-offs like cables for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Generally development of sales prices added its share to high end audio ˋs downfall. Phono cartridges with a five digit price tag and loudspeakers for hundreds of thousands of bucks have almost made our hobby accessible to only an elitist circle.

    I cannot condemn those people for their views. Over the last ten or fifteen years high end audio has gone in the wrong direction.

  15. Early on in my audio career when I was selling audio in the early 1980’s i wondered the same thing; I show a pro musician the best systems we had- in those days some musicians were really making money and could buy the best stuff- they never liked the “best” products but always like the stuff we’d secretly disparage- JBL or Klipsch.I figured out that it wasn’t the “accuracy” of the high end speakers they were looking for- clearly not. IT was the dynamics, efficiency, sound stage and presence that super efficient speakers provided- these sounded more like live music, and as a result were involving and familiar to the musician used to hearing exclusively (live instruments up close) that the rest of us were buying exotic speakers to reproduce in a technically “correct” manner.

    1. Now that is very true. I spent years without any money trying to duplicate a sound systems character that I heard playing the Beatles Sgt. Peppers album on the stage system before a 1969 Led Zeppelin show in the abandoned 1964 Worlds Fair New York Pavilion building. Sure it was clear sounding but the dynamics, holy moly! It wasn’t until 1971 that I was in a Stereo shop, long gone now, on route 110 on Long Island listening to a new pair of AR bookshelf speakers since they were touted as fine linear response speakers so I went to hear them. The salesman, a very good salesman, played Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s first album which sounded great but when it reached the section at the end of the drum solo there’s a very explosive bass drum/snare diddy, he switch the speakers over to a pair of A7-500 Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers. The audio output more than tripled, the bass drums thundered and the Moog synth ripped at my heart strings. I could see my 1963 Impala SS 409 through the window looking gorgeous under the street lamps since I had just finished the paint work. I sold it the next day and bought the Altecs in kit form and have never looked back. Sure they aren’t anywhere near linear in response, but the dynamics and projection are amazing. Just like the real show. Now with 3 pairs and tons more wattage than advertised for them, I still love that sound. Would I have some gorgeous articulate sounding system? Sure, but I sat in a high end audio store for 7 hours listening to the large Magnaplanar’s with subs and insanely expensive power equipment, but for the life of me I couldn’t do away with the old Altecs. If I could have both I would, but I’ll never give up the dynamics for the purity.

      1. Doug, I know what you mean about those A7’s, simply incredible. I lived on L.I. too in 71 and probably frequented that same store on rt. 110. I also remember a very large gray speaker called “Frazier” with a long throw wooden horn that had quite a punch. I agree with you, I cherish the purity but have much respect for the dynamics.

    2. One aspect of live music that is missing from even “high end” is zero compression. 1″ dome tweeters are inadequate to reproduce a string quartet, let alone anything louder like a concert grand.

      My fast peak reading meters say that a string quartet live has peaks as loud as a 50 Watt 1×12 lead guitar amp at >110dB. Normal tweeters are rated around 50 Watts “music power ” above 3KHz, which translates to around 95dB clipping point. This is why musicians and studio engineers like horns. I only listen to music through AMT type tweeters which are equivalent to 3″ to 7″ diameter diaphragms, 20dB to 30dB more treble output than a 1″ direct driver.

  16. Good Topic!
    I know a few musicians. One semi-professional. One guirtarist plays here and there but is really talented and the third is a jazz aritist but a modest one at least in the respect of playing All however share similar characteristics. One that stands out to me is their calmness in almost everything they do. They are always so relaxed.
    The semi-professional plays a Clarinet in the Philadelphia String Orchestra. She is very good and her husband plays the same instrument however not regularly as his wife. They are both into classical music . HE as a very modest system and as I remember had purchased most of it new. He loves vinyl. I always tried to nudge him to pick up the pace an invest more into the hobby he loves so much but he has said for him it was a money issue. However, he and his wife do a lot of traveling so I imagine a better piece of equipment is not a priority when placing a vacation or new amplifier on the scale.
    The guitar player I became acquainted with over the last year just cannot afford even a moderate system yet his investment in his hobby is having 10 high quality “expensive” guitars which he places noticeable pride. He listens to most of his music thru a computer.
    Lastly my good friend “the jazz artist” while IMO could afford to spend thousands more into this hobby takes an approach that I have found to be more sensible and does not break your wallet. We both have ownership of the same tube amplifiers, the difference is HE is very knowledgeable about Electronics and built his own as well as mine. I had no problem having this gentleman assemble my equipment based on our FIRST meeting I trusted him from the get go. Some may think I am gullible to trust someone right off the bat especially these days, but B is an easy read. He had originally purchase a pair of Dynaudio speakers in kit form. Assembled out board crossovers for them and still has them to this day. However he has recently acquired other speakers at bargain prices Maggie’s and PBN’s…the Montana’s which needed some work and Mr B made it happen.
    I myself while having a very adequate system always look for improvement, however it’s the music I listen to and not the equipment. I don’t believe one has to spend thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands to attain your music nirvana.

  17. I believe it is the case of working (ok better work than mine) all day in the studio, practice sessions, etc, that the last thing they want to do when they get home is sit and listen to music. I have to believe it is no different than High End Audio equipment designers who don’t have audio systems at home. I think we recently learned this true of one close to our hearts. 🙂

  18. This topic has brought a significant concordance of opinions, perhaps like none previous. All opinions I consider accurate and vary only in certain details, but the agreement is common.

    I can only add that I like classical music from a very young age, so to try to hear the magnificence of the music of Bruckner and Mahler, I bought the Electrovoice Patrician 800, because I believed that the tremendous dynamic response of these speakers would appreciate such works with adequate realism.

    I was once visited by a childhood friend who in his adult life was a professional violinist in a symphonic orchestra, and told me that the sound of the strings was unacceptably metallic, despite having moved the speakers’ pot to the minimum, and the The acoustics of the room was only composed of thick curtains, a carpet of virgin wool and soft furniture.

    The result is that I found someone interested in hi-fi and jazz, having remained, very happy with his “fantastic” acquisition.

    My subsequent purchases of speaker systems have focused on getting an acceptable response from the string mass. I am aware that I will not achieve it, but it is enough that they sound pleasant to my ears.

    I think that for those of us who did not have the luck to access the comments due to such a prolonged interruption, we should be allowed a second chance.

  19. It’s simple really. Most working musicians spend most of their limited income on the tools of their trade.
    That leaves very little for a high end audio “hobby”.
    Now , if only we could write off a BHK or
    Wilson speaker system …

    1. I agree Paul, I’m also fascinated by this observation since I have friends who are musicians and they have systems bought at Best Buy or other such outlets. I got the impression they rather spend money on their instruments rather than a higher resolving hifi system. But they do appreciate listening to my hifi system though.

  20. Us non-musicians approach this two fold, equipment and music making it a hobby.

    A hobby takes time and money.

    The professional musician earning a living making music has studio time, exhaustive touring. During the off time I assume they want to enjoy life in someway other then sitting down looking at a system. Alice Cooper loves golf.

    Touring also may be more frequent as cd and album sales are losing sales to streaming.

    The struggling musician has barely enough to get by until he or she finds a way to make it a career. Look at their car, if they even have one.

    Paul, with all respect you are one that truly makes a living doing what you love, after you leave the plant, do you go home and spend time tinkering with designs and building products or do find the time you have been afforded from your efforts to enjoy other interests?

  21. I think the important item of note is that they mirror the general population. I don’t buy into the expense prohibitive arguement, regardless of the profession. You can put together really good sounding systems these days for not all that much money. People are willing spend money on whatever is important to them. Almost none of our close friends have a decent stereo system, but almost every one of them have some level of home theater. They even plan for surround speakers when finishing out a basement, or building a new house. They invite others over to watch a game or movie.

    For some weird reason, most of the audiophiles I know are “hermit listeners”. They only listen by themselves and might as well put yellow do not disturb tape around their systems. When my daughter was 10 years old, I took her downstairs and showed her how to turn the system, handle record albums and use the turntable. I remember her throwing on The Cars’ Heartbeat City and we danced to it for an hour. We aren’t really very good at promoting fun listening with our families, much less as an industry.

  22. Curiously, I remember reading a review in Gramophone from the 1930s in which the issue was that one of the main purposes of good quality recordings and playback was to allow piano teachers to demonstrate the performances of the leading professional pianists of the day. As stated in other posts above, the necessity is to able to hear the phrasing, timing and nuances of performance, rather than absolute fidelity. You can hear those things on a pocket radio or iPad.

    1. NOT! In fact, the old school jazz players I work with agree that you learn to play music in the room with the masters, not from records. No reproduction is good enough to capture the nuance and feeling. I also find agreement at the top of the Classical world, and heart rending lamentations over current dependence on free streaming for conservatory students, and not nearly enough live concerts in the curricula. We hear the difference in the playing – the Internet is literally killing to aural history of Classical music.

      1. So I didn’t read that in an issue of Gramophone from the 1930s? I must have made it up – FAKE NEWS! I wasn’t giving piano lessons back then, maybe you were.

        1. I bet it was a marketing puff piece to sell Gramophones. Speed regulation was notoriously poor, they are not a good phrasing reference. They may have been fending off competition from player pianos, which are a superior reproduction system.

          1. It was a record player review. Gramophone has never pandered to advertisers. It didn’t have to. It still doesn’t. It had a separate section for player pianos.

  23. I think that most folks who like music appreciate good sound. Every musician I’ve shown a great system is excited and impressed.

    I think the answer is complex and lies in many of these comments. Music education centers like to save floor space for instruments, so maybe a small set of PA speakers in the ceiling corners is the example early. Large PA systems are where many musicians first see big effort put into playback, and most PA systems aren’t out to achieve the things we enjoy about hifi.

    Also of influence are the musician friends who start getting into recording. Almost without exception the example there is small studio monitors, which can deliver plenty of information in the nearfield. Lots of detail, as we know, is very exciting to budding audiophiles.

    Then there’s money. Playback systems for part time musicians are bought on Craigslist or given as hand-me-downs. I gave a system to a keyboardist friend a year or two ago and he still posts pictures of it, and is very appreciative. But, he’s set it up in a terrible location with tons of midbass bloat from being arranged sideways in a small square nook. Still loves it.

    I will add that different instrument players are excited by different things. My keyboardist friend is most excited by good playing, not good sound. He wants to hear a musical thought that is a new take and expresses emotion. His face twists when he adds an interesting trill or wavering melody line that expresses like a good vocalist can.

    Being a good musician means you’ve been on a path for a long time, and that road doesn’t feature many AMT tweeters or servo subs. But the appreciation of good sound for musicians is still there, as long as the “good sound” still serves the music.

    As someone with at least one dormant system sitting in the garage, which should probably go to a musician, I think it’s not a bad idea to suggest to you guys to find a musician you like and donate a system!

  24. I recently had the chance to hear Richard Vandersteen talk about his speakers and what motivates him. Similar to what many folks here have said, but in different words, he said that he is extremely “left brained”, i.e., analytical and methodical and he needs a high quality stereo system to relay all of the nuances of music. He said further, musicians are usually very “right brained”, i.e., creative or artistic, and don’t need equipment to relay the nuances, their brain can “fill in the blanks” quite effectively. While I’m not qualified to say this is correct, I think the anecdotal evidence supports it. How many audiophiles are, shall we say, “anal”? That, for me, equates to analytical and methodical. Of course you can’t make a blanket determination from this, but it’s pretty close to a generalization, don’t ya think?

    1. Yes, I do think so. This is probably the most accurate explanation yet and makes perfect sense. As an engineer who is extremely left brained, an accurate sound system is essential to my musical satisfaction.
      Not so with a very famous jazz guitarist and composer who I befriended years ago. We have listened to his CD’s [not my medium of choice] in my room as well as to other classical music on SACD. Incredibly, he was trained in classical music and was familiar with everything I played.
      Not once did he comment on the accuracy of my system and I would never ask the question considering his live musical experience. I felt like he didn’t need the accuracy of my system to convey the music. He was on a totally different plane from me. He could afford any equipment but didn’t own a high-end system at home.
      He did love the acoustics in my room. He played for me an original composition on an old folk song I had suggested for one of his gigs. My left brain was in total awe of his right brain.

      1. Ned, agreed! One of my many mistakes was to never learn to play an instrument. Maybe I don’t have the innate ability, but it might have opened my creative side just a wee bit. My wife always says I’m too rigid. Unsurprisingly, I’m an engineer too.

        1. I get the same comment from my wife all the time.”You are such an engineer”. Not surprisingly, other engineers in my firm also have high-end sound systems and are anal about the test technical aspects.
          Paul- there`s your market. The left-brained population.

  25. For some reason the server keeps rejecting this comment. I’ve added this introduction so it will recognize it as original.

    Another category of listener you might want to consider are record collectors, of which I am certainly one. For most of us the obsession is owning certain rare recordings, or just having more records than anyone else. Usually the quality of reproduction is secondary, if it’s a concern at all. I’ve known many collectors who have the same KLH or Macintosh system they started with in the 60s. Again, consistency of sound is their benchmark for evaluating their acquisitions.

    I was blessed (or maybe it was cursed) by coming into contact with George Stanwick in 1990 and he put me on the audiophile quest beginning with a Well Tempered Turntable and Van den Hul cartridges. Which I still use. Usually there just isn’t enough time or money to collect thousands of records and try to perfect the high fidelity playback system as well.

    I can only say there is if you don’t spend any time or money doing anything else.

    1. Not to go overboard on this topic… well, maybe it’s too late for that. Just want to add an experience I had recently as a record collector. I was listening to two 78 rpm recordings of Washboard Blues. The first was by the composer, Hoagy Carmichael. The second by Connee Boswell. I had always considered them somewhat equivalent, but listening through my system which includes the BHK, definite differences were readily apparent. Hoagy’s version was full of sympathy for the poor old washerwoman, you could hear it in every note. While Connee’s take was full of sadness and resignation, like it was really her. These emotional cues were startlingly obvious and real thanks to the system I’ve spent time and effort putting together. In other words high end stereo is not just a hobby or a rich person pastime, but a real analytical tool.

        1. There’s something else about 78s. The speed in which the disk revolves definitely affects the speed in which the music flies out of the speaker. Old records may not be not high fidelity, but they are high speed. Their dynamic range is explosive, one of the reasons early Jazz was what it was, hot and fast, even though it was mostly recorded acoustically. You don’t need 400 watts when you got 78 rpm.

        2. Comment: There’s something else about 78s. The speed in which the disk revolves definitely affects the speed in which the music flies out of the speaker. Old records may not be high fidelity, but they are high speed. Their dynamic range is explosive, one of the reasons early Jazz was what it was, hot and fast, even though it was mostly recorded acoustically. You don’t need 400 watts when you got 78 rpm.

  26. Fascinating discussion on a topic that has puzzled me for decades, starting with the musician in my college dorm who went on to play professionally in a major symphony orchestra. I couldn’t engage him with my stereo. He, and other musicians I’ve known, can easily hear the differences in systems; they just don’t care. The reasons are multiple, and I think we’ll-captured here. But what I find most interesting is that musicians apparently know recorded music isn’t real and have a special skill that lets them “fill in” what’s missing. This skill is so good, they don’t care much about the starting point. I don’t have that skill.

  27. Musicians listen to music when they listen at all. They are far more involved in making music than they are in listening to it. When they listen to sound it’s their own sound they are preoccupied with. When they listen to recordings of music they listen to interpretation, technique, and other factors directly related to the quality of performance. They have little or no interest in sound and certainly not the way audiophiles have. When they are at live performances they are almost always on the performing stage and hear something very different from what people in the audience hear. Rarely they’ll go concerts of other musicians and listen from the audience but when they do, they again listen for interpretation, technique, and qualities associated with performance. Therefore they have little or no interest in audio equipment. When they are not performing they are practicing or relaxing away from listening to music. That’s not their thing.

  28. I was actively a musician in the 60’s. The audio systems used by musicians were primarily a tool to learn what was going on in songs so they could learn them. The concept of an audiophile system was not important because as far as we were concerned we were too busy producing the real thing. We just wanted a means to grasp the feel for a song and to hear beats and chords, etc. I for one loved listening to great sounding songs, but the concept of being an “audiophile” was not yet being well known. Little did I know there were homes with Dyna Kits and ears enjoying sweet sounding music….

    Then…. I came to a crossroads. I was a rock/jazz musician. It probably would have been different if I were pursuing classical (which was a total bore to me)… I painfully found myself having to quit the industry because of all the insanity that was prevailing in the weird transformation of the music industry.. That left me with a deep hunger for music in a new way. Then I became an audiophile.

    As a rule when I heard audio with musicians we were listening primarily for what the musicians on the recording were doing. We were not so concerned about the sound. If you could hear that certain bass run, or the chord changes for a song? We were happy enough.

  29. I have spent forty years chasing this down in surveys and experiments. The real reason is:

    MUSICIANS HEAR DIFFERENTLY. The parts of their brains that decode music and acoustic space are significantly larger than the rest of post-Industrial population, like the bulging muscles of Olympic gymnasts and speed skaters in relation to the flabby neural circuits of electronic circuit designers, speaker deisgners, button pushers and knob tweakers. It is not just raw brain power – it is totally different structures that grow, wire and program in response to the coherent, complex, deeply nuanced sounds musicians train to daily, and sonic parameters that HAVE NEVER BEEN PRODUCED BY MACHINES.

    The specifications that audio engineers slave over like flat frequency response and vanishing harmonic distortion are not important in the musicians’ perceptual world. Dr. Sean Olive has a large database at Harman International of test subjects listening to recordings through a programmable parameteric equalizer. They found that musicians where the worst at identifying frequency response deviations – because flat frequency response is not important to hearing the human communication in live music.

    FR is important to audiophiles because they are clinging to the 1% of real spatial information that is remanent in recordings, trying to achieve enlightenment by filling in the missing details and hearing the differences between cables and toe-in angles that are irrelevant to musicians.

    Part of the musician’s advantage is larger mass of white matter, the neurons that inter-connect musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, proprieceptive intelligence, athletic intelligence, fine motor, breath and heartbeat control, symbolic intelligence, mathematical intelligence and emotional intelligence. Music lights up more areas of the brain than any other human activity, and stimulates more neural development and cognitive integration as a consequence.

    One documented ability is hearing time. Musicians hear when notes start and stop with ten times the resolution of people who do not hear live music daily. Players also beat a theoretically “perfect” microphone at the Fourier Uncertainty Principle, a mathematically proven theorem related to frequency response. All recordings introduce time distortion because of this unsurmountable shortcoming – time and frequency precision is lost when the information changes from air pressure to an electrical signal.

    Most high end playback systems have significant temporal distortions which can be measured as Cepstral response, group delay and phase response. Even speakers with accurate phase on-axis typically have phase distortion off-axis, which mangles the audible temporality of room reflections and the perception of the space.

    There are reasons to maintain uneven off-axis response, because flat frequency and phase response at all angles enables perception of the SPEAKER location, which breaks the stereo illusion. I know this because my Violin and Cello speakers do not create the fake imaging of two channel stereo – there is always a gaping hole in the middle. In this aspect audiophile values are the opposite of more accurate reproduction.

    Audiophiles are deaf to temporal distortions like these because they are ubiquitous in loudspeaker design. Audio engineers and recording engineers likewise spend their professional life listening to the distortions of their monitors, which have become the new hearing reference. Every knob in a studio generates temporal distortion, so they make a living adding temporal and spatial distortion to recordings – and that includes all mixing and mastering!

    Another factor is inter-modulation from physical cone movement. Air has linear super-position to the limits of human hearing, but speakers distort signals with mixed frequencies because of finite cone movement. I have a theory that “amazing bass response from such a small cabinet” is actually audiophiles training their hearing to perceive Doppler Intermodulation Distortion as real bass. The bass frequencies in the signal modulates the treble at the bass frequency, so the bass can be sensed from the sound projected by mini-monitors by FM de-modulation! ( I need to ask Richard Modafferi and Dick Sequerra about this)

    The third and most subtle parameter is SPATIAL DISTORTION. This is why musicians develop the processing power of a supercomputer cluster with Petabit aggregate comm links. Microphones capture a single voltage level at any point in time, which is a scalar quantity. Three dimensional spatial hearing (real stereo) comes from correlation of direct sound and corresponding echo vectors, including information of time, frequency, pressure AND direction of the waves at the listener folded from three into two spatial dimensions by the fractal phase encoding of the external ears.

    People who have never seen photographs or digital imaging can’t recognize objects in pictures – all they see is a flat surface with a pattern on it. In the same way, people without daily exposure to live music don’t learn to hear it in three dimensions, and people who have never heard audio can’t recognize two channel stereo imaging. Musical values of melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre translate to a scalar representation, but acoustic space does not. The “imaging” of fixed-speaker reproduction systems, whether two or 32 channels, is at best 2.1 dimensions. Even phantom center is not recognized without training to two channel systems.

    Lisa Barret Feldman has shown than infants at 3 months old can learn to group objects in photographs as a class, linking them by a word that is repeated when shown pictures of the same class. In the same way, exposure to speakers from birth establishes cognitive inferences based on the shortcomings of audio. There is another danger that prevents proper development of musical hearing: noise pollution. Sounds of machines, motors, HVAC and plumbing mask the echoes that comprise spatial information in our environments, and stunt the growth, wiring and programming of the neurons necessary to hear acoustic space. The sounds of metal, glass and ceramic of the synthetic environment are likewise not present in Nature so our hearing has not had time to adapt in terms of genetics. Further, these high Q surfaces have spatial patterns very different from stretched skin (drum heads) and thin layers of carved wood (viol descendants)*. All of these factors result in smaller cortical computers because of the lack of coherent spatial information.

    The general population simply does not have the memory database to achieve the spatial perception of musicians, but audiophiles accumulate a memory of hearing fake stereo which is then associated with a mental image of spatiality like Feldman’s infants who learn to recognize pictures before objects. Musicians who spend more time listening to acoustically generated music than to reproduction often do not hear any stereo illusion, because it is learned through wishful thinking. If they do for one reason or another concentrate on a consistent two channel environment, they develop an alternate universe of fake stereo, but still never confuse the two.

    * Note that even flat sound boards like guitars, lutes, and keyboards are “carved” in a sense, because sandpaper ruins the sound. They have to be shaved into shape by very sharp hand planes.

  30. Most musicians I know are making a modest living, don’t do music for the money, but for the love of music.
    As the old joke goes: “what’s the difference between a musician and a large pizza? the large pizza can feed a family of four”.

  31. The act of listening to the “stereo illusion” would seem to be somehow pleasurable unto itself. Early experiments with stereo at Bell Labs seemed to indicate this. Play mono signals through two speakers and people still hear a “phantom” between the two of them, and they seem to enjoy it.

    Remember looking through a “viewmaster” as a kid? The 3D effect seemed more vivid than “reality” somehow. Or looking at those photos that have a 3D effect embedded in them that you can only see when relaxing your focus, (that some people can’t seem to see altogether).

    Audiophiles do seem to focus on spatial information to a degree that isn’t a real factor when listening to live music, although there are some people with favorite concert halls, I’ve never heard someone comment: “Wow, listen to that soundstage!” when listening to live music. When selling audio back in the 70’s, I had a customer who liked to listen to recordings of steam locomotives, thunderstorms, dynamite blasts and the like. I found this both amusing and astonishing, but he seemed to enjoy it a lot. It would seem that one can enjoy an audio system without actually listening to music. The “home theater” boom has certainly emphasized this aspect. Holography, virtual reality? One can assume a realistic soundtrack will be needed to enhance these?

    Most vocal recordings use microphones placed quite close to the singer’s mouth, and much of the “ambiance” and placement of the voice in the stereo mix is the work of panpots and digital enhancement. There are some “purists” that shun any recordings with unnatural sound, but by and large, we all know audiophiles who only listen to pop music and that doesn’t seem to prevent them from enjoying their systems.

    I know it’s only a recording, but I like it.

  32. Musicians don’t hear their instruments from the same perspective as most listeners. Think of a trombone player or even a pianist or acoustic guitar player. What does the violinist in the midst of an orchestra hear? I doubt they spend too much brain power sorting out the intricate harmonic interactions of the instrument next to them, much less the spatial information that manages to get to them. Anyone playing electrical instruments becomes fairly accustomed to hearing themselves through a number of sources and processes. I seriously doubt that musicians that confine themselves to only listening to live music by acoustic instruments have developed differently than jazz, blues, or rock musicians. One might also observe that NO musical instruments of ANY type exist in nature, unless you count birdsongs. The time frame from the first stringed instruments to the electric guitar is nothing in the scheme of evolution. The sounds of metal and glass are no more alien to us than the sound of a hand built violin.

Leave a Reply

© 2023 PS Audio, Inc.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram