I am visiting the high-end show in Tokyo at the moment and last night, between demonstrations of the system, I was wandering the halls of the show when the strains of one of my all time favorite operas came drifting down the hall. La Boheme, as performed by Renata Tebaldi in 1951 on a classic London recording, is and always has been one of the best performances and recordings of this classic Puccini masterpiece.
When I first began to appreciate high-end audio and opera as an artform, this was the recording that taught me about soundstage and depth and realism of recording. The performers are captured by a simple microphone setup that really gives you the impression you’re center position in the audience – so real the performance and so emotion filled the music – that more than any performance I have listened to this is the one that just sweeps you off your feet and puts you into the scene. You are there.
So it was with horror and indignation that I sat down to listen to the most God awful playback of this classic music. The room was jam packed with Audiophiles thrilled to be hearing an expensive system playing classic vinyl and ignoring the results – that to my ears could have just as easily been fed from an iPod playing an MP3. The manufacturer was explaining something in Japanese about a special turntable platter and he was A/Bing the differences in performance between whatever he was selling. Not only did I not hear an improvement I was just so PO’d at them passing the sound off as high end I wanted to scream.
Instead of you are there– reliving a magical moment with these timeless performers – we seemed to be listening to a giant set of ear buds on expensive loudspeakers and played through even more expensive electronics. The soundstage projected in front of the loudspeakers with no placement of the performers apparent, just loudsquawksfrom the singers and the empty spaces filled in with the orchestra that appears from the mass of sound. The crowd seemingly oblivious to what this is supposed to sound like.
I am saddened and reminded of how often this happens at audio shows – this has nothing to do with Japan or these fellas at all – truth is, I am always surprised and delighted when I find a system that has soundstage qualities and plays music at a show. It is certainly the rare exception not the norm.
I will be missing the US show in Newport Beach while I am overseas but I hope that at least a few manufacturers will hold high the values of high-end audio for the rest of us.