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September 2022

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Keeping It Real With Authentic Sound Quality
Roger Skoff writes about the importance of true authenticity.
Article By Roger Skoff

 

Keeping It Real With Authentic Sound Quality

 

  When I was a kid Hi-Fi Crazy, I didn't have any money.  I had heard good sound, though, and I lusted after it almost to the same degree as I would lust after more conventionally lusty things in years to come.

What I had heard was the, to me, mind-boggling and world-changing deep bass of a huge theater pipe organ played on a Bozak B-310 "Concert Grand" speaker (24Hz rated, with four 12" woofers in a 14 cubic ft. enclosure!), through McIntosh electronics, and I wanted that kind of sound for myself! Unfortunately, as a kid of 12, with no money and less-than-rich parents, I had to make do with what I could scrounge or improvise.

That turned-out to be a Silvertone (Sears) combination AM radio and phonograph with a single speaker of (probably) 5.25" or less. Mono, of course; stereo didn't come along until years later.

To make it even worse, the Silvertone didn't even have tone controls – not even the old single control that seemed to emphasize the bass by just rolling off the highs.

Things didn't stay that bad, though: The first improvement came when a friend's Hi-Fi Crazy father took pity and "sold" me a used Quam 12-inch "full-range" driver for 25 cents. That was run "open baffle" (No, I wasn't an advanced Hi-Fi theorist at the time – I just couldn't afford an enclosure for it) and made things a little better.

 

 

Then, along came Fletcher and Munson, with their studies of human hearing ability at different sound levels, and the first "loudness compensating" volume control – a replacement for the usual volume control potentiometer that – automatically and to a variable degree -- changed a signal's frequency balance to compensate for differences in human hearing ability at different levels. Eureka! By installing that; running it at full compensation always; and listening at a relatively low level, I was able to add a real bass boost to my "system" and a great deal of pleasure to my time spent listening.

Later, when I grew older and could afford and buy real gear with real tone controls, I didn't use them. It wasn't "pure", and I saw any kind of diddling with the sound by anything other than buying better gear, placing or hooking it up better, or improving my listening room acoustics, to be "cheating", "not authentic", and certainly not something any real and honorable audiophile should ever do.

 

 

And, in doing that, I overlooked entirely the fact that equalization — the use of sophisticated tone controls, even on an individual microphone or track basis — is a normal part of any studio or mastering session and that, even if, for whatever reason, no artistic or corrective equalization is used in the studio, it's still a technologically required part of every record / playback process, whether tape or disc, digital or analog.

The idea of "pure" or "authentic" sound is hard to apply to recorded music when, quite often – especially for Pop or Rock music – multi-track recording techniques are used, where individual instruments, performers, or whole instrumental or choral sections may be recorded separately, at different times (and even at different locations) and all are eventually mixed together to form the finished product. Under such circumstances, there's no way to be faithful to, or to provide authentic reproduction of the sound of the original performance or recording session for the simple reason that no such performance or session ever existed!

 

 

The idea of maintaining purity or authenticity isn't just limited to the sound of our music. It can be, and often is, extended to include the music, itself:

Did you ever hear of a group called Papa Doo Run Run? On their album called The California Project [Telarc Digital B000003D63], they, IMHO, sing and play the music of The Beach Boys far better than the original group ever did, and in vastly better sound. Even so, there are those among us who dismiss them as just a "cover band" and regard their work as inauthentic and not worthy of consideration.

What does authenticity have to do with music or its enjoyment? Unless, of course, you're a music historian or a record collector, and then the music, itself, may concern you less than its provenance.

All kinds of other examples abound, many in classical music. For one thing, I personally own multiple  different performances of the Shostakovich Symphony #15 and even more of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, plus many others. Each is a different interpretation of the thoughts of the composer by a conductor, soloists, and an entire orchestra. Which one is "authentic"?

 

 

Or, how about this? Bach wrote the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for pipe organ, played by a single musician, but Disney's movie, Fantasia, included a transcription of it by Leopold Stokowski for full orchestra that was quite noticeably different from the original in not just instrumentation, but both approach and tempi.

 

 

Both are magnificent, but was only one authentic? Or are they both valid and valuable artistic expressions of the same thing?

With hi-fi equipment, it's both reasonable and fun to try for what sounds to you like an accurate reproduction of the sound of live music but, when you weren't there for the performance, how can you ever know what it really sounded like? Especially when, even if you had been, the sound from no two seats in a concert hall or other two listening positions at any venue can ever be exactly the same?

The very best you can hope for is what you like and believe to be correct. And even then, others may not agree with you. If you ask some people how they think the theoretically perfect hi-fi system would sound, they might say "...as if the musicians were right here with me in my listening room", and others (including me)  might say, instead, that it would sound as if you had been transported there, to be with the musicians in the recording venue. With music, it's the same – "different strokes for different folks."

 

 

Either way, it's an illusion. So, unless that's what specifically turns you on (and you're a big fan of quixotic quests), forget about "keeping it real" and do, build your system, and listen to, whatever pleases you – including using the tone controls. Then just close your eyes, sit back, and...

 

 

Enjoy the music!

Roger Skoff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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