Now that we have established a framework with the Sound Hierarchy we can take a closer look at the relationships between the recording and playback chain, and how the system components rely on each other to produce the intended result.
Listening to a great playback system with poor quality software or a great recording with an inadequate audio system defeats the purpose of obtaining the maximum quality result.
Recording live music in True Stereo gives us an inherent advantage by better preserving the dynamic, harmonic, and spatial relationships increasing the potential for the maximum playback benefits. Keep in mind that the overall system is always limited to the quality of the source component.
The limitations of the software derived from the recording side have often limited our ability to characterize the overall qualities of the playback system. Most recordings do not offer what True Stereo can achieve, multi-microphone techniques compress and smear the time elements, harmonics are created with EQ and reverb, adding to the overall distortion and limited spatial qualities. That being said the vast majority of music will never be recorded in our ideal sense. The fact that most musicians are not capable of playing live, let alone have something to say in such context, makes these types of recordings rare and limited.
The recording industry seems in general most interested in creating recordings that impress listeners on cheap playback systems. This is the way of the world and it is unlikely to change. As technology advances with more convenience and features often the playback capabilities are degraded or ignored.
Many people feel that the LP is still the best, most musical playback medium for consumer use. The line between musicality and inherent accuracy can be confused; in the end what gives us the most involvement from the artist’s message will persuade us.
The ability to hear through the playback system is often skewed because the quality of the recording limits its capabilities. The use of audio components such as some tube designs can add warmth, but at the same time sacrifice transparency from really good recordings. Frequently audio components can create a pleasant form of compression, but don’t get quiet enough to hear all the nuances. When recordings such as True Stereo are employed the ability to hear the sonic limitations of the audio components can become more easily identifiable. A really good playback system will sound different with every recording showing how wonderful the good ones are, and how awful the bad ones can be.
Many so called audiophile systems create a result which makes every recording sound acceptable, but at the expense of real clarity and ultimate transparency. If the system has depth on all recordings it is unlikely real, but a derived effect. Most speakers are designed for the showroom not the home. Adding bass and treble in specific areas to give the wow effect. The use of True Stereo recordings will quickly show you the limits of these systems.
I believe a system should be able to play all types of music, good and bad recordings and still be musically acceptable. A system that is reasonably precise tonally, has low distortion and most importantly good transient character (be able to get quiet) will in the end be more listenable and informative.
In the real world the average recording is often the limiting factor making the assembling of a playback system much more subjective than it really ought to be. Developing a reference point with the support of musically accurate recordings (True Stereo) will no doubt aid us in this task.
Ken Christianson, Pro Musica, Chicago