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Can Loudspeakers Accurately Reproduce The Sound Of Real Instruments...and Do You Care?

RayDunzl

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My original question was meant to focus specifically on timbrel reproduction - can we expect speaker drivers to accurately reproduce the huge variety of real-world timbres in instruments and voices, and if so to what degree?
Yes.

Certainly enough to identify each and every instrument in an orchestra.

Maybe not by brand or vintage, but certainly by type.

There might be a few gray areas, where my knowledge of "what they sound like" is vague, Euphonium vs Baritone I'd have to guess which was which,, but I would expect to hear the difference between them...

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Looks like the euphonium would be a little more euphonious.
 
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Blumlein 88

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I've seen more replies at this point stating people don't expect a perfect replication of the live event (orchestra or otherwise). My original question was meant to focus specifically on timbrel reproduction - can we expect speaker drivers to accurately reproduce the huge variety of real-world timbres in instruments and voices, and if so to what degree? I was trying to leave out dynamics, scale, soundstaging and all that.

But I guess we sort of got through that and moved on to TAS-like discussions. Fair enough.
Here is a quote from your OP. Bolded by you.

Do you think sound systems can truly, accurately reproduce the sound, and exact timbre, of the real thing? (Voices, acoustic instruments etc). If so, how? If not, why not? And...do you care? Is that something you want out of your system as any sort of goal?

So I didn't read this as being about exact timbre only. Accurately reproduce the sound and exact timbre of the real thing.

If you just wish to focus on timbre, I'd say some speakers can do this timbre part better than most of the other parts of sound reproduction. One type speaker being my long time favorite of electrostats.

I for a time used Hales Signature 2 speakers. Quality drivers in a sealed box alignment with very thick dead cabinet. It had excellent timbre (and other qualities). Seems speakers with heroic cabinets and seal boxes do better at timbre or do so more often. I'd think some Magico speakers would be good at it, but haven't had the pleasure of hearing any.
 
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Sal1950

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My original question was meant to focus specifically on timbrel reproduction - can we expect speaker drivers to accurately reproduce the huge variety of real-world timbres in instruments and voices, and if so to what degree? I was trying to leave out dynamics, scale, soundstaging and all that.
At what spl I believe is the crucial question. Most speakers that do timbre very well only do so within a limited spl. Then as the level goes up, the timbrel detail blurs and loses it definition. IME
 

Juhazi

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Now if we focus on timbre, and start to find reasons for differencies between speakers, discussion exapands to another spheres and details.

I understand that timbre of an instrument or voice comes from overtones and harmonics, which span several octaves up and down from main note being played, eg. flute http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/sound.spectrum.html



The picture above shows sound pressure spectrum, but then we have phase variations and fluctuating interferences in time domain too.



Now, when we have a single fullrange speaker/driver to reproduce that , it might be honest to source. But most hifi-speakers are multi-way constructions with crossover circuits or dsp, that make the phase rotate more or less at xo. This kind of speaker inevitably messes the phase coherency of an instrument with wide harmonic spectrum.

Then we can start discussing how audible these phase distortions of multiway speakers are, how different xo topologies and frequencies alter the sound. This is still quite controversial topic, of which most hifi'sts have an opinion.
 

Shadrach

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How would you test this? By listening to a live instrument and trying to remember what it sounded like.:D
Maybe you could record the instrument and then do an ABX between live and recording.:p Does anyone seriously think they would have trouble picking live from recording?
Perhaps we could measure and compare:p oh wait, in order to do this we would have to record, or least send the live sound through a transducer.
Live, life, reality, there is not a stereo system made that can accurately reproduce it.
 

solderdude

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A loudspeaker could well reproduce the timbre of instruments correctly at a certain distance/angle/conditions.
However, how correct an instrument will be reproduced depends on more than what a speaker can do.
How well is it recorded ?
Were EQ, other processing or certain microphones used to record/alter the sound ?
Were the acoustics, microphone placement 'correct' when recording ?
Are the distance to- and angle of- the speaker(s) correct ?
Was room EQ used or other tone control ?
What does the room alter in tonal balance ? Room conditioned or not ?

As long as you can recognize instruments you are probably O.K.
A perfect reproduction of the exact same instrument it will not be though.
Brains are quite forgiving for small errors though. Using visual stimuli will also help.
Seeing a video recording with sound enhances the sound making instruments sound more real than when this stimulus is not there.

Whether one cares or not is personal. As long as it sounds convincing to me and 'pleasant' (enjoy the reproduction) I am a happy camper.
Others may need more or even less (cheap radio or even the crappy sound of a mobile phone)
 

RayDunzl

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Opinion:
Once you launch a sound into a room the relative phase of the harmonics at some listening position is anybody's guess.
 
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andreasmaaan

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Even restricting the discussion to timbre, a loudspeaker can only reproduce a recording, and a recording can only capture the timbre of an instrument and its reflections at a specific point in a recording space.

A loudspeaker can do an excellent job of reproducing that but, unless the recording was made in an anechoic chamber, the loudspeaker is reproducing the direct and reflected sounds at the location of the microphone in the recording space and then outputting them altogether from a specific point in the playback space, with a polar response that is arbitrarily different from both that of the direct sound of the instrument and its reflections in the recording space.

Notwithstanding that, the loudspeaker can do this very limited job very well.
 

Cosmik

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Interesting that the explanation says:
Colorations in speakers are only revealing if there is significant content/energy in that part of hearing spectrum. Rock music tends to have such rich spectrum. Classical music as a general rule does not. Hence the domination of rock/pop music in the top most critical list.
Sorry to keep saying it, but this again reveals frequency domain-based thinking. It regards the sound as a "rich spectrum"; almost precisely my "flavoured paste" metaphor. It doesn't specify that the channel should preserve the separation of the individual objects going into it, merely that what comes out should have the right average colour.

My point about what makes a good test track is that the only way to pick out colouration (of any sort) is when the same colouration is smeared over many 'objects' that would, normally, not share the same sonic characteristics e.g. formant.

I can see how frequency domain-based thinking can lead to the entire audio design-test chain being 'one note'. For example, how do you decide 'scientifically' whether a test track is a good one? Obviously if people can most clearly discern the differences between different EQ settings using it - hence pink noise being the 'best'. And that can be demonstrated with 'science'.

But the differences between audio systems are not just the EQ, and discernment of differences between EQ settings is not the same as identification of absolute neutrality. Really excellent pink noise rendition is not going to allow the listener to predict whether it's going to be any good when the program changes over to a symphony orchestra!
 

andreasmaaan

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Now if we focus on timbre, and start to find reasons for differencies between speakers, discussion exapands to another spheres and details.

I understand that timbre of an instrument or voice comes from overtones and harmonics, which span several octaves up and down from main note being played, eg. flute http://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/sound.spectrum.html



The picture above shows sound pressure spectrum, but then we have phase variations and fluctuating interferences in time domain too.



Now, when we have a single fullrange speaker/driver to reproduce that , it might be honest to source. But most hifi-speakers are multi-way constructions with crossover circuits or dsp, that make the phase rotate more or less at xo. This kind of speaker inevitably messes the phase coherency of an instrument with wide harmonic spectrum.

Then we can start discussing how audible these phase distortions of multiway speakers are, how different xo topologies and frequencies alter the sound. This is still quite controversial topic, of which most hifi'sts have an opinion.
Not even a full range will be able. It has phase shirts, and more problematic : doppler effect distortions.
 

Ron Texas

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All I want is a pleasing musical experience without a lot of added distortion. In other words, it should sound like what the recording engineer intended.
 
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Agreed. The reproduction of natural instruments with their specific and complex dispersion properties seems pretty difficult, but getting the music that was heard and approved by the actual musicians in the recording studio in your home is not that out of reach.
 

Blumlein 88

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Agreed. The reproduction of natural instruments with their specific and complex dispersion properties seems pretty difficult, but getting the music that was heard and approved by the actual musicians in the recording studio in your home is not that out of reach.
Even this is something of a myth. It can be and is done all sorts of ways of course. Fairly common is go into a studio. Everyone gets headphones and a microphone. They can hear and adjust the volume of other musicians. Sometimes a few at a time are recording together this way. Then vocalists are added and vocalists hear the recorded track they are singing into. They too get to adjust volume of each of the other tracks to their liking. Sometimes it is done one at a time with the musician getting to adjust the recording his track is being mixed into. The point being, while recording their part no one heard the same thing or often even the whole thing with all the tracks. And usually this is done without the tracks having yet been mixed much less mastered.

Then maybe everyone sits around in the control room when the mix is done, and hear the mix. They may alter it or approve it. Then it is mastered, and usually that might not even get approved it is just done. And there may be disagreements between musicians as to how they actually think it should sound (often because they only really hear their parts worried that they sound okay). But they'll compromise to get it done and get on with it.

So you'll almost never get some pure version approved by the musicians. And musicians simply can't hear it the way anyone else does anyway. Being involved in it, and having heard it in a group they are part of is actually more difficult (read impossible) to reproduce than a completely 100% correct simulacrum of the physical sound. Which itself has never actually existed at a given time and space in modern multi-track recordings.

So if it makes your head bob, or your toe tap or simply feel something that is about all you really can hope for in recordings.
 
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But they'll compromise to get it done and get on with it.
I'm personally fine with listening to this kind of compromise at home really.
Sure, there's probably variation about what sounds best among people involved in particular album production, but there's also probably some kind of threshold of acceptability. I guess you can even express it in frequency response deviation in the audible range. So maybe +-2 db is sort of acceptable, but at +-8 db the artists would go "Uh, this sounds really wrong. Where's the bass/kick drum/my voice/whatever?!".
 
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Blumlein 88

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I'm personally fine with listening to this kind of compromise at home really.
Sure, there's probably variation about what sounds best among people involved in particular album production, but there's also probably some kind of threshold of acceptability. I guess you can even express it in frequency response deviation in the audible range. So maybe +-2 db is sort of acceptable, but at +-8 db the artists would go "Uh, this sounds really wrong. Where's the bass/kick drum/my voice/whatever?!".
Yes, but it goes way beyond that. Each track may have a different microphone. Each track will likely have EQ not like the others. Ditto for compression, reverb, and other effects. Compression now is often done in bands of frequencies not the whole track. Then it gets mixed together maybe some more processing. Then the mastering guy will do a bit more EQ, probably some compression, maybe some other things. At the end of such a process what is the frequency response? All you can say is it sounds more or less balanced highs to low and sounds good or not. This is one of the reasons MQA's promise to authenticate mastering is such a farce. There is no way to unravel all of this after the fact. But yes at some point the band, and others had to say okay. Considering the sound of some recordings that alone should give one pause.

Oh and about this:
"Uh, this sounds really wrong. Where's the bass/kick drum/my voice/whatever?!"

A recording I was basically just sitting in on with some musician friends. They went to hear the first mix, and didn't like it in the studio. So they took it out to their minivan to hear it. They wondered if the radio had deteriorated in the minivan as it sounded so bad. One of the musicians not there that day heard it that night. She said, "I know I played on the first two and the 4th and 6th tracks?? I don't hear anything that sounds like it could be my instrument in there." The guitarist had the same reaction. So yes, they nixed this one finally and it was done over (twice). They still thought it was a bit over-cooked, but okayed it. The recording and mixing guys said they weren't letting them make it as good as they could. (think totally squashed and EQ'd into being literally unrecognizable by the musicians involved). Compromise. Having seen things like this I am surprised when a recording is good.
 

Fitzcaraldo215

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I wish, sooner or later, that everyone could hear properly implemented Multichannel, properly set up, be it a 5.1, a 7.1 or 3D Immersive. That way would end the needless justification - will stereo suffice - over classical music recorded in the concert hall.
 

Zog

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But I guess we sort of got through that and moved on to TAS-like discussions. Fair enough.
It's called Thread Drift. Like Continental Drift, it cannot be stopped.
But back to your original query: I do not know if that is possible, maybe people with high-end gear have a better idea. It seems unlikly as there are so many elements in the audio chain and they all have to be perfect. In particular speakers. Timbrel accuracy also depends on what is being played. My gear does a reasonable facsimile of wind, brass and voice - but falls short when it comes to strings (plucked, struck or bowed).

However sometimes you go for a goal even though you know you cannot succeed. So in my case I can tell the violas from the cellos and that is about as far as I can afford.

Another way to look at this, or dodge your question (!) is to add two more cards, one on each end of the straight flush. Prior to the instrument is the composer with his musical meaning, (Take the sense of struggle against adversity in the Eroica for example). At the other end, after your ears have digested the instruments, you get the musical meaning. If the road was a little rough - does it matter? A photographic example: you see a picture a bright eyed boy giving his sandwich to a hungry dog. You are moved. Does it really matter if the resolution is 1000 x 2000 dpi or something higher? You may see a bit of glistening in the eye but the core of the meaning is there.
 

MRC01

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...
For me, the single most important characteristics of a "High End" audio listening experience is a timbral presentation that gives me some of what I like about the sound of real life voices and instruments. If the tone/timbre sounds obviously "off" to my ears, I simply have no desire to keep sitting and listening. I don't have these demands for music that I listen to elsewhere - in my car, in my kitchen while cooking, as background music.
...
And for me some systems can do this, others just do not.
...
I agree. I play and listen to acoustic music, and I want recordings on my stereo to sound as close as possible to that live sound. If "transparency" is defined as how close the sound is to live acoustic music, some systems are nowhere near transparent, others can get close. I judge an audio system's overall quality by how transparent it seems, subjectively. I've never heard perfect transparency in any audio system. My experience says the differences are due to, most important first, (1) the recordings, (2) speakers, room or headphones, (3) electronics.

Transparency is more rare to find with large (symphonic) than with small (chamber music) ensembles. But that could be a limitation of the recording process, as much as it might also be with playback.
 
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