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Importance of Tonality (?)

Easternlethal

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I am long time lurker of this forum and a big big fan of objective measurements. And as a part-time music producer, composer, performer and hi-fi listener I would like to discuss something which is has been in the fringes of many conversation - namely, tonality.

But before that I just want to say that this is not about the validity or benefits of using measurements. Rather, this is to kick off discussions about whether there should be any interrelationship between measurements and tonality, and if so what.

To start with, I would like to share my own experiences from someone who spends more time at the production end than at the listening end - where there are as many disagreements between composers, conductors and performers as there are between hi-fi listeners and manufacturers! If you look at music as a series of processes, where a signal is being created between to links in the chain, ie. dac to preamp. At the risk of offending music performer, I and many composers think of music as a signal between the composer and the audience, with the performers being the processors. So we start with something which we want to communicate. And at this stage, even the process of writing music is already a lossy process because I am confined by the notes on the page and the instruments which are available. Then comes the performer, who has the job of reading the notes he has been presented. 'Ah!' he thinks. 'I can make this music sound good'. So he picks up his instrument and displays his performance techniques, making something a little louder here, a little softer there etc. Maybe he even adds a few overtones because he has a very expensive instrument and good enough technique to do that. Then the production company gets involved and thinks it would sound even better if the piece was recorded in a cathedral. So then comes the recording engineer who has to record the whole thing and capture the environment. So he mikes everything near and far. But it doesn't sound as good so he makes adjustments - adding a carpet here or there, angling the mic or maybe even using EQ (yes, some recording engineers even do that!). At the end of the day everybody packs up and goes home having experienced the performance from completely different perspectives. Up until this point, fidelity is very low in the list of priorities because the performer is more concerned with playing, the recordist is trying to capture or reproduce what to his ears, is unique about the environment and the composer is just happy that people are going to hear what he wrote. In each case, either they are focusing on tonality or the content of the music itself.

Then in the evening, the files get sent to the mastering engineer who fires up his workstation. Note that he is called the mastering engineer for a reason, which is to get paid by the production company for making everything sound good. So he listens to each track again. Playing the raw tracks on his yamaha, JBL and genelac monitors he thinks the instrument is a bit too bright. So he runs the signal through his vintage teletronix compressor to give him that warmth he is so accustomed to hearing from his other recordings. Then he mixes it with the ambient noise track recorded by the recordsist's omnidirectional condensor (which picks up a very faint rumble from a nearby passing train).

Now here we are listening to the recording and discussing our equipment...
 
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Easternlethal

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And it gets very philosphical:

What is the purpose of the equipment? Is it to reproduce what the engineer intended? Why the engineer? Why not the composer, or the performer or the recordist?

Should the equipment be transparent or should it be adding even more tonality to the piece? After all, almost everyone else in the signal chain except the composer has already added something to the recording.

And what should we even be listening to? Now the composer is annoyed because we spent all the time discussing distortion and noise floor instead of listening to his music, and the performer is annoyed because we did not listen to his phrasing and interpretations. But at least the mastering engineer is happy because we insist that our equipment should be faithfully reproducing his beautiful compression technique using his beloved teletronix. But the golden-eared audiophiles and equipment manufacturers have the best response. They say that only their ears and equipment which adds even more tonality into the recording can bring the listener towards a state of holy trinity between the composer, performer and recording engineer because, well... golden ears y'know?
 
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VintageFlanker

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What is the purpose of the equipment? Is it to reproduce what the engineer intended? Why the engineer? Why not the composer, or the performer or the recordist?
Because we, auditioners, don't have any access to the composer or the performer intends directly. We just cannot bypass the final mastering from the engineer. That's about it.

The purpose of consumer equipment is to reproduce this mastering, simply because it cannot be otherwise.
 
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Easternlethal

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My question is, isn't this argument that if you adopt the same approach to the entire signal chain back to the composer, you can even say that the music itself, when written, as long as it complies with certain harmonic and melodic rules is enough, because then everything is just unwanted tonality and the listener should be presented with the purest information only?

Where and when in the whole process do we think tonality is or isn't important?
 

Emlin

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My question is, isn't this argument that if you adopt the same approach to the entire signal chain back to the composer, you can even say that the music itself, when written, as long as it complies with certain harmonic and melodic rules is enough, because then everything is just unwanted tonality and the listener should be presented with the purest information only?

Yeah, read the sheet music.

Now stop trolling.
 

Chromatischism

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And it gets very philosphical:
From the perspective of our playback equipment, it's actually very simple.
What is the purpose of the equipment? Is it to reproduce what the engineer intended? Why the engineer? Why not the composer, or the performer or the recordist?
The purpose of playback equipment is to simply play back what is recorded on the medium. In other words, the final production from the mastering engineer. There is no other way. Our equipment is an input-output system. It is "dumb". It can not undo changes in the mastering process nor can we possibly do so with our own fiddling.

Should the equipment be transparent or should it be adding even more tonality to the piece? After all, almost everyone else in the signal chain except the composer has already added something to the recording.
It must be transparent in order to play back the audio faithfully. That means ideally no distortion is added, flat response from 20 Hz - 20 kHz, in a broad and smooth beam that doesn't have sudden changes in directivity with frequency.

Further, it must be transparent because producers can not possibly rely on end users' equipment to add the final treble boost at a certain frequency or whatever. It must be produced and delivered using neutral equipment on the assumption that an end user's equipment will not significantly change its sound. There is no other logical target to aim for.
 
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Easternlethal

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Because we, auditioners, don't have any access to the composer or the performer intends directly. We just cannot bypass the final mastering from the engineer. That's about it.

The purpose of consumer equipment is to reproduce this mastering, simply because it cannot be otherwise.

Well, we do have access to what the composer wants because, as with many he publishes his score. And I would also argue that we can hear what the performer intends even though this may not be reflected in the recording because that is reflected in dynamics and tonal control and other things which we can already hear (even in poorly recorded instances).

This is an open-question by the way. I don't know the answer.
 

Emlin

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Well, we do have access to what the composer wants because, as with many he publishes his score. And I would also argue that we can hear what the performer intends even though this may not be reflected in the recording because that is reflected in dynamics and tonal control and other things which we can already hear (even in poorly recorded instances).

This is an open-question by the way. I don't know the answer.

You have not asked a question, open or not. You are just trolling. Move on.
 

Vince2

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Having made some recordings of live performances of musicians playing only a few instruments, and listening back to the recording, without any "mastering" has been very satisfying. When a year later, one of the musicians made an album , professionally recorded, and I could compare the recordings, with my own recordings, the differences were notable. The professional recording was more polished and pleasing. My conclusion regarding the difference was that you really need to compare the sound quality of a system to the original sound of the performance to determine if a system is transparent.
 
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Easternlethal

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Having made some recordings of live performances of musicians playing only a few instruments, and listening back to the recording, without any "mastering" has been very satisfying. When a year later, one of the musicians made an album , professionally recorded, and I could compare the recordings, with my own recordings, the differences were notable. The professional recording was more polished and pleasing. My conclusion regarding the difference was that you really need to compare the sound quality of a system to the original sound of the performance to determine if a system is transparent.

That's a great example. I actually had the same experience and went to the mastering studio later to see if they could apply the same processes to my original, which I was sure would sound better - but that's another story.

So anyway one of the follow up questions to this long train of thought, is, when the audio precision analyzer shows that something is not transparent, can we use the results to tell whether it is intentional because the manufacturer wants to introduce tonality (and how) or is it always the case that the product is just poorly designed?
 

Da cynics

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We should go further. To extreme levels of platonism
Sound as a physical phenomenon that can be heard in real space is only one manifestation of "music.
 
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Easternlethal

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Further, it must be transparent because producers can not possibly rely on end users' equipment to add the final treble boost at a certain frequency or whatever. It must be produced and delivered using neutral equipment on the assumption that an end user's equipment will not significantly change its sound. There is no other logical target to aim for.

So this question bugs me every now and then because sometimes I do know how things actually sound either because I'm familiar with the recording venue and instrument or in the case of electronic music I am actually using the same synthesizers and when I listen to a recording I do not know if all the extra stuff added by the recording engineer or the hi-fi is intentional or just the result of poor implementation and whether I should try to fix it. It's not always clear to me.
 

trl

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There is no such thing as intentional tonality introduced by manufacturers, this is a design flaw!

Any audio equipment found in our homes should be perfectly transparent and with a very low THD+N, to ensure no harmonics and no unwanted EQ will be added. I'm not speaking here about dedicated EQ devices, dynamic compressors or harmonisers. Thing is simple: we need to listen to exactly what the recording engineer meant. Who wants to add EQ or DSP effects can make it after the initial decoding, but when all effects are in OFF position the playback device should measure immaculate.
 

raif71

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I am long time lurker of this forum and a big big fan of objective measurements. And as a part-time music producer, composer, performer and hi-fi listener I would like to discuss something which is has been in the fringes of many conversation - namely, tonality.

But before that I just want to say that this is not about the validity or benefits of using measurements. Rather, this is to kick off discussions about whether there should be any interrelationship between measurements and tonality, and if so what.

To start with, I would like to share my own experiences from someone who spends more time at the production end than at the listening end - where there are as many disagreements between composers, conductors and performers as there are between hi-fi listeners and manufacturers! If you look at music as a series of processes, where a signal is being created between to links in the chain, ie. dac to preamp. At the risk of offending music performer, I and many composers think of music as a signal between the composer and the audience, with the performers being the processors. So we start with something which we want to communicate. And at this stage, even the process of writing music is already a lossy process because I am confined by the notes on the page and the instruments which are available. Then comes the performer, who has the job of reading the notes he has been presented. 'Ah!' he thinks. 'I can make this music sound good'. So he picks up his instrument and displays his performance techniques, making something a little louder here, a little softer there etc. Maybe he even adds a few overtones because he has a very expensive instrument and good enough technique to do that. Then the production company gets involved and thinks it would sound even better if the piece was recorded in a cathedral. So then comes the recording engineer who has to record the whole thing and capture the environment. So he mikes everything near and far. But it doesn't sound as good so he makes adjustments - adding a carpet here or there, angling the mic or maybe even using EQ (yes, some recording engineers even do that!). At the end of the day everybody packs up and goes home having experienced the performance from completely different perspectives. Up until this point, fidelity is very low in the list of priorities because the performer is more concerned with playing, the recordist is trying to capture or reproduce what to his ears, is unique about the environment and the composer is just happy that people are going to hear what he wrote. In each case, either they are focusing on tonality or the content of the music itself.

Then in the evening, the files get sent to the mastering engineer who fires up his workstation. Note that he is called the mastering engineer for a reason, which is to get paid by the production company for making everything sound good. So he listens to each track again. Playing the raw tracks on his yamaha, JBL and genelac monitors he thinks the instrument is a bit too bright. So he runs the signal through his vintage teletronix compressor to give him that warmth he is so accustomed to hearing from his other recordings. Then he mixes it with the ambient noise track recorded by the recordsist's omnidirectional condensor (which picks up a very faint rumble from a nearby passing train).

Now here we are listening to the recording and discussing our equipment...
To me, what you just described is team work to get music out to the public. Everybody has their part that they have to perform or another way of looking at the process is divide and conquer. Do you have any other suggestions to produce music to the masses ?
 

MattHooper

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You have not asked a question, open or not. You are just trolling. Move on.

I don't see any reason to be rude. He's asking what seem to be honest questions, and legitimate ones at that. What are we aiming for and why with our equipment?

If someone has a different answer from your goal (and I don't know that Easternlethal does or not), it doesn't equate to "trolling."
 
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Easternlethal

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Do you have any other suggestions to produce music to the masses ?

That's for another thread but sound synthesis has been proposed as an alternative. some even argue that it is more transparent than having a performer in the way. It's a little bit like, say if you listened to a piece by Rachmaninov played by Argerich and you listen to the same piece being played by Rachmaninov himself - most of us find his performance flat and uninvolving. Almost like a midi recording. And I have always supposed that his preference was to let the listener do most of the interpreting rather than the performer, even though to me, there is less joy in that.
 

MattHooper

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The purpose of consumer equipment is to reproduce this mastering, simply because it cannot be otherwise.

The purpose of playback equipment is to simply play back what is recorded on the medium. In other words, the final production from the mastering engineer.....(snip).... There is no other logical target to aim for.

There is no such thing as intentional tonality introduced by manufacturers, this is a design flaw!

Any audio equipment found in our homes should be perfectly transparent and with a very low THD+N, to ensure no harmonics and no unwanted EQ will be added. I'm not speaking here about dedicated EQ devices, dynamic compressors or harmonisers. Thing is simple: we need to listen to exactly what the recording engineer meant. Who wants to add EQ or DSP effects can make it after the initial decoding, but when all effects are in OFF position the playback device should measure immaculate.

I suggest Easternlethal is at least correct in citing that the issue DOES get philosophical - the one he's talking about. Which is the purpose of an audiophile's audio equipment.

Remember that "purpose" is ultimately subjective. And someone can make entirely logical, rational goals based on achieving their own ends.

As I have brought up numerous times before on the subject of "accuracy" and the aims for high end equipment, when people say the "purpose" of audio equipment is to reproduce the signal on the source (created by the mastering engineer) it's an entirely reasonable question to ask: WHY?
What is the point of reproducing that signal? No matter how you answer, you can't avoid the philosophical rabbit holes that open up.

If you say "I want to reproduce the mastered signal because it best represents the intent of the artist" then you get in to the whole rabbit hole of the intent of the artist...what they heard vs what you will hear, what they care about that you hear, etc. As we've seen in previous conversations, this is so tough to actually pin down it seems like a dead end. Which is why many retreat back to "I just want to reproduce the signal accurately because that's all I can do with confidence." But then you are left with this strangely arbitrary goal. Why does anyone care about reproducing that signal in the first place? Oh...because you want to hear the artists music? Why? ...and back to why you like the artist, artistic intent etc. Then back to the other horn of the problem. It's a sort of Euthyphro Dilemma for audiophiles ;-)



You can "make" an easy answer by ignoring whatever troublesome questions you want, but then you can make anything an easy answer that way.

People can certainly converge on a goal - e.g. using the recorded/mastered signal as the "thing we want to reproduce with as little audible distortion as possible." We can have pragmatic reasons, for instance it allows for objectively verifiable results that people can actually (at least in principle) agree on. But because we can pick one goal, it doesn't mean all the reasonable questions go away, and that no other goals are rational.

Someone may have a goal to have a sound system that he perceives to be somewhat more life-like, or more "lively" or "exciting" than the norm.
That may entail some colorations. That will entail that certain colorations are entirely logical and rational to meet his goal.
And some audio manufacturers may make products to meet that taste. So it can become a perfectly reasonable goal for some equipment to be manufactured to deviate from what others here would term "accurate."

The pure accuracy camp doesn't have some deep moral footing on which to say "that goal is WRONG." As if there is a big The Goal as some objective, ontological bedrock.

So it seems best to talk in terms about one's personal goals. For instance "IF it's your goal to reproduce the signal produced by the mastering engineer with the least possible distortion, THEN you will want equipment that has X and Y features. Many of us here have that goal."

But it's not THE goal everyone has for his equipment. Some have goals like a "more lifelike overall sound" or "a system that pleases me when playing music, which makes me feel like concentrating on listening to music" etc.

I know that many here will say "of course we acknowledge someone can prefer less accurate sound" but often the replies tend to imply, or even state outright, that goal is "wrong" or "not one we should be aiming at, nor SHOULD audio manufacturers be aiming at ANYTHING but OUR goal of neutrality because if they do they are doing it wrong, and ripping people off."
 
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Inner Space

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I know that many here will say "of course we acknowledge someone can prefer less accurate sound" but often the replies tend to imply, or even state outright, that goal is "wrong" or "not one we should be aiming at, nor SHOULD audio manufacturers be aiming at ANYTHING but OUR goal of neutrality because if they do they are doing it wrong, and ripping people off."

I'm sure some tut-tutting goes on, but it seems to me most people are saying get an accurate system, because then you can flavor it any way you want, not just a pre-flavored way. I think it's constructive advice in the real world.
 
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