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Is the only true reference in audio to compare your system to the original mastering system?

tomelex

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#1
There is always talk about reference this and that and a manufacture comes out with their latest reference component, but what really is this "reference" thing? If we take it as a system or as a component, what is a "reference"? And how do we "measure" it if we decided what it actually was?
 

Blumlein 88

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#2
How close the output is to the input signal. The input is the reference.

In honesty most talk of reference components is marketing.
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #3
is it really as simple as that, perhaps for a component, but not if the original component had a THD of 2% and yours has 0.001%. I would say it is way more complicated. You are talking about hi-fidelity, I am talking about how can someone claim a "reference" unless we know exactly what the reference was to start with.
 

Blumlein 88

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is it really as simple as that, perhaps for a component, but not if the original component had a THD of 2% and yours has 0.001%. I would say it is way more complicated. You are talking about hi-fidelity, I am talking about how can someone claim a "reference" unless we know exactly what the reference was to start with.
That is the marketing. They aren't telling you the reference or they imply it or they have different ideas about it.

If the original component has 2% thd and mine is .001% reproducing it, then the result certainly is close enough to reference to qualify.

Reference to live sound? Always going to be nebulous at least with stereo as stereo cannot do more than hint at the Reference.

Reference as in this is the best performing thing we have ever made and so far know how to make, so all of our other gear is referenced to this best result? Okay, but without more elaboration and careful specification that doesn't mean much.

Repeating myself, but mostly it is marketing an idea they think resonates with potential customers. If there is some part of this I don't understand perhaps choosing a concrete example would make it clear what you have in mind.
 

GXAlan

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#5
Floyd Toole uses the phrase Circle of Confusion because there aren’t such standards to define a reference. The way something is recorded may impact the way you experience it at Home. Likewise, we typically do not listen in the type of anechoic/dead environments that recording studios are, and science has shown that most people like the added ambience of a room.
 
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Wombat

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#6
OP. Yes, what is on the recording is what we get and it may bear little accurate resemblance to the recorded performance. I mostly take statements from 'audiophile' consumers quoting such fidelity with a grain of salt as there is little chance that what is impressed on the recording is known to them for comparison.
Accurate amplification/streaming stages help but speakers/rooms and headphone shortcomings will get in the way.
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #7
OP. Yes, what is on the recording is what we get and it may bear little accurate resemblance to the recorded performance. I mostly take statements from 'audiophile' consumers quoting such fidelity with a grain of salt as there is little chance that what is impressed on the recording is known to them for comparison.
Accurate amplification/streaming stages help but speakers/rooms and headphone shortcomings will get in the way.

Yes, this is the point, the only reference was the original recording, not even the original live event. And yet, to say you accurately reproduced the original intent as laid down on the recording requires you to basically have the same setup as the mastering engineer did, and arguably the same hearing response as he has!

Are the implications of this that there is no reference possible for the consumer when reproducing a recording? This is the area I am trying to explore here. If you had the same amplification chain as the mastering engineer, and say he used headphones, then could you say that you are actually playing that particular recording at reference level if you used the same headphones, is that about as close as you could get?
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #9
That is the marketing. They aren't telling you the reference or they imply it or they have different ideas about it.

If the original component has 2% thd and mine is .001% reproducing it, then the result certainly is close enough to reference to qualify.

Reference to live sound? Always going to be nebulous at least with stereo as stereo cannot do more than hint at the Reference.

Reference as in this is the best performing thing we have ever made and so far know how to make, so all of our other gear is referenced to this best result? Okay, but without more elaboration and careful specification that doesn't mean much.

Repeating myself, but mostly it is marketing an idea they think resonates with potential customers. If there is some part of this I don't understand perhaps choosing a concrete example would make it clear what you have in mind.

I am moving away from this statement: "Reference as in this is the best performing thing we have ever made and so far know how to make, so all of our other gear is referenced to this best result? Okay, but without more elaboration and careful specification that doesn't mean much." as while a specific component should replicate a signal, what is the reference actually?
 

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#10
I am moving away from this statement: "Reference as in this is the best performing thing we have ever made and so far know how to make, so all of our other gear is referenced to this best result? Okay, but without more elaboration and careful specification that doesn't mean much." as while a specific component should replicate a signal, what is the reference actually?
'Reference' in a practical sense is what manufacturers/reviewers/listeners think is above a certain performance threshold based on marketing, subjective experience and/or measurements.

I would dare to say that a lot of members here have more reference setups than the stuff our favorite recordings are mixed & mastered with. Think of all the B&W speakers, BBC dips, lo-fi bedroom pop etc.
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #11
'Reference' in a practical sense is what manufacturers/reviewers/listeners think is above a certain performance threshold based on marketing, subjective experience and/or measurements.

I would dare to say that a lot of members here have more reference setups than the stuff our favorite recordings are mixed & mastered with. Think of all the B&W speakers, BBC dips, lo-fi bedroom pop etc.

while many here have maybe "better or more costly" playback gear, the idea of what is "reference" is the thing.

Let me put it this way, if the recording is played back exactly with no THD or linear or non linerar or phase distortions all the way back to a mic you have at your ear, you have accomplished HI-FI (perfect reproduction of the signal) but you have NOT accomplished reproducing the reference, which is the actual guy hearing the sound he mastered at the studio.

So, is the reference obtainable, yes, maybe if you duplicate one mastering studio at your house, then anything he does you are also at the reference for his work, but not anybody else's work
 

Eetu

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#12
So, is the reference obtainable, yes, maybe if you duplicate one mastering studio at your house, then anything he does you are also at the reference for his work, but not anybody else's work
Yeah, unless you'd have a mansion with thousands and thousands of listening rooms that replicate the studios the recordings were made in..

A single really good sound system is close enough. An approximation of all the references, if you will.
 

Jimbob54

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#13
Yes, this is the point, the only reference was the original recording, not even the original live event. And yet, to say you accurately reproduced the original intent as laid down on the recording requires you to basically have the same setup as the mastering engineer did, and arguably the same hearing response as he has!

Are the implications of this that there is no reference possible for the consumer when reproducing a recording? This is the area I am trying to explore here. If you had the same amplification chain as the mastering engineer, and say he used headphones, then could you say that you are actually playing that particular recording at reference level if you used the same headphones, is that about as close as you could get?
What if the released master is not what the artist intended? They liked a different mix/ master?

Its obviously an unanswerable puzzle. I'm also sure the people in the chain who spend the most time agonising about issues of fidelity or similar is us, the consumer enthusiasts . And hopefully at least some of the makers of the kit we all discuss.
 

GXAlan

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#14
A single really good sound system is close enough. An approximation of all the references, if you will.
Or two or three.... I think there is room for 2-3 approximations:

1) Harman curve; downward slope with wide dispersion
- suitable for home theater and stereo *if* there was gear to do it
- proven to be the most preferred to most people
- best single system, suitable for home theater environments
- Revel Salon2, Genelec monitors, Kef Reference, etc.

2) Flat curve +/- narrow dispersion
- in an acoustically dead room, a flat sounding speaker will sound thin. But this preference is one of the preferences noted by Floyd Toole in his book, albeit a small preference among studio engineers in the studio, which did not appear to translate into the home environment.
- suitable for individual listeners
- headphones for some people, JBL Array 1400, etc.

The dispersion may not be as different as the Harman downward curve vs. Flat curve. EQ/Room correction systems that allow multiple profiles allow listeners to switch between a "House curve" and a "flat curve."

3) Expansive and Diffuse
- dinner/cocktail party, tea reception where listeners will be dispersed randomly throughout a room
- a live string quartet or jazz band typically will energize the room broadly
- omnipolar MBL, dipoles like Steinway Lyngdorf, Magnepan, Martin Logan electrostat hybirds, Canon wide-imaging-stereo, JBL Paragon
- some people claim that cheap Sonos or Amazon speaker will do, but that's not necessarily true.
https://www.technologydesigner.com/2019/09/05/entertaining-with-sound/
 

restorer-john

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#15
The "Reference" moniker back in the day was not overused and was only placed on TOTL gear that was of a standard virtually beyond criticism, both in construction and performance terms. They were halo, aspirational products, which made appearances at audio shows and were rarely sold or only sold in small numbers. Reference intimated essentially it was "end game" gear.

"Reference" in relation to speakers were generally excellent speakers (not necessarily the 'best') used consistently to compare others to. Amir uses his Salon2s as a reference to compare all others to. They are a deliberately high bar speaker that does a lot right. Reference speakers are a consistent point and extremely useful. Changing out reference speakers too often is fraught with problems.

If I see "Reference" on another cheaply made Klipsch or any other 6.5" 2 way bookshelf toy speaker I will explode. :)

I think the first company to stick "Reference" on practically everything was Infinity. They absolutely trashed their name back in the day leveraging the legacy of the IRS onto everything they could. All brands have done it. Built up a aspirational tier 1 product range and then stuck the label on everything. Pioneer had Reference (called Elite in the US) and it ended up on junk down the track. Sony had ES, then stuck it on plastic fantastic stuff in later years.
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #16
Yeah, unless you'd have a mansion with thousands and thousands of listening rooms that replicate the studios the recordings were made in..

A single really good sound system is close enough. An approximation of all the references, if you will.
Well, "a single really good sounding system is close enough"

Two subjective things there, good sounding and close enough. Where I am going is how can anyone say they have a reference system that can be traced to "the reference". The only "reference" one has I would say, without duplicating the recording or mixing studio for that song, is the recording. Now, would a 100% accurate reproduction system "sound" like the reference system, the answer of course is no, unless it duplicates the entire mixing studio setup. We agree, I think, there is only one reference, the actual mix/master studio setup, and so as consumers we are left with the next "reference", the recording, and at that point, it does not sound like the "reference" in the original mix/master studio, it simply can not. So, other than measurements to the source recording itself, we have nothing else to "reference" to.
 
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tomelex

tomelex

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Thread Starter #17
What if the released master is not what the artist intended? They liked a different mix/ master?

Its obviously an unanswerable puzzle. I'm also sure the people in the chain who spend the most time agonising about issues of fidelity or similar is us, the consumer enthusiasts . And hopefully at least some of the makers of the kit we all discuss.
maybe answerable to an extent, see post 16
 

Blumlein 88

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#18
Are you familiar with translation in mastering? What this means is the master will translate well and sound good on other different systems than the one being used to master. Some mastering decisions are based upon creating a master that translates well. So in other words even the final master over the mastering system isn't a reference. The mastering guy may have created something that isn't best sound with a mind to how he thinks it will sound over lesser gear, ear buds, car speakers or such. The final master is the only reference we can gauge anything by, but in the sense you are thinking there is no reference sound created and listened to by the creative people at any point of the chain.

Which puts us back with my first post in this thread. Input signal is the reference.
 
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tomelex

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Thread Starter #19
Are you familiar with translation in mastering? What this means is the master will translate well and sound good on other different systems than the one being used to master. Some mastering decisions are based upon creating a master that translates well. So in other words even the final master over the mastering system isn't a reference. The mastering guy may have created something that isn't best sound with a mind to how he thinks it will sound over lesser gear, ear buds, car speakers or such. The final master is the only reference we can gauge anything by, but in the sense you are thinking there is no reference sound created and listened to by the creative people at any point of the chain.

Which puts us back with my first post in this thread. Input signal is the reference.

Pretty familiar with recording studios, my son owned one for several years. A lot of stuff is done to get a lot of instruments (drums for one) to "sound" right over speakers. It is all done though, in the end, on the system there. We know that there are all kinds of horrible things done, to make things louder etc, or to make things sound better on the small speakers, etc. No matter though, still, how ever it is done at the studio, that sound is the reference, (we will have to disagree on this point....we usually do agree with each other broadly.... as reference to me is a pretty specific technical thing), not the recording, the sound at the studio is the only reference. For us as consumers, we have a recording, and we might consider that a "reference" and we might not, we might consider what we think a drum should or we think should sound like as a reference, not what our stereo system portrays it to sound like. Creating that stereo illusion needs a lot of work to make us want to sit up and take notice! So, the input signal is "a" reference, of course.
 

Blumlein 88

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Pretty familiar with recording studios, my son owned one for several years. A lot of stuff is done to get a lot of instruments (drums for one) to "sound" right over speakers. It is all done though, in the end, on the system there. We know that there are all kinds of horrible things done, to make things louder etc, or to make things sound better on the small speakers, etc. No matter though, still, how ever it is done at the studio, that sound is the reference, (we will have to disagree on this point....we usually do agree with each other broadly.... as reference to me is a pretty specific technical thing), not the recording, the sound at the studio is the only reference. For us as consumers, we have a recording, and we might consider that a "reference" and we might not, we might consider what we think a drum should or we think should sound like as a reference, not what our stereo system portrays it to sound like. Creating that stereo illusion needs a lot of work to make us want to sit up and take notice! So, the input signal is "a" reference, of course.
Well my other quibble with how you are defining a reference is this. For a reference to be useful you have to have the ability to "refer" to it. The reference as being the sound as done at a studio is one that is never available to refer against another version. Such a reference is at best a ghost.
 
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