They Are Here Or You Are There – part 1

They Are Here or You Are There? – Part One

OK just to review: The holy of holies of audiophillia is to create a sound field in the home that is indistinguishable from what you would hear were you listening to the original performance. Sounds simple enough. For now we are going to ignore any of the other possibilities such as creating a sound field that is completely believable but never really existed either in the studio or concert hall.

The guy (or woman) behind the glass in the recording studio has almost all the control over what you hear in your home. True, we can make a lot of changes to the recording in the home, and in fact do whether we want to or not. But once the music is in the can, most of the things that the recording engineer has decided to do, can’t be undone.

The first decision he has to (or should) make is whether to make the artists sound as if they are in the space of a concert hall, or actually in your relatively tiny listening room. Will they be here or will you be there? How in the world is that accomplished?

To answer that question we need to take a trip to Africa about a half million years ago. Your great great great (etc) grandpa is out in the savannah looking for a meal. He is not alone. There is also this big hungry cat with sharp teeth and claws about to make grandpa his lunch. The cat moves through the bushes making a rustling sound. Instantly grandpa freezes in his tracks, turns, and runs for his life for safety. He was able to save himself because he had developed some pretty sophisticated natural listening technology and signal processing. And lucky for us, we are the recipients of this evolutionary prize ability without having to contend with saber tooth tigers.

Our hearing enables us to precisely and almost instantly identify arrival time and volume differences between the sound detected by our two ears. And the processing power of our brains instinctively (remember the big cat) determine location and distance to the origin of the sound.

Now if the man behind the glass is an engineer worth his salt, he knows all this. And he also knows how to place his microphones and select his recording environment to create your (the listener’s) point of view.

If he wanted to bring the performers into your listening space, he would need to go back to Africa and put them outdoors where the their music will arrive at the microphones directly from the performers without them picking up any sound being reflected off of concert hall walls or ceilings. That way, when it is played back, what you here is the performers modified only by the walls and ceiling (and floor) of your listening room. They would be here.

Problem is that it’s hard to record outside with wind and aircraft and wildlife all adding their voices. And it’s impractical to record in an anechoic room (one where all the surfaces absorb sound instead of reflecting it). And unless all the reflected sound is eliminated, your ears and brain know there is something unnatural going on. This is because they would be hearing two different sonic time arrivals, one from the hall acoustics at some distance, and a much closer set of arrivals from the acoustics of your small room. And no matter what kind of fancy processing you choose, the sonic damage has been done.

To be continued…

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