live music versus hi-fi
Far be it from me to be contentious, but I have to touch on a sore spot! In my professional life I have met many tens of Audiophiles with crazily expensive systems, and ... can you believe that the large majority of them have never set foot in a concert hall? But, even worse, I can say that the same is true for the owners (and sales assistants) in hi-fi stores that have reached the status of “hi-end temples” and even for reviewers in hi-fi magazines. This scenario is particularly grave because the guys who belong to these last two categories are entitled to “play” freely with the substantial sums of cash of their naïve customers or readers, by merely talking about the “sex of the angels”, to use a posh Italian turn of phrase, which, in plain words, means "talking bullshit"!
Exceptions apart, aural ignorance is a peculiarity and a common reality of the hi-fi market (top-end included), and it makes possible the sale of esoteric products of questionable quality (but aesthetically gorgeous), at galactic and improbable prices! This is an interesting marketing operation, made by the manufacturers, in symbiosis with the retailers, plus the external help of the reviewers of the magazines: it's not a plot, but actually it’s normal in the nowadays trade!
So, the large majority of the Audiophiles don't have adequate sound-culture and sonic bases to properly evaluate these items, so, setting a very high price, it becomes the way to attract the interest of the hi-end Audiophiles, who are predisposed to trust the instinctive equation "the more it costs, the better it is". Unfortunately for them, this equation is hardly ever true in the hi-fi world! So, the unwise Audiophile is going to discover the real value of what he bought, only when he tries to resell the "jewel": bad news mate, it's not a diamond, but just a piece of shiny glass, that you have bought at the price of a diamond!
Generalizing, if all the above mentioned categories (Audiophiles, hi-end "gurus" and reviewers) attended concerts, they could all achieve a better understanding of real music and how it sounds. In particular, the Audiophiles could become less susceptible to the "golden baits" presented by the other two categories, who, in their turn and ... if in good faith, could finally provide an overdue and useful service to their customers and readers.
However, to be honest, I have to say that, being a “habitué” of concerts, it’s surely enjoyable and essential to develop a culture in music and sound, but that is not enough to judge the sound accuracy of a hi-fi system unequivocally: why? Because you don’t know anything about the specific real sound contained within any CDs (or any source of music at your disposal) you are going to play to judge a hi-fi system. In fact, you don’t have a clue about the peculiar timbre of the instrument(s) employed, the acoustics of the venue, the recording technique, the distance between the mics and the performers, manipulations of the master and very possible addition of sonic effects and compression. So, because of the complete ignorance about the genuine sound of the CDs you are using, you run the risk of judging as not good, a good system, and vice versa. For example, if you play a sharp and harsh CD on a very "soft" and "slow" system (I call them "funeral systems"), the resulting sound could appear almost "acceptable", so, you say that the system is good, but this is not true, because the "acceptable" sound comes from the self-compensation of two opposite nasty realities and the plain truth is that you are playing a terrible CD on a terrible system! If you now play a perfect CD (by chance) on the previous "funeral system", the result is obviously ... "a funeral" and now you will say that the same system is not good! Furthermore, a bad sound can also come from the combination of a perfect system with an awful CD, and so on. In the light of these incontrovertible examples, I hope you start realising that all the reviews, the opinions of the esoteric "gurus" and your judgments too, are based on nothing (the "sex of the angels"), so, in trusting reviewers and gurus blindly, you are "investing" a lot of money in buying a sandcastle!
Now you probably agree with me that the only way to correctly evaluate a whole system (or just a single component) is to employ a sound-source of which you know exactly the content. So, in which way can you come to possess a known, genuine source of sound? If you are based in Auckland and surroundings, it's simple: come to the concerts of Bach Musica NZ and later you'll buy the CD of the concert you attended! I make the live recordings of these concerts and I assure you that the resultant CDs are a real reference, totally true (coughs, noises and air conditioning too, unfortunately), in phase and free from any electronic manipulations and effects. Furthermore, these CDs also include perfect recordings of the audience's applauses: please note that clapping is one of the most taxing and complex things you could feed to a hi-fi system. Clapping encompasses an incredibly large frequency range (infra-bass apart), plus lightning speed and dynamics: every single clap is a small explosion! For these reasons, it's one of the most useful things you can use (I could say, more than music itself) to judge a hi-fi system by! A system that, playing one of my CDs, sustains perfect, crisp clapping, has got all its "documents" in order accurately to reproduce music too. But ... if the clapping doesn't sound real and alive (too smooth, homogeneous, not crisp enough and sometimes a bit nasal too), the system has got NO chance at all of reproducing music appropriately: believe me or not, this is beyond question!
To understand the uniqueness of the sound and quality of these CDs, please visit the page "live recording" and, to know more about their sale, click here.
So, attending these concerts, you memorise the sound and later, playing the CDs through different systems in some "hi-end temple", you will have at your disposal a trustworthy reference to rightly evaluate these systems by. Obviously, you will also use these CDs to judge your personal system and, in this regard, I hope you won't get any shocking piece of news … my best wishes!
I'd also like to add that Bach Musica NZ orchestra, its chorus and their conductor Rita Paczian are of a very high calibre! In the beautiful scenery of the Concert Hall, in the Auckland Town Hall, they usually perform Baroque music, but, quite often, bring to us concerts of Kiwi contemporary composers, plus world and NZ premieres too.
If you are interested in coming along and to join the Bach Musica NZ “family”, please have a look at the sites below. You are welcome!
To learn more about Bach Musica NZ and its conductor Rita Paczian, please visit their site here.
Please, have also a look at the delightful concerts on this year’s programme. The 2019 Bach Musica NZ Series is a brilliant line-up of “music that touches the soul”, as their motto reads. The ticket prices are extremely reasonable, but you could also consider subscribing for the 2019 Season, in order to have an even more affordable cost. This dedicated ensemble is well worth supporting, and you can look forward to four rewarding afternoons of astonishing music!
Down here, a few shots of the Christmas' concert of few years ago