and then the Carnegie Hall ticket window clerk asked, "Where would you like to sit, sir?" This question is not as simple as it may seem. I'm fairly certain each of you has a preferred seating position in a concert hall. There may be many reasons for selecting wherever it is, but in my case it is always a matter of finding a way for the sound to serve the music and musicians in the best possible fashion. Many years ago I had the good fortune of sampling different seats at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall during rehearsal sessions. That was a lot of fun and obviously very educational. So, for a long time, my traditional top pick seat location was usually in the center section, about a third of the way back from the stage. Well, times change and so have I. The following story details some recent adventures that touch upon a few related audiophile topics. I trust this may be of some interest.

A Different Kind of Gear
It is probably fair to say that the vast majority of audiophiles find time to enjoy real concert performances in addition to the recorded libraries which most of us possess. I certainly hope this is the case. For me, witnessing and savoring live acoustic music is an ultimate sonic, emotional and intellectual joy. Over the past six years, my personal interest in tape recording, especially of live concerts, has brought happiness, new awareness and a variety of challenges to the table. The bulk of these live performance activities involve acoustic classical music covering a wide range of genres, musicianship and venues. Pipe organs, string quartets, madrigal singers, choirs, wind ensembles, chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras and a mix of soloists on piano, harp, oboe and such represent about 90% of those efforts, with the remaining 10% covering small jazz ensembles.

The learning curve associated with effective sound capturing is a steep one. Except for a few tips and bits of advice from two professional recording engineers, my self-styled empirical approach to taping mastery has been a bumpy but fun ride. To do this well involves a lot more than plopping down a pair of microphones and praying for a quiet audience. Happily my recent recordings have become better and feedback from those musicians involved, as well as fellow audio buddies -- including a number of friends from the New York Audiophile Society and others -- seems to concur. In the taping setup, I sit in the audience, usually quite close to my microphone stand, running a two channel DAT rig powered with custom-made battery packs so as to keep noise low and short cable lines without extra gizmos or gadgets. This typically allows me to find a highly desirable seat in the house, too.

Naturally, one big feature is witnessing the concert directly. Rehearing it reproduced on either my own sound system or those of friends is always several steps removed from the actual live performance, of course. That should be no news to anyone who reads the audiophile press. Still, this exposure and taping activity has its place. It is informative, fascinating and humbling all at once. The best part of doing things this way is that I know, with certainty, that there is no electronic gimmickry on my tapes compared with conventional recording studio modifications as generally found on commercial discs. I use no compression, equalization or related signal modifications. Fine German microphones running simply into pro level 16/44.1 taping gear on clean lines constitute the pathway. Happily, this is sonically obvious.

The Treat
So why am I telling you all of this? While the following may not involve Carnegie Hall, it will make sense in the end. Each summer our part of northeastern Pennsylvania is blessed with a six-week music festival presented at a fine prep school a mere three miles from my home. This ambitious program is intended for young musicians between 12 and 18 years of age and attracts students from across the country as well as some from across the pond. The caliber of musicianship is quite high and the enthusiasm, energy and dedication to excellence here speaks volumes. Over that six-week period, there are more than 30 performances of either small recitals or full-blown concerts, mostly free to a very appreciative public and ready to be recorded. Due to some recent health issues which thankfully are starting to improve, this year I was able to only tape a few of these musical events. Even so, the pleasure of it all has been profound, and I do think contributed to keeping my mind off those medical problems.

My purpose for writing this little essay really has to do with hearing some of this live music from a unique and spectacular perspective. Namely, over the years I have had the pleasure of becoming a friend of one of the guest orchestra directors, Victor, who travels here each summer from Arizona to teach, perform with, and conduct these students. During a dinner party last year, he and I chatted about music, music festivals, recordings and things audiophiliac. In that conversation, I mentioned a life-long dream of being able to hear a symphony orchestra from the perspective of the conductor's podium. He got a glint in his eye. This ultimately turned out to be a real treat and benefit for me. Once he saw how much this meant to me, I was invited to stand behind him during a dress rehearsal for a musical excerpt. Thankfully, that all happened last year and I was on Cloud Nine for weeks as a result of such an outstanding 10-minute experience.

Summer 2004 provided a continuation of that adventure in an enhanced way. It was obvious to Victor that my previous sonic encounter was an enduring and remarkable event. So, among the final concerts of the festival, he was directing their 70-piece orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony. At dress rehearsal, I was again positioned about a foot behind him and felt ready to witness the glory and grandeur of this music. I really am at a loss for words in trying to express the wonderment of it all. The music was delivered with enthusiasm, feeling and power, along with something more. Sonically the experience was spectacular. Forget about what you think dynamics mean via any sound system. Dispel any thoughts you might hold regarding frequency extension, depth, width, imaging, etc. as provided by electromechanical devices. This is the real deal!

No doubt most of you have experienced the sound of live, unamplified musical instruments. Perhaps it is/was an acoustic guitar, piano, horn or other easily accessed instrument, or small groups of instruments. (Obviously I am focusing on acoustic instruments, but one could make a decent case for something like an electric guitar, assuming you know how that particular guitar amp behaves during an otherwise unamplified hearing.) Hopefully you know what these sounds are like from both a distant and near-field perspective. Clearly in my own history that has been the case for decades, but having the peak experience of witnessing a big orchestra playing softly, loudly, passionately and joyfully is not such a common event for most of us. Let me humbly suggest that if any of this sounds exciting to you, it might be worth the effort to seek out a local orchestra, make some inroads by being a supporter, and then take the conductor out for a nice lunch. You should be able to find opportunities at rehearsals as did I, to get an earful of happiness and enlightenment. Somewhat jokingly, I mentioned to Victor that there might be a small audience of music lovers/audiophiles much like myself, who would entertain the idea of traveling here to stand with him at the podium to have this sonic and intellectual experience. While I did not couple that idea to any monetary assessment, a well-intentioned donation, perhaps earmarked for the 'music student scholarship fund' or something like that might just be the ticket to this exciting and instructive experience.

Let me elaborate just a bit. The sheer power and intensity of a symphony orchestra up close is difficult to quantify. Oddly, while I had expected to yet again be blown away by big crescendos and other powerful sections, there was an equivalent connectedness to the music that emerged even during delicate, quiet passages. At the outset of this year's audition, I stood with my eyes open scanning the group before me. However, one major surprise emerged that really caught me off-guard. Namely, these players, almost to every last individual, had such attention and focus directed at the conductor that it was spooky and practically hypnotic for me. You see, my head was a mere 12 inches behind his so I was essentially seeing everything the maestro saw. That had tremendous emotional content and really added a significant element to my perception of the overall event. For a while I elected to close my eyes in order to reduce variables and focus the nervous system's inputs. This removed the excitatory sensations associated with seeing faces and instruments in full technicolor but the sound remained the same. I did get buggy enough to think about imaging, soundstage, bass extension etc. but promptly caught myself and just focused on the music after a minute or two. It is really futile to try to analyze this session in conventional audiophile terms since so much was happening so intensively, with the outcome significantly more impactful that the sum of its parts. Energy, vitality, joy, elation, introspection and such are much more the kinds of descriptors I would prefer to employ in this modest attempt to capture the essence of the experience.

Another Thought
A few writers here and at other audio journals, including myself, have had things to say about the direction that audiophilia and some audio gear designers or recording engineers have taken for some years now. I am referring to exaggerated close-miking techniques along with the embrace of radically detailed transducers and devices and the odd trend toward seeing/hearing everything at a microscopic level. Tangential comments within recent equipment reviews from Tony Cordesman at TAS have been stimulatory. He talks about how his listening experiences at live concerts contrast significantly with those on most of the domestic systems he has been exposed to. Rightly so, he criticizes overly analytical gear that gives hyper detail far beyond what any audience member could possibly hear from a typical concert hall seat. (I started saying some of this a few years ago in a speaker review for TAV and wondered about how heretical it might appear at that time.) This business of how much image specificity and soundstaging happens in the concert hall is speculated upon as well. From my taping adventures and now this rehearsal auditioning, I feel more encouraged about commenting in a similar way. In addition to Tony, other writers including Larry Borden at have recently made similar critical observations about this general topic and I humbly recommend that you examine those views. As one who reads a few users groups on the Net, I did find a recent posting from an average music lover, European citizen (and owner of well-

regarded British speakers) who was not shy about his view on mainstream high-end gear. I have taken the liberty to extract part of his commentary and offer it for reflection.

"I like a very smooth, romantic sound with a firm bass and a lot of body around the instruments. I do not like the modern analytic sound that today's magazines describe as coming nearer and nearer to the real thing. My opinion is that today's hi-end is far away from 'natural' sound. I listen with an Accuphase 303 and Thorens 126 because I like the full and warm sound of 1980. Today's Recommended Products of Stereophile or TAS are not my cup of tea."

Obviously, each of us is entitled to opinions -- hopefully informed and well conceived -- but these observations from one listener who has many like-minded friends among his European colleagues, may serve to give us pause about where we stand on our own views and expectations regarding our sound systems.

Closing Thoughts
Clearly we need to remember that context matters. By that I mean in a concert performance, the range of variables is actually very large. The quality of musicianship, the acoustics of the venue, your emotional demeanor etc. all play an undeniable role. Since I strive for a 'natural' style of sound capturing in my own recordings, I do not use high-lighting or multiple microphone techniques. In fact, most of my sessions employ either a two microphone modified ORTF mic pattern or a new experimental method coming out of Germany known as OCT. I find these approaches yield results closer to my typical experience as a normal audience member and like them. (For the sake of space, I will refrain from delving into those recording engineer excesses, such as placing microphones too close to instruments or singers, but I bet you already know how weird that gets if you actually listen to acoustic music in unamplified settings.)

Real music has so much to offer. In addition to the emotion and composer's intent, the dynamics, spectral content, airiness and so forth unify in a sublimely balanced and magical way that still eludes most audio systems. This is not to say that I don't enjoy listening to my own -- or friends' -- rigs. I just relish the fact that I have had such a blissful sonic experience at the conductor's podium and think of it as something beyond what our hobby strives to attain.

Listening from this unique, way-close position is not meant to be part of a regular diet but it has awakened my sensibilities and brought me new insights which continue to inform and enervate how I face the majority of concert experiences as a typical audience member. Likewise, this carries over into my taping efforts and, of course, as an audiophile sitting in front of nice gear.

I hope you regard this commentary as food for thought. The modest aim has been to find a way to remind serious listeners about why we are following this path. There are at least two other associated essays that could follow from this one, and if time and energy permit, I may tackle those in the near future. I will leave these generalized ideas to stand on their own for now.

The power of music is profound and while recordings certainly have their place, getting it straight from the source cannot be topped. Whether you pursue my 'podium' suggestions or just fire up your system and listen to some favorite pieces, I hope you enhance and energize your musical life by finding the time to hear some fine, joyous live sounds near your own home. Happy listening!