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Though we now live on a mountain, close proximity to the Montreux and Cully jazz festivals affords us access to interesting concerts, never mind the Paleo festival, Lausanne casino and various Geneva venues. The final show of this year's Cully Jazz was a twofer entitled Fabulous Oriental Night. It featured Dhafer Youssef from 8:30-10:00 and Ibrahim Maalouf from 10:30-12:00. The former revisited tracks from his latest Birds Requiem CD, the latter from his award-winning Illusions album.
The venue was the usual blacked-out tent by the lake. In years past the ticket office had held back about 50-60 tickets. Those were put up for sale two hours before that day's event started even if the show had otherwise sold out. Unbeknownst to us, this year that service had changed to online sales exclusively. And things were completely sold out. So Nino and I hung around the billets counter. Sure enough, at 8:05 two gents approached us with two tickets. Their girlfriends had decided not to accompany them in the end. No scalping was involved. They merely wanted what they'd paid. Sweet. Switzerland is very civilized. One of them even recognized me. He was a regular reader. Small world.

The following day I moved the just-reviewed EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1 super monitors with Sopranino super tweeter upstairs, our German Physiks' HRS-120 omnis downstairs into the main rig. The expected change in sound performance and presentational style reflected directly on the concert; and how audiophiles might feel compelled to think on live versus playback. Note that I didn't say live and canned. Like fresh ripe fruit versus canned bits in syrup, that description would automatically invalidate playback. That needn't be the case at all. But there do tend to be profound differences particularly if, like ours, the concert was amplified.

The Maalouf gig with its three chorus trumpets was bloody loud. Ibrahim alone had a total of three microphones on him, all presumably amplified separately. During peaks and solos, Laurent David's electrical bass amp emitted obvious distress signals from edge-of-power stress. Because the cloth tent was inherently lossy at LF—no reflective surfaces that wouldn't freely pass long wave lengths—the players' and sound mixer's tonal balance was super bassy. We had a significantly rising response in the LF whose quality was very clean due to the lack of domestic standing waves from solid boundaries. The dominant qualities of this live gig thus were loudness and fulminant bass energy followed by very subdued HF and the usual: no pin-point imaging or outline limning; unusually large sound sources due to involved sound reinforcement; zero transparency, etherealness or extended decays due to the venue being swamped in bass; and no collapse of the 'stereo illusion' even off-axis. Compared to the average hifi, this was all about the meat without any sizzle; about massive scale; and about dynamics and peak SPL no domestic speakers can achieve without getting ugly.

As described in their review, the Mythology M1 monitors offer HF illumination and refinement which utterly transcends what one hears live except perhaps in a purely unplugged intimate setting of chamber music sitting very close to the performers. Because playback eliminates all visual cues—and the human animal's primary sense are its eyes—a very exploded informative treble can suggest some of them back. We get more image focus, even a sense of performer halos created by recorded audible micro reflections. We can more easily imagine/sense another acoustic being overlaid on our own. In so many words, better-than-live treble serves our 'inner seeing' sense. It patches back elements of what the sound rather than video recording process eliminated.

The German Physiks speakers are rare two-way omnis. They radiate 360° across their entire bandwidth. This deliberately interacts with the room. It activates its ambient field to a far higher degree than direct-radiating speakers. Those only turn omnidirectional at lower frequencies. As a result tone density and meatiness increase. That's much like singing in an empty heavily reverberant bath room. It enriches your timbre. And this omni effect becomes a far closer approximation to live sound. That includes the softening of general image focus and the refusal to collapse the stereo illusion outside the sweet spot. Staging, tone textures and sonic mass get more realistic. Yet with it the hifi-typical visual cues are reduced. On those counts the sound actually gets worse. To come even closer to amplified live sound would now require a quite elevated bass balance. Even with equalization this will rarely come off properly because of our standing-wave issues. The by comparison to a live venue ultra-compact sizes of most our listening rooms overloads at certain mid-bass frequencies. But it's certainly the case that properly integrated powerful low bass is a prerequisite to coming closer to the massive presence of sonic substance we heard in Cully. That so wasn't about treble but bass. It wasn't about miniature details but impact and scale. It wasn't about imaging and finesse but raw power and energy.

For most of us it's quite unrealistic to pursue these qualities at anything approximating the real thing. As a consequence we tend to create, mature and refine a quite different sound. That hifi sound is both more conducive and civilized in a domestic context as it is inherently different from live sound. Which makes audiophile playback into its very own reality and us as hobbyists partaking in it the creators of our very own truth. This discrepancy used to be further underlined by The Abso!ute Sound's credo to use the unamplified live sound as the only allowable reference. It's fair to say that 99% of all popular music performed live relies on sound reinforcement. If we wish to recreate that sound at home... well, now the TAS standard must go out the window and something very different replace it. Whether very loud very bassy generally heavy and thick sound is your idea of socially acceptable playback is a wholly different matter.

In the end our sound is simply what we make it to be the most enjoyable to us. The only thing about this very basic setup that gets a bit disingenuous is when we apply standards of 'realism'. It seems more honest and factual to admit that playback and live sound are two different entities whilst standing firm that this does not imply that playback automatically means 'canned'. Different needn't be inferior. It' simply not the same. If one wanted to come closer to similar... then true omni speakers with powerful bass would seem to be a requirement.