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Old 26th October 2014, 06:38 PM   #1
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Default The technical reason speakers sound different from live instruments?

I realize this may be a strange question, but I've been wondering it for awhile. My highest quality set of speakers is a pair of Zaph SR-71's. To me they sound perfect, but even with these speakers, there's something that your ears can 'feel' that I'm not sure how to describe objectively that lets you know it isn't a real instrument playing in front of you. Certain sounds sound very much like a live instrument, like the lower end of a guitar or a bass guitar, but a piano for example doesn't create that 'twang' in your ears that you feel when you're standing next to a real piano. I'm wondering if you guys can explain the technical reason why speakers can sound accurate but not create the 'feeling' in your ears that live instruments create? Is it just based on sound pressure or the size of the transducing material? For example, tweeter surface area being much smaller than the surface area of an instrument?

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Old 26th October 2014, 08:09 PM   #2
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Old 26th October 2014, 08:59 PM   #3
JMFahey is offline JMFahey  Argentina
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Quote:
Originally Posted by camshaft View Post
I realize this may be a strange question, but I've been wondering it for awhile. My highest quality set of speakers is a pair of Zaph SR-71's. To me they sound perfect, but even with these speakers, there's something that your ears can 'feel' that I'm not sure how to describe objectively that lets you know it isn't a real instrument playing in front of you. Certain sounds sound very much like a live instrument, like the lower end of a guitar or a bass guitar, but a piano for example doesn't create that 'twang' in your ears that you feel when you're standing next to a real piano. I'm wondering if you guys can explain the technical reason why speakers can sound accurate but not create the 'feeling' in your ears that live instruments create? Is it just based on sound pressure or the size of the transducing material? For example, tweeter surface area being much smaller than the surface area of an instrument?

Thanks!
Of course you are absolutely right, there's a blaring difference anybody would easily notice ... if they ever cared to listen to real, live Music anyday.

I mean Music not passing through electronics or speakers, so the weekend visit to a local club or Church dos not qualify, sorry.

Speakers are wonders of Technology and it's incredible they perform as well as they do ... but still miles away of real sound.

FWIW at least once a year, 3 or 4 if possible, I go on a weekday (so I don't have to dress up formal) to Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires Opera House and listen to some Symphonic Music.

I close my eyes and pinpoint instrument by instrument, marvel at the transparent sound, the harmonics, the REAL "soundstage" , the lack of distortion/shrillness/mud.

NO speaker sounds like that, sorry.

If you can, try to do the same

Part of the problem is the listening room itself, no way those acoustics will even feebly imitate the real thing, even less through 2 tiny speakers placed against a wall (or a couple feet from it) .

Only speakers I ever listened to approach reasonably that kind of sound are those big panel electrostatic speakers .... but cones ... domes .... horns (ugh!!) ..... not even close.

I repeat: you must now and then "recalibrate your ears" or you'll never have a real reference.
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Old 26th October 2014, 09:27 PM   #4
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The basic system uses 2 speakers to produce a sound field which attempts (maybe) to mimic a sound field which is produced by a number of variously spaced instruments or voices, or a single instrument in some kind of (enclosed, or not) space.

The system is imperfect.

The recording is imperfect. The mics have a non-flat frequency response, as does every individual part of the system, mixing desk, playback amplifier, speakers, the fact that an experience which is basically 3D has been compressed into 2 channels. Often there's no pretence at doing anything other than stringing instruments out in a line from left to right. It's a big ask, to expect your ear to be completely fooled. And it's not. But it comes remarkably close, and it's very difficult to improve upon, even if you throw a lot of money and technology at it.

There's also no one aspect of the system which is more responsible for non-idealities than the speakers. It's just difficult to turn a lot of electrical energy into sound energy efficiently and accurately, no matter how you go about it. Everything else can be done to a pretty high degree of accuracy.

Remember, however, that the problem of days not so very long past was to make the live performance sound sufficiently like the record, not vice versa.
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Old 26th October 2014, 11:18 PM   #5
benb is offline benb  United States
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I think "reason" in the title should be plural, but here's my take on what I think is the main one.

It seems to me the biggest difference is dispersion/radiation patterns between loudspeakers versus various musical instruments. Loudspeakers are designed to have specific dispersion patterns, not just so they "sound good" when your ear is off axis as well as on axis (or at least that the highs drop off fairly "naturally"), but so the sounds reflected off the walls, floor, ceiling and other things in the room aren't seriously different in frequency response from the on-axis response. This of course doesn't work at all frequencies, as bass is generally omnidirectional, and the higher end rolls off more off-axis (but that's true of many musical instruments as as well as loudspeakers).

Most musical instruments DO have "seriously skewed" radiation patterns, so the sounds coming off the instrument and reflected back to you from different directions in a room have very different frequency responses. This also varies greatly between different instruments. But since all the sounds from the loudspeaker have the same dispersion, there's a "sameness" in the off-axis and reflected sounds in the room.

This is further complicated by all the instruments coming from a same point in the room (the loudspeaker), which of course never happens with an unamplified live performance of several instruments.
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Old 27th October 2014, 12:20 AM   #6
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A recording is exactly that. A copy of the real thing. Ambience being condensed into a single dimension just isn't the same. The recording is as much to blame as the speaker..
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Old 27th October 2014, 01:17 AM   #7
fas42 is offline fas42  Australia
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The simple, "technical" reason is that you're asking the wrong question, as nearly everyone does - the right question is "The technical reason systems sound different from live instruments?", .

Because the speaker behaviour seems so obvious, and it's the biggest thing in the room, it always has the finger pointed at it - but if one does the right sort of experiments one realises that the speakers are only one small part of the "battle", to get "right". Essentially, almost any sort of speaker can be made to sound realistic, provided the rest of the system is up to it! Very few people bother to get the latter happening, hence nearly all systems sound different from the real thing ...
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Old 27th October 2014, 01:27 AM   #8
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What fas42 said. Why have you assumed its your speakers and not the preceding electronics?
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Old 27th October 2014, 01:32 AM   #9
rayma is offline rayma  United States
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I think some of what you mean is the lack of focus of the speakers. Coaxial drivers do much better at this, even in the pro monitor type speakers.
If you saw the time domain waveform coming out of most speakers, you wouldn't believe how bad it is.

This smearing is clearly audible in a single mono channel. Two channel stereo just messes things up even more, if not carefully set up.
At its best, stereo is just "about as good" as mono, except it can spread out several sound sources laterally.

Last edited by rayma; 27th October 2014 at 01:49 AM.
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Old 27th October 2014, 01:34 AM   #10
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Nah.

Reason (1) best case, stereo recordings are point samples from two points in space. This does not fully describe the real world soundfield and can not.

Reason (2) best case the playback comes from two point sources (not that you own true point source speakers) which can not provide more than 1.5D of spatial information. It provides left and right, and via amplitude and phase cues, some front to back. Zero up and down, and nothing behind or to the side (save inadvertent out o phase information that appears to come from the side).

The best one can get is a fairly convincing stereo image from well recorded material and high quality playback systems.

Personally, I'd really like to see some digital multichannel format made available, and recorded appropriately to retrieve more of the "live space".
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