Ever wondered why some people would spend millions on a stereo system just to listen to recorded music?
If you’re not interested in hi-fi, you might consider those so-called “audiophiles” as individuals who have “golden ears”. They probably can hear details in the music that you can’t, and you think that you’d never invest in an expensive sound system since you can’t hear what they hear.
But the fact is that audiophiles don’t hear better than the rest of us – their ears pick up the same sounds that we hear when listening to recorded music played through a hi-fi system. The only difference is that they know what to look for when listening, and are able to appreciate what the system delivers.
So what do they look for? A stage with live performers.
The purpose of a stereo recording is to reproduce a live performance as closely as possible. This means that from your listening position, you should be able to tell where the vocals and each instrument are located within the space in front of you.
For example in a normal recording, the lead vocal is usually positioned in the centre or a little to the right, with drums right behind, and the toms on each side. Guitars are usually on the left and right but can also appear in the centre. Ever noticed that when listening to classical music record or CD, you will always find violins on the far left?
While a live recording would capture the atmosphere of where the performance took place, the most music we listen to is recorded in studios. Each instrument is recorded separately and then mixed into a track by sound engineers, who are the ones responsible for creating the soundstage in the final recording.
So if you’re interested in listening to more than just sound but a musical performance that is as close to a live performance as possible, here are more things you should be looking for.
Apart from each instrument clearly having their own positions, they must also have their own dimensions and presence. Each instrument is separated by empty spaces allowing you to easily follow them. If you’re not listening to computer-generated music such as techno (which actually has lots of sound effects), then the instruments should also be “alive” with dynamics and ambience.
A good song everyone knows that can be used to explain what I’ve been saying is The Eagles’ “Hotel California”. I’ve listened to this song a thousand times and still love it. In this track, Don Henley is on percussions and lead vocals – he’s located a little on the right from the centre surrounded by drums and cymbals. Bass is courtesy of Randy Meisner while Glen Frey plays the rhythm guitar. And towards the end of the track, Joe Walsh and Don Felder battle it out in the famous final electric guitar solo also in the centrestage area.
A decent system that is set up properly should be able to give you this kind of stereo imaging for starters, and how well it does it depends on the capability of each system.