Live music and hifi choices

Thought I’d start a thread about how live music has influenced hifi choices. This should be obvious, but maybe it isn’t.

Not for the first time, my hifi’s failure on a specific piece of music caused me to change a component. Back in about 2014 Hindemith’s sonata for piano and bass tuba made me realise tube amplifiers are largely a waste of time. On this occasion Martinu’s Nonet No. 2 made me realise my DAC was a fail.

The video and post-performance photo shows 9 instruments in a semi-circle. This is how it must be performed. The music works as a complex conversation between the instruments, or groups (strings v wind), an almost universal concept in most bands, except possibly Heavy Metal. Compared to, for example, complex baroque choral music, this is a simple but challenging arrangement.

Streaming the recording below, my Lumin DAC blurred the wind section, bassoon, oboe and clarinet merging into one. The Holo May DAC revealed them, then positioned them in the soundstage, and gave them individual dimensionality. Which is how to buy a DAC in 10 minutes, although I did stretch it out to an hour with some similar tests, including recordings in the room pictured. There were no other factors in play, as the stream to the Holo May was coming from the usb output of the Lumin unit.


I can’t say I’ve ever ditched one component for another based on experience with just a single piece of music reproduced with my system versus what I heard live. There is reasoning behind that philosophy. I don’t confuse live performance with a recording of the same piece. What am I reacting to? A deficiency in that recording or a deficiency in a component in my system? That is a slippery slope for me because I listen to a broad cross-section of music some of which I have indeed heard live. For all I know, ditching one component for another because of less than satisfying playback of a recording of a particular piece and genre of music may seem to solve that ‘problem’ while rendering my system less than satisfying in playback of other recordings and genres of music. Were I to react to every situation of less than satisfying playback of a recording of a particular piece, I’d likely be spending money on I don’t know how many different systems optimized for different recordings and even genres. Every practical system has to be a reasonable compromise. My two cents.




Perhaps another perspective is does familiarity with a particular genre of music influence our at home listening and enjoyment ? After over forty years as a season ticket holder of the Utah Symphony in Abravanel Hall I rarely listen to symphonic music at home, the sound is so inferior to the live experience . To try to capture the power of a symphony in my home would require audio equipment far beyond my financial resources . I am however thrilled with the quality of reproduced jazz, vocal, bluegrass etc. from my systems. The disquiet we experience has an attribute , it encourages us to seek out live performances .


In my experience exposure to live music can and has revealed deficiencies in my system. Certainly one performance or one recording alone won’t identify the weakness. Recreation of the soundstage is a fine example, and to address it I upgraded to Iconoclast UPOCC single ended interconnects from Straight Wire Maestro and adjusted speaker position to get everything to lock in. A nice improvement. Did it create a live performance, not hardly, but it opened the door to an improved listening experience. I will repeat what I have said before, our music reproduction systems do no more than approximate the illusion of a performance.

Currently I am listening to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers Olympia Concert reissued on a double LP by Sam Records. A great sounding mono recording. It immediately identified the need to move my left channel speaker about 1/4 inch. Turns out it was moved when my wife vacuumed recently. Playback is via a Luxman 509X, turntable is a Rega P8/Apheta 3 MC.

Steven, I should add Nonetto has been added to the Qobuz queue. That car is a stunner!

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I listen to many genres as well. Latest purchases - experimental Japanese rock music from the 1970s.

A nonet offers a particular challenge, because hifi should be able to do a good job of instrumental and chamber music, but on one side you have strings (violin, viola, cello, double bass), on the other a horn and wind (bassoon, oboe, clarinet, flute). A quartet or quintet offers a challenge, but this pushes the boat out.

If you know what something is meant to sound like, and it’s clearly failing, that’s cause for concern. @weedeewop makes a good point, because I was aware my analogue was generally imaging much better than the digital, so it wasn’t the amplifier, speakers or cables.

I’ve ditched speakers because the soundstage compressed at low volume. This is to some extent expected, but a component that makes you play louder to compensate is also, for me, a fail.

These failures are limited to certain music, the component may be fine with lots of other music. There are well-known test tracks for bass failure (Joe Samples and Bela Fleck), which have to make furniture rattle, which is different from something coming close to a live experience. Besides solving an obvious problem, the replacement DAC offered a fuller piano sound and much better reproduction of room acoustics. The latter is very important in classical recordings and many listeners can hear a change in venue. Gramophone writes articles about specific venues, this month was St Silas in Kentish Town.

@jgiese I’m with you on that, I probably go to more ballet than anything else, but never listen to ballet music at home. I’ve largely given up on large scale orchestral at home, thankfully there are some chamber orchestra recordings available.

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