Transient response in music playback


I recently attended the Telluride Jazz Festival and had the good fortune to hear some small group jazz in small venues with no amplification. I was once again struck by the degree with which the transients exceeded what we usually get with recorded music playback, This, indeed seemed to be the largest, or at least most noticeable difference. This is not the same as dynamic range, although live music had plenty of that too. I am talking about the brief peak of volume at the beginning of a note. Very prominent with piano and drum, but trumpets, sax’s have it too. Just listen to some James Carter sax recordings, heh.
Among the PS amps, or other components for that matter, are any especially noteworthy for being able to do justice to musical transients?

Thanks, Sam Edwards


Welcome, Sam!

My conclusion has long been that the reproduction of the initial attack of an instrument is critical in its sound. A trumpet’s attack transient contains the slightest chiff, begins a tad sharp, and then settles. Get this wrong in reproduction and the instrument does not sound correct. Piano is, of course, a percussion instrument. Getting the sound of a hammer correct is tricky.

In short, I agree with you that the lack of proper transients is one of the things which prevents recorded sound from sounding real.


Not to delve into the loudness wars, but most recordings have to be palatable on an incredibly wide range of equipment and environments. I think it’s more about that than the capability to make dynamic recordings. There are some folks on this forum that have engineered recordings; I’d like to hear their ideas.


You can still dynamically compress a recording while keeping the transients. Not only are the attack transients not necessarily the loudest (although they can be, it is often what happens after the transient which is louder), but one can set the compressor to react relatively slowly, preserving the attack, but clamping down on the main body of the note.

The bigger problem is that the attack transient has not been captured in the recording. Small diaphragm mics are better than large diaphragm at this, ribbons better than many other, but each mic has its strengths and weaknesses.


I have the M700 and for my space, speakers they have loads of power to hit those transients. I’m confident the BHK are even more capable.


Equipment specifications may be useful here. Have a look at the slew rate, something around 100V/microsecond or better is what you’re looking for in an amplifier. Some source components also get slew rate mentioned in their specs, eg an Esoteric K-01Xs is 2000V/microsecond. If the slew rate in your hardware is rubbish it’s very unlikely you’ll hear the good initial transient attack of which you speak.


I have DIY speakers based on Voxativ 5" drivers with neodymium magnets. These are very fast and reveal all improvements I’ve made to my system. I relish the incredible detail and nuance of wind instruments i hear … courtesy of transient resolution.
I thought I was ‘done’ …then added a supertweeter (TakeT Batpro 2) which just launches the transients a tad quicker due to the ultra lightweight ribbon-type driver. Well holy-moly my system is now on another level of reality creation. I am now convinced that our brain needs (wants) an incredibly fast freq response …well beyond accepted thinking.


Sam, SO way many years ago… in the '70s, I believe it was SoundCraftsman (maybe it was Crown) talked just about this issue… the leading edge of a transient… I remember one of their sales literature themes described the sound of a scissor snapping…
Their whole point was you needed a “fast” amplifier with large power and current. I can’t remember their rational more than this.

Sam, I agree with you completely… this gets to the whole “why doesn’t it sound real?” issue. That SoundCraftsman ad really had an effect on how I analyze sound… there is something about a piece of equipment that can get that leading edge correct. I think the metric is “Slew Rate”?

Another area that reinforces this notion was when I was dicking with analog synthesizers (keyboards)… when you selected a wave form… when the attack was sharp and crisp… made the sound really “present”.

Anywho, Paul made some vid or comments a while back about Slew Rate and how it was in fashion for a while years ago… I dunno, I think it is pretty important… as long as the amp or other equipment can react faster than the input, I guess it is fine, but I am not so sure. Audiophile principles include over doing it.

Edit: I found an old Carver ad discussing the power demands of a scissor snip… I am 99% sure this scissor thing was started by SoundCraftsman years before (I think it was their Vari-Portional circuit that modded the power supply when needed)… anywho, interesting read and speaks directly to what Sam and Elk are addressing.

Bruce in Philly


One of the first things I noticed when I first listened to my Klipsch Forte IIIs was how sharp transients really popped, and some cases were startling. I believe that is one of the benefits of high sensitivity speakers (The Fortes are 99db).


Often speakers which are fast and percussive with attacks do not have the necessary dynamic range, and of course vice versa. For example, Maggies are great at capturing the attack transient of a piano, but not a piano’s ultimate energy and power.


Is there any explanation for that? I mean, why we cannot have both micro- and macro-dynamics in a single design?


I think that’s exactly true and I guess one argument why many high end manufacturers especially in Europe don’t jump on the „big boys Hi-Fi “ wagon with monster speakers so much. Just a different philosophy. Micro Dynamics, prat, bass velocity, attack are where many big speakers fail in comparison. Especially vintage ones (the IRSV seem to be special positive).

For a reason I don’t yet fully understand, micro to medium dynamics and even transients can sound clearly stronger on expenisive state of the art vinyl playback than on state of the art digital, while digital still has the edge on macro dynamics. This said also for uncompressed and flat mastering/cutting of medium dynamic range sources like most jazz (so no compression effect or rising of low level detail during mastering).

Anyhow if I had the money and room I’d buy the best big speakers because in terms of “reality experience” size does matter most.