Get out and listen!

Yesterday my wife and I went to the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. It had been far too long that I'd heard live instruments that weren't rock or country, thus greatly amplified. There's something very different about the symphony or chamber or classical music in general when it's live than the aforementioned genres.

We were in row L, just off center and had a great place to enjoy the performance. Not too close and yet close enough to hear nuances. Of course the second thing I did right after letting myself be immersed was to consider the contrast between my system and a live performance. I'm not going to say that my system rivals a live performance! I am going to say that within the limitations that we all deal with (space, budget, esthetics) that it acquits itself acceptably. If anything, it might be a bit heavy on the bottom end. I need to dial back my sub a bit.

Anyway, the reason for my post is simply to encourage audiophile to get out and listen to the real thing. There is a movement in Handel's Water Music that begins with a pair of french horns that literally brought tears to my eyes. Despite all the time, effort and money we spend on our rigs, there is simply nothing that compares to the real thing. Nothing... Happy Listening.



Could not agree with you more.  We go to a Christmas show every year that's held in a church - a symphony playing Christmas tunes.  It takes me about 2 weeks to even want to turn on my system because my ears/brain is still satisfied from that performance. 

Totally agree. And Row L center is a great spot in most halls I've been in. Far enough back for the music to blend (and avoid craning your neck) and still with great sight lines and dynamics.


Anyway, the reason for my post is simply to encourage audiophile to get out and listen to the real thing.



Great advice.

I remember years ago hearing a live piano recital and then it's playback on a SD card of all things.

The playback was very close to the original  but what really bothered me was that neither of them sounded the way I wanted them to.

I later realised that when you've been listening to audio systems for years and years you become familiar by and large with how most of them sound.

You also become used used to the effect of the compression used in most recordings, most broadcasts, most television and most cinema soundtracks.

As a consequence it's easy to forget what real music and real voices sound like.

It's often not like what you were expecting. So, unless you keep yourself acquainted with live music you could easily end up with a skewed reference when judging playback systems.

What troubles me is this profligate use of compression everywhere. It seems to be readily accepted that we don't want our music or speech reproduced realistically.

All those people we see on TV and often hear on the radio rarely if ever sound like that in real life.

Yet no one ever seems to mind.

Good seats in many places (like Chicago Symphony) are reserved for subscription buyers only.  In my suburban Chicago village we had nice auditorium (500 people) and great concerts.  Last one was John Mayall with fantastic band, but the sound was way off.  At one point John Mayall stopped the concert and complained to audio booth.  It was much better after that, but that is the reality of such small venues and traveling bands.  At the Frank Zappa concert in Chicago Bismarck Theatre  (1984) I got seat so bad (way to the side) that I couldn't see or hear well.  Nothing will replace live performance experience* but for the sound I stay at home.

* I was able to get into Biddy Mulligans bar (Sheridan Rd. Chicago) for $5 cover charge in 80s.  Main performer was John Lee Hooker with Coast to Coast Blues Band while his invited guests who performed as well were Chuck Berry and Willie Dixon.  All three for $5 from 10' distance - cannot beat that. 

I have had season tickets to the Oregon Symphony 8th row center for ten years. 7th row center is the “classic” best audiophile seat. But I found in this particular venue 8th is better.

Although, to my horror they installed a cutting edge DSP sound system. Just the kind of leading edge technology like the CD when originally released. In my seats up until a few weeks ago it was not audible (as it shouldn’t). The point was to allow them to tune the auditorium to special concerts… Rock, jazz… etc. and to allow folks in the back to hear the concert as if in the front.

I brought a friend to a classical performance a few weeks ago and suddenly it sounded like a high school auditorium with echoes at huge volume from behind. The concert was simply horrible. Not a nuance of natural sound. I could see instruments in front of me and hear them behind me.

I immediately contacted all the VIce Presidents. The Vice President of Operations responded to me and sat in on the last performance of the symphony. He thought he noticed some anomalies. Obviously as horrible as the sound was he knows nothing about sound or acoustics. We had a telephone conversation where he tried to placate me. But clearly no action was to follow.

Fortunately, my friend who had joined me (and audiogon forum member), a professional musician and professional Audio engineer stepped in and told him in no uncertain terms the system was completely screwing up the sound. Which seemed to get a response. I’ll see this weekend.

I have implemented leading edge technologies all my career. This can be a huge problem when marketing guys pitch technology to business folks who have no idea what is behind the technology. I know of a number of huge companies (that had thousands of employees, that no longer exist because the implemented technology beyond their understanding and destroyed their ability to do their core business. I hope very much this is not the end of the Oregon Symphony as a fantastic acoustical orchestra.

@ghdprentice - Sorry to hear about your sound issues. It'd be a shame if they screwed it up in the name of "progress". I live in Edmonds just north of SEA. The arts center is a really nice venue. Saw Travis Tritt do an acoustic set there and he was great. Excellent sound too. I need to see when the next chamber performance is.

@cd318 - I know what you mean. I haven't turned my system on since the concert. I'm almost afraid to! 😉

Nothing beats as many good quality live performances as one can soak in to get the true vibe of what music should sound like. 

Redmond is 20 min from Edmonds, and you are welcome anytime. Not Benaroya, not from where you are used to at any rate, but I have been way up in the balcony where it actually sounds better at home. 
In any case what you said about live acoustic instruments is gospel. As a kid in grade school they had a Seattle Symphony Orchestra violinist come play in class. Was like 3rd or 4th grade.
Still recall like yesterday when he showed us the violin how his every touch set it to resonating. When he played it the power and intensity was electric. He had us close our eyes- this is one violin, he said, and played a melody. This is four violins, and played some chords and it did sound like four! 
We went on a field trip to Seattle, the Opera House, and that was my first time at a concert. 
Then all through Jr High and High school I played French horn. So for an hour a day for 6 years I heard real live instruments almost every day. All during that time I was an audiophile, yes even in grade school. And knew from childhood to appreciate the live sound. Even so, it bears repeating, and I think a lot of what ails high end audio would go away in a heartbeat if only more of us would take your advice and go out and listen. 

I'm very fortunate to sing with the Colorado Symphony Chorus, so I get many opportunities to hear the symphony through the year.  In addition to being blissful and gratifying, it sharpens my ear tremendously.  On the other hand, I'm used to hearing the orchestra backwards and from the rear!  But the OP's point is on target, a live show, especially of acoustic instruments, is tremendous in and of itself, and to tune our senses.

@musicfan2349 +1. Great post! Reminds me of the motto of my favorite audio maker “ For The Love of Music” that’s what it’s all about. Thanks. 

Good day all. A few final thoughts on this, then I'll sign off. But first, @millercarbon - I haven't seen you in awhile. I think you encapsulated things best: "...I think a lot of what ails high end audio would go away in a heartbeat if only more of us would take your advice and go out and listen."

Welcome back.

I believe that the best any audiophile can do with an imperfect room, speakers and whatever source and source material they have is to create a facsimile of the real thing. (Note: I'm stating that as a belief, not fact.)

Yes, we can spend thousands, hundreds of thousands even, but to actually recreate a live performance?  I don't believe so. OTOH, I do believe that as long as we don't lose sight of the idea that "the music is the thing" then why not enjoy the pursuit of the most pleasing recreation we can muster? That's why they call it a hobby, right? 😉

Happy listening.



I appreciate your post and sentiments. I attend local jazz venues regularly and have done this the past 30 years or so. Fortunately the performances in these relatively intimate settings are un-amplified. So the natural beauty and sound of the instruments are un-corrupted or manipulated.

In addition There’s a Steinway Piano Gallery near me that provides a steady amount of live classical and jazz musicians performing (Again, fortunately un-amplified sound). As a music lover, nothing surpasses hearing all these acoustic instruments in these pure and natural settings. My frequency of attendance is once or twice a month.
I have posted pictures of a few of the performers on my system page. My respect and admiration for these talented musicians is immense.


That reminds me, one of the most amazing things I ever heard was Holly Cole at the Showbox. This intimate dinner/jazz club seated only about 100 or so. The show started with no one on stage. No announcer. No introduction. Everyone was chatting when Holly Cole began singing I Am Calling You from off-stage.

Just Holly Cole. No mic. No amp. That place got quiet, FAST! 

The song starts out very low and builds. As it does she comes on stage, still unamplified. Wow. String bass and piano join in. Pure acoustic bliss!

For the rest of the night she used a mic. Just too hard on the chops not to, I guess. But I asked around the table at the end of the night, everyone agreed that was the best part and the most exciting thing most of us ever heard.

For the rest of the night she used a mic. Just too hard on the chops not to, I guess. But I asked around the table at the end of the night, everyone agreed that was the best part and the most exciting thing most of us ever heard

That is a good observation. When vocalists perform at the local jazz venues or Steinway Gallery, they use microphones. The musicians do not.  Too much strain for the vocal cords? Very likely so. I’ll take what I can get. Un-microphoned tenor saxophone, trumpet, cello? Pure bliss.


Couldn't agree more.

Live, unamplified music provides a reference point.

Opera (various Met performances) and big band jazz, when it was an option (Woody Herman, Buddy Rich) were the purest music I have ever heard.


One cold night in December many years ago I was at the Metropolitan Opera for Daniel Barenboim conducting Tristan and Isolde. I was in the first (lowest) balcony, 2nd row, about in the center. The most expensive seats, and I now see why.  The best acoustics in the house.  The voices of course were glorious, but what I couldn't believe was the timbre of the instruments.  The sound was "other worldly" pure.  I really was thinking for a bit, does this orchestra use different quality instruments or something?  I really got what acoustics mean in a concert hall more than I ever have.  I've sat in many seats at the Met and this was different.   Barenboim was a master for this opera, and the balance between the orchestra and the vocalists was like a perfect, graceful dance. If you had Jeff Bezos' or Elon Musk's money I seriously doubt that you could put together a system that would recreate that experience.  But my "audiophile training" and listening I'm sure played a large part in me being able to have this sort of appreciation. 




If you had Jeff Bezos' or Elon Musk's money I seriously doubt that you could put together a system that would recreate that experience.


Apparently Musk has a different set of goals.


Its even more of a pity that he didn't find a better dealer than the one he did.


Love Benaroya Hall. We are in Vancouver, BC and love visiting Seattle for the music.

Dimitriou's Jazz Alley is a great venue and one of the best concerts I have seen was Eddie Veder's 2011 solo show at Benaroya. Final show of the tour in his "home town".

Magical and full of love.


excellent discussion ;-) get out but also get in…..quite nothing like a small chamber outfit or piano in your listening room….

Benaroya is excellent but do also try the recital hall.

Best to all.

Just South of Seattle part of the year - always welcome open eared visitors….


It was interesting to hear how much listening factors into engineers' work: