Have you ever had an experience where what you though what was a 'standard' or 'reference' has just been completely negated?
Well, that's what happened to David and I last night. While browsing through LP's at a shop downtown a couple weeks ago, I met Leonard Gibbs, recording engineer for, primarily, the Charleston Symphony. Very nice gentleman in an odd sort of way. Anyhow, we chatted a bit about music and audio and he promised me a copy of some music that he recorded and an invite to hear his system and room which had been featured in Stereo Review some years ago. His premise was that all commercially recorded music was crap, regardless of label, pressing etc etc etc.
Fast forward to yesterday, David and I went to Leonards home in an older neighborhood in Charleston. From the outside, I was wondering where this huge listening room exactly was as it is, from appearances, a small house. Anyhow, got inside and led down the hall to a foyer literally CRAMMED with RTR , mixing and recording gear that opened up into a 20x30 (roughly) full-on acoustically treated, dedicated listening room. Accross the front were 3 Dahlquist DQ-20's, each sitting on a DQ-1W woofer. Backend was vintage Perreaux gear. Anyhow, we chatted about the room, music etc for a while and then we got down to business.
Now, my version of hifi, is fidelity to what is recorded as opposed to what the performance sounded like live. In my opinion, this makes sense because, well, most of the stuff, I've never heard live and I sure as hell didn't hear the recording live that I'm listening to. Leonard's perspective is different and much more ambitious. He, unlike most of us, has a wealth of live recording and his setup is geared to recreate the live performance. Doing this he explained is impossible with a standard 2 channel setup. He employs an identical (his speakers were hand tweaked by none other than Carl Maschitto (SP) the designer of the DQ-20, primarily to ensure identical tweeters) center speaker set at -2db playing mono to anchor the image. Anyhow, we ran through a number of live recordings done with just 2 microphones and, honestly, I've NEVER heard anything so seamless, transparent and lifelike in my life. All from standard 16bit 44.1 CD's (albeit transferred direct from the master tapes) My whole frame of reference has been altered. Then for fun, he put in the SACD version of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Reiner and the Chicago Symphony. A reference for me interms of range and dynamics. Hell, we might has well have been listening to Camptown races through a plastic Fisher Price record player. Oh, and for a source? His reference player took a dump so we were listening through a modded 39 dollard Toshiba DVD player, that wasn't the 3950/3960. Ultimately, Leonard has very good, but hardly esoteric, gear. However, the setup is second to NONE.
The big takeaway from this for me, is, that in most cases, what we are listening to is substandard due, mainly to processing and compression. THAT is the real limiting factor in our rigs. We are spending all this money on gear to extract more and more information off discs that largely, just aint' there. How you like THEM apples?
Anyhow, thought I'd share. Leonard is a GREAT guy and I look forward to picking his brain for a long time to come. He will be in attendance at Polkfest '06 with some of his recordings. Also MAY be able to work in some demo's of his rig (this is TBD as logistics and so forth would have to be worked out)