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  1. #1

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    Default What does bass sound like?

    Since most of us have been inundated with boomy bass throughout our lives, does anyone know what true bass ought to sound like? When you listen to live music, the quality of the bass is all over the place, depending on the equipment, venue acoustics, mic setup, style of music, etc.

    True bass in music doesn't sound anything like most people think it does. An upright bass never sounds boomy, for example, nor do the notes linger too long and sound muddy.

    So what does bass really sound like? What is the benchmark for good bass?

    IMO, the more resolution I get from my system, the less so-called bass I hear at low to moderate listening levels. However, when I crank up my system, the bass is the belle of the party. So I'm constantly changing my perception of what good bass sounds like. Just wondering what other folks think about it...
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  2. #2

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    I always go back to the simplest definition: an acoustic bass guitar. No amplifiers and equalizers messing around with the sound, just pure, 100% bass. In combination with some contemporary pipe organ music and a decent drumset gives me all the benchmarking I need to have a pretty good idea of what bass is supposed to sound like.

    Of course, since bass is as much tactile as it is aural, microdynamics cannot, by definition, have the same impact as a higher volume can provide and nor would I expect it that way.

    So, I think you put your thumb right on it; bass doesn't always sound the same volume to volume and they certainly have different feels to them. I wouldn't go to a party where the music was a smidgen over mute, nor try to sleep with music rattling the window frames.
    Last edited by Refefer; 05-22-2007 at 10:09 AM.
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  3. #3

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    Tight and well defined. Not "tubby" or "muddy". You should be able to determine what instrument is being played. It should have a distinct beginning and end, and not drone on.

    Bad bass is everywhere. Good bass is expensive. It's better to have less bass that is good, than lots of bass that is bad. Cheap subs are bad. Most car audio is awful.

    Good enough?

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  4. #4

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    Most people go thru a period of "disillusionment" (is that a word?) when they begin upgrading and they think bass is less and less prominent. The fact is, it's being recreated more accurately, with far less distortion. This is really apparent when switching from a receiver to a sepearte power amp of good quality. Listening to good DDD/24bit CD's of Jazz recordings will usually give as accurate a demonstration as can be found, short of hiring a band to play in the livingroom.

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  5. #5

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    It's very hard to put into descriptive words. Ever since I got my Lsi 9's I have been bugged by the fact that they have quite a hump at certain lower midbass frequencies. I was used to a much cleaner, less distorted more linear and organic type of bass. Fact is I've never gotten used to the 9's and their lower midbass warmth.

    I recently (over the weekend) brought home a pair of SDA 1C's with x-over mods, RD0's, etc. and the bass out of the 12" fluid coupled PR is so much more realistic and organic sounding. I can actually hear an feel lower bass notes extend rather than falling off a shelf like they do with speakers that try to produce very accurate lower bass.

    The 9's are punchy but the extension falls off very quickly and you loose some of the dynamics and the impact of well defined bass.

    That's the best I can put it in words.......I know when I listen if it's right or wrong and for all the virtues of the LSi 9's the bass has been a issue for me personally since day one. However for their size and driver compliment they do a great job overall. I compared them side by side with the 1C's and there is no replacement for displacement. :D

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  6. #6

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    I'll add that bass should build and extend from the drivers much like a stone creates a ripple in the water. The best bass I've heard does this, it extends through out the whole note, sort of rising and falling in a big wave. Rather than a quick punch which falls off rapidly with little or no extension.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  7. #7

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    Default All about balance for me.

    I've noticed with system refinement starting early on shaking things, losing the ability to focus at all, walking knick-knacks and 2 note boom car stereo effect...all really annoying now(I even put speakers in my HT side for quick attack and natural decay).
    Now I have a balance, something I feel is faithful to the recordings fed to it.
    Very low overhang and low note hits that can make you feel you didn't take a proper full breath, or your heart misfired a beat. I can also get that illusion of a big space,or being in a different place effect... hard to put into words,but it seems tied to very low frequency reproduction.The better fleshed out the loudspeaker to room interface and it has the ability to throw out a more capable illusion.
    I can get the effect that a train is passing outside and the slab is grumbling from below or even with some low dynamic quick attack bass the feeling someone is striking the slab under me lightly with a sledgehammer.

    Upright bass that resonates naturally giving a solid shape and scale plus good instrument placement with a warm woody sound when it's been put down that way.
    Up louder or if it's a really dynamic recording and a string slaps the fretboard it makes your teeth buzz in your head.

    Solid body picked or plucked hard you hear the leading edge, the string, finger or pick,and it compresses you and tweaks your eyes a bit.

    A loudspeaker that can set the placement and scale of a piano...the whole instument in 3 dimensions...'wow' there is a whole piano in my room when I close my eyes. I like a speaker that puts all acoustic instruments and singers in the room and can make a room into a venue.
    It doesn't have to be precisely to exact scale for me...just believable.

    I do not get the full impact of a live drumkit but a good representation of one.
    Probably need a combo of more room, more speaker, more efficiency,more power to get close to that.

  8. #8

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    My reference to Bass is always real sound. Real sound can come from a drum or bass guitar unamplified, or amplified [for example]. This, understandably, can be confusing to those who would like to have a reference.

    For my reference, I will invite my brother over to set up his drum set in the listening room, hit a couple of drum beats and then do an A/B comparison to the "live"...."unamplified" reference. That's only part of the spectrum of bass. though. Unfortunately I can't set up a real volcano in the listening room for reference, nor a jet airplane producing a sonic boom. Not that I would want to, as I would have no hearing or windows left.

    When listening to a live venue, such as Tool or NIN, I would want the reproduction of sound to be "amplified", if you will, to most closely reflect that sound that you hear when sitting in the audiance. Now, if I was listening to jazz in a small nightclub, or stompdancing, I would want the sound to be "unamplified", if you will. This is not possible when your source at home has to be amplified, so we must IMO find the sound that most closely resembles the real sound to your ears.

    You prompted a good question, and it will be interesting to hear of the different ways folks come to the "reference" for bass. The end result is always....Is it pleasing to you, what ultimately hits your ears?
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by treitz3 View Post
    Unfortunately I can't set up a real volcano in the listening room for reference

    as interesting as that would be... :D
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  10. #10

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    Live drums are a very good "measuring stick" but I have yet, in my 45 years, heard live drums equaled in ANY stereo system---regardless of price. It's a tough instrument to duplicate--the impact, dynamics, cymbal clarity, etc.

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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by steveinaz View Post
    Live drums are a very good "measuring stick" but I have yet, in my 45 years, heard live drums equaled in ANY stereo system---regardless of price. It's a tough instrument to duplicate--the impact, dynamics, cymbal clarity, etc.
    I never have either and I doubt I ever will in my lifetime. Technology just ain't there. I admire you guys not trying to bull**** yourselves into thinking that speakers [no matter how expensive] can accurately reproduce real sound. To me, it all comes down to different sounds that a rig can produce, or reproduce rather, but none of the reproduction will be "real".
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

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    If you can hear it, its midbass. Only true bass can be felt, not heard
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  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by treitz3 View Post
    I never have either and I doubt I ever will in my lifetime. Technology just ain't there. I admire you guys not trying to bull**** yourselves into thinking that speakers [no matter how expensive] can accurately reproduce real sound. To me, it all comes down to different sounds that a rig can produce, or reproduce rather, but none of the reproduction will be "real".
    Exactly......that same live (unmiked) drum kit would sound completely different if it were in a 10x10x10 room compared to a 30x50x15 room. When reproducing recorded music we can only get as far as the recording will allow us. In the above 2 instances if we were to make a recording they would both sound completely different played back on the same music system.

    No reproduction will be real.........too many variables involved. If we could somehow capture the intensity of "real" instruments in some form of media, I agree, the componets used to play the media wouldn't be upto it.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by jakelm View Post
    If you can hear it, its midbass. Only true bass can be felt, not heard
    That is simply not true. Sure very deep bass notes are felt not heard, but to say only true bass can be felt is a big leap, IMO of course :)

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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    Quote Originally Posted by heiney9 View Post
    No reproduction will be real.........too many variables involved. If we could somehow capture the intensity of "real" instruments in some form of media, I agree, the componets used to play the media wouldn't be upto it.
    That's fine, as long as it sounds "real enough." In other words, our imagination kicks in to fill out what our systems and speakers are unable to actually reproduce. However, the system has to come close. If cymbals, for example, don't sound "real enough" for your imagination, then it's time to tweak or upgrade. Your system has to exceed your own expectations over and over again. Once it stops doing that, the dreaded upgraditis sets in.
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  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by jakelm View Post
    If you can hear it, its midbass. Only true bass can be felt, not heard
    A perfect example of this would be if you were to take a 15' tall pile of wood filled with X-mas trees at the core, poured a gallon of gas and two gallons of motor oil or transmission fluid over the entire pile. Pour some gas on the lawn in a 30' line leading directly away from the bonfire, light it and quickly step back.

    That's some Bass!

    What you hear is "Whoosh". What you feel is a punch in the chest that lets you and all of your neighbors know that the party has started.:D This is spoken from experience on more than one occasion. Once it knocked me back about two feet because I was a little close [but I didn't spill my beer!]. Yes, us Southern boys know how to kick off a party!!!

    Back to your regularly scheduled program...............
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Early B. View Post
    That's fine, as long as it sounds "real enough." In other words, our imagination kicks in to fill out what our systems and speakers are unable to actually reproduce. However, the system has to come close. If cymbals, for example, don't sound "real enough" for your imagination, then it's time to tweak or upgrade. Your system has to exceed your own expectations over and over again. Once it stops doing that, the dreaded upgraditis sets in.
    Oh yes, I agree. We get pretty close with some of the great sounding recordings out there. The fact is more time, effort and care is taken with making the recordings (the engineers) and us the end users buying very good equipment and setting up our listening environment better than most venues we see live music in. There are exceptions of course. Generally seeing live music in medium to large venues is a much different experience than listening to a well done live recording at home. Both situations have their advantages and disadvantages, IMO.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by heiney9 View Post
    That is simply not true. Sure very deep bass notes are felt not heard, but to say only true bass can be felt is a big leap, IMO of course :)

    H9

    They say 20hz is the limit of a human ear, when in reality its closer to 35hz. 35hz and above is midbass, IMO. Where you start to actually start to hear it, it becomes midbass.

    The "boom" every audiophile hates, is between 35hz and ~100hz (midbass). So when we shop for a good sub, we look for little boom and accurate bass.

    In my opinion there are 3 levels of bass,

    1. bass (0hz-35hz)
    2. midbass (35hz-80hz)
    3. high bass (80hz-200hz)

    So when you ask me about "bass", I think of #1 bass


    I always loved to say this..

    ...."you have no bass...cause I cant feel ****"
    Last edited by jakelm; 05-22-2007 at 03:47 PM.
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  19. #19

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    I see where you are coming from. It just seems on speakers with really good undistorded bass the "feeling" component and the "hearing" component are pretty seemlessly blended.

    For me midbass starts around 60hz upto about 200hz so that's where I was coming from.
    Last edited by heiney9; 05-22-2007 at 03:52 PM.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

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  20. #20

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    Somebody has to say it.....your base are belong to us. LOL!

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  21. #21

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    In my 3 levels of bass, I dont think one level is more important or less important then the other.

    Thats why I think a sub is the most demanding/hardest working driver in the system, not because of power (wattage) it needs or the excursion or size, but, because it needs to reproduce all 3 levels accuratly or it will sound like ****.
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  22. #22

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    Bass is relative. Real life (RL) bass is not as spectacular as your average film soundtrack would lead us to believe. Most acoustic music is going to sound pretty good on decent bookshelf speakers. There are only a couple RL instruments (like the pipe organ) that are going to need those super low octaves... even the kick drum really has a midrange attack and midbass falloff. What makes bass seem "tight" is the proper integration of what little true bass that is left with the rest of the sound.

    When I say that bass is relative, I am saying that one way to experience BASS is to listen to music that does NOT consist of RL instruments... Fat globules of synthesized bass (to paraphrase a TAS review of a bjork album) can pour from these albums, much moreso than older recordings simply because digital recording allows a basically unlimited low end resolution, something vinyl did not offer as readily (I once read about one of the first vinyl pressings of a digitally mastered recording, the 1812 overture actually, where you needed an extremely good cartridge and pickup just to keep the needle from jumping out of the track when it hit the digitally mastered cannon explosions). Most people take bass for granted today, and because of that, many of our audiophile setups with bookshelf speakers might not be very impressive to the average joe, yet a muddly undefined bose system may impress that same person, because they are just so used to overemphesized bass, that when faced with a true flat response they might think it lacking in the low end.

    That brings me to another point, with most consumer grade systems, the bass that everyone goes gaga over is not even the low bass they seemingly crave, it is a midbass hump that seems to plague those types of systems. Many modern recordings, while having extremely low octave material, will sound downright weird when played for the first time on a system that can truly dig down to 20hz or lower... What works for the movies doesn't always work well for music.

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    When I first glimpsed at a Fr graph of one of my favorite explosion scenes (when the Death Star exploded at the end of SW ANH), my jaw dropped. I said to myself " what?..one of the best explosions happens only between 35hz and 70hz? ....then what the hell does less that 35hz sound like?"...that was 8 years ago.


    Now I undertsand what subsonic, #1 bass is. And I likey alot...
    Last edited by jakelm; 05-22-2007 at 04:23 PM.
    Monitor 7b's front
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    Frankinpolk Center (2 mw6503's with peerless tweeter)
    M10's back surround
    Hafler-200 driving patio Daytons
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    Dayton 12" DVC w/ Rythmik 350a plate amp
    Harman/Kardon AVR-635
    Oppo 981hd
    Denon upconvert DVD player
    Jennings Research (vintage and rare)
    Mit RPTV WS-55513
    Tosh HD-XA1
    B&K AV5000


    Dont BAN me Bro!!!!

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    Just had another thought.........You asked what bass is supposed to sound like?

    A lightning strike that hits 20 feet away. I have no idea what frequencies that that would produce [from XXHz to XXXHz], but you want bass.......Mother Nature provides. Maybe also the low rumbling of an emmense waterfall or earthquake.

    Try having ANY system reproduce that!;)
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

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    The other night watching Star Wars during a thunderstorm was the best soundtrack I have ever heard. Ship blew up and lightning struck,,,,wow, what a show.
    Monitor 7b's front
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    M10's back surround
    Hafler-200 driving patio Daytons
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    Harman/Kardon AVR-635
    Oppo 981hd
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    Just a thought on the original post has anyone heard a latin accoustic instrument called a 'marimba' not even sure how you spell it lol. Has a series of 3 or more bars, enclosed box shape. Some have more curves that mess are you sound resounce and reverberation. Anyway that provides nice bass see if i can find you guys a picture.
    Chicomorales:)

  27. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by steveinaz View Post
    Live drums are a very good "measuring stick" but I have yet, in my 45 years, heard live drums equaled in ANY stereo system---regardless of price. It's a tough instrument to duplicate--the impact, dynamics, cymbal clarity, etc.
    It's a tough instrument to (accurately) record also.
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  28. #28

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    Hey, I'm a musician who has spent 10+ years playing in a band. What does real bass sound like? You are never gonna hear it from a home hi-fi system. They are just not up to the task of reproducing the dynamics of a band at anywhere near the SPL's they naturally play. Take a drum kit for example. the cymbals alone can put out 110+ dB. What about the crack of a properly tuned snare? It is unbelievably loud and absolutely instant in its rise time.

    Bass guitar - what does it sond like live? Well it all depends on the player's rig. Is he running an Ampeg SVT tube head with 2 8x10" speaker cabs or is he playing through a digital modeller straight into the board? There are just too many variables.

    Bottom line is that a pair of home hifi speakers, irrespective of the amp they're hooked up to or the number of drivers, just cannot reproduce anywhere near the sonic impact and density of the real instruments.

    Good home hifi does a great job of reproducing the original performance to a smaller scale. Thats really all you can expect.

  29. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gretsch6136 View Post

    Bottom line is that a pair of home hifi speakers, irrespective of the amp they're hooked up to or the number of drivers, just cannot reproduce anywhere near the sonic impact and density of the real instruments.

    Good home hifi does a great job of reproducing the original performance to a smaller scale. Thats really all you can expect.
    Hmmmmmmmm.....so you are saying we should buy pro gear so we can reproduce sound with the correct dynamics and scale? Most if not all bands I've seen are amplified. Why is it the cheaper "pro" gear is up to the task in a club setting but our much more expensive and most times better built home stuff isn't.

    Please explain.

    Personally I feel it's mostly in the recording. We can't seem to get a recording that captures the same level of dynamics and scale as the original performance. It's impossible to record ALL the nuances of a live recording as our ears (the prefect recievers) hear and experience it. That's mostly where the limitation lies, not with the gear although there is some truth to that as well. But capturing the performance is the main limiting factor.

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  30. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gretsch6136 View Post
    Bottom line is that a pair of home hifi speakers, irrespective of the amp they're hooked up to or the number of drivers, just cannot reproduce anywhere near the sonic impact and density of the real instruments.

    Good home hifi does a great job of reproducing the original performance to a smaller scale. Thats really all you can expect.
    Capturing the live performance is not the goal because most live music sounds like crap, especially a bass guitar. As heiney said, the pro amplification is usually horrible, not just from the gear itself, but from lousy acoustics. So those who invest lots of time and money into their 2-channel equipment are looking for a better quality sound than most live music can offer.
    HT/2-channel Rig: Sony 50 LCD TV; Toshiba HD-A2 DVD player; Emotiva LMC-1 pre/pro; Rogue Audio M-120 monoblocks (modded); Placette RVC; Emotiva LPA-1 amp; Bada HD-22 tube CDP (modded); VMPS Tower II SE (fronts); DIY Clearwave Dynamic 4CC (center); Wharfedale Opus Tri-Surrounds (rear); and VMPS 215 sub

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