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Has the listening experience materially improved in the last 50 years?
MikeFord
post Apr 16 2013, 20:48
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During the late 50's amplifiers reached 0.1% thd, stereo existed, and playback media supported signal with a noise floor -60db or more. Speaker materials, various other things have changed, surround sound, etc., but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?
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Heliologue
post Apr 16 2013, 21:16
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You're using phrases like "listening experience" and "better", but I'm not sure these by themselves are meaningful terms here.
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RonaldDumsfeld
post Apr 16 2013, 21:25
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No.

People were getting at least as much pleasure out of the listening experience when they were banging sticks together and dancing round a fire.

How much pleasure it gives you will not change. What value you, as a consumer, might get out of those offering commercial alternatives to dancing round a fire might adjust marginally. I doubt it'll get much less expensive than it is now. Then again. dancing round a fire doesn't cost anything. You just need some mates.
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DVDdoug
post Apr 16 2013, 21:35
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Good equipment existed, but most tube amplifiers were not that good. Tube amplifers require a transformer at the output stage, and it's very difficult and expensive to make a transformer that's flat across the full audio range. Many tube amplifiers had audible hum. (In the 1970s I had a MacIntosh tube amp that somebody gave me, and it sounded just fine... But it was mono and I eventually gave it away).

And with home audio, you were stuck with records! 60dB??? Maybe in theory, but I've never heard a record with a "silent" background like a CD or MP3. Most develop nasty "clicks" & "pops". Distortion and frequency response variations (such as a "dull" high end) were very common. Every different phono cartridge has different frequency-response. If you had access to reel-to-reel "studio tapes", you might get sound almost as good as an iPod. Most radio stations were AM (limited to about 5000 Hz, and noisy).

Solid State electronics improved the average home stereo a lot. CDs and MP3s were an even bigger improvement. CDs changed everything... Everybody got exposed to high-quality sound and the average listener's expectations increased.

I'm not so sure good speakers have changed that much. What has changed is that the Thiele-Small theories and computers/software have made it easier to design a good speaker with less trial-and-error. And, the average home speaker is likely to be a 2-way or 3-way, possibly with a subwoofer. In the late 50's most home speakers were "full range" (1-way).

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Apr 16 2013, 21:42
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Nessuno
post Apr 16 2013, 21:45
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QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 21:48) *
has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?

Yes, definitely, since the switch from analog to digital sources in domestic environments (i. e. from LP to CD) on sound quality ground, and then since the switch from abum sized supports to whole libraries on direct access mass storage (i. e. from CD to computer based players) on management quality ground.


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pdq
post Apr 17 2013, 01:34
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Only being able to listen to half an album at a time without interruption (let alone multi disc albums) was a real drag.
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Stop the Noise
post Apr 17 2013, 01:34
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Got into music collection since the late 70's with vinyl and cassette tapes. The biggest improvement for me has been 0's and 1's. All content available digitally has created super easy mass storage and convenience, whether portable or locally on the PC.

No more flipping lp's, dusting, needle care, warp lp's, worn or misaligned tape heads etc. etc. sure has improved the listening experience.
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Mach-X
post Apr 17 2013, 02:00
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i think that perhaps the "high end" part probably hasnt changed much, however the listening experience for consumer grade electronics has changed drastically. Solid state amps for $200, digital audio players like the clip for $35, and speaker manufacturers like paradigm breaking the price/performance barrier mean you can have a no noise,low distortion, linear frequency response music playback system for $500. Not sure you could do that 50 or even 20 years ago.

This post has been edited by Mach-X: Apr 17 2013, 02:01
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eahm
post Apr 17 2013, 03:17
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I am 100% with RonaldDumsfeld, it's all matter of perception.
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Paul_ 2012
post Apr 17 2013, 03:50
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QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 21:48) *
During the late 50's amplifiers reached 0.1% thd, stereo existed, and playback media supported signal with a noise floor -60db or more. Speaker materials, various other things have changed, surround sound, etc., but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?

It's great to look back, but modern gear is brilliant. My first experience was my brothers' second hand Dansette Deluxe from the 60's but I had to wait till about 1980 to buy a Philips Sound Project 6000 'separates' with 3 way kit speakers. I still have the amp/tuner and speakers at work. At home I have the convenience of a Nas drive. I wouldn't have missed any of it, life without music.....................
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Engelsstaub
post Apr 17 2013, 06:19
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QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 14:48) *
...but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?


I can't speak personally to the last 50 years as I'm a child of the 80s smile.gif From my perspective it hasn't improved in many important ways. Sure, it's more convenient for most not to have to deal with analog and it's definitely convenient to carry around a huge digital music collection on a phone or an iDevice. (Compare that to the brick of a cassette walkman I had as a kid and a huge case full of cassettes, and I'm down with well-encoded lossy over a cassette any day of the week.)

Since you already "conceded" that a "wider selection of media" has "improved" I'm concluding you weren't talking about formats or convenience but the listening experience itself. My answer again is (in general) "it hasn't improved" but worsened. The so-called Loudness War has ruined nearly everything for me. It's sent me back to vinyl and hunting down original CD pressings of music that I grew up with that were originally unaffected by it. DR6 and worse is getting to be the norm on every new release and reissue I buy now. I want to do the best I can to enjoy modern music anyway but it is what it is.

For me I don't care about brushing or flipping a record, putting a CD in a tray and closing it, or having my iPhone full of transparently-encoded "albums." (The latter is indeed very cool and convenient.) For me it's the sound coming out of the speakers. That hasn't changed appreciably in my lifetime. What has changed in my adult lifetime is something I, as a consumer of music, have no control over: the quality of production and engineering. We have the means to faithfully reproduce music for human consumption but 99% of popular music is excessively compressed and pushed up to and past 0 dB FS.

...and obviously not enough people care or things would change.


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MikeFord
post Apr 17 2013, 06:30
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Banging sticks together and dancing around a fire seems far superior right now to setting up my Xonar DS under Win7 64, 1's and 0's are not always a panacea.

I understand many of us had primitive systems starting out, but better was available especially in pro sound and specialty brands.

The "mantra" of this forum is what you can actually hear, which is what I am getting at, not so much ease of use, cost, or convenience, all of which I enjoy.
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Andavari
post Apr 17 2013, 06:47
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The "improvement" for me is the lack of hiss, although I am not fond of the over-boosted (someone deemed the saying "clipressed" on here before) modern audio causing audible clipping which is just annoying, possibly why I more enjoy and prefer an original 1980s audio CD over any re-release/re-issue version.

QUOTE (RonaldDumsfeld @ Apr 16 2013, 15:25) *
Then again. dancing round a fire doesn't cost anything.

Matters entirely where said fire is started. tongue.gif


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2Bdecided
post Apr 17 2013, 06:48
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The best that was available in 1963 was already more than good enough in many respects. Speakers weren't as good, especially at the frequency extremes, and cartridges and styli were primitive. Phono pre-amps also. Power amps were good enough. Get a 1963 recording on CD and play it through a 1963 system and it might sound amazing - but that's cheating!

The biggest difference is that "good enough" is a LOT cheaper in 2013, and far more convenient. Drunken parties or playing the same recording 1000 times do not diminish the quality these days either.

Cheers,
David.

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Porcus
post Apr 17 2013, 09:17
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Guys & gals ... confession time, did any of you even think of live music when reading (/replying to) this topic?


Had the thread title said “last 60 years”, I would have answered that yeah, now we listen to rock'n'roll. The way we listen to music is certainly not genre-independent – at least live. The post-war era has brought us rock'n'roll, pogo, headbanging, moshing and lots of chemicals for those who fancy it. And recently, a smoking ban! That certainly improves my listening experience, though I have heard others complaining.


But over the last 50 years, live rock shows evolved through The Who into a mine-is-bigger-than-yours hearingloss-fest and now back to more civilized forms where the dB meter is not there to verify a world record attempt. And I have a fond hope that the sound at live shows will improve, as improvements are possible – some of the best places are really impressive from the point-of-view of someone who discovered live music in the 80's.

One year ago I witnessed how the 013 in Tilburg NL rigged up their bands with line-check only. No real soundcheck. Apparently they have calibration equipment and know how to use it. Reunited stoners Sleep had six different guitar amp brands (for a trio!), and back in the 80s that would have been nothing but harassing the soundguy. Here they delivered one of the best sounding gigs I have experienced in years (... and last year I saw a three-figure number of bands, and for the record, I was not on the local Dutch herbs) – and again, that was by only plugging in, reading off the meter and off you go. Totally amazing. A place that leaves bands without the “shitty sound” excuse.

I am actually not sure if this is any material improvement over the filthy clubs were hard rock was born out of backline, un-mic'd drums and the venue's monaural gear doing only the vocals, the guitar sound being delivered directly-to-customer without going through a PA controlled by a deaf monkey, but it sure as hell is an improvement over going to an ice hockey hall 25 years ago to see Metallica or Judas Priest and spend half the gig finding a spot that wasn't too ruined, constantly adjusting the foam earplugs. (Gawd I love my ER-20's almost just as much as I love Rob Halford ... too bad we aren't really compatible in the groupie department, but I digress.)


Actually I am returning to Tilburg and the 013 tomorrow for the very same event, the mighty Roadburn festival. (Logging off and grabbing my suitcase.)

This post has been edited by Porcus: Apr 17 2013, 09:17


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probedb
post Apr 17 2013, 09:57
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For enjoyment? No. I still enjoy music as much as I did when I was a kid, it's so easy to do these days as well. My Squeezebox is one of the things that's helped in recent years, no more finding CDs etc, just switch it on and listen.

As for live music, I'd say my ES49s with the 15dB filter on have made it so much better for me, it's just like someone turned down the volume to a level I can hear without blowing my ears apart. I agree with Porcus about setup as well, a local venue I go to has been really bad for sound but a couple of acts managed to sound really good which can only lead to the conclusion that the other bands didn't have very good sound engineers I guess wink.gif
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 17 2013, 21:01
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QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 15:48) *
During the late 50's amplifiers reached 0.1% thd, stereo existed, and playback media supported signal with a noise floor -60db or more. Speaker materials, various other things have changed, surround sound, etc., but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?


Yes the general SQ of everything with the possible exception of radio and certain popular recordings (over compressed, etc.) is better than it was in the late 1950s or even late 1970s. Much better.

Since the late 50s the 2 biggest SQ improvements were:

(1) Tubes -> SS Majority of the change-over happened from 1964 through 1976. It took about 3 generations of SS equipment for everything to get sorted out. Since 1976 most improvements have come in terms of price/performance and ultimate power output.

(2) Analog media -> digital Majority of the change-over happened from 1983 through 1988. For all intents and purposes everything that mattered but cost was sorted out immediately. It took about 8 years for prices of good digital players to become reasonable. Since then price/performance and flexibility has futher improved to levels that would seem insane from a 1990 perspective.




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MikeFord
post Apr 18 2013, 06:06
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Wasn't the Who billed as the loudest band in the world, BOC as I recall was second or third. The tech for making live sound work has greatly improved, but awful sound is still pretty common. Last summer we went to see Weird Al at the Pacific something or other at the Orange County fairgrounds, a new facility, but bleh very poor sound quality, way too much distortion.

OTOH back in the 70's I had season tickets for the LA Phil at the Dorthy Chandler pavilion and Hollywood bowl, and the sound was quite good.

Speaking back to prerecorded music, I've been listening to the remastered Nat King Cole, Love is the Thing, recorded in 1957, remastered and released on SACD by Analogue Productions. Stardust is one of my favorite songs, and I have never heard a better version. Nothing meaningful in the remastering was modern, just the final conversion to digital for the SACD master.

Same for a number of early recordings that I like, the equipment may not have been as transparent as what we have today, but it appears to have been adequate to produce excellence.

Vinyl records had a lot of issues, but tape and film recording were available. Don't forget this was also a time when Radio still attempted to be a HiFi medium.

It seems to me the struggle now isn't how to get good sound, at least not technically, but a struggle of what good sound is, and my personal taste continues to drift back to the music of the 50's and 60's when real engineers ruled the consoles.
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cliveb
post Apr 18 2013, 09:23
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QUOTE (Porcus @ Apr 17 2013, 09:17) *
And I have a fond hope that the sound at live shows will improve, as improvements are possible some of the best places are really impressive from the point-of-view of someone who discovered live music in the 80's

While it is clear that the equipment available for live shows has improved dramatically, I see little evidence that the majority of FOH engineers know how to use it. Perhaps they are all deaf after years of working at gigs. As a general rule, the drums and bass are mixed far too loud and overwhelm everything else. I get the impression that they just turn everything up to 11 and leave it there.

Easily the worst aural assault I have experienced recently was a Meat Loaf show at Wembley Arena a few years ago. And we were sitting *right behind* the FOH mixing desk. If they can't get the sound right there, what chance for the rest of the hall? It's my wife who is the Meat Loaf fan, so I decided to suffer it for her sake. Imagine my relief when after about 30 mins she turned to me and said "this is awful, do you want to leave?".
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greynol
post Apr 18 2013, 15:53
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Apr 17 2013, 13:01) *
Analog media -> digital Majority of the change-over happened from 1983 through 1988. For all intents and purposes everything that mattered but cost was sorted out immediately. It took about 8 years for prices of good digital players to become reasonable. Since then price/performance and flexibility has futher improved to levels that would seem insane from a 1990 perspective.

Except that often little care was paid in choosing tapes when remastering older releases to digital. Early DDD really meant multiple instances of subsequent A/D conversion during the process. The first shot that I heard at the beginning of what was to be called the loudness war started in 1992. After what was only theoretical became realizable, it didn't take long for it to be misused. It's like less than optimal SNR was traded for less than optimal dynamic range.

This post has been edited by greynol: Apr 18 2013, 15:55


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krabapple
post Apr 18 2013, 17:12
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Advances in home surround sound, including 'synthetic' modes like DPLII, along with automated speaker setup/equalization schemes resulted in significant advances in *my* home listening experience
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2Bdecided
post Apr 18 2013, 20:15
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Apr 17 2013, 21:01) *
QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 15:48) *
During the late 50's amplifiers reached 0.1% thd, stereo existed, and playback media supported signal with a noise floor -60db or more. Speaker materials, various other things have changed, surround sound, etc., but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?


Yes the general SQ of everything with the possible exception of radio and certain popular recordings (over compressed, etc.) is better than it was in the late 1950s or even late 1970s. Much better.

I think we should demand that you abx these improvements! wink.gif

Cheers,
David.
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knutinh
post Apr 18 2013, 21:14
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I do remember my family having a high-end Sony cassette recorder ca 1990 that had a painfully unstable tape speed (especially with high-quality tapes). It was sent to Sony for calibration but returned with "it was within spec". Any stable sine-like sound (like Whitney Houston FM-synthesis "Rhodes" sounds that was popular at the time sounded out of tune or overly chorused).

While sentimental audiophiles may think about venerable tube amplifiers and electrostatic speakers (for its strength and weaknesses) that nearly no-one could afford or know about, the majority of people had really crappy sound, while today most people can have decent sound unless the missus choose to put the loudspeakers under the sofa.

While there are annoyances with digital (why the &%### can't my Sony tv and Onkyo receiver sort out HDMI 1.4 hand-shaking so that lipsync works out of the box??), I think that overall, the quality that can be had for little money today is amazing.

-k

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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Apr 18 2013, 21:22
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QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Apr 18 2013, 15:15) *
QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Apr 17 2013, 21:01) *
QUOTE (MikeFord @ Apr 16 2013, 15:48) *
During the late 50's amplifiers reached 0.1% thd, stereo existed, and playback media supported signal with a noise floor -60db or more. Speaker materials, various other things have changed, surround sound, etc., but has the experience of listening to prerecorded music materially improved in the last 50 years?

Conceding size, cost, and wider selection of media have improved, but has the listening experience and will it get better?


Yes the general SQ of everything with the possible exception of radio and certain popular recordings (over compressed, etc.) is better than it was in the late 1950s or even late 1970s. Much better.

I think we should demand that you ABX these improvements! wink.gif


We actually did ABX them as they were coming along.
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DVDdoug
post Apr 18 2013, 21:42
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QUOTE
Guys & gals ... confession time, did any of you even think of live music when reading (/replying to) this topic?
A few years ago, I saw a Beatles tribute band, I forget which one... The sound was great, the band was good (5 pieces with a keyboard player off to the side "filling-in"), and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Anyway... I remember saying, "I'll bet The Beatles never sounded this good live!"

biggrin.gif That’s an A/B test with an imaginary 'A' part... biggrin.gif

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Apr 18 2013, 21:47
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