Nowadays we listen to music without the musicians present. Whether it in our car, in our earbuds, through the speakers of our sound systems or through the radio by the time we are actually hearing the notes, the musicians who produced them are doing something else, like working on another album, another tour, or just simply waking up on the other side of the world. If we want to listen to real music played by real musicians, we have to go to the concert.
Enter Jurassic Park.
You didn’t expect that, did you? I’m blogging about the natural sound of music and, Boom, I introduced, of all things, a movie! If there’s a medium where you do not have real musicians playing the score, it’s the movies, right? Wrong! We just saw the Jurassic Park last night with my wife, and the score was played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was mesmerizing! I mean the movie was not, I mean the movie is mesmerizing, of course, it’s a great movie, but what I mean is the experience was mesmerizing.
I counted 82 musicians on stage. The violin section, plus viola, cellos, double basses, that’s at least 40 players. Then all the horns, that’s got to be a good strong 30 people. Then the percussion section, composed of 6 persons. Then a piano player, a harp player, a dingy player (I say dingy because I do not know the name of that instrument that seems to have a keyboard but sounds like little bells.). I’m sure I’m forgetting an instrument or two. Moving on.
As you know, I love sound systems. Sometimes I talk about them on this very platform. It’s not exactly a passion of mine, more like a necessity since I like to listen to music with real musicians. And, if you follow my train of thought, that’s exactly where this blog is going: how does the real Chicago Symphony orchestra compares to the sound of my best sound system? Let’s dive in.
First the sound stage. That’s where you place the instruments as they play: the bass on the right, the high on the left, the medium up front, the percussion at the back, etc. So, of course, the CSO is the absolute reference. When an oboe line arise, you can hear exactly where it’s coming from. Not so with most sound system. Including mine. You get an idea, most of the time, but it’s at best an approximation. That’s the poorest score for my equipment.
Second the dynamics. Here’s a little fact: when the movie was playing, the subtitles were going. It takes you 15 seconds to understand why: a symphony orchestra can be very, very loud, and the words of the actors disappear in the swells. But the same orchestra can also be extremely quiet. One soft note of the harp is barely audible, for example. so, you get the whole gamut: incredibly soft to incredibly loud. All right, now, how does it compare with my sound system? Ah, on this front, I will admit that it ‘s not bad. Not bad at all. Now, the range is a little bit restrained, but I attribute it to the recording engineer and the compressed files much more than what my player, amplifier, preamp and speakers can do. Because when I do get a natural recording, I do get the full range of dynamic.
And, finally, the texture. Does a clarinet sound like one? Do you have the velvety wood grain of the cellos? Is the percussion raw and direct? Well, that’s where the sound system scored the highest. Yes, the texture was accurate, pretty much exact to what I heard at the symphony hall. The Decware speakers are famous for their midrange, which is pretty wide. But I must say, they do justice to the grain of the CSO as a whole. The midrange is where it’s at, people. I know about hip hop and the hypertrophied bass, but I was talking about natural sounds, meaning sounds coming raw from acoustic instruments. Anyway, I am happy to report that my Tidal as a streaming service/Astell & Kern player/Rotel Amp and preamp/Decware speakers combination is extremely accurate. Sounds just like the real thing… To me.
Now, what is special about yesterday’s performance. For me this: for the first time I was enjoying music on a different scale. I was intently listening to the sound stage, the dynamics, the texture and many other things which made me an active spectator rather than a passive one. Music is a never ending quest, a never ending education, there are always new wonders to discover.