“Okay, fine. So which piano is the more accurate – the Steinway or the Bosendorfer?” – a deliberately illogical question (to make a point!) by Howard Popeck

Stupid question of course that doesn’t warrant consideration, let alone an answer. Unless of course it is useful as a basis for pondering on the well-intentioned but ultimately futile debate about accuracy – within the current meaning of the word.

Only a cretin would fail to recognise that the reproduction of a piano on even the most mediocre of MP3 players is clearly that of a piano. Ergo the representation of that instrument as a piano and not a saxophone is self-evident. On the other hand, a rational investigation of the physics behind why that representation is neither (a) entirely musically credible and for some (b), far from enjoyable is certainly worthy of consideration it seems to me.

One thought on ““Okay, fine. So which piano is the more accurate – the Steinway or the Bosendorfer?” – a deliberately illogical question (to make a point!) by Howard Popeck

  1. I think that asking which equipment is the most accurate *is* a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But my feeling is also that if systems were designed to be reasonably accurate from the ground up, then the answer would be “They’re all accurate enough”.

    I’ve noticed on forums that people talk a lot as though they understand what makes a system sound good (and the implication is that this means “accurate”), but when someone asks “OK, which pieces of equipment are accurate?” they go into a flap, likening the question to asking which colour is good, or which car. To me, that would be entirely consistent with a hobby and industry that has disappeared up its own ‘high end’. If people are told that this £10,000 valve amplifier will change their life, or that that £1,000 cable will re-create the concert hall from a vinyl source, and it doesn’t, then all that is left for them is to think it must all be about “preference”, and maybe that equipment is only ever suited to narrow genres of music.

    And all the while there are deficiencies being passed over, not because someone in the past found scientifically that they don’t matter, but because traditionally they couldn’t be addressed so it was simply decided that they don’t matter. Two things I’ll mention:
    1. Bass. Why do we think that it is OK to roll off the bass way above the lower limit of hearing and way above the lowest elements in the music? (Answer: because speakers would have to be much bigger, amplifiers more powerful – but if we are spending multiples of £10k on our systems, then so be it!).
    2. Phase. Why do we think it’s OK for speakers to radically distort the phase and timing relationships within the signal? (Answer: because it’s almost impossible to do otherwise using traditional methods).

    This paper makes for interesting reading, I think: http://www.linkwitzlab.com/Attributes_Of_Linear_Phase_Loudspeakers.pdf

    What that tells me, is that there is an entire facet of audio reproduction that we could be getting right, but that for reasons of tradition we are completely ignoring. A recording of a piano is still unambiguously recognisable as a piano on any system, but what contortions are our ears and brains having to go through in order to resolve the inconsistencies in the phase and timing?

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