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Live music as the ultimate reference? Nein danke!

  • Martijn Mensink of Dutch & Dutch introduces himself and his company’s loudspeakers: “Dear John – I’m sending you this message because I’d love you to review the Dutch & Dutch 8c. As a frequent reader of DAR, I believe there is a very good fit between Dutch & Dutch and DAR. Like you we cater to the forward thinking, music-first audiophile (I like that one!). I like how on DAR you write in a way that speaks to both the audiophile as well as the music lover interested in better sound.”

    “The 8c is a DSP based all-in-one loudspeaker system for people who wish to enjoy their music in the highest possible quality, but don’t want a hifi system that dominates their room. The 8c is designed to work optimally with the acoustics of normal living rooms and can be placed very close to the front wall. Furthermore, it can be streamed to over ethernet and there’s an app for setup and remote control. Recommended sales price including VAT is €9950 for a pair. Please let me know if you are interested!”

    A high-end audio system in a box, complete with ethernet streaming, internal DAC as well as DSP for room integration and (presumably) crossover? Lock it in, Martijn.

    With the 8c review interest secured, a second email from Mensink. this time concerning Dutch & Dutch’s forthcoming appearance at the XFI Premium Audio Show*, reportedly the biggest audio event in the Benelux region.

    “We’re doing a very special demo in conjunction with music label TRPTK – ‘Live vs. hifi: do you hear the difference?’ – that as far as I know hasn’t been done this thoroughly before”, says Mensink.

    “Music that is recorded in an anechoic chamber in advance will be compared directly with that same music played live in the demo room.”

    From the press release: “Live music is the ultimate reference”, says Brendon Heinst, recording engineer at TRPTK.

    “During mastering we need a reproduction system that lets us hear exactly what is on the recording, without adding anything or leaving anything out. That is why we use the Dutch & Dutch 8c’s. High Fidelity in its essence is about accurately reproducing the original. The direct comparison with live music is the hardest test imaginable, for both the recording and the reproduction system.”

    Here our story pivots.

    The very same day saw this commentator’s first proper exposure to the Berliner Philharmonie’s concert hall where a collaboration between Deutsche Oper Berlin and Berliner Festspiele would close out 2017’s Musikfest Berlin.

    The program was as follows:

    • Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869)
      Extracts from ROMEO ET JULIETTE
    • Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
      THE WALKUEEN, 3rd elevator (concert)

    Could a pair of Dutch & Dutch 8c loudspeakers playing a radio broadcast of these two classical/opera pieces theoretically faithfully reproduce the live experience?

    With microphones placed up high – and slightly to the front of the orchestra – recording engineers can’t hope to capture all that was heard below, or behind or to the side. The recording would capture the orchestra (and opera singers) as heard by only a small proportion of the audience.

    In the concert hall, sound radiates 360 degrees. Instruments don’t only fire forwards, but sideways and rearward. At home, the 8c’s twin 8″ rear-firing bass drivers don’t change the fact that only the lower notes radiate from this loudspeaker in all directions. Frequencies above the waist are thrown forward.

    Well, almost. Dutch & Dutch 8c radiate sound in a cardioid pattern. On dispersion, it sits somewhere between a standard box loudspeaker and an omni-directional model.

    Here’s Mensink with the tech info details: “You may know how a cardioid works. Take two point-sources and feed the one in the back the same signal as the one in the front, but with inverted polarity and a delay corresponding with the propagation delay between the two. This requires two drivers, two amplifiers and a DSP to give the required delay and some required equalization.”

    “With the 8c we get the same result, but we achieve it acoustically. In order to get a sound that both has inverted polarity and required delay, we use the back-wave of the midrange driver (which has opposite polarity) and achieve the delay and appropriate filtering by using a tuned chamber with acoustic material inside the enclosure. The sound is then radiated through the slots in the sides.”
    “This configuration actually kills two birds with one stone: we not only get a cardioid dispersion pattern, but also effectively deal with the backwave of the driver. Normally you have to go to great lengths to make sure that all sound that is radiated into the enclosure (about the same as is radiated on the front!), is converted into heat and does not come out as delayed resonances. Instead of trying to get rid of it, we actually use it to form the cardioid. Quite elegant, if say so myself!”
    “In order to match the midrange’s directivity in the highs, we use a waveguide on a dome tweeter. Normally a dome tweeter has wide dispersion at the lower end of its passband, which increases with frequency. With the waveguide the dispersion is narrower at the lower end of the spectrum and stays constant with rising frequency. Its design is the result of applying waveguide theory and a lot of iterative optimization. That means lots of 3D printing and CNC routing!”

    Back in the concert hall, forty plus players, each attempting to inflate their sound and collective SPL in accordance with the Berliner Philharmonie’s hall dimensions would be downright painful heard 1:1 back at home in one’s listening room. At best, the Dutch & Dutch could (should!) only hope to deliver a miniaturised version.

    When what we hear on a home hifi system can only be a scaled down, seat specific take on a concert performance, we might wonder why so many audiophiles chase the ghost of realism. Part of the answer lies with the audiophile collective’s penchant for classical music. Perusing magazines and message boards we see a good deal of the music coverage leaning towards classical.

    But let’s assume for a moment that live performance recreation is possible and that the aim of a hifi system is to bring that live sound home. What relevance for listeners whose music tastes reach beyond the confines of unamplified performances? Of orchestras, string quartets or acoustic guitars?

    For rock n rollers, any notion of hifi realism goes up in smoke. Stage player sounds are pipped to the mixing desk before being routed to the PA (a huge hifi system). This live sound is mixed in real time and comes without hall sound. A live recording of the same can be remixed, after the fact, sometimes with venue sound added. We might reasonably ask if the latter remains true to the former? And how do we know if mistakes have been corrected with overdubs?

    Recordings of electronic music performances often means the signal needn’t leave the digital domain. By definition, the recording features no hall sound. Therefore, what we hear from the CD/download/vinyl will sound very different to what we hear in the performance space (in which the room comes into audible play).

    Movies aren’t the direct result of a handful of stationary cameras pointed at a stage play for its duration. They are created over time, stitched together in the editing suite long after shooting wraps. Similarly, beyond classical music, albums rarely comprise start-to-end recordings of a band playing a series of songs in a studio. Each song is often patched together from a series of takes; the guitar line from this one, the drum track from that one.

    Movies and theatre are different art forms. So too are live concerts and albums. I don’t expect LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream to reflect what I might hear at their live show. Neither would I expect their Long Goodbye live set to capture the band’s 2011 MSG ‘farewell’ show.

    Beyond the realm of classical music we can easily separate live performance from album playback to see them as different, unrelated experiences — subjective pleasures free of striving for the unattainable of goal of realism.

    This attitude sets us free from judging a hifi system on its ability to reproduce a live event and allows us to focus on subjective qualities demanded by other genres such as hip-hop, techno or indie rock; because not every audiophile listens to classical music…

    …and not every audiophile writer subsists on a diet of classical music either. Three examples other than myself: Jeff Dorgay at TONE, Srajan Ebaen at 6moons, Michael Lavorgna at AudioStream.

    Live music as the ultimate reference? Not for this audio reviewer it isn’t.

    Further information: Dutch & Dutch | TRPTK | XFI Premium Audio Show

    *The XFI Premium Audio Show runs 30 September – 1 October at the Hotel NH Eindhoven Conference Centre Koningshof, Veldhoven, Netherlands.

    UPDATE 5th October: Missing from the original press release “in the interests of brevity” were specifics on what would be compared at XFI. It turns out Dutch & Dutch’s demo didn’t take aim at a full orchestra, or even a small ensemble, but the sound of a handful of single instruments, each recorded separately.

    With the show wrapped, Mensink came back to me via email with his thoughts: “It was quite exciting for us to find out if you could hear the difference between live and hifi, because we didn’t have the chance to check it before the show (we needed the musicians for that). Before the show, I expected to hear the biggest difference with the cello, but interestingly it was the cello that sounded most convincing! The cellist played a duet with her in anechoically recorded self and it sounded very close. Quite difficult to hear the difference in the blind test.” 

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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