Transparency. Transparency to what? We weren’t at the concert hall to hear the orchestra play. We know not which make/model microphones were used to capture the recording – like loudspeakers, microphones can colour the sound. Nor do we know how many microphones were used or where they were placed: sitting in row 4 sounds quite different to sitting in row 18. Moreover, we don’t know how much of the recording was altered in post-production. Did the bassoon get a boost or was it played that way? With so many unknowables, how do Transparency, and its brothers Accuracy and Neutrality, dare to make so much descriptive noise?
Compounding these weasel words’ already diminished credibility are modern pop, rock, RnB, and hip-hop recordings. The song that we stream isn’t a band’s single-take but a patchwork arrangement of different pieces laid out ProTools: the drums from take one, the guitar from takes four and five, bass from three and seven and the vocals from one and three. The final cut is derived from a play head moving through a spreadsheet of musical parts.
When we know nothing of the microphones used, their placement, the recording and re/mixing process, overdubs and additional production (often synthesized sounds), to talk of ‘accuracy’ or ‘transparency to source’ is to relinquish all sense of reality.
What if we see the source not as what the band played but what the mix engineer heard from behind the console? Now we’d need the same make/model of loudspeakers that s/he used. This thinking is easily undone when we consider the number of studios worldwide and the broad range of (mostly active) loudspeakers in use: ATC, PMC, B&W, Kii, Dynaudio, Focal, Yamaha, Barefoot, Neumann, HEDD, Adam and Genelec. To cover a broad range of releases, we’d need a selection of these loudpeakers and the patience to swap ’em out according to the recording in play. To shoot for the moon with transparency talk is to leave reality back on the launchpad.
Does this strike Accuracy, Neutrality and Transparency from a reviewer’s vocabulary? No. It’s not the t-word, the a-word or the audiophile world’s n-word that short circuits logic but the pretence that often underpins their use: that we can, in fact, know an unknowable source.
Relinquishing this idea – that there lies some objective truth within subjective terminology – sets us free to use Transparency, Accuracy and Neutrality to 100% subjectively describe what we hear. For this commentator, this troublesome trio is little more than a collection of summary words that gather one or more other qualities: 1) a greater sense of detail retrieval; 2) a brighter light shone into a recording’s murkier corners; 3) more crisply defined player placement and 4) a lack of obvious audible bumps and dips.
For Campfire Audio’s Polaris II IEM, mainman Ken Ball deliberately goosed the low-end. With club music, they sound like a club. The IO go in the opposite direction, favouring frequencies above the waist. The Polaris’ bump and the IO’s dip disqualifies them from ‘accurate’ or ‘neutral’ assignation (not that this makes either IEM any less enjoyable).
Adopting a more neutral presentation – superior detail retrieval, more obvious linearity – is the Andromeda, which this month enjoys a 2020 update for a treble response that enjoys a halo of warmth, a fleshier midrange and beefed-up bottom end. Is this a single step closer to the original recording’s sound or a step away? If you’ve read the above, you’ll know that we can’t know. What is obvious to me is that the 2020 version is subjectively slightly more enjoyable to listen to than the original Andromeda.
Further information: Campfire Audio