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SpursGator's picture
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Live sound and 'good bass'

Sunday night I took my 8 year-old daughter to see Maroon 5 (her Christmas present). She is a big fan and I have to admit, as pop music goes, they are pretty darn good - nothing to take too seriously, but I mean that in the nicest possible way. They are a fun band, very L.A., and I enjoyed it a lot (and needless to say, my little girl nearly had to be resuscitated).

I have not seen a pop concert in a really long time. At some point I realised that my venues had been getting smaller and smaller, which I assume is either my taste improving (as I found better music, as opposed to pop music), my taste declining (as I started listening to stuff that fewer and fewer people could stand to listen to), or just me getting old (the most likely explanation). But bottom line is that I had not been to a show in a big arena in a really long time. I was trying to think of when the last one was - I saw Phish in a big arena in 1997 or 1998 but I don't even think Phish counts. It's been a good 20 years since my last arena rock show.

I really hate arena shows due to the fact that the sound is always so terrible. The vast majority of the seats are to the left or right of both speaker stacks, and let's face it, basketball stadia were not built for acoustics. I'm sure everyone here is familiar with the booming, over-loud, and muddy sound at this type of concert.

So imagine my surprise: the sound at this Maroon 5 concert was stupendously, stunningly good. It was freakin' amazing. So clear, each instrument in its own space, and of course, that live bass - the enormous volume, deepness, the separation between the kick-drum and the electric bass, and most of all, that incredible transient response that it takes a PA system and a live bassist to replicate. I mean, listening to CDs is a joke by comparision, on almost any system.

So two observations:

1. Live sound has come a long way in the last decade or so. And of course it has. DSP and room correction, which have come so far in HC systems and consumer subwoofer products (I'm thinking of, e.g., the Velodyne SMS-1 or B&W PV1D), have hugely improved live sound. Who needed room correction more than the pros who are tuning a different room every night? You think your living room is a challenge? Try tuning a different 12,000 seat arena every night. All of the musicians now use wireless instruments with digital feeds, and it is just stunning what can be achieved in the digital domain with live sound. Probably some people here see concerts like this all the time, and may not realise how much worse it used to be - and I'm sure there are many others who haven't seen a pop concert in ages and think it's still annoying. I lost interest in big shows because the sound was so awful...welcome to the brave new world.

2. All of our hifis have a long, long way to go. There have been many threads about this but it just drives the point home once again: those of use who think we are getting great bass in our 6+1 floorstanders (or even our big box subwoofers) need a reality check. The night I got home I was already at the back of my sub - I've got a big, sealed 15 incher, but it was clear my crossover point was too low, the EQ was off, etc. And I had done some pretty intensive tuning with a sound meter and test tones.

Great bass is not about extension. I was so focused on getting my system flat in the 20-50 khz range, since that's the hardest thing to get with your average speakers. But great bass is not about that at all. So much of it is happening in the lower midbass and upper bass. It's why having small sats and a big subwoofer just doesn't get it done - that 100-200 Hz range is so much more important. If you look at a big PA bass driver from, say, Beyma, you'll see that they don't get down as low as some of the consumer woofers, since they need a much higher sensitivity. So on paper, they might be -3 dB at 50 Hz, whereas some high-end midbasses (e.g., the 7" Scan-Speak 18W/8131) will do an F3 around 33 Hz in the right box. So you might start to think, well, I can get better bass from a 7" consumer midbass than a 15" pro woofer. Uh, no. One of these will have you shopping for a sub, and the other - the Beyma - can actually fluff up your hair.

Sensitivity (which equates to liveliness), transient response, and the ability to move lots of air without much excursion - that's what gives you great bass. In the hifi world we love to look at numbers but let me tell you the number that matters most with woofers: the diameter of the cone.

Anyway, the point being, I have a massive sub and following the concert I successfully got it to sound much more like the live sound (not that close, but significantly improved). It now sounds a LOT better so I'm excited. But its extension is now poorer, it does far less in the 20-40 Hz range, and if I showed you the old and new response curves (printed in Stereophile, say) you would never pick the new one. But you should have!

Anyway, food for thought.

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RE: Live sound

That's a very nice and detailed write up! Lots to learn from!  Smile :clap:

I was just wondering about the highs... The concerts I've been to, I felt the highs were quite sharp, guitar riffs lost were losing their clarity because of the harsh treble... I'm thinking that in an arena that must be due to a lot of reflections...

How did you find the highs in this concert?

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RE: Live sound

Well, it was loud, of course, but top to bottom the best live sound ever in a big arena. Not too harsh.

Of course, whether I can actually hear any highs anymore is open to debate, after the years in 'small room' concerts and my teenaged car stereo obsession. But considering there were two opening acts, and that I didnt have a pounding headache afterwards, I'd say the highs were pretty good.

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RE: Live sound RE: Live sound

Hi SpursGator,

Were they using 'conventional' woofers of different sizes (and loads of them)?

I heard JBL's 'Constant Beamwidth Technology' speakers a couple of months ago, and though they were not hifi (at all!), I understand how they excell in live amplification. Not sure they are up to a large arena as Maroon 5's though.

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

I usually hate large venue gigs. Won't go anywhere larger than Brixton Academy if I can possibly help it. 

Like you, I tend to find myself at smaller venues, and that suits me just fine. I'll take the venue where you can literally reach out and touch the people on stage, every time.

 

I'm so glad I don't like pop music!

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

Right where you are Chris. Then I had kids.

Obviously I would never choose a large venue, and that's why it was so surprising.

Speaking of Brixton Academy, I saw a gig with some pretty memorably good sound there once. But it was less surprising since the room is so much better.

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

Concerts in large arena type venues have changed a lot and are now have far more in common with musical theatre than they have with 'conventional' rock/pop concerts.

Huge stage, lots of dancing and other 'visuals' means that it is now a 'show' rather than a musical event. Modern soundsystems are very good and there is no real excuse for poor sound, even if the venue is quite poor sonically. Provided that the band/promotor is prepaired to pay, the equipment and the expertese required is not difficult to come by.

The OP's comparison of the sound of a live event, even one as 'manufactured' as this, with a home hi-fi system is interesting and offers a somewhat interesting slant on some things that I have been 'going on' about for some time.

Budget hi-fi systems are now very good, in certain respects at least. They go reasonably loud and, in the main, do so without obvious distortion but what they totally fail to do is to even begin to create the experience of a real performance. This as the OP hints, is down to a lack of dynamic response from the hi-fi, it simply can not handle the shifts and shading of the real event.

This is not primarily loudness issue, neither is it to do with the dynamic range of the recording, it is about transient response and the ability to reprocuce any musical event in such a menner that it sound believable.

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

If you want to recreate a live event presence at home, your going to need at least 12 inch bass drivers in your speakers, with the exception of PMC's IB1/2 which use a 10 inch bass driver and transmission line loading. Only when you have speakers this large can you move enough air to recreate the impact of a live gig. Like the OP said, even small speakers and a monster sub can't do it because you need the power in the upper bass and mids that only a big speaker can provide. 
You do also need the goods in the lower bass region, but depening on what gig your at, there might not be much bass below 30-40hz. 
Go and see the prodigy though and your getting gut crunching bass down at 20hz or lower. This still requires monster subs at home to recreate at decent spl's.  

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

Prrrft..... who wants a domestic system to sound like a 'live concert'.?

Give me a studio recording with its engineered ambience, detail, stereophonic soundstage and textures any day of the week - with regard the bass its always been that its felt more than heard at a 'live concert' , what you do indeed hear is the low midrange.

Honestly, give me a pitch perfect, note perfect rendition of my tunes anyday of the week.

googled Maroon5 ...are you sure you were not listening to a backing tape/cd while watching an elaborate mime? 

 

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

I do.

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

lindsayt wrote:

I do.

 

lol....o.k, you got me..... Smile

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

   SpursGator you should have a go at building these: http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/OBL11.htm   :) Smile :smile:" width="19" height="19" class="smiley-class smileysProcessed" />

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

jiggyjoe wrote:

   SpursGator you should have a go at building these: http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/OBL11.htm   :) Smile :smile:" width="19" height="19" class="smiley-class smileysProcessed" />

LOL, I've looked at 'em. And sure enough, that (a pair of high-sensitivity 15" woofers on large open baffles) is how you get both live sound and good bass.

But like Mr. Gravesen, I do not have the living room for them...and considering that my living room is pretty big, I wonder if I ever will.

Actually, the tweaks that I made to my subwoofer following the concert have me really excited. The sub is still new and this is as close as I've gotten so far to having them correctly tuned. Things in my system are really clicking...this week anyway.

It always amazes me how, when you get the bass tuned right, the highs and mids seem to get better too (even though absolutely nothing has changed). But others have noted this...I think when you get the last part of the music to fall into place, it suddenly all sounds realistic. And of course, it isn't realistic to divide the sound up in the first place, so it makes sense in a way.

But just between us audiophiles: my living room sounds so damn good right now that it's just ridiculous. I want my family (and work for that matter) to just go away for a couple of days and leave me in there. Alas.

But to your point: a pair of monster, high-sensitivity open-baffle panels would be even better. One day I will build a house just for this.

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

lindsayt wrote:

I do.

Me too....... :read:

 

Given the realities of reproduction in the home there are a few compromises you can make.

Volume is clearly one, I like loud but in a normal domestic living room their are compromises that can work, too high a level in a small space sounds wrong anyway. Bass extension too, I have no great interest in electronic music and find really large scale orchestral music does not work in a small space so I am reasonably happy to limit my bass response, there is little below 60hz that is of any real interest to me.

So, to get the 'mid bass kick'. I have an alternate solution, actually several, but in my current apartment this would be my first port of call......

 

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

davedotco wrote:

lindsayt wrote:

I do.

Me too....... :read:

 

Given the realities of reproduction in the home there are a few compromises you can make.

Volume is clearly one, I like loud but in a normal domestic living room their are compromises that can work, too high a level in a small space sounds wrong anyway. Bass extension too, I have no great interest in electronic music and find really large scale orchestral music does not work in a small space so I am reasonably happy to limit my bass response, there is little below 60hz that is of any real interest to me.

So, to get the 'mid bass kick'. I have an alternate solution, actually several, but in my current apartment this would be my first port of call......

 

A7X?

Aparently goes down to 42Hz, which should give most people plenty of extension even for electronic music, hip-hop, etc. Not sure minus how many db it is at 42Hz though. I decided that this gives sufficient bass in terms of both quantity and extension for my living room.

Bedroom: Esoteric RZ-1, PMC DB1i, Fostex CW200A. FUBAR IV

Office: Nuforce Icon HDP, Adam A7X

Living room: Apple TV, FIIO D03K, Fostex PM0.4n

Headphones: Audio Technica ATH-AD900x and ATH-A900x, Sennheiser HD595,  Grado SR80i

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RE: Live sound and 'good bass'

The A7x has noticeably less bass extension than the bigger A8x, suggesting that it falls away pretty rapidly below about 50hz, difficult to judge I know but that is my impression.

It's real strength, for me anyway, is the mid bass punch which is excellent, without a hint of boom or overhang. It is this aspect of the performance that really contributes to the 'live' feel. 

If you have a bigger than average space to fill then these would be my suggestion....

 

Seriously potent, though perhaps a little lacking in refinement. Price has gone up a little recently though at £1300-1400 still remarkable value if a 'live' sound is what you are looking for.

Hell of a party speaker too........ :cheer:

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