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.