The debate between live and recorded music has been opening countless cans of worms since the first affordable Victrola was launched, but is live music really better than hi-fi in this day and age?
By: Ringo Bones
Staunch supporters of touring musicians may have Napster creator Shawn Fanning to thank because ever since that time, the only way for “rockstars” to earn ungodly amounts of money is via touring and doing live concerts. But has hi-fi audio technology really advanced to a point since that time that a well set-up hi-fi rig this day and age can now rival the sound quality of a live music concert? Sadly, like all things in the real world, the “concept” of a live music concert wholly depends upon your perspective.
Sometimes, I do find it strange on how most “hi-fi” journalists that are vehement critics of how different hi-fi music and live music – Classical or rock – are had never played live on stage during the last 20 years or so, never mind within their whole lifetime. Remember that scene in the Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger movie titled Too Hot To Handle - or was it Blind Date back in 1987? - when the two of them witnessed a “live-in-the-recording-studio” performance of Jazz guitar legend Stanley Jordan? Well, that’s my idea of live musical performance that our hi-fi rigs no matter how expensive still can’t touch though we’re getting there closer everyday but most tenured hi-fi journalist this day and age conveniently overlooks.
By the nature of the beast, hi-fi journalists, more often than not, tend not to talk about the hard realities of being a touring musician – never mind a “roadie”. Remember that incident during the Extremist tour back in 1992 where Joe Satriani’s trusty electric guitar amps – i.e. Soldano heads and a 1969 era 100-watt Marshall amplifier were stolen in lieu to being transported from their touring truck to the stage? Equipment theft incidences seem to be furthest from the minds of these “tenured hi-fi journalists” when it comes to comparing between live music and hi-fi. During that time, vacuum tube gear were getting scare during the Reagan years – imagine if it were the “hi-fi journalists” McIntosh amp that used 7591A vacuum tubes? Try finding a replacement in two weeks time, never mind waiting for Electro-Harmonix to manufacture one in eight years time.
Sound quality wise, rock bands that top my own sound quality list during their live performances tend to be the older ones – as in The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. But form the location – as in perspective - in the audience where I and most of us can no longer the direct sound of the unamplified drum set and most of what we hear is the concert PA system, I’ll stick with my home hi-fi rig thank you. From 500 feet from the stage, the last Pink Floyd concert I’ve been to back in 2002 has the PA system’s sound quality just slightly worse than a Denon PMA-350SE amplifier or a Rotel RA970BX amp connected to a Tannoy Westminster loudspeakers being fed from a 1995 era Linn Sondek turntable.