Techie talk around sound reproduction and streaming

I’m starting this in hifi rather than streaming because it starts with JV’s original intentions as I have always read them.
I have been playing with streaming options recently and the latest kit tried out by me (2i) is changing the sound I was previously hearing. Lots of good things but today just with streaming radio music I’ve noticed a lower bass element. My suspended concrete raft floor with tile overlay is transferring vibrations through my feet. It’s not on everything but it is there often enough for me to notice it where I wasn’t before with a Naim or sqbx streamer. A quick look at setting options and I see the 2i has a setting for bass and treble that is set midway and can be adjusted plus or minus.
This concerns me because I have always understood and accepted that JV’s intention with Naim was to reproduce a source recording presented to him as naturally as possible. If the sound engineer or producer had over egged the treble, thats what he reproduced, if the bass shook the windows that was what his Naim kit presented.
If you wanted something other than that you went elsewhere and bought yourself a multi knobbed graphic equaliser.
The Naim sound was purity of reproduction. Any Naim sound signature was something of a happy accident as a result of this approach. It was’t a sound proifile that was an aim. As I moved up the range from Nait2 to the current 252/250-2 every step for me was about expecting better components and the accompanying better design to produce more of the source sound.
Now to streaming. I believed much the same was likely from digital sources. The recording made digitally, adjusted by the sound engineer/ producer/artist to lay down the final ‘cut’ or master file.
At my end I then want a reader, transport, dac to reproduce that laid down sound file. I find that the sqbx, the Naim, and now the 2i all influence the sound, as does the various dacs I have tried. Where is the neutrality in these devices if they are all so different in sound? More obviously with the 2i, what am I listening to if there is a plus and minus to play with in shaping the bass and the treble?
How then do I discern whether I am listening to just what I think the sound should be, or whether I am listening to the original sound as laid down in the studio?

Confused? I am.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a pure sound reproduction, it’s all circumstantial. Every piece of equipment has it’s own sound, it’s strengths and limitations, and so does every room and listener. Every studio uses different monitors, amps, reference speakers, it’s impossible to determine how the recording sounded to the mastering engineer and if your equipment realistically reproduces that. In the end it all boils down to taste and preference, and whether your own equipment allows you to just let go and enjoy the music.

Some insights from our friend Steve you may enjoy:

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My Node 2i audio settings if this helps Bruss

Thanks for the screenshot.

Yes mine the same but there is an option to change output level and when selected it shows that the standard setting is mid range. Hence the questioning about which is correct5 for the most neutral. Who decide the mid range point and why? It just seems to go against my perhaps naive belief that Naim type manufacturers were aiming at a know reference point - the sound as recorded.
I would have expected digital reproduction to be better at this than analogue. No messy mastering a disc and transferring it to dodgy vinyl.

Read “Perfecting Sound Forever”. It tells the story of how we’ve been able to convince ourselves that music reproduction has true fidelity and is not just a poor (but improving) substitute for the real thing.

“In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician.”

Then relax. Listen to what you enjoy. Buy the illusion.

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An excellent book.

I’d also recommend “Faking It” about the nonsense surrounding the concept of “authenticity” in music.

No, I don’t believe that to be true. If it were why are all buying high end equipment.
If it were true we might as well buy an amp a set of speakers and a graphic equaliser and tune the sound to what we prefer, otherwise we are buying the equalised sound that the manufacturer wants us to hear, not the artist.

I am hoping to get as close as possible to what the artist intended rather than change the sound to what I think it should have been. If my kit is now being selected by me to give ‘my’ sound then no wonder some of us like the Spice Girls or Mahler if we merely tune out the bits of them we don’t like.

Interesting, as I’ve been playing around with a Blue Node 2i into my Ndac for the last few days. Unfortunately, I’ve not had a particularly happy time. It took me several hours and many calls to my dealer to get it to connect to my router and, by he way, forget the instructions as they bare no relation to what you need to do to get it to work! But when it finally did connect I was somewhat disappointed in the sound quality. I’m basing this against the great sound I’ve been getting from my iPad into my Ndac using Qobuz. However, I’m reliably told by my dealer that the sound of the 2i does improve a lot given a little time.

Anyway, as I was going through the various audio settings I noticed that there does seem to be quite a few options, such as bypassing the tone controls, volume controls and changing the way the DAC sees the Node, which should give you a pretty flat and pure response?

This is where I started to find things getting a little more quirky. I bypassed the volume control fully expecting to get a big lift in SQ. instead everything went a bit flat and two dimensional with a very soft bass. Exactly the opposite to what I was expecting?

Unfortunately, I never really got to the bottom of this as the Node decided not to see my router any more, despite a number of attempts and factory resets! At the moment it’s all boxed up ready to go back to my dealer and I’m just trying to decide if I try another or give up completely and go back to my iPad?

Sorry to hear of your disappointment. I like the sq from mine. It has opened up the mid range in particular over the Naim unitiserve but it has also moved lower the bass floor. I have no way of measuring it but I wonder it is lowers the frequency in some way, hence the occasional floor vibration. I like the overall effect but then started to wonder why it should be different and hence my musings.

Re the setup, I couldn’t have done it wothout a direct cat 5 connection to the router first and then to the PC for the local search. After that the wifi has been fine.

Then why, when for instance looking at really high end speakers, do they all sound so different? Why do Wilson Audio speakers sound so different from Magicos, or Harbeths? If pure reproduction would be the goal, wouldn’t you expect speakers to sound more similar to each other as the price and effort goes up?

These days with digital you can use DSP to tweak the sound far more effectively and specifically than an old-achool graphic equaliser, and probably with less adverse unwanted effect. Most commonly this is used for some aspects of room or speaker correction, though I note it now seems to be becoming increasingly common for headphone correction. It could equally be used to tweak to a preferred sound.

Regarding “correct” reproduction (tonallt), taking that to mean frequency response sounding precisely as the music is captured in the distributed recording (LP, CD, digital file or whatever): I guess the best that could be achieved would be to use a reference recording of a tone sweeping the entire audible range at equal audible amplitude, adjusting until it sounds equal amplitude across the full spectrum at home.

I’m hoping it was a just faulty unit and not representative of the normal sound quality as it reminded me of when I tried streaming directly from a unitiserve, which was pretty abysmal. I’m still very conscious that I’m using a £500 streaming front end into a 555/552/500/DBL system and therefore not expecting much. I just wish my iPad didn’t sound so good!

Since I have back into my music, and its reproduction, I’ve been thinking about how i ( and many others) obsess over nice flat DC power supplies. And cables, and other stuff.
So, at the recording studio, and all the other stages between the artist and my streamer, do they obsess about power supplies, cables etc? What if they don’t?
Is what I’m getting the very best version of itself?
Just imagine if Fender ( other guitar brands are available) did not use the very best 99.99999% OFC, silver coated blah blah wire in their pickups. Or maybe, their half arsed 99.9% OFC is actually what I like.

Think I might be overthinking this!

Yes to the overthinking, mine that is, but I need to start with a reference, or more a point to aim for.

Disagree… live performances can be great, also equally they can be dire … much music is created and performed in recording studios where one has the tools to be more creative … just like an artist in an artists studio…

So get a good reproduction system and it will allow you to enjoy live recordings as well as studio recordings as snap shots in time.

Sure if you want to see your musicians and get the vibe and interaction of a concert/gig then go to one… but a good recording and a system will get you close to it without the physical presence of being amongst an audience interacting with the performers.

Some of my best and favourite recordings are of live concerts and the better the system is the closer it gets you to being there at that point in time the recording was captured.

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Agree, so much live music seems completely let down by the PA systems. I can never understand it. I tend to find most home reproduction better but obviously lacks the same emotional experience to a live performance.

Totally agree… a few bands, or perhaps their management seem to take meticulous control of audio reproduction others seem to not care less… with vocals often sounding strangled… overly processed and compressed, and shocking eq. And some classical concerts with sound reinforcement systems can be equally poor.

Pure unplugged gigs are so refreshing … and by definition usually small and intimate

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All sound capture and and reproduction is ultimately a compromise and by definition is imperfect. Almost certainly your system won’t sound the same as the system the engineers used to mix and master the recording… and often rock and popular music recordings are mastered to sound attractive on real audio replay systems… and can sound a little off on hyper transparent systems… as if the loudness button has been pressed…
Therefore get a system that you enjoy the sound of and works well in your listening environment … that point is soo important…

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I have played in a few rocks bands when i was younger and recorded a few albums, and i feel the same way. I have done recordings where i listened to the end result in the studio and thought “This sounds really good, but definitely different than what i was hearing while we were playing”. And that boiled down to decisions the producer or engineer took during mixing and mastering, there is always a degree of compromise and subjectivity there.

A good example is Nirvana’s album Nevermind, which is considered to be one of the most iconic rock albums in history. It’s really well mixed and produced objectively speaking, but the band itself was upset with the result:

After the release of Nevermind, members of Nirvana later expressed dissatisfaction with the album’s production for its perceived commercial sound. Cobain said in Come as You Are, "Looking back on the production of Nevermind, I’m embarrassed by it now. It’s closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record.

So it’s somewhat pointless i think to try to search for the sound “how it was intended”, since even during recordings, artists and producers often having different feelings and goals, and they can have some pretty big arguments over it as well.

I didn’t say anything about how it was intended. I said as laid down on the day.

You make a good point that people -Cobain- change their mind over time, but that still wasn’t what was laid down on the day.

I don’t believe as some have suggested that you can ever get the studio sound reproduced in your home environment, but if we aren’t using that as a fixed reference point then what is it we are all trying to improve upon to get the sound that we, individually, are happy with?