Thoughts on Sound Quality

I’ve been doing a little browsing of articles talking about definitions of SQ, a term frequently bandied about by hifi aficionados.

There appears to be a universally accepted wisdom that ‘perfect’ SQ is the ability of a hifi system to reproduce, with 100% accuracy in every respect, a live performance, such that the listener can close his/her eyes and imagine they are present at the concert/gig/petformane.

One question. Why shouldn’t it be the other way round? That is, the ability to reproduce perfectly that which is performed in the recording studio, after the final mastering is complete.

I know I’m not alone in preferring, in general, to listen to good recordings rather than attend live gigs. In my youth I thoroughly enjoyed the whole ‘craic’ of live performances, and the reproduction didn’t have to be anywhere near perfect. I now prefer to listen to well recorded albums reproduced, to my ears, well on my home system.

I don’t say either approach is right or wrong, simply different strokes for different folks. I just take mild exception to a one sided definition of SQ from so called ‘experts’.

What do other members think?


i would say that apart live concerts in churches or little clubs, home hifi sounds even better. In big concert the music is amplified by a lot of micros and awful big speakers.


Intimate live gigs are very enjoyable and the magic of the moment is better than the overall sound quality. However, many gigs these days involve large audiences which do nothing for me. In fact, I would much rather watch a blu ray of a concert with the excellent sound quality available.

I personally have never really understood the whole soundstage thing when it comes to HiFi. Some closely recorded live jazz for example does allow you to hear sounds from a believable space which coincides with where the individual instruments could reasonably be estimated as being placed. Maybe some live recordings too and even studio recordings that try to replicate a live feel.

Classical may also be a genre where instruments come from a particular place in the soundstage.

Not all recordings are made that way though. Some use the recording process for artistic effect - a very simple example is Led Zeppelin’s whole lotta love with the guitar swirling between speakers - I can’t imagine Jimmy Page running around with his amp at the same time as playing!

Some tracks place instruments very well but then cymbals on a drum kit will occupy extreme right and left positions which is not faithful to the position it would have been played in but does give a more exciting presentation.

Electronic music and lots of very modern music can be very more rough sound wise but is exactly the sound that the artists and producers intend.

Recording techniques and skills vary wildly so there is no right or wrong sound. Most of us listen to a variety of music, old and new. The sounds vary wildly yet they are all enjoyable.

Should HiFi play everything exactly as recorded? How would that be possible? All of the listening rooms/environments are different.

This is where I believe that the skill of the HiFi manufacturers comes in - Naim for example have a particular family sound which colours all recordings in a particular way. I know I shouldn’t have used the term coloured as but it is the easiest word for me to indicate an effect on the sound.

That is indeed my theoretical perfect sound quality, or live sound when recorded live. And I interpret that as perfect fidelity to the sound as laid down in the recording (as monitored by the artist/engineer in the studio)

However it all very much depends on whether the mastering has been well done, which strangely is not always the case : witness the so-called “loudness war” as an extreme example, while some mastering is done to sound “good” to people listening on low-fi mass reproduction devices…

Then, of course, I do not know what that studio master sound was actually like, so my own guide in comparing systems and components is how close it is to how I think it should sound, which is guided by my experience of live gigs and concerts, a goal being what I perceive as “natural” sounding.

…is it any wonder people often struggle to agree!!!

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I just don’t think that is the case… yes there some similar approaches and architectures in some Naim equipment so may lead to a certain feel, but colouring the sound in a consistent way, no I don’t think so… at least not with the later product designs. I think the similarities are more pronounced in the sources rather than the amps, but as I say that is feel rather than specific colouration… unless you are implying all equipment is not perfect, so any audio component from any manufacturer colours the sound… if so technically I agree with you.

Surprised that people would rather sit at home than go to watch performers live.

I would say I listen to hifi as I can’t watch musicians live often


There have to be the performances you want to see, when you have the time available - and depending where you live that can be exceedingly rare, costly and difficult. E.g. to watch the operas I like as often as i would like would soon use up the entire amount of the value of my hardware, so for me it is an occasional (and extremely enjoyable) live experience, with the luxury of as many good sounding reminders as I want. That is the beauty of hifi.

(I picked opera because in Britain that, as a generalisation, is the most expensive. Some other music to which I would like to listen is virtually never played live.)

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There has frequently been said to be a characteristic ‘Naim sound’, though also suggestions that it has diminished in the more recent, higher range products. However the impression I gained was that the preamp always seems to have been the focus, rather than source. That of course particularly would apply to non-digital sources.

My only experience of a Naim source is the ND5XS, which didn’t sound to me as if it had any particular sound character.

Absolutely but was replying in general terms to the op.

If money and travel were not variables I would have thought live would be preferable.

Agreed - but also needed is a time machine!

I remember clearly coming home from an Angela Hewitt concert and putting on my CD of “well tempered clavier” and muttering an expletive (not of joy!).

I also remember coming home from Slane Castle in 1984, putting on Blood on the Tracks and breathing a sigh of relief.


Completely agree with OP - sitting at home listening to good studio recording is my preference too. Not keen on live albums. I attend a few small local gigs, but the thought of going to large event doesn’t appeal.

I tend to think concerts are to promote a new album or to give a decent rendition of an artists best songs. They can be enjoyable with good folk artists or classical concerts, but attending a rock concert where the audience jump up and down or indulge in synchronised handicapping is not something I’m ever going to do.

A hifi system should let you enjoy your favourite music.


Not in my view - my preference is studio recordings. Besides which lots of the artists I’d like to see are dead.


When ever I see footage of Glastonbury, Reading, Wacken etc. I always think that whatever the attendees have gone there for, it certainly isn’t to listen to good quality sound! Like I said in my original post, I used to enjoy those, and many other, venues when in my teens and twenties. No longer! However I would never seek to criticise, or express bemusement at, those who do enjoy such events. I certainly don’t feel obliged to defend my position, and can never understand when certain contributors seek to turn everything into a contest. It is nice however to read the considered responses - you know who you are!


I agree… there is often far more control and finesse in a studio recording … most live concerts are a compromise sonically and sometimes musically, and really in my experience they are often more about the experience, atmosphere and participation with the audience and artist(s) rather than solely the music itself.
I love amplified and acoustic concerts, but readily admit they don’t always always make the greatest of recordings… unless the interaction with the audience becomes an intrinsic part of the recording.


Let’s face it, we all have to get our audio and SQ fix at home, with live concerts being the occasional treat. I agree that live recordings are more of a compromise than studio recordings, with live being more about the venue, event and the occasional wonderful version of a well-known number. Yet I still am amazed by the superb SQ available on some live recordings, occasionally outshining the studio versions. So no absolutes here. Studios can still f**k up recordings, as we are all aware.

We might need to consider the difference between the SQ of acoustic material and the SQ of amplified material. We all (think) we know what an acoustic guitar or piano should sound like but an electric guitar or keyboard can sound like whatever the musician chooses. So the concept of fidelity is a strange one in this instance. And who knows if, what we hear of electronic/amplified instruments at home, is what the artist intended?

I have found, in general but not always, my system seems more capable of higher levels of fidelity on simple recordings with few instruments/vocals, than on complex, loud pieces of music. Stands to reason that any system that is pushed hard can trip up. So I contend it is also the complexity, density and loudness of a piece of music that can have affect on SQ, both live and reproduced at home.

Just some thoughts.

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I would say that normally rock concerts have pretty bad sound compared to listening at home. But as have been said before most people don’t go to a AC/DC concert for the great sound. I have been to many concerts over the years and the older I get the less interesting it gets (and it has become relatively expensive) to go to these large arena concerts. I now seek out concerts with less known bands in smaller venues as I think it gives me a better experience.
I remember sometime in the 90s at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Oslo. I fought my way to the front of the stage and was ready to rock. Anthony Kiedis was in a terrible mood and it looked like he just wanted to get over with it. It was very disappointing, but we all have bad days, so no hard feelings. The highlight of the concert was when Flea asked if we wanted to see is a"“hole, upon which we said “yes?” he then asked a second time and we answered “yes?” and then he showed us his a”“hole. I was very close to his a”"hole and got a good view. Now you don’t get that experience when listening to an album at home!

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I go to lots of gigs and the sound is often less than great in hifi terms. You have to remember that for many types of music ‘live’ music is still instruments and voices through a set of amplifiers and speakers that are usually designed to fill a large space. What I do, even now, often feel at a gig is that sudden and thrilling movement of air that you get one a guitar or drum kicks in which I think is really really difficult to reproduce in a home environment

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My issue with large live concerts has always been the boomy bass that sometimes overpowers almost everything. I remember at a Patti Smith concert in Berlin. The bass was so boomy/loud that I could hardly hear the guitar solos (this was the Horses album and Lenny Kaye on guitar). Of course this was probably a technical problem as well, but it was unfortunate. The concert was still a great experience! In general I always enjoy concerts, also the arena concerts. But I don’t go to them as frequently as I used to. I am glad that I have seen AC/DC and experienced Angus Young live (and the rest of the band of course, but Angus Young was my childhood guitar hero). I guess I go to concerts for the experience and the involvement. I have no expectations of good sound quality at live rock concerts. Sometimes the sound is great. One example was Nick Cave in Berlin last year.

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I’m not sure it’s an either/or issue really. A live recording is rarely unmixed straight from the desk and is very much what the producer and engineer wanted, just as a studio album is. A system should just make it believable and enjoyable. It’s really not a matter of which sounds best.

With my volunteering for WemsFest I get to a lot of live gigs in small venues and am often there in the soundcheck. The band listen through their monitors as the sound guy adjusts the levels of the various instruments and adds EQ. We usually get a good sound but there can be room issues. I also go to classical concerts which are unamplified and so get to hear totally unprocessed ‘real’ music which gives a benchmark for classical music at home. It’s not so much ‘does it sound like the live sound’ but ‘does it sound real’, which is the question I always ask.