Musical Fidelity: Acoustic Conditioning and Anti-vibration Matter

Since the beginning, music has been integral to human civilization.  Since before humankind was even civilized, music was often created, performed and heard.  Music has been entwined with every culture and heard wherever people live and work.  Music may even predate the time when our human predecessors stood up on two feet.

Silvery Gibbons sing long, complex, and beautiful songs.

Silvery Gibbons sing long, complex, and beautiful songs.

Some primates sing long, complex, repeated, and varied passages that appear to be connected with their lives and needs.  Birds sing.  Dogs howl.  Each species has its own special music.  Even a group of primates sitting in a vehicle with wires running to their ears, each absorbed in their own melodies and thoughts.

A mother sooths her baby.  She sings a soft lullaby that speaks love, safety, and caring to her infant.  He just made it out of the womb and still occupies the anteroom of life.  Yet he understands and responds to her message with comfort.

A blues singer vamps on grief and sorrow for lost love, betrayal, abandonment, and loneliness.  People pause and gather to receive his message.  When we feel his pain, his song connects us with him and with each other.  It speaks of shared experience.  Music ties us to our personal histories as it connects us to each other, uniquely. 

Music is a language of the human spirit.  Something felt in the heart drives a need to make itself known and we respond in melody.  Performance is a sacred event (or at least potentially sacred) in which an emotional message travels through air from performers to listeners.

The reaction to Neil Young's Pono High Resolution Music Player is varied.  Yet fans have said thanks five times a million in Kickstarter backing.

The reaction to Neil Young's Pono High Resolution Music Player is varied.  Yet fans have said thanks five times a million in Kickstarter backing.

A roving Irish band strikes up a jig.  It draws everyone in the pub into its cheerful excitement, and dancers move with wild abandon.  Any significant event associates with some type of music, from wedding marches to funerals, from holiday parades to High School proms.  To enjoy music is to have your heart opened to others’ journeys, to bond with peers, and to receive each others’ stories.  To feel the music with your kind is to participate in your culture.  Even when you do it in a solitary space.

We record musical performances and play them back in many different ways.  In our technological era, what began as roving Bards singing memorized sagas has morphed into collecting old records from bygone eras or downloading, plugging little white ear buds into our phones, and playing back digital files.  

Throughout all of today’s performing, recording, distributing, playing back, and listening to music, where does the notion of musical fidelity fit in?  What does it mean?  Why is it significant?  In playback, we hear the music but to some degree dissociated from the original performance.  Musical fidelity refers the degree of accuracy with which playback reproduces the sound of an original performance.  Our sense of “being there” affects our ability to clearly grasp, and feel, the message.

High fidelity means some playback closely resembles an original performance -- it’s faithful and true.  It’s like being there where and when the music was made. Though there are degrees of fidelity or lack of it, there seem to be no reliable ways to quantify it.  

Hearing varies considerably from one listener to another.  However, most folks can tell how true-to life music is when they hear it.  Our emotional response to a piece of music correlates to how close to the original performance the playback sounds.  A lot can be lost or preserved or lost in translation from recording back to sound. 

My new favorite portable music player.  A huge success on Indiegogo.  Watch the video linked in the text of this articles for first reactions to 24 bit music.

My new favorite portable music player.  A huge success on Indiegogo.  Watch the video linked in the text of this articles for first reactions to 24 bit music.

As sacred as music may be, it’s rarely heard exactly like an original performance.  Many influences distort  playback and the more they do, the more is lost and the harder it becomes to connect with the performers and the feelings they try to convey.  For the most part, musical accuracy invokes a far more enjoyable listening experience.

In these days of compressed download files, many people collect music yet have never heard high fidelity playback.  When they do, their reactions can seem comical because hearing good playback for the first time usually astonishes the listener.  For me, it evoked a lasting preference to seek the highest fidelity I can access.  Many other music lovers agree.

Many people care about how good the fidelity of their music can be because that sacredness is simply good to preserve, enjoy, and share.  I call these folks, myself included, music lovers.  Music lovers drill right down to re-creating high fidelity music that is sacred to them in a consistent way.

When music lovers invest time and money in high fidelity audio systems, they become audio lovers.  Some of these folks develop a rocket-science depth of technical understanding and even speak with a specialized vocabulary for discussing playback seriously and accurately.  Some develop their ability to listen and to hear to ever-greater degrees.  I think this activity is a sacred pursuit because the goal is.

Ironically, playing back music in a space typical of work or habitation causes fidelity loss through physical energy feedback.  Many audio lovers who consider themselves serious about listening aren’t aware of how oscillating energy goes around and comes around and alters musical fidelity by mixing in with the music.  However, you can tell how serious a music lover is when they simply will not give back that new thing you demonstrated or loaned to them because it sounds so much better.

Many listeners eventually discover they can avoid, remove, or at least diminish rogue energies that mix with, alter, and distort their music.  Rogue energy comes in two forms, structure-born vibration and airborne reflections and resonances.  All these alter musical fidelity to some audible extent, and often do that without the listener detecting it -- even one with a trained ear.  Although “subtle,” their havoc is easily revealed by contrast when their influence is removed, and then allowed to resume.

These categories include subtle energies and extreme frequencies completely outside the range of unaided human perception, such as micro-vibration and harmonic resonances.  These have specific technologies associated with them.   Acoustic room conditioning deals with air-borne energy and anti-vibration technology tames structure-borne energies.  True music lovers take whatever fidelity they can get and in this area there is good news -- you can get large improvements for fairly minor efforts and costs.  You can also spend a lot on this quest but high dues are not required to join these ranks.  

This Tenderfoot from Herbie's Audio Lab is a very affordable anti-vibration device that can make a major fidelity gain in an audio system.

This Tenderfoot from Herbie's Audio Lab is a very affordable anti-vibration device that can make a major fidelity gain in an audio system.

If you’re unfamiliar with the fidelity gains possible, and you’re someone who cares how music sounds, you’re in for some major treats when you discover how much higher fidelity you can get for even small investments without altering your audio system components at all.  Environmental treatments usually remain usable and effective apart from most audio system specifics.  

Your investment in maximizing musical fidelity with environmental treatment is long lasting because dealing with fundamental physics is long-term.  Treatments remain effective from system to system as your ability to listen matures.  You can enjoy the improvements for a lifetime with confidence they are future-proof and pass them on to your heirs.

Good general treatments usually improve fidelity across the board, helping all your music sound better.  If your budget and interest are on a par with your lust for new audio gear and you have a decent quality audio system, know that anti-vibration intervention can improve listening far more than getting a new component usually does.  So can acoustic room treatment.  These measures enable any audio system to perform closer to its peak potential in your listening environment.

We’re in the midst of a sea change in the audio world.  The digital revolution has made major inroads and as technology has relentlessly advanced.  The gap between original performance and recorded playback has been steadily narrowing.  Recent developments indicate the masses are getting educated about the wonders of high resolution, lossless digital music and they are “getting it” in droves.  

Calling Beats headphones "high end" is proof many press statements exist in the realm of echo-box information. How is Apple going to resolve 24 bit resolution with Beats low-fi image? Getty Images.

Calling Beats headphones "high end" is proof many press statements exist in the realm of echo-box information. How is Apple going to resolve 24 bit resolution with Beats low-fi image? Getty Images.

Obviously Apple, Inc., gets it.  With the recent acquisition of Beats Music, they have strategically positioned themselves to become a major force in a shift to higher resolution and greater fidelity.  They have been amassing high-resolution files for many years and may be holding the largest cache of such data on the planet.  

Many of us believe it’s not just around the corner -- this sea change is already under way.  Companies like Light Harmonic and people like Neil Young are increasingly winning public support in crowdsourcing projects for high-resolution projects.

Music storage and distribution are only part of the equation.  The rest is about accurate delivery of sound.  As the industry sea-change progresses, there emerges a growing need for fidelity advances and preservation.  Well-treated structures and spaces play a major role in musical playback that is not blurred, confused, altered, or lost to distortion.  

The sacred message can be preserved and re-enacted with greater exactness when influence of rogue and stray vibration are controlled and minimized. At iHi-Fi, we’re listening and staking a claim in related technologies, products, and markets.  As I often say at the end of my email messages, “More Soon.”

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