As you might expect, the best sound I heard at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Festival was emanating from a live source, specifically pianist Robert Silverman’s Saturday evening performance of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.
Let’s see . . . a talented, committed, and charming artist, a Steinway Model D concert grand, and great music. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or audio engineer — to tell you that these components will almost always integrate to produce the desired outcome, even in a less-than-ideal room (Evergreen room).
It occurred to me that this sound is the elusive goal (hopefully) pursued by of all the exhibitors and attendees. It also occurred to me that this pursuit is ultimately futile. Why? To state the bleeding obvious, the act of reproducing sound doesn’t reproduce the actual source of the sound, viz., the instrument (vocal, mechanical, etc.), which in this case was a concert grand piano. And you know what? All those much-mooted audio terms like “imaging,” “frequency response,” “dynamics,” etc. are essentially irrelevant at a live event. To put it in more concrete — literally — terms, some RMAF systems featured playback gear that weighed in at two or more Steinway Model Ds, but all you had to do was compare what you heard live with even an outstanding piano recording to realize there’s still a long way to go.
So why don’t we all just pack it in and go lo-fi? I mean really, what’s the point?
But there is a point — are you surprised? The most obvious is that I can’t call up Mr. Silverman to saunter over to my house to tickle the ivories whenever the mood strikes me. Unlike the halcyon days of yore, when Prince Esterházy, et al. employed a veritable army of musicians — that’s in addition to an actual army — to satisfy his musical cravings, most of us simply aren’t in the position to experience live music on demand. And by “live music on demand,” I mean well-played live music, not my own feeble meanderings.
And even if it were possible for me to employ my own musical troupe, I wouldn’t have the musical variety available to me through recordings. The magic of an outstanding sound system is that I can conjure up the illusion of performers — living or dead — to a greater or lesser degree whenever I want to and in the relative comfort of my own home. And, just maybe, when the stars are aligned, there are moments when a recording played through my system transports me to another time and place (non-chemically); when the electrical/mechanical constraints of my audio gear are transcended and the “barrier of reproduction” is dissolved. It can happen! That’s a worthwhile goal, and that’s what I’m looking for in sound reproduction, even if “absolute reproduction” will always be unattainable.
RMAF (and other shows) is a tribute to the folks who attempt to achieve that goal.