The Concert Hall Experience Without The Concert Hall

The Partial Observer published an article of mine today that examines some ideas behind reaching new audiences with advances in audio technology. The ideas for the article came together after reading a piece in Wired about some advances in bass speaker technology and a hiking conversation with an audiophile violinist…


My hiking partner and I were talking about the possibility of being online and not only being able to see the stage from any specific seat but hear what the orchestra sounds like. Some orchestras already provide a way for patrons to enjoy the former on a small scale when purchasing tickets but recent advancements in audio transducer technology may allow the latter to come about within the next five years or so. However, we might see a few organizations employing this technology via static, online ticket purchasing components of their websites earlier.

In the end, The Partial Observer article is good mental fodder for the daily commute (just don’t stop paying attention to the road) as it touches on topics that may provide the first crucial steps toward providing high quality audio and video streaming of live concerts.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “The Concert Hall Experience Without The Concert Hall

  1. The problem with MP3 players like the iPod are not the tiny “ear bud” headphones — the best can produce prodigious bass — but the highly compressed MP3 audio format is little better than telephone sound, thin and screechy. The players themselves are capable of better, but “lossless compression” music files rapidly eat up the players’ capacity.

    Still, the “good home audio” business is on the rocks because, at the consumer level, portabilty and self-curated experiences trump sound quality.

    There are solid physical and psychoacoustic reasons why recordings and sound systems cannot duplicate the sound of a live, unamplified concert. This ideal can be approached, at the very expensive bleeding edge of the art, for one listener in one fixed position, ***IF*** the recording engineer knows in advance the exact, unvarying playback conditions (speakers, room and positioning of both the speakers and listener). But let that one listener move a foot, or turn their head a few degrees, and the illusion collapses. In the real world, the recording engineer and system designer can only guess at these necessary specifics.

    Binaural recordings, made with microphones placed in the “ears” of a dummy head, ***can*** address this, but with the required headphones the resulting sound remains resolutely trapped inside the listener’s head.

    Mother Nature and Papa Newton conspire against us.

  2. Good point about the MP3 compression. Interestingly enough, my hiking companion and I were talking about exactly that. He mentioned a relatively new form of compression that doesn’t have the sound loss issues that MP3 does.

    Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the format but I’m sure one of the reader’s out there knows about this and can enlighten us.

  3. “The problem with MP3 players like the iPod are not the tiny “ear bud” headphones — the best can produce prodigious bass — but the highly compressed MP3 audio format is little better than telephone sound, thin and screechy. The players themselves are capable of better, but “lossless compression” music files rapidly eat up the players’ capacity.”

    I agree that MP3/AAC files don’t sound great at the bitrates on most the commercial download sites. Use a 256K or 320K bitrate, though, and things get very much better. To my ears, CD-quality (ie 16/44K) and 320K AAC files sound pretty much the same – and neither sound as good as, say 24/88K high-res files.

    There is a new AAC file format, not being used commercially yet, that is lossless but offers smaller file sizes than current lossless formats.

    “Binaural recordings, made with microphones placed in the “ears” of a dummy head, ***can*** address this, but with the required headphones the resulting sound remains resolutely trapped inside the listener’s head.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “trapped inside the listener’s head.” We’ve been experimenting with binaural in Milwaukee and have produced some startlingly realistic results.

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