web counter
A Musical Epiphany | by Michel Vanden Broeck

A Musical Epiphany

Since spring of this year, I have been living in a quaint little community on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico whose cultural centre , Guadalajara, is but a short 50 minute drive away. This makes it very easy to take advantage of the many festivals and cultural events Mexico’s second largest city has to offer. This favourable proximity allowed me the pleasure of experiencing more live music over the past 6 months than during the last 20 years at my home in Muskoka, Canada.

As a musician I am drawn to the natural sonic purity and presence of acoustic instruments as many of us are. Mexico’s live entertainment scene boasts some of the most incredible instrument talent allowing me an indulgence I would normally never get.

Guadalajara has the fabulous Teatro Degollado music hall in the Historic District where I experienced to my delight the Filarmonica de Jalisco world-class symphony orchestra. I also fully enjoyed versions of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2, Stravinsky’s intense Right of Spring, Brahms beautiful Concierto para piano num. 1 en re menor, opus 15, Schumann, Sinfonia num. 2 en di mayor, opus 61 to name but a few.

Visiting musicians to the International Jazz Festival offered spectacular world flavours which I very much enjoyed . The incredible Joe Farnsworth, one of the most highly recognized jazz drummers, was featured in one set where I sat less than 40 feet from his greatness!

Many restaurants offered intimate performances of various musical genres without any amplification whatsoever. Mariachi bands with as many as ten players filled the streets with their music on a daily basis. Choirs sang to the background of massive pipe organs in beautiful historic olde churches. A big band played the classics from Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Harry James in a small nightclub with great acoustics. (Talk about natural dynamics!) Many street guitarists played while walking & singing as they strolled through the tianguis (open markets). All of these venues with varied musical styles had one thing in common. The unmistakable natural timbre of real life which sounds so right! Easy listening and no fatigue whatsoever!

As with most things in life, there are always exceptions and there was one I want to mention to you! One night at the plaza (their town square) a large performance band was playing to a sizeable crowd using a very necessary Public Address (PA) system. One would expect amplification to be necessary with a crowd and venue of this size, however, the degraded sound quality seemed not just bad but overly loud in particular. I took a quick measure with my trusty iPhone app. It registered 92dB on the peaks. This is a normal reading for an amplified venue of this size but typically not usually sounding so overly loud! I lasted for one painfully long song, or so it seemed, before I headed home pondering the detrimental effects amplifiers have on musical performances. Of course, many things in an amplification chain contribute to the loss of sound quality but for sure the electronics got in the way of this music!

Concert level systems have always struggled with growing power requirements to contend with the sizeable crowds in attendance. Using kilowatts of power and arrays of high efficiency speakers, most concerts typically err on being overly loud making for poor acoustics and a less than acceptable sonic performance by audiophile standards - so I wasn’t completely surprised with my outdoor experience!

During the early days of the audio industry technology transition from vacuum tubes to solid state, most companies built exceptional quality amplifiers & receivers to satisfy the burgeoning home audio market. Naturally, the competition increased as the market grew,  Many manufacturers embraced the race to differentiate their products with high power & low distortion amplifiers. So began the “receiver wars” of the 1970’s where power & distortion measurements were pitched as the hallmarks of amplifier musicality.  All the while, the industry was looking for better manufacturing economies (i.e. cheapening electronics)! There was really no basis in fact that more power amplifiers and less distortion amplifiers sounded better!  In fact, a subset of current audiophiles collects retro gear from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s since to them it sounds better!  I find low powered amplifiers sound more musical correct than most high powered ones - even with measured distortion being higher!  Domestic speaker manufacturers reacted to the deafening roar of big amplifier power coming on stream by paying less attention to the efficiency of speaker design.  More attention to complex crossover designs with smaller more aesthetically pleasing (but less efficient cabinets) hoped for better domestic acceptance from the significant other.

Th mindset that high power and lower distortion is best still permeates the industry.   In my opinion, this has done a public disservice as consumers have relied on the industry propaganda only to find each successive product model was not as good as its predecessor!

Today we are blessed with what seems an overabundance of musical content via streaming and download services as well as FM & Satellite services. One would think musical enjoyment would be running an all time high!  For the non-audiophile, serious listening is often limited to the comfort of one’s car (probably while stuck in traffic) where you are a captive audience with limited choices of acceptable distractions.  Once home you have a smorgasbord of internet based distractions.  Quite frankly, the automobile sound system, as good as it is today, is really not all the memorable over extended periods of time.  Could it be that the modern amplifier actually works against your musical enjoyment?  Read on!

Amplifiers have changed over the past 50 years. Their inability to provide the musical high of yesteryear is somewhat true as they are simply not as exciting and involving anymore. With all the distractions of modern life competing for our time, it doesn’t take much competition to be distracted!  The brain on music is a complex transformation of acoustic, mechanical, chemical and finally electrical energy which is interpreted by the brain as sound - and it is generally amazing!  Research shows that real music stimulates the brain to produce endorphins which are responsible for that euphoric feeling you get after a good music session - making you feel very happy and fulfilled. Today this happens less often!

Tenor’s research discovered the complex relationship between your brain and an amplifier almost 20 years ago and set out to change the way amplifiers present music to the ear/brain with designs that actually sound like real life natural music.  Amplifiers for the way human’s hear, not the way human’s measure, is what we say!

Musicality and enjoyment should be the only measure of an amplifier’s worth and nothing else! When you become lost in the music and stop thinking of your equipment you know your amplifier is just being musical!  

Bring on the endorphins and happy listening! 

David


© Tenor Inc. 2000 - 2017