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Howard Ferstler

AR Live vs Recorded sessions

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I just got off of the phone after chatting with Harry Munz about the AR Live vs Recorded sessions a few decades back. Harry is a long-time technically adept enthusiast who also did a LOT of recording work for Gothic Records a few years back. If you have any Gothic recordings (they specialized in organ performances, with the results being some of the finest releases with those instruments that one will ever hear) you might find Harry's name printed on the back as the recording engineer.

Anyway, while discussing Floyd Toole's book on speakers and rooms I brought up the AR sessions that Toole rather flippantly dismissed in the book and Harry indicated that he attended several of them. (Toole did not attend any, by the way.) With those involving the string quartets Ed Villchur first did the demos in front of a group of audio professionals, including journalists. He wanted to see how the situation would work with seriously critical listeners before putting on more public concerts. Harry was there, too, and he indicated that with his young ears (he is 82 now) he simply could not hear any difference between the live quartet ensemble and the AR-3 speakers. The listening group as a whole was stunned by the performance. Later demos in front of hobby enthusiasts were just as impressive. Harry said there were also demos done with a live guitarist and in that case he said he could detect a difference if he sat in the front row. This is because the speakers were located a bit higher up than the instrument and he could hear the vertical image shift. At a later demo he made a point of sitting further back and the differences were nil, because the distance blurred the image-shift discrepancy.

Harry mentioned that some critics of the concerts (those who had not been there) have said that a quartet or guitar would be easier to reproduce than a full orchestra. Of course, if we are talking about a pair of AR-3 speakers facing off against a 90-piece ensemble in a large hall that would be the case. (Harry indicated that a multi-channel recording using lots of AR-3 systems and lots of amplifiers would have been able to do the trick, however.) Mostly, this would be because it would be impossible for even the best recording engineer to get a decent, mandatory anechoic recording of so many instruments done properly. Even with a quartet Villchur had to work to get the input balances just so. Harry has recorded a lot of ensembles (besides organs) and he indicated that a small ensemble like a quartet is actually HARDER to reproduce cleanly than a large orchestra, because the more instruments you have the more masking we have taking place, and so detail and precision become less of an issue. With a quartet, detail and precision are critical, and only a fine speaker can do the group justice.

I bring this up, because in my review of Floyd Toole's book I pointed out that the Villchur demos basically undermine Toole's basic premise regarding the status of speaker design in the old days, and in this more modern age, too. Harry indicated that speakers have improved a tad (like me, he owns a pair of Allison IC-20 models), but only in areas that Roy Allison sought to improve upon: bass-range smoothness and dispersion qualities that add spaciousness and depth in typical home-listening spaces.

Harry also indicated that a great pair of speakers in a so-so room will not sound as good as a merely good pair of speakers in a superb room. The room is way, way more important than a lot of enthusiasts understand. Villchur understood this with his concerts, too, of course. Both he and Harry knew that smooth response was the key with those concerts.

Howard Ferstler

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Thaks Howard for the LVR update.

However, I have a feeling this one's going to end up in the kitchen also. That's okay tho, it's cooled down quite a bit there in the last month or so.

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I just got off of the phone after chatting with Harry Munz about the AR Live vs Recorded sessions a few decades back. Harry is a long-time technically adept enthusiast who also did a LOT of recording work for Gothic Records a few years back. If you have any Gothic recordings (they specialized in organ performances, with the results being some of the finest releases with those instruments that one will ever hear) you might find Harry's name printed on the back as the recording engineer.

Anyway, while discussing Floyd Toole's book on speakers and rooms I brought up the AR sessions that Toole rather flippantly dismissed in the book and Harry indicated that he attended several of them. (Toole did not attend any, by the way.) With those involving the string quartets Ed Villchur first did the demos in front of a group of audio professionals, including journalists. He wanted to see how the situation would work with seriously critical listeners before putting on more public concerts. Harry was there, too, and he indicated that with his young ears (he is 82 now) he simply could not hear any difference between the live quartet ensemble and the AR-3 speakers. The listening group as a whole was stunned by the performance. Later demos in front of hobby enthusiasts were just as impressive. Harry said there were also demos done with a live guitarist and in that case he said he could detect a difference if he sat in the front row. This is because the speakers were located a bit higher up than the instrument and he could hear the vertical image shift. At a later demo he made a point of sitting further back and the differences were nil, because the distance blurred the image-shift discrepancy.

Harry mentioned that some critics of the concerts (those who had not been there) have said that a quartet or guitar would be easier to reproduce than a full orchestra. Of course, if we are talking about a pair of AR-3 speakers facing off against a 90-piece ensemble in a large hall that would be the case. (Harry indicated that a multi-channel recording using lots of AR-3 systems and lots of amplifiers would have been able to do the trick, however.) Mostly, this would be because it would be impossible for even the best recording engineer to get a decent, mandatory anechoic recording of so many instruments done properly. Even with a quartet Villchur had to work to get the input balances just so. Harry has recorded a lot of ensembles (besides organs) and he indicated that a small ensemble like a quartet is actually HARDER to reproduce cleanly than a large orchestra, because the more instruments you have the more masking we have taking place, and so detail and precision become less of an issue. With a quartet, detail and precision are critical, and only a fine speaker can do the group justice.

I bring this up, because in my review of Floyd Toole's book I pointed out that the Villchur demos basically undermine Toole's basic premise regarding the status of speaker design in the old days, and in this more modern age, too. Harry indicated that speakers have improved a tad (like me, he owns a pair of Allison IC-20 models), but only in areas that Roy Allison sought to improve upon: bass-range smoothness and dispersion qualities that add spaciousness and depth in typical home-listening spaces.

Harry also indicated that a great pair of speakers in a so-so room will not sound as good as a merely good pair of speakers in a superb room. The room is way, way more important than a lot of enthusiasts understand. Villchur understood this with his concerts, too, of course. Both he and Harry knew that smooth response was the key with those concerts.

Howard Ferstler

I was privileged to have heard two of the demos, the guitar and the nickelodeon. Both were at consumer trade shows in New York City. I sat on axis at the guitar demo and what surprised me most was that the AR3 was actualy slightly brigher sounding than the real guitar (but not by much.) The reason this surprised me is that my prior experience with AR3 was that it was a relatively dull sounding speaker with rolled off highs. I didn't know until someone recently, I think Tom said that they had boosted the treble control on the preamp. I can't say that the AR3 sounded exactly like the nickelodeon but what surprised me was that it sounded as much like it as it did, very similar. Even the AR4x came surprisingly close considering its small size and low cost. These were among the reasons why I've always held AR in very hard regard. Nobody else ever showed me anything like it although I was also astonished by the remarkable and surprising demo of the Philips Little David speaker. (I've got an acquaintance who claims to still own the originals from that demo.)

To reproduce the loudness of a symphony orchestra, a sound system would have to produce about one watt of sound, a considerable amount. It would take a sizeable array of AR3 loudspeakers to produce that much sound but it could be done. A great deal of care and experimentation would have to be taken to pull it off and some of the speakers might have to be aimed in different directions such as straight up to get high frequencies aimed at the ceiling of the stage house and some backwards to aim them at the back wall to get the hall to treat the acoustics of the sound system the same way it treats the actual instruments. I'd go for an out of doors recording in an open grassy field shortly after a rainstorm when the ground is wet to minimize reflections. That or on some thick carpet. I don't think the string player would like their instruments near the damp ground come to think of it.

Good speakers in a great room, great speakers in a so so room, it hardly matters if your reference is live music. There are no speakers that can pull off even occasionally from commercially made speakers what AR3 accomplished in highly contrived demos nearly a half century ago let alone recreate what you'd hear at a live concert in your own home. And the best most people can do is to try to remember what live unamplified music actually sounds like if they've ever even heard it at all. Playing recordings at the wrong loudness is one form of distortion nobody (except me) ever thinks about. It's also a wonder that anyone would try to get a pair of AR speakers to play as loud as a live rock concert since they clearly weren't designed for that purpose. If anyone ever designed one system "right" there would be no need for another model to appear ever except to reduce size or cost or to improve efficiency or reliability. So in the end Victor Campos is still right, what speaker you like best depends on what kind of distortion bothers you least.

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However, I have a feeling this one's going to end up in the kitchen also.

If the discussion moves away from first-person reminiscences to attempts at technical analysis or critiques, we can split those off from the nostalgia posts and create a new topic in the kitchen.

An AR live vs recorded demo in NYC was part of my earliest initiation into the world of "hifi." An uncle of mine (from whom I eventually inherited the turntable in my avatar) took me to it when I was 11. I really don't remember much about the music or the sound, and at the time I wasn't a very sophisticated listener of either. What I remember most was the reaction of the audience.

Years later I was invited by a friend to a demo that AR was staging for the BAS using 10pi's. Unfortunately I couldn't make it in time for the entire event and only caught about 10 minutes of it, but it was still impressive.

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It would appear that the walk down memory lane has ended. if anyone else has any first-hand experiences with AR demos to share or pass on, please PM me and I will reopen the discussion. Otherwise, please proceed to the kitchen to continue the foodfight.

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