It’s been suggested live music is never sterile. But I would argue that’s somewhat dependent on the room it is played in. I recently had occasion to hear a trumpet played outdoors, pointing away from me. It couldn’t have been more sterile sounding; devoid of any richness, or harmonic overtones familiar to those that enjoy trumpets.
But I will agree that in ordinary indoor circumstances live music is richly textured, and that is its normal state. And when we attend a hi fi show, or visit a dealer’s showroom and, sometimes, hear music sounding sterile, devoid of the life and textural richness, we can take comfort in the knowledge we’re not getting all that’s there. And I think that piece of information is valuable – because many times we want to believe sterile is antiseptically clean, lacking something that should not be there, when the opposite is apparently true.
I recently tried two sets of headphones. On one, music sounded alright, a little ‘overly cleansed’. When looking at the marketing materials provided, the designer implied this was his goal – cleanliness over anything else – and specs showed extremely low distortion. The sound was neither engaging, nor irritating; perhaps the best description would be blah – but clean.
In contrast, the next set was the complete opposite. Music was rich, with warm overtones, the room resonances audible.
Everything just seemed right and I found myself tapping toes, smiling and enjoying every minute. The distortion specs were about the same as the uber-clean model.
I am not sure there’s a correlation to be made, just some observations to share.