Breaking Good

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jnschneyer

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Breaking Good
« on: 20 May 2022, 07:31 pm »
While I'm not sure my previous thread was completely exhausted, and though it may still hobble on for a bit, as it had grown somewhat philosophical, I thought I'd return to that, if not exactly more concrete, than all too familiar, though no less chimerical, subject of speaker break-in, to whit, the breaking in or progress of my very own still-almost-brand-new X5s.  There are many things to be said about this, even in only the very short time mine have been going through the process, so many that I'm going to limit myself (for now) to one aspect (which actually encompasses several smaller aspects) via one passage of music.  I warn you now that this passage of music is from an opera, an 18th Century one no less.  So, if opera is the kind of thing that fills you with the thought of absurd men in powdered wigs, the insufferable springy twanging of harpsichords, and large women in horned helmets bellowing fortissimo through an incomprehensible night (though that iteration came somewhat later than this), I apologize. 

Because people are interested in such things, and they (the things, not the people) deserve their share of credit and blame for whatever sound my system is capable of, for the record, my system: my X5s, now one day less than two weeks old (four days of which, sadly, I lost to a vacation in which I was unable to keep music elasticizing my drivers), with about 80 hours on them; a Classe CT-2300 amp; a Classe SSP-800 processor; a Manley Chinook phono stage; Pro-ject Xtension 12 tt; Bluesound Node streamer; a fairly old but surprisingly good Rotel RCD-1072 CD player; Cardas Audio Clear Sky speaker cables and various interconnects.  My room is approximately 15'w x 30'd x 9'h, with zero treatment and myriad unfortunate nooks, doorways, angles, and hard surfaces.  I mention the room in some detail because, despite its many shortcomings, the X5s still do yeoman's work at imaging and generally sounding, well, fabulous.

The musical passage in question is from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, or The Marriage of Figaro.  People, when they find out I like opera or books, for some reason often often feel compelled to ask what is my favorite opera or book.  I'm sure many of you have had the same experience.  I'm sure the people asking it mean well, but you know, if you like such things, or almost anything, favorites, for the most part, are an ever-changing quantity, depending on such shifting sands as age, experience, intelligence, mood, time of day, and a whole host of other unreliable influences.  That said, and strongly believed, I can nevertheless say without hesitation that, were I stranded on that oft-proposed desert island with only one opera to sustain me, that opera would be The Marriage of Figaro.  The level of wit, pathos, seriousness, verisimilitude, buffoonery, truly accurate representation of human feeling in song, speech, and score, is, in my estimation, unsurpassed.  Even if you know nothing of the story (and are susceptible to opera), the music alone is glorious, in the literal sense, and will convey all of these things.  This is true (for me) listening to it on a clock radio.  What is remarkable is how much more true it is listening to it on a high-level hifi.  The particular recording, for those of you who might want to plop it on your turntable, in your cd player, or stream it through your what have you and follow along, is the 1981 Decca recording with Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic, Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess, Samual Ramey as Figaro, and Thomas Allen as, I think, the best Count on record. 

The specific passage occurs early in Act II with the Count, suspicious and jealous, entering the Countess's room exclaiming "Che novità!" and ends with the Countess quite unjustly (though also, paradoxically, sincerely and quite deservedly) upbraiding the Count for his suspicions and behavior "Crudele! piu quella non sono!"  Of course there is much preceding this and it goes on after for much longer, but this scene embodies more than enough of the virtues contained in the music and the X5s' production of it to serve my purposes.

Opera in general, and this scene in particular, provides a unique opportunity for assessing, almost literally, soundstage.  The movement of the singers allows us to gauge the stage's ever-changing depth, breadth, and separation as they move up and down, on and off stage, the distance between them as they stand or move about and sing their parts, and, in ensemble work, the variation in volume of each singer depending on how near or far from the front of the stage they're standing.  In the beginning of this scene, the Count knocks on the Countess's bedroom door while the Countess, Susanna (her maid), and Cherubino (a page infatuated with the Countess and with whom the Countess enjoys a flirtation) are amusing themselves by listening to Cherubino profess his love for the Countess in a song.  The Count's knocking sends them all into a panicked dither, with the Countess stalling the Count and Susanna and Cherubino eventually hiding in the Countess's dressing cabinet (more of a large walk-in closet).  The Count's impatient knocking and demands to be let in are heard clearly off-stage, far wide of the right speaker, while the women inside, between the speakers, are clearly running around in circles, singing in conspiratorial whispers, with each voice, two sopranos, one's voice slightly more mature than the other (the Countess), and a mezzo-soprano (Cherubino), though in a whirl of movement, clearly delineated.  One thing I notice about the X5s production, in only the short time I've listened to them, is how the stage has grown.  I don't know to what to attribute this fact, or, if not fact, then a very convincing illusion, but the sheer amount of space taken up by the soundstage has grown, and, with it, the size of the performers.  I can't say it's truly life-size (that, I think, would be nigh on impossible in my modest living room), but it is noticeably and appreciably larger than it was initially, and, as a result, the performance is that much more compelling and convincing.  The stage has greater dimension, the singers greater weight, seemingly more actual body.  It really is remarkable, and, to someone such as I, who am little more than an idiot when it comes to technology, a wonder.

But, to continue.  Eventually, Cherubino safely stowed in her cabinet and Susanna hidden stage-left, the Countess admits the Count, who sweeps into the room, his voice growing louder as he approaches the front of the stage demanding to know why the door was locked and, hearing a noise from the cabinet, who is hiding inside.  There ensues a spectacular trio between the Countess and the Count, she insisting it's only Susanna getting dressed, the Count calling for Susanna to come out and show herself, and Susanna, her voice clearly off-stage left, wringing her hands and trying to think of a way out of the predicament.  Apart from the music and drama itself, which is amusing, exciting, stressful, and beautiful all at once, it's another instance of the X5s ability to present a convincing soundstage, with the appropriate distance between the characters' voices and to render Susanna's clearly as being hidden off-stage, without her voice being at all muffled or occluded, spiraling above the others in an ecstasy of anxiety and fear.  As the trio ends, the Count is on the point of calling the servants to force the cabinet door when the Countess, warning of the inevitable scandal this would lead to, convinces the Count, if he insists on forcing the door, to go get his own tools to open it with.  The agrees, insisting the Countess accompany him.  At this point, they leave the room, clearly exiting to the rear and right far corner of the stage, their voices and steps receding as they go.  Again, the sense of space, of real people performing real actions in time and space, is absolutely convincing. 

Once the Count and Countess leave the room, Susanna lets Cherubino out of the cabinet, his voice clearly moving from off-stage left to the center of the stage where the two of them run around the stage in a panic of what to do to extricate themselves from the trap.  Again, in this turmoil of movement and music, their voices remain distinct, it always being clear who is singing, even when singing together, and where each of them is.  At last Cherubino decides the only thing to do is to jump out the window into the garden and, should he survive the fall, run away, which he does, amid a whoop as he goes out the window and an off-stage crash of flower pots as he lands and runs off.  Susanna then takes a moment to congratulate herself on such a successful outcome and coming trap for the Count, then locks herself in the cabinet, her voice changing place and timbre as it moves from center stage to the confines of the off-stage cabinet.

Again with a convincing and appropriate sense of space, the Count and Countess re-enter and thereon begins one of the truly great and dynamic and emotionally charged duets ever written, with the Count demanding the key to the cabinet door and the Countess prevaricating and stalling and sternly warning until at least she's browbeaten into admitting Cherubino is hidden in the closet, which leads to the powerful culmination of the duet, with the Countess on her knees (though this depends on the production) begging him not to kill Cherubino and the Count standing and singing imperiously over her, swearing Cherubino must die.  The two of them are solidly center stage, the Countess to the left, guarding the cabinet door, the Count to the right, his voice solid, physical, powerful, and menacing.  The scene is so charged, and the X5s do a wonderful and impeccable job of placing the voices and communicating the emotion of both voices.  It is one of Mozart's many geniuses to be able to write ensemble parts for voices in which the singers are singing both different lines and expressing different emotions simultaneously, and the the X5s are excellent at representing the harmonic whole of the voices together as well as each individual voice and it's particular thought and sentiment.  No system that I've owned has done such a beautiful job of revealing the parts and the whole at the same time.  It makes all the difference.

At the climax of this duet, just as the Count is about to drag Cherubino from the cabinet, Susanna suddenly emerges, curtseying to them both, the music dying to a few sardonic chords, all the more ironic for the slack-jawed amazement of the Count and Countess.  Their repetition of Susanna's name, one in stupefied relief, the other in utter bafflement, is priceless, particularly after the wild menacing fury of the duet.  As before, the spacing between the singers, the entrance of Susanna as she emerges from the cabinet and places herself before the Count and Countess, is flawlessly rendered by the X5s.  The triumph of Susanna, the relief and emerging comprehension of victory of the Countess, and the disbelief and once again confounded rage of the Count are all palpable, the staging and tremendous swing of feeling and drama captured perfectly. 

It goes on from here, the Count going into the cabinet to satisfy his remaining suspicion, then Susanna and the Countess remorselessly rubbing it in, chastising the Count for his suspicions and anger and impugning of the Countess's character, all of it rendered equally believably, convincingly, and beautifully.  I said earlier that I would find this opera delightful to listen to, that its wonders of harmony and feeling would be felt even on a clock radio, and that's true.  However, let there be no mistake, hearing it produced so vividly, so feelingly, with such physicality and clarity as it is produced now through my X5s and their attendant gear, it is a phenomenon of the highest musical order, as compelling as I've ever heard it short of live, and I've both heard and performed this opera many times.  Honestly, for sheer emotional impact, turning up the volume and sitting there just a few feet from the speakers, hearing these singers and this orchestra pouring themselves into this miraculous music, it is every bit as moving as it's been to hear it live.  Of course, it is not live, and it lacks the incredible impression the best opera singers have on me when I watch them live and am agog at the power and beauty of their completely un-amplified voices.  But hearing that incomparable music through these speakers in my living room, I am truly stunned at the veracity of the sound and its ability to move me.  What will it sound like in another two, four, six weeks?  I can't wait to find out. 

Tyson

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #1 on: 20 May 2022, 09:10 pm »
So...... what's your favorite book :lol:

On a more serious note - I listen to about 90% classical music and I can confirm what you are reporting here.  Audiophiles often say getting the piano right is the hardest thing for a system to do but IME that's not accurate.  Large orchestra plus vocals is the hardest.

consttraveler

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #2 on: 20 May 2022, 09:48 pm »
I'm 5 months into my X5's and probably 700 hours of playtime.  If your continuing experience is anything like mine has been, you are in for multiple instances of "I never heard that", and "Boy, this recording really sucks", and most often "Wow".

The music is stunning (picture of me standing in the middle of the room open-mouthed), especially when well recorded.

Enjoy!

Dave




































































jnschneyer

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #3 on: 20 May 2022, 11:21 pm »
So...... what's your favorite book :lol:

On a more serious note - I listen to about 90% classical music and I can confirm what you are reporting here.  Audiophiles often say getting the piano right is the hardest thing for a system to do but IME that's not accurate.  Large orchestra plus vocals is the hardest.

Ha! 

One of the interesting things about listening to live orchestral music done well is the articulation of the various instruments performing their individual parts.  It is possible, the norm even, to take the sound as a whole, often with a particular instrument or section taking the lead and being more pronounced.  However, when an orchestra and hall are good, it’s possible to find the piccolo or bassoon and, once your ears are attenuated to it, follow its line throughout the movement. The same is true in the best operatic ensemble work. You can pick out the tenor or mezzo and follow his or her part within the contiguous whole.  At its best, the same holds for orchestra and voice ensemble together (I think this is less true with choral work, which is truly meant to blend; if someone other than the soloist stands out, there’s a problem).  This makes sense live; all the instruments and voices are arrayed before you on a physical plane that lends itself to identification of the individual parts within the whole.  But to achieve this same effect via a pair of speakers, with all those parts, as many as 50 “voices” at a time, to come one, two, three, four drivers, all in one spot, yet with the sound arrayed before you on a phantom stage, is practically unfathomable. It seems completely unreasonable to expect anything like a true to life effect - scale, tone, timbre, various volumes, the different voices of each instrument and voice, with the articulation and separation of a concert hall, all with the emotional power of living musicians - yet, beyond all reason, that’s what we get.  That an audio system could even come close to doing that is the audio miracle.  I can see why getting the piano right is an audio benchmark, but I agree with you.  To reproduce the layers and textures of an orchestra and voices is the biggest challenge and highest attainment.  Even if you don’t like symphonic music or opera, as a standard or ideal, I think it is highest mountain to climb. I feel closer to the peak than I have with any of my previous systems, and I still have a considerable amount of break-in (either of myself or my speakers) and changes in amplification and DAC to go. The dual pleasure of what I’m hearing now and what I have to look forward to hearing is very exciting and gratifying.  I couldn’t be happier with having purchased the X5s. 

Tyson

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #4 on: 21 May 2022, 03:47 am »
I'm a big Mahler fan and the Bertini set of recordings really became my benchmark for trying out new gear/systems.  The openings of the 5th and 6th symphonies are just insane.  Great test of dynamics.  But the even better test is whether or not you can still distinguish the cellos from the double basses (or the bassoons from the oboes) when all hell is breaking loose.  Great systems allow you to hear the chaos, as well as the order underlying that chaos.  Mediocre systems devolve into mush.

If you listen to mostly classical, you should see if you can get your hands on a good tube based DAC.  I find good tube based digital does a better job preserving tonal information than SS based DACs. 

My X3's remind me of something I noticed with my HT/video setup (I'm also a bit of a cinephile).  I like to watch a lot of older movies, and one day I was watching a re-mastering that had been done on one of Charlie Chaplin's films.  They'd gone back to the original camera negative and done a massive clean up job using analog and digital (4k) tools.  The result was stunning.  Especially with my JVC NX7 in a fully light controlled room with dark walls and dark ceiling.  The picture was astonishing - bright, crisp, stable, fluid, organic.  It occurred to me while watching it that this was the best this film had looked since it's first runs in theaters.  Hell, BETTER than the original run because I was seeing the original camera negative and not an analog duplicate.  I've had that type of experience not just with Chaplin, but with a LOT of films.  I realized that if you are a film lover, this is the best time to be alive in all of history.

I feel the same way about music.  The remastering capabilities we have along with better speakers and amps, plus better understanding of room acoustics, etc... means that as a music lover, this is also the best time to be alive in all of history. 

AllanS

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #5 on: 21 May 2022, 05:33 am »
Up till 10 minutes ago I would have said that I listen to everything but rap and opera.  I’ll have to scratch opera off the list, or at least the “1981 Decca recording with Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic, Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess, Samual Ramey as Figaro, and Thomas Allen as, I think, the best Count on record.”  I
I wasn’t going to read your whole post but before I knew it I was half way through and hooked.  Nicely stitched review of both X5 and the performance.  The Decca recording is available on CD from Amazon and I’m sure my local record store.

Classical is my constant companion during my work day and beyond but the occasional opportunity taken to listen closely is usually disappointing.

Tyson - Amazon has an EMI release of Bernini conducted Mahler symphonies 1-10 in an 11 CD set. Is this what you have?

Knowing what to listen for in these 2 collections will certainly help as I work to sort out my system.  Happy for the recommendations.  Thank you.

Tyson

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #6 on: 21 May 2022, 05:56 am »
Tyson - Amazon has an EMI release of Bernini conducted Mahler symphonies 1-10 in an 11 CD set. Is this what you have?

Knowing what to listen for in these 2 collections will certainly help as I work to sort out my system.  Happy for the recommendations.  Thank you.

Yep, that's the one - https://www.amazon.com/Mahler-Symphonies-Nos-1-10/dp/B000BQ7BX2/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Desertpilot

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #7 on: 21 May 2022, 01:03 pm »
Good thread on using Spatial speakers for opera.  I'm more than 90% classical as well (about 10% Jazz/Blues).  If you have not checked out the classical music circle, I encourage you to go there (moderated by our own Tyson).  I have a thread with a list of well performed and well recorded/mastered classical music (all high resolution in either stereo or surround):  https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=177443.0

Regarding opera.  All of my opera titles are Blu-Ray (ripped to my server).  I check out HDVDARTS, https://www.hdvdarts.com/ for reviews of music and video quality.  As you know, I have three X3s up front, two SVS Ultra bookshelf speakers for rear surround.  My pre/pro is set to "pass through" video from my server to my projection system even though my pre/pro is off.  Music is routed from my server to my surround DAC (exaSound S88).  Typically, Blu-Ray audio is 24/48 (what a shame).  In my situation, it defaults to surround.  However, you can select stereo.  I keep my server mouse handy so I can click on the video and select subtitles.

The sound is absolutely gorgeous.  The X3s excel with vocals, especially baritones.  Of course, the orchestra comes through in stunning accompaniment.  My two favorite titles: Puccini: Tosca (Royal Opera House, 2011) [Blu-Ray], https://www.amazon.com/Puccini-Tosca-Royal-Opera-Blu-Ray/dp/B00F1H2EAQ/urlPuccini: Turandot [Blu-ray], https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0133RPSJO/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

When you get everything "dialed in", the technology today will give you an opera house performance!

Marcus

jnschneyer

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #8 on: 21 May 2022, 04:54 pm »
Good thread on using Spatial speakers for opera.  I'm more than 90% classical as well (about 10% Jazz/Blues).  If you have not checked out the classical music circle, I encourage you to go there (moderated by our own Tyson).  I have a thread with a list of well performed and well recorded/mastered classical music (all high resolution in either stereo or surround):  https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=177443.0

Regarding opera.  All of my opera titles are Blu-Ray (ripped to my server).  I check out HDVDARTS, https://www.hdvdarts.com/ for reviews of music and video quality.  As you know, I have three X3s up front, two SVS Ultra bookshelf speakers for rear surround.  My pre/pro is set to "pass through" video from my server to my projection system even though my pre/pro is off.  Music is routed from my server to my surround DAC (exaSound S88).  Typically, Blu-Ray audio is 24/48 (what a shame).  In my situation, it defaults to surround.  However, you can select stereo.  I keep my server mouse handy so I can click on the video and select subtitles.

The sound is absolutely gorgeous.  The X3s excel with vocals, especially baritones.  Of course, the orchestra comes through in stunning accompaniment.  My two favorite titles: Puccini: Tosca (Royal Opera House, 2011) [Blu-Ray], https://www.amazon.com/Puccini-Tosca-Royal-Opera-Blu-Ray/dp/B00F1H2EAQ/urlPuccini: Turandot [Blu-ray], https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0133RPSJO/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

When you get everything "dialed in", the technology today will give you an opera house performance!

Marcus


Hi, Marcus,

Thanks for the tip on a place to find high quality recordings of classical music.  In my experience, orchestral music is not only (understandably) difficult to reproduce well through a hifi system, for many of the same reasons (number of instruments, voices, physical size, placement of mics) it seems to be equally difficult to record well.  Another issue is, while a recording may be excellent, the performance may not be.  It’s a lot to get a stellar performance and a stellar recording.

When it comes to opera, Mozart is my man, then probably Verdi, but I love much of Puccini as well (just saw an unfortunately subpar performance of Tosca - great Scarpia, though), though I can’t help but find some of his tragic scenes more melodramatic than pathetic. But I always enjoy it, despite my caviling. Madame Butterfly is the exception for me in that, which I find fairly heart-rending, at least regarding Butterfly.  Pinkerton is a callow jerk (though Richard Tucker does a phenomenal job with him).

I listen primarily to jazz and classical, with occasional excursions back to my roots of traditional music, blues, and old school a-cappella gospel, as well as some rock (though that’s such a broad category it’s almost meaningless). I had my hardcore punk period, too, but I rarely if ever revisit it now.  The X5s, with their rich midrange and extended but effortless highs, along with their ability to really separate instruments and voices without sounding clinical or like a kind of trick, do a great job with both smaller ensemble jazz and full-sized orchestra and opera.  My most recent speakers before these, the Dynaudio Heritage Specials, did a wonderful job of imaging and separation, too, and also had a beautiful tone to them, but they couldn’t equal the sheer scale of the X5s, and, comparatively, sounded lovely but small and a bit restrained or contained.  It may be also be that the X5s are better suited to my larger room than were the Dyns, but, regardless, I am so impressed by the impression of the real these speakers create.  I don’t expect it to sound like an actual symphony in my room - I doubt that’s possible (though I’d love to be proved wrong) - but there is a scale, a volume, physically not in decibels, though that as well, a weight and dimension to the sound that is as close to and compelling as the real as I’ve ever experienced, particularly when I heard them with the Don Sachs and Atma-Sphere rigs, though my current Classe solid state setup is no slouch.

Anyway, I’m going on and on, as always.  Thanks again for the link.  No doubt there will be more anon.

Josh

jnschneyer

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #9 on: 22 May 2022, 05:30 pm »
I'm a big Mahler fan and the Bertini set of recordings really became my benchmark for trying out new gear/systems.  The openings of the 5th and 6th symphonies are just insane.  Great test of dynamics.  But the even better test is whether or not you can still distinguish the cellos from the double basses (or the bassoons from the oboes) when all hell is breaking loose.  Great systems allow you to hear the chaos, as well as the order underlying that chaos.  Mediocre systems devolve into mush.

If you listen to mostly classical, you should see if you can get your hands on a good tube based DAC.  I find good tube based digital does a better job preserving tonal information than SS based DACs. 

My X3's remind me of something I noticed with my HT/video setup (I'm also a bit of a cinephile).  I like to watch a lot of older movies, and one day I was watching a re-mastering that had been done on one of Charlie Chaplin's films.  They'd gone back to the original camera negative and done a massive clean up job using analog and digital (4k) tools.  The result was stunning.  Especially with my JVC NX7 in a fully light controlled room with dark walls and dark ceiling.  The picture was astonishing - bright, crisp, stable, fluid, organic.  It occurred to me while watching it that this was the best this film had looked since it's first runs in theaters.  Hell, BETTER than the original run because I was seeing the original camera negative and not an analog duplicate.  I've had that type of experience not just with Chaplin, but with a LOT of films.  I realized that if you are a film lover, this is the best time to be alive in all of history.

I feel the same way about music.  The remastering capabilities we have along with better speakers and amps, plus better understanding of room acoustics, etc... means that as a music lover, this is also the best time to be alive in all of history.

I couldn’t agree more about this being the best time to be alive regarding the possibilities for home music listening.  I hear tell of systems from thirty-plus years ago sounding better than some $100K systems now (I have no way of comparing these things, but I’m willing to take the word of those who have), but, in my albeit limited experience, the capabilities of the systems I listened to in my childhood and youth (‘60s and early ‘70s (bewildering to me as that is)), vinyl (though we just called them records) and tubes, of course, were nowhere near capable of the near sonic miracles even a relatively modest (by $100K+ standards) system such as mine can perform. No doubt there were far better systems made at that time than I was I was privy to, but, given all the factors you mention, it’s hard to imagine, audio industry hype and chicanery notwithstanding, there haven’t been tremendous improvements in that time.

I hadn’t listened to Mahler in some time, and your comments on his 5th and 6th symphonies sent me in search of Bertini’s renditions of them. I wasn’t able to find them via streaming, so I contented myself with Solti’s rendering of the 5th. I had forgotten, or hadn’t had a reason to think of, how wild and exciting that opening is - all of it, really, but the opening in particular, in part for being the opening.  I was also really impressed with the X5s handling of it, their ability to, as you so aptly put it, allow you to hear the chaos, as well as the order underlying that chaos.  It’s exactly what I was referring to when I spoke of hearing, in Figaro, not the chaos but the harmonic whole as well as the individual parts making up that whole.  Obviously, the music is very different, but the principle holds, though the Mahler is a far more dramatic and sterner test of a system’s abilities.  Again, my experience is limited compared to some, but I’ve owned several and listened to dozens of fairly high-end systems over the past 12 years or so, and the X5s impress me, even taking buyer’s and confirmation bias into account, as very special speakers.  One interesting thing is the shift that’s taken place in my listening habits since getting them.  Over the past few years, it’s been probably 70/30 jazz to classical.  Ballpark.  That wasn’t always the case. For many years it was strictly classical, especially during the years I was studying and performing opera and lieder.  But, as I say, jazz found its way in and took over.  Since getting the X5s, without intending any change, I find myself again listening almost exclusively to classical.  I don’t know why, as jazz sounds absolutely brilliant through the X5s, but something about the way they communicate classical music has insinuated itself into my ear and displaced, at least for the moment, my jazz collection. 

My goal is to replace my ss gear with tubes, and one of the things I’ve had my ear on is the procuring of a tube-based DAC.  Any recommendations you have would be greatly appreciated.  Finances decree I’ll have to make a decision as to which direction to go first, amp or DAC, but in time I’ll make the complete transition from transistors to tubes.  I’ll admit, as goals go, it’s a bit arbitrary, but my aim in going with the open baffle speakers was to have a new, hopefully better but definitely different, sound.  I wasn’t going to sacrifice quality for novelty, and I wouldn’t have made the switch had the Spatial speakers not so completely impressed me, but now, having gone so far, I’m going all the way.  But it’s a wild analog wilderness of possibilities out there, and it’s not always easy to see the tubes for the amps, and I’ve learned to look skeptically upon big names, reviews and hype generally, so the recommendations of those with experience are valuable in at least pointing the way.  I also get that system synergy, rooms, treatment, and taste are wildcards all in any final determination of a suitable component.  Be that as it may, advice, even conflicting advice, is helpful, so, if you’re inclined…

Josh

Tyson

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #10 on: 22 May 2022, 08:22 pm »
Solti is tied with Chailly as my 2nd favorite Mahler set.  But the Bertini is firmly ahead of both of them.  And as far as I can tell, it's the only recordings Bertini ever did at this level.  He has a few other things out there but mostly meh.  Which kind of makes the Mahler set all the more miraculous.  Like a bolt out of the blue.  Bertini has the best balance between great recording quality and passionate intensity in performance.   Although Klemperer's recording of the 2nd will always have a special place for me (even though it's not an audiophile recording at all).

You are very lucky in that the X5's are 97db efficient and have the bass offloaded to a dedicated bass woofer, this opens up the widest possible range of tube amps to you.  I've got a Type 45 amp (1.5 watts), a 2a3 amp (4 watts) and a 300b amp (8 watts), all of them sound fabulous with my X3's.  Although the Type 45 does run out of steam a bit with the big Mahler pieces.   

However, I'd recommend you start with the DAC first before messing with amps.  Because a mediocre DAC will lose more tonal information (and inject more crap into the signal) than a mediocre amp will.  So start with the DAC. 

It's surprisingly hard to find a tube DAC that's well designed and the tubes are actually integrated into the main amplification circuit.  Most just have tubes bolted on as a buffer stage after the DAC's stage IV amplification (which is built in and is solid state).  One of the few that has the tubes integrated as the actual amplification stage is the ifi iDSD Pro:

https://ifi-audio.com/products/pro-idsd-signature/

That's what I use.  Only caveat?  The power supply they included with the unit is quite mediocre.  Really holds back the overall performance.  Replacing it with an over-the-top linear power supply using an R-Core based transformer really elevates the DAC to the top tier of performance.  Specifically this one is the one to get:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/114863237525?var=415008899232

Desertpilot

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #11 on: 23 May 2022, 12:49 pm »
I couldn’t agree more about this being the best time to be alive regarding the possibilities for home music listening.

Josh

I couldn't agree more as well but not necessarily about gear.  I am amazed at the quality of classical music recordings over the past several years.  This is a keen interest of mine as I wanted to feed my X3s the best possible "source" music.  Of course, I rely on expert reviews to inform me of performance quality.  But, sonic quality is amazing today.  I track sound engineers and there are several who always produce outstanding recording/mastering albums.  I list them in my classical music thread.  Microphones have really come of age.  Brendon Heinst at TRPTK talks about his choice on his YouTube channel.  Frans at Sound Liaison raves about his microphone choice, Josephson C700S, because he specializes in a "one" microphone process with small jazz ensembles.

Quick story.  Jared Sachs from Channel Classics discussed his work with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.  Fisher's preference is to record without an audience.  Jared will make a recording and Fisher along with several members of the orchestra will crowd into the control room for a listen.  If they don't like their performance, they will go back into the concert hall and play it again, sometimes as many as 3 or 4 times.  Once done, Jared will master the recording and send it to Fisher only to have it rejected.  This will go on until, in Fisher's view, it is perfect.  Soundmirror from Boston does a great job with live audience recording of Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  Typically, most classical releases take up to two years to master and make available to the public.  The venue is important as well, for instances, there's a lot of criticism of the London Symphony Orchestra's concert Hall, The Barbican for poor acoustics.

Of course, your choice of format is widely available.  DSD, PCM and DXD are all available at Native DSD.  They get the "master" file from the recording studio and "remodulate" it into a variety of formats.  TRPTK does this "remastering" themselves.  Just a decade ago, you were stuck with either CD or SACD disc.  Now, I can download just about every release in whatever format I choose.  Simply amazing.

This is a great time for classical and jazz music reproduction in your home.  The source material is no longer a limiting factor.  Digitizing music back in the 80's was problematic.  We are way beyond that now.  Apologies to the analog folks (LPs).  My digital library does it for me.

Marcus




jnschneyer

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #12 on: 23 May 2022, 05:25 pm »
Up till 10 minutes ago I would have said that I listen to everything but rap and opera.  I’ll have to scratch opera off the list, or at least the “1981 Decca recording with Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic, Kiri Te Kanawa as the Countess, Samual Ramey as Figaro, and Thomas Allen as, I think, the best Count on record.”  I
I wasn’t going to read your whole post but before I knew it I was half way through and hooked.  Nicely stitched review of both X5 and the performance.  The Decca recording is available on CD from Amazon and I’m sure my local record store.

Classical is my constant companion during my work day and beyond but the occasional opportunity taken to listen closely is usually disappointing.

Tyson - Amazon has an EMI release of Bernini conducted Mahler symphonies 1-10 in an 11 CD set. Is this what you have?

Knowing what to listen for in these 2 collections will certainly help as I work to sort out my system.  Happy for the recommendations.  Thank you.

I'm glad my post hooked you firmly enough to drag you through to the end and even to inspire you to give The Marriage of Figaro a shot.  I hope it doesn't disappoint.  It occurs to me that, while I believe the music alone is enough to carry you, since it is a story, and, in fact, a play, that maybe watching a video of it first would help acquaint you with both the story and the action or staging.  For me, one of the great pleasures and remarkable qualities of Mozart's music (among many) is its uncanny ability to represent and capture real human feelings in the appropriate degree and proportion, without bombast or sentimentality or any form of exaggeration.  With this in mind, hearing the music while seeing it spring from its attendant actions adds all the more pleasure and wonder that such music could be, not just evocative of feelings in the listener but also so genuinely representative of feelings in the characters.  The struggle here is in finding a video version that does justice to the musical aspects and also the acting, staging, and, not to be forgotten, as they are inseparable from the musical whole and its affect on the listener, the orchestra and conducting.  The successful production of fully staged opera is, as you can imagine, far more complicated and difficult than making a musical recording of it.  There are several really good video versions of Figaro, though none of them, not surprisingly, does everything equally well.  I didn't want you to have to spend the money on a DVD, so, after much back and forthing, I settled on a really very good production you can watch on YouTube, the 1994 Glyndebourne Fetival production conducted by Bernard Haitink with a terrific Alison Hagley as Susanna, Renée Fleming as the Countess, Gerald Finley as Figaro, and Andreas Schmidt as the Count.  Fleming is not my favorite Countess, but she's very good, and Schmidt is a bit heavy in "Contessa, perdono," when he needs to be a bit more delicate and tender, but these criticisms are quibbles. (Speaking of "Contessa, perdono," pay particular attention to the end of the finale.  In it, there is (and I am not a religious or even, as the current cant has it, spiritual person) music that makes me feel as close to God as I have ever felt.)  So, I picked this version because, apart from the quality singing, 1) it has sub-titles, 2) the staging, though period, is straightforward and not ridiculous or seeking to be novel, and 3) it is acted as straightly as it is staged, without succumbing to the faults Hamlet (Shakespeare, really) inveighs against in his instructions to the players on how to play a scene.

One word (as if I were capable of only one word) on the story.  It was adapted from a play by the French playwright Beaumarchais, and, while it is presented as a buffo comedy, lest it be dismissed as a mere trifle or romantic joke, it's important to know something of its context.  It was written and produced just before the French Revolution and actually was initially banned by the censors for its portrayal of the peasants both standing up to and actually winning the war of wits with the nobility.  And, while the mood of the play and opera is mostly lighthearted, what sparks Figaro and Susanna's rebellious tricks is the Count's intention of enforcing his Droit du Seigneur, a custom of feudal lords at the time, the right of the master to have sex with his servant brides if he so chooses.  Not in itself the stuff of comedy.  The play and opera absolutely presage the coming revolution, and some have gone so far as to say they had a hand in bringing it about.  It also, in its own way, very much takes the side of women against their subjection to men.  So the sentiments underlying what otherwise might be seen as mere bedroom farce are actually quite serious.  But comedy was the only way such a subject could possibly be broached at the time, so a comedy is what we get.

Okay, enough.  Almost.  You could also just listen to the music and follow along with the libretto, but I think it really helps to have a picture of what's happening.  Should this experiment turn out to be a success, I recommend Don Giovanni next, the EMI Classics with Giulini conducting and Eberhard Wächter as the Don.  If you want more after that, let me know.  Good luck!   
« Last Edit: 23 May 2022, 07:39 pm by jnschneyer »

AllanS

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #13 on: 25 May 2022, 05:52 am »
It occurs to me that, while I believe the music alone is enough to carry you, since it is a story, and, in fact, a play, that maybe watching a video of it first would help acquaint you with both the story and the action or staging.   
And now that you mention it, it occurs to me that I’ve passed judgement on opera having never actually attended or watched one.  I found and bookmarked the 1994 production after watching the intro and beginning of act 1.  I didn’t even know what I’d been listening to all my life is from Figaro.  Many thanks for the recommendation!  Subtitles are especially appreciated as is the context you provided.  It’ll take awhile to get through the 3 hours but will look forward to seeing it through.  I’ll have to do better than the iPad though.  Thanks again!

jnschneyer

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Re: Breaking Good
« Reply #14 on: 25 May 2022, 04:30 pm »
And now that you mention it, it occurs to me that I’ve passed judgement on opera having never actually attended or watched one.  I found and bookmarked the 1994 production after watching the intro and beginning of act 1.  I didn’t even know what I’d been listening to all my life is from Figaro.  Many thanks for the recommendation!  Subtitles are especially appreciated as is the context you provided.  It’ll take awhile to get through the 3 hours but will look forward to seeing it through.  I’ll have to do better than the iPad though.  Thanks again!

Funny how we do that, hold judgements or have strong feelings and opinions on things we've never really experienced.  I hope this changes your preconceived  notions rather than confirms them.  I agree, if you can watch it on a big tv with decent speakers, it will improve the experience.  I like it well enough that I can watch it on my phone and still enjoy it, but I have the fortification of the memory of many live and recorded performances to enhance the tiny picture and tinny sound.  Coming to it for the first time, the bigger screen and better sound the better.  Good luck!  I hope you'll let me know how it goes.

Josh