Oh, ho, ho it's magic, you know-Never believe it's not so.I think is really important to define exactly what we are after.
If some people are shooting for one ideal, and other people are shooting for an entirely different ideal, there would be a lot of confusion. We would never get to the end of either goal.
There were some neat multi channel experiments done in Grand Central Station in NYC almost 50 years ago where they had actual performers playing- and then another curtained area with speakers.. At that time many were fooled by the speakers into thinking it was real.
2 channels can make stereo - but it has been said that you really need a unified wave front to create a true illusion- that could take up to 8 channels or more ..highly impractical.- expensive- hard to set up etc... I suppose if we all forced recording artists to use a particular studio and set up and had dedicated rooms contructed exactly the same we would get closer... but it would never happen.
IMHO... wives killed high end audio. Yep Wives.... not girlfriends who have little say on what you buy... but Wives. This is a predominantly male hobby. When male baby boomers were younger they wanted better sound- and were willing to buy larger speakers and elaborate systems and their transient girlfriends had little say... in fact... having a killer audio system even may have helped getting a woman in bed with some great sounding lush music (a huge departure from her clock radio or boom box). But as the baby boomers got married the wives just said "NO!" to large format speakers and dipolar radiator speakers that paraded into the room. MOST Men were pressured into moving their speakers closer to the walls.. or shuddder....... in ceiling speakers that came with their newest house purchase.
Cars became an audio refuge for many men. In the 1980's we saw the boom of car audio- and many head units of that time were great sounding such as Nakamichi head units and a few Alpine units. But Leasing.... killed a lot of that. Why invest $4000 into a car audio system if you flipped your cars every 24-36 months? Some leases were very against doing this. Women were more impressed with a new or 2 year old BMW than a 5 year old model with a great sound system.
Of course... this is a sweeping generalization. But only one GF of mine ever was into my large format systems.... and she sells and installs systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars..... but it isn't true high fidelity audio.... it is Bang and Olufsen.
Don't kill me for this women...remember this is a headphone website.... and the wife acceptance factor for headphones is very good.
back on topic....
The absolute sound, was a magazine that strove to describe the reproduction of the musical experience in real space of non electrically amplified musicians.
That in itself might sound easy, but even within that definition people would talk about hearing music as fourth row, fifth row, 10th row, 20th row etc.
Also there are inherent flaws with this concept.
Let's take a look at Carnegie Hall, a wonderful musical venue with terrific acoustics. Depending on the year that you went and heard a concert at Carnegie Hall you might have heard a radically different sounding concert - let's take a look at Carnegie Hall, whose Interior acoustics changed with a remodeling- they removed many sound absorbing materials- permanently changing the sound.
You could consider it two different halls - the acoustics were very different and they attempted to fix it - making even more versions during the process.
But even within this concept lets say for instance we use the EXACT same hall- no remodeling allowed.
The issue is further complicated by the attendance of the people listening to the concert. If the concert is well attended each person has a certain amount of sound absorption which is related to their body. An empty hall is much more reverberant than a full one.
It gets further complicated than that. Let's say you are listening to a concert at Carnegie Hall in December around Christmas time in the 1970s.
At that time people wore very heavy winter jackets, and mink coats were in style as were many other types of animal coats. Men often wore heavy woolen coats because down jackets and polar guard were not commonplace.
These jackets and coats act as sound absorbing material and of course affected the acoustics of the venue.
So seasonally, any "reference music venue" could change acoustically. Just changing the capacity of the coat room- (ie more checked coats mean a brighter sound) can have an affect on the sound.
This "transfer function" layers its own acoustic upon the music of the musicians. And of course this acoustic has a value. Many musicians strive to play in places like Carnegie Hall not just for the prestige, but also because they know that their performance will sound better there.
However for people in the pursuit of the absolute sound, this changing acoustic cannot be considered a reference.
One of the nice things about Carnegie Hall was that certain performances could be assured to sell out. In that way the acoustic might vary less than expected with a regular music venue. But still... it varies.. a lot.
For example the same performance of the Nutcracker played at Carnegie Hall on a Tuesday evening might sound very different from the exact same performance played on a Saturday evening because of attendance and the attire of the patrons.
So with that in mind perhaps a more readily reproducible reference would be that of musicians in open space with no early reflection around them.
Ironically probably the best way to reproduce music would be to try to reproduce music which was played robotically (no varience) with tuned instruments in a controlled space (controlled temperature and humidity). That controlled reference space could be reproduced if the architect were to give exacting specifications on the material construction of the venue.
You would have to use the same microphones, and the same recording media, to try to capture the sound.
Then, speakers placed in the same locations as the robotic performers would try to reproduce the musical event. In this way the transfer function for both parties -- the robots versus the speakers would be the same.
In a collaborative effort both the recording engineers and the audio enthusiasts would work together to try to reproduce the sound.
To speed things along the reference "studio" would have dual identical staging characteristics so that the speakers and the robot ensemble could be compared directly. You could think of each stage being a mirror image of each other.
In this way recording engineers and audio enthusiasts could readily swap out microphones, recording media, speakers, amplifiers, preamplifier's, cables etc.... to try to reach the illusion.
Many different speaker designs have different polar radiation patterns, many drivers change in their radiation patterns according to frequency, using this method you could more quickly determine which factors mattered the most.
Because -- the title of this post refers to the magic and we are trying to create. We are creating an illusion of performers performing in space.
It is a sort of magic. To have synthesized phantoms sing to you out of thin air.
There are a few other strange things at work here, the human ear does not have flat frequency response and because of that we cannot just trust microphones.
The human ear is very sensitive to human speech -- and so in some areas we are more discerning than in others.
Then, there are a few things that make this almost seem futile. Of course taking into account the myriad of transfer functions of each venue -- the attendance of each venue, the way people are dressed, and perhaps in the case of amplified music ...the very interpretation of the sound engineer.
Also we have the issue of the performers who do not want to sound like themselves. For instance Frank Sinatra -- he does not have a particularly powerful voice -- and needs amplification. I have heard it said that his true voice bears little resemblance to what comes out of the speakers.
So we have issues with performers that use the "inaccuracy" of recording devices to tailor their voices. And that's not even counting postproduction work.
Because of these inconsistencies it is extremely difficult to arrive at the absolute sound.
I think having reproducible "reference Studios" where sound engineers work in tandem with audio enthusiasts might be the only way that we could eventually bring more accurate sound to the masses for less money.
I also think that this would be a way to improve the skills of studio engineers.
Currently music studio engineers use a variety of different monitors to judge the sound. I think a lot of people would be shocked to realize that Yamaha NS10 monitors are used in studios. They sound dreadful. They are far from accurate. The concern of many of the studio engineers is to produce a mix which sounds good on a car stereo as well in a typical American home with mediocre speakers.
That isn't to say that studios don't use better monitors- they do, but often they check their mixes on auratones (Sound like stock pickup truck speakers- or a single AM radio speaker). to make sure it sounds "good" on crap.
And that is a major problem -- many studio engineers are not looking to accurately reproduce the sound at all. They are just trying to make it sound palatable to the lowest common denominator of audio users.
I am sure you've all heard some song that you heard over the radio or in a nightclub, you went out and bought that same song and put it on your audiophile system -- and then when you heard it it sounded markedly different. Perhaps that prominent bass line is now moved to the background-
well- the mixer- made that happen- he "spec'd" the sound for cars and clubs.
Then listen to a recording made by Keith Johnson- (pick up Dafos on LP for instance) whose ideal for many audiophile recordings is not to "spec" them for a car or average system... but to use the gear to its limits or beyond (heavily Modded tape machines etc. ) so that people with great audio systems will come close to reproducing music as it sounded live while recording it.
We need thousands of guys like him. Not the guys who crushed Santana's "Supernatural" album's dynamic range...(so sad because you could always do that post production and some home systems have dynamic compression anyhow (many TV's come with this too). So why crush it for everyone??
The absolute sound ... odd that it is vague in application.
Lastly... the transfer function of your own room... is layered upon the transfer function of the recorded venue. So for instance if you listen to a Carnegie Hall performance in your bathroom- you would hear your bathroom acoustic more. Having a relatively absorptive listening space with few early reflections helps... so does turning it up a little since the ear hears what is louder over what is softer... you just want to make sure you don't overload your room.
And that is what is great about headphones.... a lack of room transfer function other than your ear canal and outer ear..
Unfortunately..... for headfiers
There are few recordings mastered for headphones (binaurals excluded) - most are mastered for speakers.