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Rambler's Top100

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Hi-Fi at the R.F.H. 

by Stanley Kelly

 

ONCE again. Gilbert Briggs, ably assisted by P.J. Walker, delighted the hearts of all 3,000 audiophiles at the Royal Festival Hall on May 12th. This was the third - I was going to say lecture, but it wasn't; and one can hardly call the London Mozart Players and the soloists Denis Matthew, Campoli, Leon Goossens and Ralph Downs, a demonstration; and to the best of my knowledge, concerts are usually rather formal affairs, with no running commentary, and no indicators showing "peak power" produced by the orchestra! Call a rose by any other name... we had a marvellous afternoon's entertainment. Mr. Briggs opened his discourse by saying that this would be his "swan song". I am sure I am speaking for everyone present on that Saturday when I hope his remarks were meant to be taken in the same vein as various other concert artists who periodically announce their final and last tour before retiring. This is especially so when the advent of wide range electrostatic speakers must have raised doubts in many people's minds as to the efficacy of the moving coil and associated forms of dynamic reproducers. It can be shown (and I hope to, at a later date) that irrespective of the type of driving motor, the frequency range and distortion factors can be made identical for any type reproducer at a given effective percentage overall efficiency. It would be very interesting and more than instructive if G. A. B. and P. J. W., who after all are the chief protagonists in this arena, could be induced to have a direct comparative test on the nearest Saturday to May 12th. 1957.

Like a good many other enthusiasts. I took my wife along. (a) because I could not find an excuse to leave her at home; (b) she is a musician in her own right, and judges quality from a much less biased viewpoint than my own; also, I needed someone to carry along the sound level meter! As has been emphasised by many technicians, it is most important that the reproduced sound pressure reaching one's ears must be the same as the original if the listener had been in a concert hall.

For my own edification (and education) I took a Dawe miniature sound level meter along in order to obtain some quantitative comparisons of recorded and live performances. I was seated in seal M37 of the stalls, immediately adjacent to the left-hand gang-way. As a general comment, the recordings sounded louder than the live performances; but in actual fact they measured 5 to8 phons lower. Herewith is a tabulated list of my comments:

 

1. Musical Instruments. B.B.C. tape 15in./sec. Marks Awarded 6/10. Sound Level in Phons. 60 to 70.
Further Comments: none. Average Marks. 8.1/10.

 

2. Jazz. Audiophile tape 15 in./sec. Marks Awarded. 9/10. Sound Level in Phons. 65 to 75 peaks to 80.
Further Comments: crisp recording, but rather bassy. Average Marks. 8.7/10.

 

3. Carol. "Lav Down Your Staffs". Audiophile I.A. records.
Marks Awarded. 8/10. Sound Level in Phons. 70 to 75 peaks to 80.
Further Comments: very resonant recording. Average Marks. 7.6/10.

 

4. Symphony 103. Live. London Mozart Players. Record, FALL tape 30in. sec. Marks Awarded, 10/10. Sound Level in Phons. 60 to 65 recorded. 70 to 75 live, peaking 82.
Further Comments: recording sounded "round" and much more resonant than the live performance. Average Marks, 8.7/10.

 

5. Organ. Fantasia in G Minor, Bach. Decca LXT. 5029. Marks Awarded. 7/10. Sound Level in Phons. 78 to 82.
Further Comments: round tone; lacked crispness and attack. Average Marks. 9/10.

 

6. Oboe Solos, Sarabande, Kronke, Gavotte, Rameau. Soloist. Leon Goossens. Record. E.M.I. tape 30in..sec. Marks Awarded, 10/10. Sound Level in Phons. 60 to 65 recorded: 65 to 70 live. 

Further Comment: recording sounded too loud, and of lower pitch. We noticed slight "tizziness" on the piano. Average Marks, 9/10.

 

8. Piano Solo, Sonata in D, Beethoven. Soloist, Denis Matthews. Record, E.M.I. tape 30in./sec. Marks Awarded, 9/ 10. Sound Level in Phons, 65 to 75.
Further Comments: recording lacked top; some hangover; "soft felts". The piano sounded more like a Bluthnert to me than a Steinway. Average Marks. 8.5/10.

 

9. Chorus and Orchestra, Requiem Mass. Verdi. Record, D.G.M. 18155. Marks Awarded, 6/10. Sound Level in Phono, 80 to 85 peaks to 88.
Further Comments: Betty suggested this sounded like the Polovi-sian Dances, performed in the Albert Hall, with which I concur. Average Marks, 7.4/10.

 

10. Orchestra, "Marriage of Figaro". Mozart. Live. London Mozart Players. Record, E.M.I. tape 30in. sec. Marks Awarded. 8/10. Sound Level in Phons, 75 to 78 recorded: 75 to 82 live.
Further Comment: the live sounded fuller and rounder, but apparently lacked top compared with the recording. I don't mean the recording had excessive top - it sounded about right but with slight "edginess" in the strings. Average Marks. 8/10.

 

11. Sound Effects, Record, (B.B.C. &. Audiophile) tape 15in. sec. Farmyard Stock and Helicopter. Marks Awarded. 9/10. Sound Level in Phons. 55 to 65, Helicopter 88 peak: applause 85.
Further Comment: we enjoyed the hens the best. Average Marks, 9.4/10.

 

12. Soprano, Strauss Waltz. Rita Slreich. Record. D.G. 17052. Marks Awarded, 7/10. Sound Level in Phons. voice 65 to 72.
Further Comment: this sounded much larger than life and we doubt if Flagstadt could have produced more volume. Average Marks, 8/10.

 

13. Violin Solo, Sonata No.1, Handel. Zephyr, Hubay. Soloist, Campoli. Record, E.M.I. tape 30in./sec. Marks Awarded, 10/10. Sound Level in Phons, 55 to 65 recorded: 60 to 72 live.
Further Comments: the high frequency speakers were tilted and I felt there was some increase in level in the 7 to 9 kc region. This was especially noticeable on the Zephyr. The live performance sounded much softer and thinner and (according to Betty), less harsh. We both fell Campoli was competing with his recordings, however. Average Marks 8.6/10.

 

14. Stereophonic Sound, (a) "Auios", Columbia tape B.T.D. 701. (b) "Classical Symphony", Prokofiev. H.M.V. tape S.T.D. 1750. Both tapes, 7 1/2 in./sec. Marks Awarded. 0/10. Sound Level in Phons, (a) 70 to 75, (b) 65 peak, to 80.
Further Comment: (a) Lacked top, bass lift -6 db: "solid" reproduction, (b) Rather better than (a). form solid and treacly. Both recordings seemed to have a steep cutting filter at about 8kc. Average Marks, not given, see notes.

 

15. Piano and Orchestra. Concerto, K 466, Mozart. Soloist. Denis Matthews and London Mozartl Players. Record, E.M.I. tape 30in./sec. Marks Awarded, 10/10. Sound Level in Phons. 55 to 70 recorded: 65 to 75 live, peaks 84: applause 90.
Further Comments: very good. Recording had rounder tone than live, but soft felts and small tizz were in evidence. If the same piano was used for live and recording E.M.I. must have been playing tricks with the microphone. Average marks, 8.4/10.

 

16. Orchestra, Symphony No. 4, Dvorak. Columbia 335X 1034. Marks Awarded. 10/10. Sound Level in Phons, 60 to 75.
Further Comments: this was the best recording. The brass in particular was extremely clean. Average Marks. 8.4/10.

 

17. Hallelujah Chorus, Record Decca LXT. 2924. Live. London Mozart Players. Ralph Downes, Organ. Marks Awarded. 9/10. Sound Level in Phons, 78 mean, peaks 90.
Further Comments: an impressive performance, but felt another 100 watts or so were required for the chorus. They were just a little weak compared with the mass of organ and two orchestras. Its emotional effect, however, was considerable. Average Marks 8/10.

* Average marks are from voters who sent in scores to Mr. Briggs

Mr. Briggs sent to me the following notes on the voting: -
"Item 14, Stereo. As the results depended on the position of the listener in the hall, it would be unfair to work out an average. It suffices to say that six people gave this item 9 marks, and two awarded it lull marks.
"The most serious divergence of opinion arose on the Hallelujah Finale, where the voting went as low as 3 marks, but included 4 who gave it 10, and 3 who went to 10 plus. Those sitting in the front seats obviously, heard too much orchestra and not enough recorded chorus.
"The presence of the orchestra on the platform made it impracticable to have the speakers placed near the artists for the solo comparisons: this detracted considerably from the realism."

 

Summary


As I said earlier it was a most enjoyable experience. The most potent lessons I learned were (a) that the actual measured sound levels were about 10 db less than I would have guessed, (b) where direct comparison was possible, the recorded matter sounded louder, lower in pitch and generally fuller in tone than the original, although the measured levels were lower: and (c) the Hallelujah Chorus and the applause after it peaked, at 90 to 91 phons, while the Piccadilly Underground averages 90 phons and peaks at 95; which should prove something or other! Conversation in the Tube is difficult but not impossible, but at the climax of the Halle'iujah Chorus one felt that an increase in sheer volume would be unobtainable-although the threshold of feeling, i.e., the limit of volume which the ear can stand, is about 40 db (ten thousand times the power) greater.
Several years ago, when I attended the initial experiments in determining the acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall, and also on the first public performances, I commented on the apparent lack of bass: but the extreme clarity of the upper frequencies more than made up for this so-called deficiency; in particular, solo instruments and small ensembles sounded magnificent. Since the installation of the organ the lower middle and bass response of the R.F.H. seems to have improved.
The afternoon proved one thing, if nothing else-that given good quality equipment, expertly handled, and with choice recordings, the aesthetic difference between the original and the reproduced sound is as near as makes no difference.



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