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Can people tell the difference between live and recorded music?

Sarah Sharples 24 April 2017
Can people tell the difference between live and recorded music?

Peter Self, a senior lecturer in Music Business and Management at Canterbury Christ Church University, recently used PMC IB1S-AIII Active monitors in an experiment to determine whether people can tell the difference between live and recorded music.

To reduce acoustic variables to zero, the experiment took place in one of the country’s largest anechoic chamber at the Building Research Establishment centre in Watford, Hertfordshire.

An invited audience was positioned in front of an acoustically transparent curtain and asked to say if they could tell the difference between music played live and the same piece recorded and played through loudspeakers. They couldn’t see what was happening behind the curtain so only had their ears as a reference.

“We started out by running a series of live versus recorded days where participants were played various quality ‘versions’ of the same recorded music track and then asked to decide on the ranking in terms of perceived audio quality,” Self explains. “As the tests progressed, we decided to provide our own high quality music source material recorded at 24bit/192kHz using extended frequency range Schoeps microphones.”

Self says the choice of loudspeaker for playback was crucial, especially when the experiments moved into an anechoic chamber.

“They had to be of the highest quality and capable of delivering an accurate yet transparent sound,” Self explains. “The PMC system we used was ideal because the monitors had sufficient power to deliver volume in an anechoic environment. The fact that they were internally amplified and had minimal cone effect was also important because we wanted the recorded music to be as faithfully reproduced as possible.”

Self’s Live Versus Recording experiments are part of an ongoing five year project funded by Canterbury University’s School of Music and Performing Arts. Colloquially entitled ‘whatprice music’, it is looking at how consumers value recorded music, both in terms of entertainment and inspiration, as well as in the monetary sense. Self is interested to know if varying demographics can differentiate between – or are even interested in – the notion of different audio qualities.

“The experiment we ran in the anechoic chamber was fascinating,” he says. “The audience found it challenging to tell the difference between the live and our high res recorded material in the anechoic environment and the results led to lots more questions. We’d like to expand the research in the future.”

www.whatpricemusic.org

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