Hearing your favorite band or musician live and in concert is a rite of passage – many of us can look back on the first time we heard the opening notes of our favorite song and instantly be transported back. Music allows us to create deep and meaningful memories, but at a time when large gatherings and in-person shows aren’t feasible, is it possible to recreate the feeling at home?
Dr. Sean Olive, Acoustic Research Fellow at HARMAN and our resident audio guru, knows a thing or two about the art and science of music. We recently spoke with him to learn how to set up the best, most immersive at-home audio so we can experience the incredible feeling and sound of live music from the comfort of our own living rooms.
Q: How has audio equipment become more important as live music events have been cancelled due to COVID-19?
A: As live music events have been canceled, people naturally turn to recorded music for comfort and familiarity, and luxury customers are always looking for optimal quality. Since the beginning of the year, we have noticed an uptick in the sales of our luxury audio products, especially items like the Mark Levinson 519 Digital Audio Player and the JBL Synthesis series. We attribute this to the natural comfort that music delivers along with enhanced online retail experiences that HARMAN offers.
Q: What tips do you have for re-creating a concert at home?
A: While nothing compares to incredible experience of hearing music live, there are a few steps listeners can take at home to recreate a similar sound:
Multichannel Audio Provides an Immersive Audio Concert Experience – An immersive concert experience can be achieved at home through a multichannel loudspeaker setup that produces the important spatial cues of the musicians, audience and ambience. A 5.1 channel setup (see Fig. 1) will provide 75% of the experience as compared to the newer immersive formats (Dolby ATMOS, DTS:X, Auro3D, and MPEG-H), which add a sense of height via additional speakers located above you. A traditional stereo setup using two loudspeakers cannot provide the necessary directional cues to give you the same immersive experience.
- Loudspeakers Are the Weakest Link – A true concert experience requires quality loudspeakers that reproduce the full spectrum of music from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, without adding their own resonance or colorations. The frequency response of a loudspeaker is the best indicator of its sound quality based on controlled scientific listening tests. Fig. 2 shows the frequency response of an exemplary loudspeaker measured at 70 different angles over a sphere. The top two curves (black and green) represent the quality of direct sound for listeners sitting on or slightly off-axis, the next two curves, represent the quality of reflected sounds radiated further off-axis, while the bottom two curves represent the directivity of the speaker measured over different angles. The overall flatness, smoothness and extended range of the curves tell us that this loudspeaker will accurately reproduce the full spectrum of music without adding colorations or distortions. The consistency of the family of curves means that listeners will hear high quality direct- and reflected-sound over a large seating area.
Q: Does the type of music you listen to impact the sort of equipment you buy?
A: Well-designed audio equipment will accurately reproduce all types of music – so your music preference should not influence your purchase decision. What matters most is how loud you play your music, and how much you prefer clean, extended bass (our research shows that bass quality accounts for 30% or more of listeners’ loudspeaker preference, so chances are it is important to you!). Producing loud sound and clean extended bass is where most audio systems and the money in your wallet part ways. But if you want a true concert hall experience with extended bass, you will need larger speakers with multiple drivers. Alternatively, you can add one or more subwoofers. Of course, to enjoy a truly immersive experience you want a 5.1 multichannel surround system, at minimum!
Q: The Harman Kardon Citation range comes highly recommended for this particular use case. Could you recommend which Citation products are essential for creating an immersive listening experience at home?
A: As I mentioned previously, a 5.1 multichannel setup is absolutely necessary for an immersive listening experience. Luckily, it can be realized using the Harman Kardon Citation range! An immersive 5.1 channel audio listening experience can be realized using the Harman Kardon Citation product range. These stylish products are wireless, easy to set up, feature built-in amplification, and support streaming services, Google Voice, and Dolby and DTS surround sound. I outlined two configuration options based on your listening space requirements and budget:
- Option 1: Two HK Citation Towers, One HK Citation Bar, Two HK Citation Surrounds (optional: HK Citation Subwoofer)– In this configuration, two Citation Towers provide left and right channel sounds that allow the optimal (+_ 30 degrees) positions (see Fig. 1) to provide a wider sound stage than a typical soundbar. The Citation Bar is configured as a center channel positioned approximately at ear-level when seated, below the video monitor and next to the two wireless Citation Surrounds. Although this system is capable of a wide dynamic range with full bass, an optional Citation subwoofer can be added if you have a larger room and/or desire a surreal, larger-than-life audio experience.
- Option 2: One Citation Bar, 2 Citation Surrounds, One Citation Subwoofer – This option is ideal for people with smaller spaces or stricter budgets. In this setup, the Citation Bar delivers the left/center/right channels and the two Citation Surrounds provide the immersive surround sounds. While the Bar has decent bass, the Citation Subwoofer will provide support for the lower 2.15 octaves of music and low frequency effects in films.
Q: What does ‘concert-quality’ sound mean?
A: In my opinion, concert quality sound implies a highly immersive, spacious experience where the entire frequencies of music, from the lowest to highest notes and overtones (20 Hz to 20 kHz), and dynamics are reproduced without stress or distortion.
Q: How can this make listeners feel like they are at a concert?
A: The key is to reduce the awareness of the audio system itself. When you feel as though you are immersed in the same space with the musicians and sharing the experience with the live audience, then you know you have achieved concert-quality sound. When you are no longer aware of the actual audio system, you probably have come as close as possible – audio-wise – to actually being at the concert.
Q: HARMAN is focused on promoting the practice of deep listening – which is more of a solo activity. However, many people are enjoying these “concerts at home” with family and friends. Is this type of listening more sociable, and do you have any specific tips to ensure a great experience?
A: Sharing musical experiences, like any emotional event, can enhance your enjoyment and memory of the experience itself. The immersive 5.1 audio setups I’ve described are ideal for sharing with friends and family because the additional speakers provide a much wider listening area. The additional center channel keeps the players and featured vocalist firmly anchored to the center of the stage regardless of where you sit, unlike stereo where they collapse to the nearest loudspeaker if you move out of the narrow sweet spot. Multichannel audio is inherently a more sociable listening experience, and with great loudspeakers like the Citation series, there are no bad seats in the house!
With a rich legacy as audio experts and pioneers, HARMAN has helped shape the positive impact music has on our mental and physical well-being for over 70 years. We’re committed to sharing our experiences and insights to ensure consumers gain extraordinary listening experiences – no matter where they are. For more information, visit: https://artoflistening.harman.com/