My question is not why musicians often produce better recorded works than their live performances. The question is why are the flawed acoustics of a venue far less acceptable on a recording than in person? Binaural microphones do an ok job of capturing direction but when played back on normal headphones, the obviousness of poor room acoustics are still apparent. My thinking is that the shape of the ears, the audio processing of the brain, and the multitude of acoustic nerves can somehow untangle the acoustics of a room and make everything sound much clearer for the in person listener. How can this be achieved with technology? I'm not so much interested in holophonic sound as I am in clear sound.

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    Recordings don't sound as good as live experience because of the incredible power of human auditory signal processing. It could be psychology but I don't think so. Think of music that you might hate. It can sound better in person than a recording. You can't like music you hate. But you can appreciate being at a venue more than the recordings because recordings do sound inferior. 24 bit, 144khz makes no difference. Being there matters to quality of experience. How do we cut through the echos of poor acoustics and translate it into perfect reproduction?
    – Ohiovr
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:15
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    Don't people also notice crappy room acoustics? There are reasons why auditoriums are built with purposefully good room acoustics. My enjoyment of TV is already reduced whenever I need to get within inches of the speakers in order to hear anything clearly enough (the American version of The Chase is one example for me) - imagine the equivalent at a live concert or a hockey game, except I can't just get closer to the action because my ticket won't let me.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:40
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    Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 6, 2021 at 13:07
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    @topoReinstateMonica I agree. I endorse this question here on M:P&T because I believe pretty strongly that psychoacoustics and audio engineering should be well within the scope of musical practice and theory. To me, it seems clear that the science of recording music and human neural processing of music are a natural part of the process of creating and listening to music... Mixed opinions here, though, from what I can tell.
    – user45266
    Sep 7, 2021 at 7:36
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    Voted to re-open. This is a perfectly fine question. In lieu of being able to add an answer I would say this: In broad terms you have just one way to listen to a live performance, but a recording engineer has myriad ways to record, process, and mix (think close/far miking and wet/dry reverb on multiple tracks.) In many ways a recording can do things quite different from a real live space. On the other hand, it can take a lot of recording skill to make a live recording play back and sound like the live experience. Bottom line is live and recorded are two different mediums. Sep 7, 2021 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


You have two ears with a rather complex shape. If you want to get a clearer picture of an auditory scene, you can turn your head to a position where signals on both of your ears are most strongly differentiated from sources in their vicinity when coming from the position you are most interested in, with your eyes providing additional information for making sense of what your hearing tries to discriminate on.

This layered complexity that you can explore with your hearing is not there in a recording. You have something like 2 to 5 channels for reproducing a soundscape and they do not react to movements of your head.

Like human vision, the resolution available to hearing at a single point of time is lacklustre compared to what technology can consistently reproduce, but since you can tune in to what is of interest, you'll still find that recordings will not keep up with what a keen mind can track in the original. The big picture is a lot fuller than what human memories could reproduce, but it does not hold up to digging into small details like reality does.

  • I disagree with your middle paragraph. With sound coming from two distinct sources, each different, moving one's head/ears willchange the perception. With 5 or 7 channels, even more so. In a live situation, the sound will likely be mono, apart from reflections from the room.
    – Tim
    Sep 6, 2021 at 16:04
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    @Tim - I disagree fundamentally with the statement 'live will be mono'. Human hearing even in front of a loud band is most definitely not mono, even if FoH is. This is one of the things that has always made me sceptical of any type of 'binaural' or 'holophonic' process. In real life, your brain can tune in or out any part of the sound-field. Once it's been reduced to 5.1 or even worse, headphones, that ability is gone… just like a 2D photograph.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 6, 2021 at 18:01
  • @Tetsujin - often (not in my bands) the FOH mix is simple - mono. It means wherever the member of the audience is, he's not missing something from the mix. It's the safest, and means that if the audience member is in front of the bassisit's rig, but doesn't particularly want a bass-heavy gig, they're happy too.
    – Tim
    Sep 6, 2021 at 18:31
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    What I'd like is a kind of 3D sound processor that is able to triangulate on a sound and only that sound and not the reflections. I think it could be possible with software. I don't have the talent to do it but I think it can be done. It could be possible to have a push button interface to go to each solo. Might open possibilities in radio reception also.
    – Ohiovr
    Sep 7, 2021 at 22:37
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    That would be somewhere off in the realms of science fiction. You'd need a 3D map of the room & all occupants, including positions of each player &/or amp, details of all surfaces as regards reflectivity/absorption & at what frequencies...
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 8, 2021 at 7:55

I'll try to present a personal armchair-psychological view on this, not talking about auditory systems, nerves, biological physics and other stuff of which I know practically nothing. But I know what it feels like to be me, so that should count for something.

why are the flawed acoustics of a venue far less acceptable on a recording than in person

This is a good question. IMO, almost anything played "in real life", in the same physical space where I am myself, by actual real people I can connect with, has a bigger emotional impact than almost any recording that can be reproduced through loudspeakers. The finest thing I've heard coming from loudspeakers was a really great tenor sax player, being recorded with a large-diaphragm studio mic, monitored with big studio speakers. I think that was a fine experience partly because I knew the guy was on the other side of the wall a few meters away. But to hear a real piano, real flute, real strings, real brass instruments, vibrating in the same room, nothing compares to that.

Why can't a computer algorithm reproduce the same emotional impact? Can an algorithm place the player and instrument in the same physical space as the listener? AFAIK, some sort of loudspeakers would need to be used, which tend to sound like loudspeakers, i.e. fake, never real. Even the finest and most expensive loudspeaker-based digital pianos sound fake, like listening to radio.

If you try to do it the other way around, placing the listener in another space, it's fake too, like virtual reality 3D glasses. I experience some sort of an illusion, but ultimately, I am not there.

However, if the actual instrument contains a loudspeaker, you can reproduce it! If the instrument to be placed in the same room is a radio, then you can entirely realistically reproduce it by having an actual radio in the room. If the instrument is played through a guitar amp, you can reproduce it by having a guitar amp in the room. Then it will really sound like a real instrument in the room. Granted, the player won't be able to react to you, so it's still less real anyway.

Music is better when it's experienced together with people. Sing and dance together in the same space. A recording of it, however realistic and hi-fi, is still only a recording.


It's a complicated topic, and the variables involved alone would keep a panel of musicians and audio technicians busy debating for a week.

I would like to offer that sound quality and life-like sonic pleasantness are highly subjective, and that which sounds great to one person may or may not be as pleasing (yet alone emotion-stirring) to another listener.

I will say this much; From the standpoint of human psychology, the experience of listening to a band or duo or orchestra live and in-person carries with it a Pandora's Box of human nuances, influences, and possibilities. Visual stimuli. Emotional response to things both heard and witnessed. The mood that the listener was in when first seated at the performance hall. Where the music took the listener, emotionally, from there. Personal connections to the musicians, or not.

I guess what I am saying is that a truly objective measure of sound quality and 'life-like' quality renditions would almost HAVE to involve removing the humans from the evaluation equation. Computers, sophisticated oscilloscopes, etc, etc.

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