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Commentary Audio

Is recorded music better than live music -- or is it the other way around?

The Audiophiliac ponders the live vs. recorded music question.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I confess, I rarely go to live concerts for a variety of reasons, starting with the sound that's almost always much too loud. Or sometimes too low, or it's too crowded, too hot, too cold, the guy next to me smells bad, or he's snoring, coughing, or sneezing through the concert. Oh, and ticket prices are insane.

Chris Thile (left) and Michael Daves (right) playing a live show on radio station WNYC.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Then there's the matter of feeling out of sync with my friends at the show. Either I love the music and worry they hate it, or I'm miserable while they're having a great time. It almost never happens that we're all on the same page. That's why I usually go by myself, and if I'm not enjoying the music I get up and leave. 

Beyond that, there's concert sound quality, and that's a big problem for me. My home system almost always sounds better than live, amplified music. My system is clearer, I can always understand the words, the bass isn't muddy, and the cymbals aren't grating. 

I suppose live recordings might be a halfway point -- you get some of the energy of a concert, but at home it sounds better than the real thing, and I can control how loud or soft the music is. Not only that, the performances on the record were picked by the band and producers as the absolute best way to experience the tune. At the show, the band might be having a bad night. DVDs and Blu-rays deliver some of the spectacle to my living room.

Some audiophiles believe live music is the best way to educate their ears. If it's an all-acoustic concert, especially in a small intimate venue without a sound system, sure. That would be ideal. Classical music has the best chance of not being amplified, and maybe in a small jazz club you might luck out and hear music au natural.

Sadly, that's a pretty rare experience. Most concert venues are amplified, and the instruments and vocals are compressed, equalized and processed. The venue's acoustics are rarely good for music, and of course arenas and stadiums built for sports are, shall we say, less than ideal. Big or small, at most concert venues you're just listening to something that comes on like a big hi-fi that plays crazy loud.

I know I can't be the only one that feels this way. Share your thoughts, pro or con, about live music in the Comments section below.